Salesian Scripture Reflections

 

Spirituality Matters 2017:

 

(June 15, 2017: Thursday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 3:15—4:1, 3-6     Ps 85:9ab and 10, 11-12, 13-14     Mt 5:20-26

“Now the Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our free will is in no wise forced or necessitated by grace. In spite of the all-powerful strength of God’s merciful hand, which touches, enfolds and bends the souls with so many inspirations, calls and attractions, the human will remains perfectly free, unfettered, and exempt from every form of constraint and necessity. Grace is so gracious, and so graciously does it seize our hearts in order to draw them on, that it in no wise impairs the liberty of our will…grace has a holy violence, not to violate our liberty but to make it full of love…it presses us but does not oppress our freedom…” (Treatise 2: 12, p 133)

For a follower of Jesus, true freedom is not a matter of being able to do whatever you want – true freedom is wanting to be the best version of yourself and being willing to transform your liberty into love for God, self and others.

How might God ask you to be authentically free today?

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(June 16, 2017: Friday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Mt 5:20-26     Ps 116:10-11, 15-16, 17-18     Mt 5:27-32

“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels…”

In Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“In Salesian thinking the human person is believed to be made in the divine likeness and image. Drawn to union with divinity by the affinity of natures and propelled by the power of mutual love, the human person, no matter what his or her visible vocation, and a more compelling and far-reaching vocation – to realize his or her fullest capacity for love of God…With the whole of his or inner and outer capacities, a man or woman responds to the essential truth of human nature, a nature created and, though wounded by original sin, still capable, through an ever-increasingly identification with the living Jesus, of realizing the divine marriage to which it is drawn.” (LSD, p.36)

The life that God has bestowed on us is indeed a treasure. But then, the earthen vessels into which God has poured that gift of life – people like you and me – are treasures, also, to say nothing of being treasured by God.

Just today, how might we treasure the God-given earthen vessel in ourselves. How might we treasure the God-given earthen vessels in others?

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(June 17, 2017: Saturday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 5:14-21     Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12     Mt 5:33-37

“We are ambassadors for Christ…”

“Ambassador” is defined (among other things) as “a person who acts as a representative or promoter of a specified activity”.

As Christians, the ambassador par excellence of God’s love is no one other than Jesus himself. Son of God that he is, who else but Jesus shows us definitively how to be ambassadors of God’s life, God’s love, God’s healing, God’s mercy, God’s justice and God’s peace.

In an entry on Wikipedia ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambassador ), the article cites three functions that lie at the heart of what an ambassador does:

  • Protecting citizens
  • Supporting prosperity
  • Working for peace

Jesus clearly attended to all three of these priorities during his earthly ministry. He met the needs of all of his Father’s children, especially the poor, the abandoned, the marginalized and forgotten (“It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”). Jesus pursued prosperity for all people (“I have come that you might have life, and have life to the full”). Jesus worked for peace and promised the gift of peace to all those who believe in him (“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.”).

By virtue of our creation and confirmed by our Baptism, we continue Christ’s work of being ambassadors of life, love healing, mercy, justice and peace – we are, indeed, ambassadors for and with Christ!

Today, what are some of the ways that we might be able to fulfill such a high calling for the people with whom we interact just today?

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(June 18, 2017: Body and Blood of Christ)
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Dt 8:2-3, 14b-16a     Ps 147:12-13, 14-15, 19-20     1 Cor 10:16-17     Jn 6:51-58

“Do this in memory of me.”

Eucharist – a word that literally means thanksgiving – is the central celebration of the Christian community. It speaks volumes of whom God is in our lives. It speaks volumes of whom we are called to be in the lives of one another.

Eucharist is the heart of our faith.

Eucharist celebrates the truth that God so loves us that God sent Jesus to be our redeemer. Eucharist celebrates the truth that God so loves us that God allowed Jesus’ body to be broken and Jesus’ blood to be poured out for us. Eucharist celebrates the truth that God loves us so much that the Spirit raised Jesus from the dead that we might share in the power and promise of eternal life.

The former Eucharistic Prayer III for Children said it this way: Jesus “brought us the good news of life to be lived with you for ever in heaven. He showed us the way to that life here on earth; the way of love……He now brings us together to one table and asks us to do what he did.” The former Eucharistic Prayer II for Reconciliation told us that Jesus “has entrusted to us this pledge of his love”.

Eucharist celebrates the truth that we are called to do more than simply receive the body and blood of Christ. Eucharist celebrates the truth that we are – we must be – the body and blood of Christ for one another. Eucharist celebrates the truth that we are called to allow ourselves to be broken and poured out for others, to spend our lives in the pursuit of justice, peace, reconciliation, healing, freedom, life and love.

We are called to proclaim the death of the Lord in our willingness to be bread and wine for others. We are called to proclaim the death of the Lord – the power of the Lord – the promise of the Lord – in our willingness to lay down our lives, our talents and our efforts to continue the redeeming, saving work that Jesus began.

We demonstrate our Eucharistic dignity and Eucharistic destiny when we embrace Jesus’ command to “do this in memory” of him – not only by celebrating Eucharist on the first day of the week, but by being Eucharist for one another every day of the week by feeding, nourishing and forgiving one another.

Eucharist is not simply something that we receive. Eucharist is something that we must become. Eucharist is something to be shared with others. Eucharist, in short, is a way of life.

Especially today, let us be Eucharist for one another. Let us feed, nourish and forgive…in memory of him…in fellowship with one another.

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(June 19, 2017: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 6:1-10     Ps 98:1, 2b, 3ab, 3cd-4     Mt 5:38-42

“Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and these as they pass, themselves pass by us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity; and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end..” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 236)

Seen through the lens of Salesian spirituality, St. Paul’s exhortation makes absolute sense. The seed “of all eternity” isn’t found in the past; it isn’t found in the future. It is found only in each and every present moment as it comes!

Just this day.

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(June 20, 2017: Tuesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 8:1-9     Ps 146:2, 5-6ab, 6c- 7, 8-9a     Mt 5:43-48

“The abundance of their joy and their profound poverty overflowed into a wealth of generosity…”

In Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this one.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

In his own words, Francis de Sales is describing what St. Paul witnessed in the early Christian community. People practiced the virtue of poverty by sharing their possessions with others and in the process enriched themselves as well.

In the Salesian tradition poverty isn’t about having nothing – poverty is about sharing what we have with others. Poverty isn’t about doing without – it’s about being generous with and to other people.

Today, how can we practice poverty, that is, how can we give to others with “a generous heart”?

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(June 21, 2017: Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
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2 Cor 9:6-11     Ps 112:1bc-2, 3-4, 9     Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

“Whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

“Karma” is a word that comes from Buddhist and Hindu traditions. It can be defined in many ways, for example:

  • the law of cause and effect
  • what goes around comes around
  • you reap what you sow
  • totally innocent victims are rare
  • no good deed goes unpunished
  • your actions create ripples that spread out, echo and constructively or destructively interfere with the ripples from the actions of others

St. Paul may have known nothing about karma, but in effect, it is this notion about which he wrote in today’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. For his part, Jesus tells us that whatever we do won’t simply come back to us, but that whatever we do will come back to us thirty, sixty and a hundred-fold!As we heard yesterday in Part III of his Introduction to the Devout Life Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches God has given us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this one.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

What we do in this life does matter. In fact, everything we do has the potential for becoming a spiritual, moral and/or actual boomerang in our lives. God will repay us not only in the next life but even in this one.

So, what seeds for tomorrow will you sow bountifully – today?

(June 8, 2017: Thursday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 6:10-11; 7:1bcde, 9-17; 8:4-9a     Ps 128:1-2, 3, 4-5     Mk 12:28-34

“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”

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

“Imagine yourself to be standing in an open field with your guardian angel and that you see the devil seated high upon a huge throne, attended by many infernal spirits and surrounded by a great throng of worldly people who, with uncovered heads, hail him as their lord and pay him homage, some by one sin and some by another. Note the faces of all the unfortunate courtiers of that abominable king. See how some of them are furious with hatred, envy and anger, while others are consumed with care and burdened down by worries as they think and strive to heap up wealth. See how others are bent upon their own vain pursuits that bring empty and unsatisfying pleasure and how others are defiled, ruined and putrefied by their brutish lusts. See how they are without rest, order and decency. See how they despise one another and make only a false show of love. In a word, you see a kingdom lying in ruins and tyrannized over by this accursed king.”

“In the other direction you see Jesus Christ crucified. With heartfelt love he prays for those poor tormented people so that they may be set free from such tyranny, and he calls them to himself. Around him you see a great throng of devout souls together with their guardian angels. Contemplate the beauty of this devout kingdom. How beautiful it is to see this throng of virgins – both men and women – all whiter than lilies, and this gathering of widows filled with sacred mortification and humility! See the crowded ranks of the married who live so calmly together in mutual respect, which cannot be attained without great charity. See how these devout souls wed care of the exterior house to that of the interior, that is, the love of their earthly spouse with that of the heavenly Spouse. Consider them all as a group and see how all of them in a holy, sweet and lovely manner attend our Lord and how they long to place Him in the center of their hearts. They are joyful, but with a gracious, loving and well-ordered joy. They love one another with a most pure and sacred love. Among these devout people those who suffer afflictions are not over-concerned about their sufferings and never lose courage. To conclude, look upon the eyes of the Savior who comforts them and see how all of then together aspire to Him” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 18, pp. 69-70)

Conversely, at any given moment in our lives we are, indeed, not far from the kingdom of God. However, it is also true that at any given moment in our lives we are likewise not far from the kingdom of Satan.

Today, which kingdom will you choose during the course of these moments -Satan’s or God’s?

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(June 9, 2017: Friday, Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 11:5-17     Ps 146:1b-2, 6c-7, 8-9a, 9bc-10     Mk 12:35-37

“The LORD raises up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the just. The LORD protects strangers.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“You see this glass of water or that little piece of bread which a devout soul gave to some poor man in the name of God. It is a little matter, certainly, a thing almost unworthy of consideration according to human judgment. Yet, God rewards it and in return for it God immediately gives an increase in charity…A soul endowed with charity not only works naturally excellent but little deeds as well in holy love.” (LSD, Book III, Chapter 2, pp. 45-46)

The Lord loves the just. And who are the just? They are the people who raise up those who are bowed down and protect the stranger. Such examples may seem like little things, but in the eyes of God, little things mean a lot.

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(June 10, 2017: Saturday Ninth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Tb 12:1, 5-15, 20     Tobit 13:2, 6efgh, 7, 8     Mk 12:38-44

“Prayer and fasting are good, but better than either is almsgiving accompanied by righteousness.”

Part and parcel of the spiritual life is the need to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another in an ongoing manner. One dimension of this examination is acknowledging our need to name those sins, vices, weaknesses — anything — that prevent us from making real in thought, word and deeds our God-given dignity.

A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to fast – to “give up” something. Some people may refrain from tobacco; others may eschew alcohol; still others may pass on desserts. Some people may give up something good; other people may give up something bad, while still others may give up a combination of both.

Fasting, however, is only part of the program of self-discipline and self-mastery. In its fullest expression, feasting is also as important as fasting in the spiritual life.

In their book A Sense of Sexuality, (Doubleday, 1989) Drs. Evelyn and James Whitehead remind us that “fasting, at its finest, is neither solely punishment nor denial. We fast not only to avoid evils but to recapture forgotten goods”. Put another way, “the ‘no’ of fasting is fruitful only if we have some deeply valued ‘yes’ in our life”. The arduous discipline of feasting complements our fasting; we need something for which to fast.

That’s right. Feasting requires no less discipline than fasting. The discipline of feasting celebrates well and heartily the God-given blessings that we enjoy without engaging in selfishness and excess.

A life of devotion, then, is as much a matter of ‘doing’ as it is “doing without”. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Both fasting and working mortify and discipline us. If the work you undertake contributes to the glory of God and to your own welfare , I much prefer that you should endure the discipline of working than that of fasting .” (Emphasis editor)

Francis continued:

“One person may find it painful to fast, another to serve the sick, to visit prisoners, to hear confessions, to preach, to assist the needy, to pray, and to perform similar exercised. These latter pains have as much value as the former.”

Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, living a life of devotion consists in integrating our spiritual interior in such a way as it can be seen as a source for good on the outside.

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(June 11, 2017: Most Holy Trinity)
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Ex 34:4b-6, 8-9     Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56     2 Cor 13:11-13     Jn 3:16-18

“Encourage one another. Live in harmony and peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

St. Francis de Sales had this to say about one of the most profound mysteries of our faith – the Triune Nature of God.

“From all eternity there is in God an essential communication by which the Father, in producing the Son, communicates his entire infinite and indivisible divinity to the Son. The Father and the Son together, in producing the Holy Spirit, communicate in like manner their own proper divinity to him. So also this sovereign sweetness was communicated so perfectly outside itself to a creature that the created nature and the godhead each retained its own properties while still being united together in such wise that they were only one self-same person…In short, God’s supreme wisdom has decided to intermingle this original love with his creatures’ will in such wise that love would not constrain the will but leave it possessed of its freedom.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 2, Chapter 4)

What can we hope to consider or explain about the profound mystery of the Trinity in a way that makes a practical difference in our lives and in the lives of those we touch? For the sake of simplicity, let us look at each person of the Trinity in very broad strokes, looking at those activities – in our attempt to take in the mystery of the divine nature – which we associate with the Father, the Son and the Spirit in recalling the history of our salvation:

  • In the Trinity, we experience a Father who creates us out of love.
  • In the Trinity, we experience a Son who redeems and reconciles us out of love.
  • In the Trinity, we experience a Spirit who encourages and enlivens us out of love.

We are most like the Trinity when we establish and sustain in ourselves the things that most clearly reflect our God-given, Trinitarian nature – when we create, feed and nourish relationships in which we are redeemed, reconciled and inspired to live in the freedom of the sons and daughters of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In the words of St. Paul, we are faithful to our divine dignity and destiny when we “encourage one another…living in harmony and peace…”

We are most like the Trinity when we forgive, when we are willing to let go of hurts, disappointment, injury and betrayal. We are most like the Triune Godhead when we inspire, encourage, challenge and support one another to do the same.

Today, might we best act in the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit? How might we encourage (a word that literally means, “give heart to”) one another?

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(June 12, 2017: Monday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor1:1-7     Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Mt 5:1-12

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all encouragement…”

In his Spiritual Conferences, Francis de Sales observed:

“It is a good practice of humility not to study the actions of others save to discover their virtues, for as to their imperfections, as long as we are not in charge of them we must never turn either our eyes or our consideration in that direction. Whatever we see our neighbor do, we must always interpret another’s conduct in the best manner possible. In doubtful situations, we must persuade ourselves that what we may have noticed was not wrong, but that it was our own imperfection which caused us to think it was wrong. This helps us to avoid making rash judgments of the actions of others. Even in cases in which someone is doing something that is undoubtedly wrong, we must be full of compassion and humble ourselves for our neighbor’s faults as for our own, praying to God for their amendment with the same fervor as we should employ if we were subject to the same faults,”

God is the source of all compassion and encouragement. We imitate our God by being compassionate toward others when experiencing their faults and by encouraging others when witnessing their goodness.

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(June 13, 2017: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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2 Cor 1:18-22     Ps 119:129, 130, 131, 132, 133, 135     Mt 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth.”

Today’s Gospel makes it crystal clear the kind of people that Jesus expected his disciples to be. Jesus challenged them to be “salt of the earth”.

In the time of Christ, salt was highly prized. Salt was indispensable as a preservative for food, especially meats, foul and fish. Obviously, salt was used as a seasoning. Salt added zest and tang to food, making it more palatable and enjoyable. Sometimes, new-born babies were rubbed with salt for what was believed to be medicinal purposes. Salt was even used to seal covenants of friendship (which were also called covenants of salt), inviolable and unbreakable covenants to be preserved for life.

Salt was considered to be as valuable as a person’s life – in some cases, even more valuable than a person’s life. Soldiers were often paid for their work with bags of salt. In fact, the Latin word for salt is the root for the English word salary.

Ironic, isn’t it, that something so small is so powerful. Salt makes a huge difference even in very small quantities. A mere pinch has an effect out of all proportion to its weight. Yet, salt is inconspicuous, ordinary and often admixed with a variety of other common things. Take it away and you can tell immediately that it is missing. (Just ask anyone who has been on a salt-free diet.)

Like Jesus’ first disciples, we, too, must be salt of the earth. Jesus challenges us to preserve all that is good, loving and life-giving in life. Jesus commissions us to add zest to life with ingredients such as joy, laughter, enthusiasm, truth, peace, and justice. Jesus calls us to be a healing remedy for anxiety, alienation, marginalization and isolation. Jesus encourages us to immerse ourselves into the thick of things, to enrich and enliven the stew that is our lives. Jesus urges to use all of our God-given abilities, skills, time and talent for the benefit of others. In short, Jesus expects us to be worth our salt.

Jesus tells us, “You are the salt of the earth.” In our day and age, salt might be an everyday thing, but from Jesus’ perspective, being salt of the earth is everything. Just this day, how can we be salt of the earth in the lives of others?

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(June 14, 2017: Wednesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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2 Cor 3:4-11     Ps 99:5, 6, 7, 8, 9     Mt 5:17-19

“Our qualification comes from God…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Council of Trent assures us that God’s friends, going from ‘strength to strength’ are ‘renewed from day to day’.” That is, by good works they increase their justice they have received from divine grace, and they are more and more justified in accordance with heavenly admonitions: He who is just, let him be justified still, and he who is holy, let him be sanctified still more.” (TLG, Book 3, Chapter 1, p. 163)

Our qualification – our justification – isn’t something we earn. Our qualification – our justification – is a gift from God. Our qualification – our justification – is from beginning to end a result of God’s grace.

However, our God-given qualification – our God-given justification – can be augmented by how we live our lives day in and day out. In other words, while our qualification – our justification – comes from God, God expects us to make good use of it by putting it to work for our own good and the good of one another.

Francis de Sales elaborated:

“We know from our own experience that plants and trees have not reached full growth and maturity until they have brought forth seeds and pods that serve to raise up other trees and plants of the same kind. Our virtues never come to full stature and maturity until they beget in us desires for progress, which, like spiritual seeds, serve for the production of new degrees of virtue. I think that the earth which is our heart has been commanded to bring forth plants of virtue bearing the fruits of holy works, ‘each one after its kind’, and having as seeds desires and plans of ever multiplying and advancing in perfection…In this world, nothing is either lasting or table, but even more especially it is said of man that ‘he never remains in the same state.’ It is necessary, then, for us to either move forward or to fall behind.” (TLG, Book 8, Chapter 7, pp. 75-76)

We are justified by God, but we can increase that justification by doing what is just for one another.

(May 8, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 11:1-18     Ps 42:2-3; 43:3, 4     Jn 10:11-18

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold…”

Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10). That’s why Jesus cares so much for us. That’s why Jesus is the good shepherd who loves us so much that he is willing to lay down his life for us.

And lay down his life is exactly what the Good Shepherd did!

But the people saved by the Good Shepherd are not some exclusive club. There is no “in” group or “out” group when it comes to God’s love. Whether of his “fold” or not, Jesus lays down his life for everyone. Note that he says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Truth be told, all of us are members of Jesus’ flock. Truth be told, Jesus is for all of us – without exception – our one, Good Shepherd.

Just today, how might we listen to the voice of this Shepherd in ourselves and in one another?

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(May 9, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 11:19-26     Ps 87:1b-3, 4-5, 6-7     Jn 10:22-30

“He rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart…”

Firmness – or strength – of heart is an invaluable asset in the pursuit of devotion, especially as we deal with the ups and downs of daily life. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“We must try to keep our heart steadily, unshakably equal during the great variety and inequality of daily events. Even though everything turns and changes around us, our hearts must remain unchanging and ever looking, striving and aspiring toward God.” (IDL, Book IV, Chapter 13, p. 256)

A little further along in this chapter, Francis de Sales makes a distinction between tenderness of heart and firmness of heart. He continues:

“Some men think about God’s goodness and our Savior’s passion, feel great tenderness of heart, and are thus aroused to utter sighs, tears and prayers, and acts of thanksgiving so ardently that we say that their hearts have been filled with intense devotion. But when a test comes, we see how different things can get. Just as in the hot summer passing showers send down drops that fall on the earth but do not sink into it and serve only to produce mushrooms, so also these tender tears may fall on a vicious heart but do not penetrate and are therefore completely useless to it.” (IDL, Book IV, Chapter 13, pp. 257-258)

With respect to tenderness of heart and firmness of heart, both have their place in the pursuit of holiness. Tenderness of heart can help us to enjoy the good times; firmness of heart can help us get through the tough times.

Today, what kind of heart might you need to have today?

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(May 10, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 12:24—13:5a     Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6 and 8     Jn 12:44-50

“His commandment is eternal life…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Many men keep the commandments in the same way that sick men take medicine – more from fear of dying in damnation than for the joy of living according to our Savior’s will. Just as some people dislike taking medicine – now matter how pleasant it may be – simply because it is called medicine, so there are some souls who hold in horror things commanded simply because they are commanded. On the contrary, a loving heart loves the commandments. The more difficult they are the sweeter sand more agreeable it finds them since this more perfectly pleases the beloved and gives him greater honor. It pours forth and sings hymns of joy when God teaches it his commandments. The pilgrim who goes on his way joyously singing adds the labor of singing to that of walking, and yet by this increase of labor he actually lessens his weariness and lightens the hardship of the journey. In like manner the devout lover finds such sweetness in the commandments that nothing in this mortal life comforts and refreshes him so much as the precious burden’s of God’s precepts.” (TLG, Book XIII, Chapter 5, pp. 67-68)

Perhaps in this observation from Francis de Sales we can hear the echo of Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: 29 – 30: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart.”

Seeing the commandments of God as strong medicine that cures our sickness can surely weigh us down, but seeing the commandments of God as that which keep us healthy can surely lift us up.

How will you see – and experience – God’s commandments today – as burden or bounty?

(April 20, 2017: Thursday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 3:11-26     Ps 8:2ab and 5, 6-7, 8-9     Lk 24:35-48

“The disciples recounted how they had come to recognize him in the breaking of bread…”

“Breaking bread…” Sharing food, sharing drink, sharing a meal. Something so simple, but it is in the context of such a common, ordinary, everyday human experience that the Risen Christ reveals himself!

Of course, “breaking bread” isn’t just about food and drink. It speaks of relationship; it speaks of intimacy; it speaks of welcoming another; it speaks of being home with another; it speaks of sharing who we are with another.

In the space of any given week how many times do we “break bread” with others? Have you ever stoped to think how the Risen Christ may be trying to reveal something of himself in the context of these common, ordinary and everyday human experiences in extraordinary ways?

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(April 21, 2017: Friday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 4:1-12     Ps 118:1-2 and 4, 22-24, 25-27a     Jn 21:1-14

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.

What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?

* * * * *
(April 22, 2017: Saturday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 4:13-21     Ps 118:1 and 14-15ab, 16-18, 19-21     Mk 16:9-15

“Perceiving them as uneducated, ordinary men, the leaders, elders and scribes were amazed [at] the companions of Jesus…”

Recall the words of Jesus in Chapter 11:25 of Matthew’s Gospel: “I thank you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and the clever, and you have revealed them to children…”

William Barclay made the following observation about Jesus’ statement:

“Jesus is speaking out of his own experience, the experience that the Rabbis and the wise men rejected him, and the simple people accepted him. The intellectuals had no use for him; the humble welcomed him. We must be careful to see clearly what Jesus meant here. He is very far from condemning intellectual power; what he is condemning is intellectual pride. As Plummer has it, ‘The heart – not the head – is the home of the Gospel.’ It is not cleverness which shuts out; it is pride. It is not stupidity which admits; it is humility. A man may be as wise as Solomon, but if he lacks the simplicity, the trust and the innocence of the childlike heart, he shuts himself out.” (Daily Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, Volume 2, pp. 13 – 14)

Francis de Sales tells us that love of knowledge is a good thing. However, knowledge is only valuable to the extent that it empowers us to love. It’s not enough to know about God – we are invited to love God.

And to love one another!

* * * * *
(April 23, 2017: Resurrection of the Lord)
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Acts 2:42-47     Ps 118:2-4, 13-15, 22-24     1 Pt 1:3-9     Jn 20:19-31

“He showed them his hands and his side.”

In the wake of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, the apostles in fear were locked away together because they were afraid that they might suffer the same fate as their teacher.

Despite their anxious seclusion, Jesus breaks into their lives. Not merely into the physical space in which they were taking refuge, but he also breaks into the space of their minds and hearts. Jesus attempts to calm their fears; he challenges them to be at peace; he does this in a rather confrontational and mysterious manner: by showing them the wounds in his hands and side.

The transforming power of the Resurrection did not remove the scars of Jesus’ woundedness, the lasting marks of pain, disappointment, misunderstanding, rejection, humiliation, abandonment, suffering and death. Notwithstanding these wounds, however, Christ’s resurrection powerfully demonstrated that pain, sadness, suffering and injustice did not, ultimately, enjoy the last word. While suffering is clearly a part of life, there is much more to life than suffering.

St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance, and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible forbearance the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 3)

All of us bear the wounds of failure, deception, betrayal, disappointment and loss. Our hearts, our minds, our memories – our souls – have the scars to prove it. Like the apostles, we are also tempted to withdraw from others, to lock ourselves away in some secluded emotional or spiritual corner, living in fear of what other pain or disappointments may come our way. Of course, in withdrawing from life, we figuratively – in some cases, even literally – die.

The Scripture commentator William Barclay once wrote: “Jesus did not come to make life easy. He came to make us great!” Jesus clearly demonstrates in his own life that our wounds do not necessarily need to overwhelm or disable us. While these wounds may be permanent, they need not rob us of the power and promise of recovery, of renewal – of resurrection – unless we despair and we allow ourselves to be defeated by the nails of negativity. When you come right down to it, the only thing greater than adversity is the ability – literally – to rise above it.

The wounds of our past continue to leave their marks in our present: they don’t necessarily determine the course of our future. Turn to the love of Jesus who knows what it means to be wounded and who shows us how to move through and beyond them. St. Francis de Sales wrote: “Look often on Christ, crucified, naked, blasphemed, slandered, forsaken, and overwhelmed by every kind of weariness, sadness, sorrow and labor.” Jesus triumphed over and through the wounds of his humanity. So too, with God’s help, can we.

To be sure, life can be tough. But as we see in the life of Jesus, there is something in life even stronger than being tough: God’s transforming love!

What could be more merciful – more generous – than that?

* * * * *
(April 24, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 4:23-31     Ps 2:1-3, 4-7a, 7b-9     Jn 3:1-8

“They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness…”

Many of us have been brought up to believe that boldness is something that we should eschew. This unfortunate situation may be especially true for those who have ever been addressed at some point in their lives as a “bold, brazen article”! Certainly not an accolade that folks would normally seek!

Not so for Peter and John. No sooner had they been released from imprisonment that they resumed proclaiming the Good News publically with vim and vigor, apparently without much – if any – care or concern about their own health, wealth or welfare. There can be no doubt that the Pharisees, Scribes and Elders might have considered Peter and John to be – in their own way – “bold, brazen articles”! Then again, these same Pharisees, Scribes and Elders had the same opinion of Jesus.

It’s probably safe to say that on most days we preach and practice the Gospel in measured, discrete and considerate ways. We’re not trying to make waves; we’re not trying to draw crowds. But there are times in our lives when it is both fitting – and perhaps even imperative – that we proclaim and preach the Gospel in ways that other people might consider bold, perhaps even brazen!

In those moments, do we have the courage to do so?

* * * * *
(April 25, 2017: Mark, Evangelist)
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1 Pt 5:5b-14     Ps 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17     Mk 16:15-20

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5: 5B-14)

Humility is one of the great hallmarks of the Salesian tradition. It is one of two qualities that Jesus used to describe himself. Obviously, then, our attempts to practice humility help us in our efforts to imitate Christ, to “Live + Jesus”.

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

“Many men neither wish nor dare to think over and reflect on the particular graces God has shown them because they are afraid that this might arouse vainglory and self-complacence. In so doing they deceive themselves. Since the true means to attain to love of God is consideration of God’s benefits, the more we know about them the more we shall love them. Nothing can so effectively humble us before God’s mercy as the multitude of his benefits and nothing can so deeply humble us before his justice as our countless offenses against him. Let us consider what he has done for us and what we have done against him, and as we reflect on our sins one by one let us also consider his graces one by one. There is no need to fear that knowledge of his gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth: none of the good in us comes from ourselves. A lively consideration of graces received makes us humble because knowledge of them begets gratitude for them.” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 5, pp. 134-135)

To humble ourselves does include acknowledging our sins, weaknesses and deficiencies. Unfortunately, many of us stop there. True humility challenges us to name not only our sins but also to name God’s graces. True humility challenges us to count not only our weaknesses but also to count God’s blessings. True humility challenges us to acknowledge not only our littleness but also to acknowledge our greatness.

In the end, the Salesian practice of humility has far less to do with putting ourselves down and a great deal more to do with remembering how God continues to raise us up.

The Almighty has done great things for us; holy is his name and humble is our name!

* * * * *
(April 26, 2017: Easter Weekday)
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Acts 5:17-26     Ps 34:2-3, 4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Jn 3:16-21

“Whoever lives the truth comes to the light so that his works may be clearly seen…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“When our mind is raised above the natural light of reason and begins to see the sacred truth of faith, O God, what joy ensues! As yet we do not see his face in the clear day of glory, but as it were in the first dawn of the day. If divine truths are so sweet when proposed in the obscure light of faith, O God, what shall those truths be like when we contemplate them in the noonday light of glory! We will see God manifest with incomprehensible clarity the wonders and eternal secrets of his supreme truth and with such light that our intellect will see in its very presence what it had believed here below!” (TLG, Book III, Chapter 29, pp. 189-190)

Living in the light of God’s truth enables us to see clearly God’s works in our lives. May our attempts at living in the light of God’s truth also enable other people to see clearly our works in their lives! After all, while we do walk by faith, we also walk by sight!

Today, what will people see in us that gives witness to the truth of what God sees in all of us?

(April 13, 2017: Holy Thursday – Mass of the Lord’s Supper)
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Ex 12:1-8, 11-14     Ps 116:12-13, 15-16bc, 17-18     1 Cor 11:23-26     Jn 13:1-15

“Do you realize what I have done for you?”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that he wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose he made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation he has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save humankind. He did this with so great a love…” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

While we may not be “ignorant” of what God has done for us (beautifully ritualized in the upper room at the Last Supper and dramatically demonstrated on the hill of Calvary), how much time – on any given day, in any given hour – do we spend reminding ourselves of how “great a love” God has for us, of what God has done for us and continues to do?

Even to this very moment!

* * * * *
(April 14, 2017: Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion)
* * * * *

Is 52:13—53:12     Ps 31:2, 6, 12-13, 15-16, 17, 25     Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9     Jn 18:1—19:42

“He learned obedience from what he suffered…”

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

“Our Savior himself has declared, ‘By our patience you will win your souls.’ It is man’s greatest happiness to possess his own soul, and the more perfect our patience the more completely do we possess our souls. We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” ( IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus learned obedience by what he suffered. He learned to listen to the voice of his Father by his practice of endurance, that is, through his willingness to see things through to the end. In so doing, he experienced the happiness and joy that even his suffering and death could not vanquish.

What kind of cross – be it injury, denial or discomfort – might God ask us to carry today? Are we up to the task?

* * * * *
(April 15, 2017: Holy Saturday – At the Vigil in the Holy Night of Easter)
* * * * *
“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians – the living plants of the Church – to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation…” (Part I, Chapter 3, p. 43)

Even before God created things – including us – God intended to underscore his love for the created order by becoming one of us in the person of his Son. Francis de Sales believed that it was the Incarnation that became the motivation for Creation. Thus, Creation made possible the ultimate expression of God’s love for the universe: the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. Because of “The Fall”, the Incarnation took on an additional purpose: to save us from our sins.

Tonight’s readings from Scripture testify to the fidelity of God’s creative, incarnational and redeeming love. Throughout all the ups and downs of human history, one constant has remained: God’s love for us. A love to the death…a love all about life.

Today, how can we show our gratitude for so wonderful – and faithful – a love? The answer – by bringing forth the fruits of devotion! In so doing, we continue the creative, incarnational and redemptive action of the God who loved us before the creation – and redemption – of the world.

* * * * *
(April 16, 2017: Resurrection of the Lord)
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Acts 10:34a, 37-43     Ps 118:1-2, 16-17, 22-23     Col 3:1-4     Jn 20:1-9

“The death and passion of our Lord is the sweetest and the most compelling motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life…The children of the cross glory in this, their wondrous paradox which many do not understand: out of death, which devours all things, has come the food of our consolation. Out of death, strong above all things, has issued the all-sweet honey of our love.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, Chapter 13)

The above quote from St. Francis de Sales is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion for righteousness and swallowed by death has in turn, conquered death once and for all with the power that is the promise of eternal life.

Christ’s pathway of passion, death and resurrection was personal. It was unique. It had been fashioned by the Father from all eternity. Jesus was faithful to God’s vision for him; Jesus embraced his vocation as the humble, gentle Messiah; Jesus suffered the pain of death; Jesus experienced the power of rising again.

From all eternity God has fashioned a personal path for each one of us. Each one of us has a unique role to play in the Father’s never-ending revelation of divine life, divine love, divine justice, divine peace and divine reconciliation. Still, the way to resurrection is the way of the cross – the way of giving up, the way of letting go, the way of surrendering any and all things, thoughts, attitudes and actions that prevent us from embodying the passion of Christ – the passion for all that is righteous and true.

Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God:

“God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked: this, the prophet did, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people.”

Be certain of one thing – the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. No, it is all of what we may be purified in order that we might live more faithfully and effectively lives of divine passion and compassion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation, but that we die to self in order that, paradoxically, we may actually be more of whom God calls us to be.

“Love is as strong as death to enable us to forsake all things,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. “It is as magnificent as the resurrection to adorn us with glory and honor.”

This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God’s love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go,” we can experience something of the resurrection every day.

And what better day is there for us to begin this journey?

* * * * *
(April 17, 2017: Monday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 2:14, 22-33     Ps 16:1-2a and 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11     Mt 28:8-15

“Do not be afraid…”

“Terrible thing, to live in fear. Brooks Hatlen knew it. Knew it all too well. All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won’t have to be afraid all the time…” (Morgan Freeman as Ellis Boyd Redding in The Shawshank Redemption.)

In a letter he wrote to Jane de Chantal on the 6th of August 1606, Francis de Sales gave the following counsel:

“St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, was afraid. As soon as he was frightened, he began to sink and to drown, leading him to cry out: ‘O Lord, save me.’ Our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself. O daughter of little faith, what do you fear? No, do not be afraid; you are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 125)

What is there to fear? Great question! Perhaps that question is the first step to not being afraid. Perhaps that question is also the first step to avoid living in fear: to name what it is that you are tempted to fear.

* * * * *
(April 18, 2017: Tuesday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 2:36-41     Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20 and 22     Jn 20:11-18

“You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit…”

In today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles we hear St. Peter speaking of the gift – singular – of the Holy Spirit! Generally speaking we are used to speaking of the gifts – plural – of the Holy Spirit. Sounds strange to us, but not to St. Francis de Sales! In his Treatise on the Love of God, he wrote:

“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus, ‘But the fruit of the spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ Theotimus, see how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say ‘The fruits of the Spirit are charity, joy’ but ‘the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy…’ The meaning of this manner of expression is this: ‘The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, p. 251)

In the big scheme of things, it is fair to say that the fundamental gift (singular) of the Holy Spirit is love – pure and simple. As Francis de Sales reminds us, however, this single gift has an “infinite number of excellent properties.”

Today, as temples of the Holy Spirit – as dwelling places of the Spirit’s gift of love – how many of the excellent properties associated with this one gift will we exhibit in our relationships with other people?

* * * * *
(April 19, 2017: Wednesday of the Octave of Easter)
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Acts 3:1-10     Ps 105:1-2, 3-4, 6-7, 8-9     Lk 24:13-35

“I have neither silver nor gold, but what I do have, I give to you…”

This simple phrase spoken by Peter in today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles serves as a simple shorthand for the Beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” (Matthew 5: 3 – 11)

Being poor in spirit requires that we do three things. First, we need to acknowledge our poverty; we need to name that which we lack. Second, we need to acknowledge our wealth; we need to name that which we possess. Third, we need to be willing to share our possessions – be they little or great – with others. Taken together, these steps can help us to be generous people.

Peter named his poverty; he named what he lacked. However, he was just as quick to state that he willingly shared with others what he did possess. As the Acts of the Apostles clearly demonstrates, Peter was a generous person in his service to Jesus’ mission and to God’s people!

How about us? How comfortable are we with acknowledging what we don’t have? By the same token, how comfortable are we with acknowledging what we do have…and most importantly, how willing are we to share what we have with others?

Be it little, great or something in between!

(April 6, 2017: Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Gn 17:3-9     Ps 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9     Jn 8:51-59

“I am making you the father of a host of nations…”

In a conference (on “Hope”) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Among the praises which the saints give to Abraham, St. Paul places this above all the others: that Abraham believed in hope even against hope. God had promised him that his seed should be multiplied as the stars of the heaven and the sand on the seashore, and at the same time he received the command to slay his son Isaac. Abraham in his distress did not, however, lose hope, but hoped, even against hope, that if he obeyed the command and slew his son, God would not fail to keep His word. Truly, great was his hope, for he saw no possible foundation for it, except the promise which God had given him. Ah, how true and solid a foundation is the word of God, for it is infallible!” (Conference VI, pp. 88 – 89)

What does it really mean when we hope for something? The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines hope as “to wish for something with the expectation of fulfillment.” It defines the theological virtue of hope as “the desire and search for a future good, difficult, but not impossible, to attain with God’s help.” From a theological point of view, there is much more to hope than mere wishful thinking.

In the opinion of St. Francis de Sales, we cannot fully understand the virtue of hope without also understanding the practice of aspiration. In Book Two of his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales distinguishes one from the other: “We hope for those things that we expect to gain through the aid of another, whereas we aspire to those things that we expect to gain through our own resources and our own efforts.” Of the relationship between these two practices, Francis wrote: “Just as those who would try to hope without aspiring are cowardly and irresponsible, so too, those who try to aspire without hoping are rash, insolent and presumptuous.” (Chapter 17)

As people of faith, we hope when we realize that the good things for which we wish ultimately depend on the grace of God. As people of faith, we aspire when we recognize that the good things for which we wish also depend on our own efforts.

Hope against hope, Abraham believed in God. But Abraham also put his belief – and his hope – into action.

Today, can the same be said of us?

* * * * *
(April 7, 2017: Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent)
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Jer 20:10-13     Ps 18:2-3a, 3bc-4, 5-6, 7     Jn 10:31-42

“I hear the whisperings of many…”

The more things change, the more they stay the same, especially when it comes to one of the most common kind of all whisperings.

Slander.

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

“Rash judgment begets uneasiness, contempt of neighbor, pride, self-satisfaction and many other extremely bad effects. Slander, the true plague of society, holds first place among them. I wish that I had a burning coal taken from the holy altar to purify men’s lips so that their iniquities might be removed and their sins washed away, as did the seraphim who purified Isaiah’s mouth. The man who could free the world of slander would free it if a large share of its sins and iniquity.”

“Slander is a form of murder. We have three kinds of life: spiritual, which consists in God’s grace; corporeal, which depends on the body and soul, and; social, which consists in our good name. Sin deprives us of the first kind of life, death takes away the second and slander takes away the third. By the single stroke of his tongue the slanderer usually commits three murders. He kills his own soul and the soul of anyone who hears him by an act of spiritual homicide and takes away the social life of the person he slanders.”

“I earnestly exhort you, never to slander anyone either directly or indirectly. Beware of falsely imputing crime and sins to your neighbor, revealing his secret sins, exaggerating those that are obvious, putting an evil interpretation on his good works, denying the good that you know belongs to someone, maliciously concealing it or lessening it by words. You would offend God in all these ways but most of all by false accusations and denying the truth to your neighbor’s harm. It is a double sin to lie and harm your neighbor at the same time.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 29, pp. 201-202)

What else need be said? Or, more to the point – what should no longer be said?

* * * * *
(April 8, 2017: Saturday of the Fifth Week of Lent)
* * * * *

Ez 37:21-28     Jer 31:10, 11-12abcd, 13     Jn 11:45-56

“I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘I have loved you with an everlasting love. Therefore, I have drawn you, having pity and mercy on you. And I will build you again, and you shall be built, O Israel.’ These are God’s words, and by them he promises that when the Savior comes into the world, he will establish a new kingdom in his Church, which will be his virgin spouse and true spiritual Israelite woman. As you see ‘it was not by’ any merit of ‘works that we did ourselves, but according to his mercy that he saved us.’ It was by that ancient – rather, that eternal – charity which moved his divine providence to draw us to himself. If the Father had not drawn us, we would never have come to the Son, our Savior, nor consequently to salvation.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 9, pp. 123-124)

God’s eternal charity – that is, God’s eternal love – makes us his people. We have done nothing to merit such an honor. It is an absolutely unearned gift. And despite our individual – and collective – sins, failings and infidelities, God demonstrates that – unlike us – he is never fickle and always faithful. God always has been, is and will be our God, and we always have been, are and will be God’s people.

What can we do – just this day – to say “thank you” to God for his fidelity to – and love for – us?

* * * * *
(April 9, 2017: Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion)
* * * * *

Is 50:4-7     Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24     Phil 2:6-11     Mt 26:14—27:66

“The passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ…”

The Passion of Jesus is certainly an account of the end of his earthly life. But the Passion of Jesus is also something that was demonstrated every day of his earthly life.

  • A passion for human justice.
  • A passion for divine justice.
  • A passion for doing what is right and good.
  • A passion for challenging others to promote the same.

In his Treatise on the Love of God (Book 10, Chapter 16), St. Francis de Sales identifies three levels of such passion:

First, we can have a passion for correcting, censuring and reprimanding others. This level of passion perhaps the easiest because it does not necessarily require those who are passionate about righteousness to actually perform acts of justice themselves. This form of zeal, obviously, can be very attractive because the focus is on what others are not doing. On the other hand, it can become a classic case of “do as I say, not as I do,” because it does not require us to live in a just manner ourselves.

Second, we can be passionate “by doing acts of great virtue in order to give good examples by suggesting remedies for evil, encouraging others to apply them, and doing the good opposed to the evil that we wish to eradicate.” “This holds for all of us,” remarks de Sales, “but few of us are anxious to do so.” Surely, this second level of passion requires work and integrity on our part. We can’t simply talk the talk; we must also walk the walk.

“Finally, the most excellent exercise of passion consists in suffering and enduring many things in order to prevent or avert evil. Almost no one wants to exercise this passion.” This third level of passion is willing to risk everything for what is righteous and just, even life itself. “Our Lord’s passion appeared principally in his death on the cross to destroy death and the sins of humanity,” wrote St. Francis de Sales. To imitate Jesus’ zeal for justice is “a perfection of courage and unbelievable fervor of spirit.”

Jesus certainly challenged the injustice of others and was willing to promote justice through his own good example. Most importantly, Jesus was willing to go the distance in his passion for justice, even at the cost of his own life.

Passion Sunday – for that matter, every day – begs the question: How far are we willing to go in our passion for justice, that is, for what is right and good?

* * * * *
(April 10, 2017: Monday of Holy Week)
* * * * *

Is 42:1-7     Ps 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14     Jn 12:1-11

“Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my Spirit…”

Obviously, Jesus is the servant whom God upholds. Obviously, Jesus is God’s servant. Obviously, Jesus is one upon whom God has put his Spirit.

Not so obvious? You, too, are the servant that God upholds. You, too, are God’s chosen one. You, too, are one upon whom God has put his Spirit.

How might you be pleasing – not only to God, but also to other people – today?

* * * * *
(April 11, 2017: Tuesday of Holy Week)
* * * * *

Is 49:1-6     Ps 71:1-2, 3-4a, 5ab-6ab, 15 and 17     Jn 13:21-33, 36-38

“The LORD has spoken, who formed me as his servant from the womb…”

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

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. My soul, where were you at that time? The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was yet nothing. God has drawn you out of that nothingness to make you what you now are and he has done so solely out of his own goodness and without need of you. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” (Part I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

From all eternity God chose to create us out of nothing and to make us something…to make us someone. What return can we make other than to stand in awe of God’s generosity towards us?

And to live accordingly!

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(April 12, 2017: Wednesday of Holy Week)
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Is 50:4-9a     Ps 69:8-10, 21-22, 31 and 33-34     Mt 26:14-25

“The Lord GOD is my help…”

Today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah paints the picture of a God who lifts up those who are weighed down. He is a God who clears a path for those burdened by the journey. He is a God who gives comfort in times of adversity. In short, our God goes out of His way to help those who are down and out. In a world with its share of challenges, trials and difficulty, our God is a God who lightens the load.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must take the greatest consolation from seeing how God exercises His mercy by the many diverse favors he distributes among angels and men – in heaven, and on earth – and how He exercises His justice by an infinite variety of trials and difficulties. Hence, death, affliction sweat and toil with which life abounds are by God’s justice the consequences of sin, but they are also by God’s sweet mercy ladders upon which to ascend to heaven, means by which to increase and grace and merits whereby to obtain glory. Indeed, blessed are poverty, hunger, thirst, sorrow sickness death and persecution: they are consequences of our humanity which nevertheless are so steeped and aromatized in God’s love, goodness and mercy that theirs is a most sweet bitterness.” (TLG Bk IX, Chapter 1, p.98)

Trials and difficulties are a part of life. Fortunately for us, God sees these same trials and difficulties as opportunities to console us, support us, nourish us and sustain us.

How – in the name of this merciful, generous God – do we do the same for one another?

(April 3, 2017: Monday of Fifth Week of Lent)
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Dn 13:1-9, 15-17, 19-30, 33-62     Ps 23:1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6     Jn 8:1-11

“It’s not the crime; it’s the cover-up.”

“After the Watergate break-in, ‘quick action, resolution on the spot,’ could have saved President Nixon, said Prof. Michael Useem, an expert in business ethics at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

‘It was the inaction, the cover-up, that absolutely ruined his reputation in history forever,’ he said. Since the Nixon administration, a mantra repeated during many scandals has been, ‘It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.’”

(http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/01/business/choosing-whether-to-cover-up-or-come-clean.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm)

In today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel, we are presented with what might be considered as the Watergate scandal of the Old Testament: the story of Susanna. In short, two elders of the people attempted to have their way with her – the crime. When she resisted, they accused her of adultery – the cover-up. In effect, they sinned against Susanna twice by (1) attempting to physically assault her, and (2) by falsely assaulting her reputation. In the end, their crime – and perhaps even more so, the cover-up – results in their paying the ultimate price – death.

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

“A soul that has consented to sin must have horror for itself and be washed clean as soon as possible out of the respect it must have for the eyes of God’s Divine Majesty who sees it. Why should we die a spiritual death when we have this sovereign remedy at hand?” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 19, p. 111)

Anyone can make a mistake. Don’t make it even worse for yourself or others by covering it up!

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(April 4, 2017: Tuesday of the Fifth Week of Lent)
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Nm 21:4-9     Ps 102:2-3, 16-18, 19-21     Jn 8:21-30

“We have sinned in complaining against the Lord…”

How quickly we forget.

In the first reading today from the Book of Numbers, we witness the complaining, whining and moaning of the Israelites as they continued their journey toward the Promised Land. Sure, the trek had been laborious; sure, the conditions were challenging; sure, the food and drink was less than desirable. But despite the fact that God had liberated them from the yolk of Egyptian slavery and oppression, the Israelites’ gratitude had clearly waned. Not only had they forgotten what God had done for them, but they also appear to have presumed that the pathway to freedom would be easy.

Dr. M. Scott Peck will probably be best remembered for the opening statement in his book The Road Less Travelled. The first chapter begins with these words: “Life is difficult.” Throughout much of his book the author maintains that a significant amount of human pain and grief is not the result of difficulties, but rather, much of the suffering and frustration that we experience is the direct result of our tendency to complain about life’s difficulties and our attempts to avoid them altogether. Such complaining and avoidance can lead to – among other maladies – a case of chronic ingratitude.

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

“Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are…In the opinion of many – and it is true – constant complaining is a clear proof of lack of strength and generosity.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 130)

On some level, we can all relate to the Israelites. We’ve all experienced tough times. We’ve all gotten bad breaks. We’ve all had our share of difficulties and disappointments. We’ve all had moments when we felt that the road to happiness shouldn’t take so much time, effort and energy. But we also know from our own experience that chronic complaining is toxic. It poisons our perceptions and perspectives, and it ultimately does nothing to address or reduce whatever difficulties we may be facing, be they real and/or imagined. In fact, chronic complaining simply makes things worse – for us, as well as for those around us.

Do you suffer from chronic complaining? Try applying the surest remedy of all.

Gratitude!

And why not begin today?

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(April 5, 2017: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of lent)
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Dn 3:14-20, 91-92, 95     Dn 3:52, 53, 54, 55, 56     Jn 8:31-42

“The truth will set you free…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our free will is never as free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never as servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world. For there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls.” (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

The Salesian tradition holds this truth about human freedom. It is not about being able to do whatever we want – that isn’t freedom, that’s license. True human freedom is about being able to do whatever it is that God wants us to do.

How might this truth set you free today?

(March 23, 2017: Thursday of the Third Week of Lent)
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Jer 7:23-28    Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9    Lk 11:14-23

“If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts…”

If you ask a group of people the question, “What is the worst thing that can happen to the human heart?” many folks will almost instinctively respond by answering, “When it breaks”.

However painful a broken heart may be, there is actually something far worse than can happen to a human heart – “When it hardens”.

The first reading from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah cites some characteristics or qualities frequently associated with hardening of the heart. These include:

  • Not paying attention or heed
  • Being disobedient
  • Turning ones back on God and others
  • Being stiff-necked
  • Not listening
  • Not answering
  • Being unfaithful

And in the case of today’s Gospel, we witness a particularly toxic variation on hardening of the heart – refusing to acknowledge the power of God at work in the lives of others and refusing to acknowledge that God can choose to work in the lives of others that often confound – and contradict – worldly wisdom.Nobody wants a broken heart! However, a broken heart can serve as a kind of spiritual pulse. Wounded as we might be, at least having a heart capable of breaking can remind us that we are still alive! By contrast, a hardened heart ultimately leads to one thing and one thing only – death.
If you hear God’s voice today, with what kind of heart will you listen?

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(March 24, 2017: Friday of the Third Week of Lent)
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Hos 14:2-10   Ps 81:6c-8a, 8bc-9, 10-11ab, 14 and 17    Mk 12:28-34

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself…”

In today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark, Jesus cites what He considered to be the greatest or “first” commandment: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” But Jesus doesn’t stop there. Without being asked, He cites a “second” commandment as well: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The order of the “loves” listed between the two “commandments” is noteworthy: love of God comes first, love of neighbor comes second and love of self comes last. Many people quietly confide to their most trusted friends that over the span of their lives, the person that that they discovered it took the longest to love was themselves.

Are you having problems loving God? Are you having problems loving others? Maybe it’s because you’re having trouble loving yourself. “There is no commandment greater than these.” In the case of the last, perhaps there is no commandment more difficult.

* * * * *
(March 25, 2017: Annunciation of the Lord)
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Is 7:10-14; 8:10    Ps 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11    Heb 10:4-10    Lk 1:26-38

“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of making such a request of God? Who wouldn’t say “yes” to the opportunity for God to display His power for us and/or for someone whom we love? Yet, in today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Ahaz balks when given the opportunity of a lifetime and he takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.”

What’s up with that? Perhaps Ahaz’s reluctance is rooted in his intuition that signs from the Lord often require changes in the one who asks for the sign in the first place! Under those circumstances, his circumspection makes a whole lot more sense. Remember the admonition? “Be careful what you pray for…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Devout discussions and arguments, miracles and other helps in Christ’s religion do indeed make it supremely credible and knowable, but faith alone makes it believed and known. It brings us to love the beauty of its truth and to believe the truth of its beauty by the sweetness it diffuses throughout our will and the certitude it gives to our intellect. The Jews saw our Lord’s miracles (signs) and heard his marvelous doctrines, but since they were not disposed to accept the faith, that is, since their wills were not susceptible to the sweet and gentle faith because of the bitterness and malice with which they were filled, they remained in their infidelity. They saw the force of the proof but they did not relish its sweet conclusion…” (TLG, II, Chapter 14, pp. 139 – 140)

Of course, God has been giving us signs of his love for us – regardless of whether we have asked for them or not – from the very beginning of time. Creation, itself – through which we were made in God’s image and likeness – is the first and fundamental sign of God’s love for us. As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus is the great reaffirmation of that first and fundamental sign of divine love, because Jesus not only redeems us, but through Jesus God also made himself in our image and likeness.

If you are so moved, feel free to ask God for a sign of his love and care. However, it is better that we be more moved to be signs of God’s love and care in the lives of one another.

* * * * *
(March 26, 2017: Fourth Sunday of Lent)
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1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a    Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6    Eph 5:8-14    Jn 9:1-41

“Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

Blindness is cured by the touch of Jesus. Expressing our faith – being sources of the touch of Jesus in the lives of others – allows others also to see and experience the healing power of Jesus.

Jesus took the initiative in curing the blindness of the young man born blind. This miracle provided others the occasion to come to a better understanding of Jesus and his mission.

The young man dialogued with the authorities concerning his cure. In doing so, he came to a better understanding of Jesus for himself and, he consequently challenged the authorities concerning their beliefs.

Francis de Sales wrote in the Introduction to the Devout Life (3,26)

“If then you are in love with God, you will often speak of him in your familiar conversations with those of your household, your friends and your neighbors…But speak always of God, as of God: reverently and devoutly; not with ostentation or affectation, but with a spirit of meekness, charity and humility…Pray secretly to God in your soul that it would please Him to make this holy dew sink deep into the heart of those who hear you.”

As the young man spoke more and more about Jesus, he broke open the mystery of what had happened to him and how much Jesus meant to him. He went from seeing Jesus as a miracle worker to recognizing him and believing him to be the Son of God (“He worshipped him”). He gradually came to know Jesus in his fullness, encountering and making that truth his own and doubtlessly changing his life forever.

During this season of Lent, the Sacrament of Reconciliation provides us with the touch of Jesus that cures our own blindness, weakness and sinfulness. Prayer and meditation provide a means to break open for ourselves the mystery of our own redemption. Reading and listening to the Word of God in Scripture and sharing it with others in Bible groups and in less formal ways gives us further insight into how we can participate in the mission of Jesus and his Church.

Openness to the gift of faith permits us to see others as God sees them, and as Samuel saw in David God’s anointed one.

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians says, “Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.”

If our life style as a Christian challenges others, then we can express our beliefs with meekness and humility. We need to accept the gift of grace which we received not only as a gift but also as a responsibility. In other words, we need to help others be open to grace and be cured of their own blindness, and to come to see and experience the light that we find only in the life, death, resurrection and love of Jesus Christ.

* * * * *
(March 27, 2017: Monday of Fourth Week of Lent)
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Is 65:17-21    Ps 30:2 and 4, 5-6, 11-12a and 13b    Jn 4:43-54

“The man believed what Jesus said to him…”

In today’s Gospel, a royal official – whose name we never learn – asked Jesus to save his son, who was apparently near death. Obviously, this request was going to involve some travelling on Jesus’ part (upwards to a full day, as it turned out!), insofar as the official asked Jesus to “come down” – presumably, to his home – and heal his son. Much to the surprise of the official, Jesus simply tells him – without making the trip to actually visit the boy – that his son has already been saved.

And the official “believed what Jesus said to him.” In other words, he took Jesus at his word…and headed home.

You don’t think that his heading home immediately is a big deal? Then put yourself in the official’s position. Can you imagine what was going through his mind, minutes – then hours – after beginning his long walk back home? He had lots of time to second-guess his decision to simply believe Jesus’ statement. “What was I thinking about?” “Am I crazy?” “Should I have insisted that he come with me?” “Was I stupid to believe him?” “What if my son has died by the time I get home?” “Did I let my son – and my family – down?” “Have I failed?”

Talk about faith! A faith, as it turns out, for which he and his entire family were richly rewarded.

St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

“Believe me, God who has led you up until now will continue to hold you in His blessed hand, but you must throw yourself into the arms of His providence with complete trust and forgetfulness of self. Now is the right time. Almost everyone can manage to trust God in the sweetness and peace of prosperity, but only his children can put their trust in Him when storms and tempests rage: I mean to put their trust in Him with complete self-abandonment.” (Select Salesian Subjects, 0130, p. 28)

When it comes to “complete trust and forgetfulness of self”, the standard doesn’t get much higher than the one set by the royal official in today’s Gospel.

How does our trust in God today – especially in the midst of our own “storms and tempests” – measure up?

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(March 28, 2017: Tuesday of the Fourth Week of Lent)
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Ez 47:1-9, 12    Ps 46:2-3, 5-6, 8-9    Jn 5:1-16

“Rise, take up your mat, and walk.”

A touching story in today’s Gospel from John. Jesus encounters a man who has been disabled virtually all his life. The man hopes to be healed by being immersed in the waters of a pool believed to hold miraculous power, but insofar as somebody else always manages to get to the pool ahead of him, his hopes for healing remain unfulfilled.

It’s remarkable what Jesus does for him. He doesn’t offer to carry the man over to the pool. He doesn’t offer to immerse the man into the pool. Jesus heals the disabled man on the very spot on which he had been marooned for nearly four decades.

Simply put, Jesus didn’t make the man work for His healing. Jesus didn’t make the man work for His love. Jesus administered his healing touch freely and without condition.

How often do we make someone work for our love before we decide to share it? How often do we make someone work for our healing touch before we choose to grant it? How often do we make someone crawl before we decide to help them to walk? That’s certainly not how God acts.

And why should we?

* * * * *
(March 29, 2017: Wednesday of the Fourth Week of lent)
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Is 49:8-15   Ps 145:8-9, 13cd-14, 17-18    Jn 5:17-30

“For the LORD comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted…”

Today’s reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah paints the picture of a God who lifts up those who are weighed down. He is a God who clears a path for those burdened by the journey. He is a God who gives drink to the thirsty and food to the hungry. In short, our God goes out of His way to help those who are down and out. In a world with its share of challenges, trials and difficulty, our God is a God who always lightens our load.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must take the greatest consolation from seeing how God exercises His mercy by the many diverse favors he distributes among angels and men – in heaven, and on earth – and how He exercises His justice by an infinite variety of trials and difficulties. Hence, death, affliction sweat and toil with which life abounds are by God’s justice the consequences of sin, but they are also by God’s sweet mercy ladders upon which to ascend to heaven, means by which to increase and grace and merits whereby to obtain glory. Indeed, blessed are poverty, hunger, thirst, sorrow sickness death and persecution: they are consequences of our humanity which nevertheless are so steeped and aromatized in God’s love, goodness and mercy that theirs is a most sweet bitterness.” (TLG Bk IX, Chapter 1, p.98)

Trials and difficulties are a part of life. Fortunately for us, God seizes these same trials and difficulties as opportunities to console, support, nourish and sustain us.

Consider today – how, in the name of this merciful and generous God, do we do the same for one another?

March 16, 2017: Thursday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Jer 17:5-10    Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6    Lk 16:19-31

“Remember that you received what was good during your lifetime…”

The parable in today’s Gospel does not require a great deal of explanation. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it is a warning – a stern warning. Acts have consequences; choices have ramifications; decisions have results. What goes around comes around.

However, take note of one detail in the story: the rich man who “dressed in purple and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day” is not condemned because of his good fortune, but he is condemned because of his failure to share his good fortune with someone less fortunate.

Lent is a good time for us to reflect upon all the good – all the blessings – that God continues to shower upon us. Lent is also a good time to consider how good we are – or aren’t – at sharing our goods with others.

And why not begin today?

* * * * *
(March 17, 2017: Friday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Gn 37:3-4, 12-13a, 17b-28a    Ps 105:16-17, 18-19, 20-21    Mt 21:33-43, 45-46

“When his brothers saw that their father loved him best…they hated him…”

This is a famous story from the Book of Genesis. It is a story of family feud. It is a story of internecine jealousy. It is a story of unspeakable betrayal.

However, in the end, it is a story of God’s unpredictable providence!

Joseph is his father’s favorite. His older brothers hate him for it. Blinded by their resentment and envy, they plot to murder Joseph. At the last moment, however, Reuben has second thoughts. He proposes that they essentially leave their brother to die in the desert (hoping that he might subsequently rescue his brother). At first blush, it seemed that Reuben’s plan might work after all until a caravan of foreigners appeared. The plan is changed again. The brothers – even Rueben, by all accounts – decide to sell Joseph into slavery. This plan provides the brothers with an out – they don’t actually take Joseph’s life, but they can get Joseph out of their lives permanently.

Twenty years later Israel finds itself in the grip of a devastating famine. At the end of their respective ropes, Joseph’s brothers travel to Egypt with the hope of finding food and shelter. Imagine their surprise – and shame – when they find themselves face-to-face with the brother whom they had sold into slavery, presumably unto death.

There is a great mystery here to be considered. Absent his brothers’ treachery, Joseph’s kin – and presumably, Joseph himself – might have all been consumed by the famine that swept through Israel twenty years after selling their brother into slavery. How could anyone have anticipated that an act of betrayal could turn into a tale of salvation, forgiveness and reconciliation?

What’s the moral to the story? Sometimes in life good things happen for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes in life even the most loathsome of intentions can produce an inspired turn-of-events. Simply put, God can make miracles out of the worst of circumstances.

Today, reflect on this question: are they any examples of such experiences in your own life?

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(March 18, 2017: Saturday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Mi 7:14-15, 18-20    Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 9-10, 11-12    Lk 15:1-3, 11-32

“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them…”

This behavior is the resentment leveled against Jesus in today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke. In response, Jesus proceeds to tell the Pharisees and scribes a parable: the parable of the prodigal son.

The word “prodigal” is defined as “rashly or wastefully extravagant”. Well, that certainly describes the younger son to a tee. After all, he demands an inheritance (to which, as the younger son, he was not entitled) and promptly blows his entire fortune – and all of his supposed friends – on irresponsible living.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in giving”. Well, that certainly describes the father. After all, not only does he not rub his younger son’s face in his failure – or treat him like a slave – but he welcomes him back, forgives him, and restores his place and position in the family.

The word “prodigal” is also defined as “lavish in yielding”. Well, that certainly describes the older son, or more to the point, the older son’s struggle. The story ends with the father begging the older brother to let go of his resentment – to set aside his anger – toward his younger brother’s return as well as toward his father’s lavish celebration of the younger brother’s return.

Is there anything in that story to which you can really relate at this point in your life? Is there anyone in the parable with whom you can most closely empathize?

What is your answer? Why?

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(March 19, 2017: Third Sunday of Lent)
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Ex 17:3-7 Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9    Rom 5:1-2, 5-8    Jn 4:5-42

“Is the Lord in our midst or not?”

From generation to generation, this is a timely (even a perennial) question more often than not raised in moments of crisis and confusion or in the experience of suffering, tragedy, injustice or loss. Angry, frustrated and disillusioned, the Israelites – our spiritual ancestors – posed this question to Moses in the midst of the seemingly aimless desert trek on which they had been led. Like them, we ask the same question in our own ways every day, whether due to global events like terrorism, war, famine and disease or our own personal struggles, including unemployment, illness, death and relational issues.

Moreover, it is the perfect question to reflect upon as we progress in our Lenten journey.

At least intellectually, we do believe that God is truly in our midst. Francis de Sales certainly did, but for him, this belief was not merely an intellectual assent – but also, one of his core beliefs:

“There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Just as wherever birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are God is truly present.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part II, Chapter 2)

However, in our eagerness for God to spring water from the rock in times of doubt or adversity, we often forget the fact that God has been with us all along the way. In moments of crisis, those who encourage us with a kind word, a good turn or attentive an ear can reflect to us the immediacy of God’s faithful, ongoing presence – a presence likewise experienced in Scripture heard, Eucharist shared and prayer raised up.

Still, despite our best intentions and attention, we sometimes panic and miss the obvious in our frantic search for the Lord, especially in times of great need. God is, as it were, “hidden in plain sight”. We forget that God is as near to us as the very air we breathe, a mistake that the Samaritan woman almost makes in her own encounter with Jesus at the well. The Lord is in her midst – in fact, he is right in front of her – but this spontaneous request for a drink from a Jewish male is so astonishing that she almost fails to recognize who is speaking with her. Happily, she realizes that it could “possibly be the Christ” and gratitude stirs her to abandon her water jar, run to town and announce to the people the Good News of her encounter with Jesus.

Whether in the desert or at the well, signs of God’s presence are always in our midst and, like the woman in the Gospel, these signs are something for which we should be grateful. The gratitude we feel and express for these signs produces trust: trust in God and trust in those who are signs of God’s love for us. “Just trust in the Lord,” St. Francis de Sales writes, “and He will continue to lead you safely through all things. Where you cannot walk, God will carry you in His arms.”

In gratitude for those times when we have been carried in the Lord’s arms, today may we be signs of God’s presence for others.

* * * * *
(March 20, 2017: Joseph, Husband of Mary)
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2 Sm 7:4-5a, 12-14a, 16    Ps 89:2-3, 4-5, 27 and 29    Rom 4:13, 16-18, 22    Mt 1:16, 18-21, 24a

“Joseph her husband was a righteous man…”

In a conference (The Virtues of St. Joseph) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation, St. Francis de Sales remarked:

“Now, our glorious St. Joseph was endowed with four great virtues (constancy, perseverance, strength and valor) and practiced them marvelously well. As regards his constancy, did he not display it wonderfully when seeing Our Lady with child, and, not knowing how that could be, his mind was tossed with distress, perplexity and trouble? Yet, in spite of all, he never complained, he was never harsh or ungracious towards his holy Spouse, but remained just as gentle and respectful in his demeanor as he had ever been…” (Living Jesus, p.184)

Joseph experienced more than a little turmoil in his role as husband and father of the Holy Family. However, being the just and righteous man that he was, Joseph never took out his frustrations on his wife or on his son. Rather, he accepted life’s ups and downs as expressions of God’s will for him.

And so we pray: God grant us the grace to imitate the example of St. Joseph. Help us to take whatever comes in life without taking it out on others – especially on those we love the most.

* * * * *
(March 21, 2017: Tuesday of the Third Week of Lent)
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Dn 3:25, 34-43    Ps 25:4-5ab, 6 and 7bc, 8-9    Mt 18:21-35

“Let our sacrifice be in your presence today…”

This line from the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel would suggest that it is possible to sacrifice something without being in God’s presence. But – as we heard so clearly and convincingly from St. Francis de Sales this past Sunday – it is not possible to sacrifice something apart from God’s presence because there is no place in this world in which God is not truly and fully present.

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

“Although faith assures us of God’s presence we forget about him and behave as if God were far distant from us because we do not see him with our eyes. We really believe that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on this fact we act as if we did not believe it.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

Whatever we might choose to offer and sacrifice to God today, just remember that our offerings and sacrifices are not intended to draw God’s attention to us. Rather, our offerings and sacrifices are designed to draw our attention to God!

Over and over again!

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(March 22, 2017: Wednesday of the Third Week of lent)
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Dt 4:1, 5-9    Ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20    Mt 5:17-19

“Observe them carefully…”

What is it that we should be observing carefully? As we hear in the words on the lips of Moses from the Book of Deuteronomy today, it is God’s statutes and decrees that we are to observe carefully.

When we fail to observe God’s laws carefully – regardless of how large or how little God’s laws may be, as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel from Matthew – often times it is not because we are intentionally choosing to break them as much as – once again – we have managed to forget them, and in forgetting them we manage to lose sight of them altogether.

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

“Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being told or reminded of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him, they easily forget his presence and having forgotten it, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p. 84)

And in the effort to underscore the importance of doing carefully any worthwhile endeavor, recall Francis de Sales’ very definition of devotion, that is, holiness:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also to do good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (Ibid, Part I, Chapter 1)

Today, do you want to make progress in observing carefully God’s statutes and decrees? You can start – as the Book of Deuteronomy reminds us – by not allowing them to slip from your memory! As the saying goes, “Out of sight, out of mind.”

(March 9, 2017: Thursday of the First Week of Lent)
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Est C:12, 14-16, 23-25    Ps 138:1-2ab, 2cde-3, 7c-8    Mt 7:7-12

“Ask and it will be given…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus continues to give instruction on prayer. He tells us “everyone who asks, receives; the one who seeks, finds; to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

In a sermon given on April 5, 1615, Francis de Sales made the following observation regarding asking for things in prayer:

“We have said that there are two kinds of goods for which we may ask in prayer: spiritual goods and corporal goods. There are two kinds of spiritual goods. One kind is necessary for our salvation: for these (faith, hope and charity) we ought to ask God simply and without condition, for he wants to give them to us. The other kind (ecstasies, raptures, spiritual comforts and consolations) – although also spiritual – we ought to ask for under the same rubric as corporal goods, namely, only if it is God’s will and if it is for His greater glory. Under these conditions we may ask for anything.” (Fiorelli, OSFS, Sermons on Prayer, p. 15)

Of course, when Jesus assures us that we will receive when we ask, we cannot assume that He means we will always receive precisely that for which we ask. Insofar as God does hear us, God will always answer our petitions, albeit not necessarily in accordance with our wishes. When God’s response does not appear to match our request, Francis encourages us to not become discouraged, since “perfection does not consist in having these goods, but rather in having our will united to that of God. It is this that we may and ought to ask from the Divine Majesty continually and unconditionally.” (Ibid, p. 16)

Referring to the order in which the petitions are ranked in the Lord’s Prayer, Francis notes:

“We ought to ask first that His Name be hallowed, that is to say, that He may be acknowledged and adored by all. Next, we must ask for what is most necessary for us, namely, that His Kingdom come for us, so that we may be inhabitants of Heaven. Third, we ask that His will be done. After these three requests we add, ‘Give us this day our daily bread.’ Jesus Christ makes us say, ‘Give us our daily bread,’ because under this word ‘bread’ are included all temporal goods. (Ibid, pp. 16-17)

We’ve all heard the dictum: “Be careful what you pray for.” Jesus tells us something altogether different. He says: ask for anything, but be careful about the reasons for which you ask. Is it for your comfort and consolation or is it for God’s honor and glory?

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(March 10, 2017: Friday of the First Week of Lent)
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Ez 18:21-28    Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-7a, 7bc-8    Mt 5:20-26

“If the wicked, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins that he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales observed:

“Our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just that have no need for repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood, made with the hyssop of the cross, we have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean that if we had never had leprosy. This is to the end that God’s majesty, as he has ordained for us as well, should not be ‘overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good’… (TLG, Book II, Chapter 5, pp. 115 – 116)

This display of God’s generosity is nothing if not breathtaking. God loves us so much that not only does God not hold our sins against us if we should repent from our evil ways. No, God goes even further by applying his grace to our repentance in ways that can transform us into something more beautiful than if we had never committed sin in the first place! How generous is God? God can even turn our sins into a means of our salvation if we but trust in his unconditional and abiding love for us. But should this act of God really surprise us? After all, have you ever noticed that some of the greatest of saints started out by being the greatest of sinners?

Are there any ways in which you are disfigured by the leprosy of sin? Don’t be ashamed; rather, be assured that God can transform your spiritual disfigurement into something – actually, someone – far more beautiful than you could ever have believed possible.

And God will effect this transformation beginning even today!

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(March 11, 2017: Saturday of the First Week of Lent)
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Dt 26:16-19    Ps 119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8    Mt 5:43-48

“Be careful to observe them with all your heart and with all your soul…”

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

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to the Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but also do this carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Indeed, “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”

Carefully, frequently and promptly!

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(March 12, 2017: Second Sunday of Lent)
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Gn 12:1-4a    Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22.    2 Tm 1:8b-10 Mt 17:1-9

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Those who recognize Jesus Christ as Lord and Messiah certainly do their level best to “listen to him”. Of course, disciples of Jesus can’t limit discipleship to merely listening to him. They have to put into action what Jesus says to them. They have to imitate him; they have to follow his example.

We certainly hear an example of this discipleship in Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy. He encourages this community of Christians – followers of Jesus – to not only listen to what Paul has to say, but also to imitate his example of how to put the Good News of Jesus Christ into action. The specific advice that Paul offers to Timothy includes:

  • Living a holy life
  • To follow God’s designs
  • To cooperate with God’s grace
  • To be a source of life
  • To be a source of light

By all means let us listen to the Lord today. But remember: just as talk can be cheap, so too, can listening if it fails to lead to a change of mind, heart, soul and spirit…in ways that can be experienced by others.How do we know if we are listening to Jesus? The answer is only to the extent that we are “Living” Jesus.

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(March 13, 2017: Monday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Dn 9:4b-10    Ps 79:8, 9, 11 and 13    Lk 6:36-38

“Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful…”

What does it mean to be merciful as the Father is merciful? As the reading from the Book of the Prophet Daniel suggests, it is about being generous and loyal. Daniel wrote: “Lord, great and awesome, you who keep your merciful covenant toward those people who love you and observe your commandments!” Daniel then proceeds to remind his audience that the Lord also keeps his merciful covenant with those people who rebel against God’s commandments and laws through sin, evil and wickedness. Of course – as we know from our own experience – there is something of both within each one of us, because each one obeys and disobeys God’s commandments. And still, for all that, God remains loyal to us in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. God stands by us in all things. God loves us no matter what. God is, after all, “compassion and forgiveness”.

Of course, God’s mercy, generosity and fidelity come with some very high expectations. God’s forgiveness should lead us to practice compassion, not complacence. As God doesn’t judge us, so we should not judge others! As God doesn’t condemn us, so we should not condemn others! As God forgives us, so we should forgive others! As God gives to us, so we should give to others! The measure with which we measure to others should measure up to how generously God measures to us…in all kinds of times, places and situations!

Would you like to be “great and awesome” in the eyes of God? Then try to do your level best to be merciful to others today as God is clearly merciful to you!

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(March 14, 2017: Tuesday of the Second Week of Lent)
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Is 1:10, 16-20    Ps 50:8-9, 16bc-17, 21 and 23    Mt 23:1-12

“Let us set things right…”

Today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah offers us some particularly appropriate and timely advice as we continue to journey through Lent. We are challenged to:

  • To wash ourselves clean
  • To put aside our misdeeds
  • To cease doing evil
  • To learn to do good
  • To be willing to obey

In short, we are called to do the right thing.Of course, we know from our own lived experience that as hard as we try to do the right thing, we don’t always get it right. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offers us a practical for-instance:

“I constantly advise you that prayers directed against and pressing anger must always be said calmly and peaceably, and not violently. Thus rule must be observed in all steps taken against evil. However, as soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were anger. It is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we realize that we have told one. So also we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. Fresh wounds are quickest healed, as the saying goes…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, pp. 148-149)

What is the moral? When it comes to doing good, we can always try our level best to make things right at a later time (but not too late!) in the event that we don’t always get things right the first time.

This Lent might be a perfect time to do just that!

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(March 15, 2017: Wednesday of the Second Week of lent)
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Jer 18:18-20    Ps 31:5-6, 14, 15-16    Mt 20:17-28

What do you wish…?”

“What’s in it for me?” On some level that’s essentially what the mother of James and John is asking Jesus in today’s Gospel story. Whether her sons put her up to it or she came up with it all by herself, she is basically asking, “Why should my sons follow you? What’s the pay-off?” On the face of it, her request is perhaps reasonable, given Jesus’ prediction of his own falling out with the chief priests and the scribes that will lead to his being condemned, mocked, scourged and crucified. She wants some guarantee that her boys will have something to show for their trouble that she intuits will invariably come.

Really – what mother wouldn’t be concerned?

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

We must often recall that our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation by sufferings and afflictions, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

There is no way around it – the experience of enduring injuries, denials and discomforts is part-and-parcel of the life that comes with drinking the chalice from which Jesus drinks. Following Jesus – who is the Way, the Truth and the Life – isn’t all smiles and sunshine. And somewhere down deep inside us, the mother of James and John also whispers variations of her question to Jesus: “Why are you following Him? What’s in it for you? What do you hope to get out of this?”

“Must good be repaid with evil?” Some days it sure feels that way! Be that as it may, why do we continue to follow Jesus? Why do we drink from the chalice from which He drank?

Today, ask yourself the question: “What’s in it for me?”

(March 2, 2017: Thursday after Ash Wednesday)
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Dt 30:15-20    Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6    Lk 9:22-25

“If you are led astray and serve other gods…you will certainly perish…”

Other gods – idols – are defined as “an object of extreme devotion”. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cautions us from going to extremes when it comes to fasting or any other form of devotion. Beginning with a quote from St. Jerome, he wrote:

“’Long, immoderate fasts displease me very much…I have learned by experience that when an ass’ foal grows tired, it tends to wander away,’ meaning that those who are weakened by excessive fasting easily turn to soft living. Stags run poorly in two situations – when they are too fat and when they are too lean. We are very exposed to temptation both when our bodies are too pampered and when they are too run down, for the one makes the body demanding in its softened state and the other desperate in affliction. Just as we cannot support the body when it is too fat, so, too, it cannot support us when it is too thin. Lack of moderation in fasting and other forms of austerity makes many people’s best years useless for the service of charity. After all, the more some people mistreat the body in the beginning, the more they tend to pamper it in the end. Wouldn’t people do better to have a program that is balanced and in keeping with the duties and tasks their state in life obliges them to do?” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

A word of advice – When it comes to fasting of the body, the mind, the soul or spirit, avoid the temptation of going to extremes.

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(March 3, 2017: Friday after Ash Wednesday)
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Is 58:1-9a    Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 18-19    Mt 9:14-15

“This is the fasting that I wish…”

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

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I much prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, for it exempts those who are working in the service of God and our neighbor even from prescribed fasts. One mind finds it difficult to fast, another to take care of the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These last sufferings are of far greater value than the first. In addition to disciplining the body, they produce much more desirable fruits…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 186)

And what are these “more desirable fruits”? Isaiah names a few: “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke, setting fee the oppressed, breaking every yoke, sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless, clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Today, what is the kind of fasting that God may wish from us? In general, the sacrifice, discipline and self-mastery that come more from focusing on what we can try to do, rather than on what we can try to do without.

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(March 4, 2017: Saturday after Ash Wednesday)
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Is 58:9b-14    Ps 86:1-2, 3-4, 5-6    Lk 5:27-32

“If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusation and malicious speech…light shall rise for you in the darkness…”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. You must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purposes, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice comes close to being so good and desirable as plain dealing …” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Whether in fasting from telling lies – or being more committed to telling the truth – what steps can we take today to make the light rise a bit higher and brighter in the darkness for ourselves and others by the type of speech we choose to speak?

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(March 5, 2017: First Sunday of Lent)
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Gn 2:7-9; 3:1-7    Ps 51:3-4, 5-6, 12-13, 17    Rom 5:12-19    Mt 4:1-11

“Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert where he was tempted by the devil.”

While Jesus was preparing to begin his public ministry – to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God – to be the kind of Messiah envisioned by His Father – to open up his mind and heart to the power and promise of the Holy Spirit – he was tempted.

Tempted to turn stone into bread and to use his saving power for his own convenience. Tempted to settle for earthly kingdoms and to be satisfied with passing glory and majesty. Tempted to throw himself from the temple and presumably, to convince people of his identity and authority through a single, dramatic, headline-grabbing event.

Fundamentally, Jesus was tempted to be someone other than the poerson God wanted him to be. Jesus was tempted to be a different kind of savior. Jesus was tempted to believe that there was an easier way to redeem, to save and to sanctify. Jesus was tempted to believe that there was a short cut to salvation, a “one-size-fits-all” road to redemption.

We can relate to this temptation. How often do we tell ourselves that we would be happier, healthier and holier if we were someone else? How often do we say that there must be another way (that is, an easier way, a less inconvenient way) to be a good wife, a good husband, a good son or daughter, a good sister or brother, a good friend or neighbor? The tragedy is that if we spend our lives believing that we’d be better off if we were someone or somewhere else, we would never live the one life – the only life – that God gives us.

Francis de Sales wrote:

“Don’t sow your desires in some else’s garden; just cultivate your own as best you can. Don’t long to be someone other than what you are; rather, desire to thoroughly be who you are. Direct your thoughts to being very good at that and to bear the crosses, little or great, that you find there. Believe me, this is the most important point– and least understood – in the spiritual life.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 112)

Jesus was tempted to be someone other than the one whom the Father wanted him to be. Jesus was tempted to forsake the authentic pathway of love for the hollow, devilish promise of a shortcut. Jesus was tempted to take the (seemingly) easy way out. However, his belief in God’s plan for him allowed Jesus to disavow the empty promise of a quick fix for the path that leads to true happiness, health and holiness. To use Matthew Kelly’s image, Jesus was tempted to settle for something less than “being the best version of himself”.

As we journey through this season of Lent, let us ask for the courage we need to recognize the voice of the tempter within us. Let us ask for the insight to see the ways in which we are tempted to spend our lives wishing we were someone else. Let us ask for the grace and the strength to follow the example of Christ, the one who shows us that love is not about quick fixes or short cuts, but that love is about being willing to go the distance…faithfully, one day, one person at a time.

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(March 6, 2017: Monday of the First Week of Lent)
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Lv 19:1-2, 11-18    Ps 19:8, 9, 10, 15    Mt 25:31-46

“You shall not…You shall.”

Today’s readings remind us that being children of God comes with its share of “do’s” and “don’ts”.

  • The “don’ts” include:
  • You shall not steal.
  • You shall not lie or speak falsely.
  • You shall not defraud or rob.
  • You shall not withhold.
  • You shall not curse.
  • You shall not spread slander.
  • You shall not hate.

The “do’s” include:

  • You shall feed the hungry.
  • You shall satisfy the thirsty.
  • You shall clothe the naked.
  • You shall welcome the stranger.
  • You shall care for the sick.
  • You shall visit the imprisoned.

Many people experience the commandment to follow both the letter and the spirit of God’s Law to be burdensome. In today’s Gospel, Jesus insists that living by God’s Law is not only not burdensome, but in fact is the way to Beatitude – it is the way of experiencing blessing by being blessing in the lives of others.Be it through “do’s” or “don’ts”, how might God be asking you to be a source of divine Beatitude – that is, a blessing – in the lives of others today?

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(March 7, 2017: Tuesday of the First Week of Lent)
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Is 55:10-11    Ps 34:4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19    Mt 6:7-15

“Do not babble like the pagans…”

In today’s Gospel Jesus gives instruction on the proper way to pray. He cautions us to “not babble like the pagans”, who think that they will be heard because of their many words.

In a sermon given on April 5, 1615, Francis de Sales made the following observation regarding prayer in general, and vocal prayer in particular:

“To mutter something with the lips is not praying if one’s heart is not joined to it. To speak it is necessary first to have conceived interiorly what we wish to say. There is first the interior word, and then the spoken word, which causes what the interior has first pronounced to be understood. Prayer is nothing other than speaking to God. Now it is certain that to speak to God without being attentive to Him and to what we say to Him is something that is most displeasing to Him…God tests more the heart of the one who prays rather than the words pronounced by one who prays.” (Fiorelli, OSFS, Sermons on Prayer, p. 18)

Authentic prayer is not a matter of words. Authentic prayer is a matter of the heart, a heart whose stirrings must ultimately be displayed in actions.

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(March 8, 2017: Wednesday of the First Week of lent)
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Jon 3:1-10    Ps 51:3-4, 12-13, 18-19    Lk 11:29-32

“When God saw how they turned from their evil way, He repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them…”

Today’s reading from the Book of Jonah illustrates two things about God. First, God is just. God expects us to turn away from evil. God expects us to turn toward the good. Our failure to do so can result in clear and unambiguous consequences. Second, God’s justice toward us is outdone only by His mercy toward us. There appears to be no doubt that God is always prepared to give us the benefit of the doubt, even if we are making only a modicum of progress in the love of God and neighbor.

Indeed, God is love, a love that tempers – that is, strengthens – justice with mercy.

It’s always tempting to get tough on other people who don’t measure up to our expectations. Ironically enough, this seems especially true in our relations with those we love. Perhaps, their lack of progress isn’t because we aren’t being tough enough, but perhaps it’s because we aren’t being merciful enough.

Is 49:14-15    Ps 62:2-3, 6-7, 8-9    1 Cor 4:1-5    Mt 6:24-34

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Do not make any judgment before the appointed time, until the Lord comes,
for he will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will manifest the motives of our hearts…”
In Part Three, Chapter 28 of his Introduction to the Devout Life, dealing with the topic of “Rash Judgment”, Francis de Sales quotes verbatim the above selection from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. Jumping off from here, Francis takes an s are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their hives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good people do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of our neighbors. To avoid meeting them they retire into their own hearts and make good resolutions for their own amendment. It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself in examining the lives of others people.”Amen.t can be daunting. Acknowledging our need to do certain things and to not do other things can leave us wondering: is change, is growth, is conversion really possible?When we remember that with God all things are possible.
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(March 1, 2017: Ash Wednesday)
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Jl 2:12-18    Ps 51:3-4, 5-6ab, 12-13, 14 and 17    2 Cor 5:20—6:2    Mt 6:1-6, 16-18

Lent is a time when each of us is challenged to recognize our need for conversion. We are invited to closely examine our relationship with God, ourselves and one another. Simply put, Lent asks us to name those sins, vices, weaknesses — anything — that may prevent us from growing in thought, word and deed in our God-given dignity.

A popular way of ritualizing this inner journey is to “give up” something for Lent. Some refrain from tobacco; others eschew alcohol; still others pass up all desserts. Some of us may give up something good during Lent; some of us may give up something bad during Lent, and still others may give up a combination of both.

Using traditional language, Lent is a time for fasting. Fasting, however, is only half of the story. Lent, in its fullest expression, is also a season for feasting!

In their book A Sense of Sexuality, (Doubleday 1989) Drs. Evelyn and James Whitehead remind us that “fasting, at its finest, is neither solely punishment nor denial. We fast not only to avoid evils but to recapture forgotten goods.” Put another way, “the ‘no’ of fasting is fruitful only if we have some deeply valued ‘yes’ in our life.” The arduous discipline of feasting complements our fasting; we need something for which to fast.

That’s right. Feasting requires no less discipline than fasting. The discipline of feasting celebrates well and heartily the God-given blessings that we enjoy without engaging in selfishness and excess.

Lent, then, is as much a matter of “doing” as it is of “doing without”. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Both fasting and working mortify and discipline us. If the work you undertake contributes to the glory of God and to your own welfare, I much prefer that you should endure the discipline of working than that of fasting.”

He continued:

“One person may find it painful to fast, another to serve the sick, to visit prisoners, to hear confessions, to preach, to assist the needy, to pray, and to perform similar exercised. These latter pains have as much value as the former.”

Whether through fasting or feasting, turning away from sin or turning toward virtue, these forty days of Lent are about out “insides:: our heart, mind, thoughts, feelings, attitudes, hopes and fears. It is the journey of the soul and spirit. “As for myself,” says Francis de Sales, “it seems to me that we ought to begin with the interior.”

And so we pray: God give us the grace to make a new beginning with the first of these forty days….and with every day that will follow hereafter.

(February 16, 2017: Thursday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 9: 1-13    Ps 102:16-18, 19-23, 29    Mk 8:27-33

“Who do you say that I am?”

No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ then Jesus publically – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later, Peter rather lamely suggests erecting three tents while Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Still later, Peter impetuously severs the ear of a slave belonging to one of servants of the high priest who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemani. And after protesting his love of Jesus at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. And, of course, while Jesus spent the last hours of his life hanging on the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.

Jesus may have called Peter “rock”, but the Savior knew he had cracks. Peter might even be described as being “off his rocker” from time to time.

However, as imperfect as Peter was, God entrusted the keys of the kingdom to him. And as imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to entrust those same keys – however obvious or innocuous – to each and every one of us.

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(February 17, 2017: Seven Holy Founders of the Servite Order)
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Gn 11:1-9    Ps 33:10-15    Mk 8:34-9:1

“Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the sky, and so make a name for ourselves.”

To construct a building is one thing, but to maintain it is another. Prudent builders/owners not only allot resources for the actual construction of whatever it is they build, but they will also earmark resources for the ongoing upkeep of the building. In a letter to Madame de Chantal (February 11, 1607), Francis de Sales observed:

“It is not necessary to be always and at every moment attentive to all the virtues in order to practice them; that would twist and encumber your thoughts and feelings too much. Humility and charity are the master beams – all the others are attached to them. We need only hold on to these two: one is at the very bottom and the other at the very top. The preservation of the whole building depends on two things: its foundation and its roof. We do not encounter much difficulty in practicing other virtues if we keep our heart bound to the practice of these two…” (LSD, pp. 148-149)

God – the Master Builder – has constructed each of us in his image and likeness. Let us celebrate the building-of-God that we are by building things – but especially, relationships – whose hallmarks are humility and charity. In so doing, may we bring glory not to ourselves, but to God!

Today, and every day!

* * * * *
(February 18, 2017: Saturday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 11:1-7    Ps 145:2-5, 10-11    Mk 9:2-13

“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed, but rather, it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as if their eyes were opened and their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; the good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize Jesus’ brilliance in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation, present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, may we grow in our ability – through the quality of our lives – to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

* * * * *
(February 19, 2017: Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Lv 19: 1-2, 17-18    Ps 103: 1-4, 8, 10, 12-13    1 Cor 3:16-23    Mt 5: 38-48

“You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus picks up where he left off last Sunday by adding yet more verses to his version of the song “Higher Love.” Jesus proclaims that it isn’t enough to practice retribution that is balanced; you should not practice retribution at all. It isn’t enough to love your neighbor while hating your enemy; you must also love your enemies; you must pray for those who persecute you. When asked to travel a certain distance, you must go the extra mile. When asked for help, do what you can without expecting any return for your generosity. If someone strikes you on one side of your face, offer them the other side.

However, it would be a mistake to hear in Jesus’ words the invitation to be a wimp, a wall flower or a door mat. There comes a time in a person’s life (just as there were many times in Jesus’ life) when – despite all attempts to roll with the punches – you must simply – and strongly – stand up for what it right. This challenge is rooted in knowing how to take a stand against another without allowing hatred to grow in our hearts toward others. As the Book of Leviticus reminds us: “Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against any of your people.”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Nothing so quickly calms down an angry elephant as the sight of a little lamb (writer’s note: you go first!); nothing so easily breaks the force of a cannon ball as wool. We do not set much value on correction that comes from anger – even when accompanied by reason – as to one which comes from reason alone. When princes visit their people with a peaceable retinue they honor them and cause them great joy, but when they come at the head of armies – even though for the common good – their visits are always disagreeable and harmful. In like manner, as long as reason rules and peaceably chastises, corrects and warns – even though severely and exactly – everyone loves and approves it.” (Part III, Ch. 8)

If we must stand up for ourselves, we must avoid knocking down others. If we must correct, chastise or reprove others, it must be done without suborning resentment. If we must work for peace, it must be pursued without employing unjust means. As we know from our own experience, however, this tack is much easier said than done. Ehen justice actually requires that we prevent someone from striking us (or others) on the other cheek, we might unintentionally strike them first! Francis de Sales offers the following advice when we do the right thing in the wrong way: “As soon as you see that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct the fault right away by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you grew angry. Just as it is a sovereign remedy against lying to contradict the untruth upon the spot as soon as we see we have told one, so, too, we must repair our anger instantly by a contrary act of meekness. As the saying goes, fresh wounds are quickest healed.” (Ibid)

As we see so clearly in the life of Jesus, living a “higher love” often has less to do with what we do – or don’t do – to others and it has much more to do with how we treat – or don’t treat – others.

* * * * *
(February 20, 2017: Monday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
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Sir 1:1-10    Ps 93:1-2, 5    Mk 9:14-29

“This kind can only come out through prayer…”

In a Sermon on Our Lady’s Purification, Francis de Sales observed:

“There is only one thing necessary to pray well, and that is to have Our Lord in our arms. When we do this our prayer is always made well, whatever method we follow. There is no other technique – without this our prayers will be worth nothing…Prayer is nothing but an ‘elevation of our mind to God’, which we in no way can bring about by ourselves. But when we have Our Savior in our arms everything becomes easy for us.” (Living Jesus, pp. 306-307)

Perhaps the reason that Jesus’ disciples were unsuccessful in driving out the demon was because they attempted to do it on their own – they tried to do it without Jesus.

I’m not sure if I agree with Francis de Sales when he says that when we pray with “Our Savior in our arms everything becomes easy for us.” However, I know this for a fact – trying to do pretty much anything without Jesus makes it all the more difficult.

* * * * *
(February 21, 2017: Tuesday, Seventh Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Sir 2:1-11    Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40    Mk 9:30-37

“Accept whatever befalls you, when sorrowful, be steadfast, and in crushing misfortune be patient; For in fire gold and silver are tested, and worthy people in the crucible of humiliation. Trust God and God will help you; trust in him, and he will direct your way; keep his fear and grow old therein.”

These consoling words from the Book of Sirach remind me of some similar consoling words from St. Francis de Sales:

“We must try to keep a constant and unchanging attitude. Though everything turns and changes about us, we must always remain firm, our eyes fixed on God, seeking God and moving towards God. Whether we are in sadness or joy, in consolation or bitterness, in peace or in trouble, in light or in darkness, in temptation or tranquility, in liking or disgust, in dryness or warmth, scorched by the sun or refreshed by the dew, our hearts (like the compass of a ship) should always be turned to God, our Creator and Our Savior, the One who is our unique and sovereign good.”

Regardless of what we may experience this day, let us recall the closing words of the selection from Sirach:

“Compassionate and merciful is the LORD; he saves in time of trouble and he is a protector to all who seek him in truth.”

Words to live by…today and every day!

* * * * *
(February 22, 2017: Chair of Peter, Apostle)
* * * * *

1Pt 5:1-4    Ps 23: 1-3a, 4-6    Mt 16:13-19

“Who do you say that I am?”

On the web site of the Catholic News Agency, we find the following entry for the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter:

“The Feast of the Chair of St. Peter celebrates the papacy and St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome. St. Peter’s original name was Simon. He was married with children and was living and working in Capernaum as a fisherman when Jesus called him to be one of the Twelve Apostles. Jesus bestowed to Peter a special place among the Apostles. He was one of the three who were with Christ on special occasions, such as the Transfiguration of Christ and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was the only Apostle to whom Christ appeared on the first day after the Resurrection. Peter, in turn, often spoke on behalf of the Apostles.”

“When Jesus asked the Apostles: ‘Who do men say that the Son of Man is?’ Simon replied: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ And Jesus said: ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood have not revealed it to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to you: That you are Peter [Cephas, a rock], and upon this rock [Cephas] I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven’. (Mt 16:13-20) In saying this Jesus made St. Peter the head of the entire community of believers and placed the spiritual guidance of the faithful in St. Peter’s hands.”

The post on the web site continues: “However, St. Peter was not without faults…”

Now there’s an understatement. No sooner does Jesus give Peter a big “shout out” for correctly identifying him as the Christ than Jesus publically – and severely – reprimands Peter for disputing Jesus’ description of Himself as a suffering Messiah. Later, Peter rather lamely suggests erecting three tents while Jesus is transfigured on Mt. Tabor. Still later, Peter impetuously severs the ear of a slave belonging to one of the people who came to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane. After protesting his love of Jesus at the Last Supper, Peter denied Jesus not once, not twice but three times. And, of course, while Jesus spent the last hours of his life hanging on the cross, Peter was nowhere to be found.

Jesus may have called Peter “rock”, but the Savior knew Peter had cracks, too. While “Chair of Peter” speaks of stability, even Peter might be described as being “off his rocker” from time to time.

However, as imperfect as Peter was, God entrusted the keys of the kingdom to him. And as imperfect as we are, Jesus continues to entrust those same keys – however obvious or innocuous – to each and every one of us.

Today, as we celebrate the “Chair of Peter,” don’t forget that Jesus has likewise prepared a chair – a place, a role – for each and every one of us in continuing the work of God’s Kingdom.

Like Peter, do we have the courage to take our place in God’s plan of salvation?

(February 9, 2017: Thursday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 2: 18-25    Ps 128:1-5    Mk 7:24-30

“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.”

We see a test of wills in today’s Gospel. A local woman is determined to wrest a miracle for her daughter from Jesus, but Jesus seems equally determined to deny her request. While Jesus appears committed to saying “no” to this woman’s plea, the woman appears equally determined to refuse to take “no” for an answer. Clearly, this scene has all the makings of a “Syrophoenician stand-off”.

In both cases, Jesus and the woman are persistent. They are both determined to persevere.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our Savior attaches to the great gift of perseverance the supreme gift of eternal glory, as He has said, ‘The one who shall persevere to the end shall be saved.’ This gift is simply the sum total and sequence by which we continue in God’s love up to the end, just as the education, raising and training of a child are simply the acts of care, help and assistance…Perseverance is the most desirable gift we can hope for in this life. It is in our power to persevere. Of course, I do not mean that our perseverance takes its origin from our power. On the contrary, I know that it springs from God’s mercy, whose most precious gift it is.” (Book 3, Chapter 4, p. 174)

Jesus credits the Syrophoenician woman’s persistence – her perseverance – for granting her request to heal her daughter.

Today, how determined are we in our attempts to bring our needs – and the needs of those we love – to the Lord?

* * * * *
(February 10, 2017: Scholastica, Virgin)
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Gn 3:1-8    Ps 32:1-2, 5-7    Mk 7:31-37

“People brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hand on him.”

Jesus was only too happy to grant their request to heal a deaf man with a speech impediment. As we see in the Gospel account today, however, Jesus did much more than simply lay his hand on him. He took him apart from the crowd. Jesus placed his finger in the man’s ears and then spitting, Jesus placed his finger on the man’s tongue.

Jesus healed people in a variety of ways. Sometimes he simply said a word. Sometimes he gave a direct command. Sometimes he followed someone to their home. Sometimes he healed from far away. Sometimes he healed in public. And sometimes – as seen in today’s account from Mark’s Gospel – Jesus’ healing is private: intimately up-close and personal.

Ask yourself this question: how might you need Jesus to heal you today? Then, ask yourself another question: how might Jesus need you to heal someone else today?

* * * * *
(February 11, 2017: Saturday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 3:9-24    Ps 90:2-6, 12-13    Mk 8:1-10

“My heart is moved with pity…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Compassion, sympathy, commiseration or pity is simply an affection that makes us share the sufferings and sorrows of ones we love and draws the misery that they endure into our own hearts…” (Book V, Chapter 4, p. 243)

As we see clearly in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ compassion is more than an affection. It is more than a feeling. While he clearly makes the neediness of others his own, Jesus does more than that – he does something about the neediness. Jesus satisfies the hunger. Jesus heals the pain. Jesus breaks the chains. Jesus confronts the injustice.

Every time Jesus’ compassionate heart is moved, something good happens to others.

Today, will the same be said of our hearts?

* * * * *
(February 12, 2017: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Sir 15: 15-20    Ps 119: 1-2, 4-5, 17-18, 33-34 1    Cor 2:6-1    Mt 5: 17-37

“You have heard it said…but I say to you.”

Think about it, there must be higher love
Down in the heart or hidden in the stars above
Without it life is wasted time
Look inside your heart, I’ll look inside mine.
Things look so bad everywhere

In this whole world what is fair?
We walk blind and we try to see
Falling behind in what could be.

Bring me a higher love, bring me a higher love
Bring me a higher love, where’s that higher love I keep thinking of?

– sung by Steve Winwood

In today’s Gospel Jesus calls us to a “higher” love. Jesus urges us to avoid practicing or pursuing spiritual minimalism, i.e., looking to do only the bare minimum of what is required or living life by the “good enough” method. Jesus clearly raises the bar when he tells his listeners that it isn’t just enough to avoid killing your neighbor, but you must also avoid growing angry with – or holding a grudge against – your neighbor. Indeed, you must be reconciled with your neighbor. It isn’t enough to just avoid committing adultery, but we must also avoid looking at others in ways that objectify or discount them for our own gratification or advantage. Indeed, rather than waste your time by looking at others, your time would be better spent by examining yourself. It isn’t enough to just avoid making a false oath, but you should also avoid putting yourself in any situation in which you would feel obliged to swear to anything. Simply say what you mean and mean what you say.

Jesus’ “higher love” is really at the heart of Francis’ notion of “devotion.” He wrote:

“Genuine, living devotion presupposes love of God, and hence it is simply true love of God. Yet it is not always love as such. Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to God’s Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only make us do good but also do the good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion…In addition, it arouses us to do quickly and lovingly as many good works as possible, both those commanded and those merely counseled or inspired.” (IDL, Part 1, Ch. 1)

For his part, St. Francis de Sales also challenges us to avoid spiritual minimalism. It isn’t good enough to avoid lying; we must be truthful. It isn’t good enough to avoid gluttony; we must be disciplined. It isn’t good enough to avoid being parsimonious; we must be generous. It isn’t good enough to avoid injuring others; we must heal others.

Let us pray…

God, help us to live this higher love. Help us to avoid trying to simply “get by” in life; help us to understand what it means to truly live…by fully loving.

* * * * *
(February 13, 2017: Monday, Sixth Week of Ordinary Time)
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Gn 4:1-15, 25    Ps 50:1, 8, 16bc-17, 20-21    Mk 8:11-33

“He sighed from the depth of his spirit…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “We must recall that Our Lord has saved us by his suffering and endurance and that we must work out our salvation, enduring with all possible meekness the injuries, denials and discomforts we meet.” (Part III, Chapter 3, p. 128)

Jesus had his share of success during his public ministry. He healed the sick. He freed the possessed. He fed the hungry. He satisfied the thirsty. He welcomed the marginalized. He consoled the sorrowing. He found the lost. He raised the dead. Of course, Jesus also had his share of trials and tribulations during his public ministry. He was subjected to criticism. He was subjected to misunderstanding. He was subjected to ridicule. He was subjected to rejection. He was subjected to abandonment, arrest and crucifixion. He was subjected to death.

In short, Jesus took the bad with the good in his attempt to preach – and practice – the Good News. While Jesus didn’t go looking for trouble, he wouldn’t it trouble either, especially when it came to promoting the justice and peace of the Kingdom of God. Given the amount of resistance that he faced from some quarters, it’s amazing that the Gospels don’t provide many more examples of how Jesus “sighed from the depths of his spirit” more often!

In our day-to-day attempts at living a devout life we can relate to Jesus’ frustration. We’ve all faced resistance in ways that make us sigh from the depths of our spirits, too. While we shouldn’t go looking for trouble, we shouldn’t be all that surprised when trouble finds us. Like Jesus, when trouble comes our way, let’s do our level best to not allow it to dissuade us from doing good – and being good – in the lives of other people.

* * * * *
(February 14, 2017: Cyril and Methodius, “Apostles to the Slavs”)
* * * * *

Gn 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10    Ps 129:1a, 2, 3ac-4    Mk 8:14-21

“When did Noah build the ark, Gladys? Before the rain – before the rain.”

– (Robert Redford, playing the role of Nathan

Muir in the film Spy Game, 2001.)

The Book of Genesis describes a kind of divine boiling point – God has reached the end of his patience in the face of human wickedness and has decided to start over, but not before making allowance for a remnant of both man and beast alike that will survive the flood. God chooses Noah to build an ark that will preserve this remnant and – eventually – repopulate the earth. Noah, of course, is mocked by most of his contemporaries, right up until the day that the flood came.

Francis de Sales placed a great premium on living in the present moment. He exhorted his contemporaries to live each day, each hour and each moment as it came. He counseled people against brooding over the past; he warned people about fretting over the future.

Living in the present, however, is not the same as flying blind or living by the seat of your pants. There is great value in doing a little pre-planning in the spiritual life. In fact, Francis de Sales recommended that people begin each and every day with what we now call the “Preparation of the Day”. Francis wrote:

“Anticipate any tasks, transactions and occasions that you may meet this day. Prepare yourself to make the best use of the means that may come to you. Carefully prepare to avoid, resist and overcome whatever may be encountered that is opposed to your salvation.”

Figuratively speaking, there are many arks in our lives that we plan to build that never get finished. There are other arks in our lives that we believe we need that never get used. There are still other arks that we clearly should have built – but never did – because we didn’t recognize the need until after the fact. All that said, there’s no harm in preparing for the future – be it short or long term – provided that it does not disable our ability to live in the only place in which we can possible plan for tomorrow.

Today!

* * * * *
(February 15, 2017: Wednesday, Sixth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Gn 8:6-13    Ps 116: 12-15, 18-19    Mk 8:22-26

“Summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

In the Fourth Book of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Chapter 13, St. Francis de Sales begins with the following observation: “God keeps this wonderful world in existence amidst constant change. Thus day passes into night, spring into summer, summer into autumn, autumn into winter and winter into spring. One day never exactly resembles another: some days are cloudy, some rainy, some dry, some windy. Variety gives great beauty to the universe.”

“It is the same with us,” Francis continues. “We are never in the same state. Our lives flow on earth like the water that surges and swirls in a perpetual diversity of movements. Sometimes we are lifted up by hope, sometimes cast down by fear; sometimes bent to the right by joys, sometimes to the left by sorrow. Not one day nor one hour is exactly the same.”

Indeed, how diverse, how fluid and how varied are the seasons of the human heart, of the human mind and of the human soul. In so many ways, Heraclitus (Greek philosopher, 500 B.C.) was right when he said that “the only constant is change.”

These seasons of the soul challenge us in two ways: (1) We need to accept, embrace and learn from all of the seasons of our lives, and (2) we nevertheless need to find some source of constancy in order to effectively deal with the changing tides of the ocean within us which are our thoughts, feelings and attitudes.

St. Francis offered advice regarding the former in a letter to St. Jane de Chantal (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 148) written in 1608: “You would like it to be always spring or summer; but no, you have to experience interior as well as exterior changes. Only in heaven will everything be springtime as to beauty, autumn as to enjoyment and summer as to love. There will be no winter there; but here below we need winter so that we may practice self-denial and the countless small but beautiful virtues that can be practiced during a barren season.”

Just as every season of the year plays a part in our particular role in God’s plan for our world, so, too, all the seasons of the heart have their place to play in God’s plan of salvation for us. Joy, sadness, success, setback, faith, fear, anxiety, confidence…all can teach us something more of who we are and who God calls us to be.

Who wouldn’t always like to be happy and fulfilled? Who wouldn’t like to avoid sadness and emptiness? Nevertheless, every season of the soul has its own voice that needs to be heard.

Where can we hope to find the stability to deal with the seasons of the soul? Francis de Sales wrote: “We must try to keep a constant and unchanging mind…Though everything turns and changes about us (and within us) we must always remain firm, our eyes fixed on God, seeking God and moving towards God…Whether we are in sadness or joy, in consolation or bitterness, in peace or in trouble, in light or in darkness, in temptation or tranquility, in liking or disgust, in dryness or warmth, scorched by the sun or refreshed by the dew, yet the highest point of our heart (like the compass of a ship) should always be turned to God, our Creator and Our Savior, our unique and sovereign good.”

Our spiritual path may be filled with uncertainty. God’s plan for us may be full of surprises: some consoling and some maddening. Our minds, our hearts—our lives—may not be as calm or predictable as we might like.

The challenge for us is to believe that in all—and every—season of the soul, it is the same loving God who creates us, redeems us and inspires us to take confidence in God’s constant, unchanging and eternal love…for us.

(February 2, 2017: Presentation of the Lord)
* * * * *

 

 

Mal 3:1-4    Ps 24:7-10    Heb 2:14-18    Lk 2:22-40

“Since the children are people of blood and flesh, Jesus likewise has a full share in these…”

“God has signified to us in so many ways and by so many means that He wills all of us to be saved that no one can be ignorant of this fact. For this purpose, God made us ‘in his own image and likeness’ by creation, and by the Incarnation God has made himself in our image and likeness, after which he suffered death in order to ransom and save all mankind.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 8, Chapter 4)

We are probably familiar with the notion that through creation we are made in God’s image and likeness. In contrast, we are probably far less familiar with the notion that God, through the Incarnation, made Himself in our image and likeness. Familiar or not, both statements are true.

St. Francis de Sales was captivated by the notion that God loved us so much that he not only came among us, but he also became one of us! God took on our very nature! In the person of Jesus, God gained and experienced first-hand knowledge of what it means to sleep, to wake, to work, to rest, to dance, to cry, to mourn, to struggle, to succeed and to dream. In this experience Jesus not only redeems what it means to be human, but Jesus also celebrates what it means to be human – to be human as God dreams.

The author of the letter to the Hebrews likewise believed this truth. He writes that “Jesus had a full share” in blood and flesh…and “had to become like his brothers (and sisters) in every way.” In this way, Jesus could not only redeem us but also he could truly understand us.

This truth is, indeed, a great mystery and a supreme expression of intimacy. God so loved us that he took on our nature…He made himself into our image and likeness – the truest and best nature as God intended from the beginning of time. In a manner of speaking, through the Incarnation God shows us how to be comfortable in our own skin. How? By showing us that God is comfortable in our skin in the person of his son, Jesus Christ!

Put simply, it is in God’s nature to meet us where – and how – we are.

And so, how can we imitate God’s example through our willingness to meet others where and how they are today?

* * * * *
(February 3, 2017: Blaise, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *

Heb 13:1-8    Ps 27:1, 3, 5, 8-9    Mk 6:14-29

“Ask of me whatever you wish and I will grant it to you.”

There’s an old Irish expression that goes something like this: “Be careful what you pray for.” Today’s Gospel offers a variant of this wisdom: “Be prudent about what you promise.”

Herod is so captivated – one might say even star-struck – by the dance performed by his daughter that he impulsively promises her whatever she desires, even “up to half of his kingdom.” Of course, the daughter dutifully asks her mother what she should request. Herodias seizes the opportunity to settle the score with John the Baptizer and instructs her daughter to ask Herod for the head of the prophet.

And we know how this story ends for Herod…and for John.

Perhaps a pithy – but a no-less-powerful – point to ponder today is – think twice before you say something. Words once spoken cannot be retrieved. Don’t lose your head – or someone’s else’s for that matter – over an impulsive proposition or promise.

* * * * *
(February 4, 2017: Saturday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Heb 13:15-17, 20-21    Ps 23:1-6    Mk 6:30-34

“His heart was moved…for they were like sheep without a shepherd…”

In today’s Gospel we hear that Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of the crowd who “were like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost.

“Lost” is defined as:

  • not made use of, won, or claimed
  • no longer possessed or no longer known
  • ruined or destroyed physically or morally
  • taken away or beyond reach or attainment
  • unable to find the way
  • no longer visible
  • lacking assurance or self-confidence
  • helpless
  • not appreciated or understood
  • obscured or overlooked during a process or activity
  • hopelessly unattainable

It’s safe to say that we all have the experience of being “lost” from time-to-time. Sometimes, we might experience being “lost” in any number of ways for long periods of time. Fortunately for us, one of the reasons that Jesus became one of us was to find the lost.

Today, consider yourself found!

* * * * *
(February 5, 2017: Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *

Is 58: 7-10    Ps 112: 4-9 1    Cor 2:1-5    Mt 5: 13-16

“You are salt of the earth. You are light of the world.”

Jesus proclaims to all who wish to follow him that they are to be light to the world, and salt of the earth. These are powerful images, as powerful today as they were when Christ first proclaimed them. For disciples of every time and place, these images are not mere ego boosters. No, they are a constant challenge which dares to become for God and others what Jesus was so clearly.

To be a light to the world is to illumine others with God’s truth and mercy. Likewise, that same light must expose the sins of pride, envy, meanness, indifference, injustice and anything else that blinds us from the divine truth and mercy that Christ has gained for us. Insofar as sin is anything that makes it more difficult to see in ourselves and one another the light and love of Jesus Christ, exposing such sin not only frees us from darkness but also better enables us to do all that is good and life-giving.

In Jesus’ light, we see the source of all light. We see the Father’s creative love; we receive Jesus’ redeeming love; we experience the Spirit’s inspiring love. Still, it is not enough to let this light shine out upon others, but we must also allow that light to penetrate and permeate every fiber of our being. The greatest encouragement that our God-given light can give to others is to show to others how that light is, in fact and at first, transforming us.

To be salt is to accept that fact that our efforts – or lack thereof – to follow Christ have an impact upon others, regardless of whether we are always aware of that impact or not. There are times in our lives when we lose our taste for God and/or the things of God. More frequently than not, this loss is displayed by our own feelings of inadequacy and/or indifference when it comes to practicing virtue. We all have our moments when we are tempted to believe that our day- to-day efforts at following Christ simply don’t make a positive difference in the lives of others, let alone in God’s overall plan for salvation. Unlike salt, however, we can regain that taste for doing what is righteous and good through prayer, the sacraments and, perhaps most practically, by doubling – even tripling – our efforts at practicing those very virtues that we are tempted to cease pursuing.

When we are tempted to wonder about our own efficacy in witnessing to the power and promise of God’s creative, redeeming, inspiring, healing and challenging love in our everyday, imperfect lives we should take consolation and encouragement about something which is true about both light and salt: even the smallest amounts of each go a very, very long way.

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(February 6, 2017: Paul Miki and Companions, Martyrs)
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Gn 1:1-19 Ps 104:1-2, 5-6, 10, 12, 24, 35 Mk 6:53-56

“They begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak; and as many as touched it were healed.”

People continued to bring the sick – and themselves – to be healed by Jesus. The account in today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark provides an interesting detail – folks coming to Jesus for help believed that if they merely touched his clothing they would experience healing power.

It would seem that just a little bit of Jesus – even the smallest touch of Jesus – went a very long way.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “Among sacred lovers there are some who so completely devote themselves to exercises of divine love that its holy fire devours and consumes their life…” (Book VII, Chapter 10, p. 41) Jesus Christ is the ultimate example of this love. His love for others was so intense that even the smallest sampling of it changed forever the lives of those he touched.

Today, will the same be said of our love?

* * * * *
(February 7, 2017: Tuesday, Fifth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Gn 1:20-2:4a    Ps 8:4-9    Mk 7:1-13

“How wonderful your name in all the earth!”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “Remember that God is not only in the place where you are: God is present in a most particular manner in your heart and in the very center of your spirit.” (Part II, Chapter 2, p. 85)

Clearly, this truth was completely lost on many of the Pharisees and scribes. If they had realized that God dwells less in temples, laws, precepts and traditions and more within and among human beings, then they would had put their priorities in order. However, they were more concerned about protecting their own ways of doing things at the expense of promoting the ways of God, The result? The Pharisees and scribes became stumbling blocks for themselves and others when it came to recognizing that the wonder of God’s name touches every dimension of earthly life – most especially, the day-to-day experiences of ordinary people…people like you and me.

Just this day, how might we honor the name of God not merely with our lips but also with our lives?

* * * * *
(February 8, 2017: Jerome Emiliani)
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Gn 2:4b-9    Ps 104: 1-2, 27-30    Mk 7:14-23

“Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person, but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

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

“Physicians learn a great deal about a person’s health or sickness by looking at the tongue. In the same way, our words are a true indication of the state of our souls. ‘By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned,’ says the Savior. ‘The mouth of the just man shall meditate on wisdom and his tongue shall speak of judgment.’”

“An evil word falling into a weak heart grows and spreads like a drop of oil on a piece of linen cloth. Sometimes it seizes the heart in such a way as to fill it with a thousand unclean thoughts and temptations. Just as bodily poison enters through the mouth, so what poisons the heart enters through the ear and the tongue that utters it is guilty of murder…” (IDL, p. 193; 195)

Today, do you want to check the state of your spiritual health? Then start the diagnosis by examining the words that come out of your mouth.

(February 1, 2017: Wednesday, Fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 12:4-7 Ps 103:1-2, 13-14, 17-18a Mk 6: 1-6

“Strive for peace with everyone…”

In a letter of spiritual direction, Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must in all things and everywhere live peacefully. If trouble – whether inside of us, or around us – comes upon us, we must respond to it peacefully. If success or joy comes, we must receive it peacefully, without a proud or puffed-up heart. When we need to avoid sin or evil, we must do that peacefully, without upsetting ourselves; otherwise, we may fall as we run away and give time to our enemy to kill us. If there is peace that we need to bring about we must do that peacefully; otherwise, we might commit many faults in our hurry to be peacemakers. Even our repentance and contrition must be made peacefully…”

Do you get the point? While we must indeed strive for peace with everyone, we need to include – perhaps, even begin with – ourselves. After all, charity – while not limited to home – begins at home. Put another way, you can’t give what you haven’t got! As Francis de Sales put it, “Haven’t I told you before that we must be patient with everyone, primarily with ourselves?” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 107)

Let there be peace on earth…and let it begin with me…today!

(January 19, 2017: Thursday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 7:25-8:6 Ps 40:7-10, 17 Mk 3:7-12

“Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them.”

In the beginning of Part II of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales

“I counsel you to practice mental prayer, the prayer of the heart, and particularly that which centers on the life and passion of the Lord. You will learn his ways and form your actions after the patterns of his. He is ‘light of the world’, and therefore it is in him and by him and for him that we must be instructed and enlightened. He is the tree of desire in whose shade we must be refreshed. He is that living ‘fountain of Jacob’ in which we can wash ourselves clean of all our stains. Just as little children learn to speak by listening to their mothers and lisping words with them, so, too, by keeping close to our Savior in meditation and observing his words, actions and affections we learn by his grace to speak, act and will like him.” (IDL, II, Chapter 1, p. 81)

Indeed, Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him. Most especially, by showing us how to live – as He lived. As He intercedes for us, let us, in turn, pray for the grace to become more and more like Jesus in our relationships with one another.

* * * * *
(January 20, 2017: Fabian, Pope/Martyr; Sebastian, Martyr)
* * * * *

Heb 8:6-13 Ps 85:8,10-14 Mk 3:13-19

“He sent them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons…”

This scene from the third chapter of Mark’s Gospel is a major event in the relationship between Jesus and his Apostles/Disciples: he gives them the power to preach and to drive out demons! Their apprenticeship – as it were – is over.

Well, perhaps not completely over.

In Matthew’s Gospel (17: 10 – 21) and in Luke’s Gospel (9: 37 – 45) a man asks Jesus to save his son from a demon. The interesting detail here is that the man comes to Jesus only after some of Jesus’ own disciples (names unknown, or, at least, unmentioned!) failed in their attempts to drive the demon out. While some of Jesus’ followers may have been appointed to drive out demons, it would appear that having the power did not always guarantee success.

We might not think about it much, but by virtue of our creation (made as we are in God’s image and likeness) we are disciples of Jesus. We, too, are appointed to preach and to drive out demons. Oh, these demons may not resemble those described in the Scriptures, but they are nonetheless very real. They are evil spirits that plague countless people on any given day. These demons have many names, including: hatred, resentment, anxiety, sadness, jealousy, despair, loneliness, frustration, anger, envy, cynicism and hopelessness. While we (like Jesus’ first disciples) may not always be successful, we are called to do our level best to drive out these demons (or, at least, reduce their effect) through our attempts to embody the spirits of confidence, hope, joy, contentment, solidarity, gratitude, reconciliation and love in our relationships with others.

Or, perhaps, by our efforts to drive out those same demons in ourselves!

* * * * *
(January 21, 2017: Agnes, Virgin and Martyr)
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Heb 9:2-3, 11-14 Ps 47:2-3,6-9 Mk 3:20-21

“When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’”

In a perfect world, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – should be its own reward. But as even Jesus discovers in today’s Gospel, being true to yourself – being the person that God wants you to be – can bring with it some unwarranted and unwelcomed resistance and rejection.

Especially from family, friends and other loved ones!

Only three pages into his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales deals with this phenomenon head-on.

“The men who discouraged the Israelites from going into the Promised Land told them that it was a country that ‘devoured its inhabitants.’ In other words, they said that the air was so malignant it was impossible to live there for long and its natives such monsters that they ate men like locusts. It is in this manner that the world vilifies holy devotion as much as it can. It pictures devout persons are having discontented, gloomy, sullen faces and claims that devotion brings on depression and unbearable moods.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

In short, others may tell you that any attempt to live a holy life is just plain crazy!

In St. Francis de Sales’ opinion, being the kind of person that God wants you to be is not only not crazy but it is, in fact, the sanest decision you could ever make. He suggests:

“Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes discontent from the poor, anxiety from the rich, grief from the oppressed, pride from the exalted, melancholy from the solitary and exhausting from those in society. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to enjoy prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and disgrace alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (Ibid)

Are we crazy to live a life of devotion? From Jesus’ perspective, we’d be crazy not to do so!

Why not begin today?

* * * * *
(January 22, 2017: Third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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Is 8:23-9:3 Ps 27: 1, 4, 13-14 1 Cor 1:10-13, 17 Mt 4:12-23

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.”

In her book entitled The Bond of Perfection, Wendy Wright makes the following observation about St. Francis de Sales:

“It is difficult to accurately characterize any person’s spiritual state over the course of a lifetime but it is possible to make a few broad generalizations. The geography of Francis de Sales’ ongoing relationship with the divine and the vistas of self that he experienced in pursuing that relationship were, on the whole, like broad plateaus and open prairies. There is a certain sense of freedom and spaciousness, a view of wide horizons and the feel of light about him.” (p. 141)

In his own way, St. Francis de Sales was indeed a light to the people of his time. Through his writing, preaching and human touch, he was a light that widened peoples’ horizons, lightened their burdens and helped them to pursue a life of devotion precisely in the state and stage of life in which they lived each day. He was a light who scattered the gloom of ignorance, anxiety, fatalism and fear. He was a light who gave people the heart they needed to embrace life as it was…and to dream about life as it could be.

We recognize this man as a saint precisely because his own light reflects so clearly the light of Jesus Christ. Christ is the light who casts out darkness. Christ is the light who forgives sins. Christ is the light who strengthens drooping knees and sagging hearts. Christ is the light that scatters the gloom of sin and sadness. Christ is the light who ushers in a new era of happiness and joy, purpose and promise.

The selection from Matthew’s Gospel – as well as the life of St. Francis de Sales – give powerful testimony to the nature of this divine light of Christ, which is meant to be shared. Just as Christ called his apostles to share his light, just as Christ called Francis to share his light, so, too, Christ calls each and every one of us to be sources of that same light for one another. Each of us is called to scatter the gloom of discouragement and despair in the hearts of others. Each of us is called to relieve the burdens of others. Each of us is called to be a source of hope for others.

Make no mistake. There are burdens that come with being sources of Christ’s light in the lives of others. Our light must face the darker side of life: evil, sin, cynicism, hostility, suspicion, prejudice and fear, just to name a few. Our light must not only shine out on others, but it must also illuminate and purify our own minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. Our light requires that we really come to know ourselves…and truly come to know one another.

Jesus claims that this burden of being his light is, paradoxically, lighter than any other burden we might choose to carry through life. (Matthew 11: 29 – 30) How is this so? Christ’s light raises us up! How blessed, how happy, how “light-hearted” are we when we seize opportunities each day to raise up – to lift up – one another!

* * * * *
(January 23, 2017: Day of Prayer for the Legal Protection of the Unborn)
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Heb 9:15, 24-28 Ps 98:1-6 Mk 3:22-30

On this anniversary of the US Supreme Court’s decision, Roe vs. Wade, all dioceses in the United States are encouraged to observe a “Day of Prayer” for the Legal Protection of Unborn Children. It is suggested that the faithful throughout the country celebrate the Mass “For Giving Thanks to God for the Gift of Human Life.”

Over 400 years ago St. Francis de Sales made the following statement in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “Consider the nature God has given us. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to God’s Divine Majesty.” (IDL, Part One, Chapter 9)

What is more precious – what is more profound – what is more promising – what is more powerful – than the God-given gift of life? What better way to express our gratitude for this greatest of gifts than to treat life in all its forms with profound respect and reverence from conception until natural death!

And at every single step in between!

* * * * *
(January 24, 2017: Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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Prv 16: 16-2 Ps 34: 2-3, 4 and 6, 9 and 12, 14-15 JAS 3:13-18 Mk 5: 23-28

We offer for your reflection on this feast day of Francis de Sales the forward of a fifty-four page devotional booklet published in 2008 in the United Kingdom (written by a J. Barry Midgley) regarding the life and legacy of “The Gentleman Saint”.

“In some ways the Age in which St. Francis de Sales lived has similarities to our own. Then, as now, the world was experiencing dramatic change, and the mind of the Church was necessarily focused on spiritual, intellectual and institutional renewal: correcting aggressive heresy, reaffirming doctrine and practice, and preserving the ministerial priesthood that is at the heart of Catholic life. The Church continues to work for the revival of evangelization and the conversion of nations, withstanding secular assaults on faith, reversing the dilution of doctrine and protecting the accessibility of the sacrifice of the Mass. In every season, the ‘Barque of Peter’ navigates some stormy waters but, thankfully, there are saints like Francis de Sales whose eager and powerful intercession does not diminish with the passing of time.”

“God – in His kindness – provides every season with holy men and women to encourage God’s people, and the Holy Spirit breathes an impetus to refresh faith, doctrine, religious leadership and energy in the mission Christ delegated to His people. Francis de Sales is a luminous example of the local apostle who preserves and teaches the faith received by the twelve Apostles personally from Our Lord. As a bishop, his priorities were to preach the Gospel, to preside at Mass, to care for the clergy and to ensure that spiritual centers of liturgical and cultural excellence stimulated hope and the practice of devotion. Francis helped those entrusted to his care understand that prayer opens the mind and heart to God’s word and to respond to his (Francis’) belief that everyone plays a part in God’s plan of salvation through a personal conception of His Son. Indeed, Francis de Sales truly was a fascinating figure, so balanced, courageous, sensible and devout: another ‘man for all seasons.'”

“I am grateful…for a renewed appreciation of this wonderful man.”

Through the example and intercession of St. Francis de Sales, may each of us – in ways fitting to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves – strive to be “balanced, courageous, sensible and devout” in our efforts to “Live Jesus”.

To be – in word, in deed – people for all seasons…in every season!

~ OR ~

“A patient person is better than a warrior, and those who master their tempers are stronger than one who would capture a city.”

So close, yet so far.

There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that that’s how Francis de Sales might have characterized his feelings regarding one of his greatest hopes that remained – sadly – unfulfilled – the return of Catholicism to the city of Geneva. Notwithstanding his success in the Chablais Region during the first four years of his priesthood, his pivotal prominence as Bishop of Geneva, his reputation as a man who could reach minds and soften hearts, his gift for shuttle diplomacy, and as one who “befriended many along the road to salvation,” the full restoration of his See remained frustratingly beyond his reach.

It’s easy to overlook, but Francis de Sales isn’t remembered for having the “Midas Touch.” It’s not like every initiative or endeavor that the “Gentleman Saint” touched turned to gold or ended with overwhelming success. Nevertheless, the Church recognizes him as a spiritual giant precisely because of his willingness to master the city of his own temper, to curb the city of his own enthusiasm and to discipline the city of his own passion in pursuing God and the things of God by choosing to focus his energies on evangelizing those whom he could reach rather than becoming embittered about those he could not reach. True to Fr. Brisson’s assessment of the Salesian method for spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ, Francis de Sales met people where they were – not where they weren’t.

Not unlike Our Lord Himself!

On his Feast day of the “Bishop of Geneva” let us ask for the grace to imitate his example! May we experience the self-mastery that is even “better than a warrior” by focusing our energies and effort on everything that is within our power to do for the love of God and neighbor, and to let go of whatever is not.

* * * * *
(January 25, 2017: Conversion of Paul, Apostle)
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Acts 22:3-16 Ps 117:1-2 Mk 16:15-18

It seems that St. Francis de Sales had a special place in his heart for the person whose conversion we celebrate: Paul of Tarsus. Throughout his writings Francis not only refers to Paul by name but Francis also refers to Paul by two titles reserved solely for him: “The Apostle” and “The Great Apostle.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:

“The glorious St. Paul speaks thus. ‘The fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, long-suffering, mildness, faith, modesty, constancy and chastity.’ See how this divine Apostle enumerates these twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit but sets them down as only one fruit. He does not say, ‘The fruits of the Spirit are…,’ but rather ‘the fruit of the Spirit is…’ Charity is truly the sole fruit of the Holy Spirit, but this one fruit has an infinite number of excellent properties….He means that divine love gives us inward joy and consolation together with great peace of heart, which is preserved in adversity by patience. It makes us kind and gracious in helping our neighbor with a heartfelt goodness toward him. Such goodness is not whimsical; it is constant and persevering and gives us enduring courage by which we are rendered mild, pleasant and considerate to all others. We put up with their moods and imperfections. We keep perfect faith with them, as we thus testify to a simplicity accompanied with trust both in our words and in our actions. We live modestly and humbly, leaving aside all that is luxurious and in excess regarding food and drink, clothing, sleep, play, recreation and other such desires and pleasures. Above all, we discipline the inclinations and rebellions of the flesh by vigilant chastity. All this so to the end that our entire being may be given over to divine dilection both interiorly by joy, patience, long-suffering goodness and fidelity, but also exteriorly by kindness, mildness, modesty, constancy and chastity.” (Book 11, Chapter 19)

From what we see in the life of St. Paul, he obviously did more than speak merely of the fruit of the Spirit. He lived it. His life was transformed by it. He shared it as a gift with all those whose lives he touched. Like Francis de Sales, may we, too, not only admire the example of “the glorious St. Paul,” but also let us imitate his example in our own lives. Let us do our level best to embody and share the gift of the Spirit which indeed has so many excellent properties.

(January 12, 2017: Thursday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 3:7-14 Ps 95:6-7c, 8-11 Mk 1:40-45

“The leprosy left him immediately…”

Time and time again throughout the four Gospels, we witness how Jesus cured people on the spot – their infirmity was healed, removed or eradicated immediately. In the case of today’s Gospel selection from Mark, Jesus immediately healed a person afflicted with leprosy.

But not all miracles happen in an instant. Some require several steps. Others require more time.

In Chapter 9 of the Gospel of John, Jesus cures a man born blind by first mixing spittle and mud before applying the mixture to the man’s eyes. In Chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel, the healing of another blind man requires two stages. In Chapter 2 of John’s Gospel Jesus turns water into wine seemingly as a last resort. And in the Gospels of Mark (7:25-30) and Matthew (15:21-28) Jesus agreed to heal the possessed daughter of the Syrophoenician woman only after what sometimes appears to have been a protracted negotiation. For that matter, in the Old Testament (2 Kings 5) Naaman the Syrian was cured of his leprosy only after bathing seven times in the River Jordan.

Whether in an instant, over several stages or during the course of a lifetime, all miracles share one thing in common – they begin by asking God for help.

If even only as a first step, from what might we need to be healed, freed or liberated by God today?

* * * * *
(January 13, 2017: Hilary, Bishop & Doctor of the Church)
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Heb 4:1-5, 11 Ps 783, 4bc, 6c-8:8-19, 15 Mk 2:1-12

“Do not forget the works of the Lord…”

Romanian-born Jewish-American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel Laureate, and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once remarked: “When a person doesn’t have gratitude, something is missing in his or her humanity”.
Today’s Gospel offers us a powerful illustration of how the absence of gratitude can diminish one’s humanity.

When Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second by curing the man’s infirmity), there wasn’t an ounce of gratitude to be found anywhere among the scribes, because the only thing they seemed capable of feeling was resentment. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the scribes seemed to be suffering more from something missing in their humanity – they come off in this story as being sorry excuses for human beings.

Maybe the reason that the scribes failed to recognize a singular work of the Lord in the present (at the hands of Jesus) was due to the fact that they had managed to forget the collective works of the Lord in the past. Absorbed by their own sense of smug self-importance, the scribes appear to have lost their capacity for gratitude. These men of God seem to no longer display any need for God.

Do you feel as if something is missing from your humanity? Experiencing any resentment? “Do not forget the works of the Lord.” For that matter, do not forget the works of all the people in your life who have helped to make you who you are today.

Remember: be grateful. Your humanity depends on it!

* * * * *
(January 14, 2017: Saturday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 4:12-16 Ps 19:8-19, 15 Mk 2:13-17

“I did not come to call the virtuous, but sinners…”

As word of Jesus’ reputation for helping those in need spread through the region, we are told in today’s Gospel that lots of folks (including Levi, a customs official) from lots of places travelled lots of distances to see him, to behold his face, to hear his voice, to experience his healing power and to know his love.

In one of his Conferences to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is very good for us to know and feel our misery and imperfection, but we must not allow that to discourage us; rather, our awareness of our miseries should make us raise our hearts to God by a holy confidence, the foundation of which ought to be in Him…The throne of God’s mercy is our misery; therefore, the greater our misery the greater should be our confidence in God.” (Living Jesus, page 45)

Today’s Gospel challenges sinners of all sizes and stripes not to avoid God but to pursue God. An awareness of our sinfulness or our neediness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help you. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower you.

Why? Because God does love us! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

* * * * *
(January 15, 2017: Second Sunday in ordinary Time)
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Is 49:3, 5-6 Ps 40: 2, 4, 7-10 1 Cor 1:1-3 Jn 1:29-34

“You have been consecrated in Christ Jesus and called to be a holy people.”

St. Francis de Sales believed that all people are called to be saints. In other words, all people are called to be holy. We have read or heard it many times before, but some things – most especially, important things – bear repeating: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner, God commands Christians, the living plants of the Church, to bring forth the fruits of holiness, each according to one’s position and vocation.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 2)

Striving for perfection – growing in holiness – “living Jesus” – is a formidable challenge. Embracing a life of virtue requires strength and courage. Renouncing sin requires strength and courage. Turning a deaf ear to temptation requires strength and courage. On any given day, our progress in devotion is marked by both success and setback.

However, this striving to be holy is made even more difficult when we attempt to be holy in a way that doesn’t fit our state or stage of life – a way of living that doesn’t fit who we are. While we are all indeed called to be holy, we are not called to be holy in the in exactly the same way as others. Francis reminds us:

“Devotion (holiness) must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince the widow the young girl and the married woman. I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a monk? Or for a married man to want to own no more property than a monk, for a skilled workman to spend his whole day in a church, for a religious to be constantly subject to every sort of call in service to one’s neighbor, which is more suited to the bishop? Would not such holiness be laughable, confused and impossible to live?” (Ibid)

Francis de Sales put it another way in a Conference (On the Virtues of St. Joseph) to the early Visitation community: “Some of the saints excelled in one virtue, some in another, and although all have saved their souls, they have done so in very different ways, there being as many different kinds of sanctity as there are saints.” (Conference XIX, p. 365)

A more contemporary reflection on this issue comes from Nobel prize-winning author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his or her own gate. We make a mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate other than our own.” (Night, Page 3)

To be sure, if there is indeed one model of Christian holiness, we find it in Jesus Christ, the one in whom all of us are consecrated. But to be holy – like Jesus is holy – is not about trying to be like someone else. Rather, being holy is about having the strength, integrity and courage to be who and how God wants each one of us to be, precisely in the places, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves each day.

So today, be who you are, and be that well.

* * * * *
(January 16, 2017: Monday, Second Week of Ordinary Time)
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Heb 5:1-10 Ps 110:1-4 Mk 2:18-22

“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?”

What distinguishes your run-of-the-mill comedian from a truly great comedian? Well, aside from having good material, the almost-universal answer is: “Timing”. Successful comedians are gifted with – or learned to develop – an incredible sense of timing.

The point that Jesus is trying to make in today’s Gospel is no laughing matter. In many cases, timing is everything. Fasting and feasting (among other things) are both good things. The challenge is to develop the sense to know the proper time to do one or the other. Recall the words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…”

In the Salesian tradition, developing this sense of timing goes hand-in-hand with the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “A great fault in many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. Like certain great philosophers, they wish either always to weep or always to laugh. Still worse, they condemn and censure others who do not practice the same virtues they do. The apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,’ and ‘charity is patient, is kind,’ generous, prudent, discreet and considerate.”

Jesus’ sense of timing – his knack for reading a situation, for recognizing his surroundings and for knowing what was called for with a particular person – enabled him to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Unlike the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the disciples of John and the Pharisees, Jesus shows us that the authentic practice of virtue must be “tailor-made”.

Indeed, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven”. What time is it now? What are the things that God is calling us to do today?

* * * * *
(January 17, 2014: Anthony, Abbot)
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Heb 6:10-20 Ps 111:1-2, 4-5, 9, 10c Mk 2: 23-28

“This we have as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm…”

In an undated letter addressed to “A Gentleman” who apparently been struggling with a debilitating illness that had seriously challenged his confidence and faith in pretty much everything, Francis de Sales wrote:

“It is of great concern to me that everyone says that in addition to your physical illness, you are suffering from deep depression…Please tell me sir, what reason have you for remaining in this dark mood which is so harmful to you? I am afraid that your mind is still troubled by some fear of sudden death and the judgment of God. That is, alas, a unique kind of anguish! My own soul – which once endured it for six weeks – is in apposition to feel compassion for those who experience it.”

“So, sir, I must have a little heart to heart chat with you and tell you that anyone who has a true desire to serve our Lord and flee from sin should not torment himself with the thoughts of death or divine judgment: for while both the one and the other are to be feared, nevertheless, the fear must not be the terrible kind of natural fear which weakness and dampens the ardor and determination of the spirit, but rather a fear that is so full of confidence in the goodness of God that in the end grows calm…This is not the time to start questioning whether or not we are strong enough to entrust ourselves to God.”

“So, now, since you want to belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – upon which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying in the first place? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in God ever be put to shame? No, sir, never!” (LSD, page 180)

In good times, in bad times, and in all the times in between, what is our hope and what is the anchor of our souls? Are our hope and anchor sure and firm? Well, actually, it isn’t a “what” at all, but rather, a “who”.

Jesus Christ!

* * * * *
(January 18, 2017: Wednesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 7:1-3, 15-17 Ps 110:1-4 Mk 3:1-6

“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

Recall last week’s account of Jesus and the paralyzed man? Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second, by curing the man’s infirmity). As astonishing as that two-fold miracle may have been to those who witnessed it, perhaps the only thing even more astonishing was the intractability of the scribes who questioned Jesus’ authority for doing so. Those men of God appeared to have lost any sense of their need for God.

We see the same dynamic played out in today’s Gospel. Jesus is painfully aware that the Pharisees are looking for any excuse to discredit him, even if it requires demonizing an objectively good and righteous act! In another case of putting the cart before the horse (or perhaps dropping the cart on the horse altogether!) the Pharisees – this time through their cold, calculating silence – are placing the primacy of the Sabbath far ahead of the opportunity to restore someone’s health, in effect, to bring them back to life.

We are told at the end of the day that the Pharisees were undaunted in their pursuit of pettiness and parochialism, hardening their hearts to God’s providence at every opportunity. Fortunately for us, Jesus was even more undaunted in his pursuit of righteousness. Grieved as he might have been, Jesus never allowed others’ hardness of heart to harden his heart.

Today, as followers of Jesus, can the same be said of us?

(January 5, 2017: John Neumann, Bishop and Founder)
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1 Jn 3:11-21 Ps100:1b-5 Jn1:43-51

“We ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.…”

“This ‘American’ saint was born in Bohemia in 1811. He was looking forward to being ordained in 1835 when the bishop decided there would be no more ordinations: Bohemia was overstocked with priests. John wrote to bishops all over Europe but the story was the same everywhere: no one needed any more priests. But John didn’t give up. He had learned English by working in a factory with English-speaking workers so he wrote to the bishops in America. Finally, Bishop John Dubois of New York agreed to ordain him but John would have to leave his home forever and travel across the ocean to a new and rugged land. He was ordained the following year.”

“In New York, John was one of 36 priests for 200,000 Catholics. John’s parish in western New York stretched from Lake Ontario to Pennsylvania. His church had no steeple or floor but that didn’t matter insofar as John spent most days traveling from village to village anyway, climbing mountains to visit the sick, staying in garrets and taverns to teach, and celebrating the Mass at kitchen tables. Because of the work and the isolation associated with his remote outpost, John longed for community. In 1840, with the permission of Dubois, he applied to join the Redemptorist Fathers, was accepted, and entered their novitiate at St. Philomena’s in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was their first candidate in the New World. He took his vows as a member of the Congregation in Baltimore, Maryland, in January 1842. After six years of difficult but fruitful work, he was appointed as the Provincial Superior for the United States. Neumann became naturalized citizen on 10 February 1848. John was appointed bishop of Philadelphia in 1852. As bishop, he was the first to organize a diocesan Catholic school system: he increased the number of Catholic schools in his diocese from two to one hundred.”

“Neumann actively invited religious institutes to establish new houses within the diocese. In 1855, he supported the foundation of a congregation of religious sisters in the city, the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. He brought the School Sisters of Notre Dame from Germany to assist in religious instruction and staffing an orphanage. He also intervened to save the Oblate Sisters of Providence, a congregation for African-American women, from dissolution. Neumann’s efforts to expand the Catholic Church were not without opposition. The Know Nothings, an anti-Catholic political party representing descendants of earlier immigrants to North America, was at the height of its activities. They set fire to convents and schools. Discouraged, Neumann wrote to Rome asking to be replaced as bishop, but Pope Pius IX insisted that he continue.”

“John never lost his love and concern for the people—something that may have bothered the elite of Philadelphia. On one visit to a rural parish, the parish priest picked him up in a manure wagon. Seated on a plank stretched over the wagon’s contents, John joked, ‘Have you ever seen such an entourage for a bishop!’ The ability to learn languages that had brought John to America enabled him to learn enough Spanish, French, Italian, and Dutch to hear confessions in, at least, six languages. When the wave of Irish immigration reached American shores, John learned Gaelic so well that one Irish woman remarked, ‘Isn’t it grand that we have an Irish bishop!’ John Neumann died of a stroke on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=70)

Notwithstanding his proficiency with languages, John Neumann is best remembered for mastering the one and only language that really matters – the language of love. In ways great and small, he laid down his life everyday for others.

How might we imitate his example just this day through our efforts at laying down our lives for others?

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(January 6, 2017: Andre Bessette, Religious)
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1 Jn 5:5-13 Ps 147:12-15, 19-20 Mk 1:7-11

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased…”

The life and legacy of Andre Bessette offers us a concrete example of what it looks like to “be begotten” by God:

“When Alfred Bessette came to the Holy Cross Brothers in 1870, he carried with him a note from his pastor saying, ‘I am sending you a saint’. The Brothers found that difficult to believe. Chronic stomach pains had made it impossible for Alfred to hold a job very long and since he was a boy he had wandered from shop to shop, farm to farm, in his native Canada and in the United States, staying only until his employers found out how little work he could do. The Holy Cross Brothers were teachers and, at 25, Alfred still did not know how to read and write. It seemed as if Alfred approached the religious order out of desperation, not for a vocation.”

“He may have had no place left to go, but he believed that was because this was the place he felt he should have been all along. The Holy Cross Brothers took him into the novitiate but soon found out what everybody else had learned – as hard as Alfred (now Brother Andre) wanted to work, he simply wasn’t strong enough. They asked him to leave the order, but Andre, out of desperation, appealed to a visiting bishop who promised him that he would intercede on his behalf with the brothers so that Andre could stay and take his vows.”

“After his vows, Brother Andre was sent to Notre Dame College in Montreal (a school for boys aged seven to twelve) as a porter. His responsibilities were to answer the door, to welcome guests, find the people they were visiting, wake up those in the school, and deliver mail. Through kindness, caring, and devotion, Brother Andre helped many souls experience healing – in many documented cases, including physical healings.”

“As if that were not enough, in 1904 Bro. Andre received permission to construct a small chapel dedicated to St. Joseph, to whom he had a life-long devotion. By the 1930’s he had inaugurated the construction of a basilica on the highest point of the city on Montreal, but the Depression all-but-brought the project to a halt. At ninety-years old he told his co-workers to place a statue of St. Joseph in the unfinished, unroofed basilica. Brother Andre died soon after on January 6, 1937, and didn’t live to see the work on the basilica completed. But in Brother Andre’s mind it never would be completed because he always saw more ways to express his devotion and to heal others. As long as he lived, the man who had trouble keeping work for himself had never stopped working for God.”

On December 19, 2009, Pope Benedict XVI promulgated a decree recognizing a second miracle at Blessed André’s intercession and on October 17, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formally declared sainthood for Blessed Andre. (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=18)

Clearly, God was well pleased by the life and legacy of Bro. Andre. This simple man was beloved by countless people through the simple practice of hospitality and his promise of prayers.

Today, how might we show that we, too, are “begotten” by God?

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(January 7, 2017: Raymond of Penyafort, Priest)
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I Jn 5:14-21 Ps 149:1-6a, 9b Jn 2:1-11

“We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us discernment to know the one who is true…”

Among his many abilities, Raymond Penyafort contributed a great deal in helping others to know the One who is true.

“Since Raymond lived to the age of one hundred, he had a chance to do many things. As a member of the Spanish nobility, he had the resources and the education to get a good start in life. By the time he was twenty, he was teaching philosophy. In his early thirties he earned a doctorate in both canon and civil law.”

“At the age of forty-one, he became a Dominican. Pope Gregory IX called him to Rome to work for him and to be his confessor. One of the things the pope asked him to do was to gather together all the decrees of popes and councils that had been made in 80 years since a similar collection by Gratian. Raymond compiled five books called the Decretals. They were looked upon as one of the best organized collections of Church law until the 1917 codification of canon law. Earlier, Raymond had written for confessors a book of cases. It was called Summa de Casibus Poenitentiae. More than simply a list of sins and penances, it discussed pertinent doctrines and laws of the Church that pertained to the problem or case brought to the confessor.”

“At the age of 60, Raymond was appointed archbishop of Tarragona, the capital of Aragon. He didn’t like the honor at all and ended up getting sick and resigning in two years. He didn’t get to enjoy his peace long, however, because when he was sixty-three he was elected by his fellow Dominicans to be the head of the whole Order, the successor of St. Dominic. Raymond worked hard, visited on foot all the Dominicans, reorganized their constitutions and managed to put through a provision that a master general be allowed to resign. When the new constitutions were accepted, Raymond, then sixty-five, resigned. Still, he would spend the next thirty-five years oppose heresy and working for the conversion of the Moors in Spain. Raymond finally ‘retired’ from his earthly ministry at the age of one hundred!” (http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1253)

Raymond is remembered not only for having lived a full life but also for having lived a fulfilling life.

Today, how might we follow his example?

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(January 8, 2017: Epiphany of the Lord)
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Is 60:1-6 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 10-13 Eph 3:2-3a, 5-6 Mt 2:1-12

“They did him homage.”

“They set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, found the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. They opened their coffers and presented him with gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”

Not just today, but every day –– every hour, every moment –– we are called to follow the star that is our Lord, our Redeemer and our Savior, Jesus Christ. Each day, we are called to set out onto the road of life, following the signs of God’s love, justice, reconciliation and peace wherever we experience them. And like the astrologers in today’s Gospel, we, too, are called to “do him homage.”

Homage, an old-fashioned, quaint-sounding term, is defined in the dictionary as “special honor or respect shown publicly.”

Hmmm, perhaps not so quaint or out-of-date a notion after all!

How can we do Jesus homage? How can we publicly give him special honor and respect? What kind of gifts can we give to Christ –– and by extension, to one another –– day in and day out? Are such displays of respect limited to cross-continental treks or exotic, once-in-a-lifetime treasures?

Francis de Sales offers this advice:

“Let us not be at all eager in our work, for, in order to do it well, we must apply ourselves to it carefully indeed, but calmly and peacefully, without trusting in our labor, but rather, relying on God and God’s grace. Anxious searchings of the heart about advancing in perfection, and those endeavors to see if we are advancing, are not at all pleasing to God, and only serve to satisfy our own self-love, that subtle tormentor which grasps at so much but accomplishes so very little. One single good work, done with tranquil spirit, is worth far more than many done with anxious eagerness.”

Paying homage to Jesus –– showing special respect and honor in public –– is measured less by grandiose feats and more by simple, ordinary actions performed with great attention and intention. Paying homage to Jesus is not only about a multiplicity of good deeds but also more about fully immersing ourselves in each moment of each day as it comes. Paying homage to Jesus is less about trying to prove to Jesus how worthy we are and more about accepting our need for God and the actions of God’s grace in our lives. Paying homage to Jesus is less about prostrating ourselves before him and more about standing up for all that is righteous, peaceful, liberating and just.

How might our experiences this day –– and especially, the people whom we encounter in those experiences –– be inviting us to pay homage to Christ?

The answer – by paying special honor and respect to one another – one, single good work at a time.

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(January 9, 2017: Baptism of the Lord)
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Is 42:1-4, 6-7 Ps 29: 1-2, 3-4, 9-10 Mt 3: 13-17

“Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

“God is so good that he never ceases to work in our hearts to draw us out of ourselves, out of vain and perishable things, so that we can receive his grace and give ourselves wholly to him.” (Saint Jane de Chantal)

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. The Baptism of Jesus marks his inauguration into his public life. Isaiah in the first reading gives the blueprint for the ministry of Jesus. As Isaiah writes, “I will put my spirit upon him and he will bring forth justice to the nations. I have formed you……to open the eyes of the blind, to bring prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

We know from the life of Jesus as recorded in the Scriptures, he fulfilled the blueprint Isaiah had written. He reached out to the marginalized, cured those who were sick, touched those who were believed “untouchable,” challenged his religious leaders to “do what they preached,” and was constantly traveling doing good works. With all the good that he accomplished for others, he was crucified. In the words of today’s Gospel, he was that “beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased.”

In celebrating the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we also celebrate our own Baptism. Just as the Baptism of Christ inaugurated his public life, so also our own Baptism inaugurates us into the Christian life. Christ gave us an example in his life to allow us to see how those who were baptized into him can live His life. St. Jane tells us, “God never ceases to work in our hearts to draw us out of ourselves so we can receive his grace and give ourselves wholly to him.” The reading from Acts tells us that “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed with the devil, for God was with him.”

To live our lives as followers of Christ we also should “go out of ourselves” and “go about doing good” and bringing Christ’s healing presence and his peace to those whom the Lord sends our way. Like Christ, we too should visit the sick and reach out to the marginalized in our communities and in our families. We should speak with those toward whom we have had negative feelings or painful memories – anyone that we might consider “untouchable,” anyone at home, in the neighborhood or at work who we avoid, ignore or even despise.

We need to be people who put into identifiable action our profession of being a follower of Christ. This action requires strength and courage. Just as the Father was with the Son in his life, so also we have the presence of Christ within our minds and hearts to give us the strength and courage we need to be his authentic followers.

Today, let us then come out of ourselves and our own little worlds to see what good we can do and how we, relying on the strength of the Lord within us, might be agents of the Lord’s healing presence to all those around us.

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(January 10, 2014: Leonie Aviat, OSFS, Religious and Founder)
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(Readings: Colossians 3: 12-17; Psalm 15: 2-3, 3-5, 5; Matthew 18: 1-5, 10, 14)

“Anyone who welcomes one such child for my sake welcomes me…”

Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Leonie Aviat, OSFS: religious, founder.

In the middle of the 19th century during the Industrial Revolution, there was a rapid expansion of the textile industry in the town of Troyes, France. The Industrial Revolution created opportunities for women to work outside of the home and/or the farm. Droves of young country girls came to the town in search of employment and adventure. They had no money, nowhere to live and were thus exposed to many potential hazards. With a remarkable intuition for overcoming obstacles, Father Louis Brisson took these girls into his care. He acquired a building, offering board and lodging and even work on the premises to a number of young female workers. He trained a group of volunteers to oversee the boarding house, but no matter how devoted they were, the undertaking lacked stability. It was not only necessary to provide room and board for the girls and young women, but also to educate them in their faith and guard them against moral danger. Fr. Brisson eventually determined that this new undertaking would be better served by a community of religious women who could devote themselves to this growing ministry.

Enter Leonie Aviat. Together with Fr. Brisson, she founded the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales who, during the course of her lifetime, saw many a child – and young adult, for that matter – welcomed for the sake of the Lord.

Children not only come in many shapes and sizes, but, as it turns out, children also come in a variety of ages. In the broadest sense, the “children” to whom Jesus alludes in today’s Gospel are anyone who is vulnerable, anyone who needs welcome, anyone who needs comfort and anyone who needs a safe place.

Today, who might be the children in our lives whom Jesus challenges us to welcome for his sake today?

~ OR ~

Throughout the history of Christian spirituality there frequently appears to be an uneasy relationship between prayer and work, between being and doing, and/or between resting in God and doing for/with God.

St. Francis de Sales offered a remedy for the temptation to dichotomize prayer and work. The “Gentleman Saint” identified – in broad strokes – three types of prayer.

First, there is vocal prayer. This is the type of prayer on which most – if not all – of us first cut our gums: the Our Father, the Hail Mary, Grace-before-Meals, etc, etc. It is a form of prayer of which we can make good use even into old age.

Second, there is mental prayer, or “prayer of the heart.” Some people experience this type of prayer as meditation; for other people, it is known as contemplation. This type of prayer relies a great deal less on words and makes greater use of thoughts, considerations, affections, images and silence. Unlike vocal prayer, it tends to be much less public and much more private. It seems to come easily for some folks, while it is appears to be more elusive or challenging for others.

Finally, there is what Francis de Sales referred to as the prayer of good life. It is the prayer that comes with doing good – with practicing virtue – in a very mindful, heart-filled, intentional and deliberate way at each and every moment: specifically, through the practice of the Direction of Intention!

Leonie Aviat clearly saw the Direction of Intention as the bridge linking prayer and work. Years after founding the Oblate Sisters, she would later remark:

“I still remember the words the Good Mother said to us one day on the subject. ‘The faithful practice of the Direction of Intention is the first rung on the ladder that will make us attain sanctity.’ She had been so faithful to this article that she knew its reward.” (Heart Speaks to Heart, p. 150)

Professor Wendy Wright notes that in the Salesian tradition the interior prayer of the Direction of Intention – be it with or without words – provides the foundation for both the life of the cloistered Visitandine and the very active life lived by an Oblate Sister. She again quotes Leonie Aviat:

“My children (wrote the Good Mother) you are not called to say the office for the moment. Your principal occupation is work. Give yourself to it as graciously as possible. Go to your work when the clock chimes. Set out joyfully according to our Rule, as if you were going to say the office and make meditation, because for you, work is a continual meditation.” (Ibid)

Whether we do our work prayerfully – or put our prayer to work – prayer and work are the inseparable sides of the same coin: the love of God, neighbor and self.

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(January 11, 2017: Wednesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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Heb 2:14-18 Ps 105:1-4, 6-9 Mk 1:29-39

“He gives orders to unclean spirits and they obey him…”

M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist (now deceased), wrote two books on the subject of “demons” –People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil and Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption.

Peck described in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie he identified characteristics of an “evil” person, whom he classified as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil Peck went into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the myth of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering two cases which did not fit into any category known to psychology or psychiatry. Peck came to the conclusion that possession was a rare phenomenon related to evil, and that possessed people are not actually evil, but rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon)

In today’s Gospel – and all throughout the Gospels – we are told that Jesus drove out demons (“unclean spirits”) as a part of his ministry of proclaiming the power and promise of the Good News. Whether or not you believe in demons – regardless of your thoughts regarding exorcisms – we all struggle with things that plague us, that exasperate us or that appear to “possess” us to the extent that they prevent us from being the best version of ourselves. Despite our best efforts, these “demons” seem impervious to our feeble attempts at conquering, dispelling or exorcizing them. Perhaps therein lies the lesson – the greatest mistake we make in struggling with our own “demons” is to believe that we must do it alone; that we must battle with our “demons” all by ourselves.

However large, small, frequent or few they might be, are you willing to bring your “demons” to Jesus?

(December 29, 2016: Thomas Becket, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *1Jn 2:3-11 Ps 96:1-3, 5-6 Lk 2:22-35

“And you yourself a sword will pierce…”

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

“Nothing in Thomas Becket’s early life suggested that he would become a defender of the liberty of the Church, to say nothing of becoming a martyr. He was a shrewd administrator with a special talent for making money. He proved to be the ideal royal servant: whatever King Henry II wanted done, Becket accomplished. When the old archbishop died, Henry took it upon himself to name the new archbishop rather than wait for the pope to do so: thinking he would be the perfect choice, Henry chose Becket. With one of his closest friends as archbishop of Canterbury, Henry believed that he could extend his royal authority over the Church in England.”

“Turned out, Henry was wrong.”

“Once Thomas was consecrated archbishop of Canterbury he became a changed man. He did penance to make up for years of careless living. The man who had once refused to clothe one freezing beggar now gave lavishly to the poor. We don’t know if Henry noticed the change that had come over his friend, but when the king made his first move against the Church it became clear that Becket would not be the puppet archbishop for which Henry had hoped. In their first disagreement, Henry argued that priests who committed crimes were treated too leniently by Church courts and they should submit to the civil courts of England. Becket replied that laymen did not have jurisdiction over clergymen. Stung by Becket’s opposition, Henry brought a host of false charges against his one-time friend. He had Becket indicted for squandering royal funds and even accused the archbishop of treason. Death threats from the king’s men followed, prompting Becket to flee to France for fear of losing his life.”

“For the next six years Henry and Becket jockeyed for position, each trying to win the pope’s support. In the end a truce was worked out, allowing Becket to return home to Canterbury, although the central issue of the Church’s liberty remained unresolved. When Becket subsequently excommunicated bishops who had both supported Henry and also infringed on the prerogatives of the archbishop of Canterbury, Henry threw one of his infamous tantrums, ending by crying aloud, ‘Will no one relieve me of this troublesome priest?’ Four of the king’s knights – bitter enemies of Becket – set out at once for Canterbury where they confronted Becket in his own cathedral. When Becket refused to give in to all of Henry’s demands, the knights hacked the archbishop to death at the foot of the altar.”

“The shock of Becket’s murder reverberated across Europe. Henry submitted to public penance, letting the monks of Canterbury flog him as he knelt before his former-friend’s tomb. St. Thomas Becket quarreled with his king over the liberty of the Church, but throughout the entire ordeal it was the rights of the diocesan clergy that had hung in the balance…and for which Becket gave his life.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas stood his ground when confronted by the face of injustice. Just as in the case of Jesus, Thomas ultimately gave his life to protect – and promote – the freedom and liberty of others. Just as Jesus was pierced by a lance, so Thomas was pierced by a sword.

How far would we go in standing up to the face of injustice…just today?

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(December 30, 2016: Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph)
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Sir 3:2-6, 12-14 Ps 128:1-5 Mt 2:13-15, 19-23

The child grew and became strong…and the favor of God was upon him.

In his Dedicatory Prayer for his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote that Jesus found “joy in so supreme a measure” living with Mary and Joseph. De Sales wondered at the many times Mary and Joseph bore in their arms “the love of heaven and earth”. He imagined Jesus speaking tenderly into Joseph’s ears, telling him that he was his great friend and beloved father.

What is at the root of the joy and tender love de Sales saw in the Holy Family? Today’s Scripture readings offer us an indication. Like Abraham, their father in faith, Mary and Joseph put their faith and trust in God. Because they believed in God’s loving care for them, they were able to keep their minds and hearts in “great peace and serenity, shown in their constancy amid the unexpected events which befell them”. (Conference 3) They were confident that God would provide for everything. They could be “calm in the midst of life’s annoyances”.

Being holy – being faithful – as family is a challenge. Relationships constantly provide us with opportunities to practice the “little virtues” – the virtues that contribute to living a more loving life throughout each day. Francis de Sales tells us: “The little, unattractive and hardly noticeable virtues which are required of us in our household, our place of work, among friends, with strangers, any time and all the time, these are the virtues for us.” (Introduction, Part III, Chapter 2).

Of course, the most important practice is that of love, which not only reconciles, but also purifies and, dare we say, even glorifies the best of human relationships. Love is only in relationship with one another that the practice of the little, everyday virtues flowers into love, not only helping to create a better life here on earth, but also providing a foretaste of the eternal life promised to us in heaven.

Spending time in prayer with each member of the Holy Family might offer insight and grace as we struggle to meet this challenge each day. Spending time with Mary can help us learn how to put our trust in God’s love. This love can enable us to say a loving “yes”, as Mary did, to whatever God has planned for us today. Spending time with Joseph can help us to learn how to care for one another humbly and gently, and see our work as joining with our Creator in bettering our world. Spending time with Jesus can help us to learn how to grow, how to become strong and wise and how to trust that the favor of God is with us.

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, show us – as imperfect as we are – how to become and remain holy families.

* * * * *
(December 31, 2016: New Year’s Eve)
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1 Jn 2:18-21 Ps 1-2, 11-13 Jn 1:1-18

An Exhortation by St. Jane de Chantal on the Beginning of a New Year

We are about to bring another year to an end, a year like so many years which have come before it.

Time passes by. The years come and go, and some day we, likewise, will pass and come to an end as well. We must make a strong and absolute resolution that, if Our Lord should gift us with yet another full year, we will make better use of it than those years that have come – and gone – before. Let us walk with a new step in God’s divine service to our neighbor and to our greater perfection. Let us take great courage to labor in earnest.

Please take this reflection to heart. What is the point of being gifted with a new year if not to recommit ourselves to the task at hand? Otherwise, we should not be astonished to find ourselves in the same place at the conclusion of this year with little or nothing to show for it. I desire that this not happen to you; rather, consider how you can make good use of every day that God is pleased to give you. Let us embrace the responsibilities and challenges of life in the best way that we can; let us employ the time that God gives us with great care. While we hope in God’s divine goodness, may we also remember to aspire to actually do what is good.

So, then, let us live this New Year in the name of our Lord. Let us redouble our efforts at serving God and one another faithfully, especially in small and simple ways. God only expects what we can do, but what we can do God clearly expects. Therefore, let us be diligent in giving our best to God, leaving the rest in the hands of God’s infinite generosity.

(Based upon St. Jane de Chantal’s Exhortation for the last Saturday of 1629, On the Shortness of Life. Found in Conferences of St. Jane de Chantal. Newman Bookshop: Westminster, Maryland. 1947. Pages 106 – 107)

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(January 1, 2017: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God)
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Nm 6:22-27 Ps 67:2-3, 5-6, 8 Gal 4:4-7 Lk 2:16-21

“Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.”

“Look at Mary in all the circumstances of her life. In her room at Nazareth she shows her modesty in that she is afraid, her candor in wanting to be instructed and in asking a question, her submission, her humility in calling herself a handmaid. Look at her in Bethlehem: she lives simply and in poverty, she listens to the shepherds as though they were learned doctors. Look at her in the company of the kings: she does not try to make any long speeches. Look at her at the time of her purification: she goes to the temple in order to conform to church customs. In going to Egypt and in returning she is simply obeying Joseph. She does not consider she is wasting time when she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth as an act of loving courtesy. She looks for Our Lord not only in joy but also in tears. She has compassion on the poverty and confusion of those who invited her to the wedding, meeting their needs. She is at the foot of the cross, full of humility, lowliness, virtue, never drawing any attention to herself in the exercise of these qualities.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 159)

When Mary agreed to be the mother of Jesus, she got much more than she bargained for. Her “yes” to God’s invitation to be the mother of the Messiah forever changed the course of her life. But as Francis de Sales observed, she constantly reaffirmed that ‘yes’ as she experienced God’s will for her son, God’s will for her husband and God’s will for her. In good times, bad times and all the times in between, she fully embraced the various circumstances in which she found herself.

We, too, are called to give birth to Jesus. While not a physical birthing, this call is no less challenging or demanding to us as it was for Mary.

As we see in the life of Mary, giving birth to Jesus is not a one time event: it is a life-long process. Saying “yes” to giving birth to Jesus is about being faithful to God’s will for us and others – one day, one hour, one moment at a time throughout our lives. Giving birth to Jesus is about fully and deeply embracing the responsibilities, events and circumstances of the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. It’s about rolling with the punches while remaining convinced of God’s love and care for us.

Mary is a powerful reminder that giving birth to Jesus brings more than its share of inconveniences, headaches and heartaches. However, Mary is likewise a powerful reminder of how one person’s fidelity to God’s will can change the world for the better.

Forever.

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(January 2, 2017: Basil and Gregory – Bishops, Doctors of the Church)
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Jn 2:22-28 Ps 98:1-4 Jn 1:19-28

“Remain in him…”

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

“In Basil’s day most monks and nuns were hermits living in isolated corners of the deserts of North Africa and the Middle East. Arguing that people are ‘sociable beings, and not isolated or savage,’ he urged the hermits to form communities near towns and cities where ordinary Christians could profit from their prayers and, inspired by their example, deepen their own religious life. The monks and nuns could take in orphans and open schools, recruiting a new generation for the religious life. To this day in the Eastern Church, St. Basil’s guidelines for monks and nuns remain the standard.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 359)

In today’s selection from the First Letter of John the word ‘remain(s)’ is used six times. The author challenges us to remain in Jesus in order that Jesus may remain in us. Among other things, ‘remain’ is defined as “to continue in the same state or condition, to continue to be in the same place, stay or stay behind”. At first glance this definition seems to suggest that remaining in Jesus is somehow static. It’s about staying the same. It’s about treading water. It’s about running in place. The word ‘remain’ feels passive. The problem is that Jesus is anything but passive; Jesus is all about action.

However, a second glance at the definition of “remain” provides a different take: “to endure or persist”.

To remain in Jesus requires effort. To remain in Jesus requires energy. To remain in Jesus requires endurance. However, as St. Basil the Great would suggest, to “remain in him” isn’t limited to Jesus. As “sociable beings” we need something else in order to remain – that is, “to endure or persist” – with Jesus.

We need to “endure and persist” as Church. We need to “endure and persist” as community. We need to “endure and persist” with one another. After all, we are the Body of Christ.

Together!

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(January 3, 2017: The Most Holy Name of Jesus)
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1 Jn 2:29-3:6 Ps 98: 1, 3c-4, 5-6 Jn 1:29-34

“Those who have this hope based on him make themselves pure, as he is pure…”

Have you ever looked closely at the outside of a carton of Breyer’s Ice Cream? Somewhere in the vicinity of the image of the mint leaf you will find the “Pledge of Purity”. This trademarked pledge (inaugurated in 1908 by Henry Breyer, himself) personally guaranteed that each container contained the highest-quality, all natural ingredients available.

This notion of purity might be very helpful in our attempts to understand today’s selection from the First Letter of John. After all, who of us can claim to be “pure”? Who of us can claim to be perfect? Who of us can claim to be without blemish? With the exception of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, such ‘purity’ is reserved for God, and for God alone.

So, where does that leave us?

Well, if being “pure” is about being all-natural, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being real, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being authentic, we can strive for that. If being ‘pure’ is about being transparent, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being guileless, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about avoiding artificiality in any/all its forms, we can strive for that. If being “pure” is about being unadulterated, we can strive for that. In short, if being “pure” is about being true to whom God wants us to be – no more, no less – we can strive for that.

Look at the life of Jesus himself. He was all-natural. He was real. He was authentic. He was guileless. He was unadulterated. He was transparent. He eschewed anything artificial. In short, he was faithful to whom God wanted him to be – no more, no less.

Today, how can we hope to imitate the purity of Jesus in our relationship with God, in our relationship with ourselves and in our relationships with one another? Help yourself to a heaping and healthy scoop of “Breyer’s” spirituality.

Avoid anything artificial! Keep it natural! Keep it real!

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(January 4, 2017: Elizabeth Ann Seton, Religious)
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1 Jn 3:7-10 Ps 98: 1, 7-9 Jn 1:35-42

“The person who acts in righteousness is righteous…”

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

“For two hundred years American parochial schools have provided countless children with a solid education while teaching them how to be faithful Catholics and solid citizens. While parish schools aren’t as numerous as they once were – to say nothing of the legions of nuns that used to teach in them – the situation is not nearly as daunting as it was in Elizabeth Ann Seton’s day.”

“Mother Seton’s life coincides with the birth of the United States and the rise of the Catholic Church in America. She was born one year before the battles of Lexington and Concord, during an era when Catholicism was outlawed in every colony except Maryland. In British America, there were no bishops, no nuns, no Catholic schools and no seminaries. Only about twenty priests lived in the colonies, most living incognito and using aliases to avoid hard anti-clerical laws. For her part she grew up the daughter of a prominent, well-to-do Anglican family on Staten Island. During the revolution they walked a fine line between loyalty to the king and support for the rebels. Whatever her family’s true sympathies may have been, they were firmly in the American camp by the time George Washington was elected president: in fact, the then-fifteen year-old Elizabeth danced at the first inaugural ball.”

“At the age on nineteen she married William Seton, a wealthy New York merchant. The couple had five children – three girls and two boys – and enjoyed a life of comfort and privilege. After eight years of marriage, William’s business went bankrupt: shortly thereafter, he contracted tuberculosis. In an attempt to save William’s health, the Setons sailed for Italy, where William had business friends, the Filicchi family. He subsequently succumbed to his chronic illness. Elizabeth and her children remained as guests of the Filicchi’s for some time. Their hosts owned a private chapel that provided Elizabeth with her first exposure to the Catholic faith, about which two things impressed this widowed mother: the Filicchi’s reverence during Mass, and the comfort they appeared to receive from confession. Upon her return to New York, Elizabeth sought out the pastor of a local Catholic Church and asked to convert to Catholicism.”

“With few exceptions, Elizabeth’s Anglican family and friends turned their backs on her following her conversion. She struggled to support herself and her children until Bishop John Carroll invited her to open a Catholic school in the archdiocese of Baltimore. It was during this time that she began to consider joining a religious community. However, the European model of religious life – living a mostly cloistered life with only a few hours per day devoted to teaching girls who boarded at the convent – did not appeal to her. With so much work begging to be done for the Catholic Church in America, Elizabeth wanted to be much more active. With Bishop Carroll’s encouragement, she founded a new community of sisters dedicated to the work of Catholic education: the Sisters of Charity. They opened America’s first parish school in Emmitsburg, Maryland on February 22, 1810.”

“The system established by Mother Seton conveyed the faith from generation to generation; it eased the passage of Catholic immigrants into American society; it served as the seedbed for countless vocations to the priesthood and the religious life. Her teaching order offered a new model for religious women – sisters who were ‘in the world, but not of it.’ In the history of the Catholic Church in America, Mother Seton was – and continues to be – an indispensible woman.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 99-100)

Elizabeth Ann Seton performed a righteous act by founding a community of religious women who dedicated their lives to parochial education: teaching children – many of them immigrants – how to be faithful Catholics and solid citizens.

Today, how might we follow her example in our attempts to practice righteousness?

 

(December 25, 2016: Nativity of the Lord)
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Is 52:7-10 Ps 98:1-6 Heb 1:1-6 Jn 1:1-18

With regard to the great Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord, Blessed Louis Brisson wrote:

“We honor the three births of Our Lord. In the case of the first we recall the eternal birth of the Son of God in the bosom of His Father; in the second, we recall His temporal birth in the stable of Bethlehem; and in the thirds, we recall His mystical both in our hearts by means of Holy Communion and His grace. The consideration of the first birth should lead us to adore the Son of God on the throne of His glory, in the endless reaches of eternity, where equal to His Father He receives the adoration of the angels and seraphim. By contrast, in Bethlehem we adore him on the throne of poverty, which is a throne of love. He hides his grandeur because he wants us to draw near him without fear.”

“Having adored Him in Heaven – having adored Him in the crib – adore Him present within you. I ask you, cross your arms across your chest where the Savior dwells after Holy Communion and say to Him, ‘I adore You in my heart. I adore You within me. You are as truly in me as You are in Heaven; You are as truly in me as You are truly in the crib where You received the adoration of the poor shepherds. You are truly within me.’” (Cor ad Cor, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

We recognize Jesus at the right hand of the Father. We recognize Jesus lying in a manger.

On the other hand, do we recognize that same Jesus within ourselves? Do we recognize that same Jesus in others?

Merry Christmas!

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(December 26, 2016: Stephen, First Martyr)
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Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59 Ps 31:3cd-4, 6-8b, 16bc, 17 Mt 10:17-22

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

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

“One of the Church’s first seven deacons, Stephen was chosen and ordained by the apostles themselves to serve needy Christians and teach the faith. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that he was striking in appearance, with ‘the face of an angel…full of grace and fortitude.’ He came from a family of Jewish Greeks, and after his ordination he debated members of four of Jerusalem’s Greek synagogues. When they could not out-argue or silence this zealous young deacon, the Greek Jews hauled Stephen before the Sanhedrin (the Jews’ supreme tribunal), accusing him of blasphemy for ridiculing the Temple and the Law of Moses.”

“Asked to defend himself, Stephen launched into a long speech. He highlighted moments in Jewish history when the people of Israel had turned away from God, implying that – by not recognizing Jesus as the Messiah – they had been stubborn, proud and faithless once again. Then he exclaimed, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ It proved to be the last straw. With a roar of indignation the men in the court rushed at Stephen, dragged him outside the city walls and stoned him to death.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 131)

Stephen had the “grace and fortitude” he needed to commend his spirit to God in a single, once-in-a-lifetime act of courage by giving his life.

Today, how can we make good use of the same “grace and fortitude” we need to commend our spirits to God in a series of ordinary, everyday acts of courage?

With one another!

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(December 27, 2016: John, Apostle and Evangelist)
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1 Jn 1:1-4 Ps 97:1-2, 5-6, 11-12 Jn 20:1a, 2-8

“The life was made visible…”

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

“Among the twelve apostles, Christ’s three closest friends were Peter, James the Greater and John. Within this inner circle, John was the Lord’s favorite, the one referred to as ‘the beloved disciple’ in St. John’s Gospel. By tradition, John is also believed to have been the youngest of the apostles, perhaps barely out of his teens when he followed Christ. After Jesus was arrested, John was the only one of the apostles who remained with him. He witnessed Christ’s trial before Pontius Pilate, followed him as he carried the cross through the streets of Jerusalem, stood at the foot of the cross with the Blessed Virgin Mary, and helped take Christ’s body off the cross and lay it in the tomb. Before dying, Christ rewarded his most loyal friend by placing Mary in John’s care.”

“Initially John preached in Jerusalem but then moved to Ephesus, the greatest city in the eastern Roman Empire. A tradition that dates to at least the second century says that John took Mary with him. Amid the ruins of Ephesus stands a little stone house believed to have been Mary’s home. St. John died peacefully at age ninety-four, the only one of the apostles who was not martyred. Sparing him a violent death may have been Christ’s last gift to his best friend.” (This Saint’s for You, p. 193)

John knew it. Peter and James knew it. Countless other people who encountered Jesus during his life on this earth knew it. We, too, can know it.

What a friend we have in Jesus!

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(December 28, 2016: The Holy Innocents, Martyrs)
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1Jn 1:5-2:2 Ps 124:2-5, 7b-8 Mt 2:13-18

“A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation…”

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

“Even in the Christmas story, there is a touch of tragedy: the massacre of the infant boys in Bethlehem. St. Matthew’s Gospel records that when the Magi stopped in Jerusalem to ask the whereabouts of the King of the Jews, Herod, the king of Judea, sent them to Bethlehem with instructions to return once they had found the Christ Child so that he, too, could pay homage. Warned by an angel that Herod was up to no good, the Magi returned home via a route that bypassed the city and its conniving king.”

“Once Herod realized the Magi were on to him, he sent troops to Bethlehem with orders to kill every boy aged two and younger. But the same angel warned Joseph to take Mary and Jesus to Egypt for safety. By the time Herod’s troops charged into the village, the Holy Family was long gone. No one knows how many babies were massacred that day.” (This Saint’s for You, pp. 134-135)

It is sometimes said that there is no such thing as a “secret” sin. By its very nature sin is a social animal. Every sin – however public or private – impacts not only the person who commits it but also other people – often times, innocent people – as well. The Holy Innocents suffered because of one man’s sin. These children – collateral damage – died because of Herod’s personal envy, professional greed and narcissistic paranoia. As the poet Prudentius wrote:

All hail, ye infant martyr flowers
Cut off in life’s first dawning hours:
As rosebuds snapped in tempest strife,
When Herod sought your Savior’s life.

What about us? Who are the “innocents” in our lives who are impacted by the personal or “private” sins we commit?

(December 15, 2016: Thursday of the Third Week of Advent)
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Is 54:1-10 Ps 30:2, 4-6, 11-13 Lk7:24-30

“I will praise you Lord, for you have rescued me.”

God has indeed rescued us. He has rescued us in so many ways. We might not think about it much, but the most fundamental way in which God has rescued us is by creating us – each and every one of us – out of love for us. Francis de Sales wrote:

“Consider that a certain number of years ago you were not yet in the world and that your present being was truly nothing. My soul, where were we at that time? The world had already existed for a long time, but of us there was yet nothing.”

“God has drawn us out of that nothingness to make us what we are now and God has done so solely out of his own goodness…”

“Consider the nature God has given to us. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” (IDL, I, Chapter 9, p. 53)

It would be enough to praise God for having rescued us from nothingness. So much the more should we praise God for the lives God has given us – lives capable of being united forever with Him in this world and in the world to come.

How can we praise the Lord today?

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(December 16, 2016: Friday of the Third Week of Advent)
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Is 56:1-3a, 6-8 Ps 67:2-3, 5, 7-8 Jn 5:33-36

“Observe what is right; do what is just.”

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

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and put your neighbor in yours: then you will judge rightly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell: you will sell and buy justly. We lose nothing by living generously, nobly, courteously and with a royal, just and reasonable heart. Resolve to examine your heart often to see if it such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor’s to be toward you were you in your neighbor’s place. This is the touchstone of true reason.” (IDL III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

As sons and daughters of God, we are made in God’s image and likeness. We are to judge – and live – by God’s standards, i.e., to do what is right and just. May this same God give us the grace we need to live “generously, nobly, courteously and with royal, just and reasonable hearts”.

How well are we living by God’s standards in our relationships with one another?

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(December 17, 2016: Saturday of the Third Week of Advent)
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Gn 49:2, 8-10 Ps 72:3-4, 7-8, 17 Mt 1:1-17

“The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ…”

“Genealogy (from Greek: ?e?e?, genea, “generation”; and ?????, logos, “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. Genealogists use oral traditions, historical records, genetic analysis, and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members. The results are often displayed in charts or written as narratives. The pursuit of family history tends to be shaped by several motivations, including the desire to carve out a place for one’s family in the larger historical picture, a sense of responsibility to preserve the past for future generations, and a sense of self-satisfaction in accurate storytelling.” (Wikipedia)

Today’s opening chapter from the Gospel of Matthew is Scripture’s version of Ancestry.com. Bridging the Old and New Testaments, it outlines the “genealogy of Jesus Christ”. As such, it carves out a place for Jesus within the larger picture of salvation history. As such, it strives to preserve names from past generations for future generations. As such, it tries to tell the story of Jesus’ predecessors as accurately as possible. As such, it attempts to provide as much information it can about the kinship and pedigree of those who came before Jesus.

Many of us assume that the “genealogy of Jesus Christ” ends with Jesus Christ. We assume that the story ends with the third set of fourteen generations. Nothing could be further from the truth! The “genealogy of Jesus Christ” isn’t limited to the names of his predecessors. It continues to this very day in the names of his followers. It continues in the present generation – in the lives of people like you and me.

Today, how can we live up to our God-given pedigree? How can we give convincing witness of our divine kinship? How can we demonstrate that we are sons and daughters of God – brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ?

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(December 18, 2016: Fourth Sunday of Advent)
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Is 7:10-14 Ps 24:1-6 Rom 1:1-7 Mt 1: 18-24

“Mary said: ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.’”

In God Desires You, St. Francis de Sales on Living the Gospel, author Eunan McDonnell, SDB, tells us:

“…Jesus praises the poor in spirit. He encourages a childlike attitude towards God our Father and openness to receive in faith. What is required is a childlike simplicity that can speak the ‘yes’. This is Mary’s childlike response to the angel when she says, ‘Let what you have said be done to me’. In this manner she lives the maxim ‘ask for nothing, refuse nothing’. She is open to receive what God desires to give, his love.” (pgs. 130-131)

Simple words, but Mary’s childlike “yes” is anything but simple. It calls upon Mary, and upon each one of us with Mary as our model, to trust beyond all measure in the love and mercy of our Father. It invites each of us to know in our “heart of hearts” that God truly desires us and desires to fill us with abounding love. In our willingness to be open to this “being filled” calls us to empty ourselves, to leave behind all that takes up our heart space, leaving open space for God’s presence. McDonnell writes:

“What is required is true emptiness which is to be found in the anawim to which Mary belongs. A complete and utter dependence on God. An emptiness of heart that allows God to shower it with his abundance. Mary and those who imitate her emptiness, put up no barrier to the generosity of God who loves to give. Poor in spirit, she offers empty space which can be inhabited by God.” (Ibid)

In all of our following the example of Mary, we sense the living out of Advent, the time of waiting patiently with an openness to God’s word being “done to me.” Francis de Sales says of Mary, she is “the morning star which brings us gracious news of the advent of the true sun.” (Oeuvres IX:5)

Mary lives out her Advent. We, for our part, wait with Mary for our Advent.

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(December 19, 2016: Monday, Fourth Week of Advent)
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Jgs 13: 2-7, 24-25a Ps 71:3-4a, 5-6b, 16-17 Lk 1:5-15

“Now you will be speechless and unable to talk…because you did not believe my words.”

Poor Zechariah!!! You can hardly blame the guy for having a follow-up question for Gabriel in the wake of the latter’s pronouncement that Zechariah and his wife will have a son, and not just any old son at that, but one who will embody the spirit and power of Elijah! All Zechariah wanted to know was how this is supposed to happen to a couple who are apparently pretty advanced in years.

For raising the question, Gabriel renders Zechariah mute until his pronouncement comes to pass.

Meanwhile, earlier in the same Gospel – the same chapter of the same Gospel, for that matter – when Mary asks a question of Gabriel concerning his prediction that she will be the mother of the Messiah, Mary receives no rebuke.

Look at the parallels:

  • the angel Gabriel appears to both Mary and Zechariah;
  • both Mary and Zechariah are troubled by their respective annunciations; both ask for some clarification around the annunciation (i.e., “How will this happen?”);
  • both receive additional information and assurances, but it is only Zechariah who seems to incur the angel’s displeasure, and he suffers accordingly. (Of course, all this changes later when Zechariah indicates that his son is to be named “John.”)

The difference seems to be indicated by Gabriel himself. He criticizes Zechariah not for questioning him, but for not believing him! In the case of Zechariah, it appears that his question was less a question and more a statement of disbelief, whereas Mary’s question was an expression of overwhelming wonderment and awe.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“When God gives us faith, God enters into our soul and speaks to our mind. He does this not by way of discussion but by inspiration. So pleasantly does God propose to the intellect what it must believe that the will thereby receives such great complacence that it incites the intellect to the truth and acquiesce in it without any doubt or opposition whatsoever…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 14, p. 138.)

In the end, things worked out well for both Mary and Zechariah. Each acquiesced to the manifestation of God’s will in their lives, albeit at a different pace and with a different pattern! Each played pivotal roles in God’s plan of salvation. While both questions and disbelief can serve as means of increasing our faith in their own unique ways, perhaps Gabriel’s underlying message is simply this: don’t allow your legitimate questions to rob you of your faith and trust in God’s love for you…or your ability to say “yes” to that love with trust and with faith.

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(December 20, 2016: Tuesday, Fourth Week of Advent)
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Is 7:10-14 Ps 24:1-6 Lk 1:26-38

“Ask for a sign from the Lord your God…”

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance of making such a request of God? Who wouldn’t say “yes” to the opportunity for God to display His power for us and/or for someone whom we love? Yet, in today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Ahaz balks when given the opportunity of a lifetime. He takes a pass. He backs away, saying, “I will not tempt the Lord.”

What is this statement of Ahaz all about? Perhaps Ahaz’s reluctance is rooted in his intuition that signs from the Lord often require changes in the one who asks for the sign in the first place! Under those circumstances, his circumspection makes a whole lot more sense. Remember the admonition? “Be careful what you pray for…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Devout discussions and arguments, miracles and other helps in Christ’s religion do indeed make it supremely credible and knowable, but faith alone makes it believed and known. It brings us to love the beauty of its truth and to believe the truth of its beauty by the sweetness it diffuses throughout our will and the certitude it gives to our intellect. The Jews saw our Lord’s miracles (signs) and heard his marvelous doctrines, but since they were not disposed to accept the faith, that is, since their wills were not susceptible to the sweet and gentle faith because of the bitterness and malice with which they were filled, they remained in their infidelity. They saw the force of the proof but they did not relish its sweet conclusion…” (TLG, II, Chapter 14, pp. 139 – 140)

As people of faith, we should feel free enough to ask God for signs; however, we must be prepared to consider – and follow – the directions in which those signs may challenge us to go.

And change!!!

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(December 21, 2016: Peter Canisius, Priest, Doctor of the Church)
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Sg 2:8-14 Ps 33:2-3, 11-12, 20-21 Lk 1:39-45

Why reinvent the wheel when you don’t have to? Why start from scratch when it isn’t necessary?

We might say the same thing of St. Francis de Sales himself as today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Peter Canisius, SJ, a Dutchman and contemporary of the “Gentleman Saint” who became a prominent force as a missionary in Counter-Reformation Germany.

In defending the Church’s teaching on Purgatory against the critique of John Calvin, Francis de Sales remarked:

“It is a beautiful thing – and one full of consolation – to see the perfect correspondence which the present Church has with the ancient, particularly in belief. Let us mention what makes to our purpose concerning Purgatory. All the ancient fathers believed in it and have testified that it was of the Apostolic faith. Here are the authors we have for it…It would have been easy for me to bring forward their testimonies, which are accurately collected in the books of our Catholics: of Canisius, in his Catechism; of Sanders On the Visible Monarchy; of Genebrand in his Chronology; of Bellarmine in his Controversy on Purgatory,; of Stapleton in his Promptuary. But particularly let those who would see at length and faithfully quoted the passages of the ancient Fathers, take up the work of Canisius…” ( The Catholic Controversy, pp. 378 – 379)

What’s the takeaway from today? Wisdom isn’t about knowing everything yourself. Lots of wisdom is about knowing where to find that which you need to know…from the work already done by others.

(December 8, 2016: Immaculate Conception)
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Gn 3:9-15, 20 Ps 98:1-4 Eph 1:3-6 Lk 1:26-38

“She became mother of all the living…”

The reading from the Book of Genesis ends with the statement: “The man called his wife Eve because she became the mother of all the living”.

Eve is the mother of us all. We all bear traces of her maternity by virtue of the fact that we are impacted by original sin. Eve’s “yes” to the serpent’s temptation continues to affect our lives even to this day.

Good for us that another woman is likewise “the mother of all the living”. However, she is our mother in an entirely different way. Her “yes” affects us in an entirely different way. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Honor, venerate and respect with special love the holy and glorious Virgin Mary who, being the Mother of Jesus Christ our Brother, is also in truth our very mother. Let us then have recourse to her, and as her little children cast ourselves into her bosom with perfect confidence, at all times and on all occasions let us invoke her maternal love whilst striving to imitate her virtues…” (Living Jesus, p. 224)

So, we have – in truth – two mothers. One mother is famous for saying “yes” to the temptation of the evil one; the other mother is famous for saying “yes” to the invitation of the Holy One – both with lasting effects!

Today, which of these two mothers will we imitate?

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(December 9, 2016: Friday, Second Week of Advent)
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Is 48:17-19 Ps 1:1-4, 6 Mt 11:16-19

“You’re damned if you do; you’re damned if you don’t.”

That statement pretty much sums up the message in today’s Gospel selection from Matthew. John the Baptizer got criticized for being aloof and austere; Jesus got criticized for being accessible and down-to-earth.

There’s just no pleasing some people.

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

“Does anyone fail to see that the world is an unjust judge, gracious and well-disposed to its own children but rigorous towards the children of God? 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 or drinking, says the Savior, and you say, ‘He has a devil.’ ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking,’ and you say 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…” (IDL IV, Ch. 1, p. 236)

You know the old adage: if you try to please everyone, you end up making yourself miserable. On any given day follow the example of both John and Jesus – be who you are, and be that as best as you can.

Come what may!

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(December 10, 2016: Saturday of the Second Week of Advent)
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Sir 48:1-4, 9-11 Ps 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19 Mt 17:9a, 10-13

“You were destined…to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons.”

Advent is the season during which we are challenged “to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks”. In this season we are challenged to lay down our arms and to let bygones be bygones.

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

“When your mind is tranquil and without any cause for anger, build up a stock of meekness and mildness. Speak all your words and do all your actions – whether little or great –in the mildest way you can: not merely with strangers but also among your own family and neighbors. As soon as you recognize that you are guilty of a wrathful deed, correct it as soon as possible by an act of meekness toward the person with whom you were angry.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, p. 149)

This season of peace – which is unlike any other season – reminds us of our relationships in which peace is lacking. We are reminded of fences that need to be mended, hatchets that need to be buried and wounds that need to be healed with fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters, neighbors, co-workers and friends.

During this Advent season to whom do our hearts need to turn?

Or return?

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(December 11, 2016: Third Sunday of Advent)
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Is 35:1-6a, 10 Ps 146:6-10 Jas 5:7-10 Mt 11:2-11

“There has been none greater than John the Baptist…”

Francis de Sales considered John the Baptist to be one of the greatest saints because his life and mission were not to draw the attention of people to himself but to point to another. In his Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, the Doctor of Love – in speaking of John the Baptist – states, “He did not want to draw disciples to himself, but only to his Teacher, to whose school he now sends them so that they might be instructed personally by Him.” (The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Advent and Christmas, edited by Lewis S. Fiorelli OSFS)

Jane de Chantal also comments on the example of humility we find in John the Baptist.

“I would say that St. John never spoke in a more admirable manner than when he was asked who he was, for he always relied by a humble negative; and when he was obliged to answer positively, he said that he was only a voice, as much as to say that he was nothing; word in truth, well worthy of a prophet and of the great among them […].” (“Exhortation XV”, St. Jane Frances Frèmyot De Chantal: Her Exhortations, Conferences and Instructions, Translated by Katherine Brègy)

In this holy season of Hope and Expectation, we can focus our attention on the model of John the Baptist who pointed the way to Christ. On our daily “earthly pilgrimage” to the fullness of the Kingdom, our lives and witness to Christ should not draw attention to ourselves, but lead others to come to know and to encounter Christ. Like John, we are His messengers and ambassadors.

Today, in a spirit of humility, may we recognize that God uses each of us as His instruments to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ to others.

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(December 12, 2016: Our Lady of Guadalupe)
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Zec 2:14-17 Ps Jdt 13:18bc, 19 Luke 1:26-38

“Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

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

“On December 9, 1531, Juan Diego – a Nahua Indian who had recently converted to Christianity – was on his way to Mass when he heard singing on the summit of Tepeyac Hill. Curious to discover the source of the music, he followed a trail up the hill and at the summit met a young woman: dark-skinned, beautifully dressed and standing amid dazzling light. Speaking to Juan in Nahuatl (his own language), she introduced herself and instructed him to go to the bishop of Mexico City and tell him to build a church in her honor on the spot. Twice he attempted to persuade the bishop to do as Mary had asked; twice, the bishop turned him away. Juan wasn’t surprised that the bishop didn’t take him seriously: after all, he was a poor peasant. Juan urged Mary to ask someone with more status to deliver her message. Instead, Mary promised to give the bishop a sign that would prove to everyone for all time that what Juan Diego has reported was true. So, she commanded him to return to Tepeyac and gather flowers there. At the top of the hill he discovered gorgeous Castilian roses, growing six months out of season. He picked the flowers until his cloak was full. Them he carried them back to Marty, who took each rose in her hand before replacing it in Juan Diego’s cloak.”

“Tucking the edges of his cloak so that not a single rose would fall out, Juan hurried to the bishop’s palace where he was meeting with some of his chaplains and several servants. Juan entered the room and said, ‘You asked for a sign. Now look.’ He opened his cloak and the magnificent roses cascaded onto the floor. But more astonishing than the roses was the image on his cloak: a perfect portrait of the Virgin Marty as Juan had seen her, beautifully dressed and with the dark complexion of an Indian. The bishop became convinced and built a church on Tepeyac Hill and enshrined the miraculous image over the high altar.” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 370 – 371)

We can all relate to Juan Diego. After all, haven’t each of us wondered from time to time in our lives how – or why – God has chosen us to be instruments of His will, sources of His hope and bearers of His Good News? Haven’t we ever suggested – perhaps not in so many words – that God would do better in selecting people with “more status” to give voice to God’s will for the people He loves and cherishes so much?

Juan Diego – however reluctantly – became convinced that what was spoken to him by the Lord (through His mother!) would be fulfilled. How much do we need to be convinced that what we speak on behalf of the Lord will be fulfilled?

And, yes, even through us?

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(December 13, 2014: Lucy, Virgin and Martyr)
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Zep 3:1-2, 9-13 Ps 34:2-3, 6-7, 17-18, 19, 23 Mt 21:28-32

“Which of the two did his father’s will?”

Talk is cheap. One incurs no cost at all when simply saying what one will do. It’s a different situation all together when it comes down to someone actually doing what they said that they would do.

There is something of both sons (from today’s Gospel) inside of each of us. It’s easy to initially “yes” somebody to death, only not to follow through in the end. By contrast, it’s also easy to say “no” to something, only to eventually come around and follow through in the end.

Let’s face it. Sometimes we do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. Sometimes we do the right thing only as a last resort. Sometimes we do the right thing because it’s the only option we have left. Sometimes, we do what we know is right against our will.

How can you do the Father’s will today? By – however reluctantly or enthusiastically – doing it, rather than merely talking about it.

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(December 14, 2016: John of the Cross, Priest & Doctor of the Church)
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Is 45: 6b-8, 18, 21b-25 Ps 85:9-14 Lk 7:18b-23

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

“John of the Cross had joined the Carmelite order and was ordained a priest just at the time that St. Teresa began her reform of the order’s nuns and friars. Many convents and priories had grown lax. The old austerity had given way to opulent furnishings and expensive food and wine: gossiping with visitors took precedence over prayer. Teresa won the approval of the superiors of Spain’s Carmelites, as well as of King Philip II, to restore the Carmelites’ original principles. But not all the friars wanted to be reformed, and they took out their frustration on Teresa’s chaplain, confessor and protégé, John of the Cross. In 1577 a band of renegade Carmelites kidnapped John and imprisoned him in their priory in Toledo. He spent nearly nine months locked inside a tiny cell with only a three-inch-wide slit for a window. His friar-jailers gave him so little food he almost starved to death. He was refused water for washing and his habit became infested with lice; he was denied candles to dispel the gloom or a fire to warm him in winter. He was brutally flogged, bearing the terrible scars for the rest of his life.”

“Terrified of being locked up forever, John took refuge in meditation, mentally composing some of his finest mystical poems. He also plotted his escape. By mid-August 1578, he managed to dismantle the lock on his cell door and made a rope by tying together strips torn from his blankets. Late one night he crept out of his cell, hurried to the parapet and used his makeshift rope to climb down the priory’s outer wall. Weak and disorientated, John called upon the Blessed Virgin Mary for help. She must have heard his plea because after staggering through the city he found himself at the door of one of Teresa’s convents. Once the nun’s recognized him, they brought him inside their enclosure (something normally forbidden under both Church and civil law). When the friar-jailers and local police arrived looking for John, they searched everywhere except in the enclosure.”

“Once he had regained his health and strength, John wanted to return to his quiet life, but civic and religious leaders prevented this from ever happening. First he served as head of a college; next he was prior of a Carmelite house; and then he was made one of the superiors of the order in Spain. Since he had to be out among people, John took the opportunity to teach others about the joy of meditation. ‘Contemplation,’ he taught, ‘is nothing else but a secret, peaceful and loving infusion of God, which, if admitted, will set the soul on fire with the Spirit of love.’” (This Saint’s for You!, pp. 268-269)

John of the Cross learned the wisdom of meditating on the Lord’s law day and night the hard way.

Here’s hoping we learn the same lesson with a lot less difficulty!

(December 2, 2016: Friday of the First Week of Advent)
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Is 29: 17-24 Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14 Mt 9:27-31

“Those who err in spirit shall acquire understanding, and those who find fault shall receive instruction.

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

“When some people see the defects of others they feel a certain satisfaction; they preen themselves more with the hope of getting others to admire the contrary good qualities that they mistakenly believe that they possess. Such self-satisfaction may be so secret and imperceptible that a person must have sharp eyes to discover it. And even those infected by it do not recognize it when it is shown to them. To flatter and excuse themselves and soften their own remorse of conscience, others are quite willing to judge their fellow men and women to be guilty of the very vices to which they themselves are addicted or to vices equally great. They think that pointing out the faults of others will somehow make their own less noteworthy. Still other people make a habit of rash judgment because they like to play the philosopher and probe into the moods and morals of others as a means of displaying their presumed intelligence. Sad to say, even if they happen to occasionally be right their rashness and desire so far exceed their insight that they have difficulty turning away from them. To conclude, fear, ambition and other similar mental weaknesses often contribute to the birth of suspicion and rash judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, pp. 197-198)

As we prepare once again to celebrate the birth of the Messiah, the season of Advent invites us to turn away from our erring ways and to refrain from the temptation to find faults in others. In addition, what better way is there to celebrate the birth of the Messiah than by changing the ways that we think about ourselves and others than by recognizing – and naming – what is good in ourselves and what is good in others?

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(December 3, 2016: Saturday of the First Week of Advent)
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Is 30:19-21, 23-26 Ps 147:1-6 Mt 9:35 – 10:1, 5a, 6-8

“The Kingdom of heaven is at hand…”

One of the signs that Jesus associates with the Kingdom of heaven being at hand is the driving out demons.

The season of Advent provides each of us with a great opportunity to drive out from our own minds and hearts any number of demons with which we might be plagued. These demons – while they are not necessarily limited to this list – could include:

  • Anxieties
  • Grudges
  • Bitterness
  • Resentment
  • Old Hurts
  • Unresolved conflicts
  • Unbridled anger
  • Perfectionism
  • Scrupulosity
  • Negativity
  • Ingratitude
  • Presumption

The Kingdom of heaven is at hand! Why not make more room in your life for the Word-Made-Flesh by driving out our demons through some heavy duty spiritual house-cleaning between now and Christmas?

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(December 4, 2016: Second Sunday of Advent)
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Is 11:1-10 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 Rom 15:4-9 Mt3:1-12

“John went throughout the whole region…proclaiming a baptism of repentance…”

In a sermon given on the Second Sunday of Advent, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“The Gospel speaks to us of St. John the Baptist. He was baptizing in the Jordan and when the multitudes came to him and surrounded him, he cried out, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only his messenger. I come to prepare the way. It is He who will give you the baptism that comes from heaven.’ Hearing of the wonders of Our Lord, John sent to Him his disciples who asked Jesus, “Are you He who is to come or shall we look for another?’ Our Lord answered, ‘Report to John what you have seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and blessed are those who are not scandalized in Me.’”

“When the disciples had departed, Jesus said to those around Him, ‘What did you go out into the desert to see? A man clothed in soft garments? Those who dress in this manner are in the palaces of kings. A prophet? Yes, I declare to you, a prophet and more than a prophet, for it is written of him, ‘I send before you my angel who will prepare the way for you.’ Thus the people understood then that the words of John the Baptist and the words of Our Lord were in agreement.’”

“My children, we are in Advent. Jesus is going to come into our hearts. Let us cry out to Him in all truth every day, as St. John called out to Him by his desires, ‘Come Lord. Be our strength. Come not only into our hearts but also into the hearts of all whom we love and for whom we pray.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 21)

Amen.

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(December 5, 2016: Monday, Second Week of Advent)
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Is 35:1-10 Ps 85:9-14 Lk 5:17-26

“Strengthen the hands that are feeble, make firm the knees that are weak. Say to those whose hearts are frightened: be strong, fear not!”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus fulfills the prophet Isaiah’s words by prophetic action. First, Jesus forgives the sins of the paralyzed man; second, he heals the man’s paralysis.

The Season of Advent provides us with a wonderful opportunity to consider the ways – any ways – in which we might be suffering from any form of paralysis: spiritual, emotional, social – and perhaps – even physical. In what ways might our minds be feeble? In what ways might our resolve be weak? In what ways might our hearts be frightened?

Whether on our own – or with the help of others – let us approach the Lord in our neediness. Let us ask for His forgiveness. Let us ask for His strength. May He open our eyes, ears and hearts to the wonders of His power! May our tongues – and lives – give witness to His love!

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(December 6, 2016: Tuesday of the Second Week of Advent)
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Is 40:1-11 Ps 96:1-3, 10-13 Mt 18:12-14

“Comfort; give comfort to my people, says your God.”

In a commentary on the necessity to “reprint the Gospel”, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:

“The third evangelical task about which I want to speak is the evangelization of the nations – the preaching of Our Lord. Our Lord has come to earth to give us an example, to instruct us and to redeem us by His sufferings. The preaching of the Gospel was one of the principal reasons for His coming. We, therefore, should reprint the Gospel also by our preaching.”

“All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes as well as those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those who are assigned to the ministry of the pulpit – all of us should preach. We should preach in a practical way. We should teach our neighbor, if not by our words, at least by our actions. If you do so, do you think that you will have no influence on those who see you?” (Cor ad Cor, p. 30)

Today are you looking for a way to “reprint the Gospel”? Are you interested in doing your part to continue “the evangelization of the nations, the preaching of Our Lord”? Then here is one suggestion that comes directly from our God Himself.

“Comfort; give comfort to my people.”

Today!

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(December 7, 2016: Wednesday of the Second Week of Advent)
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Is 40:25-31 Ps 103:1-4, 8, 10 Mt 11:28-30

“They that hope in the Lord will renew their strength; they will soar as with eagles’ wings…”

Don’t bother looking around the room at other people’s hands or knees for weakness. We need to look no further than our own hands and knees or, for that matter, our own minds or hearts, our own spirits or psyches, to see the weakness to which the Prophet Isaiah refers in our first reading today.

These weaknesses are not bad news. In fact, they are very good news! The promise is that God will never “grow faint or weary” when it comes – as Jesus says in today’s Gospel – to giving us rest. Put another way, our weaknesses are not an obstacle to God’s transforming, empowering and inspiring love. In fact, our weaknesses are an entrée to that transforming, empowering and inspiring love. As the Preface for the Eucharistic Prayer for Martyrs from the former Sacramentary reminds us, “God chooses the weak and makes them strong in bearing witness to him…”

Our ongoing need for divine comfort, healing and strength reminds us of Francis de Sales’ teaching on whom should approach, celebrate and receive the Eucharist. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“Two classes of people should communicate frequently: the strong lest they become weak, and the weak that they may become strong; the sick that they may be restored to health, and the healthy lest they fall sick. Tell them that for your part you are imperfect, weak and sick and need to communicate frequently with him who is your perfection and strength…” (Part II, Chapter 21)

Seen with the eyes of faith, all that may wear us down or make us weary should not be cause for shame. In fact, seen with the eyes of God, all that may wear us down and make us weary perfectly prepares us to be sustained, renewed and invigorated by the God who is always with us!

Today, let us learn from our meek and humble Jesus in whom as we find comfort and rest, let us offer that same comfort and rest as needed to one another.

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(November 24, 2016: Thanksgiving Day)
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“He fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him…”In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:“Consider that a certain number of years ago you did not yet exist. God has drawn you out from nothingness so as to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his own goodness. Consider the nature God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world, is capable of eternal life and able to be perfectly united with God’s Divine Majesty…God has placed you in this world not because God has any need of you but because God wishes to exercise his goodness in you by giving you his grace and glory. For this purpose God has given you intelligence to know him, memory to be mindful of him, will to love him, imagination to picture his benefits to yourself, eyes to see His wonderful works, and tongues to praise him, just to mention a few…Consider the corporeal benefits that God has bestowed on you: the body itself, all goods provided for its maintenance, health, comforts friend, supporters and other helps… By noting each and every particular blessing you will perceive how gentle and gracious God has been to you.” (IDL, Part I, Chapters 9- 11, pp. 53 -57)How can we possibly even begin to give thanks for everything that God has given – and continues to give – to us? Francis de Sales offers a suggestion: just as God has been gentle and gracious to us, may we strive to be equally – or at least, approximately – as gentle and gracious to others on this Thanksgiving Day…and every day!

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(November 25, 2016: Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Martyr
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“Consider the fig tree and all other trees…”In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:“The cross is the root of every grace received by us who are spiritual grafts attached to our Savior’s body. Having been so engrafted if we abide in him, then by means of the life of grace he communicates to us we shall certainly bear the fruit of glory prepared for us. But if we are mere inert sprigs or grafts on that tree – that is, if by resistance we break the progress and effects of His mercy – it will be no wonder if in the end we are wholly cut off and thrown into everlasting fire as useless branches.”“God undoubtedly prepared paradise only for such as he foresaw would be his. Therefore, let us be his both by faith and by our works, and he will be ours by glory. It is in our power to be his, for although to belong to God is a gift from God, yet it is a gift that God denies to no one. God offers it to all people so as to give it to such as will sincerely consent to receive it. He gives us both his death and his life: his life so that we may be freed from eternal death, his life so that we can enjoy eternal life. Let us live in peace, then, and serve God so as to be his in this mortal life and still more so in life eternal.” (TLG, Part III, Book 5, pp. 178-179)Francis de Sales insists that our future depends heavily upon our present. At any given moment we can think, feel and act in ways which bring us closer to either (1) redemption or (2) damnation. It all comes down to how deeply grafted we are onto the heart – and the cross – of Christ.

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(November 26, 2016: Saturday, Thirty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy and that the day catch you by surprise like a trap…”The readings selected for these remaining days of the waning liturgical year emphasize the “end times”: the final judgment and the importance of being on the lookout for when that climactic moment will occur.In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, St. Francis de Sales wrote:“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things, making you pass over them like a happy halcyon bird lifted safely above the waves of the world which flood this age. Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and as they pass, they themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile – in these passing moments – there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity. In our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory; the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 236)Be watchful! Be alert! Be on the lookout! However, don’t limit your vigilance to the last moment of your life; rather, expand your vigilance to include every moment of your life! In so doing, you might not only avoid having your last day catch you like a trap, but rather, you will be able transform every day into an opportunity!Grow in your knowledge and love of God, your neighbor and yourself now – and forever.

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(November 27, 2016: First Sunday of Advent)
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Is 2:1-5 Ps 122:1-9 Rom 13:11-14 Mt 24:37-44

“Stay awake!”

In a reflection upon the season of Advent, Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS observed:

“Advent means coming. It is a time set aside to prepare for Christmas. These four weeks of Advent represent the four thousand years which preceded the coming of the Messiah. Throughout these many years the prophets announced the coming of Our Lord.”

“There are two advents of Our Lord. The first is His great advent when he came to this earth to save us. He willed to come to us little, humble and unknown. He was born poor to show us that poverty is no disgrace. He willed to be a working man to teach us to love work as He loved it.”

“The second advent of Our Lord is made in our hearts. Every time that we have a good thought, every time that we take the Good Lord with us, every time that we make an act of fidelity – every time that we tell God that we are all His – an advent takes place. Our Blessed Savior visits our souls.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)

As we prepare for Jesus’ first advent in four weeks, we should do our level best to “be vigilant at all times.” We should be on the lookout for the legions of Jesus’ second advents. On any given day many opportunities come our way to have good thoughts, to harbor good feelings, to develop good attitudes and to do goods things, especially with and toward other people.

When these opportunities come – and with them, Jesus himself – will we be ready to receive them? Will we be ready to make good use of them?

Come – O come – Emmanuel!

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(November 28, 2016: Monday of the First Week of Advent)
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Is 4:2-6 Ps 122:1-9 Mt 8:5-11

“I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.”

On day two of our Advent journey toward the Solemnity of the Incarnation, listen to the words of Blessed Louis Brisson, OSFS:

“Man sinned and was driven from the earthly paradise. The merciful God promised a Savior, a Redeemer. But God did not tell us what kind of Redeemer he would send to save us. Most of the prophets, in announcing His coming, do not appear to have been concerned with the details. However, in His infinite mercy, God decided that the Redeemer should be none other than the Divine Word itself, His own Eternal Son. He would take our human nature and become one of us in order to make reparation for the offense committed against God, and also to serve as a model for us.” (Cor ad Cor, p. 13)

Clearly, since the fall of Adam and Eve, none of us is worthy to have God enter under our collective roofs. Driven out of Eden, our ancestors no longer felt at home with God. It is, therefore, all the more remarkable that in the fullness of time that God chose to make his home within each and every one of us by taking on our nature in the person of His Son, Jesus. We are no longer strangers or orphans; we have found our new home in Christ.

Today following Jesus’ example, how can each of us make more of a home within our minds, hearts and lives for others?

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(November 29, 2016: Tuesday of the First Week of Advent)
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Is 11:1-10 Ps 72:1-2, 7-8, 12-13, 17 Lk 10:21-24

“The Spirit of the Lord will rest upon him…”

In today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, we hear of the seven gifts associated with the presence and action of the Holy Spirit.

In a sermon preached during the last few years of his life to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales offered the following prayer:

“God grant us his gift of fear, that we might serve him as his dutiful children; his gift of piety, that we might give him due reverence as our loving father; his gift of knowledge, that we may recognize the good we ought to do and the evil we should avoid; his gift of fortitude, that we may bravely overcome all the difficulties we shall meet in trying to be good; his gift of counsel, that we might discern and choose the best ways of living a life of devotion; his gift of understanding, that we may divine the beauty and value of faith’s mysteries and the Gospel principles; and finally, his gift of wisdom, that we may appreciate how lovable God is, that we may experience and thrill to the delight of that goodness of his which is more than our limited minds can fathom. O, the happiness that will be ours if we accept these precious gifts!” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 158)

What are the signs associated with our making good use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Isaiah cites several:

  • Not judging by appearance or hearsay
  • Judging the poor with justice
  • Deciding aright for the afflicted

Today, how might you make good use of the Holy Spirit’s gifts?

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(November 30, 2016: Andrew, Apostle & Martyr)
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Rom 10:9-18 Ps 19:8-11 Mt 4:18-22

“At once they followed him…”

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

“Andrew and his brother Peter were sitting in their fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee, repairing their nets, when Christ called to them, saying, ‘Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men.’ Although the brothers did leave their boat to follow the Lord, they never stopped catching fish: it was how they supported themselves and their families.”

“Time and time again the Gospels take us back to the Sea of Galilee: on one occasion, Jesus climbed into Peter and Andrew’s boat to preach to a crowd on the shore; on another, while the brothers and some of the other disciples were out fishing, they saw Jesus advancing toward them by walking on the water. After a long night of fishing and catching nothing, Christ urged the brothers to go out to the deepest part of the sea and lower their nets one more time. This time the catch was so great that the fishing nets broke and Peter and Andrew had to signal to their fellow apostles and business partners James and John to come help them haul in the fish. And, when there was nothing for the crowd of five thousand to eat, it was Andrew who brought forward a boy who had five barley loaves and two fish, which Christ multiplied to feed the multitude…with much leftover to boot.”

“Tradition says that St. Andrew carried the Gospel to Greece. At the town of Patras he was arrested and tied to an X-shaped cross. The legend claims that it took him three dies to die, and the entire time he hung on the cross St. Andrew preached to all who passed by.” (p. 179)

Andrew – once a fisherman, always a fisherman. A fisherman doesn’t get to pick the day, time, situation or circumstance in which he fishes. He simply fishes, come what may. A fisherman jumps at the chance to make a catch; he will drop whatever else he might be doing in pursuit of his livelihood. Such an avocation requires tenacity, patience, determination and a willingness to go with the flow. Perhaps that’s Jesus why Jesus called Andrew to become one of his apostles/disciples, because such qualities could come in quite handy when it came to preaching the Good News.

Jesus calls each of us – in our own unique ways – to be fishers of “men.”

To what degree does Jesus see in us some of the same qualities that he saw in Andrew?

Spirituality Matters 2016: November 17th – November 23rd

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(November 17, 2016: Elizabeth of Hungary)
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“If this day you only knew what makes for peace…”St. Francis de Sales cited St. Elizabeth’s heroic virtue in his Introduction to the Devout Life, drawing a direct line between her practice of charity and Jesus’ challenge to live a life of Beatitude:“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the king of Hungary, often visited the poor. O God how poor was this princess in the midst of all her riches and how rich was her poverty! ‘Blessed are they who are poor in this manner, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was cold and you clothed me; come possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ He who is the King of the poor and of the rich alike will say this at the great judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 166)The surest path to peace is to pursue a life of justice. Elizabeth of Hungary pursued justice by sharing her good fortune with others.Today, how might we imitate her example by sharing our good fortune with others?
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(November 18, 2016: Rose Philippine Duchesne, Religious)
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“You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, tongues….”“Rose Philippine Duchesne was the daughter of Pierre-Francois Duchesne, an eminent lawyer, and her mother, Rose Euphrosine Perier, who was a member of the well-known Perier family. She was educated by the sisters of the Visitation of Holy Mary; at the age of 19 she (without her family’s approval) subsequently joined the community. Rose witnessed the Visitation’s dispersion in 1792 during the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror. She attempted to re-establish of the convent of Ste-Marie-d’en-Haut, near Grenoble without success, and in 1804, she accepted the offer of Mother Barat to receive her Visitation community into the Society of the Sacred Heart. In 1815, St. Rose Philippine Duchesne established a Sacred Heart community in Paris.”“In 1818, Rose Philippine Duchesne sailed for America with several other members of the Society. They arrived in New Orleans and traveled the Louisiana territory via the Mississippi River, ending up in St. Charles, Missouri, near St Louis, where she established the first house of the Society ever built outside of France in a log cabin. By the year 1828, six houses had been added in America including a foundation serving the Potawatomi tribe in a portion of the Louisiana Territory that would eventually become (in 1861) the state of Kansas. In time the Native Americans referred to her as the “Woman Who Prays Always.”“Inspired by the stories of Belgian Father Pierre De Smet, S.J., Duchesne was determined to expand the Society into the Rocky Mountains, but illness forced her to return to St. Charles, where she spent the last ten years of her life, dying at the age of 83. She was canonized on July 3, 1988 by Pope John Paul II.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=377)The Lord helped Rose Philippine Duchesne to see that the end of her local Visitation community in the land of her birth did not mean the end of her having a purpose in life; in fact, it was a new beginning in the New World. Her initial misfortune paved the way for a long and fruitful ministry in places and with people that could only have happened if she had a reason to leave Grenoble. No doubt that Rose eventually came to see that in closing one door in her life God subsequently opened a window – and a pretty big window at that!Today, when a misfortune, disappointment or setback comes our way, do we – like Rose Philippine Duchesne – have the courage to see them through the eyes of faith?
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(November 19, 2016: Saturday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”In his commentary on today’s passage from Luke’s Gospel, William Barclay observed:“Jesus gave the Sadducees an answer that has a permanently valid truth to it. He said that we must not think of heaven in terms of this earth. Life there will be quite different because we will be quite different. It would save a mass of misdirected ingenuity – and no small amount of heartache – if we ceased to speculate on what heaven is like and left such things to the love of God.” (pp. 250-251)But there is also another takeaway from today’s Gospel, according to Barclay:“Out of this arid passage emerges a great truth for anyone who teaches or who wishes to commend Christianity to one’s fellows . Jesus used arguments that the people he was arguing with could understand. Jesus talked to them in their own language; he met them on their own ground; and that is precisely why the common people heard him gladly.” (251)William Barclay’s insight here is very much in keeping with Fr. Brisson’s understanding of one of the fundamental qualities of Salesian spirituality – if you want to speak to the hearts of people, you (1) need to meet them where they are and (2) use words that they can understand.How might we “Live + Jesus” just this day by meeting others where they are…and speaking to them in ways that they can understand?
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(November 20, 2016: Jesus Christ, King of the Universe)
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“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”St. Francis de Sales tells us in the Introduction to the Devout Life:“Consider the eternal love that God has borne you. Before our Lord Jesus Christ as man suffered on the Cross for you, His Divine Majesty by His Sovereign Goodness already foresaw your existence and loved you exceedingly.” (Introduction, Part V, Chapter 14)Tempted as he was by the voices around him to use his kingly power for his own relief or benefit, Jesus spent his last moments –– his few remaining breaths –– for the good of others. It was with love that he promised Paradise to the Good Thief who spoke words of humility and contrition.On this feast of the Kingship of Christ, the Church presents us with two images: David, the shepherd-warrior, anointed by his people to be their king and Jesus, the only true king, rejected by the people, crucified and ridiculed. In David the kingship of Israel was established so that from it could come the Redeemer of all people. But how did Jesus live out his call to be king? According to St. Francis de Sales it was by “the perfect abandonment into the hands of the heavenly Father and this perfect indifference in whatever is his divine will.” (St. Francis de Sales Sermons for Lent, Good Friday, 1622)To Jesus, being king meant being one with his Father. He lived in perfect union with God. As Paul tells us in the letter to the Colossians, “He is the image of the invisible God.” To Jesus, being king meant giving all for others. He gave his all to each person at every moment. We see this giving in his words to the repentant criminal on the Cross: Jesus spoke only of mercy and acceptance.We are called to do the same. As Christians our first care must be union with our God: “Lord, it is good for me to be with you, whether you be upon the Cross or in your glory.” (Introduction, Part IV, Chapter XIII) St. Francis de Sales tells us in the Treatise on the Love of God: “Mount Calvary is the mount of lovers.” (Book XII, Chapter XIII) After the example of our King, we must speak words of mercy and acceptance. Like Jesus, we are not called to condemn or reject but only to love.St. Leonie Aviat, OSFS lived the humble, self-giving life portrayed in today’s Scriptures. She recognized and experienced the meaning of authentic royalty and of royal power: spending one’s life with God for others. As a young founder of a religious community, the Oblate Sisters of St. Francis de Sales, Mother Aviat pledged to “forget myself entirely” and to “work for the happiness of others.” This call to follow Christ resounded in her every word and act, as she worked to give people here on earth a foretaste of the Paradise that Christ promises to all those who remember him.Perhaps that’s the point. What better way to ask God to remember us when he comes into his kingdom than by reminding ourselves of the presence of God in each day, hour and moment here and now? What better way to join Christ in Paradise than by remembering to reach out to others here on earth?
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(November 21, 2016: Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“She has offered her whole livelihood…”In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:“The esteem in which humility holds all good gifts, namely, faith hope and charity, is the foundation of generosity of spirit. Take notice that the first gifts of which we spoke belong to the exercise of humility and the others to generosity. Humility believes that it can do nothing, considering its poverty and weakness as far as depends on ourselves. On the contrary, generosity makes us say with St. Paul, ‘I can do all things in Him who strengthens me.’ Humility makes us distrust ourselves, whereas generosity makes us trust in God. You see, then that humility and generosity are so closely joined and united to one another that they are and never can be separated.” (Conferences, “On Generosity” pp. 75-76)We see this humility and generosity on display in today’s Gospel. Whereas some wealthy people who contributed to the temple treasury were relying more on themselves for their welfare (they made sure that they had plenty for themselves in reserve) before giving to others, the poor widow – we are told – gave to the treasury without squirreling something away for herself first, suggesting that she was relying more on God for her welfare. The wealthy contributed with conditions; the widow contributed without conditions.

Today, whether we have a lot or a little, what steps can we take to store up riches less for ourselves and more for others?

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(November 22, 2016: Cecilia, Virgin and Martyr)
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“When you hear of wars and insurrections do not be terrified…”

In this age of 24-7 news cycles, one could be forgiven for being “terrified” from time to time. After all, we never seem to get a break. Whether around the corner or around the world, we are constantly exposed to a never-ending dose of unsettling news reports: stories of violence, accounts of revenge and descriptions of disasters. One could make the argument that you would have to be crazy to be unconcerned or unaffected by reports of economic, social, political and/or military turmoil!

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

“With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil than can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin to a state and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also if our hearts are inwardly troubled and disturbed they lose both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues they had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost to fish – as they say – in troubled waters.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Francis de Sales believed that people should be informed. We should be aware – and where applicable, concerned – about the things that are happening around us. More importantly, however, is the need to know what is happening inside of us. We need to know the state of our mind and heart. After all, sometimes the effects of the “wars and insurrections” that may surround us are nothing in comparison with the “wars and insurrections” that rage within us!

Trouble is a part of life. Don’t make it worse by allowing it to trouble you on the inside to the point where you can’t manage it on the outside – for your own sake, as well as for the sake of those who depend on you.

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(November 23, 2016: Miguel Augustin Pro, Priest and Martyr)
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“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.”

Today the Chruch celebrates the life, legacy and ultimate sacrifice made by Blessed Miguel Pro

“Born on January 13, 1891 in Guadalupe, Mexico, Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez was, from an early age, both remarkably spiritual and equally mischievousness, frequently exasperating his family with humor and practical jokes. Miguel was particularly close to his older sister and after she entered a cloistered convent, he eventually recognized his own vocation to the priesthood. Although he was popular with the senoritas and had prospects of a lucrative career managing his father’s thriving business concerns, Miguel the Jesuit novitiate in El Llano, Michoacan in 1911.

“He studied in Mexico until 1914, when tsunami of anti-Catholicism swept through Mexico, forcing the novitiate to disband. Miguel and his brother seminarians trekked through Texas and New Mexico before arriving at the Jesuit house in Los Gatos, California. In 1915, Miguel was sent to a seminary in Spain; in 1924, he went to Belgium where he was ordained a priest in 1925. Miguel suffered from a severe stomach problem and after three operations, when his health did not improve, his superiors, in 1926, allowed him to return to Mexico in spite of the grave religious persecution in that country.”

“Back in his native land, churches were closed and priests went into hiding. Miguel spent the rest of his life in an attempt to sturdy and strengthen Mexican Catholics. In addition to fulfilling their spiritual needs, he also carried out works of mercy by trying to meet the temporal needs of the poor in Mexico City. To protect his real identity he used a number of disguises while carrying out his clandestine ministry. He would arrive in the middle of the night dressed as a beggar to baptize infants, bless marriages and celebrate Mass. He would appear in jail dressed as a police officer to bring Holy Viaticum to condemned Catholics. When going to fashionable neighborhoods to procure money food and other resources for the poor, he would show up at the doorstep dressed as a fashionable businessman with a fresh flower on his lapel. Falsely accused in the attempted assassination of a former Mexican president, Miguel became a hunted man. Betrayed to the police by an informer, he was sentenced to death without the benefit of any legal process. On the day of his execution (which the Mexican president personally ordered to have photographed and filmed), Fr. Pro forgave his executioners, prayed, refused the blindfold and died proclaiming, ‘Viva Cristo Rey.’” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=86)

Miguel Pro was courageous in the face of persecution, arrest, imprisonment and execution.

How might we imitate his courage just this day by serving the needs of others…in the name of Christ the King?

Spirituality Matters 2016: November 10th – November 16th

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(November 10, 2016: Leo the Great, Pope and Doctor of the Church)
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“I urge you out of love…so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.”As the saying goes, there are two ways to get something accomplished – the easy way or the hard way.In his instructions of preaching, Blessed Louis Brisson observed:“There are two methods of reaching our neighbors and obtaining their obedience. The first method is the method of authority. ‘I am the master. I have the authority. I command. Obey!’ This is the most common method, but it is not our method. Why? Because it isn’t Our Lord’s method. We don’t see Our Lord speaking or acting like this in the Gospels. He never played the master.”“There is a second method, the method of persuasion. We don’t wait for souls to come; we go out to meet them. We take a good look at them and we study them up close. We try to discover the point through which we can reach them; we take hold and lift them up by the ‘handle’ which they offer us.” (The Oblate Preacher, James Finnegan, OSFS, trans., p. 61)You get more cooperation from people by attempting to win them over rather than by running them over. You get more done by being more persuasive than punitive. You get people on your side by urging out of love. Jesus knew it, St. Paul knew it; St. Francis de Sales knew it and Blessed Louis Brisson knew it.How about you? What method do you use when dealing with other – especially problematic – people?
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(November 11, 2016: Martin of Tours, Bishop)
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“Where the body is, there also the vultures will gather…”We’ve probably all had this experience while travelling by car in the open country – seeing birds circling somewhere in the sky up ahead. As we drew closer to where they were circling we realized that these were not just any bird but birds of prey. And, at that point, we anticipated what we were going to see within the next minute or two – road kill.Hence, we associate the gathering – or circling – of vultures with death.By contrast, what would we expect to see gathering or circling around life? St. Francis de Sales mentions a few of the things for which we should look:“Patience; meekness; self-discipline; humility; obedience; poverty; chastity; tenderness toward our neighbors; bearing with our neighbors’ imperfections; holy fervor.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 2, p. 127)Which begs the question: what do other people see gathering – or circling – around us?
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(November 12, 2016: Josaphat, Bishop and Martyr)
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“You are faithful in all you do for the brothers and sisters…”Today the Church celebrates the life and legacy of St. Josaphat, a man who – among other things – was a contemporary of St. Francis de Sales:“Josaphat’s father was a municipal counselor, and his mother known for her piety. Raised in the Orthodox Ruthenian Church (which, on 23 November 1595 in the Union of Brest, united with the Church of Rome), Josaphat rained as a merchant‘s apprentice at Vilna, Lithuania. He was offered partnership in the business and marriage to his partner’s daughter. Feeling the call to religious life, he declined both offers. He became a monk in the Ukrainian Order of Saint Basil (Basilians) in Vilna at age 20 in 1604, taking the name “Brother Josaphat”. He was ordained as a priest in the Byzantine rite in 1609.”“Josaphat’s superior never accepted unity with Rome, and looked for a way to fight against Roman Catholicism and the “Uniats” (the name given those who brought about and accepted the union of the Churches). Learning of his superior’s intentions work, and fearing the physical and spiritual damage it could cause, Josaphat brought his concerns to the attention of the archbishop of Kiev, Ukraine, who removed the Basilian superior from his post, replacing him with Josaphat.”“Josaphat became a famous preacher, working to promote unity among the faithful. He believed unity to be in the best interests of the Church, and by teaching, clerical reform, and personal example Josaphat won the greater part of the Orthodox in Lithuania to the union and was consecrated as Archbishop of Polotsk, Lithuania in 1617.”“While Josaphat attended the Diet of Warsaw in 1620, a dissident group, supported by Cossacks, set up anti-Uniat bishops for each Uniat one, spreading the accusation that Josaphat had “gone Latin” and that his followers would be forced to do the same. They even installed a usurper on the archbishop’s chair.”“Late in 1623 an anti-Uniat priest named Elias shouted insults at Josaphat from his own courtyard, and tried to force his way into the residence. When he was removed, a mob mentality took over and they invaded the residence. Josaphat tried to insure the safety of his servants before fleeing himself, but did not get out in time, and was martyred by the mob. His murder was a shock to both sides of the dispute – it brought a cooling off period to both sides of the conflict.” (http://catholicsaints.info/saint-josaphat-kuncevyc/)Francis de Sales observed:“We must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself…However, as long as Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight injuries, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you.” (IDL, III, 35)For Josaphat, “being faithful” in all he did led to his making the ultimate sacrifice.Today, how might we do our part at “being faithful” in simple, ordinary and everyday ways?
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(November 13, 2016: Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“For you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.”Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. (Psalm 111: 10) However, as the Psalmist reminds us, this fear of the Lord (which is directly equated with the acquisition of wisdom) is merely the beginning – it must lead to “following God’s precepts,” i.e., it must lead to action.In other words, fear of the Lord’s name must lead to doing the Lord’s work!As we hear in today’s second reading, St. Paul certainly knew this truth: “You know how you ought to imitate us. We did not live lives of disorder…rather, we worked day and night, laboring to the point of exhaustion…indeed, anyone who would not work should not eat.”This fear of the Lord – this fear of God’s name – is not meant to paralyze us. No, it is clearly meant to motivate us, to get us moving, to get us working – individually and collectively – in pursuing the precepts of the Lord and of building up the Kingdom of God. Put another way, fear of the Lord should not make us passive, but rather it should make us proactive.This truth should be obvious. However, just the opposite message may be (however unintentionally) conveyed when we consider the lives and legacies of the saints who, among other things, clearly feared the name of the Lord: “When we think of holy men and women throughout the ages, we often recall sculptures, drawings and paintings in which the saints look anything but active. Our most active and energetic saints are sometimes pictured doing nothing more strenuous than holding a lily or gazing piously heavenward. And while these images can be moving and inspiring, and helpful for times of contemplation, if one is searching for models of action and energy, they can hold somewhat less appeal.” (James Martin, SJ in Patrons and Protectors: More Occupations by Michael O’Neill McGrath)It is in this light that James Martin writes:

Perhaps the most overlooked fact from Christian history is that Jesus worked. We can easily envision Jesus being instructed by Saint Joseph, the master carpenter. In Joseph’s workshop in Nazareth, Jesus would have learned about the raw materials of his craft…Joseph would have taught his apprentice the right way to drive a nail with a hammer, to drill a clean, deep hole in a plank, to level a ledge or a lintel.” (Ibid)

And who could have feared the name of the Lord – and followed God’s precepts – more clearly and convincingly than Jesus? Gregory Pierce suggests that we need to see and experience work as “all the effort (paid or unpaid) we exert to make the world a better place, a little closer to the way God would have things.” (Spirituality@Work, page 18)

Work—God’s work—is indeed our lot in life, our reason for being and our purpose for living. As we see in the life of Jesus himself, this work can be tiring, laborious and frustrating. Still, what could be more rewarding than using all of our energies to make all our little corners of the world places in which “the sun of justice” can arise in the hearts and minds of our brothers and sisters? Fear of the Lord is, ultimately, an invitation – no, a command – to do the work of the Lord.

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(November 14, 2016: Monday, Thirty-third Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I know your works, your labor and your endurance…and that you have not grown weary.”

In his day, some of Francis de Sales’ contemporaries criticized his approach to living the Gospel. They claimed that Francis was suggesting that following Jesus was somehow easy. For his part, the Bishop of Geneva countered by saying that he wasn’t trying to convince people that Gospel living was easy at all. Quite the contrary, what he was trying to do was to convince people that Gospel living was available – and possible – for everyone, but specifically in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which they found themselves.

When it comes to living the Gospel – when it comes to “Living + Jesus” – Salesian spirituality starts from within. Salesian spirituality focuses on the ordinary. Salesian spirituality focuses on the everyday. Salesian spirituality focuses on how to make the hard work relative to living the Gospel doable. Thus, living the Gospel is not meant to be hard. However, as with anything worthwhile, living the Gospel is hard work and it is a life-long work. And again, as with anything worthwhile, living the Gospel is not a sprint. On the contrary, it is a marathon.

St. Francis de Sales cited St. Elizabeth’s heroic virtue in his Introduction to the Devout Life, drawing a direct line between her practice of charity and Jesus’ challenge to live a life of Beatitude:

“St. Elizabeth, daughter of the king of Hungary, often visited the poor. O God how poor was this princess in the midst of all her riches and how rich was her poverty! ‘Blessed are they who are poor in this manner, for to them belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ ‘I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was cold and you clothed me; come possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ He who is the King of the poor and of the rich alike will say this at the great judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 166)

Fr. Brisson understood both issues. He was all-too-aware of the hard – but doable – work associated with living a God-like life was a life-long enterprise. Likewise, he was more than conscious of some people’s skepticism of the Salesian method of living a God-like life. In a conference he gave on the topic of “Teaching Religion”, Fr. Brisson remarked:

“The regions converted or formed by this method are those that have remained the most fervently Christian; one can see that the faith is deeply rooted there and that it is a living faith. The bishop of Orleans used to say that if one wanted to find real exactitude, refinement of manners and consolations of the faith, one had to go to Savoy. He said all these magnificent things about Savoy, and who is it that has made Savoy what it is? Isn’t it partly St. Francis de Sales? It is sometimes said that the doctrine of St. Francis de Sales is a rose-scented spirituality: yes, but it is a rose-scented spirituality which produces soldiers, lions, people who endure and you overcome every trial…Never has the world had such a need for the Gospel today. This is the task we must accomplish.” (The Oblate Preacher, translated by James P. Finnegan, OSFS, pp. 73-74)

Do you want to make progress in living the Gospel? Do you want to have the endurance required to follow Christ? Do you want to work at “Living + Jesus” in ways that don’t claim to be easy but that won’t leave you weary?

Then, follow the example of the Gentle-man-Saint!

Beginning today!

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(November 15, 2016: Albert the Great, Bishop)
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“Because you are lukewarm, I will spit you out of my mouth…”

In the fall of 1992 an all-day symposium on the Holocaust was held in Philadelphia at the University of Pennsylvania. During a Q&A that followed a program that morning, an attendee asked the presenter if he would agree that the epitome of evil was “hatred”. Without skipping a beat, the presenter responded by saying that, in his experience, the epitome of evil was not hatred; rather, the epitome of evil was ‘indifference’. The Holocaust did not need an entire nation – or all of its citizens – to be consumed with hatred for the Jews and/or other groups of so-called “untermensch” in order to be successful. As it turned out, the only thing that was required was for enough good people to be indifferent; that is, all it took was enough folks who were neither hot nor cold about the plight of other human beings.

Perhaps this illustration from one of the darkest periods in recent human history helps us to understand why “The Lord” declares in today’s selection from the Book of Revelation that he reserves his greatest distaste for people who are lukewarm, as well as thosewho are indifferent.

Look at the example of Zacchaeus in today’s Gospel. His reaction to hearing that Jesus was approaching was anything but lukewarm! Zacchaeus goes out of his way – being short, he climbs a tree – hoping to catch even a glimpse of him. To his surprise, not only does Jesus see Zacchaeus, but he invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house…and, by extension, into his life. Delighted “with joy”, Zacchaeus acknowledged that there were times in his past when he was cold to the needs of others when he defrauded them. Subsequently, he declared that he will now become hot in regards to others’ needs by repaying fourfold anyone whom he might have defrauded…and then some!

Our reflection provides a framework within which to meditate upon two statements: one from Martin Luther and the other from St. Francis de Sales. Luther once wrote, “If God’s mercy is true, you must therefore bear the true, not an imaginary, sin. God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong (sin boldly), but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.” For his part, Francis de Sales described devotion as not merely doing what is good, but doing what is good “carefully, readily and frequently.”

For good or for ill, how will you live your life today: in a hot, a cold or a lukewarm manner? What kind of taste will you leave in the mouths of others, to say nothing of the taste you will leave in the mouth of God?

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(November 16, 2016: Margaret of Scotland)
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“To everyone who has, more will be given.”

Everyone who has…what? Perhaps it’s the courage to say ‘yes.’ Perhaps it’s the courage to take the risks that come with that “yes”.

In today’s Gospel two of the three servants took a risk when they invested that which their master had entrusted to them. As a result, they were able to make a return on their master’s investment with salutatory results. By contrast, the third servant – afraid that he might lose what his master had entrusted to him – played it safe by simply sitting on what he had received – with dire results.

Yesterday, in the selection from the Book of Revelation, we heard of God’s distaste for indifference. Today, we hear of God’s impatience regarding inaction brought about by fear – fear of failure and perhaps sometimes even fear of success. Better to be hot or cold than indifferent; better to have risked everything and lost than to have never risked whatever it is you received.

Queen Margaret of Scotland certainly made good use of her talents:

“She changed her husband Malcolm and the country for the better. Malcolm was good, but he and his court were very rough. When he saw how wise his beloved wife was, he listened to her sound advice. She softened his temper and led him to practice great virtue. She made the royal court beautiful and civilized. Soon all the princes had better manners, and the ladies imitated her purity and devotion. The king and queen gave wonderful example to everyone by the way they prayed together and fed crowds of poor people with their own hands. They seemed to have only one desire: to make everyone happy and good.” ( http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=304)

Today, consider what God has entrusted to you. Consider what God has invested in you. How can you make a return to God for his generosity to you?

V

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(November 3, 2016: Marin de Porres, Religious)
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“There will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents…”Whence comes all this rejoicing over repentant sinners? In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:“God’s favor floats over all life’s difficulties and finds joy in turning all miseries to the greater profit of those who love him. From toil he makes patience spring forth, contempt of this world from inevitable death, and from concupiscence a thousand victories. Just as the rainbow touches the thorn of aspalathus and makes it smell sweeter than the lily, so our Savior’s redemption touches our miseries and makes them more beneficial and worthy of love than original innocence could ever have been. The angels, says our Savior, have ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just who have no need of repentance.’ So, too, the state of redemption is a hundred times better than that of innocence. Truly, by the watering of our Savior’s blood – made with the hyssop of the cross – have been restored to a white incomparably better than that possessed by the snows of innocence. Like Naaman, we come out of the stream of salvation more pure and clean than if we had never had leprosy.” (TLG, Book II Chapter 6, pp. 116 – 177)“Redemption is a hundred times better than innocence.” Given the fact that all of us suffer from the leprosy of sin in any number of ways, not only should the power of repentance make for rejoicing among the angels in heaven, but also this repentance should produce even greater rejoicing among us here on earth!
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(November 4, 2016: Charles Borromeo, Bishop)
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“Our citizenship is in heaven…”In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:“Be devoted to St. Louis and admire his great constancy. He became king when he was twelve years old, had nine children, was constantly waging war either against the rebels of enemies of the faith, and reigned as king for over forty years. He made two journeys overseas. In the course of both of these crusades he lost his army, and on the last journey he died of the plague after he had spent much time visiting, helping and serving those who were plague-stricken in his army. He bandaged their sores and cured them, and then died joyfully and with fortitude…I give you this saint for your special patron.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 75)Francis de Sales clearly held this devout king on very high esteem. Louis IX clearly and convincingly demonstrated how being a citizen of heaven requires Christians to tend to the things of earth. The same thing could be said of the saint whose life and legacy we remember today – Charles Borromeo. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales observed:“Consider the great St. Charles Borromeo at the time the plague attacked his diocese. He raised up his heart to God and gazed steadily on God’s eternal providence and saw how this scourge had been prepared and destined for his flock. He also saw how the same providence had ordained that in this scourge he should take the most tender care zealously to serve. Comfort and assist the afflicted…” (XII, 9 pp. 274-275)Jacques Maritain once wrote: “No one better than Francis de Sales has succeeded in showing the marvelous adaptability to the progress of love penetrating every state of life. I do not mean in spite of the temporal commitments of the Christian in the world – I mean because of these very obligations themselves.” (Kelley, Spirit of Love, p. x)Indeed, we are citizens of heaven and we are citizens of earth. At the end of the day, there is no more convincing way of showing our love for the things of heaven than by doing our best to love one another on this earth.
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(November 5, 2016: Saturday, Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I have learned – in whatever situation I find myself – to be self-sufficient…”“I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live with abundance. In every circumstance and in all things, I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, of living in abundance and of being in need.”St. Paul is a man who learned one of the secrets to happiness: the ability to roll with the punches. For his part, St. Francis de Sales equated this virtue – we might call it flexibility or adaptability – with the practice of devotion.“Devotion is true spiritual sugar for it removes bitterness from mortification and anything harmful from our consolations. From the impoverished it takes away discontent; from the rich it removes anxiety; from the oppressed it removes grief; from the exalted it removes pride; from the solitary it removes loneliness; from those in society it removes overextension. It serves with equal benefit as fire in winter and dew in summer. It knows how to use prosperity and how to endure want. It makes honor and contempt alike useful to us. It accepts pleasure and pain with a heart that is nearly always the same, and it fills us with a marvelous sweetness.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2, p. 42)How can I determine if I am able to be self-sufficient in whatever situation I find myself? How can I tell if I am making progress in the practice of devotion?The answer – today, how well will you roll with life’s punches?
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(November 6, 2016: Thirty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Some Sadducees came forward to pose this question to Jesus.”Questions played an important role in Jewish theological, religious, political and cultural life. The so-called “Rabbinical method” presumed that the best way to come to know the truth was to learn to raise the right questions.Elie Wiesel –– author, scholar, and holocaust survivor –– notes this method of learning in the opening pages of his book Night. In it, Wiesel’s mentor explained to him “with great insistence that every question possessed a power that did not lie in the answer.”There is power in a question. There is promise in a question. There is possibility in a question.Understanding this method of learning sets the context for today’s selection from Luke’s Gospel. The question of the Sadducees regarding marriage and the afterlife (not unlike the question posed by the chief priests and scribes regarding paying taxes to Caesar in the immediately-preceding verses) may not have been merely an attempt to trip up Jesus or to discredit him. This question may also have been a legitimate desire to settle an ongoing dispute between the Sadducees and the Pharisees themselves (both groups religious leaders in their own rite) who disagreed on a variety of issues.As with so many times before, however, they did not like, understand or accept Jesus’ answer. Herein lies the tragedy.The scribes, the priests, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were all raised in a culture that viewed questions as the path to mystical truth. Ironically, they may have had the most to gain from Jesus –– the embodiment of all mystical truth –– precisely because they had so many encounters with him, perhaps more than any other groups mentioned in the Gospels combined! Sad to say, it appears that they consistently asked the wrong questions: shortsighted questions, self-serving questions, disingenuous or insincere questions, and they asked all these questions with a pre-determined answer in mind.When asked why he prayed every day, Elie Wiesel’s mentor responded: “I pray to the God within me that God will give me the strength to ask the right questions.”How often in our daily lives with Jesus and with one another do we ask for, desire or demand answers? How much energy do we invest in wanting to know the bottom line? Yet, for all our efforts, are we any closer to knowing the things that really matter, the concerns of earth that lead to the things of heaven? Why does our understanding of Jesus’ will for us, of his desire for us, and of his longing and love for us sometimes seem so elusive?Could it be that we, too, are failing to ask the right questions?
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(November 7, 2016: Monday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I directed you…that a man be blameless…”The qualities that Paul associates with a “blameless” bishop include: not being arrogant, not being irritable, not being a drunkard, not being aggressive, not being greedy for sordid gain. On the positive side, a bishop should also be hospitable, a lover of goodness, temperate, just, holy and self-controlled.The adjective “blameless” is defined as: “Free of blame or guilt; innocent.” Synonyms include “clear, clean, upright, stainless, honest, immaculate, impeccable, virtuous, unsullied, unimpeachable, untarnished, above suspicion, irreproachable, guiltless, unoffending and above suspicion.”You get the idea.But notice what being blameless does not require: it does not require being a sinless person or being a perfect person. However, it does seem to imply that as imperfect as we are – and as sinful as we are – we should be people of integrity.Bishop or no bishop, it’s probably a safe bet that Jesus expects all of us who bear the name “Christian” to be blameless. Given the fact that He himself shows us how to be blameless and gives us the means to become blameless, can you (wait for it) blame Him?

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(November 8, 2016: Tuesday, Thirty-second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You must say what is consistent with sound doctrine…so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

What should we infer from today’s selection from Paul’s Letter to Titus? We can talk all we want about what we believe as Christians, but if we really want to give credible witness to the power and promise of God’s word, we need to be more concerned with how we live what we believe. In other words, we actually need to do what we say!

So, what does it look like when we are talking the talk and walking the walk? Paul tells us that we need to be temperate, dignified, self-controlled, loving, reverent, self-controlled and chaste…among other virtues.

When push comes to shove, what do authentic, credible Christians look like? Paul suggests we look for folks who are “eager to do what is good.”

Today, can the same be said about us?

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(November 9, 2016: Dedication of the Lateran Basilica)
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“You are God’s building…”

To construct a building is one thing but to maintain a building is another. Prudent builders/owners not only allot resources for the actual construction of whatever it is they build, but they will also earmark resources for the upkeep of the building.

In a letter to Madame de Chantal (February 11, 1607), Francis de Sales observed:

“It is not necessary to be always and at every moment attentive to all the virtues in order to practice them; that would twist and encumber your thoughts and feelings too much. Humility and charity are the master ropes; all the others are attached to them. We need only hold on to these two: one is at the very bottom and the other at the very top. The preservation of the whole building depends on two this: its foundation and its roof. We do not encounter much difficulty in practicing other virtues if we keep our heart bound to the practice of these two…” (LSD, pp. 148-149)

God – the Master Builder – has constructed each of us in his image and likeness. Celebrate the building-of-God that you are! Maintain the gift of your divinely-built edifice with the spiritual foundation and roof most readily available for your good: humility and charity!

* * * * *

(October 28, 2016: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
* * * * *“He called his disciples to himself…”

Remember the hit TV comedy series Cheers? These are the words from the show’s theme song:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go here everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In today’s Gospel we hear that even Jesus knew that “making your way in the world…takes everything you’ve got” and that “taking a break from all your worries sure can help a lot”, so he went up to the top of a mountain by himself to spend time in prayer with his Father. The next day, he calls his disciples to himself and named his Apostles. And to this day – nearly two thousand years later – everybody knows their names.

Just today, how can you make a name for yourself in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can you treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came”?

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(October 29, 2016: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two…”

In today’s letter to the Philippians, Paul appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. He is at one and the same time attracted to continuing to live in this world so as to continue his labor for Christ even as he longs to leave this world so as to experience Christ in his fullness. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“What does it matter to me whether God’s will is offered to me in tribulation or consolation? In each of them I neither desire nor seek anything except the divine will, which is better seen because no other beauty is present there but that of God’s most holy, eternal good pleasure. Heroic, yes, more than heroic, is the indifference of St. Paul the incomparable. ‘I am hard pressed,’ he says to the Philippians, ‘from two sides, desiring to be delivered from this body and to be with Christ – a thing far better – and yet to remain in this life for your sake.’”

“Admirable indifference of the Apostle! He sees paradise open to him; he sees a thousand labors on earth. Choice of one or the other is indifferent to him. Only God’s will can give counterweight to his heart. Paradise is no more worthy of love than the miseries of this world if God’s good pleasure lies equally in them both. For him to toil is paradise if God’s will is found in it, whereas paradise is a trial if God’s will is not found in it…” (TLG, Book IX, Chapter 4, p. 106)

In the end, Paul continued his labors of love for Christ and his children in this world until God’s will clearly indicated that it was time for Paul to rest from his labors in the next world. So, too, with us – until the day comes when God clearly indicates that the time has arrived for us to live forever with him and each other in heaven, let’s devote our time and energy to living as best as we possibly can with him and each other on this earth.

No rock and hard place there!

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(October 30, 2016: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“…You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

The author of our reading from the Book of Wisdom gives grateful thanks to God for his gentleness, patience and mercy. The Lord loves all that he has made. All creation is meant, as the reading from Thessalonians reminds us, to glorify God, its loving Creator. Indeed, all of creation bears the imperishable spirit of the One who has loved it into life.

Our offenses, our failures to give glory to God are not to be denied, nor are they to weigh us down and keep us from moving forward, from being called forth anew by God. We are meant to bear the image of the God who created us in love. In his Treatise on the Love of God, De Sales writes, “Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” [Treatise 1:1]

When we fail to do so, God gently calls us back into right relationship. This call is an invitation, not a demand, and we respond to that invitation in freedom. Psalm 145 praises God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.” Since God is gentle and patient with us, so, too, we must be gentle and patient with ourselves. De Sales captures these qualities in the Introduction to the Devout Life: “When we have committed some fault if we rebuke our heart by a calm, kind remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived in this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, and stormy repentance.” [Introduction III.9] With this gentleness and patience, we reflect the love of God and, in the words of our reading from Thessalonians, we give glory to our loving Creator.

Our Gospel story puts flesh and blood on the qualities of repentance, gentleness and mercy. Jesus reaches out, looking up into the tree and calling to Zacchaeus rather than waiting for Zacchaeus to climb down and approach him. Jesus seeks the “lost” Zacchaeus and, by coming to where Zacchaeus lives, invites him back into a relationship of love. Zacchaeus repents in a true spirit of humility. He accepts the gentle invitation in freedom. Without being coerced, he offers reparation.

Gentleness, patience and mercy are qualities of God that we, as creatures who bear his image, are called to reflect. When we witness them in human relationships, we catch glimpses of our creating, redeeming and inspiring God — alive and smiling — here on earth.

* * * * *
(October 31, 2016: Halloween)
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“Trick or treat!!!”

“Trick-or-treating or guising is a customary practice for children on Halloween in many countries. Children wearing costumes travel from house to house in order to ask for treats such as candy (or, in some cultures, money) with the question ‘Trick or treat?’ The ‘trick’ is a (usually idle) threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given to them. In North America, trick-or-treating became an ever-growing phenomenon Halloween tradition in the years following the lifting in 1947 of nationwide sugar rationing that had occurred during WWII.”

“The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of ‘souling’, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Guising, that is, children disguised in costumes going from door to door for food and coins also predates trick-or-treating, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895, where masqueraders – in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips – visited homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. While going from door to door in disguise has remained popular among Scots and Irish, the North American custom of saying “trick or treat” has become the norm.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating)

Many of us will be opening our doors countless times tonight for little ghosts, ghouls and goblins who are wearing disguises and hoping for treats. Isn’t it reassuring that when we approach God in prayer for the many good things that we seek on behalf of ourselves or others that we don’t need to be disguised – that we don’t need to wear masks – that we don’t need to pretend to be something or someone we’re not? Isn’t it wonderful that we can simply be the person we are on this earth without the need to hide our faces from a God who loves us as we are?

Of course, there’s no “trick” to expressing our gratitude to a God who loves us as we are. The best way is to “treat’ others in the same way, that is, to love them as they are!

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(November 1, 2016: All Saints)
* * * * *
“He began to teach them…”

In her book entitled Saint Francis de Sales and the Protestants (in which she examines his missionary activity in the Chablais, one of the most seminal periods in the life of the “Gentleman Saint”), author Ruth Kleinman wrote:

“Saintliness is hard to practice, but it is even more difficult to describe.” A notable exception to this dictum are the words we hear proclaimed today in the Gospel of Matthew on this Solemnity of All Saints.

Jesus describes saintliness simply and succinctly. It is about living a life of Beatitude:

  • Saintly are those who mourn, i.e., those who refuse to harden their hearts when faced with the needs of others.
  • Saintly are those who show mercy, i.e., those who are willing to forgo old hurts and to forgive others from their hearts.
  • Saintly are those who are poor in spirit, i.e., those who experience everything as a gift and who demonstrate their gratitude through their willingness to share what they have (regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary) with others.
  • Saintly are the pure of heart, i.e., those who avoid artificiality and pretense and who have the courage to be their true, authentic selves.
  • Saintly are the meek, i.e., those who know that power isn’t demonstrated by taking from others but about giving to others. It’s not about doing to others but about doing for/with others.
  • Saintly are the peacemakers, i.e., those who bring people together rather than drive them apart.
  • Saintly are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, i.e., those for whom doing good comes with the same frequency and urgency as the need to eat and drink.
  • Saintly are those persecuted for doing what is right, i.e., those who are willing to stand up for what is right regardless of the cost(s) incurred.

And as it turns out, not only is sanctity not hard to describe, but also it isn’t nearly as hard to practice as we might think. In a sermon on Our Lady, Francis de Sales observed:

“There is no need of putting ourselves to the trouble of trying to find out what are the desires of God, for they are all expressed in His commandments and in the counsels of Our Lord Himself gave us in the Sermon on the Mount when He said: ‘How blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the lowly, and the other Beatitudes.’ These are all the desires of God upon which we ought to walk, following these as perfectly as we can.” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0170, p. 37)

Sanctity? To be sure, it is hard work. But with the grace of God – and the support of one another – it is doable!

* * * * *
(November 2, 2016: All Souls)
* * * * *
“The souls of the just are in the hands of God…”

In one of his pamphlets that was later published in a broader collection entitled The Catholic Controversy, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We maintain that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God – and consequently, in the number of the elect – do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory…from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.”

“We agree the blood of Our Redeemer is the true purgatory of souls, for in it are cleansed all the souls of the world. Tribulations also are a purgatory, by which our souls are rendered pure, as gold refined in the furnace. It is well known that Baptism in which our sins are washed away can be called a purgatory, as everything can be that serves to purge away our offenses. But in this context we take Purgatory for a place in which after this life the souls which leave this world before they have been perfectly cleansed from the stains they have contracted. And if one would know why this place is called simply Purgatory more than are the other means of purgation above-named, the answer will be, that it is because in that place nothing takes place but the purgation of the stains which remain at the time of departure out of this world, whereas in Baptism, Penance, tribulations and the rest, not only is the soul purged from its imperfections, but it is further enriched with many graces and perfections. And agreeing as to the blood of Our Lord, we fully acknowledge the virtue thereof, that we protest by all our prayers that the purgation of souls – whether in this world or in the other – is made solely by its application.” (CC, pp. 353-354)

Notwithstanding the effects of our prayers and good works on behalf of our dearly departed, Francis de Sales reminds us that at the end of the day it is the life and death of Jesus Christ that purifies our souls, whether in this life or in the next. To that end, whether it’s the just or the unjust, whether it’s in this world or the next, we are all in the hands of God.

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us.

And isn’t it true that all of us could stand to do with some purgation of one kind or another!

* * * * *
(October 20, 2016: Paul of the Cross, Priest)
* * * * *
“May you be filled with the fullness of God…”Some things are worth repeating. In the context of the exhortation in Paul’s Letter to Ephesians, let us revisit some advice that Francis de sales offered to Jane de Chantal over 400 years ago:“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)Insofar as we are up to our eyeballs in the details of life, it is all-too-easy to feel frequently that we have little or nothing to show for our efforts. In the midst of all the responsibilities and obligations that come from our vocations and avocations, it’s awfully easy to wonder if we really do make a difference in this world. At the end of any given day, it’s an all-too-common experience to ask ourselves what have we really accomplished?On days like these, recall the words of St. Paul: “Now to him who is able to accomplish far more than we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us, to him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations…”Today – just today – “do things one by one as best you can”. As for the results, leave them in the hands of a God who will “grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit”.
* * * * *
(October 21, 2016: Friday, Twenty-ninth Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Live in a manner worthy of the call you have received…”What call have we received? We are sons and daughters of God; we are brothers and sisters of Jesus; we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit.How do we live in a manner worthy of this call? St. Paul is clear and unambiguous: “Live with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”In today’s Responsorial Psalm, we prayed the words “Lord, this is the people that longs to see your face”. How do we know if we are making progress in our efforts to “live in a manner worthy of the call” we have received?The answer is – look to see if other people see in our thoughts, our affections, our attitudes and our actions something of the face of God.
* * * * *
(October 22, 2016: John Paul II, Pope)
* * * * *
“Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift….”In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!”God has great expectations for us: “Life on high with Jesus Christ”. God – through his mercy, that is, through his generosity – also gives us the grace we need to strive to meet those expectations. How can we possibly show our appreciation for the “grace that was given to each of us according to the measure of God’s gift”? Perhaps St. Francis de Sales said it best. “The measure of love is to love without measure.”God’s love in our regard is certainly without measure. To what degree can the same be said of our love for one another?Today!
* * * * *
(October 23, 2016: Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”The poor may not enjoy many things in life. However, that which they do possess – a special place in the heart and mind of God – stands head and shoulders above any earthy riches or wealth.Scripture is clear and unambiguous: God has special concern for the plight of the poor and needy, for the want of the despairing and broken-hearted, for the anguish of the lost and forsaken, for the spirits of those who are crushed, for the life of the lonely and for the soul of the sinner.Jesus embodies God’s love of the poor. While he reached out to people of all social, economic, ethnic and cultural classes, Jesus invested a significant amount of his time, his energy, his ministry – his love – with the impoverished, the reviled and the down-and-outs of his day. Jesus seems to have enjoyed the most success with the poor; he likewise seems to have felt most at home with them.None of this love is lost on St. Francis de Sales. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:“We must practice real poverty in the midst of all the goods and riches God gives us. Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become…Love the poor and love poverty, for it is by such love that we become truly poor…Be glad to see them in your own home and to visit with them in theirs. Be glad to talk to them and be pleased to have them near you in church, on the street and elsewhere. Be poor when conversing with them…but be rich in assisting them by sharing some of your more abundant goods with them.” (Intro III, 15)Three aspects of De Sales’ observations are worth noting.First, to the extent that we reach out to the poor we come to know our own poverty, our own neediness, our own despair and our own misfortune. Francis noted: “We become like the things we love.” Our willingness to serve the poor puts us in touch with the poor in all of us.Second, the plight of the poor is an unmistakable challenge for us to be generous: to give from our abundance and, even more demanding, to give from our own want and need.Third, we must recognize the more subtle forms of poverty in our own homes, neighborhoods, classrooms and places of employment and not just the obvious ones on street corners, heating grates or bus stations. We must recognize the heavenly riches of which we are all in need: care, kindness, forgiveness, friendship, truth, companionship, healing, understanding, reconciliation, honesty, faith, hope…and love.Clearly, faithfully, lovingly and convincingly the Lord always hears the cry of the poor.Do we?
* * * * *
(October 24, 2016: Anthony Claret, Bishop)
* * * * *
“Live as children of the light…”In his Letter to the Ephesians Paul describes what it looks like when we are living as “children of the light”:

  • We are kind and compassionate to others.
  • We forgive others.
  • We avoid even speaking of things like immorality, impurity or greed.
  • We eschew obscene, silly or suggestive speech.
  • We dedicate ourselves to thanksgiving and gratitude.

Even as we strive to “be imitators of God”, we are still imperfect people. Each of us still retains our share of shadows; all of us still struggle with some elements of darkness. What are we – as children of the light – to do about this dilemma? Francis de Sales certainly offers this encouragement:“It is a great part of our perfection to support one another in our imperfections; what better way is there for us to practice love of our neighbor save in this support?” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0096, p. 22)

The presence of shadows – and even darkness – should not discourage us in our attempts to be children of the light. Rather, let us “live in love” – and demonstrate that love – through our support and encouragement of one another.

Today!

* * * * *
(October 25, 2016: Tuesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“To what can I compare the Kingdom of God? It is like a mustard seed…”

It seems paradoxical that Jesus would describe something as vast as the Kingdom of God in terms of one of the smallest of all seeds: the mustard seed. Still, consider how St. Francis de Sales describes eternity in a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde (Peer and Master of the Horse at the courts of both Henri IV and Louis XIII of France):

“Keep your eyes steadfastly fixed on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on; and these as they pass, themselves pass us stage by stage until we reach the end of the road. But meanwhile, in these passing moments there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity; and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory, and the little pains we take to serve God lead to the repose of a bliss that can never end…” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 236)

Indeed, the Kingdom of God is a big thing. In fact, it is the biggest and the broadest of all things. As Jesus reminds us, however – and as Francis de Sales underscores – sometimes the biggest of things come in very small, ordinary and everyday packages!

* * * * *
(October 26, 2016: Wednesday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“You have a Master in heaven in whom there is no partiality…”

In today’s selection from his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul outlines a sort of shorthand guide as to how people should treat one another. Children are supposed to honor their parents. Parents are supposed to raise their children without provoking or angering them. Slaves are supposed to serve their masters. Masters must not bully or abuse their slaves.

When it comes to showing respect, there is no caste system in the Kingdom of God. Regardless of how lofty or lowly our positions in this life may be, we are all expected to do “the will of God from the heart…knowing that each person will be requited from the Lord for whatever good” we do. To that end, Paul warns us that we will all be judged by how we treat other people because when it comes to honoring others, God shows no partiality and God has no favorites.

Recall this exhortation in Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life:

“Be just and equitable in all your actions. Always put yourself in your neighbor’s place and place your neighbor in yours, and then you will act justly. Imagine yourself the seller when you buy and the buyer when you sell and you will sell – and buy – justly. Examine your heart often to see if it is such toward your neighbor as you would like your neighbor to be toward you were you in his or her place. This is the touchstone of true reason…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 217)

When it comes to honoring others – when it comes to treating them with justice, then just don’t do it in the hope of “currying favor” with God, but do it simply because it is the right thing to do.

And start today!!!

* * * * *
(October 27, 2016: Thursday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Put on the armor of God…”

In a Lenten sermon (1622), Francis de Sales made the following exhortation:

“Fear nothing, I pray you, since you are encompassed with the armor of truth and of faith…This faith is accompanied by the four cardinal virtues: fortitude, prudence, justice and temperance. It uses them as an armored breastplate to put its enemies to flight, or to remain among them firm, invincible and unshaken. So great is its strength that it fears nothing, because not only is it strong, but it is aware of its strength and by whom it is supported – Truth itself. Now there is nothing stronger than truth, in which consists the valor of faith…” (Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent, pp. 21, 39)

Obviously, this “armor of God” is designed to protect us from exterior threats, but it can also be just as helpful in preserving us from interior threats. In a letter to Angelique Arnauld, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The great Apostle (Paul) felt as if an army – made up of his moods, versions, habits and natural inclinations – had conspired to bring about his spiritual death…asserting that the grace of God through Jesus Christ would defend him, not from fear, or terror, or from the fight, but from defeat and from being overcome…” (LSD, pp 1712 – 173)

Francis de Sales tells us that upon rising we should make a “preparation of the day” – that is, we should anticipate all the circumstances, events and people that we will encounter with the hope of knowing which virtues to employ and which vices to avoid. Don’t forget to add “putting on the armor of God” – and the cardinal virtues that come with it – to your daily “to-do” list!

* * * * *
(October 28, 2016: Simon and Jude, Apostles)
* * * * *
“He called his disciples to himself…”

Remember the hit TV comedy series Cheers? These are the words from the show’s theme song:

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go here everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows your name.
You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In today’s Gospel we hear that even Jesus knew that “making your way in the world…takes everything you’ve got” and that “taking a break from all your worries sure can help a lot”, so he went up to the top of a mountain by himself to spend time in prayer with his Father. The next day, he calls his disciples to himself and named his Apostles. And to this day – nearly two thousand years later – everybody knows their names.

Just today, how can you make a name for yourself in the service of God and neighbor? Today, how can you treat others in ways that makes them “glad you came”?

* * * * *
(October 29, 2016: Saturday, Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“I do not know which I shall choose. I am caught between the two…”

In today’s letter to the Philippians, Paul appears to be caught between a rock and a hard place. He is at one and the same time attracted to continuing to live in this world so as to continue his labor for Christ even as he longs to leave this world so as to experience Christ in his fullness. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“What does it matter to me whether God’s will is offered to me in tribulation or consolation? In each of them I neither desire nor seek anything except the divine will, which is better seen because no other beauty is present there but that of God’s most holy, eternal good pleasure. Heroic, yes, more than heroic, is the indifference of St. Paul the incomparable. ‘I am hard pressed,’ he says to the Philippians, ‘from two sides, desiring to be delivered from this body and to be with Christ – a thing far better – and yet to remain in this life for your sake.’”

“Admirable indifference of the Apostle! He sees paradise open to him; he sees a thousand labors on earth. Choice of one or the other is indifferent to him. Only God’s will can give counterweight to his heart. Paradise is no more worthy of love than the miseries of this world if God’s good pleasure lies equally in them both. For him to toil is paradise if God’s will is found in it, whereas paradise is a trial if God’s will is not found in it…” (TLG, Book IX, Chapter 4, p. 106)

In the end, Paul continued his labors of love for Christ and his children in this world until God’s will clearly indicated that it was time for Paul to rest from his labors in the next world. So, too, with us – until the day comes when God clearly indicates that the time has arrived for us to live forever with him and each other in heaven, let’s devote our time and energy to living as best as we possibly can with him and each other on this earth.

No rock and hard place there!

* * * * *
(October 30, 2016: Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“…You have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people’s sins that they may repent. For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made…your imperishable spirit is in all things!”

The author of our reading from the Book of Wisdom gives grateful thanks to God for his gentleness, patience and mercy. The Lord loves all that he has made. All creation is meant, as the reading from Thessalonians reminds us, to glorify God, its loving Creator. Indeed, all of creation bears the imperishable spirit of the One who has loved it into life.

Our offenses, our failures to give glory to God are not to be denied, nor are they to weigh us down and keep us from moving forward, from being called forth anew by God. We are meant to bear the image of the God who created us in love. In his Treatise on the Love of God, De Sales writes, “Consider the nature God has given to you. It is the highest in this visible world; it is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” [Treatise 1:1]

When we fail to do so, God gently calls us back into right relationship. This call is an invitation, not a demand, and we respond to that invitation in freedom. Psalm 145 praises God who is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness.” Since God is gentle and patient with us, so, too, we must be gentle and patient with ourselves. De Sales captures these qualities in the Introduction to the Devout Life: “When we have committed some fault if we rebuke our heart by a calm, kind remonstrance, with more compassion for it than passion against it and encourage it to make amendment, then repentance conceived in this way will sink far deeper and penetrate more effectually than fretful, angry, and stormy repentance.” [Introduction III.9] With this gentleness and patience, we reflect the love of God and, in the words of our reading from Thessalonians, we give glory to our loving Creator.

Our Gospel story puts flesh and blood on the qualities of repentance, gentleness and mercy. Jesus reaches out, looking up into the tree and calling to Zacchaeus rather than waiting for Zacchaeus to climb down and approach him. Jesus seeks the “lost” Zacchaeus and, by coming to where Zacchaeus lives, invites him back into a relationship of love. Zacchaeus repents in a true spirit of humility. He accepts the gentle invitation in freedom. Without being coerced, he offers reparation.

Gentleness, patience and mercy are qualities of God that we, as creatures who bear his image, are called to reflect. When we witness them in human relationships, we catch glimpses of our creating, redeeming and inspiring God — alive and smiling — here on earth.

* * * * *
(October 31, 2016: Halloween)
* * * * *
“Trick or treat!!!”

“Trick-or-treating or guising is a customary practice for children on Halloween in many countries. Children wearing costumes travel from house to house in order to ask for treats such as candy (or, in some cultures, money) with the question ‘Trick or treat?’ The ‘trick’ is a (usually idle) threat to perform mischief on the homeowners or their property if no treat is given to them. In North America, trick-or-treating became an ever-growing phenomenon Halloween tradition in the years following the lifting in 1947 of nationwide sugar rationing that had occurred during WWII.”

“The tradition of going from door to door receiving food already existed in Great Britain and Ireland in the form of ‘souling’, where children and poor people would sing and say prayers for the dead in return for cakes. Guising, that is, children disguised in costumes going from door to door for food and coins also predates trick-or-treating, and is recorded in Scotland at Halloween in 1895, where masqueraders – in disguise carrying lanterns made out of scooped out turnips – visited homes to be rewarded with cakes, fruit and money. While going from door to door in disguise has remained popular among Scots and Irish, the North American custom of saying “trick or treat” has become the norm.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trick-or-treating)

Many of us will be opening our doors countless times tonight for little ghosts, ghouls and goblins who are wearing disguises and hoping for treats. Isn’t it reassuring that when we approach God in prayer for the many good things that we seek on behalf of ourselves or others that we don’t need to be disguised – that we don’t need to wear masks – that we don’t need to pretend to be something or someone we’re not? Isn’t it wonderful that we can simply be the person we are on this earth without the need to hide our faces from a God who loves us as we are?

Of course, there’s no “trick” to expressing our gratitude to a God who loves us as we are. The best way is to “treat’ others in the same way, that is, to love them as they are!

* * * * *
(November 1, 2016: All Saints)
* * * * *
“He began to teach them…”

In her book entitled Saint Francis de Sales and the Protestants (in which she examines his missionary activity in the Chablais, one of the most seminal periods in the life of the “Gentleman Saint”), author Ruth Kleinman wrote:

“Saintliness is hard to practice, but it is even more difficult to describe.” A notable exception to this dictum are the words we hear proclaimed today in the Gospel of Matthew on this Solemnity of All Saints.

Jesus describes saintliness simply and succinctly. It is about living a life of Beatitude:

  • Saintly are those who mourn, i.e., those who refuse to harden their hearts when faced with the needs of others.
  • Saintly are those who show mercy, i.e., those who are willing to forgo old hurts and to forgive others from their hearts.
  • Saintly are those who are poor in spirit, i.e., those who experience everything as a gift and who demonstrate their gratitude through their willingness to share what they have (regardless of how ordinary or extraordinary) with others.
  • Saintly are the pure of heart, i.e., those who avoid artificiality and pretense and who have the courage to be their true, authentic selves.
  • Saintly are the meek, i.e., those who know that power isn’t demonstrated by taking from others but about giving to others. It’s not about doing to others but about doing for/with others.
  • Saintly are the peacemakers, i.e., those who bring people together rather than drive them apart.
  • Saintly are those who hunger and thirst for what is right, i.e., those for whom doing good comes with the same frequency and urgency as the need to eat and drink.
  • Saintly are those persecuted for doing what is right, i.e., those who are willing to stand up for what is right regardless of the cost(s) incurred.

And as it turns out, not only is sanctity not hard to describe, but also it isn’t nearly as hard to practice as we might think. In a sermon on Our Lady, Francis de Sales observed:“There is no need of putting ourselves to the trouble of trying to find out what are the desires of God, for they are all expressed in His commandments and in the counsels of Our Lord Himself gave us in the Sermon on the Mount when He said: ‘How blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are the lowly, and the other Beatitudes.’ These are all the desires of God upon which we ought to walk, following these as perfectly as we can.” (Select Salesian Subjects, #0170, p. 37)

Sanctity? To be sure, it is hard work. But with the grace of God – and the support of one another – it is doable!

* * * * *
(November 2, 2016: All Souls)
* * * * *
“The souls of the just are in the hands of God…”

In one of his pamphlets that was later published in a broader collection entitled The Catholic Controversy, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We maintain that we may pray for the faithful departed, and that the prayers and good works of the living greatly relieve them and are profitable to them for this reason: that all those who die in the grace of God – and consequently, in the number of the elect – do not go to Paradise at the very first moment, but many go to Purgatory…from which our prayers and good works can help and serve to deliver them.”

“We agree the blood of Our Redeemer is the true purgatory of souls, for in it are cleansed all the souls of the world. Tribulations also are a purgatory, by which our souls are rendered pure, as gold refined in the furnace. It is well known that Baptism in which our sins are washed away can be called a purgatory, as everything can be that serves to purge away our offenses. But in this context we take Purgatory for a place in which after this life the souls which leave this world before they have been perfectly cleansed from the stains they have contracted. And if one would know why this place is called simply Purgatory more than are the other means of purgation above-named, the answer will be, that it is because in that place nothing takes place but the purgation of the stains which remain at the time of departure out of this world, whereas in Baptism, Penance, tribulations and the rest, not only is the soul purged from its imperfections, but it is further enriched with many graces and perfections. And agreeing as to the blood of Our Lord, we fully acknowledge the virtue thereof, that we protest by all our prayers that the purgation of souls – whether in this world or in the other – is made solely by its application.” (CC, pp. 353-354)

Notwithstanding the effects of our prayers and good works on behalf of our dearly departed, Francis de Sales reminds us that at the end of the day it is the life and death of Jesus Christ that purifies our souls, whether in this life or in the next. To that end, whether it’s the just or the unjust, whether it’s in this world or the next, we are all in the hands of God.

Here’s hoping that we pray for our faithful departed. Here’s hoping that our faithful departed pray for us.

And isn’t it true that all of us could stand to do with some purgation of one kind or another!

 

Spirituality Matters 2016: October 13th – October 19th

* * * * *
(October 13, 2016: Thursday, Twenty-eighth Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Woe to you…”“Woe” is defined as great sorrow or distress. Synonyms include misery, sorrow, distress, wretchedness, sadness, unhappiness, heartache, heartbreak despondency, despair, depression, regret, gloom, melancholy, adversity, misfortune, disaster, suffering and hardship.The Prince of “woe” is Satan himself. Francis de Sales wrote: “The evil one is pleased with sadness and melancholy because he himself is sad and melancholy and will be so for all eternity. Hence, he desires that everyone should be like himself.” (IDL, IV, 12, p. 254)In today’s Gospel Jesus points out to the scribes, Pharisees and scholars of the law how they bring “woe” to the lives of countless others. In addition, Jesus clearly implies that they themselves will experience “woe” down the road – there will be a day of reckoning for the many ways that they have brought great sorrow and despair to countless others while treating themselves as the religious and socially privileged of the day. Of course, rather than use their power and privilege to help others, the scribes, Pharisees and scholars of the law maintained the status quo for themselves and planned/plotted to be a source of great suffering and distress in Jesus’ life, too.Even on our best days, we need to be wary of being sources of “woe” in the lives of others – most especially, the people we love the most. Beyond that, what steps might we take just this day to become a remedy for “woe” in the lives of others?
* * * * *
(October 14, 2016: Callistus I, Pope and Martyr)
* * * * *
“In Christ we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will.” Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Callistus. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:“By all appearances Callistus didn’t have a prayer of ever becoming a saint. The slave of a Roman Christian, Callistus displayed a talent with numbers. When his master established a kind of bank for fellow Christians, Callistus was charged with managing the accounts. It soon became apparent that Callistus would not measure up to expectations: he made bad investments and pilfered other monies outright. Angry and humiliated, the master sent Callistus to work turning the stone wheel at a gristmill.” ”“Meanwhile, anxious depositors in the bank – hoping to recover even a portion of their lost savings – convinced the bank owner to release Callistus if the unscrupulous slave vowed to recover the funds he’d invested with Jewish merchants. Rising to the challenge, one Saturday morning Callistus interrupted the Sabbath service at Rome’s synagogue and demanded that the merchants repay the money. Not surprisingly, an uproar ensued, Callistus was attacked and the brawl spilled out into the streets. Callistus was subsequently arrested and then shipped off to work in the mines on Sardinia. But soon he was back in Rome, released in a general amnesty for Christian prisoners; one can imagine the groans of dismay among the city’s Christians and Jews alike when Callistus returned once again like the proverbial bad penny!”“Aware of the controversy surrounding this slave, Pope Victor interceded on Callistus’ behalf. He offered Callistus a stipend and set him up in a small house outside the city’s walls, away from controversy. During this time – perhaps under the pope’s influence – the pagan slave’s conversion began. The pope gave the new convert a job supervising a number of catacombs; hence, Callistus’ position as the patron saint of cemetery workers. Later ordained a priest, Callistus served as an advisor to Pope Zephyrinus. But greater things were yet to come: Callistus himself was eventually elected pope! Following a brief five-year pontificate he died a martyr, beaten to death in the street by a pagan mob.”As Paul reminds us, each of us has a destiny. Each and every one of us is chosen to continue God’s work in a unique and unrepeatable way. A pagan slave who was considered by just about everyone as being nothing but trouble died as a slave of Christ – and as pope, no less!Today, how might we accomplish the things of God in conformity with God’s sometimes unpredictable Will?
* * * * *
(October 15, 2016: Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call.”Today we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Teresa of Avila. In his book This Saint’s for You, Thomas Craughwell observes:“Every day – all day long – God pours his grace upon the world. Those who accept it – who cooperate with God’s will – draw closer to the Lord, as in the case of St. Teresa of Avila, the patron of souls in need of divine grace. The easygoing life of the Carmelite convent she entered was not conducive to the contemplative life. So, she began planning a new branch of the Carmelites, one that would bring nuns (and friars) back to the order’s original commitment to a life of austerity and deep prayer…St. Teresa’s legacy is her collection of spiritual writings. She was the first Catholic woman to write systematically about prayer and the interior life. In 1970, upon naming her a Doctor of the Church, Pope Paul VI praised Teresa as ‘a teacher of remarkable depth.’”Insofar as Teresa died in 1582, her writings were well known by the “Gentleman Saint”. In a letter to Madame de Chantal (1605), Francis de Sales wrote:“The practice of the presence of God taught by Mother Teresa in chapters 29 and 30 of The Way of Perfection is excellent, and I think it amounts to the same as I explained to you when I wrote that God was in our spirit as though he were the heart of our spirit and in our heart as the spirit which breathes life into it, and that David called God: the God of his heart. Use this boldly and often for it is most useful. May God be the soul and spirit of our heart forever….” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 160 – 161)
The eyes of the heart of St. Teresa were certainly enlightened by the call of Jesus Christ in her life. She, in turn, enlightened the hearts of countless other Christians through the hope contained in her writings.Today, following her example, how might the eyes of our hearts be enlightened? How might we enlighten the eyes of the hearts of others?
* * * * *
(October 16, 2016: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Jesus told his disciples a parable on the necessity of praying always and of not losing heart.”In a perfect world, we would always be mindful of the presence of the God who created us, who redeemed us and who inspires us. In a perfect world, we would always recognize – and always manage to seize – the countless opportunities God presents to us to do what is right, what is good, what is creative, what is forgiving and what is loving. In a perfect world, we would always be energetic and enthusiastic about living each day, each hour and each moment as a gift from God. In a perfect world, nothing would ever distract us from the things in life that really matter.Our world, of course, is anything but perfect. We, for that matter, are anything but perfect.Sometimes, we forget the presence of God. Sometimes, we miss the chances God gives us to do what is right, good and loving. Sometimes, we take the gift of life – and each moment of it – for granted. Sometimes we are consumed by trivial, even petty, concerns.Simply put, there are times when we lose heart.Prayer reminds us of God’s enduring presence. Prayer helps us to see the countless occasions we have each day to grow in virtue and to turn away from sin. Prayer enables us to gratefully embrace the gift of each new day as it comes. Prayer is what keeps us connected to God; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in ourselves; prayer is what keeps us connected to the divine in one another. Prayer is less about something we do and more about an attitude – and vision – that we develop and deepen.Francis de Sales described prayer thus: “The essence of prayer is not to be found in always being on our knees but in keeping our wills clearly united to God’s will in all events.” (On Living Jesus, p. 295) In another place, he observed: “Prayer is the holy water that makes the plants of our good desires grow green and flourish; it cleanses our souls of their imperfections; it quenches the thirst of passion in our hearts.” (Ibid, p. 309)Prayer gives us the humility to acknowledge where we’ve been; prayer gives us the gentleness to accept where we are; prayer gives us the courage to consider where we need to go. In the midst of our very busy, frequently demanding, sometimes frustrating and occasionally overwhelming lives, prayer helps us to stay connected with the people and things in life that really matter. When we “…give our hearts to God a thousand times a day” (Ibid, p. 298), we know how to be truly happy, healthy and holy.Yes, prayer truly gives us the presence of mind…to be people of heart.
* * * * *
(October 17, 2016: Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *
“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 he 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 18, 2016: Luke, Evangelist)
* * * * *
“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 on 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 to give 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?

By standing with them today!

* * * * *
(October 19, 2016: John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priest and Companions, Martyrs)
* * * * *
“My strength and my courage is the Lord: I am confident and unafraid…”

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 immortality 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?

* * * * *

“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 he 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 18, 2016: Luke, Evangelist)
* * * * *
“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 on 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 to give 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?

By standing with them today!

* * * * *
(October 19, 2016: John de Brebeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priest and Companions, Martyrs)
* * * * *
“My strength and my courage is the Lord: I am confident and unafraid…”

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 immortality 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?

(October 6, 2016: Marie Rose Durocher, Religious and Founder)
* * * * *“He will get up to give him whatever he needs because of his persistence…”There’s an old adage which basically goes like this: “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

Mind you, the adage doesn’t guarantee that you’ll always get what you want. Likewise, the adage doesn’t guarantee that if you do get what you want that you’ll get it when you want to get it or how you want it. On the other hand, if you don’t ask the question that pretty much guarantees that – under normal circumstances – you’ll never get what you want under any circumstances!

That’s one way of “reading” today’s Gospel parable. By all means ask; by all means seek; by all means knock. But don’t think that whatever you receive – whenever you receive it – however you receive it – necessarily results from the first question, the initial seeking or a single knock. In God’s way of telling time, we may need to ask, seek or knock many times.

In some cases, maybe even over a lifetime.

However, it is important to take note of a distinction that Jesus makes in today’s Gospel. While God promises to provide whatever we need because of our persistence, God makes no such promise when it comes to providing whatever we want.

Do you want to ask God for something? Then how about making this prayer: “O God, give me the gratitude that comes from wanting what I already have, rather than always getting what I want.”

* * * * *
(October 7, 2016: Our Lady of the Rosary)
* * * * *
“When an unclean spirit goes out of someone…it brings back seven others more wicked than itself.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus drives out a demon. In addition, he speaks about demons that would attempt to divide a kingdom against itself. Francis de Sales knew a few things about demons. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote extensively about this same demon upon which we touched previously this week: anxiety.

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise…When a soul perceives that it has suffered a certain evil, it is displeased at having it and hence sadness follows. The soul immediately desires to be free of it and to have some means of getting rid of it. Thus far the soul is right, for everyone naturally desires to embrace what is good and to dispose of anything evil…Now if it does not immediately succeed in the way it wants, it grows very anxious and impatient. Instead of removing the evil, it increases it and this involves the soul in greater anguish and distress together with such loss of strength and courage that it imagines the evil to be incurable. You see, then, that sadness, which is justified in the beginning, produces anxiety, and anxiety in turn produces increase in sadness. All this is extremely dangerous.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, p. 251)

Anxiety never roams alone. It brings with it a whole host of other unclean spirits that can divide the kingdom of our heart against itself. Whatever difficulties or challenges you may face, don’t let things get worse by allowing anxiety and its cohorts to make a home in your heart.

Beginning today, slowly, simply – but firmly – show them the door.

* * * * *
(October 8, 2016: Saturday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was ultimately unsuccessful in her desire and efforts to join a religious community, Francis de Sales wrote:

“You should resign yourself entirely into the hands of the good God, who, when you have done your little duty about this inspiration and design that you have, will be pleased with whatever you do, even if it be much less. If after all your efforts you cannot succeed, you could not please our Lord more than by sacrificing to Him your will and remaining in tranquility, humility and devotion, entirely conformed and submissive to His divine will and good pleasure. You will recognize this clearly enough when – having done your best – you cannot fulfill your desires.”

“Sometimes our good God tries our courage and our love, depriving us of the things that seem to us – and which really may be – very good for the soul. If He sees us ardent in our pursuit and yet all the while humble, tranquil and resigned to do without to the privation of the things sought, He gives us blessings greater in the privation than in the possession of the thing desired. For in all things and everywhere, God loves those who with good heart and simplicity – on all occasions and in all events – can say to Him, ‘Thy will be done.’”…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 3-4)

Observing the Word of God isn’t simply a matter of being a casual observer – it’s about putting that Word into action! Despite our best attempts at putting that Word into action, however, we don’t – as we know all-too-well from our own experience – control the result or outcome our efforts. In other words, we don’t always get it right or get it done! As Francis de Sales reminds us, what we do – or don’t – accomplish in observing God’s Word is not nearly as important as allowing that Word to draw us closer to God and to one another.

Whatever the results.

* * * * *
(October 9, 2016: Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.”

Let’s admit it – when something good happens to us we feel that somehow we deserve it. The nine “lepers” in today’s Gospel likely felt the same way – they asked Jesus for mercy, which in the Middle Eastern culture meant, “Do what you can for us.” They received from Jesus what they knew – by his reputation, at least – he could do for them. However, let’s look at this Gospel in context of what came before and after this event.

Last week, Jesus told us that when we do what is expected of us we have done no more than our duty. The author even goes so far as to have Jesus say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” This statement seems to be in stark contrast to this week’s Gospel that exhorts us to be grateful when someone else does “what they are obligated to do.” One might say culturally, therefore, that since Jesus could, he should. Next week’s Gospel proclaims the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

In last week’s Gospel, the apostles asked for “an increase of faith.” Next week, Jesus will seem quite disturbed about people’s faith when He says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

A common western notion of illness is that it is more of an impediment that prevents us from being active and engaged in life. In the Mediterranean culture illness removes a person from status and disturbs kinship patterns. People who suffer from the skin problem called “leprosy” are excluded from the worshiping community. This human experience was much more depressing than the skin lesions. (John Pilch, The Cultural Dictionary of the Bible). Jesus made all ten “clean,” but “one of them…saw that he was healed….” His skin condition was not only gone; but more importantly to the Middle Eastern man, he was reunited to the community.

Francis de Sales discusses the “inspirations” toward faith in Book II of his Treatise on the Love of God: “The inspiration (that) comes like a sacred wind to impel us into the air of holy love; it takes hold of our will and moves it by a sentiment of heavenly delight. All this…is done in us but without us, for it is God’s favor that prepares us in this way. That very inspiration and favor which has caught hold of us mingles its action with our consent, animates our feeble movements by its own strength and enlivens our frail cooperation by the might of its operation. Thus will it aid us, lead us on, and accompany us from love to love until we attain to the act of most holy faith required for our conversion.”

Did this inspiration happen to the man who came back? What does the Gospel say? It says, “He turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.” Was he merely grateful for being freed from a skin disease, as the others were cleansed? No, his heartfelt gratitude seems to go much deeper – in addition to getting his life back he was given the “inspiration” toward faith. He consented to that inspiration and in doing so was full of praise for Jesus! Then Jesus said to the man, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has been your salvation.”

How strong is our faith? Regardless of our answer, today consider this question: how grateful are we for a God who always loves us, regardless of the strength – or weakness – of that faith?

* * * * *
(October 10, 2016: Monday, Twenty-eight Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Brothers and sisters, we are children not of the slave woman but of the freeborn woman.”

In a letter to Peronne-Marie de Chatel (one of the four original members of the nascent Visitation congregation at Annecy who, notwithstanding her virtues and gifts, nevertheless experienced “discouragement, scruples and even moments of very human impatience and irritation”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“You are right when you say there are two people in you. One person is a bit touchy, resentful and ready to flare up if anyone crosses her; this is the daughter of Eve and therefore bad-tempered. The other person fully intends to belong totally to God and who, in order to be all His, wants to be simply humble and humbly gentle toward everyone…this is the daughter of the glorious Virgin Mary and therefore of good disposition. These two daughters of different mothers fight each other and the good-for-nothing one is so mean that the good one has a hard time defending herself; afterward, the poor dear thinks that she has been beaten and that the wicked one is stronger than she. Not at all! The wicked one is not stronger than you but is more brazen, perverse, unpredictable and stubborn and when you go off crying she is very happy because that’s just so much time wasted, and she is satisfied to make you lose time when she is unable to make you lose eternity.”

“Do not be ashamed of all this, my dear daughter, any more than St. Paul who confesses that there were two men in him – one rebellious toward God, and the other obedient to God. Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with the patience that we should have toward ourselves.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 164-165)

Of course, there aren’t really two people battling inside of us trying to see who will win out! Thank God for that, because most days we have more than enough to handle with our singular personalities! Indeed, it is discouraging when we don’t live up to God’s standards or our own. Indeed, it is frustrating to make what often times appears to be little progress in the spiritual life. Indeed, there’s more good that we should do and more evil that we should avoid. However, rather than drive yourself crazy in the desire to be sons and daughters of the “freeborn woman”, gently – and firmly – follow Francis de Sales’ advice: “Stir up your courage. Arm yourself with patience that we should have toward ourselves.”

And – of course – with the patience that we should have toward one another.

* * * * *
(October 11, 2016: John XXII, Pope)
* * * * *
“Stand firm: do not submit again to the yolk of slavery…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Our free will is never so free as when it is a slave to God’s will, just as it is never so servile as when it serves our own will. It never has so much life as when it dies to self, and never so much death as when it lives to itself. We have the liberty to do good and evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse this liberty. Let us renounce such wretched liberty and subject forever our free will to the rule of heavenly love. Let us become slaves to dilection, whose serfs are happier than kings. If our souls should ever will to use their liberty against our resolutions to serve God eternally and without reserve, Oh, then, for love of God, let us sacrifice our free will and make it die to itself so that it may live in God! A man who out of self-love wishes to keep his freedom in this world shall lose it in the next world, and he who shall lose it in this world for the love of God shall keep it for that same love in the next world. He who keeps his liberty in this world shall find it a serf and a slave in the other world, whereas he who makes it serve the cross in this world shall have it free in the other world. For there, when he is absorbed in enjoyment of God’s goodness, his liberty will be converted into love and love into liberty, a liberty infinitely sweet. Without effort, without pain, and without any struggle we shall unchangingly and forever love the Creator and Savior of our souls.” (Treatise 12: 10, pp- 277-278)

The Salesian tradition understands the essence of liberty as the freedom that comes from knowing – from believing – that God loves us. The Salesian tradition also understands that to substitute anything for God’s love for us – regardless of how attractive or promising it may appear and/or present itself to be – leads to a life of enslavement.

Today – just today – you can live free or you can live enslaved.

Which do you choose?

* * * * *
(October 12, 2016: Blessed Louis Brisson, Priest/Founder and Religious)
* * * * *

~ PROPER READINGS ~

A Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Philippians

If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love,
any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy,
complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love,
united in heart, thinking one thing.

Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory;
rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves,
each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others.

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.
Blessed those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with all their heart.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

I delight in your commandments,
which I dearly love.
I lift up my hands to your commandments;
I study your statutes, which I love.

“Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”

A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to John

“I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vine grower.
He takes away every branch in me
that does not bear fruit,
and everyone that does he prunes,
so that it bears more fruit.
You are already pruned because
of the word that I spoke to you.
Remain in me, as I remain in you.
Just as a branch cannot
bear fruit on its own
unless it remains on the vine,
so neither can you unless you remain in me.

I am the vine, you are the branches.
Whoever remains in me and I in him
will bear much fruit,
because without me you can do nothing.
Anyone who does not remain in me
will be thrown out like a branch and wither;
people will gather them and throw them
into a fire and they will be burned.

If you remain in me
and my words remain in you,
ask for whatever you want
and it will be done for you.
By this is my Father glorified,
that you bear much fruit
and become my disciples.

As the Father loves me,
so I also love you.
Remain in my love.
If you keep my commandments,
you will remain in my love,
just as I have kept
my Father’s commandments
and remain in his love.

“I have told you this so that
my joy may be in you
and your joy may be complete.”

Gospel of the Lord.

* * * * *

In her book, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy Wright quotes Fr. Brisson regarding the challenge to “Reprint the Gospel” in all aspects our lives. We read:

“It is not enough to read the Gospel in order to understand it. We must live it. The Gospel is the true story of the Word of God living among men. We must produce a New Edition of this Gospel among men by prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice…”

“First, we reprint the Gospel by prayer, through which we give ourselves to God in every way without reserve.”

“Second, we reprint the Gospel by means of work. We must reprint the Gospel and reprint it page by page without omitting anything…In our lives there is always some manual labor. There is a library to keep in order, a helping hand to be given. A little gardening to be done, a little tidying up or arranging to be done…God has attached great graces to manual labor.”

“The third way for us to reprint the Gospel is by preaching. All of us should preach. Those who work with their hands as well as those who are occupied with exterior works, those who conduct classes and those who teach by example, those who direct souls as well as those assigned to the ministry of the pulpit – all of us should preach. We should preach in practical ways. We should teach our neighbors, if not by our words, at least by our actions.”

“The fourth thing in the Gospel is sacrifice. The Word made Flesh prayed in order to teach us how to pray. He worked. He preached. Finally, He suffered. These are the four conditions necessary to reprint the Gospel…” (pp. 145-146)

There are any number of ways in which God may ask us to reprint the Gospel: in prayer, work, preaching and sacrifice. Are you ready? Are you willing?

Today, how can you reprint the Gospel?

(October 2, 2016: Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“Stir into flame the gift of God. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. “I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me.”

In the wake of the terrorist acts of September 11, 2001, these ancient words of the prophet Habakkuk feel as if they were written specifically for us. We have seen the face of evil. We have witnessed wholesale acts of hatred and violence. There is catastrophic debris – human, material, emotional, spiritual – through which we are still sifting twelve years after the event, even as we struggle to find ways to combat terrorism around the world and address the underlying issues that, in part, give birth to terrorism and religious fanaticism.

What are we to do?

We must recognize the threat not only to our nation, but also to peoples of all races, faiths and cultures who pursue peace, justice, freedom and reconciliation. We must take steps to rid our world of those who would promote their own grievances or agendas at the expense of human life.

These events are likewise a wake-up call on an even deeper, more fundamental level. We are challenged to see more clearly the less obvious, subtler face of violence and destruction in our own lives and in the lives of our families, friends, relatives, classmates and colleagues. We must confront resentment, abuse, addiction, hatred, bigotry, gossip and other attitudes/actions that tear at our minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. We must confront all forms of sin and evil that tear at the very fabric of whom we are as sons and daughters of God, whom we are as community, whom we are as church, whom we are as country and whom we are as citizens of the world.

We must identify, confront and conquer anything that would seek to terrorize our God-given dignity and destiny.

To be sure, we need to stir up the flame of righteous indignation in ourselves and in one another. But while this inflaming of our spirit must make us powerful, it must also make us loving and self-disciplined. We cannot allow our methods for confronting violence and hatred to become themselves a continuation of the circle of violence and destruction. We must respond, not react; we must be wise, not rash; we must be prudent, not indiscriminate. Above all, the pain that we – and others – may experience in the fight to confront hatred in all its forms must be motivated by and lead to a deeper, broader and more inclusive vision of justice, peace, freedom and reconciliation for ourselves and for all people.

Above all, the spirit that must be ignited and set ablaze inside and among us must not be rooted in fear. Francis de Sales reminds us, now more than ever, that we must “do all through love and nothing through fear.”

And so we pray – O God, increase and inflame your spirit within us. As we confront the many faces of terrorism (both the obvious and obscure) make us – keep us – powerful, self-disciplined and – above all – loving.

* * * * *
(October 3, 2016: Monday, Twenty-seventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“What is written in the law? How do you read it?”

Jesus raises a great question in today’s Gospel. And the person to whom he directs it – a “scholar of the law” – would appreciate the power of the question. Any student of the law – and in particular, anyone who practices law – knows that it isn’t enough just to know the letter of the law, but it’s also important to know how to “read” – that is, to interpret – the law so as to know how best to apply it.

This dilemma brings us to the best – albeit, if not the most concise – answer to that question – the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Talk about a study in contrast! Two so-called experts in the letter of the law – the priest and the Levite – failed miserably because they did not offer any assistance to the man who fell victim to robbers. And the other hand, the Samaritan – a man who may have known very little if any law – followed the law of compassion and common sense by tending to the needs of this unfortunate stranger by being a good neighbor.

Of course, the most important law for those who follow Jesus is the Gospel, that is, the Law of Love, a love so clearly embodied by Jesus as well as by his mother, Mary. It’s important for us to have a working knowledge of that Law – it’s important for us to know how to “read” or interpret that Law. More important, however, than knowing or interpreting it is our willingness to put the Gospel of Jesus Christ – the Law of Love – into practice.

In what ways can we be Good Samaritans – that is, good, just and -compassionate neighbors – today?

* * * * *
(October 4, 2016: Francis of Assisi, Religious and Founder)
* * * * *
“You are anxious and worried about many things…”

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

“Anxiety is not a simple temptation but a source from which and by which many temptations arise. With the single exception of sin, anxiety is the greatest evil that can happen to a soul. Just as sedition and internal disorders bring total ruin on a State and leave it helpless to resist a foreign invader, so also, if our heart is inwardly troubled and disturbed it loses both the strength necessary to maintain the virtues it had acquired and the means to resist the temptations of the enemy. He then uses his utmost efforts to fish, as they say, in troubled waters.” …” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 11, pp. 251-252)

Martha was obviously overwhelmed by her desire to do right by Jesus when it came to the practice of hospitality. Apparently more obvious to Jesus, however, was the fact that Martha was “anxious and worried about many things.” This issue of wanting to be the perfect host and whining about needing help with the serving seems to have been the tip of the iceberg.

The life of Francis of Assisi provides some insight as to one of the most important skills required for living life with as little anxiety as possible: the gift of traveling light, i.e., the ability to live life to the full without hauling a lot of stuff around with you. Francis de Sales observed:

“If you are too strongly attached to the good you possess – if you are too solicitous about them – if you set your heart on them – if you always have them in your thoughts, and fear losing them with a strong, anxious fear – then believe me…you love them too much.” (IDL, III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

Francis of Assis is well known for the simplicity with which he lived his life. The less “stuff” he carried around with him, the freer and more engaged in life he became.

For her part, perhaps the burden that made Martha anxious was her need to be known as the consummate host. Perhaps she clung too tightly to the need to have everything perfect. Whatever the root causes of her anxiety, imagine how less anxious she might have been if she could have simply enjoyed being in the presence of her Savior.

Today, what can the origins of Martha’s anxiety teach us about the causes of our own anxiety? How – like Francis of Assisi – might we need to lighten our respective loads to better experience the freedom of being in the presence of our Savior?

* * * * *
(October 5, 2016: Francis Xavier Seelos, Religious and Priest)
* * * * *
Lord, teach us to pray

In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches his disciples how to pray. Of course, a more fundamental question might have been, “Teach us why we should pray.”

In a letter written to a young woman who was – you guessed it – experiencing difficulty when praying, Francis de Sales wrote:

“First, we pray to give God the honor and homage we owe Him. This can be done without His speaking to us or we to Him, for this duty is paid by remembering that He is God and we are His creatures and by remaining prostrate in spirit before him, awaiting His commands.

“Second, we pray in order to speak with God and to hear Him speak to us by inspirations and movements in the interior of our soul. Generally this is done with a very delicious pleasure, because it is a great good for us to speak to so great a Lord. When He answers He spreads abroad a thousand precious balms and unguents which give great sweetness to the soul.”

“So, one of these two goods can never fail you in prayer. If we speak to our Lord, let us speak, let us praise Him, beseech Him and listen to Him. If we cannot use our voice, still let us stay in the room and do reverence to Him. He will see us there. He will accept our patience and will favor our silence. At other times we shall be quite amazed to be taken by the hand and he will converse with us, and will make a hundred turns with us in the walks of His garden of prayer. And if He should never do these things, let us be content with our duty of being in His suite and with the great grace and too great honor He does us in accepting our presence…” (Thy Will be Done, pp. 26-27)

So, why should we pray? Well, either (1) to remind ourselves of whom God is in our lives, or (2) to remind ourselves who God wants us to be in relationship with Him and each other.

(September 25, 2016: Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“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 who are 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” despite the fact that 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 for God and for 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 qualityin 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!

* * * * *
(September 26, 2016: Cosmas and Damian, Martyrs)
* * * * *
“Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

“How offensive to God are rash judgments!” says St. Francis de Sales. “The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord…if an action has many difference aspects, we must always think of the one which is best.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 28)

These words of de Sales would have been very good advice for the disciple John in today’s Gospel when he asks Jesus to stop a man from expelling demons in His name “because he does not follow in our company”. They are in fact very similar to the advice Jesus himself gives John: “Do not try to stop him. Anyone who is not against you is with you.” John is not the only one who could profit from this advice. Many of us could too.

These words of Jesus and St. Francis de Sales remind us that all those who do the work of Jesus belong to Him, whether they are “of our company” or not. They remind us that we should focus less on denominational labels and more on the actions, spirit, and attitudes of fellow followers of Christ, without in any way diminishing our faith. Most of all, these words remind us that if there is any trace of prejudice or bigotry remaining in our hearts against members of other religions, we should rid ourselves of it immediately.

God needs you and me – and Christians everywhere – to be His prophets. Prophets in the Biblical sense typically arise at a time when society has stopped listening to what God says. Biblical prophets speak “on behalf of God”. They do not tell others what will happen; they tell them what should happen. They tell others what God wants and what God says. God desperately needs you and me to speak on His behalf, to tell others what God wants for us. God needs you and me to stand up and be counted on the values of the Gospel. God needs you and me to tell others that God wants peace, not war; life, not death; love, not hate; concern for the other, not preoccupation with self; freedom, not license; truth, not political correctness; justice for all, not discrimination.

In the words of St. Francis de Sales, God needs us to “often speak of God in familiar conversation with our…friends and neighbors.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter.26) And “if the world holds us to be fools,” because we are behaving like prophets, “let us hold the world to be mad.” (Ibid, Part IV 4, Chapter 1)

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(September 27, 2016: Vincent de Paul, Priest and Founder)
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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 the time of Jesus Christ. That said, Vincent de Paul is recognized for continuing to do well-known and well-established good things for other people in new and creative ways – specifically, through his founding of the Daughters of Charity. After all, the Daughters of Charity differed from other religious congregations of that time in that they were not cloistered, making them the first of their kind. In addition, they took a vow of charity on an annual basis, enabling them to maintain the necessary mobility and availability required for the type of ministry in which they were engaged in a revolutionary way.

In the big scheme of things, perhaps it is true that there may be nothing new under the sun. However, there are always new and creative ways of doing the things that are well established.

How might God be inviting us just this day to do something not-so-new for other people in exciting, new and novel ways?

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(September 28, 2016: Wednesday, Twenty-sixth Week Ordinary Time)
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“Follow me…”

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, encounters with God almost always seem to involve people leaving something, somewhere or someone. Adam and Eve left Eden; Abraham and Sarah left their homeland; Noah left dry land and later left his boat; Moses and the Israelites left Egypt; Mary left in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth; the Magi left the East to follow a star; Mary, Joseph and Jesus left Bethlehem ahead of Herod’s rage, Matthew left his tax collecting post.

In other words, following God’s lead generally involves leaving something known.

Be that as it may, leaving – at least, as far as God is concerned – isn’t only about walking away from something, somewhere or someone. Leaving is also about drawing closer to something, somewhere or someone else. Specifically, loving God – and the things of God – frequently invites us to leave that which is comfortable and familiar in order that we might experience that which is challenging and new. By most standards that’s what growth – human growth – is all about – knowing when it’s time to leave – knowing when it’s time to move on – even when what, where or who might leave is good and sometimes, very, very good!

One of our greatest temptations in life is to stop moving, to stop growing, to stop changing, to stop learning and to stop developing. There was a time when psychologists seemed to suggest that human beings stopped growing somewhere in their twenties or thirties. Today, we know that human beings continue to grow right up until the day they die…or, at least, they are invited to do so. Leaving – as it turns out – is a part of living.

Leaving is not about doing with less. Very often, leaving is about making room for more.

What, where, how or who may God invite us to leave today in order that we might have more life – and more love – tomorrow

September 15, 2016: Our Lady of Sorrows)
* * * * *“You yourself a sword will pierce…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Various sacred lovers were present at the death of the Savior. Among them, those having the greatest love had the greatest sorrow, for love was then deeply plunged into sorrow and sorrow into love. All those who were filled with loving passion for their Savior were in love with his passion and sorrow. But his sweet Mother, who loved him more than all others, was more than all others pierced through and through by the sword of sorrow. Her Son’s sorrow at that time was a piercing sword that passed through the Mother’s heart, for that Mother’s heart was fastened, joined and united to her Son in so perfect a union that nothing could wound the one without inflicting the keenest pain upon the other…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 13, pp. 50-51)

Nobody should love sorrow. But, as we know from our own experience, sorrow is part-and-parcel of loving. If you’ve never experienced sorrow, chances are you’ve probably never experienced true love, either.

What more need be said?

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(September 16, 2016: Cornelius, Pope – Cyprian, Bishop – Martyrs)
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“Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep…”

First Fruits are a religious offering of the first agricultural produce of the harvest. In classical Greek, Roman, Hebrew and Christian religions, the first fruits were given to priests to offer to God. First Fruits were often a primary source of income to maintain the religious leaders as well as their places of worship…” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Fruits)

First Fruits – the very First Fruits of the harvest – are things that many peoples offer to God before making use of any subsequent harvest for themselves. In today’s first reading from First Corinthians, Paul suggests that in the person of Jesus, First Fruits have taken on a whole new meaning: Jesus is the First Fruits of the New Covenant that God offers to us! The First Fruits of the Resurrection are something that God has set aside for us.

And continues to do so.

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

“When he created things, God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits – each one according to its kind. In like manner God commands Christians, the living plants of the Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each according to one’s position and vocation.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3, p. 43)

What better way for us to express our gratitude for the First Fruits of divine life and love embodied in the person of Jesus than by sharing our fruits of devotion with one another?

First!

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(September 17, 2016: Robert Bellarmine, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)
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“A sower went out to sow…”

Some weeks ago we considered a variation of the parable of the sower. We suggested that there was something of the fate of each of the seeds contained inside each one of us. How many good beginnings in our lives have been trampled upon and/or consumed by something else? How many of us have hardened our hearts to do good things only to see them perish for lack of care? How many good ideas or intentions have failed to bear fruit because they were chocked off by other concerns? And still, withall our struggles and setbacks, many of the seeds of God’s goodness in us have taken root and produced a great harvest.

Just for today, let’s hear this parable in a different way. Think of all the big plans you have made for others. Think of all the good intentions that you’ve suggested to others. Think of all expectations that you’ve cradled in your heart for others. In other words, think of all the seeds that you’ve planted in the lives of other people. It’s very tempting – and even more discouraging – to focus on how many of those seeds never amounted to much – if anything at all. In the Salesian tradition, it is far better – and healthier to boot – to focus on how the seeds that you may have possibly planted in others have taken root, have grown, and even flourished, sometimes beyond even your wildest dreams.

Can you think of any examples of this growth in your own life? Can you think of examples in the lives of others, especially in those people whom you know and love?

If not, just this day demonstrate how God might be asking you to sow good seeds in the heart or mind or another person?

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(September 18, 2016: Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“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.

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(September 19, 2016: Januarius, Bishop and Martyr)
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“Refuse no one the good on which he has a claim…”

Today’s selection from the Book of Proverbs offers us (as it usually does) some sound, practical advice. Simply put, if there is some good that you can do for another person – provided, of course, that it is within your power or purview to do so – you should do it! (Recall Nike’s tag line: “ Just do it!”.)

But the Book of Proverbs also adds this caveat: do not postpone until tomorrow the opportunities to do something good today. One of the greatest obstacles we face in our attempts to do good things is the temptation to put them off – to wait for the right moment, for the perfect time or for the proper circumstances. How many things have never gotten done simply because somebody said, “I’ll get around to it later” or “There’s always tomorrow”.

It should be painfully obvious to each one of us that there will come a time in our lives when we will no longer have the opportunity to get around to it. There will, indeed, come a day for which there will be no tomorrow. So, why wait until later to do something good for somebody else, when you have the opportunity to do it today – now – at this moment?

Perhaps Rudyard Kipling’s (1865-1936) admonition can encourage us to not only do good things but also to do them in the here and now. He once wrote: “Live each day as though it were your last; one day, you’re sure to be right.”

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(September 20, 2016: Andrew Kim Tae-gon, Priest Paul Chong Ha-sang and Companions, Martyrs)
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“To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice…”

In English, sacrifice – a combination of forms of the Latin words sacra and facere – literally means the “surrender of something of value”. In a religious context, the word sacrifice conjures up images involving the offering of first fruits, valued animals, money and/or other things valued in a ritual fashion to god(s) in a place – such as a temple – considered to be sacred.

Today’s reading from the Book of Proverbs offers another perspective on the meaning of sacrifice. It has less to do with surrendering a particular thing of value in a sacred place and much more to do with being generous with everything in every place. In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal composed six months after their first encounter during his Lenten mission (1604) in Lyons, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I see that you have a debt of two thousand crowns; repay this as soon as you possibly can, and be careful as you can never withhold from others anything that belongs to them. Give alms in a small way but with great humility. I like the idea of your visiting the sick, old people, particularly women, and young people, those who are really young. I like to think of you visiting the poor, especially women, with great humility and meekness. I approve of your dividing your time between your father and your father-in-law and your working towards the good of their souls…Try to make yourself more agreeable and more humble every day toward both your fathers and work toward their salvation in a spirit of gentleness…” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 69)

Francis recognized in Jane de Chantal a woman who wanted to do right by others. She tried to give others their due; she strived to give people what she owed them; she made every attempt to spread her life around to all those who needed her assistance and help. Francis saw in her a person who embodied a kind of sacrifice that was marked by her efforts to do what was right and just with everyday people in the context of her everyday life. She didn’t merely give up things to God, but she handed over her very life for others.

Today, what kind of sacrifice can we make to God by doing what is right and just for other people?

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(September 21, 2016: Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist)
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“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.

It’s amazing to consider 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.

Today, how might God’s words invite us to change and to transform our lives?

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(September 9, 2016: Peter Claver, Priest and Missionary)
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“What then is my recompense? That, when I preach, I offer the Gospel free of charge so as not to make full use of my right in the Gospel.”“A contemporary of St. Francis de Sales, St. Peter Claver was born at Verdu, Catalonia, Spain, in 1580, of impoverished parents descended from ancient and distinguished families. He studied at the Jesuit college of Barcelona, entered the Jesuit novitiate at Tarragona in 1602 and took his final vows on August 8th, 1604. While studying philosophy at Majorca, the young religious was influenced by St. Alphonsus Rodriguez to go to the Indies and save ‘millions of perishing souls.’”“In 1610, he landed at Cartagena (modern Colombia), the principal slave market of the New World, where a thousand slaves were landed every month. After his ordination in 1616, he dedicated himself by special vow to the service of the Negro slaves – a work that was to last for thirty-three years. He labored unceasingly for the salvation of the African slaves and the abolition of the Negro slave trade, and the love he lavished on them was something that transcended the natural order.”“Boarding the slave ships as they entered the harbor, he would hurry to the revolting inferno of the hold, and offer whatever poor refreshments he could afford; he would care for the sick and dying, and instruct the slaves through Negro catechists before administering the Sacraments. Through his efforts three hundred thousand souls entered the Church. Furthermore, he did not lose sight of his converts when they left the ships, but followed them to the plantations to which they were sent, encouraged them to live as Christians, and prevailed on their masters to treat them humanely. He died in 1654.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=94)In addition to preaching the Gospel “free of charge”, Peter Claver was willing to spend himself in the service of others, especially those enslaved.Today, how can we model his example of dedicated service to those with whom we live and work close to home?Today, how can we sources of liberation in the lives of others?
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(September 10, 2016: Saturday, Twenty-third Week Ordinary Time)
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“We, though many, are one body…”In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote:“The supreme unity of the divine act is opposed to confusion and disorder but not to distinction and variety. On the contrary, it employs these last to bring forth beauty by reducing all difference and diversity to proportion, proportion to order and order to the unity of the world, which comprises all things, both visible and invisible. All these together are called the universe perhaps because all their diversity is reduced to unity, as if one were to say ‘unidiverse,’ that is, unique and diverse, unique along with diversity and diverse along with unity. In sum, God’s supreme unity diversifies all things and his permanent eternity gives change to all things…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)Everything – be it our physical bodies, our families or our churches – is made of a variety of things. Everybody – be it our physical bodies, our families or our churches – works best when each and every part does what it is designed and destined to do.Each and every one of us makes up some part of the Body of Christ. The fact that no two of us are exactly the same actually makes possible the unity toward which Jesus challenges us to work. In this fact, we experience a great paradox, perhaps the greatest of all. It is only when each of us is fully and authentically our unique selves that unity with others is truly possible. Put another way, unity is not the same as uniformity, i.e., being exactly the same. Where everything or everybody is the same, there can never be true unity.Just this day, do you want to do your part to contribute something to the unity of any body – be it family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or church goers – of which you are a part? Then simply try your level best to be your unique self.And allow – even encourage – others to do the same!
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(September 11, 2016: Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“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. It is 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, 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 often 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.”
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(September 12, 2016: Most Holy Name of Mary)
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“Only say the word and my servant will be healed. For I, too, am a man subject to authority…”In a sermon about St. Joseph and the Holy Family, Francis de Sales observed:“Shall we dare to say that we can very well govern ourselves, and that we have no need of the help and direction of those whom God has given to us for our guidance, not esteeming them, indeed, capable enough for us? Tell me; was the Angel in any way superior to Our Lord or to Our Lady? Had he a better intellect or more judgment? By no means! Was he more qualified for the work of guidance? Was he endowed with any special or peculiar grace? That could not be, seeing that Our Lord is both God and man, and that Our Lady, being His Mother, had, in consequence, more grace and perfection than all the Angels together; nevertheless the Angel commands and is obeyed. See what rank is observed in the Holy Family! No doubt it was the same as it is among sparrow-hawks, where the hen-bird rules and is superior to the male.”“Who could doubt for a moment that Our Lady was much superior to St. Joseph, and that she had more discretion and qualities more fit for ruling than her spouse? Yet the Angel never addresses himself to her as regards anything that has to be done, either as to going or coming, or whatever it might be. Does it not seem to you that the Angel commits a great indiscretion in addressing himself to St. Joseph rather than to Our Lady, who is the head of the house, as possessing the treasure of the Eternal Father? Had she not just reason to be offended by this proceeding and by this mode of treatment? Doubtless she might have said to her spouse: ‘Why should I go into Egypt, since my Son has not revealed to me that I must go, still less has the Angel spoken to me on the subject?’ Yet Our Lady makes no such remark; she is not in the least offended because the Angel addresses himself to St. Joseph; she obeys quite simply, knowing that God has so ordained it. She does not ask: ‘Why?’ It is sufficient for her that He wills it so, and that it is His pleasure that we should submit without hesitation. ‘But I am more than the Angel,’ she might have said, ‘and more than St. Joseph.’ No such thought occurs to her.”“Let it, then, be enough to know that God wishes us to obey, without occupying ourselves with considering the capability of those whom we are called upon to obey. In this way we shall bring down our minds to walk simply in the happy path of a holy and tranquil humility which will render us infinitely pleasing to God.”This message is a great insight that Francis de Sales offers regarding the virtue – and practice – of obedience. The essence of obedience (from the Latin meaning to listen) is not just doing simply what we’re told to do, but obedience is recognizing that each person in our lives has a unique role to play in helping us to become the people that God wants us to be. The centurion displayed the virtue of obedience less by telling Jesus to give him an order and more by his recognizing who Jesus was in his life. And, as the Gospel clearly illustrates, this was an obedience with which Jesus was not only well pleased – He was awestruck!Today, ht we imitate the great example of the centurion in our attempts to be obedient – that is, to listen – to the voice of Jesus?
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(September 13, 2016: Chrysostom, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
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“Now the body is not a single part, but many.”In his Treatise on the Love of God, St. Francis de Sales wrote:“The supreme unity of the divine act is opposed to confusion and disorder but not to distinction and variety. On the contrary, it employs these last to bring forth beauty by reducing all difference and diversity to proportion, proportion to order and order to the unity of the world, which comprises all things, both visible and invisible. All these together are called the universe perhaps because all their diversity is reduced to unity, as if one were to say ‘unidiverse,’ that is, unique and diverse, unique along with diversity and diverse along with unity. In sum, God’s supreme unity diversifies all things and his permanent eternity gives change to all things…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 2, p. 106)Everything– be it our physical bodies, our families or our churches – is made up a variety of things. Everythingit our physical bodies, our families or our churches – works best when each and every part does what it is designed and destined to do.Each and every one of us makes up some part of the Body of Christ. The fact that no two of us are exactly the same actually makes possible the unity toward which Jesus asks us to work. In this challenge we experience a great paradox, perhaps the greatest of all paradoxes. It is only when each of us is fully and authentically our unique selves that unity with others is truly possible. Put another way, unity is not the same as uniformity, i.e., being exactly the same. Where everything or everybody is the same, then there can never be true unity.Just this day, do you want to do your part to contribute something to the unity of any body – be it family, friends, neighbors, co-workers or church goers – of which you are a part? Then simply try your level best to be your unique self.And allow – even encourage – others to do the same!
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(September 14, 2016: Exaltation of the Holy Cross)
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“He humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”In a sermon preached on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Francis de Sales remarked:“St. Paul, the outstanding master and teacher of the newborn Church, discovered in the crucified Christ the blissful wellspring of his love, the theme of his sermons, the source of his boasting, the goal of all his ambitions in this world and the anchor of all his hopes for the world to come. I had no thought, he says, of bringing you any other knowledge than that of Jesus Christ, and of him crucified. God forbid that I should make a display of anything, except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching)The cross of Christ is the core of our lives. The cross of Christ is the central image of our faith. The cross of Christ is the path to our salvation.Still, no less than five times in the synoptic Gospels, Jesus makes it very clear – if we wish to be his disciples, we must be willing to pick up not his cross, but pick up our own cross. We are not called to carry his cross, but ours. Put another way, we imitate the power and the promise of the cross of Christ precisely by being willing to embrace the crosses — the challenges, the burdens, the setbacks — that are part and parcel of our lives.In short, the cross that we carry is the need to be ourselves — not somebody else — and to take all that comes with that effort.Many of the crosses we carry are specific to the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. Francis de Sales offers the following examples of the kinds of crosses that we might be asked to carry.

“To the pastors of the Church I offer a cross of care and labor, a shepherd’s toil to protect, to feed, to correct and perfect the flock. This was the cross first carried by our Lord who called himself the Good Shepherd: witness his journeys, his fatigue by Jacob’s well, his loving care for those who treated him badly.” (Ibid)

“To religious I offer the cross of solitude, celibacy and unworldliness. It is a cross that has touched the True Cross; it is a cross that was carried by Our Lady, the holiest, most innocent and completely crucified of all who ever loved the cross for Christ.” (Ibid)

“To those serving in government, I present the cross of learning, fairness and the sincerity of truth: a cross worthy of those who, St. Paul says, are in God’s service. Such a cross is ideal for crucifying merely secular values, for repressing self-interest: it encourages peace and quiet in the realm.” (Ibid)

“To workers, I offer the cross of humility and labor, a cross sanctified by our Lord himself in the carpenter’s shop. The cross of daily work is often a sure way to salvation; it may also be the best means of avoiding sin, for the devil finds work for idle hands.” (Ibid)

“For teenagers I have chosen the cross of obedience, purity and self-discipline. It will crucify the young blood of passion that is just coming to a boil: the boldness of youth still awaiting the guiding hand of prudence. It will teach them to bear the easy yoke of Christ in whatever calling in life God may place them.” (Ibid)

“For old people there is the cross of patience, gentleness and a helpful attitude towards the young. This cross demands a brave heart. They have learned that swift as a breath our lives pass away…” (Ibid)

“There is no shortage of crosses for married folk, but perhaps I could single out the cross of mutual support and faithfulness, and the cross of bringing up a family…” (Ibid)

There is but one cross of Jesus Christ. For us, however, our crosses come in many shapes, sizes and situations.

What cross might Christ be asking us to carry today?

* * * * *

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(August 25, 2016: Louis IX of France, King)
* * * * * “If the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. “St. Louis led an exemplary life. His biographers have told us of the long hours he spent inprayer, fasting, and penance, without the knowledge of his subjects. The French king was a great lover of justice. It was during his reign that the ‘court of the king’ (curia regis) was organized into a regular court of justice, having competent experts, and judicial commissions acting at regular periods.”

“He was renowned for his charity. ‘The peace and blessings of the realm come to us through the poor,’ he would say. Beggars were fed from his table, he ate their leavings, washed their feet, ministered to the wants of the lepers, and daily fed over one hundred poor. He founded many hospitals and houses: the House of the Felles-Dieu for reformed prostitutes; the Quinze-Vingt for three hundred blind men and the hospitals at Pontoise, Vernon, and Compiégne.”

“St. Louis was a man of sound common sense, possessing indefatigable energy, graciously kind and of playful humor, and constantly guarding against the temptation to be imperious. His personal qualities as well as his saintliness greatly enhanced the prestige of the French monarchy.Boniface VIII canonized St. Louis at Orvieto in 1297.” athen/09368a.htm

In a letter addressed to Jane de Chantal’s son Celse-Benigne, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Imagine that you were a courtier of St. Louis. This holy king liked the people around him to be brave, courageous, generous, cheerful, courteous, affable, frank and polite – but above all, he wanted them to be good Christians. If you had been with him you would have seen him laugh merrily when the occasion offered, speak out boldly when the need arose, maintaining a brave outward show of royal splendor and dignity (like another Solomon), and in the next moment you would have seen him serving the poor at the hospitals, and in short marrying civil virtue to Christian virtue, and majesty to humility. And this, in a word, should be your aim: to be no less brave for being a Christian, and to be no less Christina for being brave.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 189 – 190)

St. Louis was clearly the master of the house – he was the master of a kingdom. But what made him great as a master of both people and place was how he welcomed people into his home and into his heart.

How might we follow his way of imitating the eternal Master by making room in our homes and our hearts for others – just this day?

* * * * *
(August 26, 2016: Friday, Twenty-first Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.”

In the book Saints are not Sad (1949,) we read

“Holiness, in Francis de Sales’ conception of it, should be an all-around quality without abruptness or eccentricity. It should not involve the suppression in us of anything that is not in itself bad, for the likeness to God which is its essence must be incomplete in the proportion that it does not extend to the whole of us. So we must be truthful to ourselves and about ourselves, and we shall lose as much by not seeing the good that really is in us as by fancying that we see good that is not there at all. It is as right and due that we should thank God for the virtue that His grace has established in us as that we should ask His forgiveness for our sinfulness that hinders His grace.” (Select Salesian Subjects, # 0377, p. 85)

God calls us to holiness. God calls us to walk in his ways. Imperfect as we are, we can make great progress in this quest by accepting the grace of God, by putting God’s grace to work in action and by relying on the love, support and encouragement of others. This call to holiness also challenges us to be truthful with ourselves and about ourselves – to recognize what is good in us, as well as anything in us needing to be purified. While we will always be imperfect – while we will always be reminded of our weakness – we don’t need to be perfect to strive for perfection.

Today, how can the “foolishness of God” help us to become sources of God’s strength today?

Today, how can God help us to transform our weakness into greatness in the service of others today?

* * * * *
(August 27, 2016: Monica)
* * * * *
“It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus…”

“St. Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to St. Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua. Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the Christian faith in 370. He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious life. St. Augustine was much more difficult, as she had to pray for him for seventeen years, begging the prayers of priests who – for a while – tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest did attempt to encourage her by saying, ‘It is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish.’ This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her in her prayers and hopes for her son. Finally, St. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. St. Monica died later that same year in the Italian town of Ostia, on the way back to Africa from Rome.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=1)

We can all relate to Saint Monica. We all have people in our lives for whom we want the best. We all have people in our lives that we want to be happy. We all have people in our lives about whom we have concerns and heartaches. Of course, as much as we might love someone else, we cannot live their lives for them. Sometimes the most we can do is to pray for them, encourage them and support them. As for the rest, we need leave it in the hands of God and hope that God will do His best.

Saint Monica is a model of courage. We see in her struggles the power that flows from a life of prayer and perseverance. And while Augustine may have ultimately been converted to the way of Jesus Christ through divine intervention, the prayers of his mother probably played no small part in his conversion.

How can we imitate Monica’s example today, especially when it comes to loved ones about whom we care so deeply?

* * * * *
(August 28, 2016: Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

How do we find favor with God by humbling ourselves? For that matter, when we humble ourselves, what are we really doing?

First of all, humility challenges us to avoid two extremes in life: the temptations to either exalt ourselves or trash ourselves. Francis de Sales offered very concrete examples of how to do this.

“I don’t want to play either the fool or the wise man, for if humility forbids me to play the sage, candor and sincerity forbid me to act the fool. Just as I would not parade knowledge even of what I actually know; so, by contrast, I would not pretend to be ignorant of it. Humility conceals and covers the other virtues in order to preserve them, but it also reveals them when charity so requires in order that we might enlarge, increase and perfect them.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 5)

On a deeper level, humility is about acknowledging both our littleness and God’s greatness.

“Let us consider what God has done for us and what we have done against God, and as we reflect upon our sins one by one let us also consider God’s graces one by one. There is no need to fear that the knowledge of God’s gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth: none of the good in us comes from ourselves alone.” (Ibid)

Finally, having a balanced view of ourselves, acknowledging our littleness and God’s greatness and being grateful for God’s fidelity to us, lead us to live lives of generosity.

“Generous minds do not amuse themselves with the petty toys of rank, honor and titles. They have other things to do. Such things belong only to idle minds. Those who own pearls do not bother about shells, while those who aspire to virtue do not trouble themselves over honors.” ( Introduction to the Devout Life, Part III, Chapter 4)

Humbling ourselves is not about putting ourselves down. No, humbling ourselves is about taking our rightful place in life – beneficiaries of God’s love for us and instruments of God’s love in the lives of other people.

Humility is ultimately about coming to know our place in God’s plan of salvation and having the courage to take and embrace it. This true humility, in turn, should lead us to gently and respectfully encourage others in their quest to likewise know their place in God’s plan of salvation and to have the courage to take it.

What better way of finding favor with God than by pursuing this quest together!

And why not start today?

* * * * *
(August 29, 2016: The Passion of John the Baptist)
* * * * *
“Lord, I love your commands…”

“All the martyrs died for divine love. When we say that many of them died for the faith, we must not imply that it was for a ‘dead faith’ but rather for a living faith, that is, faith animated by charity. Moreover, our confession of faith is not so much an act of the intellect as an act of the will and love of God. For this reason, on the day of the Passion the great St. Peter preserved his faith in his soul – but lost charity – since he refused in words to admit as Master Him whom in his heart he acknowledged to be such. But there are other martyrs who died expressly for charity alone. Such was the Savior’s great Precursor who suffered martyrdom because he gave fraternal correction…” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 10, pp. 40-41)

We see in John the Baptist one who loved the commands of the Lord. As the herald of Jesus both before and after the latter’s baptism in the Jordan, John respected, honored and loved the Lord, as well as the things, values and standards of the Lord. His willingness to stand firm in the Lord and in the ways of the Lord impelled him to call Herod out on his immoral lifestyle (taking his brother’s wife to be his own) in a very public forum. His love of the Lord and the commands of the Lord ultimately cost John his life.

John didn’t lose his head over some mere intellectual principle. No, he gave it because of something he believed from – and in – the depth of his heart.

How far are we willing to go for the things, the values and the people that we hold deeply in our hearts, presuming, of course, we possess such deep, heartfelt convictions?

Today, on what issues – and for whom – are we willing to stand firm, whatever the cost?

* * * * *
(August 30, 2016: Tuesday, Twenty-second Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“We have the mind of Christ…”

What does it mean to “have the mind of Christ”? What does the “mind of Christ” look like?

Today’s Gospel certainly provides a practical answer, powerfully portrayed!

Look how Jesus used his God-given power – the power of both word and action. He didn’t use it for his own aggrandizement. On the contrary, Jesus used it for the benefit of others. If his audience was “astonished at his teaching,” one can only imagine how astonished they must have been when Jesus expelled an unclean demon from a man in the synagogue! Jesus’ “one-two punch” approach to preaching – employing both word and action – stood in stark contrast to the preaching of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes which Jesus himself criticized as being too long on words and too short on action.

What does it look like when “we have the mind of Christ”? When we both speak like Christ and act like Christ, that is, when we not only wish people well – in words – but also we do what we can – in actions – to make our wish for others’ welfare a reality.

* * * * *
(August 31, 2016: Wednesday, Twenty-second Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“We are God’s co-workers…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“God acts in our works, and we co-operate in God’s action. God leaves for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works; we leave God all the honor and praise thereof, acknowledging that the growth, the progress, and the end of all the good we do depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God had begun. O God, how merciful is God’s goodness to us in thus distributing his bounty!” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, p. 212)

It would be enough if God simply made us the recipients of his mercy and generosity, but in his wisdom, God has also made us the agents or instruments of his mercy and generosity. Our common vocation is not simply limited to enjoying the gift of creation, but rather we are called to nurture it, care for it, shepherd it and develop it! God works in and through us; we work in and through God’s action. To us come all of the benefits, but to God goes all of the glory.

Who could ask for a better arrangement than that?

We are – in word and in deed – God’s co-workers. We celebrate both God’s generosity to us and share that generosity with others.

Today, how might God employ our cooperation in both receiving – and sharing – his bounty?

(August 18, 2016: Thursday, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“I will give you a new heart…taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”When you ask people, “What is the worst thing that can happen to a human heart?” many will instinctively or impulsively answer: “When it breaks”. As the reading from the Book of the prophet Ezekiel suggests, a broken heart doesn’t come anywhere close to the truly worst thing that can happen to the human heart – when it becomes hardened.

How does a heart become hardened? People don’t generally wake up one morning and just decide to harden their hearts all at once, do they? In truth, most hearts become hardened slowly, insidiously and perhaps even silently over a long period of time.

Picture this image: what do nearly all small children do when they visit the beach for the first time? Almost instinctively (to the horror of their young parents!) they run fearlessly straight for the surf. Sure, they get knocked down. Sure, they get sand in places it doesn’t belong. Sure, there are the occasional tears and sobs associated with encountering the force of the ocean. But invariably, once they’ve recovered, most children can’t wait to return to where the action is – they learn not to allow the occasional hurt to deter them from happiness.

Not so for others. For some children the day at the beach may begin a slow process from which they never recover. They learn to fear not only the ebb and flow of the surf but the ebb and flow of life itself. Knocked down one-too-many times, they gradually stop going into the water. Over time, they stop going to the beach. Over a lifetime they stop going anywhere near where the action is: they learn to play it safe so as not to get hurt ever again!

St. Francis de Sales reminds us that we are born to love. That’s why we’re here – that’s what we’re all about – that’s where the action is. As with beachgoers in the roaring surf, love is fraught with risks. We sometimes get knocked down and around in our pursuit of love. We sometimes get embarrassed. We sometimes get hurt and we sometimes even feel like we’re drowning.

In the ups and downs of life – and love – resist the temptation to harden your heart. Resist the temptation to play it safe. Resist the temptation to avoid where the action is. Keep your heart open. Keep your heart trusting. Keep your heart human and keep your heart the way God intended – and created it – to be.

If you choose to love on the beach of life – if you allow your heart to wade into the waves, the surf and the riptides of everyday relationships – your heart will be broken. Speaking for myself, I’ll take a broken heart over a hardened one any day.

* * * * *
(August 19, 2016: John Eudes, Priest)
* * * * *
“Which commandment in the law is the greatest?”

The question put to Jesus in today’s Gospel is not an exercise of “Trivial Pursuit.” This question is not mere rhetoric. Ultimately, it is a question of life and death. Jesus’ answer is direct and to the point: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

And when he describes the second as “like” the first, Jesus is saying that the two commandments are essentially one in the same.

In a letter to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must consider our neighbors n God who wishes us to love and cherish them must exercise this love of our neighbor, making our affection manifest by our actions. Although we may sometimes feel that this runs against the grain, we must not give up our efforts on that account. We ought to bring our prayers and meditations to focus on this point, for, after having asked for the love of God, we must likewise ask for the love of our neighbor.” (Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Today, how can we put these two great commandments into practice?

* * * * *
(August 20, 2016: Bernard, Abbot and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“Do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you…”

But do not follow their example. Jesus’ criticism, of course, is directed at the scribes and the Pharisees. There is good news and bad news about these religious contemporaries of Jesus. The good news? They excelled at telling other people how to live a virtuous life! The bad news? They failed to practice what they preached.

In other words, they lived life by a double standard. As Francis de sales once described, they had two hearts:

“A mild, gracious and courteous attitude toward themselves and another that was hard, severe and rigorous toward their neighbors. They had two weights: one to weight goods to their own greatest possible advantage and another to weight their neighbors to their greatest disadvantage.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216)

To make matters even worse, not only did the scribes and Pharisees weigh one weight to their neighbors’ greatest disadvantage, but they also laid heavy burdens on others – hard to carry – without lifting even so much as a finger to help carry them.

Francis de Sales’ condemnation of living life by a double standard is short but not very sweet: “To have two weights – one heavier with which to receive and the other lighter with which to dispense – ‘is an abominable thing to the Lord.’” (Ibid)

Today, do you want to be the greatest among others in the sight of God? Then live not by two standards, but by one: God’s standard. Unlike the scribes and Pharisees, try your level best this day to treat others as you would want them to treat you. Let others see in you someone who not only talks the talk but who walks the walk.

The talk – and walk – of love.

* * * * *
(August 21, 2016: Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Go out to all the world and tell the good news.”

Pope Paul VI defined evangelization as “bringing the Good News into all strata of humanity and through its influence transforming humanity from within and making it new.”

In their book entitled Creating the Evangelizing Parish, Paulist Fathers Frank DeSiano and Kenneth Boyack challenge us to accept this simple truth: each of us is called to be an evangelist, to “go out to all the world and tell the Good News,” and to give witness to the power and promise of God’s redeeming love in our lives. (Paulist Press, 1993)

While the good news is essentially the same, the authors insist that the manner and method in which each of us evangelizes must be rooted in the state and stage of life in which we find ourselves. For a deeper understanding of what this means, they turn to our old friend and companion, St. Francis de Sales:

“St. Francis de Sales wrote a marvelous book entitled The Introduction to the Devout Life. In it he makes the simple yet profound point that a follower (a disciple) of Jesus should look at his or her situation in life and then live a Christian life accordingly. A wife and mother will find holiness in the way she lives in relation to her husband, and in taking care of the family. She could hardly leave her family many times each day, like monks or nuns, to attend Liturgy of the Hours…Her spirituality, her way of following Christ is determined by her vocation and lifestyle…and if she works, living out her vocation as a married woman bearing witness to Christ in the workplace.”

We are made in the image and likeness of God. We are redeemed by the life, love, death and resurrection of Jesus. We are inspired and strengthened by the Holy Spirit. This acclamation is indeed Good News! This Good News should make a difference in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we love, live, work, pray and play. This Good News should transform and renew us. Through us, this Good News offers the possibility of transformation and renewal to others.

How we share this Good News — how we evangelize — depends on the person we are, where we are and how we are. How we share this Good News must match the state, stage, circumstances, responsibilities, routines and relationships in which we find ourselves each day. Following Jesus is not about forsaking our ordinary lives. No, it is about making real the life and love of God in our thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions.

Evangelization has a lot to do with what we say. After all, it is about “telling” something, which in this case, is the Good News of God. However, evangelization also has a lot to do (perhaps even more) with what we do. What we say is a convincing sign of God’s love only insofar as it is congruent with how we relate to one another.

By all means – by any means – “go out to all the world and tell the Good News” of God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s justice and God’s peace. But most especially, do it in the places – with the people – where you live, work, pray and play every day.

And why not begin today?

* * * * *
(August 22, 2016: Queenship of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *
“May God make you worthy of his calling and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose…”

In a letter to Jane de Chantal, Francis de sales wrote:

“I have been praying just now, and on asking myself why we have come into this world, I understood that we are here only to receive and to carry our sweet Jesus: on our tongue, in telling people about him; in our arms, in doing good works; on our shoulders, in carrying his yoke…O blessed are they who carry Him gently and with constancy!” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 168)

In the fullness of her humanity, who better than Mary embodies this way of carrying Jesus and sharing Jesus with others? In her saying “Yes” to being the Mother of God, Mary embodies the fullness of the two greatest commandments. She agrees to be the mother of the Messiah out of her love both for God and also for neighbor.

God certainly gave Mary the grace she needed to be worthy of the calling that he extended to her.

Do we have faith that the same God gives us the grace we need to be faithful to the calling that God extends to us?

* * * * *
(August 23, 2016: Rose of Lima, Virgin)
* * * * *
“Stand firm and hold fast…”

In his Letter to the Thessalonians, Paul challenges us to “stand firm and hold fast” in the faith we received. We see in the example of today’s saint just one of many ways to “stand firm and hold fast to the Lord.

“The first canonized saint of the New World has one characteristic of all saints—the suffering of opposition—and another characteristic which is more for admiration than for imitation—excessive practice of mortification.

She was born to parents of Spanish descent in Lima, Peru, at a time when South America was in its first century of evangelization. She seems to have taken Catherine of Siena (April 29) as a model, in spite of the objections and ridicule of parents and friends.”

“The saints have so great a love of God that what seems bizarre to us, and is indeed sometimes imprudent, is simply a logical carrying out of a conviction that anything that might endanger a loving relationship with God must be rooted out. So, because her beauty was so often admired, Rose used to rub her face with pepper to produce disfiguring blotches. Later, she wore a thick circlet of silver on her head, studded on the inside, like a crown of thorns.

When her parents fell into financial trouble, she worked in the garden all day and sewed at night. Ten years of struggle against her parents began when they tried to make Rose marry. They refused to let her enter a convent, and out of obedience she continued her life of penance and solitude at home as a member of the Third Order of St. Dominic. So deep was her desire to live the life of Christ that she spent most of her time at home in solitude.”

“During the last few years of her life, Rose set up a room in the house where she cared for homeless children, the elderly and the sick. This was a beginning of social services in Peru. Though secluded in life and activity, she was brought to the attention of Inquisition interrogators, who could only say that she was influenced by grace.”

“What might have been a merely eccentric life was transfigured from the inside. If we remember some unusual penances, we should also remember the greatest thing about Rose: a love of God so ardent that it withstood ridicule from without, violent temptation and lengthy periods of sickness. When she died at 31, the city turned out for her funeral. Prominent men took turns carrying her coffin.” http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1116

We see in the example of Rose of Lima just one of many ways to “stand firm and hold fast to the Lord”.

Today, how might we follow her example in our own way?

* * * * *
(August 24, 2016: Bartholomew, Apostle)
* * * * *
“Your friends make known, O Lord, the glorious splendor of your Kingdom…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“You can see how God – by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness – leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. He leads it from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made it enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that God brings it into most holy charity, which, to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship…Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved Him, who now love Him or who will love Him in time…He has openly revealed all His secrets to us as to His closest friends…” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 – 161)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is clear and unambiguous about the quality that makes Bartholomew (a.k.a., Nathaniel) a friend of God: “There is no guile in him.” There is no pretense in Bartholomew – nothing fake, nothing phony. Jesus sees him as a man who is real, authentic and transparent. In other words, Jesus is an open book.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered some practical advice regarding how to practice the virtue of guilelessness

“Your language should be retrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest…As the sacred Scripture tells us, The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is so good and desirable as plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children (the friends) of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Today, do you want to be a friend of God? Then, Like Bartholomew, strive to be guileless. Simply try to be yourself – nothing more and nothing less.

(August 12, 2016: Jane Frances de Chantal, Wife, Mother, Religious and Founder)
* * * * *

~ Proper of Readings ~

A reading from the book of Deuteronomy (16: 3-9)

Hear then, Israel, and be careful to observe them,
that you may grow and prosper the more, in keeping
with the promise of the LORD, the God of your
fathers, to give you a land flowing with milk and honey.

Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD
alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God,
with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
Drill them into your children. Speak of them at
home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.
Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as
a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the
doorposts of your houses and on your gates.

Word of the Lord.

Responsorial Psalm

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall ever
be in my mouth. Let my soul glory in the Lord; the
lowly will hear me and be glad.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Glorify the Lord with me; let us together extol his
name. Look to him that you may be radiant with joy,
and your faces may not blush with shame.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Taste and see how good the Lord is; happy the man
who takes refuge in him. Come children, hear me; I
will teach you the fear of the Lord.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking
guile; turn from evil and do good; seek peace and
follow after it.

(R) Happy those who take refuge in the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

A reading from the first Letter of Peter (4: 7-11)

The end of all things is at hand. Therefore, be
serious and sober for prayers. Above all, let your love for one
another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins.

Be hospitable to one another without complaining. As each one has
received a gift, use it to serve one another as good
stewards of God’s varied grace.

Whoever preaches, let it be with the words of God;
whoever serves, let it be with the strength that God
supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified
through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and
dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Word of the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

Gospel Acclamation

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like
children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Those who humble themselves like this child are the
greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

R. Alleluia, alleluia.

Gospel

+ A reading from the Holy Gospel according to
Matthew (13: 44-46)

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a
field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of
joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant
searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of
great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys
it.

Gospel of the Lord.

* * * * * * * * * *

In the Introduction to the book, Francis de Sales, Jane de Chantal: Letters of Spiritual Direction, we read:

“Jane de Chantal continued with her work of overseeing the large family of religious to whom she was the chief spiritual mother. She wrote ardent letters to superiors, novice-mistresses and novices which reflect her struggle to institute a way in which the authentic Salesian spirit might come to be observed everywhere.”

“In her letters of spiritual direction (where her concern was to stay close to the very Salesian spirit of beginning right where one is and with the facts at hand, Jane de Chantal continued to show herself as a masterful director of souls. She brought to this task her won particular life-experience and temperament. The experience of motherhood was chief among those experiences. Since her youth she had been engaged in the art of biological mothering, and since midlife she had exercised her spiritual maternity. The correspondence she maintained with the superiors of the Visitation reflects a self-conscious cultivation of attitudes and skills she believed were congruent with maternal care. Superiors were enjoined to be true mothers, tolerant of their children’s weaknesses, encouraging their small steps, never overly ambitious for their advancement until they themselves grew into the maturity of spiritual wisdom…This task of cultivating and disseminating this spirit of motherly direction occupied Jane de Chantal for many years. It was part of her long-term effort to ensure the survival – both institutional and spiritual – of the Salesian charism in its manifestation as the order of the Visitation.” (LSD, p. 32)

The selection from the Book of Deuteronomy underscores the importance of having a legacy – of making intentional efforts at passing on our hard-earned learning and wisdom to those with whom we live and work today, as well as to those who will follow in our footsteps tomorrow. Jane de Chantal shows us a sure and certain method for accomplishing this goal, namely:

  • Beginning right where we are with the facts at hand
  • Nurturing others
  • Tolerating others’ weaknesses
  • Encouraging small steps
  • Allowing others to experience spiritual maturity at their own pace.

We are the beneficiaries of Jane de Chantal’s efforts to ensure the survival of the Salesian charism.

How can we pick up where she left off – just today?

* * * * *
(August 13, 2016: Saturday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“If a man is virtuous he shall surely live…”

Practicing virtue – that is, developing the habit of doing what is good – is the ultimate expression of any authentic spirituality. In the Salesian tradition, it isn’t enough to do what is good, but one also has to do what is good in ways that fit the state and stage of life in which one finds oneself.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer wrote:

“Francis de Sales stands out as one who was firmly convinced that people in every walk of life are called to holiness. His life’s effort, truly innovative in his day, was to help people find God in their particular life calling. The nearness of God was not the exclusive domain of any one group in the church. ‘True devotion,’ he said, ‘adorns and beautifies any vocation or employment.’ He constantly opposed the tendency, frequently found among those who want to live a spiritual; life, to seek the virtues of another state in life while neglecting those proper to one’s vocation. The home is not a convent and the virtues of the monastic life are not lived in the same way in family life…” (p. 46)

We will truly live to the extent that we practice virtue. We will truly live life to the full to the extent that we practice the virtues proper to the events, circumstances and relationships that we experience day in and day out.

Today, hat virtues might God be calling you to practice?

* * * * *
(August 14, 2016: Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Do you think I have come to establish peace on the earth? I assure you, the contrary is true: I have come for division.”

This is a hard saying that we hear from Jesus in today’s Gospel. However, when we stop to consider our own experience of trying to faithfully live the Gospel, we realize that it is not merely a hard saying, but that it is also a hard truth.

Generally speaking, we experience this “division” in two ways.

First, our attempts to follow Jesus may produce division within ourselves. While our attempts to practice a life of devotion – as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews might say, to “lay aside every encumbrance of sin which clings to us and persevere in running the race which lies ahead” – should be its own reward. On the contrary, t also brings its own share of struggles. Our daily effort to turn away from sin and to pursue a life of virtue is imperfect at best. Who of us cannot relate to St. Peter’s confession of his failures to do what he should do and his apparent inability to refrain from doing things that he should not do? Many of us experience the spiritual life as a form of the game “Chutes and Ladders” wherein our virtues are hard-fought and our vices come all too easily.

Francis de Sales knew of this experience all too well. He wrote: “It may well turn out that this change in your life will cause you many problems. While you have bid a great, general farewell to the follies and vanities of the world, your decision brings on a feeling of sadness and discouragement.” (Introduction, Part IV, Chapter 2)

Second, our attempts to follow Jesus may produce division within our relationships with others. While doing what is right should be its own reward, we also know that sometimes “no good deed goes unpunished.” Francis de Sales observed: “As soon as worldly people see that you wish to follow a devout life they aim a thousand darts of mockery and even detraction at you. The most malicious of them will slander your conversion as hypocrisy, bigotry and trickery. They will say that the world has turned against you and, being rebuffed by it, you have turned to God. Your friends may raise a host of objections which they consider very prudent and reasonable. They will tell you that you will become depressed, grow old before your time and that your affairs at home will suffer. They will say that you can save your soul without going to such extremes, and a thousand similar trivialities.” (Introduction, Part IV, Chapter 1)

Ironically, it is only in the midst of these experiences of division (both within ourselves and with others) that are sometimes part and parcel of our attempts at pursuing lives of devotion that we can have any hope of finding true peace: the peace that comes from our patient perseverance at being faithful to whom God calls us to be, regardless of how the voices within us and around us may try to dissuade us from our quest. Our experiences of the troubles that come with doing the right thing – living the right way – remind us of yet another hard truth.

Peace has its price.

* * * * *
(August 15, 2016: Assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *
“Blessed are you among women …”

Our Salesian reflection for this Feast Day – the Assumption – comes entirely from Francis de Sales’ Treatise on the Love of God, Book 7, Chapter 14.

“I do not deny that the soul of the most Blessed Virgin had two portions, and therefore two appetites, one according to the spirit and superior reason, and the other according to sense and inferior reason, with the result that she could experience the struggle and contradiction of one appetite against the other. This burden was felt even by her Son. I say that in this heavenly Mother all affections were so well arranged and ordered that love of God held empire and dominion most peaceably without being troubled by diversity of wills and appetites or by contradiction of senses. Neither repugnance of natural appetite nor sensual movements ever went as far as sin, not even as far as venial sin. On the contrary, all was used holily and faithfully in the service of the holy love for the exercise of the other virtues which, for the most part, cannot be practiced except amid difficulty, opposition and contradiction…”

“As everyone knows, the magnet naturally draws iron towards itself by some power both secret and very wonderful. However, there are five things that hinder this operation: (1) if there is too great a distance between magnet and iron; (2) if there is a diamond placed between the two; (3) if the iron is greased; (4) if the iron is rubbed with onion; (5) if the iron is too heavy.”

“Our heart is made for God, and God constantly entices it and never ceases to cast before it the allurements of divine love. Yet five things impede the operation of this holy attraction: (1) sin, which removes us from God; (2) affection for riches; (3) sensual pleasures; (4) pride and vanity; (5) self-love, together with the multitude of disordered passions it brings forth, which are like a heavy load wearing it down.”

“None of these hindrances had a place in the heart of the glorious Virgin. She was: (1) forever preserved from all sin; (2) forever most poor in spirit; (3) forever most pure; (4) forever most humble; (5) forever the peaceful mistress of all her passions and completely exempt from the rebellion that self-love wages against love of God. For this reason, just as the iron, if free from all obstacles and even from its own weight, would be powerfully yet gently drawn with steady attraction by the magnet – although in such wise that the attraction would always be more active and stronger according as they came closer together and their motion approached its end – so, too, the most Blessed Mother, since there is nothing in her to impede the operation of her Son’s divine love, was united with him in an incomparable union by gentle ecstasies without trouble or travail.”

“They were ecstasies in which the sensible part did not cease to perform its actions but without in any way disturbing the spiritual union, just as, in turn, perfect application of the spirit did not cause any great distraction to the senses. Hence, the Virgin’s death was the most gentle that can be imagined, for her Son sweetly drew her after the odor of his perfumes and she most lovingly flowed out after their sacred sweetness even to the bosom of her Son’s goodness. Although this holy soul had supreme love for her own most holy, most pure, and most lovable body, yet she forsook it without any pain or resistance…At the foot of the cross love had given to this divine spouse the supreme sorrows of death. Truly, then, it was reasonable that in the end death would give her the supreme delights of love.”

* * * * *
(August 16, 2016: Stephen of Hungary)
* * * * *
“It will be hard for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Riches themselves are not the greatest obstacle to our entering into the Kingdom of God. From a Salesian perspective, it is our desire for riches that poses the problem – the grandeur with which we protect them and the passion with which we pursue them.

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

“Your heart must be open to heaven alone and impervious to riches and all other transitory things. Whatever part of them you may possess, you must keep your heart free from too strong an affection for them. Always keep your heart above riches: even when your heart is surrounded by riches, see to it that your heart remains distinct from them and master over them. Do not allow your heavenly spirit to become captive to earthly things. Let your heart remain always superior to riches and over them – not in them… I willingly grant that you may take care to increase your wealth and resources, provided this is done not only justly but also properly and charitably.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 163)

How can we determine if our possessions might be holding us back from the Kingdom of Heaven? Francis wrote:

“If you find your heart very desolated and devastated at the loss of anything you possess then believe me when I tell you that you love it too much. The strongest proof of how deeply we are attached to possessions is the degree of suffering we experience when we lose it.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 14, p. 164)

Are we experiencing any difficulties entering into the Kingdom of Heaven during our journeys here on earth? Perhaps, it is because our possessions have somehow managed to possess us!

* * * * *
(August 17, 2016: Wednesday, Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Are you envious because I am generous?”

The parable in today’s Gospel certainly suggests that those who labored the longest surely were envious! They felt cheated, because as we are told, they “grumbled” when they realized that the landowner had paid them the same amount as those who had barely worked a few hours!

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales counseled:

“We must be most careful not to spend much time wondering why God bestows a grace upon one person rather than another, or why God makes his favors abound on behalf of one rather than another. No, never give in to such musings. Since each of us has a sufficient – rather, an abundant measure of all things required or salvation – who in all the world can rightly complain if it pleases God to bestow his graces more largely on some than on others?” ( Living Jesus, 0618, p. 246)

Of course, given how merciful and generous God is to us we would never be envious or complain about somebody else having more than we do!

Would we?

(August 4, 2016: John Vianney, Priest)
* * * * *“Create a clean heart in me, O God…”In order to understand what it means to have a “pure” or “clean” heart, let’s look at the outside of a carton of Breyer’s Ice Cream. Somewhere in the vicinity of the mint leaf logo, you will find Breyer’s “Pledge of Purity.” This pledge states that as far as possible that this product is free of any and all things artificial. It is unadulterated. Put positively, the pledge assures the buyer that the contents are all natural.

To have a clean or pure heart means that I am trying my best to be a real, all-natural and authentic person. To have a clean or pure heart means that I am trying my best to rid my life of anything artificial, fake or phony. In other words, to have a clean or pure heart means that I am striving to be a person in whom there is no guile.

As we might say today, a person with a clean or pure heart is trying their level best to be a transparent person.

Francis de Sales believed that one of the most practical ways of striving for a clean, pure heart is how we speak to one another. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation…as the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is as good or desirable as honest, plain dealing. Worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, but the children of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Strive to be a real, authentic and unadulterated person. Rid from your heart anything that prevents you from becoming that type of person – pretense, ambiguity, artificiality or deceit. Try your level best to be transparent, that is, to allow others to see the real and unadulterated you!

* * * * *
(August 5, 2016: Friday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters on “Hope,” Francis de Sales counseled:

“If divine Providence does not permit afflictions or mortifications to come upon you, then do not desire them or ask for them. On the other hand, if divine Providence permits afflictions or mortifications to come upon you, you must not refuse them but accept them courageously, lovingly and calmly.” (Conference VI, P. 95)

Some crosses can be delayed but not denied. On any given day we would do well not to desire or ask for afflictions or mortifications, but if any afflictions or mortifications should come our way today, how will we accept – and deal with – them?

* * * * *
(August 6, 2016: Transfiguration of the Lord)
* * * * *
“He was transfigured before them…”

Something remarkable happened on that mountain.

Consider the possibility that it was not Jesus who changed, but rather, it was Peter, James and John who were transformed. Imagine that this account from Mark’s Gospel documents the experience of Peter, James and John as if their eyes were opened and their vision widened, enabling them to see without impediment the virtually blinding light of Jesus’ love that flowed from every fiber of his being.

Indeed, every day of Jesus’ life something of that remarkable brilliance, that remarkable passion and that remarkable glory was revealed to people of all ages, stages and states of life. The shepherds and magi saw it; the elders in the temple saw it; the guests at a wedding saw it; a woman caught in adultery saw it; a boy possessed by demons saw it; a man born blind saw it; the good thief saw it.

If so many others could recognize it in a word, a glance or a touch, why might Peter, James and John have required such extra effort in helping them to see Jesus’ glory? Perhaps it was because they were so close to Jesus; perhaps it was because they were with him every day; perhaps it was because, on some level, they had somehow taken his glory for granted.

What about us? Do we recognize that same divine glory present in us, present in others, present in creation, present in even the simplest and most ordinary, everyday experiences of justice, truth, healing, forgiveness, reconciliation and compassion?

Or do we take it for granted?

St. Francis de Sales saw the Transfiguration as a “glimpse of heaven.” How might our eyes, our minds and our hearts need to be transfigured and transformed in ways that enable us to catch this “glimpse of heaven” within us and around us? How might we need to see more clearly the glory of a God who always loves, redeems, heals, forgives, challenges, pursues., strengthens and inspires us?

Today, may we grow in our ability – through the quality of our lives – to make that “glimpse of heaven” more clearly visible and available to the eyes – and in the lives – of others.

* * * * *
(August 7, 2016: Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Faith is confident assurance concerning those things for which we hope, and conviction about that which we do not see…Do not live in fear.”

As followers of Jesus, we are called to live lives of faith. Each day, each hour, each moment of our lives should be faith-filled opportunities to grow in our love and knowledge of God, ourselves and one another.

Today’s Scriptures beg the question: What, exactly, is faith?

St. Francis de Sales distinguished between faith that is living and faith that is dead:

“Examine your works and actions. It is when all signs of life cease that we consider a person to be dead. So it is with faith. While in winter living trees may resemble dead ones, in their season they produce leaves, flowers and fruit. In the same way, while dead faith may appear to be living faith, only the latter bears the fruit of faith in all seasons. Living faith is excellent because, being united to love and vivified by love, it is strong, firm and constant.”

People who are faith-filled, Francis de Sales would suggest, are living vigilant, strong, prudent and attentive lives. They adhere to the truth that God is love, that they are created, redeemed and inspired in love and that they are called to share this love with others. Faith-filled people are people of action, courage and perseverance, always moving forward, even toward things they do not see.

Compare this power and promise with the alternative: the decision to live in fear.

Today’s Scriptures beg the question: What, exactly, is fear? It is “a state or condition marked by feelings of agitation and anxiety caused by the presence or imminence of danger; a feeling of disquiet or apprehension”. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language)

Those who live in fear do not trust the truth that God is love. They dare not believe that they are created and sustained in that love. They feel that they must not take the risk of sharing that love with others. People who live in fear are people of inaction, discouragement and timidity. They long to turn back; they fear to look forward. People of fear are, in a very real sense, already dead.

Make no mistake – people of faith are not immune to fear. They fear their own infidelity; they fear their own weakness; they fear their own sin. Sometimes, they likewise fear the infidelity, weakness and sin of others. But in the end, people of faith choose not to live in fear but to live in the truth of the person God is calling them to be, and the person that God is challenging them to be in the lives of their brothers and sisters.

People of faith are human beings who try their level best to be fully human. People of faith know that while fear is a part of life, there is more to life – much, much more – than fear!

Why not consider today – Are you a person of faith?

* * * * *
(August 8, 2016: Dominic, Founder, Religious and Priest)
* * * * *
“Heaven and earth are filled with your glory…”

However conscious of those words that we may or may not be, when we hear these words, “Heaven and earth are filled with your glory,” we might say to ourselves, “But, of course!” when it applies to heaven. But by contrast, when it applies to earth, many of us might simply whisper to ourselves, “If you say so”.

Whether we recognize it or not, God’s glory is not only found in heaven, but also – to those who have eyes of faith – God’s glory abounds on earth, too.

In her book Earth Crammed with Heaven, Elizabeth Dreyer writes:

“For all the moving and high-flying ideas connected with the spiritual life, there is something down-to-earth and practical about it. God often meets us in a kind gesture in hard times, in a child’s joy, a word of wisdom from a Catherine of Siena or a Julian of Norwich, in a peaceful death – these are the simple but profound moments that reveal the truth and authenticity of one’s life with God. It is here – on this earth – that things come together as we experience the total fabric of our lives and discover that it is indeed “of a piece.”(p. 32)

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“When the entire universe was made, God’s meditation was changed, as it were, into contemplation. God looked at all the goodness in his works with one single glance and saw, as Moses says, ‘all the things he had made, and they were very good.’ The different parts, when considered separately by way of meditation were good, but when looked upon with a single glance – all of them being taken together by means of contemplation – they were found to be very good.” (TLG, Book VI, Chapter 5, p. 282)

Whether in heaven or on earth, God’s glory – as with beauty – is in the eye of the beholder. It’s already here, but perhaps, hidden in plain sight.

Can you see it?

* * * * *
(August 9, 2016: Tuesday, Nineteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Son of man, he then said to me, feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth…”

Francis de Sales opened his preface to the Spiritual Directory by drawing on these same verses above from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. In addition, Francis included the following words below:

“This book will prove bitter to your interior, for it will lead to the perfect mortification of your self-love. It will, on the other hand, be sweeter than honey in your mouth, because there is no consolation equal to that of mortifying our self-love in order to let live and reign in us the love of him who dies for love of us. In this ay your bitterness will be transformed into the sweetness of a perfect peace, and you will be filled with true happiness.

Mortification of our self-love, self-absorption and self centeredness? Sure, it’s tough. Yes, it can be distasteful. But how can this even come close to the sweetness that comes from becoming the people that God created us to be – images and likenesses of his only Son and our savior?

* * * * *
(August 10, 2016: Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr)
* * * * *
“Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

“A well-known legend has persisted from earliest times. As deacon in Rome, Lawrence was charged with the responsibility for the material goods of the church and the distribution of alms to the poor. When Lawrence knew he would be arrested like the pope, he sought out the poor, widows and orphans of Rome and gave them all the money he had on hand, selling even the sacred vessels to increase the sum. When the prefect of Rome heard of this, he imagined that the Christians must have considerable treasure. He sent for Lawrence and said, “You Christians say we are cruel to you, but that is not what I have in mind. I am told that your priests offer in gold, that the sacred blood is received in silver cups, that you have golden candlesticks at your evening services. Now, your doctrine says you must render to Caesar what is his. Bring these treasures—the emperor needs them to maintain his forces. God does not cause money to be counted: He brought none of it into the world with him—only words. Give me the money, therefore, and be rich in words.’”

“Lawrence replied that the church was indeed rich. ‘I will show you a valuable part. But give me time to set everything in order and make an inventory.’ After three days he gathered a great number of blind, lame, maimed, leprous, orphaned and widowed persons and put them in rows. When the prefect arrived, Lawrence simply said, ‘These are the treasure of the church’.”

“The prefect was so angry he told Lawrence that he would indeed have his wish to die—but it would be by inches. He had a great gridiron prepared, with coals beneath it, and had Lawrence’s body placed on it. After the martyr had suffered the pain for a long time, the legend concludes, he made his famous cheerful remark, ‘It is well done. Turn me over!’.” ( http://www.americancatholic.org/Features/Saints/saint.aspx?id=1103)

When it comes to sowing bountifully, it doesn’t get much greater than martyrdom. And while most of us may never be called upon to make this ultimate expression of generosity, we can nevertheless sow bountifully each and every day by doing good things in simple, small and ordinary ways…for and with one another.

(July 28, 2016: Thursday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * * “The Kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind. When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets. What is bad they throw away.” What should I hold onto in life? What should I let go of in life? What’s good for me? What’s not good for me? These kinds of questions are the stuff of discernment. John Crossin, OSFS, offers for our consideration three aspects of any discernment process, that is, any attempt to determine God’s will.

Mind you, discernment is not an exact science. While we can come to know God’s Will in broad strokes – and sometimes even in the particular – we can’t presume to know it all. And sometimes, we may even get it wrong.

Still, some of the things that can help us to know what to keep and what to give away in life include:

    • God’s Signified Will – This will is the information we already have at our disposal from the Scriptures, Commandments, Counsels etc. These clearly communicate what God considers to be good, virtuous and life-giving values, attitudes and actions.
    • Feedback from Others – We should make good use of the wise counsel of friends, clergy, mentors, counselors and other people whom we trust. True friends will know when to tell us what we want to hear, and when to tell us what we need to hear.
  • Flexibility – Francis de Sales observed that while all the saints are recognized for their conformity to God’s will, no two saints followed God’s Will in exactly the same way. We need to remind ourselves that discernment is about what God wants us – not others – to do in any particular situation. Sometimes, this may require us to “think outside of the box” – we need to be open to change.

Today, life being what it is, we may catch all kinds of things in the nets of our lives. Some things are always good for us, while other things are always bad for us. However, there may be some things we catch that used to be good but no longer are. On the other hand, there may be other things once considered bad that may now actually be very good.Decisions, decisions – What do I keep? I keep the things that promote the Kingdom of heaven! What do I throw away? I throw away the things that do not!

* * * * *
(July 29, 2016: Martha)
* * * * *
“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 all-too-easy to see in this Gospel a putdown of action and activity as compared with prayer and contemplation.

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.

* * * * *
(July 30, 2016: Peter Chrysologus, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“The priests and the prophets said to the princes and to all the people, ‘This man deserves death…’”

Speaking of prophets being without honor in their native place, consider today’s selection from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah. In a classic case of no good deed going unpunished, Jeremiah stirs up a hornet’s nest by being faithful to God’s will for him: to prophesy against his own house and his own city. While protesting his innocence, Jeremiah spends what may be his last breaths trying to convince the people to accept God’s word on its own merits rather than to bargain for his life. Having spoken his peace, Jeremiah decides to let the chips fall where they may.

Fortunately for him, the chips fell both God’s way and Jeremiah’s way!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed: “We must not be too ardent, precise and demanding in regard to preserving our good name. Men who are overly tender and sensitive on this point are like people who take medicine for slight indispositions. Although they think they are preserving their health, they actually destroy it. In like manner those who try too carefully to maintain their reputation lose it entirely. Generally speaking, to ignore or despise an injury or calumny is a far more effective remedy than resentment, fighting and revenge. Crocodiles harm only those who are afraid of them and detraction hurts only those who are vexed by it. Excessive fear of losing our good name reveals great distrust in its foundation, which is living a good life. Towns that have wooden bridges over great rivers are afraid that they will be swept away by every little rise of water, but those with stone bridges fear only extraordinary floods. In like manner those with souls solidly grounded on virtue usually despise the floods let loose by harmful tongues…” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 27, pp. 195-196)

Jeremiah faced not only the prospect of losing his reputation or credibility for speaking God’s word, but he also faced the possibility of losing his life for speaking God’s word. His response showed remarkable strength of character and purpose – a character that obviously convinced enough people to not only protect his life but also to preserve his reputation. His courage persuaded the people to accept his message as well.

Have you ever faced push-back from others for saying or doing the right thing? While your life may not have been at risk, how might your reputation among others suffered as a result of your decision to stand up for what it right? How did you deal – or are your dealing – with that experience?

* * * * *
(July 31, 2016: Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“What profit comes to a person from all the toil and anxiety of heart with which one labored under the sun?”

Is wealth an obstacle to living a righteous life? Do possessions prevent us from living a righteous life? Must we choose between the things that are of earth and the things that are of heaven?

Indeed, riches may be a temptation to forsake a God-centered life precisely because they may distract us from pursuing the things that really matter in life – the things that will last forever. However, the root of the problem may not be the wealth – the possessions – the success – themselves, but rather, inordinate anxiety and concern about them.

Anxiety about the accumulation and preservation of wealth ultimately prevents us from truly enjoying our blessings and successes in life. As today’s Scriptures point out, anxiety about holding on to how much (or even, how little) we possess can lead to tragic consequences.

Francis de Sales wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“There is a difference between possessing poison and being poisoned. Pharmacists keep almost every kind of poison in stock for use on various occasions, yet they are not themselves poisoned because it is merely in their shops, not in their bodies. So, too, you can possess riches without being poisoned by them if you keep them in your home, purse or wallet, but not in your heart.” Part III, Chapter 14)

The man in the Gospel parable is not condemned because he had filled his barn with riches. No, he is condemned because he had allowed his heart to be consumed by riches. So consumed, in fact, that when he was considering how to dispose of his excessive good fortune, it never occurred to him that he might share it with others.

A word to the wealthy…and the wise: the best remedy for not being consumed with riches is to practice the virtue of generosity. After all, how can you be anxious about losing what you have if you are already too busy sharing it with – even giving it away to – others?

Therein lies the secret of true wealth…in the eyes of God, wealth that truly – and forever – enriches. What makes me rich is not a measure of what I possess. No, what makes me rich is what I am willing to share with others.

Why not begin today?

* * * * *
(August 1, 2016: Alphonsus Liguori, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“Give them something to eat yourselves.”

The disciples were concerned about the welfare of the crowd that had followed Jesus to a remote place. It had been a long day. Evening was fast approaching and there was no place nearby for the people to get food or, for that matter, shelter. Fearful of the possible consequences, the disciples suggested to Jesus that he should send the crowd away.

On the face of it, this was a very reasonable suggestion. From a purely practical point of view, the disciples were fearful of the possible results of the people being stranded in a deserted place without provisions. All the more remarkable that instead of dismissing the crowd, Jesus said to the disciples: “Give them something to eat yourselves”.

What possibly could have motivated Jesus to respond this way?

Consider the possibility that Jesus recognized a deeper level of fear in the disciples, a fear far more terrifying than the prospect of scores of men, women and children going without food or water. Perhaps the disciples were afraid that the crowd would turn to them for help…or maybe even turn against them for failing to help. Faced with this overwhelming prospect, the disciples, in effect, decided to suggest to Jesus that sending folks away would fix the problem.

To be sure, there are some situations or circumstances in our own lives – and in the lives of those we love – that seem far beyond any time, talent or treasure that we might possess. As Clint Eastwood’s “Dirty Harry” character suggests, “A man’s got to know his limitations”. Faced with our own limitations it is wise, indeed, to turn to Jesus in times of need.

But this scene from Matthew’s Gospel challenges us to consider circumstances in which we are tempted to turn to God too quickly for answers without first considering how God may be asking us to act as instruments of life and love for others. To be sure, bringing peace to the Middle East is way beyond my singular abilities. Therefore, I pray to God for peace and pray for those who are working for that peace. But closer to home, how often do I expect God to feed the hungry without first considering how I might be called to offer myself as food and drink to others? How often do I ask God to heal a relationship without first making any effort on my own to be a source of healing? How many times in my life do I immediately expect God to fix the problem without ever considering how God may be asking me to be a part of the solution?

In short, living a life of devotion – following the example of Jesus – avoids two extremes – expecting God to do everything or expecting us to do everything. Life is about balance, about discernment, about accepting the situations in which when we depend on God to bring about something good, as well as recognizing the circumstances in which God is depending on us to make good things happen.

* * * * *
(August 2, 2016: Tuesday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Take courage, do not be afraid…”

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Scriptures tell us that St. Peter, seeing that the storm was raging, grew afraid; and as soon as he was afraid he began to sink and drown, so he cried out: ‘O Lord, save me!’ And our Lord caught hold of his hand and said to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’ Look at this holy apostle; he walks dry foot on the water, the waves and the winds could not make him sink, but fear of the wind and the waves will make him perish unless his master saves him. Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, page 125, p. 198)

His advice to Saint Jane de Chantal is also great advice for us. He recommended:

“Do not be afraid. You are walking on the sea, surrounded by wind and water, but you are with Jesus: so what is there to fear? If terror seizes you, cry out loudly: O Lord, save me. He will stretch forth his hand towards you; clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way. In short, don’t philosophize about your trouble; don’t argue with it, just go straight on, quite simply. If the whole world is topsy-turvy – if all around is darkness and smoke and din – God is still with us.” (Ibid)

In there anything in particular that is weighing heavily on your mind or heart? Are there any issues or concerns that are attempting to paralyze you? Is there anything about which you find yourself afraid?

Remember: God is with you! Take his hand, clasp it tight and go joyfully on your way.

As bravely as you can.

* * * * *
(August 3, 2016: Wednesday, Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“O woman, how great is your faith!”

Today’s Scripture readings offer us a study in contrast. In the Book of Numbers we see how the faith of the Israelites was shaken when they learned that the land of “milk and honey” promised by the Lord was already occupied by other people, and not just any other people – they were strong, fierce giants living in well-fortified towns. It would seem that the Israelites simply expected to inherit the Promised Land unopposed without any effort or resistance.

Contrast this situation with the faith demonstrated by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. Three times Jesus rebuffed her request to drive a demon out of her daughter. Undaunted, the woman continued to press Jesus to the point where he was not only impressed by her faith but also granted her request.

The Israelites teach us that having a strong faith in God’s Providence doesn’t mean that God’s promises will always be fulfilled easily. Many good things in life require hard, difficult work. For her part the Canaanite woman demonstrates that strong faith in God does not require passivity, but in fact, it often requires persistence and tenacity.

(July 7, 2016: Thursday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”What could be more humbling than to consider all the good that God has done for us, is doing for us and will do for us? Well, perhaps even more humbling is the realization that God’s goodness, mercy and generosity come without cost or condition. Insofar as we are created from nothing, we have done nothing to deserve God’s overwhelming blessings, gifts and love. They are unconditionally free gifts!

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation on the virtue of generosity, Francis de Sales remarked:

“We must indeed keep ourselves humble because of our imperfections, but this humility must be the foundation of a great generosity. Humility without generosity is only a deception and a cowardice of the heart that makes us think that we are good for nothing and that others should never think of using us in anything great. On the other hand, generosity without humility is only presumption. We may indeed say, ‘It is true I have no virtue, still less the necessary gifts to be used in such and such an endeavor,’ but after that humble acknowledgement we must put our full confidence in God as to believe that He will not fail to give His gifts to us when it is necessary to have them, and when He wants us to make use of us, provided only that we forget ourselves in praising faithfully His Divine majesty and helping our neighbor to do the same so as to increase His glory as much as lies in our power.” (Living Jesus, p. 152)

On one level it is true to say that we are “nothing”, creatures that we are. But because of the God who has created us, each and every one of us is – in God’s eyes – marvelous to behold. What a humbling, empowering gift!

What better way today to say “thank you” for such gift than to freely and generously share who we are and what we have with one another?

* * * * *
(July 8, 2016: Friday, Fourteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say…”

In a letter to Jane de Chantal in 1606, Francis de Sales wrote:

“I cannot think of anything else to say to you about your apprehension of your particular troubles, nor of the fear of being unable to bear it. Did I not tell you the first time I spoke to you about your soul that you pay too much attention to what afflicts or frightens you? You must do so only in great moderation! People frequently reflect too much about their troubles and this entangles thoughts and fears and desires to the point that the soul is constricted and cannot be itself. Don’t be afraid of what God has in store for you – love God very much for He wants to do you a great deal of good. Carry on quite simply in the shelter of your resolutions and reject anticipations of your troubles as simply a cruel temptation…Fear is a greater evil than the evil itself, but if terror should seize you cry out loudly to God. He will stretch forth his hand towards you – grab it tightly and go joyfully on your way.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

Francis de Sales recommends that we begin every new day with what he calls a “preparation of the day”. Consider all the things you may need to accomplish today. Think about the people and situations that you may encounter today. When you finished, does anything, place or person you may face today make you worry, anxious or fearful?

Take hold of God’s hand, and do your best to go joyfully through your day!

* * * * *
(July 9, 2016: Augustine Zhao Rong, Priest and Companions – Martyrs)
* * * * *
“Do not be afraid……”

In the same letter that we considered yesterday, Francis de Sales wrote to Jane de Chantal concerning the issues of worry, anxiety and fear. We read:

“Don’t philosophize about your trouble – don’t argue with it. Quite simply, continue to walk straight on. God would not allow you to be lost while you live according to your resolutions so as not to lose him. If the whole world turns topsy-turvy, if all around is darkness and smoke and din, yet God is still with us. So, if we know that God lives in the darkness and on Mount Sinai which is full of smoke and surrounded with the roar of thunder and lightning, shall not all be well with us as long as we remain close to him? So, live wholly in God, and do not fear. Jesus in his goodness is all ours; let us be all his. Let us cling to him with courage!” (Selected Letters, Stopp, pp. 124 -125)

This exhortation is very challenging! After all, who of us can say that they have never been afraid, worried or anxious? Doesn’t even the Book of Proverbs (9:10) claim that “fear (of the Lord) is the beginning of wisdom?” Some things should scare us!

Let’s look at it this way. While we may have our share of fears in life, it is critical that we try our level best to avoid becoming people who are fearful and become people who are joyful!

* * * * *
(July 10, 2016: Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“This command that I enjoin on you today…is already in your mouths and in your hearts; all that remains is for you to carry it out.”

In the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indiana Jones asks his mentor, Marcus Brody: “Do you believe, Marcus? Do you believe that the grail exists?” His older friend and mentor soberly and softly replies: “The search for the cup of Christ is the search for the divine in all of us.”

The search for the divine is not about going to far away places. The search for the divine is not about looking up to the sky. The search for the divine is not about crossing great oceans. No, the search for the divine is about the greatest – and sometimes the most challenging – adventure of all: the search within ourselves. It is a journey to the heart, to the soul and to the core and the center of our being.

Francis de Sales certainly believed this truth. He wrote in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in their world in which God is not truly present.” But this, says Francis de Sales, is not enough, for “God is not only in the place where you are; God is also present in a most particular manner in your heart, in the very center of your spirit.” (Part II, Chapter 2)

Of course, the search for the divine in all of us is not limited to a journey to the heart. The search for – and recognition of – the divine in us must be pursued in the other great journey – reaching out and caring for one another.

Jesus makes this point powerfully in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Two people, who should have known better (especially given their intellectual training), walked past a neighbor in need – certainly no way of acknowledging the presence of the divine in another. Clearly, and perhaps more tragically, this action is indicative of their failure to acknowledge God’s abiding presence within themselves.

The third man, by contrast, is “moved to compassion” at the plight of the other person in need. He is able to reach out to him because he first had the courage to see inside himself the presence of a God who loves and cares for him – the presence of a God who called him to do the same for others.

We know that God dwells everywhere, but most especially he dwells in our hearts. Francis de Sales challenges us: “Examine your heart often. Does your heart look upon your neighbor in the same way as you would like your neighbor’s heart to look upon you?”

All that remains for us is “to carry it out,” to extend our hearts – and in us, the heart of God – to our neighbors in need.

As in the case of so many things, easier said than done!!

* * * * *
(July 11, 2016: Benedict, Abbot)
* * * * *
“Put away misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim…”

Cease doing evil; learn to do good. This is a no-brainer, right? Well, maybe yes, maybe no. While we may know the difference between good and evil, actually doing what is good – and actually avoiding what is evil – is another thing all together.

In a sermon on “The Seven Gifts”, Francis de Sales observed: “The Holy Spirit’s gift of knowledge is essential if we are to know…how to be capable of discerning the evil to be avoided and the good to be sought. Whence comes this gift of knowledge to distinguish between good and evil, virtue and vice if not from the Holy Spirit?” But merely distinguishing between good and evil is not enough. Francis opined: “Nothing is more common than to find theologians who are more effective at describing virtues than at practicing them.” (Pulpit and Pew, pp. 150 – 151)

We need help to put our knowledge into action. Fortunately for us, the same Holy Spirit that gives us knowledge gives us yet another gift to help us to put our knowledge into practice. Of this gift – fortitude – Francis observed: “This is absolutely essential to us; the ability to tell good from evil is of little use if we lack strength to avoid the one and to engage in the other. Nothing is more common than to find people who know what is right but who lack the courage to do it.” (Ibid, p. 152) Fortitude gives us the courage – the heart – that we need to cease doing evil and to do what is good.

Two down and one to go. Francis continues:

“The next gift is the gift of counsel; absent this gift and fortitude would be mere rashness. The strength of an army needs the counsel of a commander. Fear causes us to break away from sinful habits; knowledge helps us to see what is wrong; fortitude gives us the courage to act on our knowledge. But we need the help of counsel if we are to know how to tackle what knowledge has taught us. What this gift enables us to discern is how to carry out what the Holy Spirit teaches us.” (Ibid, pp. 153-154)

There’s more to putting “away misdeeds from before” God’s eyes than meets the eye. We need the knowledge to distinguish good from evil; we need the courage to do good and to avoid evil; we need the counsel to decide how best to accomplish this spiritual goal. Thank God for the abundance of these gifts! Today, ask God for the grace to use these gifts well!

With the aim of doing justice!

* * * * *
(July 12, 2016: Tuesday, Fifteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Take care to remain tranquil and do not fear. Let not your courage fail…”

In a sermon given to the Visitation Sisters in Annecy in April 1620, Francis de Sales preached:

“The apostles and disciples were afraid. They were children without a father, soldiers without a leader. While they were in hiding our Lord appeared to them; He brought them comfort and encouragement. ‘Peace be upon you,’ was his greeting. ‘It is I; do not be afraid.’ He seemed to ask, ‘Why are you so fearful and upset? Look at my hands; look at my wounds…’ It is of peace that I wish to speak to you – the peace of the Gospel. Where Gospel precepts are ignored there is nothing but trouble; nothing but strife.” (Pulpit and Pew, p. 198)

Francis de Sales warns us, however, not to confuse peace with tranquility. The peace that Jesus offers makes no provision for a carefree or trouble-free life. He observed: “People delude themselves into thinking that pain and misfortune have no place where our Lord is; they believe that God’s presence produces only constant happiness. However, the opposite is true: God is never so close to us as when we are in trouble or difficulty, for it is precisely in these moments that our need for God’s protection and help is greatest.” (Ibid, p. 199)

This sequence of events should come as no surprise to us. After all, the same Jesus who promised us peace is the same Jesus who told us: “In this world you will have trouble, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

Are you dealing with difficult issues? Are you having trouble with life’s challenges? Are you losing your nerve? Don’t make it worse by losing your courage. Remain tranquil; do not fear.

Take care in the midst of all your cares.

* * * * *
(July 13, 2016: Henry)
* * * * *
“Judgment will be with justice, and the upright of heart shall follow it…”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines judgment as “the process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing an idea that is believed to be true or valid without positive knowledge.” Synonyms include: belief, conclusion, conviction, determination, diagnosis, eye, mind, notion, opinion, resolution, sentiment, verdict and view.

OK. Then, it should be obvious that a world without judgment (and things akin to it) would be a pretty chaotic place. We need to be able to make determinations, draw conclusions, form opinions and develop views in order to make our way through life. The challenge (presented to us in today’s Responsorial Psalm) is to render judgments that are just; the temptation is to make judgments that are rash.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “How offensive to God are rash judgments! The judgments of the children of men are rash because they are not the judges of one another, and when they pass judgment on others they usurp the office of our Lord. Such judgments are rash because the principal malice of sin depends on the intention and counsel of the heart. They are rash because every man has enough on which he ought to judge himself without taking it upon himself to judge his neighbors…fear, ambition and similar mental weaknesses often contribute to the birth of suspicion and rash judgment.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 28, p. 196-197)

What is the cure for rash, unjust judgments? “Drink as deeply as you can of the sacred wine of charity. It will set you free from the perverse moods that cause us to make such tortured judgments, for whoever wants to be cured must apply remedies not to one’s eyes or intellect but to one’s affections. If your reflections are kind, your judgments will be kind; if your affections are charitable, your judgments will be the same.” (Ibid, pp. 198-199)

What is Francis de Sales’ advice for those dedicated to judging justly? “Those who look carefully into their consciences are not very likely to pass rash judgments. Just as bees in misty or cloudy weather stay in their lives to prepare honey, so also the thoughts of good men do not go out in search of things concealed among the cloudy actions of their neighbors. It is the part of an unprofitable soul to amuse itself with examining the lives of other people.” Duly note, however, an important caveat that Francis wrote: “I except those who are placed in charge of others, whether within a family or in the state. For them a great part of their duties consists in inspecting and watching over the conduct of others. In such cases as these, let those responsible for others discharge their duty and make judgments with love.” (Ibid, pp. 200-201)

If/when you need to make judgments, avoid the temptation to do so rashly. If/when you need to make judgments, do so justly.

With love!

(July 14, 2016: Kateri Tekakwitha, Virgin)
* * * * *
“Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart…”

In her book entitled Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, Wendy M. Wright writes:

“The Jesus of gentleness and humility is not a sentimental figure. In the Salesian world of hearts these qualities belong to God’s own kingdom. If one looks carefully, one sees that the passage in Matthew 11 that issues its invitation is located in a scriptural discourse on the mystery of the kingdom of God. That mystery of the kingdom of God the Father, the passage continues, is revealed through the Son. ‘Come to Me,’ he declares, ‘and learn from Me for I am gentle and humble of heart.’ God’s-kingdom-realized is thus seen in this gentle, humble heart that confounds and overturns the values of the accepted order. It is not power over others, self-assertion or wealth that characterize God’s reign, but love of God and neighbor exercised through all the intimate, relational virtues like gentleness and humility…Discipleship is the lifelong opening of the heart to be transformed by and inhabited by Jesus’ own gentle heart…” (Pp. 33-34)

The meekness that Jesus embodies is not weakness; it is strength. The humility that Jesus embodies is not thinking less about oneself; it is thinking about oneself less. This meek Jesus is all about power; this humble Jesus is all about using His power to help others.

This passage in Scripture was Francis de Sales’ favorite. The “meek and humble” Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel transformed Francis’ life and the lives of so many others whose lives he touched. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this “meek and humble” Jesus transformed Francis into a saint.

Jesus wants to do the same for – and with – us; Jesus wants to make us saints. Are we meek and humble enough to accept His invitation?

* * * * *
(July 15, 2016: Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“I have heard your prayer and seen your tears….”

In a sermon he preached in Lent 1622, Francis de Sales observed:

“The Canaanite woman did not become discouraged in her prayer. For although she saw that Our Lord was paying no attention to her prayers (since He gave her no word of response and seemed to do her an injustice) nevertheless this woman persevered in crying out after Him: so much so that the Apostles were constrained to tell Him that He should dismiss her because she did nothing but cry out after them. Because of this some are of the opinion that since Our Savior gave her no word of response, she addressed herself to the Apostles, asking them to intercede for her. This is why they said, ‘She keeps crying out after us.’ Others believe that she did not ask them, but that she continued to cry out to the Lord. Nevertheless, although Our Lord appeared to turn a deaf ear to all that, she did not fail to continue her prayer.” (Living Jesus, p. 303)

We shouldn’t assume that God doesn’t hear us if it sometimes seems that God is taking a long time in answering our prayers. As the Book of the Prophet Isaiah reminds us, God always hears our prayers; God does see our tears. In a letter to one of her daughters – one of her biological daughters – Jane de Chantal once wrote: “We owe everything to the goodness of our Lord who has watched over us and who has heard our prayers…Be assured that God who has been mindful of you will not forget you if you abandon yourself to His tender care…” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, P. 211)

God does see us; God does hear us. So then, what’s stopping us from giving voice to our prayers?

* * * * *
(July 16, 2016: Our Lady of Mount Carmel)
* * * * *
“Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches…”

Oh, come on! Who actually plans iniquity? Who actually sits around and plans on doing evil?

How about those who gossip? How about those who bad-mouth others or who disparage others in speech? In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:

“To scoff at others is one of the worst states in which a mind can find itself. God detests this vice and in past times inflicted strange punishments on it. Nothing is so opposed to charity – and much more to devotion – than to despise and condemn one’s neighbors. Derision and mockery are always accompanied by scoffing, and it is therefore a very great sin. Theologians consider it one of the worst offenses against one’s neighbor of which a person can be guilty. Other offenses may be committed with some esteem for the person offended, but this treats a person with scorn and contempt.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 27, pp. 195-196)

We all know from our own experience that speaking negatively about others is all too easy. Be it planned or spontaneous, God is very clear: woe to those who engage in evil things, evil things like bad-mouthing others.

Today, what strategies might we employ to avoid woes like these?

* * * * *
(July 17, 2016: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“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 all-too-easy to see in this Gospel a putdown of action and activity as compared with prayer and contemplation.

However, 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, into the core of the person we are without allowing the details to overwhelm us.

Hospitality isn’t a matter of choosing between activity and availability. It is a matter of incorporating – and integrating – both.

Francis de Sales certainly knew this fact 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 and self-preoccupation.

In order to be truly open, to be truly welcoming, to be truly hospitable, there needs to be something of Martha and Mary in all of us. We need to be equally at peace with all the details and demands that come with trying to do justice to both.

* * * * *
(July 18, 2016: Camillus de Lellis, Priest)
* * * * *
“You have been told what the Lord requires of you: do the right and love goodness and walk humbly with your God…”

In a letter to “a person of piety”, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The more humility costs you, the more graces it will give you. Continue then to discipline your heart by humility and exalt it by charity…Study this lesson deeply, for it is the one lesson of our sovereign Master: ‘Learn of me because I am meek and humble of heart.’ How happy you will be, if you resign yourself fully to the will of Our Lord. Yes, for this holy willing is all good and its execution all good. There is no better path to walk other than under His providence and guidance.” (Living Jesus, p. 145)

Humility is not about having no life; humility is about laying down our lives – giving our lives – in the service of others. Of course, “laying down our lives” can sound overwhelming, especially when we consider the dramatic way in which Jesus laid down his life on the cross of Calvary. As St. Francis de Sales constantly reminds us, however, for most of us this giving of our lives gets played out in little, ordinary ways – like doing what is right and loving what is good.

We know what the Lord requires of us: to walk humbly with God, that is, to do what is right and to love what is good in our relationships with others.

And to know true happiness in the process!

* * * * *
(July 19, 2016: Tuesday, Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, sister and mother…”

In the opinion of William Barclay, this selection from Matthew’s Gospel offers us an expanded notion of the ties that bind – a new way of looking at kinship, family and friendship. He wrote:

“True kinship is not always a matter of flesh and blood relationship. It remains true that blood is a tie that nothing can break and that many people find their delight and their peace in the circle of their families. But it is also true that sometimes a man’s nearest and dearest are the people who understand him least, and that he finds his true fellowship with those who work for a common ideal and who share a common experience. This certainly is true – even if Christians find that those who should be closest to them are those who are most out of sympathy with them, there remains for them the fellowship of Jesus Christ and the friendship of all who love the Lord.”

Barclay says that this expanded notion of family – of home – is founded on three things:

  1. A common ideal. People who are very different can be firm friends, if they have a common ideal for which they work and toward which they press
  2. A common experience and the memories that come from it. When people have passed together through some great experience – and when they can together look back on it – real friendship begins
  3. Obedience. There is no better way of showing the reality of love than the spirit of obedience.

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis remarked:

“Let us hear and follow the voice of the divine Savior, who like the perfect psalmist, pours forth the last strains of an undying love from the tree of the cross, ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ After that has been said, what remains but to breathe forth our last breath and die of love, living no longer for ourselves but Jesus living in us? Then, all the anxieties of our hearts will cease – anxieties proceeding from desires suggested by self-love and by tenderness for ourselves that make us secretly so eager in the pursuit of our own satisfaction…Embarked, then, in the exercises of our own vocation and carried along by the winds of this simple and loving confidence we shall make the greatest progress; we shall draw nearer and nearer to home.” (Living Jesus, p. 430)

As members of Jesus’ family let us do our level best to be obedient, that is, to listen to the voice of God in our lives and act upon what we hear. May we celebrate the kinship, friendship and love that come with following the will of our heavenly Father and experience the ties that truly and tenaciously bind us together.

* * * * *
(July 20, 2016: Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *
“Some seed fell on rich soil, and produced fruit…”

In a letter to the Duc de Bellegarde, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Persevere in this great courage and determination which keeps you lifted high above temporal things. Keep your eyes fixed steadfastly on that blissful day of eternity towards which the course of years bears us on. As these pass they themselves pass by us stage after stage until we reach the end of the road. But in the meantime, in each passing moment there lies enclosed as in a tiny kernel the seed of all eternity, and in our humble little works of devotion there lies hidden the prize of everlasting glory…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 6, Chapter 29, p. 212)

Regardless of how large or small the yield of the seeds that God has planted deep within you, there is only one place in which you will find those seeds – today.

In each and every present moment!

(June 30, 2016: First Martyrs of the Holy Roman Church)
* * * * *“Why do you harbor evil thoughts?”In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales claimed that impugning the motives of others is a primary source of much of the sin and iniquity with which our world is plagued.

We witness slander when someone falsely imputes crimes and sins toward another person. We see slander when someone reveals others’ secret faults or exaggerates faults that are already obvious to everyone. We hear slander when someone ascribes evil motives to the good deeds that another does or attempts to minimize – or deny them – all together.

In today’s Gospel we see such slander in action. Perhaps slander in thought only, but slander nonetheless.

After forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man, Jesus is palpably aware of what was going through the minds of the scribes – they secretly assumed that such action made Jesus guilty of blasphemy, that is, of usurping the power and authority of God. They were determined to turn any good that Jesus did into something bad. Jesus response is swift and twofold – he calls them out for their secret, distorted thinking and then powerfully proves by what power and authority he forgives sins by healing the same man of his physical paralysis.

Would that Jesus could have healed the attitudinal paralysis of the scribes so easily, a paralysis stemming from the slanderous manner with which they viewed Jesus because when they weren’t falsely accusing him of assorted crimes and sins, they attempted to minimize – or discredit entirely – the good that he accomplished and the healings that he performed.

What is the moral is this Gospel? There are far worse ways of being incurably paralyzed other than being unable to walk.

(July 21, 2016: Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“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 more 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?

* * * * *
(July 22, 2016: Mary Magdalene)
* * * * *
“She saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.”

In a letter to Marie Bourgeois Brulart, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Mary Magdalene is looking for Our Lord and it is he whom she holds. She is asking him, and it is he whom she asks. She could not see him as she had hoped to see him. This is why she did not recognize him as he actually was and continues to see him in another guise. She wanted to see him in his robes of glory and not in the lowly clothes of a gardener. But in the end she recognized him when he spoke to her by name: ‘Mary.’”

“You see, Our Lord meets you every day dressed as a gardener in any number of places and situations…Be of good cheer, and let nothing dismay you.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 136)

On any given day God may be, as it were, standing right in front of us, hidden in plain sight. However, it isn’t a case of a God who is trying to hide from us! Rather, it is our desire to see God in ways that match our preferences, and that, consequently, prevent us from seeing God as and where He really is, especially when it comes to recognizing how God is present in us and in one another!

* * * * *
(July 23, 2016: Bridget, Religious)
* * * * *
“Let them grow together until harvest…”

In the garden of our lives all of us can find both wheat and weeds. It’s really tempting to focus our energy and attention on identifying and removing the weeds, but we do this at the risk of unintentionally removing the wheat as well. Jesus suggests that it is far better to be comfortable with the fact that we have both wheat and weeds in our lives and to allow God to sort them out over time.

Francis de Sales clearly grasped the wisdom of Jesus’ advice. In a letter to Madame de la Flechere, he wrote:

“Don’t be examining yourself to see if what you are doing is little or great, 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 what 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 very 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 that 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 overeagerness to get rid of them.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, pp. 161-162)

What’s the bottom line? God loves us just the way we are – weeds and all. Who are we to suggest that God will love us more without them?

* * * * *
(July 24, 2016: Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“I must see whether or not their actions fully correspond to the cry against them. I mean to find out.”

Today’s Scriptures show us that God’s judgment is both righteous and compassionate.

The Book of Genesis describes God’s outrage over the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. However, before taking any action, God intends to personally determine whether or not the outcry has a basis in fact.

God’s judgment is never rash.

St. Francis de Sales says in his Introduction to the Devout Life: “How offensive to God is rash judgment. It is a kind of spiritual jaundice that causes all things to appear evil to the eyes of those infected with it.” (IDL, Part 3, Chapter 28)

Rash judgments have far less to do with the behaviors of our neighbor and a great deal more to do with the machinations and moods of our own hearts. Rash judgments are signs of the presence of arrogance, self-satisfaction, fear, bitterness, jealousy, hatred, envy, ambition and condescension within the person whose judgments are rash.

Rash judgments seldom deal with facts. Rash judgments are founded upon appearance, impression, hearsay and gossip. Rash judgments are made in an instant (hence the term “snap” judgments), based not on reason, but on emotion.

Rash judgments do not promote reconciliation and peace; rather, rash judgments produce division and injustice. Francis de Sales wrote: “Rash judgments draw a conclusion from an action in order to condemn the other person.” (Ibid)

Finally, rash judgments seldom – if ever – result in compassionate action.

Francis de Sales wrote: “Whoever wants to be cured (of making rash judgments) must apply remedies, not to the eyes or intellect, but to the affections. If your affections are kind, your judgments will be likewise.” (Ibid)

To be like God – to live like Jesus – to be instruments of the Holy Spirit – requires that our judgments of one another be righteous:

  • based in fact, not fiction
  • rooted in sense, not suspicion
  • focused on behavior, not bias

Divine judgment is always consumed with truth, committed to justice, and characterized by compassion.Today, consider how do our judgments stack up?

* * * * *
(July 25, 2016: James, Apostle)
* * * * *
“We hold this treasure in earthen vessels…”

Francis de Sales once wrote:

“‘Borrow empty vessels, not a few,’ said Elisha to the poor widow, ‘ and pour oil into them.’ (2 Kings 4: 3-4) To receive the grace of God into our hearts they must be emptied of our own pride…” (Living Jesus, p. 149)

It’s all-too-easy to fill our hearts – our precious earthen vessels – with all kinds of earthly treasures, things that – as good as they might be – aren’t really treasures at all – at least, not where God is concerned. The less space occupied in our hearts by things that merely pass for treasure, the more room we make available in our hearts for the real, heavenly treasure that is truly precious: the love of God. Recall the words of St. Francis de Sales in a conference (On Cordiality) he gave to the Sisters of the Visitation: “We must remember that love has its seat in the heart, and that we can never love our neighbor too much, nor exceed the limits of reason in this affection, provided that it dwells in the heart.” (Conference IV, p. 56)

The story of Zebedee’s sons illustrates the importance of being very careful about what we store in our hearts. Notwithstanding their intimate relationship with Jesus, they set their hearts on a treasure that was not in Jesus’ power to grant: places of honor in His Kingdom. He responds to this request (made on James and John’s behalf by their mother, no less, who apparently also had her heart set on honor for her sons as well) by challenging them to set their hearts not on the desire for honor but for opportunities to serve the needs of others…and so to have honor beyond their wildest dreams!

We do hold a treasure – God’s love – in the earthly vessels of our hearts. Let’s be careful about what we pour into them. The more room we make in our hearts for God’s treasure, the richer we shall be.

And the more we will have to share with others!

* * * * *
(July 26, 2016: Joachim and Anne)
* * * * *
“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field…”

Some weeks ago we touched upon the images 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)

  1. 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.
  2. Second, don’t dwell on those weeds within us.
  3. 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?

* * * * *
(July 27, 2016: Wednesday, Seventeenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“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 one – 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, yes 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.

Ignatius of Loyola is a great example of what happens when somebody discovers – or uncovers – a pearl of great price and value!. Before his conversion he was arrogant, vain about his appearance, defensive in matters of honor, and much more interested in attaining worldly glory than in growing in heavenly virtue. But following a long convalescence from a crippling battle wound that almost killed him, Ignatius traded up – he discovered that the Kingdom of God was vastly more important than any passing honor or achievement, and he acted accordingly.

We are God-given treasures! We are pearls bought at the highest of prices! Do we treat ourselves – and one another – accordingly?

* * * * *
(July 1, 2016: Junipero Serra, Priest)
* * * * *“Follow me.”

“In 1776, while the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future nation that would become known as the United States of America was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard.”

“Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World.”

“Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there.”

“When rumors swirled that Russian might attempt to occupy much of the American west coast south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two conquistadors—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived.”

“Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death.”

“Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.” ( http://www.americancatholic.org/features/saints/saint.aspx?id=1431)

In the case of Junipero Serra, following Jesus resulted in his blazing a trail (some accounts suggest up to a total of 24,000 miles!) in the New World out of love for God and neighbor. How might we imitate him by doing our level best to see the “Old World” with new eyes?

Today!

* * * * *
(July 2, 2016: Saturday of the Thirteenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Why do we and the Pharisees fast much, but your disciples do not fast?”

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

“If you can stand fasting, you will do well to fast on certain days in addition to those prescribed by the Church. Besides the usual effects of fasting, namely, elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven, it is valuable for restraining gluttony and keeping our sensual appetites and body subject to the law of the spirit.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 23, p. 185)

From a Salesian perspective, there is a place for fasting in the spiritual life. However, fasting is not the only method for “elevating our spirits, keeping the body in submission, practicing virtue and gaining greater reward in heaven.” So is work!

Francis continued:

“Both fasting and labor mortify and subdue the flesh. If your work is necessary for you to contribute to God’s glory, I prefer that you endure the pains of work rather than that of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church…One man finds it difficult to fast, while another is called to care for the sick, visit prisoners, hear confessions, preach, comfort the afflicted, pray and perform similar tasks. These latter disciplines are of greater value than the first: besides subduing the body, they produce much more desirable fruits.” (Ibid, pp. 185 – 186)

Why didn’t Jesus’ disciples fast? It seems they were too busy contributing to God’s glory by serving the needs of others.

There are two ways of contributing to God’s glory: fasting (doing without) and laboring (doing).

Which way will you pursue today?

* * * * *
(July 3, 2016: Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“For neither does circumcision mean anything, nor does uncircumcision,
but only a new creation.”

On any given day, most of us spend the bulk of our time, talent and energy dealing with and trying to balance all the things in life that are the most pressing: keeping appointments, making deadlines, surviving the daily commute, driving to/from soccer games, paying bills, shopping for food, managing the household, monitoring homework, eating, sleeping, etc., etc., etc.

Where are we supposed to find the time to do “what really matters – to be created anew?”

Pursuing things in life that really matter does not mean that we turn our backs on those things that are most pressing – quite the contrary! Francis de Sales said: “Be careful and attentive to all the matters God has committed to your care: since God has entrusted them to you, God wishes that you have great care for them.” You know, things like: keeping appointments, making deadlines, surviving the daily commute, driving to/from soccer games, paying bills, shopping for food, managing the household, monitoring homework, eating, sleeping, etc., etc., etc.

Keeping in mind the things that really matter means keeping in perspective all the things that keep us busy: “Do not be worried, that is, don’t exert yourself over them with uneasiness, anxiety and forwardness,” observed Francis de Sales. “Don’t be worried about them, for worry disturbs reason and good judgment and prevents us from doing well the very things about which we are worried in the first place.”

Living a happy, healthy and holy life isn’t about having to choose between fulfilling our commitments and responsibilities or pursuing that which is most important. It is not an either/or proposition. In the Salesian tradition, it is only when we keep before our eyes what really matters – “that we be created anew” – that we can truly do justice to all the things that we find on our plates each day.

The most important thing for Jesus was to proclaim the power and the promise of the Good News of salvation, redemption, life and love. However, as today’s Gospel clearly demonstrates, pursuing the things that really matter can generate more than a few “to-do” lists for us, just as it did for Jesus and his disciples.

And so then, throughout each day try to keep in mind and heart the things that really matter. Stay grounded in God’s desire for you to be created anew. Keep before your eyes the image of the gentle, humble Christ who walks with you throughout every moment of each day. Recall God’s invitation to you to embody the Good News in ways appropriate for the stage and circumstances of life in which you find yourself.

But don’t take too much time. After all, we’ve got a lot of stuff – some new and others – all-too-familiar – on our plates today!

* * * * *
(July 4, 2016: Independence Day)
* * * * *
“I will espouse you in right and in justice…”

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen nited States of America.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary…to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Declaration of Independence has more than a little bit in common with the Good News of Jesus Christ. After all, Jesus proclaimed the equality that comes from knowing that God loves everything (and everyone) that he has created. Secondly, Jesus preached that the essence of liberty is to be faithful to the will of God, that is, to be the kind of people that God created us to be. Finally, Jesus pointed out that the source of real happiness is found in placing ourselves at the service of others.

Of course, not only did Jesus proclaim, preach and point out these things – he also embodied these truths. He lived them.

Do you want to experience the Life, Liberty and Happiness that only Jesus can give? Then, do what is right – do what is just.

* * * * *
(July 5, 2016: Elizabeth of Portugal)
* * * * *
“At the sight of the crowds his heart was moved…”

In commenting upon the Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn…” William Barclay wrote: “It is first of all to be noted about this beatitude that the Greek word for to mourn – used here – is the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It is the mourning that is used for mourning for the dead, for the passionate lament for one who was loved…it is defined as the kind of grief that takes such a hold on a man that it cannot be hidden. It is not only the sorrow which brings an ache to the heart; it is the sorrow which brings the unrestrained tear to the eyes…” ( The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 93)

In the case of Jesus, it is this sorrow that moves his heart and releases miraculous power!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales cites one of two virtues associated with mourning or sadness: “Compassion.” (IDL, Part IV, Chapter 12, p. 253) At the sight of the man with a dead daughter and the woman with a chronic illness in yesterday’s Gospel, Jesus’ heart was deeply moved: the woman was cured and the girl was raised. In today’s Gospel Jesus’ heart was deeply moved as He taught in synagogues, proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom and cured every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, Jesus’ heart was moved. Feeling overwhelmed by the sheer size and scale of the neediness that He himself was encountering in others, Jesus asked His disciples to pray that God send more laborers for His harvest. In tomorrow’s Gospel, Jesus’ heart will move Him to go a step further with this request: He himself will commission his disciples to be those very laborers.

Whenever Jesus’ heart was moved by the sight of others’ needs, power was released in Him: the people were taught, the sick were healed, the possessed were freed, the lost were found and the dead were raised. These actions are the heart of compassion, because it’s not enough merely to feel sorry for someone else’s plight. Compassion requires that we do something to address another’s plight. Compassion is more than just feeling; compassion is more about doing.

Are we willing to take our rightful place as laborers for God’s harvest today?

At the sight of other people’s needs, will our hearts – like the heart of Jesus himself – be moved to meet their needs?

* * * * *
(July 6, 2016: Maria Goretti, Virgin and Martyr)
* * * * *
“Sow for yourselves justice, reap the fruit of piety.”

Wikipedia defines piety as “a virtue that can mean religious devotion, spirituality or a combination of both. A common element in most conceptions is humility.” Merriam-Webster defines piety as (1) “the quality of being religious or reverent,” and (2) “the quality of being dutiful.” Synonyms include: “devoutness, godliness, religiousness and devotion.”

In a letter to Madame de Limojon, Francis de Sales wrote: “I have said this to you in person, madam, and now I write it: I don’t want a devotion that is bizarre, confused, neurotic, strained, and sad, but rather, a gentle, attractive, peaceful piety; in a word, a piety that is quite spontaneous and wins the love of God, first of all, and after that, the love of others.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 156)

As Francis de Sales understood it, piety is less a function of how many prayers we say, how many spiritual exercises we perform or how many hours we spend on our knees (although these things do have their place!). No, piety is more about being devout, about being “dutiful,” that is, about honoring what is due to God and honoring what is due to our neighbor.

In other words, piety is about justice; piety is about doing what is right.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, (Book XI, Chapter 3, p. 202) Francis observed: “Of all virtuous actions we ought most carefully practice those of religion and reverence for divine things. Such are the acts of faith, hope and holy fear of God. We must often speak of heavenly things, think of eternity and sigh for it, frequent churches and sacred services, read devout books and observe the ceremonies of the Christian religion…” Provided, of course, that all these nourish “sacred love.”

Today, do you want to reap “the fruit of piety”? Then, sow justice for God; sow justice for others

(June 23, 2016: Thursday, Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven…”In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “You must be ready to suffer many great afflictions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. However, as long as divine Providence does not send you great, piercing afflictions…bear patiently the slight inconveniences, the little inconveniences and the inconsequential losses that daily come to you…All such little trials when accepted and embraced with love are highly pleasing to God’s mercy.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

When it comes to entering the Kingdom of God, talk is cheap. As we see clearly in the example of Abram, Sarai, and so many others in the selections from the Book of Genesis that we have been hearing this week, there’s a lot less lips service involved with following God’s will and a great deal more hearing – to say nothing of doing it!

How far are we willing to go this day in attempting to follow the will of God – by doing it?

* * * * *
(June 24, 2016: Nativity of John the Baptist)
* * * * *
“I make you a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

Francis de Sales wrote: “I have often wondered who is the most mortified of the saints that I know, and after some reflection I have come to the conclusion that it was St. John the Baptist. He went into the desert when he was five years old, and knew that our Savior came to earth in a place quite close by, perhaps only one or two days’ journey. How his heart, touched with love of his Savior from the time he was in his mother’s womb, must have longed to enjoy Christ’s presence. Yet, he spends twenty-five years in the desert without coming to see our Lord even once; and leaving the desert he catechized without visiting him but waiting until our Lord comes to seek him out. Then, after he has baptized Jesus, he does not follow him but stays behind to do his appointed task. How truly mortified was John’s spirit! To be so near his Savior and not see him, to have Him so close and not enjoy His presence! Is this not a completely detached spirit, detached even from God himself so as to do God’s will, and to serve God, as it were to leave God for God, and not to cling to God in order to love him better? The example of this great saint overwhelms me with its grandeur.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, Page 74)

s it!

* * * * *
(June 28, 2016: Irenaeus, Bishop and Martyr)
* * * * *
“Why are you terrified?”

such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL , Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Do you want to store up treasures in heaven? Do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

Each and every day!

* * * * *
(June 18, 2016: Saturday of the Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Do not worry about your life…”

In his Introduction to the Devout Life (in a chapter entitled, “We must be Faithful to both Great and Little Tasks”), Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Sacred Spouse implies that He is pleased to accept the great deeds of devout persons, that their least and lowest deeds are also acceptable to Him, and that to serve Him as He wishes we must have great care to serve Him well in both great, lofty matters and in small, unimportant things. With love we can capture His heart by the one just as well as by the other…For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful a sea of endless bliss. Since such opportunities present themselves from moment to moment it will be a great means of storing up vast spiritual riches if only you use them well.” (IDL , Part III, Chapter 35, pp. 213-214)

Don’t worry about whether or not you are making great progress in the spiritual life. Don’t worry about not measuring up! Don’t worry about not being perfect! Just simply – with trust and confidence – do good things for God – be they little or great – as often as you can on this earth.

In the process you will slowly – but surely – store up treasures not only in heaven, but also right here, right now on this earth.

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(June 19, 2016: Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord, My God.”

What does it mean to “thirst for God”?

  • To desire to know God
  • To desire to be close to God
  • To desire to walk with God here on earth
  • To desire to live with God forever in heaven

Our desire for union with God must be expressed by our efforts to be in union with each other. It is not enough for us only to be in union with God. We must also act like God, perhaps best described by the Beatitude – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst to see right prevail; they shall be satisfied.”William Barclay suggests that this hunger – this thirst – is the hunger of those who are starving, the thirst of one who will die without drink. This situation raises the question: how deeply do we want/desire righteousness? Of all the things for which we hunger, how close to the top of the list is a desire to see right prevail?

Those who have this desire may not necessarily see it come to fulfillment on this earth. This is not a perfect world – we are not perfect people. Therefore, it should not surprise or shock us to become aware that we still have a long way to go in making righteousness a reality in the lives of all people. Still, blessedness comes to those who, in spite of failings and failures, still cling to the hunger and thirst for what is right and just…and struggle to make it real in their own little corners of the world.

Francis de Sales once wrote: “I see you have a debt…never withhold from others anything that belongs to them.” (Stopp, Letters, p. 69) To hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness means that we must be righteous people. We must do our very best to satisfy our debts to others. Which, of course, begs the question: What do we owe other people?

  • Respect
  • Reverence
  • Courtesy
  • Patience
  • Honesty
  • Truthfulness
  • Generosity

To hunger for God and to thirst for God requires, among other things, that we act like God and treat others with the same respect, reverence, courtesy, patience, honesty, truthfulness and generosity with which God treats us.

How hungry – and thirsty – are we for both for God and for one another?

Today!

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(June 20, 2016: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you…”

In his commentary on today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay wrote:

“Many a time the Rabbis warned people against judging others. ‘He who judges his neighbor favorably,’ they argued, ‘will be judged favorably by God. They decreed that there were six great works which brought a person credit in this world and profit in the world to come – namely, study, visiting the sick, hospitality, devotion in prayer, educating children in the Law and thinking the best of other people. The Jews believed that kindliness in judgment was nothing other than a sacred duty.” (Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, p. 119-120)

“There is hardly anyone who has not been guilty of gross misjudgment; there is hardly anyone who has not been the victim of someone else’s misjudgment. And yet, the fact is that there is hardly any commandment of Jesus which is more consistently broken and neglected than temptations to judge other people.” (Ibid)

There are three great reasons why we should not judge other people:

  1. We never know all of the facts or everything about the person.
  2. We are rarely impartial in our judgment.
  3. Not one of us is so perfect as to presume to judge any other person.

If these reasons aren’t enough to curb our tendency to judge other people, then heed Jesus’ warning: “The measure with which you measure will be measured back to you.”In that case, if we can’t refrain from judging others, it might be in our best interest to judge people in the most positive light, that is, to presume the best in others.

With the hope that God – in his mercy – will look for and see the best in us.

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(June 21, 2016: Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious)
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“How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life…”

Striving for perfection – growing in holiness – “living Jesus” – is a formidable challenge. Embracing a life of virtue requires strength and courage. Renouncing sin requires strength and courage. Turning a deaf ear to temptation requires strength and courage. On any given day, our progress in devotion is marked by both success and setback.

However, this striving to be holy is made even more difficult when we attempt to be holy in a way that doesn’t fit our state or stage of life – a way of living that doesn’t fit who we are. While we are all indeed called to be holy, we are not called to be holy in the in exactly the same way as others. Francis reminds us:

“Devotion (holiness) must be exercised in different ways by the gentleman, the worker, the servant, the prince the widow the young girl and the married woman. I ask you, is it fitting for a bishop to want to live a solitary life like a monk? Or for a married man to want to own no more property than a monk, for a skilled workman to spend his whole day in a church, for a religious to be constantly subject to every sort of call in service to one’s neighbor, which is more suited to the bishop? Would not such holiness be laughable, confused and impossible to live?” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 2)

Francis de Sales put it another way in a Conference (On the Virtues of St. Joseph) to the early Visitation community: “Some of the saints excelled in one virtue, some in another, and although all have saved their souls, they have done so in very different ways, there being as many different kinds of sanctity as there are saints.” (Conference XIX, p. 365) A more contemporary reflection on this issue comes from Nobel prize-winning author and holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel: “There are a thousand and one gates leading into the orchard of mystical truth. Every human being has his or her own gate. We make a mistake of wanting to enter the orchard by any gate other than our own.” (Night, Page 3)

To be sure, if there is indeed one model of Christian holiness, we find it in Jesus Christ, the one in whom all of us are consecrated. But to be holy – as Jesus is holy – is not about trying to be like someone else. Rather, being holy is about having the strength, integrity and courage to be who God wants each one of us to be, precisely in the places, circumstances and relationships in which we find ourselves each day.

Today, here will you find your gate to holiness?

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(June 22, 2016: John Fisher, Bishop, and Thomas More – Martyrs)
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“By their fruits you will know them…”

Imagine yourself walking through a lush forest in which you encounter a variety of fruit-bearing plants. What would you expect to find along the boughs of an apple tree? Why, apples, of course! What would you expect to find hanging from the branches of a peach tree? Peaches, no doubt! What would you expect to find near the top of a banana tree? Clearly, you’d look for bananas! You approach grape vines. What would you expect to find throughout them? You’d hope to see grapes!

In the opening chapters of his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “When he created things God commanded plants to bring forth their fruits, each one according to its kind. In like manner he commands Christians, the living plants of his Church, to bring forth the fruits of devotion, each one according to his position and vocation.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3)

Insofar as we are “living plants of the Church,” what kind of fruit(s) should we be producing? He offers some ideas in a letter he wrote four hundred years ago to Mademoiselle de Soulfour: “Let us practice those ordinary virtues suited to our littleness…patience, forbearance toward our neighbor, service to others, humility, gentleness of heart, affability, tolerance of our own imperfections and similar little virtues…” (LSD, p. 98)

How would other people describe us by the fruits that they discover growing in and from us today?

(June 9, 2016: Thursday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”…”In today’s Gospel Jesus raises the bar when it comes to considering just what it takes in order to “enter into the Kingdom of God”. Jesus calls his disciples to a higher love! When it comes to judgment, it’s no longer enough for them to say, “Well, we never killed anybody.” Now, they must also be able to say, “We did not grow angry with somebody else; we did not hold another person in contempt; we didn’t hold a grudge against anybody!”

In other words, Jesus calls his disciples to live a higher love!

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales describes what this higher love – “devotion” – looks like:

“Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do what is good but also enables us to do what is good carefully, frequently and promptly, it is called devotion. Ostriches never fly; hens fly in a clumsy fashion near the ground and only once in a while, while eagles, doves and swallows fly aloft, swiftly and frequently. In like manner sinners in no way fly up towards God, but make their way here upon the earth and for the earth. Good people who have not yet attained 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 heights.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Today, how might we rise to Jesus’ challenge to live a higher love? How might our souls “ascend to Him more frequently promptly and with lofty heights” with our feet planted firmly on this earth?

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(June 10, 2016: Friday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord…” (Responsorial Psalm)

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

“God has drawn you out of nothingness to make you what you are now and has done so solely out of his goodness. Consider the nature that God has given you. It is the highest in this visible world. It is capable of eternal life and of being perfectly united to his Divine Majesty.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 9, p. 95)

We know that we don’t always live up to our God-given goodness. We know we fall short. We know we fall down. We know that we even drag others down with us.

Francis de Sales tells us not to give up. Francis de Sales tells us to keep trying. Francis de Sales tells us to keep moving. Be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord, but in the meantime, try your level best to be the good person that God created you – and redeemed you – to be!

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(June 11, 2016: Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you….”

The notion of “reconciliation” to which Jesus speaks at the end of today’s Gospel passage is clearly demonstrated in the ministry of Jesus himself. These values include:

  • to cause others to become friendly or peaceable again
  • to try to put an end to hostility
  • to promote agreement or harmony among others
  • to work out/through our differences with others
  • to restore a sense of communion, communication or community

Jesus’ reconciliation was all about ending the enmity between God and the human family, as well as – the enmity within the human family. Jesus’ reconciliation was all about making friends out of enemies. Jesus’ reconciliation was all about challenging others to agree upon the things that matter most in life. Jesus’ reconciliation was all about helping people to live in ways consistent with the ways of God. Jesus’ reconciliation was all about creating relationships within which people could experience what is means to be children of God, as well as brothers and sisters in Christ.At the end of the day, Jesus’ reconciliation has a great deal less to do with words (hence, the warning to avoid “babbling”) and a great deal more to do with actions. Francis de Sales wrote:

“This life is a journey to the happy life to come. We must not be angry with one another along the way, but rather we must march on together as a band of brothers and sisters, companions united in meekness, peace and love. I state absolutely and make no exception, do not be angry at all if that is possible.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 8, pp. 146 – 147)

Notwithstanding the challenges inherently associated with Jesus’ ministry and message, how might we be a source of reconciliation in the name of God in the lives of others?

Today!

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(June 12, 2016: Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“I tell you that her many sins are forgiven because of her great love. Little is forgiven the one whose love is small.”

Today’s Gospel provides us with a powerful example of what one might call a great “teachable moment.” While the “certain” Pharisee no doubt enjoyed specialized expertise regarding the law and the prophets, it is “a woman known in town to be a sinner” who certainly seems to have the greater grasp of God’s mercy and generosity as it is embodied in the person of Jesus. While the Pharisee no doubt possesses great knowledge, it is that woman, who demonstrates that – notwithstanding her sins and weaknesses – she possesses even greater love.

Francis de Sales’ insights on the relationship among love, repentance and forgiveness are worth considering here.

“Theotimus, along with the tribulation and sorrow found in a lively repentance, God often places deep down at the bottom of a person’s heart the sacred fire of divine love. Then, this love is changed into the water of our many tears, and these, by a second change, are transformed into a second and mightier fire of love. Thus, the renowned repentant lover first loved her Savior; next, this love was changed into tears; then, these tears where changed into a surpassing love. Hence, our Savior said that many sins were forgiven her because she had loved much…This is why perfect penitence has two different effects. In virtue of sorrow and detestation, it separates us from sin and from those to which delectation had attached us. In virtue of the motive of love – whence it has its origin – it reconciles us with God and unites us with God from whom we had separated ourselves by despising him. Hence, at one and the same time, in its quality as repentance, it reclaims us from sin and, in its quality as love, it joins us again to God.” (Treatise, Book II, Chapter 20)

It is interesting that Francis de Sales later relates that this very relationship among repentance, love and forgiveness to today’s selection from Paul’s letter to the Galatians: “This loving repentance is ordinarily put into practice by elevations or turnings of the heart to God…It is not without reason that some have said that prayer justifies. Repentant prayer, or suppliant repentance, which raises the soul to God and reunites it to God’s goodness, undoubtedly obtains pardon in virtue of the holy love that gives it that sacred movement.” (Ibid)

How ironic that the greater sinner – or, at least, the one who more greatly recognizes the reality of one’s sinfulness – is better able to both extend herself in love and receive the love – and forgiveness – of her Savior! What can we learn from her sinfulness, from her repentance, from her hospitality, from her great love, and from her even greater love of her Savior?

Today, we can follow her example in our relationship with others.

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(June 13, 2016: Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church)
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“He refused to let me have his vineyard…”

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines presumptuous as: “Overstepping due bounds (as of propriety or courtesy); taking liberties.”

The story from today’s selection from the First Book of Kings illustrates how one person’s desire can all-too-quickly become an obsession…with disastrous results. Ahab had his heart set of acquiring Naboth’s vineyard. When Ahab’s offer to purchase Naboth’s property was rebuffed, he couldn’t let it go. Undeterred, Ahab and his wife plotted to have Naboth first discredited and subsequently stoned to death. Once dead, Ahab could easily acquire Naboth’s property. Ahab felt entitled to take liberties with others; he believed that other people’s possessions were his for the taking, notwithstanding the fact that other people weren’t offering their possessions! Having little or no sense of boundaries, this presumptuous behavior – as we shall see tomorrow – ended badly for all concerned.

In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote: “I think you will agree that what I about to describe is both unjust and unreasonable…we want our neighbor to give up his property and take our money for it. Is it not more reasonable that we simply allow him to keep his property while he allows us keep our money?” (Part III, Chapter 36, p. 216) It’s very tempting to tell other people how they should live their lives. It’s all-too-easy to expect other people to make us the center of their universe. In a letter written to Madame Brulart, Francis de Sales counseled: “Don’t sow your desires in someone else’s garden. Just cultivate your own as best you can.” (Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 112)

By all means follow your dreams and pursue your plans…just remember to extend the same courtesy to everyone else.

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(June 14, 2016: Tuesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…”

It’s safe to say that we all have enemies. We all have people in our lives that we do not like. We all have people in our lives whose company we avoid. We all have people in our lives that rub us the wrong way. We all have people in our lives that push our buttons. We all have people in our lives that drive us crazy.

In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“Antipathies are certain inclinations which excite in us a certain repugnance toward those about whom we entertain these feelings…If I feel a repugnance to conversing with a person whom I know to be most excellent – and from whom I mighty learn much that would do me good – I must not succumb to the antipathy which prompts me to avoid his company. On the contrary, I must discipline myself to listen to the voice of reason telling me rather to seek his company or at least, if I am already in it, to remain there in quiet, peaceful mind…People who are of a harsh, severe disposition will dislike those who are gentle and mild. They will regard such gentleness as extreme weakness, though indeed it is a quality most universally beloved. What remedy is there for these antipathies, since no one, however perfect, can be exempt from them? The only remedy for this evil – as indeed for all other kinds of temptation – is simply to turn away from it and think no more about it…We should never try to justify our reasons for our antipathies, let alone wishing to nourish them. If you have simply a natural, instinctive dislike for anyone, I beseech you to pay no attention to it; turn away your thoughts from it and so trick your mind. When, however, you find these antipathies going too far you must fight against them and overcome them, for reason will never permit us to foster antipathies and evil inclinations for fear of offending God.” (Conference XVI, pp. 298 – 301)

Francis knows the human heart very well. He acknowledges that “this instinctive tendency to love some more than others is natural.” (Ibid) Likes and dislikes are part-and-parcel of life. That said, Jesus commands us to love our enemies. Jesus commands us to love those whom we dislike. Jesus commands us to love those who get on our nerves.

Like it or not!

And beginning today!

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(June 15, 2013: Wednesday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Take care not to perform righteous deeds…that others might see them.”

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

“Humility is the virtue of virtues, but a humility that is generous and peaceable. Preserve a spirit of holy joy which – modestly spreading over your words and actions – gives consolation to the good people who see you, that thus they may glorify God, which is your only aim.” (Living Jesus, p. 150)

Jesus calls us to “perform righteous deeds.” He calls us to live a life of virtue. That said, Jesus cautions us against doing so to win the applause, praise or adulation of others.

Let’s try our level best this day to do the right thing for others. Let’s try our level best to do it for the right reason: to the praise and glory of God!

(June 2, 2016: Thursday, Ninth Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Imagine yourself to be standing in an open field with your guardian angel and that you see the devil seated high upon a huge throne, attended by many infernal spirits and surrounded by a great throng of worldly people who, with uncovered heads, hail him as their lord and pay him homage, some by one sin and some by another. Note the faces of all the unfortunate courtiers of that abominable king. See how some of them are furious with hatred, envy and anger, while others are consumed with care and burdened down by worries as they think and strive to heap up wealth. See how others are bent upon their own vain pursuits that bring empty and unsatisfying pleasure and how others are defiled, ruined and putrefied by their brutish lusts. See how they are without rest, order and decency. See how they despise one another and make only a false show of love. In a word, you see a kingdom lying in ruins and tyrannized over by this accursed king.”

“In the other direction you see Jesus Christ crucified. With heartfelt love he prays for those poor tormented people so that they may be set free from such tyranny, and he calls them to himself. Around him you see a great throng of devout souls together with their guardian angels. Contemplation the beauty of this devout kingdom, How beautiful it is to see this throng of virgins – both men and women – all whiter than lilies, and this gathering of widows filled with sacred mortification and humility! See the crowded ranks of the married who live so calmly together in mutual respect, which cannot be attained without great charity. See how these devout souls wed care of the exterior house to that of the interior, that is, the love of their earthly spouse with that of the heavenly Spouse. Consider them all as a group and see how all of them in a holy, sweet and lovely manner attend our Lord and how they long to place Him in the center of their hearts. They are joyful, but with a gracious, loving and well-ordered joy. They love one another with a most pure and sacred love. Among these devout people those who suffer afflictions are not over-concerned about their sufferings and never lose courage. To conclude, look upon the eyes of the Savior who comforts them and see how all of then together aspire to Him.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 18, pp. 69-70)

Conversely, at any given moment in our lives we are, indeed, not far from the kingdom of God. However, it is also true that at any given moment in our lives we are likewise not far from the kingdom of Satan.

Today, which kingdom will you choose during the course of these moments?

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(June 3, 2016: Sacred Heart of Jesus)
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“The love of God has been poured into our hearts…”

In a letter (undated) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Jane de Chantal wrote:

“You are, I hope, always striving more earnestly to rid yourself of all that is displeasing to your sovereign spouse and to acquire those virtues which please him. Oh, my dearest sisters, how deeply is this wish engraved in my heart! Show a childlike trust and gentleness toward one another…So courage, dear ones. May all of you together – and each one in particular – work at this and never grow slack. May you all live in harmony with one heart and mind in God…If you imitate Him in all your little trials and make His divine will rule in you, He will fill it with every blessing…I urge you to this once again, for the love of our Savior and by his Precious blood, and with the deep affection of my heart which is all yours in Jesus. (Wright, Heart Speaks to Heart: The Salesian Tradition, p. 95)

God gives us the courage to accept St. Jane’s exhortation and make it our own! God gives us the grace we need to live in harmony with one heart and mind! God gives us the patience to acquire the virtues that please God and serve others.

Today, may God fill us with every blessing – and help us to be a blessing to each other – as He did so clearly through the Sacred Heart of his Son! Just as the love of God has been poured into our hearts through Christ, so may we be willing to share that same love with the hearts of one another.

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(June 4, 2016: Immaculate Heart of Blessed Virgin Mary)
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“Why have you done this to us?

In a conference given to the Sisters of the Visitation on “Constancy”” (July 1620), Francis de Sales remarked:

“We are far too tender about our bodies, but incomparably more so when it comes to our souls, and in both cases this tenderness is very contrary to perfection. One might say, ‘Alas! I am not faithful to Our Lord, and therefore I have no consolation in prayer.’ This is a pity, to be sure. Another may say, ‘I am so often dry and cold that I think I cannot be in God’s favor, since He is so full of consolation.’ Of course, the problem is that this presumes that God always gives nothing but consolations to His friends. But this is not true! Were there ever creatures more worthy of being loved – or more actually loved by God – than Our Lady and St. Joseph and yet did they always enjoy consolations? …” (Conferences, Conference III, pp. 48 – 49)

Today’s selection from the Gospel of Luke is a perfect example of the point that Francis de Sales is making – pursuing a God-centered life brings no guarantee of a smooth or trouble-free life. Imagine the initial shock that Mary and Joseph experienced when they realized that their son was missing! Like any decent parents, they didn’t simply shrug their shoulders and say, “God will provide.’ No, they went looking for him and finally found him, albeit three days later! Is it any wonder that Mary was exasperated when she first spoke to Jesus – her heart filled with both relief and rebuke? How real! How authentic! How human!

Francis de Sales continued:

“When the soul is troubled, tossed and agitated by the tempests of the passion, and when we allow ourselves to be governed by them and not by that reason which makes us akin to God, then we are wholly incapable of reflecting the lovely and beloved image of our crucified Lord, or the variety of His incomparable virtues. We must therefore leave the care of ourselves to the mercy of his divine Providence and yet at the same time do simply and cheerfully all that is in our power to amend and perfect ourselves, always taking careful heed not to allow ourselves to be troubled and disquieted.” (Conferences, Conference III, pp. 48 – 49)

Note how the story ends. Troubled and upset as they may have been, Joseph, Mary and Jesus got over this event as they worked through it. They hashed things out. Mary – being faithful to her vocation – asked the question (note: she included Joseph in her question but it was she who asked it, perhaps being too upset to speak). Jesus – being faithful to his vocation – gave his answer and then the three of them simply got on with their lives – being faithful to their vocation as a family – as they set out for home for the second time, doubtless with a few lessons learned!

Jesus Himself tells us, “In this world you will have trouble but take courage…” (John 16:33) If even Joseph, Mary and Jesus had their share of trouble, should we be surprised when we do? It comes with the territory of being who we are.

Being human!

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(June 5, 2016: Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“The Gospel preached by me is not of human origin.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The conformity of our heart with God’s signified will consists in the fact that we will all that God’s goodness signifies to us as his intention, so that we believe according to his teaching, we hope according to his promises, fear according to his warnings and love and live according to his ordinances and decrees. All the protestations we make so often in the Church’s holy ceremonies tend to this end. For this reason we remain standing while the Gospel lessons are read to show that we are ready to obey the holy signification of God’s will contained in the Gospel. For this reason we kiss the book at the place where the Gospel is, to show that we adore the holy word that declares God’s will…Because of this in the early councils they set up a throne in the midst of the assembled bishops and placed on it the book of the Holy Gospels to represent the person of the Savior, king, teacher, spirit and unique heart both of councils and of the entire Church. So greatly did they honor the signification of God’s will as expressed in that divine book! Indeed, the great mirror of the pastoral order, St. Charles Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, never studied Holy Scripture except on his knees and with his head uncovered to testify to the respect which with we must hear and read God’s signified will.” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 3, pp. 63-64)

The Gospel preached is indeed of divine origin, but what a privilege it is for us human beings to be entrusted by God with the work of sharing the divinely-inspired Good News with others, even in our own day and in our own ways!

Today, we should strive to do our level best to show God’s Word the respect that it – and He – deserve not only by how we hear it and preach it, but especially by how we try to live it.

* * * * *
(June 6, 2016: Monday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Blessed are…”

How might we experience blessing in our lives? How might we be blessing in the lives of others? Some strategies for achieving both might include

  • not clinging to what we have but share it willingly with others
  • being willing to experience the kind of sorrow that leads to compassionate action
  • being humble and gentle enough to see everything as gift
  • making righteousness and justice a priority in our lives
  • a willingness to be generous, especially by acts of forgiveness and reconciliation
  • having hearts that are guileless, open, honest and frank
  • trying to bring others together rather than drive them apart
  • being able to do what is right in the face of misunderstanding, resistance and even hostility

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:“To sum up, most holy dilection is a virtue, a gift, a fruit and a beatitude. As a virtue, it makes us obedient to the exterior inspirations that God give us by his commandments and counsels, in fulfillment of which we practice all the virtues. Hence, love is the virtue of all virtues. As gift, dilection makes us docile and amenable to God’s interior inspirations. These are God’s secret commandments and counsels as it were, and in their fulfillment the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are employed. Hence dilection is the gift of gifts. As a fruit in our practice of the devout life, it gives us great relish and pleasure, which are experienced in the twelve fruits of the Holy Spirit. Therefore it is the fruit of fruits. As beatitude, it enables us to accept the fronts, calumny, reviling and insults the world heaps upon us as the greatest favors and a unique honor. It also leads us to forsake, renounce, and reject all other glory except that which comes from the Beloved Crucified.” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 19, pp. 252-253)

In short, how do we become Beatitudes of God? The answer – by our attempts each and every day to be a source of blessing in the lives of others.

* * * * *
(June 7, 2016: Tuesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
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“The jar of flour shall not go empty, nor the jug of oil run dry…”

The story from today’s reading from the Book of Kings illustrates the reward that awaits those who trust in God’s care for them. In a conference (“On Hope”) to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“No one ever trusts in God without reaping the fruits of his confidence. Consider, I beseech you, what Our Lord and Master said to His Apostles in order to establish in them this holy and loving confidence: I sent you forth through the world without scrip, money or any provision, either for your food or for your clothing, and did you want for anything? They answered: Nothing. Go, He then said to them, and take no thought what you shall eat or what you shall drink, or wherewithal you shall be clothed…for on each occasion your heavenly Father will furnish you with all that is necessary for you…Do you think that He who takes care to provide food for the birds of the air and the beats of the filed will ever forget to provide all that is necessary for the one who trusts wholly in His Providence?” (Conference VI, pp. 89-90)

Francis de Sales once counseled: “It is far better for us to want what we have rather than to have what we want.” Do we trust that God will always give us what we need but not necessarily always give us what we’d like? If it be God’s will, are we willing to content ourselves with the one thing that will never go empty or run dry?

God’s fidelity to – and love for – us!

* * * * *
(June 8, 2013: Wednesday, Tenth Week in Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets…”

Throughout the Gospels Jesus was repeatedly criticized by the Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes for not “doing it by the book”. That is, he was accused of abolishing the Law and the prophets by not living by the letter of the Law. In today’s Gospel Jesus responds to that charge by saying not only does He have no intention of abolishing the Law, but also he plans to go one step further – to fulfill the Law.

And how does Jesus fulfill the Law and the Prophets? He does so by being himself, that is, by performing the works of God in accordance with the will of God, and not by the whims of man – a life described by St. Paul as a life lived in “the Spirit.”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The Holy Spirit dwells in us if we are living members of Jesus Christ, who said to his disciples, ‘He who abides in me, and I in him bears much fruit.’ This is because one who abides in him partakes of his divine Spirit, who is the midst of a person’s heart as a living fountain springs up and flashes its waters into everlasting life…Thus, like a little grain of mustard seed, our works are in now ay comparable in greatness to the tree of glory they produce. Still they have the vigor and virtue to produce it because they proceed from the Holy Spirit. By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts he makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 7, pp. 211-212)

So, it turns out that the reason that Jesus did not abolish the Law – even the smallest parts of it – is that he embodied the Law, that is, the Law of the Spirit which supersedes (“fulfills”) the letter of the Law. While we, the followers of Jesus, may need to know how to do it “by the book,” the life of Jesus clearly suggests that there is something much more important than the letter of the law – the law of the Spirit, which leads to life.

Today, how can we do our part in fulfilling Jesus’ law of love through our love for one another?

(May 26, 2016: Philip Neri, Priest)
* * * * *“Master, I want to see…”In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered wrote:

“God is in all things and places. There is no place or thing in this world in which God is not truly present. Everyone knows this truth in theory, but not everyone puts this knowledge to good effect. Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore do not show him the respect they do after being informed of his presence. However, because they do not actually see the prince they easily forget he is there, and once they forget this fact, they still more easily lose the respect and reverence owed to him. Unfortunately, we frequently lose sight of the God who is with us. Although faith assures us of his presence, we forget about him and behave as if God were a long way off because we do not see him with our eyes. While we may tell ourselves and others that God is present in all things, we often act as if this were not true because we fail to remind ourselves of God’s presence.” (IDL, Part II, Chapter 2, p.84)

Despite the fact that the blind man in today’s Gospel could not actually see Jesus, it is crystal clear that he showed Jesus respect and reverence. What is the moral of the story? Even when we lose sight of how Jesus acts in our lives and in the eyes of other people day in and day out, it is always within our power to show him the respect and reverence by acting as Jesus did in showing respect and reverence for others.

* * * * *
(May 27, 2016: Augustine of Canterbury, Bishop)
* * * * *
“Be hospitable to one another without complaining…”

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

“There is no one who at some time or another has not felt the lack and the want of some convenience. It sometimes happens that we are visited by a guest whom we would and should entertain very well, but at the time lack the means to do so. At other times, our best clothes are in one place and we need them to be in another place where we must appear publicly. Again, sometimes the wines in our cellars ferment and turn sour, so that only bad or green wines are left. At another time we are on a trip and have to stay in some hovel where everything is lacking and we have neither bed, room, table nor service. In fine, it is often very easy to lack things, no matter how rich we may be.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, pp. 166 – 167)

Francis seems to be saying: the next time you’re tempted to complain about being hospitable, remember an occasion in which someone went out of their way to be hospitable to you. Besides, complaining while being hospitable defeats the purpose for being hospitable in the first place.

Doesn’t it?

* * * * *
(May 28, 2016: Saturday, Eighth Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God,” Francis de Sales wrote:

“By a wondrous infusion of his grace into our hearts, God makes our works become his and yet at the same time they remain our own, since we are members of a head of which he is the Spirit and since we are engrafted on a tree of which God is the divine sap. Because God thus acts in our works and we co-operate in God’s action, God leaves us for our part all the merit and profit of our services and good works, while we leave God all the honor and all the praise for them, for we acknowledge that the beginning the progress and the end of whatever good we accomplish depends on God’s mercy, finishing what God began. Oh God, how merciful is your goodness to us in bestowing on us such a gift!” (TLG, Bk 11, Ch 6, p. 212)

In our day, the mercy of God is not something for which to wait – it is available here and now, ready for us to use it in our attempts just this day to perform good works for others.

What are we waiting for?

* * * * *
(May 29, 2016: Body and Blood of Christ)
* * * * *
“Give them food yourselves.”

The disciples seemed to be a practical group of men, perhaps like most ministers of the Church, including most of us, for that matter. If today’s account in the Gospel had occurred in a contemporary parish, they may have worded their question along these lines: “Did anyone requisition a room for all these people to meet and eat? What about the health department or fire marshal? Who’s going to pay for this? Who’s running this show? Are we going to get sued?”

Fortunately for us, Jesus wasn’t concerned about any of these details. In fact, in the face of the daunting task of feeding at least 5,000 men (not counting women and children), Jesus essentially said, “Do it yourselves.”

His only organizational instruction was to have the people sit down in groups of fifty. And to their credit, they did as they were told. And there is the rub, that is, they did as they were told without any evidence of a solution that made sense. Obviously, their faith in Jesus prevailed. They believed that if Jesus recognized a need, Jesus would – and could – do whatever it takes to meet that need.

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

“Your chief aim in Holy Communion should be to advance, strengthen and comfort yourself in the love of God, receiving for love’s sake what love alone can give. There is nothing in which the love of Christ is set forth more tenderly or more touchingly than in the Sacrament by which He, so to say, annihilates Himself for us and takes upon Himself the form of bread in order to feed us, and unites Himself closely to the bodies and souls of the faithful.”

So, too, with us today, each time when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus is with us and within us. But how does knowing that Jesus is truly present to us – and in us – help us when we are faced with situations for which there seem to be no easy solutions? Sometimes all we can do at the time is to try to take stock of what we do have rather than what we don’t have, and decide how to make the best use of what we have, leaving the rest to Jesus.

A biblical commentary on this Gospel passage suggested that the crowd was so moved by love that each shared what he had brought. It is similar to a contemporary challenge, which goes something like this: “If everybody does what they can, we can do anything!”

In this holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are challenged to reflect on St. Augustine’s maxim, “become what we receive.” We become the Body of Christ. When faced with an overwhelming situation with little or no evidence of resolution or solution in sight, we remember that Christ is present in us and with us, knowing that we are not alone even when we feel that we are alone. So we should have no fear to bring to the table whatever it is we possess when we’re faced with seemingly overwhelming challenges- and leave the rest to God.

Perhaps, if more of us took this message to heart, each of us would be genuinely empowered by the Body and Blood of Christ to do the best we can and to do whatever needs to be done in fulfilling God’s will to feed and nourish one another.

* * * * *
(May 30, 2016: Monday, Ninth Week of Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“What, then, will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come, put the tenants to death, and give the vineyard to others.”

We Christians are supposed to be “Alleluia” people. Happy people. Joyful people. Well, we certainly don’t find a lot of happy people in today’s Gospel parable from Mark (12: 1-12) – in the end, especially the owner of the vineyard.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“Just as seaman who set sail with a favorable wind and in fair weather never forget the cables, anchors and other things needed in time of danger and storm, in like manner even though God’s servants enjoy the sweet repose of holy love, we must never be without the fear of divine judgments so that we may use it in the storms and assaults of temptations. Again, just as the apple’s skin – a thing in itself held in small esteem – still helps greatly to preserve the apple it covers, so fear, which in itself is of little value in comparison with love, is yet very useful for preserving love during the dangers of this mortal life…Although fear is very necessary in this mortal life, it is unworthy of having any place in eternal life, where there will be certainty without fear, peace without distrust and rest without care. Yet, such services as fear may provide on behalf of love will be rewarded in heaven.” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 17, pp. 245-246)

In a perfect world all we would need to live – to do what is right and to avoid what is evil – is the love of God. The tenants in today’s Gospel parable might have fared a lot better if they had had even the slightest respect or fear for the representatives of the owner of the vineyard or for the vineyard owner himself. Their total lack of fear emboldened them to the point where they murdered the owner’s son – with disastrous consequences to themselves.

As we know all-too-well from our own lived experience, this world isn’t perfect and neither are we. Try as we might to do everything out of love, there are occasions in which it doesn’t hurt to have a little fear – and on occasion, maybe even a little bit of trembling, for good measure – to provide our love with a little “back-up” or reinforcement when times get difficult or temptations become challenging.

What’s the bottom line? When it comes to living a God-like life, a little fear goes a long way. But in the end it is love – and only love – that will take us the rest of the way.

* * * * *
(May 31, 2016: Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)
* * * * *
“Anticipate one another in showing honor. Do not grow slack in zeal…”

No sooner had Mary received the announcement from the Angel Gabriel that she would be the mother of the Messiah than she “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. (Recall that in the context of the Annunciation, Mary had learned that her cousin was pregnant.) As if Mary did not already have enough on her plate, she dropped whatever she was doing in order to offer assistance to Elizabeth for “about three months”. Mary didn’t wait for the request; Mary anticipated the need.

One of the hallmarks of the Salesian tradition is this notion of “anticipating the need of our neighbor”. This quality invites us to ‘be on the lookout’ for opportunities to do good for others. Simple things: like holding open a door for another, offering to help carry someone’s groceries, assisting someone who may have dropped something on the floor, checking in on someone who’s under the weather, being the first to greet someone or to call someone by name and asking how someone is doing today. These are ordinary, everyday ways of honoring others by simply acknowledging their presence, by recognizing that they exist.

Here is where Paul’s admonition in his Letter to the Romans comes into play. Insofar as each day is filled with countless opportunities to honor people by anticipating their needs – by “looking out” for their interests – such efforts could understandably become wearisome over time. In the Salesian tradition, we need to approach each new day as yet another-God given gift – the invitation to offer to do good things for others rather than waiting for others to ask us to do good things for them.

Mary embodied the virtue of anticipating the need of another in her decision to offer her cousin Elizabeth assistance without waiting to be asked. In so honoring her cousin she brought honor to herself.

Today, how could we honor Mary by following her example through our willingness to anticipate the needs of one another?

* * * * *
(June 1, 2016: Justin, Martyr)
* * * * *
“To you, O Lord, I lift my eyes.”

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

“Consider the nobility and excellence of your soul. It is endowed with understanding, which knows not only this visible world but also that there are angels and a paradise. It knows that there is a God, most sovereign, most good and most ineffable. It knows that there is an eternity and knows also what manner is best designed for living well in this visible world so that our soul may be joined with the angels in paradise and enjoy God for all eternity. Moreover, your soul has a most noble will and that same will is capable of loving God…”

“‘O beauteous soul!’ you must acclaim, ‘Since you can know and desire God, why would you beguile yourself with any lesser thing? Since you can advance your claim to eternity, why should you beguile yourself with passing things? One of the prodigal son’s regrets was that he might have lived in plenty at his father’s table whereas he had eaten among the beasts. O my soul, you are made for God! Woe to you if you are satisfied with anything less that God! Raise your soul aloft on this consideration. Remind it that it is eternal and worthy of eternity. Fill it with courage for this project.”

(IDL, Pat V, Chapter 10, pp. 282-283)

In the midst of all the things that you may experience and the people that you may encounter today, remember to lift up and to raise your eyes to God looking at yourself as worthy of respect and reverence. For that matter, remember to lift up and raise up your eyes to God by looking at others as equally worthy of that same respect and reverence.

(May 19, 2016: Thursday, Seventh Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *“Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink…I say to you, will surely not lose his reward …”In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales offered this observation:

“My friends, we must be prepared to suffer many great persecutions for our Lord, even martyrdom itself. Resolve to give God whatever it is that you hold dearest if it should please God to take it from you – father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter, your eyes – yes, even your very life itself. Prepare your heart for all such sacrifices as these.”

“However, as long as divine Providence does not send you such great, piercing afflictions and does not, in the end, demand your life of you, at least, be willing to offer God a little of your hair. The point that I am attempting to make is that we must bear courageously the slight injuries, the little inconveniences, the petty persecutions and ordinary losses that are part and parcel of everyday life. By means of such trifles as these, borne with great love and affection, you will completely win God’s heart, and make God’s heart totally yours. Simple acts of charity, suffering through a headache, toothache or cold, bearing with the ill humor of a husband or wife, the aggravation of a shattered glass, a lost glove, jewelry or handkerchief, an argument or misunderstanding, the inconveniences of going to bed early and/or getting up early to pray or attend Moss, the feelings of self-consciousness that come with doing something good in public – in short, all such little trials as these when accepted and embraced with patience and perseverance are highly pleasing to God’s mercy…and to God’s generosity.”

“For a single cup of water God has promised to his faithful people an ocean of endless bless. Since such ordinary trials and challenges are a frequent part of every day life, they provide a legion of opportunities for us to store up vast spiritual treasures if only we learn how to profit by them.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35 pp. 213-214)

Living Jesus – imitating Christ – serving the Lord – is indeed an awesome invitation and vocation. Most days, however, this awesome vocation doesn’t require that we do great things, but, by contrast, it usually asks that we do small things with great love.

In the eyes of God, little things mean a lot. In fact, in most cases, little things can mean everything!

* * * * *
(May 20, 2016: Bernadine of Siena)
* * * * *
“Do not complain, brothers and sisters…”

In a letter address to Madame de Peyzieu, Francis de Sales made the following observation:

“We must fight resolutely against hating and spurning our neighbor, being careful to abstain from an imperfection we are not aware of but which is very harmful and of which few people are free: I mean that when we happen to censure our neighbor or complain about him (which ought to be a rare thing), we never leave off but begin the story over and over again, repeating our complaints and grievances endlessly. This is a sign of touchiness and of a heart that is not really healthy as yet. Strong and staunch hearts only complain when there is really something important to complain about, and even then they do not harbor resentment, nor do they succumb to fuss and agitation.”.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 206-207)

On any given day, how often do you complain? What do your complaints tell you about the health of your heart?

* * * * *
(May 21, 2016: Christopher Magallanes, Priest and Companions – Martyrs)
* * * * *
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits?
He should sing a song of praise…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God,” Francis de Sales wrote:

“Indifference must be practiced in things that concern natural life, such as health, sickness, beauty, ugliness, weakness and strength, in things that concern civil life, such as honors, rank and wealth, in the various aspects of the spiritual life, such as dryness, consolation, relish and aridity, in actions and in sufferings: in sum, in every event of every kind.” (TLG, pp. 107-108)

In the Salesian tradition, being “indifferent” does not mean not caring about what happens to us or others. What being “indifferent” does mean is acknowledging the fact that we have little or no control over what happens to us and others and choosing to live in this truth as people of faith. Francis cites any number of examples of how to practice this “holy indifference”. One such example is found in his Introduction to the Devout Life:

“When any evil happens to you, apply whatever remedies you can and do this in a way agreeable to God, since to do otherwise is to tempt God. Having done this, wait with resignation for the results it may please God to send. If it is God’s will that the remedies overcome the evil, then humbly return God thanks. If it is God’s will that the evils overcomes the remedies, then bless God with patience.” (IDL, Stopp, p. 129)

In good times, in tough times and in all the other times in between – be it through prayer, song, laughter or lament – in all things give praise and thanks to God.

* * * * *
(May 22, 2016: Holy Trinity)
* * * * *
The Wisdom of God proclaims: “I was beside God as his craftsman; I was God’s delight day by day.”

God is revealed to us as a creating and loving Father, a nourishing and redeeming Son, and an inspiring and challenging Spirit. It is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are created; it is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are called to live with one another on this earth; it is in the image and likeness of the Trinity that we are destined for the glory of heaven.

Trinity speaks of creative fullness; Trinity speaks of healing abundance; Trinity speaks of inspiring generosity.

The Holy Spirit, the Wisdom of God, is the source of the gifts that we need to experience and embody this Triune God in our daily lives. St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“We need temperance to restrain the rebellious inclinations of sensuality; justice, to do what is right in relation to God, our neighbor and ourselves; fortitude, in order that we might remain faithful in doing what is good and in avoiding what is evil; prudence, to discover the most proper ways for us to pursue what is good and to practice virtue; knowledge, that we might know the true good to which we must aspire, as well as true evil, that we must reject; understanding, to penetrate well into the first and chief foundations or principles of the beauty and excellence of virtue, and; at the very end, wisdom, to contemplate the divine nature, the first source of all that is good.” (TLG, Book 11, Chapter 15)

Do these virtues sound familiar? They should be! We know them as the “seven gifts” of the Holy Spirit.

The love that comes from this triune God, a love that is part and parcel of who we are, contains all of these gifts. Francis de Sales described this love as “a splendid lily that has six petals whiter than snow, and in its center are the beautiful little golden hammers of wisdom that drive into our hearts the loving taste and flavor of the goodness of the Father, our Creator, the mercy of the Son, our Redeemer, and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, our Sanctifier.” (Ibid)

As mysterious as the Trinity may be, two things are crystal clear: (1) we are called to embody God’s creative fullness, God’s healing abundance, and God’s inspiring generosity, and (2) we have been given the gifts to make that call a reality.

Today, we pray: Triune God – Father, Son, Spirit – help us to clearly – and convincingly – reflect your image in our own minds, hearts, attitudes and actions. Give us the grace to be your delight day by day in the lives of one another.

* * * * *
(May 23, 2016: Monday, Eighth Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

In today’s Gospel, (MK 10:17-27) Jesus cites generosity as a precursor to following Him.

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

“Frequently give up some of your property by giving it with a generous heart to the poor. To give away what we have is to impoverish ourselves in proportion as we give, and the more we give the poorer we become. It is true that God will repay us not only in the next world but even in this world. Nothing makes us so prosperous in this world as to give alms, but until such time as God shall restore it to us we remain the poorer in the amount we have given. Oh, how holy and how rich is the poverty brought on by giving alms.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 15, p. 165)

Note the qualifier – “some” of your property. Preparing to follow Jesus – to say nothing of continuing of follow Jesus – is not about being totally generous at one moment of your life. Rather, imitating Jesus is about being consistently generous over the course of a lifetime.

* * * * *
(May 24, 2016: Tuesday, Eighth Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct…”

Some things are worth repeating, especially questions like, “What does it mean to be holy?” As Francis de sales might phrase it, “What does it mean to be devout?”

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

“Inasmuch as divine love adorns the soul, it is called grace, which makes us pleasing to his Divine Majesty. Inasmuch as it strengthens us to do good, it is called charity. When it has reached a degree of perfection at which it not only makes us do good but to do what is good carefully, frequently and promptly, is it called devotion.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 1, p. 40)

Want to be holy today? Simply do what is right and good carefully, frequently and promptly.

No more – but no less.

* * * * *
(May 25, 2016: Wednesday, Eighth Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant…”

What does it mean to be a servant? More specifically, what does it mean to be a servant of God?

“To be a servant of God means to be charitable toward our neighbor, to have an unshakeable determination to pursue the will of God, to trust in God with a very humble humility and simplicity and to lift ourselves up as often as we fall, enduring oneself in the midst of one’s imperfections and quietly putting up with the imperfections of others.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 140)

Wish to be a servant of God? Want to be a servant to others? Begin by living with your own imperfections, to say nothing of living with the imperfections of others.

(May 15, 2016: Pentecost)
* * * * *“Each of us hears them speaking in our own tongue about the marvels that God has accomplished.”Despite the fact that they were speaking to many people from many languages and many cultures, the apostles were understood by all of their listeners as they proclaimed the marvels that God had accomplished.

How was this possible?

Enflamed by the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were speaking the language of the heart. They were speaking with enthusiasm. They were speaking with gratitude. They were speaking with praise and thanksgiving. They were speaking from the core. They were speaking from the soul.

In short, they were speaking the universal language – the language of the heart.

We are most human – we are most divine – when we speak the language of the heart, when we speak the language of love, when we speak and listen from the soul, when we are grounded in the Word-Made-Flesh.

As we know all too well from our own experience, there is more to communication than meets the eye, or for that matter, even the tongue or the ear. Communicating is often a lot easier said than done. We frequently misunderstand one another. We frequently presume to know what others are thinking or feeling. We frequently use the same words for which there are different meanings. We frequently have different ways of saying the same thing. We frequently hear, but we frequently fail to listen. We are always talking, but talking is not the same as communicating – speaking from one heart to another.

St. Francis de Sales tells us that the Holy Spirit comes to inflame the hearts of believers. When we speak and listen from hearts enflamed with joy, truth and gratitude…

  • conflict gives way to understanding
  • confusion gives way to clarity
  • estrangement gives way to intimacy
  • hurt gives way to healing
  • frustration gives way to forgiveness
  • violence gives way to peace
  • and sin gives way to salvation.

Francis de Sales offers this observation:

“Speak always of God as God, that is, reverently and devoutly, not with ostentation or affectation, but with a spirit of meekness, charity, and humility. Distill as much as you can of the delicious honey of devotion and of divine things imperceptibly into the ears of now one person and then of another. Pray to God in your soul that it may please God to make this holy dew sink deep into the hearts of those who hear you. It is wonderful how powerfully a sweet and amiable proposal of good things attracts to hearts of hearers.”

Today, might we need to speak, to listen and to practice the language of love?

* * * * *
(May 16, 2016: Monday, Seventh Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show his works by a good life in the humility that comes from wisdom.”

In today’s Gospel (MK 9:14-29), Jesus uses his God-given power to drive out a demon. In some scenes He displays his power by healing people. In other stories He displays his power by feeding people. In still more situations He forgives people. The Lord’s power isn’t about Him – His power is about what He does for others.

Insofar as we are created in God’s image and likeness, we share in – among other things – God’s power when we practice virtue in our attempts to reach out to others. In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales wrote:

“We must try hard to be good men and women, devout men and women, pious men and women. We must try hard to achieve this end. Let us try sincerely, humbly and devoutly to acquire those little virtues whose conquest our Savior has set forth as the end of our care and labor. Such are patience, meekness, self-mortification, humility, obedience, poverty, chastity, tenderness toward our neighbors, bearing with their imperfections, diligence and holy fervor.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 2, p. 127)

How can you robe yourself in God-like power today? The answer – by imitating Jesus’ example of doing for – and being with – others!

* * * * *
(May 17, 2016: Tuesday, Seventh Week Ordinary Time)
* * * * *
“God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

“Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? Is it not from your passions that make war within your members? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war. You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”

Not to put too fine a point on it, but we all know from our own experience that these words from the Letter of James could be applied to us. And where does that leave us?

In a letter addressed to Sister de Chevron-Villette (a novice at the Visitation in Lyons, France), Francis de Sales wrote:

“Selfishness, complacency, false liberty of spirit – these are but some of the things which one cannot well uproot from the human heart. One cannot do more than prevent them from bearing their fruit, which is sin. However, one can moderate their number and frequency by the practice of opposite virtues and chiefly by the love of God. So, we must be patient and amend and curb our bad habits little by little, get the better of our aversions and master our inclinations, moods and passions as they come up. In short, this life is a continual warfare in which no one can claim that they are not attacked. Rest is reserved for heaven where the palm of victory awaits us. In the meantime, on this earth we must fight our battle between fear on the one hand and hope on the other, in the knowledge that hope is always the stronger because He who comes to our help is almighty. So, never give up working constantly towards your amendment and perfection…Deal gently and lovingly with your heart, raising it up when it falls, and longing ardently for its perfection.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 236-237)

So much of the stuff that we stir up in the lives of other people is rooted in our own unhappiness, unhappiness rooted in what Francis de Sales identified simply as “selfishness”. What is the remedy for our selfishness? Being humble enough to acknowledge our need for God’s grace and practicing virtues which are the opposite of selfishness: growing in the love of God and neighbor.

Fear your faults less – hope in your blessings more…beginning today.

* * * * *
(May 18, 2016: John I, Pope and Martyr)
* * * * *
“We saw someone driving out demons in your name.”

As followers of Jesus, we strive to avoid any ways in which we might be against Him. When we are at our best, we, the followers of Jesus do everything in our power to be with Him – to imitate His life by doing good things for others in His name.

Like driving out demons!

Does this sound like a stretch? Not really, if you consider that the kinds of demons that we can help to drive out from those among our family, friends, relatives, neighbors, classmates and co-workers might include:

  • Despair
  • Despondency
  • Discouragement
  • Depression

How can we help to drive these – and other – demons out? By loving, supporting, encouraging and championing those who struggle with these – and other – demons. In short, we share in Jesus’ healing, freeing and liberating power by being for and with others, just as Jesus is for and with us!

What kind of demons might you be called upon to drive out today – in Jesus’ name?

(May 5, 2016: Thursday, Sixth Week of Easter)
* * * * *“He stayed with them and worked…”This snippet from the Acts of the Apostles reveals something noteworthy about the person of Paul. It seems that when he wasn’t working at preaching in the synagogue he was working to earn his keep – at least, as we are told, until Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia. Put another way, notwithstanding the important work that Paul was doing in Corinth, he did not take Pontus’ and Priscilla’s hospitality for granted. No, he did what he could to support himself, or at least, to make himself less of a burden.

That action on Paul’s part may have provided just as powerful a message – if not more so – than the preaching he did in the synagogue.

This brings to mind the famous saying of St. Francis of Assisi (for whom St. Francis de Sales was named): “Preach always, and when necessary, use words.”

Just this day how can our attempts to do our part in supporting ourselves help us to appreciate what others do for us? How can our willingness to pitch in be an expression of our gratitude for the generosity of others?

~ OR ~

* * * * *
(The Ascension of the Lord)
* * * * *
“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Well, the day in question finally arrived. Jesus was taken up into heaven; Jesus returned to the Father. After standing there in silence for what must have seemed like an eternity, one of the eleven eventually broke the quiet by asking the question: “Now what?”

The rest – as they say – is history.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

In his Catholic Controversies (p.286) Francis de Sales outlines the activity of the Apostles – especially Peter and Paul – following the Ascension. Simply put, it would appear that once the dust of the Ascension settled, Jesus’ disciples got to work.

This same work continues for us today. Our task in the wake of the Ascension is to make the “hidden” Christ “reappear” through the quality of our love for others.

* * * * *
(May 6, 2016: Friday, Sixth Week of Easter)
* * * * *
“You will grieve but your grief will become joy…”

These words spoken by Jesus in today’s Gospel have a familiar ring to those acquainted with the Salesian tradition. They sound like a remarkably simple – but powerful – summarization of St. Francis de Sales’ teaching on what he called “spirit of liberty”:

“The first sign (of this spirit of liberty) is that the heart enjoying this liberty is not at all attached to consolations and accepts afflictions with all the meekness possible to the flesh. I am not saying that the soul does not love consolation and long for it, but without clinging to it. The second sign is that the man enjoying this spirit does not set his heart on spiritual exercises: if illness or some other emergency prevents them he is on no way upset. I am not saying that he does not love them but that he is not attached to them. Thirdly, he does not lose his joy, because no loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for him to lose his joy, but it will not be for long. (Stopp, Selected Letters, pp. 70 – 71)

What’s the bottom line? Into everyone’s life a little rain must fall. Into everyone’s picnic ants will sometimes intrude. Into everyone’s success some setbacks will eventually surface. But for those who are freed by the spirit of liberty, any grief associated with these (and any other hard knocks in life) will – eventually – turn into joy.

Over and over again!

* * * * *
(May 7, 2016: Saturday, Sixth Week of Easter)
* * * * *
“Ask and you shall receive…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“If a man prays to God and perceives that he is praying, he is not perfectly attentive to his prayer. He diverts his attention from the God to whom he prays in order to think of the prayer by which he prays…A man in fervent prayer does not know whether he prays or not, for he does not think of the prayer he makes but of God to whom he makes it.” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

Today here’s a question for you. When you “ask the Father for anything” in Jesus’ name, upon what do you focus – that for which you ask or the person from whom you ask it?

* * * * *
(May 8, 2016: Ascension of the Lord OR Seventh Sunday of Easter)
* * * * *

(Ascension of the Lord)

“Why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

Well, the day in question finally arrived. Jesus was taken up into heaven and returned to the Father. After standing there in silence for what must have seemed like an eternity, one of the eleven eventually broke the quiet by asking the question: “Now what?”

The rest – as they say – is history.

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“After Jesus had shown himself for a little while to the disciples, he ascended up to heaven, and at length a cloud surrounded him, took him and hid him from their eyes. Jesus Christ, then, is hidden in heaven in God. Jesus Christ is our love, and our love is the life of the soul. Therefore our ‘life is hidden in God with Christ Jesus, and when Christ who is’ our love and therefore our spiritual life ‘shall reappear’ in the Day of Judgment, we shall also appear ‘with him in glory.’” (TLG, Book VII, Chapter 6, p. 32)

In his Catholic Controversies (p.286) Francis de Sales outlines the activity of the Apostles – especially Peter and Paul – following the Ascension. Simply put, it would appear that once the dust of the Ascension settled, Jesus’ disciples got to work.

This same work continues for us today. Our task in the wake of the Ascension is to make the “hidden” Christ “reappear” through the quality of our love for others.

(Seventh Sunday of Easter)

“I bring with me the recompense I will give to each according to his deeds.”

Today’s selection from the Book of Revelation reminds us of the end for which we are created – eternal life with Christ, the Alpha and the Omega. The reading also reminds us that the end for which we are created will include the end of life, as we know it – an end that includes being rewarded, as our conduct on earth deserves.

Notwithstanding God’s compassion, God’s love, God’s forgiveness and God’s mercy, each of us will experience this end – and its accompanying judgment – personally.

Still, the Salesian tradition challenges us to recognize the deeper reality of the “end” – or purpose – for which we are created, for which we live: namely, to love. Love not only prepares us for death. Love makes it possible for us to live truly here on earth.

Echoing the words of St. Paul, St. Francis de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God:

“Love has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all the virtues. Hence, love is patient, is kind, and is not envious, but generous. Love is not pretentious, but prudent. Love is not puffed up with pride but is humble. Love is not ambitious or disdainful, but amiable and affable. Love is not eager to exact all that belongs to it but is generous and helpful. Love is not provoked, but is peaceful. Love thinks no evil but is gentle. Love does not rejoice over wickedness but rejoices with truth. Love suffers all things, believes all things that pertain to all that is good without obstinacy, contention or distrust. Love hopes for all good things for others without ever losing hope of salvation. Love endures all things, awaiting without anxiety the good promised.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book Eleven, Chapter 8).

Francis concludes: “Love is that fine gold, tried by fire, that contains the price of all things, can do all things, and does all things.”

This kind of life – this kind of love – truly is our end. It is the purpose for which we are born, live and long. It is the purpose for which God will one day call us home to himself forever.

Truly, such a life – such a love – is, indeed, its own reward. Why wait until heaven to experience it? Why not begin today?

* * * * *
(May 9, 2016: Monday, Seventh Week of Easter)
* * * * *
“Now you are talking plainly, and not in any figure of speech. Now we realize that you know everything…”

It’s probably safe to say that the Apostles were – as a group – pretty unsophisticated men. Insofar as many of them were tradesmen, they were men who would have put a high premium on keeping things plain and simple. If you had something to say to them, their preference would be that you give it straight to them, without a great deal of images or elaborations. Put another way, these were men for whom “less” would clearly be “more”. So, we can understand their appreciation in today’s Gospel selection for Jesus’ willingness to simply say what they needed to hear in a manner in which they could hear – and understand – it!

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say everything that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth’…Although we may sometime discreetly and prudently hide and disguise the truth by an equivocal statement, this must never be done except when the matter is important and God’s glory and service clearly require it. In any other such case such tricks are dangerous. As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or slippery soul. No artifice is as good and desirable as plain dealing.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

When it comes to preaching – to say nothing of living – the Good News of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to convince other people that you “know everything” in order to be effective. Just give it to people straight, in unembellished and unvarnished words – and ways – that they can understand.

And live!

* * * * *
(May 10, 2016: Damien de Veuster, Religious, Priest and Missionary)
* * * * *
“This is eternal life: that they should know you, the only true God and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ…”

In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“‘Life is in the will of God,’ says the Psalmist, not only because our temporal life depends on the divine will but also because our spiritual life consists in its fulfillment, by which God lives and reigns in us and makes us live and subsist in God….Ah, Lord God, we are in this world not to do our own will but that of your goodness, which has placed us here. It was written of you, O Savior of my soul, that you did the will of your eternal Father. Ah, who will give my soul the grace to have no will but the will of God!” (TLG, Book VIII, Chapter 7, p. 73)

To know God is to know God’s will. To love God is to love God’s will. To know and do God’s will is to experience eternal life. Nowhere do we see this love demonstrated more clearly and convincingly than in Jesus’ knowledge, love and obedience to his Father’s will throughout his entire earthly ministry. Note the impact: not only did following the Father’s will not diminish Jesus, but it also empowered Him to be faithful to and effective in his purpose for living – that “we might have life, and have life to the full”. (John 10:10)

If eternal life is found by knowing and loving God – and, by extension, by knowing, loving and living God’s will in our lives – then the eternal life that Jesus offers us is not limited to the next life; it is available here and now in this life.

Let us pray. God, not our will, but your will be done in us, in order that we might know something already on this earth of the eternal life you offer us in the One whom you sent in order that we might know and love you!

Jesus Christ.

* * * * *
(May 11, 2016: Wednesday, Seventh Week of Easter)
* * * * *
“Savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock…So be vigilant…”

There are a number of variations of a Cherokee parable known as “The Two Wolves.” It goes something like this:

An old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. The old man said, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf is evil. He is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, self-doubt, and ego. The other wolf is good. he He is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too, as these two wolves struggle for supremacy.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief sat in silence for a few moments and then simply replied, “The one you feed.”

It is tempting to look for the “savage wolves” about which Jesus warns in other people, especially in the case of those with whom we find ourselves embroiled in misunderstanding, conflict and perhaps even hostility. However, it might be a good idea also to look inside of ourselves for any signs that such “savage wolves” might be living within us. And for what should we be vigilant?

Today, be on the watch for any feeling, thought, opinion or perspective that would pervert the truth of whom we are in our relationship with God, ourselves and one another.

(April 28, 2016: Peter Chanel, Priest & Martyr; Louis Grignionde Montfort, Priest)
* * * * *“I have told you this so that my joy might be in you and your joy might be complete…”This debate outlined in the today’s selection from the Acts of the Apostles puts us in touch with Francis de Sales’ perspective on two gifts of the Holy Spirit: knowledge and understanding.

The Gift of Knowledge

“This divine gift, however, has little to do with mere human learning. The Spirit’s gift of knowledge is essential if we are to make good and effective use of the previous two gifts, if we are to know how to behave towards the God we mean to fear and love. It is about being capable of discerning evil to be avoided and the good to be sought. As the prophet says, offend no more; rather, do what is good. And be at rest always.”

Mere human knowledge only enables us to know the difference between good and evil. Just hearing God’s word doesn’t guarantee the ability to follow it! The Spirit’s gift of knowledge, by contrast, actually enables us to turn away from what is evil and to put our hands to doing what is good.

Francis concludes with this observation.

“There have been saints, to be sure, who were wonderfully wise for all of their ignorance. There have been others, equally as certain, who have been wonderfully ignorant for all of their knowledge.”

Many practicing Jews – considered knowledgeable of the Law and Prophets – rejected Jesus. Many Gentiles – considered by these same Jews to be ignorant of the Law and Prophets – accepted Jesus! This fact was indeed a tough pill for some to swallow.

The Gift of Understanding

“Understanding is a special enlightenment that enables us to see and penetrate the beauty and perfection of the mysteries of faith. We may listen to sermons, we may read widely; yet we can remain ignorant of these divine mysteries if we lack the gift of understanding. A simple soul, open in prayer, may gain some insight into the mystery of the Blessed Trinity – not to explain it, but to draw from it some secret aspect that can save – because the Holy Spirit has bestowed the gift of understanding. I always maintain that if anyone loses his soul, it is for want of following such mysteries of the faith, for example: Blessed are the poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is theirs; blessed are the patient, they shall inherit the land. Who is awake to the beauty of these principles, however, except those whom the Holy Spirit enlightens?”

There is no substitute for the knowledge that helps us to grow in our understanding of the ways of the Lord. However, we must be careful not to allow knowledge to take the place of understanding – ultimately, this became the Achilles’ heel of many of the Jews of Jesus’ day. While Francis de Sales recognizes the need to know the difference between good and evil (and, by extension, to actually do good and to actually avoid evil), such knowledge only comes to full flowering when we demonstrate our understanding of God’s ways through our practice of the Beatitudes, that is, by being sources of blessing, happiness and joy in the lives of others!

How does Jesus make our joy complete? The answer – by helping us to be sources – perhaps even signs and wonders – of joy in the lives of one another!

(Based upon a sermon preached by St. Francis de Sales on the feast of Pentecost, date unknown. Translation from Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching. Vincent Kerns, MSFS.)

* * * * *
(April 29, 2016: Catherine of Siena, Virgin & Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden…”

“Living Jesus” is not always easy. “Living Jesus” brings with it its share of difficulties and challenges. “Living Jesus” will certainly stretch us and challenge us to be more of the people that God calls us to be.

But one thing that “Living Jesus” is not supposed to be is burdensome.

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

“True devotion does us no harm whatsoever, but instead perfects all things. It not only doers no injury to one’s vocation or occupation, but on the contrary adorns and beautifies it. All kinds of precious stones take on greater luster when dipped into honey, each according to its color. In the same way every vocation becomes more agreeable when united with devotion. Care of one’s family is rendered more peaceable, love of husband and wife more sincere, service to one’s prince more faithful and every type of employment more pleasant and agreeable.” (IDL, Part I, Chapter 3, p. 44)

If your practice of devotion is weighing you down, you must be doing something wrong. If your attempts at “Living Jesus” make your everyday life more complicated, something’s not right. Perhaps you’re trying too hard. Or, worse yet, maybe you’re trying to “Live Jesus” all by yourself.

Take Jesus at his word! Go to him when you find life burdensome. Let him refresh you. Take up his yolk and learn from him, for he is meek and humble of heart. And you’ll find rest for your soul, for his yolk is easy, and his burden light.

And if you let him, Jesus might even put a spring in your step today!

* * * * *
(April 30, 2016: Pius V, Pope)
* * * * *
“No slave is greater than the master…” (John 15: 18 – 21)

Jesus seems to be saying, in effect, “Don’t even think about trying to be greater than I am.” Put another way, it certainly feels that Jesus is at least reminding us of our place, if not putting us in our place. But as Francis de Sales reminds us in his Treatise on the Love of God, the “place” that Jesus has in mind for us is anything but a put-down.

“You see how God by progressive stages filled with unutterable sweetness leads the soul forward and enables it to leave the Egypt of sin. God leads us from love to love, as from dwelling to dwelling, until He has made us enter into the Promised Land. By this I mean that He brings us into a most holy charity, which to state it succinctly, is a form of friendship and disinterested love, since by charity we love God for his own sake because of his most supremely pleasing goodness. Such friendship is true friendship, since it is reciprocal, for God has eternally loved all those who have loved him, now love him or will love him in time to come. It is manifested and recognized mutually: God cannot be ignorant of the love we have for Him since He himself has given it to us, while we cannot be ignorant of his love for us since He has made it so widely known and we on our part acknowledge that whatever good we possess is the true effect of his good will. In fine, we are in continual communication with Him and He never ceases to speak to our hearts by his inspirations, allurements and sacred movements. He never ceases to do us good or to give us every kind of proof as to his most holy affection. God has openly revealed all his secrets to us as to his closet friends.” (TLG, Book II, Chapter 22, pp. 160 – 161)

The bottom line is that we are already friends of God! Why would we need to be anything greater than that?

* * * * *
(May 1, 2016: Sixth Sunday of Easter)
* * * * *
“My peace is my gift to you…but not as the world gives peace.”

Jesus makes a distinction in today’s Gospel between the peace as the world offers it and the peace that comes from him.

Just what does Jesus mean?

The American Heritage Dictionary on the English Language may provide us with some clues. It defines peace as: 1. the absence of war or hostilities. 2. an agreement or treaty to end hostilities. 3. freedom from quarrels or disagreements; harmonious relations. 4. public security and order. 5. inner contentment; serenity.

The vision of peace that the world offers – appropriately enough – tells us that in order to experience true inner contentment, we must first establish a world in which there is no war, no hostility, no quarrels, no disagreements, no public disorder and no chaos. Tempting as this vision is to pursue, history – the world’s and our own – painfully illustrates how truly fleeting and fallacious this promise of peace is…at least, when it comes to this way of going about it.

By contrast, the peace that Jesus promises starts from within. It’s about having a sense of integrity. It’s about having a sense of purpose. It’s about having a sense of meaning. It’s about having a sense of mission. Ultimately, it’s about having a clear and unambiguous sense of self, a self that is only fully understood and actualized in the context of one’s relationship with God, oneself and others.

This is the kind of peace that the world cannot give.

Ironically, it is Jesus’ promise of inner peace that offers the greatest hope for world peace. Only when we have first set aside our own personal hostilities, can we truly work for a world free of war. Only when we have first set aside our own need to be always right, can we strive for a world in which disagreements are not the last word. Only when we have first established some order and direction in our own lives, can we hope to achieve the same on a greater scale. Only when we experience the power and possibility that comes from knowing – and embracing – who we really are in the sight of God, can we become sources of that same power and possibility in the lives of others.

God’s peace is not measured by the absence of conflict. God’s peace is a function of how dedicated each one of us is to first knowing who we are so that we can see more clearly what the world can be and what steps we must take – together – to make that ideal, however fleeting or fragile, a reality.

Do you want world peace? Then think globally. But, like Jesus, act locally. As the last line of a well-known hymn challenges us, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”

* * * * *
(May 2, 2016: Athanasius, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *
“I have told you this so that you may not fall away…”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a “heads up”. Notwithstanding the imminent arrival of the Paraclete, whom Jesus will send from the Father, there will still be tough – and trying – times ahead for them. Jesus wants them to be prepared so that when the tough – and trying – times come, they won’t fall away, that is, so that they don’t give up.

In a letter to a “nun” (dated August 20, 1607) Francis de Sales wrote:

“To be a servant of God means to be charitable towards one’s neighbors, have an unshakeable determination in the superior part of one’s soul to obey the will of God, trusting in God with a very humble humility and simplicity, and to lift oneself up as often as one falls, endure oneself with all one’s abjections and quietly put up with others in their imperfections.”.” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 140)

Francis de Sales’ advice to a “nun” over four hundred years ago is just as relevant today as it was then. Following Jesus – being a servant of God and a temple of the Holy Spirit – will always bring its share of challenges, trials and tribulations. We sometimes fall – we sometimes fail – in the face of these same challenges, trials and tribulations. However, falling down is not the same as falling away, unless, of course, you choose to stay down after falling down.

If you fall – if you fail – in your attempts to “Live + Jesus” just this day, will you stay down or will you get back up?

* * * * *
(May 3, 2016: Philip and James, Apostles)
* * * * *
“Hold fast to the word I preached to you…’

In a letter to Andre Fremyot, Archbishop-elect of Bourges, which dealt with the topic of “Practical Preaching,” St. Francis de Sales wrote the following about the purpose of preaching:

“What end should a person have in view when preaching a sermon? The aim and intention should be to do what our Lord told us when he came into this world to do: ‘I have come so that they may have life, and have it more abundantly.’ The preacher’s object, then, is that sinners who are dead through sin may come to life again with a life that looks toward right doing and that the good – who possess spiritual life within them – may have it yet more abundantly, may become more and more perfect…So the preacher should say to himself when he is in the pulpit: “I have come so that these people here may have life, and have it more abundantly.” (Pulpit and Pew: A Study in Salesian Preaching, pp. 37 – 38)

While not all of us are called to preach from a pulpit, all of us are called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ through our actions. When we preach to others through the lives we attempt to live, do they find themselves a more – or less – abundant life?

* * * * *
(May 4, 2016: Wednesday, Sixth Week of Easter)
* * * * *
“The Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth…”

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

“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity or dissimulation. While it is not always advisable to say all that is true, it is never permissible to speak against the truth. Therefore, you must become accustomed never to tell a deliberate lie whether to excuse yourself or for some other purpose, remembering always that God is the ‘God of truth.’ If you happen to tell a lie inadvertently, correct it immediately by an explanation or making amends. An honest explanation has more grace and force to excuse us than a lie has…As the Sacred Word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)

Jesus promises that the “Spirit of truth will guide you to all truth.” How do we know, then, that the Spirit dwells in us? How do other people know that the Spirit dwells in us? We do know when we do our level best to tell the truth, when we do our level best to speak the truth, and when we do our level best to be truthful, truth-filled people.

(April 21, 2016: Anselm, Bishop and Doctor of the Church)
* * * * *“Forever I will sing the goodness of the Lord.”In his Conference on Three Spiritual Laws, Francis de Sales remarked:

“Never was there a time when people studied as they do now. The great Saints and many others did not study much. They could not have done so, writing as many books as they did, preaching and discharging all the other duties of their office. They had, however, such great confidence in God and in God’s grace that they neither placed their dependence nor their trust in their own skill or labor, so that all the great works which they did were done purely by means of their reliance on God’s grace and almighty power. ‘It is You, O Lord,’ they said, ‘who gives us the work and it for you that we work. It is You who will bless our labors and give us a rich harvest.’ Therefore their books and their sermons bore marvelous fruit. By contrast, we who trust in our fine words, in our eloquent language and in our knowledge labor for that which ends up in smoke. We yield no fruit other than vanity.” (Conference VII, pages 116-117)

It is healthy to remind ourselves that however much good we may manage to accomplish today, it is God ‘who gives us the work.’ It is God who helps us to work. It is God who will bring His work in us to completion. In so doing, what we do gives witness to the goodness of the Lord at work in us and at work among us.

Together, let us sing the goodness of the Lord! But don’t stop there! Together, let us do – and be – the goodness of the Lord in the lives of one another.

Today!

* * * * *
(April 22, 2016: Friday, Fourth Week of Easter)
* * * * *
“Do not let your hearts be troubled…” (John 14: 1-6)

We all have a deep-seated fear. Using the image of musical chairs, we fear, when the music stops, there won’t be a chair for us. Jesus promises that this will not happen because he has prepared a place for each and every one of us. This promise from Jesus is a great remedy for our fear of being left out.

From a Salesian perspective, however, the “place” that Jesus promises to create for us is not found exclusively in heaven, but Jesus has also created a unique place, role or niche for each of us here on this earth – a place in which we are called to be sources of his life and his love in the lives of other people.

How will that place – and the people in it – be better for the way you live your life today?

* * * * *
(April 23, 2016: George, Martyr; Adalbert, Bishop Martyr)
* * * * *
“The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…” (Acts 13: 44 – 52)

One of the manifestations of living life in the Spirit is happiness and joy. In a conference to the Sisters of the Visitation, Francis de Sales observed:

“The virtue of cheerfulness requires that we should contribute to holy and temperate joy and to pleasant conversation, which may serve as a consolation and recreation to our neighbor so as to not weary and annoy him with our knit brows and melancholy faces…..” (Conference IV, On Cordiality, Book IV, p. 59)

In a letter to St. Jane de Chantal written not long after their first encounter during the Lenten mission that he preached, Francis specifically cites the relationship between joy and religious liberty:

“No loss or lack can sadden one whose heart is perfectly free. I am not saying that it is impossible for such a person to lose his joy, but it will not be for long.”…..” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 71)

In a letter to a young novice who attempted to live the life of a Benedictine sister (but who subsequently left the convent) Francis de Sales underscored the importance of being joyful…or, at least, of trying to be:

“Go on joyfully and with your heart as open and widely trustful as possible; if you cannot always be joyful, at least be brave and confident.”…..” (Selected Letters, Stopp, p. 46)

It’s no accident that we as Christians frequently refer to the term “Easter joy”. The power of the Resurrection – and the gifts of the Spirit that flow from it– should go a long way in helping us to be – among other things – joyful! Life being what it is, however, we aren’t always joyful people. When we find it tough to be joyful, let’s do our best to at least be brave and confident.

And perhaps even find joy in that!

* * * * *
(April 24, 2016: Fifth Sunday of Easter)
* * * * *
“God’s dwelling is with the human race…God will always be with them.”

In Part II, Chapter 2 of his Introduction to the Devout Life, St. Francis de Sales wrote:

“God is in all things and in all places. There is no place or thing in this world where God is not truly present. Just as where birds fly they always encounter the air, so also wherever we go or wherever we are, we find ourselves in God’s presence.”

This awareness is easier said than done. The truth is that we frequently lose sight of God’s abiding, loving, and challenging presence. When we forget this truth we frequently get into trouble:

“Blind men do not see a prince who is present among them, and therefore they do not show him the respect that they do after being told of his presence. However, because they do not actually see him they easily forget his presence, and having again forgotten it, they still more easily forget the respect and reverence owed to him…Likewise, we really know that God is present in all things, but because we do not reflect on that fact, we act as if we did not know this.” (Ibid)

When we forget about God’s presence we sin. We fail to give God the respect that God deserves. When we forget about God’s presence we sin. We fail to give others the respect that they deserve. We might say: “Out of sight, out of sync.” When we fail to see God we are more likely to think, feel and act in ways that are out of sync with the person God calls us to be.

The Good News is that remembering God’s presence not only provides a potent prescription for avoiding sin but also places tremendous power, possibility and potential at our disposal. Practically speaking, remembering God’s presence enables us: to be on our best behavior, to be our best, to live lives of love, to do our part in helping to fashion family, church and community in which every tear is wiped away and to create places and relationships in which there is no more death or mourning, wailing or pain. As one sentence in a sermon suggests, we should, “Give God what is right rather than what is left over.”

In short, remembering that God is always with us empowers us to follow St. Francis de Sales’ exhortation: “Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to live a perfect life.” (Introduction to the Devout Life, Part I, Chapter 3). It empowers us to be who we are, and to be that well, in the service of God and one another.

That’s a presence — and a power — worth remembering.

Today!

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(April 25, 2016: Mark, Evangelist)
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“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5: 5B-14)

Humility is one of the great hallmarks of the Salesian tradition. It is one of two qualities that Jesus used to describe himself. Obviously, then, our attempts to practice humility help us in our efforts to imitate Christ, to “Live + Jesus”.

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

“Many men neither wish nor dare to think over and reflect on the particular graces God has shown them because they are afraid that this might arouse vainglory and self-complacence. In so doing they deceive themselves. Since the true means to attain to love of God is consideration of God’s benefits, the more we know about them the more we shall love them. Nothing can so effectively humble us before God’s mercy as the multitude of his benefits and nothing can so deeply humble us before his justice as our countless offenses against him. Let us consider what he has done for us and what we have done against him, and as we reflect on our sins one by one let us also consider his graces one by one. There is no need to fear that knowledge of his gifts will make us proud if only we remember this truth: none of the good in us comes from ourselves. A lively consideration of graces received makes us humble because knowledge of them begets gratitude for them.” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 5, pp. 134-135)

To humble ourselves does include acknowledging our sins, weaknesses and deficiencies. Unfortunately, many of us stop there. True humility challenges us to name not only our sins but also to name God’s graces. True humility challenges us to count not only our weaknesses but also to count God’s blessings. True humility challenges us to acknowledge not only our littleness but also to acknowledge our greatness.

In the end, the Salesian practice of humility has far less to do with putting ourselves down and a great deal more to do with remembering how God continues to raise us up.

The Almighty has done great things for us; holy is his name and humble is our name!

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(April 26, 2016: Tuesday, Fifth Week of Easter)
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“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you…” (John 14: 27 – 31A)

In a conference to the Visitation Sisters, Francis de Sales observed:

“God wishes our care to be a calm and peaceful one as we proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us. As for the rest, we should rest in God’s fatherly care, trying as far as is possible to keep our soul at peace, for the place of God is in peace and in the peaceful and restful heart. You know that when the lake is very calm – and when the winds do not agitate its waters – on a very serene night the sky with all its stars is so perfectly reflected in the water that looking down into its depths the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as if we were looking up on high. So when our soul is perfectly calm, unstirred and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares, unevenness of spirit and inconstancy it is very capable of reflecting in itself the image of Our Lord.” (Conference III, On Constancy, pp. 50-51)

Why were people able to see reflections of the Father in the person of his son, Jesus? Because in the depths of his soul – in his heart of hearts – Jesus managed to rest in his Father’s care. No matter what happened around him on any given day, Jesus was able to keep himself “calm, unstirred and untroubled”. If we are having trouble seeing reflections of that same Father in ourselves (or others), perhaps it is because we have some work to do in our own efforts to remain “calm, unstirred and untroubled” as we try to “proceed faithfully along the road marked out for us”.

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(April 27, 2016: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Easter)
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“Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit…” (John 15: 1-8)

From the perspective of St. Francis de Sales, the fruit that first comes to mind when hearing these words from Jesus is the most important fruit of all – charity or the love of God. Of course, this fruit-of-fruits is manifested in a whole host of ways. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote:

“The man who possesses charity has his soul clothed with a fair wedding garment which – like that of St. Joseph – is wrought over will all the various virtues. Moreover, it has a perfection which contains the virtue of all perfections and the perfection of all virtues. Hence, ‘charity is patient, is kind. Charity is not envious,’ but generous. ‘It is not pretentious,’ but prudent. ‘It is not puffed up’ with pride but is humble. ‘It is not ambitious’ or disdainful, but amiable and affable. It is not eager to exact ‘what belongs to it’ but is generous and helpful. ‘It is not provoked,’ but peaceful. It ‘thinks no evil’ but is meek. It ‘does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth’ and in the truth. ‘It suffers all things, believes all things’ that are said concerning good to it easily, without stubbornness, contention or distrust. It ‘hopes all’ good things for its neighbor without ever losing hope of procuring his salvation. ‘It endures all things,’ waiting without agitation for what is promised to it…” (TLG, Book XI, Chapter 8, p. 219)

How well do we remain in Jesus? Well, how patient and kind are we? How humble, amiable and affable are we? How meek, generous and humble are we? How truthful and hopeful are we? How patient and long-suffering are we?

Simply put, how much – and what kind of – fruit do we bear?

(April 18, 2016: Monday, Fourth Week of Easter)
* * * * *“Whoever enters through me will be saved…” (JOHN 10: 1- 10)Jesus wants us to “have life, and to have it to the full” (John 10:10). That’s why Jesus cares so much for us. That’s why Jesus is the good shepherd who loves us so much that he is willing to lay down his life for us.

And lay down his life is exactly what the Good Shepherd did!

But the people saved by the Good Shepherd are not some exclusive club. There is no “in” group or “out” group when it comes to God’s love. Whether of his “fold” or not, Jesus lays down his life for everyone. Note that he says: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd.” As we heard in the reading from Acts, salvation was now no longer reserved for Jews alone – Gentiles might follow this Good Shepherd, too.

Truth be told, all of us are members of Jesus’ flock. Truth be told, Jesus is for all of us – without exception – our one, Good Shepherd.

Just today, how like that Good Shepherd can we lay down our lives for others?

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Today’s Gospel challenges people in need not to avoid God but to pursue God. Awareness of our sinfulness should not drive us away from God but should draw us closer to God. Have confidence that God will help us. Have confidence that God will heal you. Have confidence that God will empower us.

Why? Because God loves us! How? In the person of his Son, Jesus.

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(January 17, 2016: Second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
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“Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs at Cana in Galilee and revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.”

As a first step in “going public” goes, this first demonstration of Jesus’ divine power is, to say the least, an understatement: no miraculous healing, no exorcism of demons and no raising someone from the dead. Instead, he simply prevents the caterer from running out of wine at a wedding reception.

Many might consider this a misuse – nay, even a waste – of Jesus’ saving power. Initially, even Jesus himself seems to feel that his power could be used better – and later – elsewhere.

Not Francis de Sales. He sees that there is more to this miracle than meets the eye. Here is an example of how God’s power permeates all human experiences, even the most ordinary. We are speaking here of the practice of the “little virtues”, a notion precious indeed to St. Francis de Sales and a hallmark of his understanding of Christ’s saving power. In his Treatise on the Love of God, Francis de Sales wrote: “It may well be that a very small virtue has greater value in a soul in which sacred love reigns with fervor than martyrdom itself in a soul in which love is languid and feeble.” (Book 11, Chapter 5) Put another way, the little virtues, the expression of care or concern in seemingly ordinary circumstances, may be “found more pleasing in God’s sight than great and famous deeds performed with little charity or devotion.”

Still, there is a place for great displays of love: “I do not say that we may not aspire to outstanding virtues, but I say that we must train ourselves in the little ones without which the great ones may be false or deceptive.” (Stopp, Selected Letters, p. 159)

Jesus may have been tempted to believe that changing water into wine was beneath his divine – perhaps even his human – dignity. In the end, however, the needs of others were more persuasive than the desire to make a “big splash” in the eyes of others. Ironically, it may have been Jesus’ willingness to employ his heavenly powers for such a down-to-earth request that enabled his disciples to “begin to believe in him.”

His greater, more famous and once-in-a-lifetime displays of power would, indeed, come later. But whether on the cross of Calvary or at a simple wedding in Cana, the power, the promise and the person were one and the same.

The moral of this miracle? Nothing is too small for the Kingdom of God.

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(January 18, 2016: Monday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, and your disciples do not fast?”

What distinguishes your run-of-the-mill comedian from a truly great comedian? Well, aside from having good material, the almost-universal answer is: “Timing”. Successful comedians are gifted with – or learned to develop – an incredible sense of timing.

The point that Jesus is trying to make in today’s Gospel is no laughing matter. In many cases, timing is everything. Fasting and feasting (among other things) are both good things. The challenge is to develop the sense to know the proper time to do one or the other. Recall the words found in the Book of Ecclesiastes 3, verse 1: “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven…”

In the Salesian tradition, developing this sense of timing goes hand-in-hand with the practice of virtue. In his Introduction to the Devout Life , Francis de Sales observed:

“A great fault in many who undertake the exercise of some particular virtue is thinking they must practice it in every situation. Like certain great philosophers, they wish either always to weep or always to laugh. Still worse, they condemn and censure others who do not practice the same virtues they do. The apostle (St. Paul) says, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep,’ and ‘charity is patient, is kind,’ generous, prudent, discreet and considerate.”

Jesus’ sense of timing – his knack for reading a situation, for recognizing his surroundings and for knowing what was called for with a particular person – enabled him to do the right thing at the right time in the right way. Unlike the “one-size-fits-all” approach of the disciples of John and the Pharisees, Jesus shows us that the authentic practice of virtue must be “tailor-made”.

Indeed, “there is a time for every purpose under heaven.” What time is it now? What are the things that God may be calling us to do today?

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(January 19, 2016: Tuesday, Second Week in Ordinary Time)
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“You are my father, my God, the Rock, my savior…”

In an undated letter addressed to “A Gentleman” who apparently had been struggling with a debilitating illness that had seriously challenged his confidence and faith in pretty much everything, Francis de Sales wrote:

“It is of great concern to me that everyone says that in addition to your physical illness, you are suffering from deep depression…Please tell me sir, what reason have you for remaining in this dark mood which is so harmful to you? I am afraid that your mind is still troubled by some fear of sudden death and the judgment of God. That is, alas, a unique kind of anguish! My own soul – which once endured it for six weeks – is in apposition to feel compassion for those who experience it.”

“So, sir, I must have a little heart to heart chat with you and tell you that anyone who has a true desire to serve our Lord and flee from sin should not torment himself with the thoughts of death or divine judgment: for while both the one and the other are to be feared, nevertheless, the fear must not be the terrible kind of natural fear which weakness and dampens the ardor and determination of the spirit, but rather a fear that is so full of confidence in the goodness of God that in the end grows calm…This is not the time to start questioning whether or not we are strong enough to entrust ourselves to God.”

“So, now, since you want to belong entirely to God, why be afraid of your weakness – upon which, in any case, you shouldn’t be relying in the first place? You do hope in God, don’t you? And will anyone who hopes in God ever be put to shame? No, sir, never!” (LSD, page 180)

In good times, in bad times, and in all the times in between, God is our rock, our savior. At those times when – for whatever reason – we become more aware than usual of our weakness, we should remind ourselves of an even greater truth.

God’s strength.

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(January 20, 2016: Fabian, Pope/Martyr; Sebastian, Martyr)
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“Grieved at their hardness of heart…”

Recall last week’s account of Jesus and the paralyzed man? Jesus healed a paralytic in two phases (first, by forgiving the man’s sins and second, by curing the man’s infirmity). As astonishing as that two-fold miracle may have been to those who witnessed it, perhaps the only thing even more astonishing was the intractability of the scribes who questioned Jesus’ authority for doing so. Those men of God appeared to have lost any sense of their need for God.

We see the same dynamic played out in today’s Gospel. Jesus is painfully aware that the Pharisees are looking for any excuse to discredit him, even if it requires demonizing an objectively good and righteous act! In another case of putting the cart before the horse (or perhaps dropping the cart on the horse altogether!) the Pharisees – this time through their cold, calculating silence – are placing the primacy of the Sabbath far ahead of the opportunity to restore someone’s health, in effect, to bring them back to life.

We are told at the end of the day that the Pharisees were undaunted in their pursuit of pettiness and parochialism, hardening their hearts to God’s providence at every opportunity. Fortunately for us, Jesus was even more undaunted in his pursuit of righteousness. Grieved as he might have been, Jesus never allowed others’ hardness of heart to harden his heart.

As followers of Jesus, can the same be said of us?

(January 7, 2016: Raymond of Penafort, Priest)
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“If anyone says, ‘I love God’, but hates his brother, he is a liar…”
In a sermon, Francis de Sales observed:
“The Commandment to love the neighbor is new, then, for the reason just given; that is, because Our Lord came to renew it, indicating that He wished it to be better observed that it had ever been before. It is new also because it is as if the Savior had resuscitated it, just as we can call a man a new man who has been restored to life from death. The Commandment has been so neglected that it must have seemed never to have been given inasmuch as there were so few who remembered it, to say nothing of those who practiced it. Thus, Our Lord gave it again. And He wants it to be as if it were a new thing, a new Commandment, one that is practiced faithfully and fervently…He wants it so renewed so that everybody should love one another.” (Living Jesus, p. 249-250)
We can never be reminded enough of this “new” Commandment that Jesus preached in word and in deed: “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To observe this Commandment is to live in the truth. Of course, Jesus’ “new” Commandment also infers that if you claim to love God while hating your brother (or sister), you are a liar.
And there’s absolutely nothing new about that!

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(January 8, 2016: Christmas Weekday)
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“You have eternal life, you who believe in the name of the Son of God…”
In his book The Spirit of Love, C.F. Kelley wrote:
“If the divine humanism of St. Francis de Sales did not specialize in theology, to what, then, did it give attention? Indeed, if it must be said to have specialized in anything at all, then sure it was the praising of all the divine aspects of human nature. He taught that the abuse of human instincts is the only thing about which we need to be ashamed: we should not be ashamed of our humanity. Rather than speculate about God he preferred to glorify the divinity of man. Instead of thinking about original sin, he thought about redemption. Instead of thinking about punishment, he thought about eternal life. Instead of thinking about grace for the elect, he thought about grace for all. Instead of thinking about God in the head, he thought about God in the heart. Nevertheless, his divine humanism had its opponents: not only Calvinists and Lutherans, Naturalists, Idealists and philosophical skeptics, but others less extreme who emphasized the misery of fallen nature, or others who were afraid of holding man in high esteem for fear of inviting him to somehow dispense with God. Francis de Sales was devoid of this kind of fear. After all, how can someone fear something about which he is not thinking or at which he is not looking? Those who are in love with God and the things of God have raised themselves to where they no longer think or look. They simply love.” (Select Salesian Subjects, p. 115, 0496.)
Note that John uses the present tense in addressing us. He tells us that we ‘have’ eternal life. Rather than presuming that eternal life is reserved solely for the next life, John suggests that eternal life is already available to us in this life. How might we access that eternal life here and now? As Francis de Sales suggests, eternal life has a great deal to do with how we think about this life. Eternal life has a great deal to do with what we think about – what we focus upon – in this life. Eternal life has a great deal to do with love, and little – or nothing – to do with fear.
How can we experience eternal life already? By loving God, by loving the things of God and – most importantly – by loving the people of God.
Perhaps, beginning with ourselves!

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(January 9, 2016: Christmas Weekday)
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“Be on your guard against idols…”
‘Idolatry’ is a pejorative term for the worship of an idol, a physical object such as a cult image, as a god or practices believed to verge on worship, such as giving undue honor and regard to created forms other than God. In all the Abrahamic religions idolatry is strongly forbidden, although views as to what constitutes idolatry may differ within and between them. In other religions the use of cult images is accepted, although the term ‘idolatry’ is unlikely to be used within the religion, being inherently disapproving. Which images, ideas, and objects constitute idolatry is often a matter of considerable contention, and within all the Abrahamic religions the term may be used in a very wide sense, with no implication that the behavior objected to actually consists of the religious worship of a physical object. In addition, theologians have extended the concept to include giving undue importance to aspects of religion other than God, or to non-religious aspects of life in general, with no involvement of images specifically. For example, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: ‘Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods, or demons (for example Satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.’” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idolatry)
Odds are slim that any of us actually worship craven images in our homes, offices or places of worship. However, there are other ways of practicing idolatry. What might we be tempted to worship in this life? The list might include: our time, our talents, our opinions, our way of doing or seeing things, our appearance, our popularity or our plans!
Today, be on your guard against idols…whatever they may be!

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(January 10, 2016: Baptism of the Lord)
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“Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

“God is so good that he never ceases to work in our hearts to draw us out of ourselves, out of vain and perishable things, so that we can receive his grace and give ourselves wholly to him.” (Saint Jane de Chantal)

Today, we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of Jesus. The Baptism of Jesus marks his inauguration into his public life. Isaiah in the first reading gives the blueprint for ministry for Jesus. As Isaiah writes, “I will put my spirit upon him and he will bring forth justice to the nations. I have formed you……to open the eyes of the blind, to bring prisoners from confinement and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”

We know from the life of Jesus as recorded in the Scriptures, he fulfilled the blueprint Isaiah had written. He reached out to the marginalized, cured those who were sick, touched those who were believed “untouchable,” challenged his religious leaders to “do what they preached,” and was constantly traveling doing good works. With all the good that he accomplished for others, he was crucified. In the words of today’s Gospel, he was that “beloved Son in whom the Father was well pleased.”

In celebrating the feast of the Baptism of Jesus, we also celebrate our own Baptism. Just as the Baptism of Christ inaugurated his public life, so also our own Baptism inaugurates us into the Christian life. Christ gave us an example in his life to allow us to see how those who were baptized into him can live His life. St. Jane tells us, “God never ceases to work in our hearts to draw us out of ourselves so we can receive his grace and give ourselves wholly to him.” The reading from Acts tells us that “Jesus went about doing good and healing all those oppressed with the devil, for God was with him.”

To live our lives as followers of Christ we also should “go out of ourselves” and “go about doing good” and bringing Christ’s healing presence and his peace to those whom the Lord sends our way. Like Christ, we too should visit the sick and reach out to the marginalized in our communities and in our families. We should speak with those toward whom we have had negative feelings or painful memories: anyone that we might consider ‘untouchable’, anyone at home, in the neighborhood or at work who we avoid, ignore or even despise.

We need to be people who put into identifiable action our profession of being a follower of Christ. This action requires strength and courage. Just as the Father was with the Son in his life, so also we have the presence of Christ within our minds and hearts to give us the strength and courage we need to be his authentic followers.

Today, let us then come out of ourselves and our own little worlds to see what good we can do and how we, relying on the strength of the Lord within us, might be agents of the Lord’s healing presence to all those around us.

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(January 11, 2016: Monday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“They left their nets and followed him…They left their father along with the hired men and followed him.”

The word left (used twice in today’s Gospel) is, of course, a form of the verb leave, defined as “(1) to go out of or away from; (2) to depart from permanently; quit: to leave a job; (3) to let remain or have remaining behind after going, disappearing, ceasing; (4) to allow to remain in the same place, condition, etc; (5) to let stay or be as specified.”

Throughout both the Old and New Testaments, encounters with God almost always seem to involve people “leaving” something, somewhere or someone. Adam and Eve left Eden; Abraham and Sarah left their homeland; Noah left dry land and later left his boat; Moses and the Israelites left Egypt; Mary left in haste to visit her cousin Elizabeth; the Magi left the East to follow a star; Mary, Joseph and Jesus left Bethlehem ahead of Herod’s rage, Matthew left his tax collecting post. And in today’s Gospel, Simon, Andrew, James and John left their nets, their livelihood, their families and their homes.

Be that as it may, leaving – at least, as far as God is concerned – isn’t only about walking away from something, somewhere or someone. It’s also about drawing closer to something, somewhere or someone else. Specifically, loving God – and the things of God – frequently invites us to leave that which is comfortable and familiar in order that we might experience that which is challenging and new. By most standards that’s what growth – human growth – is all about: knowing when it’s time to leave – knowing when it’s time to move on – even when what, where or who we might leave is good – sometimes, very, very good!

One of our greatest temptations in life is to stop moving, growing, changing, learning and developing. There was a time when psychologists seemed to suggest that human beings stopped growing somewhere in their twenties or thirties. Today, we know that human beings continue to grow right up until the day they die…or, at least, they are invited to do so. Leaving – as it turns out – is a part of living.

Leaving is not about doing with less. Very often, leaving is about making room for more. What, where, how or who may God be inviting us to leave today in order that we might have more life – and more love – tomorrow?

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(January 12, 2016: Tuesday, First Week in Ordinary Time)
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“He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”

In today’s Gospel we hear that the people of Capernaum were “astonished” at the teaching of Jesus, for “he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes”. What distinguished the teaching of Jesus from the teaching of the scribes? How did Jesus’ “new teaching” manifest itself? Some of the differences include – but are certainly not limited to – these:

    • 1) Jesus taught matters of the highest importance which are necessary for salvation. By contrast, the scribes taught trifling matters of rites and ceremonies which were passing away, such as the washing of hands and of cups.

 

    • 2) What Christ taught in word, he fulfilled in deed. He talked the talk and walked the walk. The scribes, by contrast (as Jesus observed) spoke bold words, but exhibited few deeds.

 

    • 3) Jesus taught with fervor and zeal, such that the words of Scripture could always be applied to him. The scribes could lay no such claims.

 

    • 4) Jesus confirmed his teaching by miracles; the scribes could not.

 

    • 5) The scribes were merely interpreters of the Law, whereas Christ was the embodiment of the Law and Prophets.

 

    • 6) While the scribes sought their own glory and the praise of others, Jesus taught solely for the glory of God and for the salvation of others.

 

    • 7) In his words and example – and also by the hidden inspirations of his grace – Jesus illuminated the minds and inflamed the hearts of his hearers. By contrast, the scribes clouded the minds and discouraged the hearts of their hearers. (

http://newtheologicalmovement.blogspot.com/2012/01/christ-taught-as-one-having-authority.html

    )

When other people encounter us – especially as it relates to matters of faith, life and love – to whom do we bear a greater resemblance: the scribes or the Christ?

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(January 13, 2016: Hilary, Bishop/Doctor of the Church)
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M. Scott Peck, an American psychiatrist, wrote two books on the subject of “demons” – People of the Lie: The Hope For Healing Human Evil and Glimpses of the Devil: A Psychiatrist’s Personal Accounts of Possession, Exorcism, and Redemption. Peck describes in some detail several cases involving his patients. In People of the Lie he provides identifying characteristics of an evil person, whom he classified as having a character disorder. In Glimpses of the Devil Peck goes into significant detail describing how he became interested in exorcism in order to debunk the myth of possession by evil spirits – only to be convinced otherwise after encountering two cases which did not fit into any category known to psychology or psychiatry. Peck came to the conclusion that possession was a rare phenomenon related to evil, and that possessed people are not actually evil, but rather, they are doing battle with the forces of evil. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demon)

In today’s Gospel – and all throughout the Gospels – we are told that Jesus drove out “demons” as a part of his ministry of proclaiming the power and promise of the Good News. Whether or not you believe in demons – regardless of your thoughts regarding exorcisms – we all struggle with things that plague us, that exasperate us or that appear to ‘possess’ us to the extent that they prevent us from being the people God wants and/or intends us to be. Despite our best efforts, these “demons” seem impervious to our feeble attempts at conquering, dispelling or exorcizing them. Perhaps therein lies the lesson – the greatest mistake we make in struggling with our own “demons” is to believe that we must do it alone; that we must battle with our “demons” all by ourselves.

However large, small, frequent or few they might be, are you willing to bring your “demons” to Jesus?

 

o travel the road to devotion? If so, look for a good person to guide and lead you. This is the most important of all words of advice. As the devout Teresa of Avila says, ‘Although you seek God’s will, you will never find it with as much certainty as on the path of that humble obedience so highly praised and practiced by all devout writers.’ The advice of the great St. Louis gave to his son was this: ‘Choose as your guide an able and experienced person who can safely teach you the things that you must do.’”

 

 

 

Rev. Michael S. Murray, OSFS, is the Executive Director of the De Sales Spirituality Center.

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