Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (December 30, 2016)

Today is the Feast of the Holy Family. In the Gospel we see how Divine Providence guided the Holy Family as it endured its trials. St. Francis de Sales notes:

In today’s Gospel the angel commanded Joseph to take the Child and His mother, and go into the land of Egypt. Like the Holy Family, we must go into a world where we find ourselves in the midst of enemies. As a result, we can become disquieted if events don’t go according to our wishes. To avoid the shipwrecks that are so common in sailing the waters of this world, let us consider the great peace and serenity of mind that the Holy Family had. With holy confidence in Divine Providence, they remained calm and peaceful amid the unexpected events that befell them. God will protect us too in the sea of life when everything may be in confusion not only around us, but within us as well.

However, no matter what course the ship may take, our heart, our spirit, our will, which is our compass, must tend toward God’s love and peace, for God’s place of peace is in the restful heart. When a lake is very calm on a very serene night, the stars in the sky are reflected in the lake. If we look down into the tranquil lake, we see that the beauty of the heavens is as clearly visible as when we look up at the night sky. Likewise, when our soul is perfectly calm and untroubled by the winds of superfluous cares, unevenness of spirit, and uncertainty, it is very capable of reflecting in itself the image of our Lord.

The Holy Family teaches us how we ought to embark on the sea of Divine Providence. Trusting in God’s providential goodness, let us not be surprised or troubled when we meet with similar problems to those encountered by the Holy Family. Try to do well today without thinking of the next day. If you fall short in some way, do not be disheartened. Our Savior’s heart is large, and wants our heart to find room in His heart.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Vigil of Christmas (December 24, 2016)

This evening is the vigil of Christmas and we ponder on the mystery of the birth of Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. St. Francis de Sales offer us some thoughts on the nativity:

If someone intends to build a house or a palace, he must first consider for whom the dwelling is intended. He will obviously use different plans depending upon the social status of the person. So it was with the Divine Builder. God built the world for the Incarnation of the Son. Divine wisdom foresaw from all eternity that the Word would assume our nature in coming to earth. To accomplish this task, God chose a woman, the most holy Virgin Mary, who brought forth Our Savior.

In the Incarnation, God made us see what the human mind could hardly have imagined or understood. So great was God’s love for humanity that in becoming human, God desired to fill us with divinity. God wished to crown us with divine goodness and dignity. God wanted us to be children of God, for we are formed in God’s image.

Our Savior came into this world to teach us what we need to do to preserve in ourselves this divine resemblance of God. Oh, how earnestly we ought to summon up our courage to live according to what we are. Our Savior came so that we may have life to the fullest. He was wholly filled with mercy and kindness for the human family.

Often when the most hardened souls have reached the point of living as if there were no God, Our Savior allows them to find His Heart full of pity and kind mercy toward them. All, who know this, experience some feeling of gratitude for it. Let us let go of all that is not of God in our house. When we open our hearts to God’s love, we bring to birth the Christ Child in our hearts so as to establish God’s kingdom on earth.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Fourth Sunday of Advent (December 18, 2016)

Today’s Gospel reminds us that like St. Joseph, we must have confidence in God’s plan for us. God has a plan for us that is greater than our own. St. Francis de Sales notes:

In today’s Gospel, Joseph sees that Mary is with child. Knowing that it was not his child, he was ready to divorce her. But the angel revealed to Joseph that the Holy Child was to be Our Savior. With great peace and serenity of mind, Joseph accepted the unexpected event that befell him. Our confidence in God ought to be like St. Joseph’s.

The foundation of our trust is not in our own self, but in God. While we may change, God remains always gentle and merciful when we are weak and imperfect, as well as when we are strong and perfect. When we have absolute trust in Our Lord, we are like an infant on the breast of its mother. The child just lets itself be carried and led wherever the mother wants to take it. Similarly, we ought to have such confidence in letting ourselves be carried when we love God’s will in all that happens to us.

Holy confidence in the goodness of God is the life of the human spirit. As we grow in love with God, we may experience the contractions and pangs of spiritual childbirth. Yet, in the midst of our troubles, Our Savior will guide us on our way no matter how difficult it may be. Let us think of the words of our gentle Savior: “When a woman gives birth she is in great distress, but after the birth she forgets the suffering of the past because a child is born to her.” Our souls ought to give birth to the dearest Child that one could wish for. It is Jesus whom we must form and bring to birth in ourselves. The Child is well worth whatever we endure. How happy we would be if we devoted all our efforts to accomplishing God’s will for us. We would obtain from God’s goodness all that we could possibly desire and need, a new invigorating life. A holy rebirth in Christ!

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Third Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2016)

Today’s readings reveal that God’s saving mission is achieved through Jesus Christ, who establishes God’s kingdom on earth. St. Francis de Sales notes:

In today’s Gospel, St. John the Baptist guides his disciples, not to himself, but to Jesus. Jesus had as his mission to be Savior. True Light of justice, He enlightened the land of the Church by the radiance of His life. He came down to our humanity to fill us with His divinity, satiating us with his goodness, raising us up to his dignity, and giving us the divine existence of “children of God.” Constantly He lifts the heavy and sluggish spirit of the poor and humble, giving them His own Spirit so they can do great things.

Our Savior teaches us that it is not enough to be called a Christian. I must live in such a manner that others clearly recognize in me a person who loves God with my whole heart. True servants of God, like John the Baptist, lead others to God by their words and deeds. Let us be attentive to John’s example. He teaches us that our true success in life is to guide others, not to ourselves, but to Christ. Under Him, others, as well as ourselves, must learn and do what is necessary for His love and service that lead to stability.

St. John the Baptist was a rock, immovable in the midst of all the waves and tempests of tribulations. He was as joyous in the winter of trouble as in the springtime of peace. We, on the contrary, are reeds tossed about by every mood and humor. We allow the winds of wealth, honors and material comforts to toss us about. In worldly things we can say, “I have a moderate amount, I have enough.” As for spiritual goods, we can never have enough of them. Like John the Baptist, let us continually incline our hearts to receive the divine love that Our Savior desires to give us. For it is God’s love that allows us to bring to others God’s kingdom, where mercy, justice and peace reign.

(Adapted mainly from L. Fiorelli, ed. Sermons of St. Francis de Sales)

Second Sunday of Advent (December 4, 2016)

In today’s Gospel we experience John the Baptist urging us to “repent, prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths.” St. Francis de Sales comments on this passage:

“Make straight the paths of the Lord.” Roads that twist and turn too much, only fatigue and mislead travelers. Our life contains many tortuous ways that we must make straight for our Lord’s coming. First, we must correct our mixed intentions and have only one, that of pleasing God by changing our heart. Like the mariner who always keeps his eye on the needle of the compass as he steers his boat, we too must always have our eyes open to penitence, that is, a change of heart.

In changing our hearts, we return to God’s image and likeness in us. In repentance we experience tribulation and sorrow for having offended God’s goodness. We are no longer slaves to our emotions. Our inclinations, feelings, and emotions are now directed toward the love of God and neighbor. We see plainly that it is a most reasonable thing to be repentant for our great faults when we consider attentively the benefits of a virtuous life. All acts of repentance are made for the sake of the beauty, honor, dignity and happiness of our own well being. A change of heart leads to an even disposition.

The perfection of penance is to have a holy love for God that overflows into love of neighbor. The love of God and self-centered love continually struggle within our heart and cause us great travail. True self-love serves God. When divine love reigns in our hearts it tames all other loves. It places our natural emotions and desires under the Divine plan and service. Let us therefore walk with determination before God like John the Baptist. Let us be a voice crying out that we must prepare the way and make straight the path of the Lord, so that receiving Him in this life, we may enjoy Him in the next.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

First Sunday of Advent (November 27, 2016)

Today, the first Sunday of Advent, the readings urge us to walk in the light of the Lord. This calls us to respond to God’s love with a change of heart. St. Francis de Sales notes:

With a heart unsurpassed, Mary gave her mind, heart and soul to God without reserve. More perfectly than any other creature, her will was conformed to God’s Will. If there is change in Mary, it is only that of further growth in virtue to render invariable her resolution of belonging wholly to God. However, because of the continual vicissitudes of life and our readiness to constantly change our affections toward others, we must frequently renew the promises we made to embrace and live God’s word.

How do we continually affirm that we belong to God alone? If we really take care of our heart, every morning and evening, we will consecrate our mind, heart and body to God’s love and service. First thing in the morning, prepare your heart to be at peace. Then take great care throughout the day to frequently call back your heart to that peace. Happy are they who walk in the way of God’s love. Their hearts are changed!

But you will ask me, how can I now give God my heart since it is still so full of imperfections? How could it be pleasing to God, since I have so infrequently conformed myself to God’s will? Are you not aware that God converts everything to good? God did not say, “Give me a pure heart like the angels or Mary,” but rather, “Give Me your heart.” So give God your heart such as it is for God desires only what you are.

Let us pursue the love that God desires to give us. Just as stags pursued by the hunter redouble their speed so that they seem to fly, likewise we must run our course in pursuing what God desires for us. Let us not only run but ask God to give us wings of a dove not only to fly upward in this life but also to find rest in eternity.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Christ the King (November 20, 2016)

Today we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. St. Francis de Sales encourages us to place ourselves under the Kingship of Christ:

Bees are restless while they are without a queen. But when their queen is born, they gather round her and follow her desires. In the same way our senses ceaselessly wander about, drawing our interior self after them, wasting time and creating restlessness and anxiety in us. All shatter the peace that is so necessary for our human spirit. Our senses and our mind and will are like mystical bees. Until they have a ruler, that is, until they have chosen our Lord for their king, they are restless.

Yet, when we have chosen our Lord for our king, we ought to place ourselves under Him. Our Majesty is sovereignly good in exercising both mercy and justice. God’s mercy makes us embrace what is good while God’s justice makes us shun evil. Our Lord uses mercy and justice to uproot whatever prevents us from experiencing the effects of His goodness. Our Majesty’s justice may sting our conscience with insights. Yet they create movements that lead to our well being. Letting go of our old self may cause us to suffer as our new self in Christ is formed. But Our Lord’s unrivaled mercy opens our hearts, and restores our health through the Holy Spirit, who floods our heart with sacred love.

Wherever Our Lord is the Master, there is peace. To preserve our peace let us have a pure intention of willing God’s glory in all things. Let us do the little we can for that end, and leave to God the care of all the rest. May we have the fidelity to keep ourselves submissive to our King’s desires as the bees do with their queen, so we might begin in this life what, with the help of God’s love, we shall do eternally in Heaven. Live Jesus!

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Thirty-third Sunday of Ordinary Time (November 13, 2016)

In today’s Gospel, we experience Jesus telling us that regardless of the situation that surrounds us, we must persevere in following Him. Francis de Sales speaks similarly:

Will there exist a society, a religion, an institution, or manner of living so secure that it is exempt from evil? Since this danger affects all, it is perilous to live in a world with those who do evil. In confronting evil, we must distinguish between actual events and imaginary fears. While God does not give strength for an imaginary conflict, God will certainly give us strength when the need arises. Many of God’s servants were frightened and almost lost courage in the face of imaginary danger. Yet, when the actual danger came they conducted themselves with courage.

If left to our own imaginary fears, we would perhaps lose courage and do nothing at all to overcome evil. Alas, we must work. Our Lord desires combatants and conquerors of evil. If we feel we lack courage, let us cry out in a voice full of confidence, “Lord, save me!” If we have good desires to serve God, but not sufficient strength to put them into practice, let us offer them to God, who will make us capable of accomplishing them. God will renew our desires as often as is necessary to make us persevere. It is enough that we have a desire to fight valiantly with perfect confidence for the Spirit will help us.

So long as we persevere in doing God’s will, God will make us victorious in perilous times. Let us lay our good will before Our Lord, who will renew it so that we may have enough courage for our whole mortal life. Little children feel secure when they are in their mother’s arms. They feel that nothing can harm them provided they are holding her hand. Although times of conflict may frighten us, we too must hold the hand of our “God Almighty,” who protects us and makes us secure.

(Adapted from the writings of Saint Francis de Sales)

Thirty-second Sunday of Ordinary Time (November 6, 2016)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reveals that the children of God will rise again. We will rise because our God is not a God of the dead but of the living. St. Francis de Sales notes:

We must not look for surpassingly perfect love in this mortal life. Our hearts have a thirst that cannot be quenched by the pleasures of this mortal life. If they are moderate, our most cherished and sought after pleasures do not satisfy us. If they are extreme, they stifle us and become harmful. Only the fresh waters of undying life that God’s love offers us can quench our thirst and quiet our desires.

Since God’s love is so superior to ours, God willed to become like one of us to show us what we needed to do in order to live eternally. When we place our love in Jesus Christ, we place our life in Him. A spray of grapes united and joined to the stock brings forth fruit by virtue of the stock onto which it is grafted. So likewise our life in Christ vivifies and animates us with heavenly love. Through the sacred love that the Holy Spirit steeps in our hearts, we produce sacred actions that carry us toward immortal glory.

However, in this mortal life, the example of Jesus tells us that our salvation is a journey toward wholeness in Christ. Enduring injuries, contradictions and discomforts as peacefully as Jesus did are moments that fashion eternity. One ounce of patience acquired during a season of trials is worth more then ten pounds gained in any other season. In your daily meditation, reflect on patience so as to make yourself practice faithfully patience. If you find your heart agitated during this season, delicately take your heart with the tips of your fingers and put it back in its place. Then say, “Be cheerful, dear heart.” Great designs are effected through patience and duration of time. Courage, for our God who is God of the living is always with us, so that we may rise again in Christ.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 30, 2016)

In today’s Gospel we experience Jesus desiring to enter the home of the lost even before they are penitent. St. Francis de Sales notes:

Our Savior helps us to find His Heart full of pity and kind mercy toward us even when our hearts are most hardened. Like Zaccheus, we need only the desire to see who Jesus is. Our Redeemer constantly bestows His holy love upon us. He continually pardons our daily faults against Him. He rewards our slightest services with great favors. He continues to recreate humanity through His merciful love for the whole human family.

How does the greatness of God’s mercy shine forth? God’s mercy makes us embrace what is good. While we truly belong to God, God has no slaves, only friends who choose to love freely. Conversion, on our part, depends on our free response to God’s love. We are ready to respond wholeheartedly to God’s love when we begin to purify our affections and works by forming them according to the Gospel. If we let go of our willful pursuit of self-serving things, we delightfully find that our spirit is liberated. Then we are free to choose the true and good life that God desires for us in Christ.

This practice of letting go of all that is not of God in us is a continual life-long struggle. For certainly as long as we live we shall have need of renewing ourselves, and of beginning over. This restoration is needed inasmuch as our changeable nature easily grows cold and begins to fail. There is no clock so perfect that it does not need repair. Like the clock that needs to be oiled so that it will be less subject to rust, you need to anoint your heart with the sacraments of confession and the Eucharist to restore your strength, and warm up your heart. In this way you consecrate yourself again to God’s love. If we really take care of our heart, each day we will renew it for God’s service.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 23, 2016)

Today’s readings remind us that God responds without delay to the cry of those who repent of their wrongdoing. St. Francis de Sales notes:

With unrivaled mercy God opens the door of the penitent’s heart. This soul would have remained lost if God had not come to its assistance. To be truly sorry for not living up to the image of God in us, we must empty our heart of all things in order to enable our Lord to fill it with Himself. Alas, all the nooks and corners of our hearts are cluttered with thousands of things unworthy to be seen in the presence of our Savior. It seems that we thus tie His hands in order to prevent Him from giving us the gifts and graces that He is ever ready to shower on us if He finds us prepared.

Yet in repentance, the wonderful humility of our dear Savior enters our heart. Humility of the heart makes us aware of God’s goodness that is worthy of supreme love. Humility of the heart also gives us knowledge of our inability to love perfectly, and thus the need for our Savior who will raise us up from our lowliness until He makes us one with His greatness.

The value of the virtue of penitence is that it leads us to wholeness. We must be like the archer who in discharging a large arrow draws the string of his bow lower, the higher he wants it to go. We aim at the highest, to be united to God. Thus we must lower ourselves much by letting go of our self-sufficiency, and open ourselves to God’s help. Let us pour out all our tribulations before our ever-caring Savior so as to submit our whole being completely to Him. When we give our consent to let God love us the way God desires to love us, God will receive us in mercy, as well as reinvigorate and restore us completely to our true spiritual health, that is, sacred love.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 16, 2016)

Today’s readings encourage us to persevere in our faith in God’s goodness by being attentive to God’s Word. St. Francis de Sales also stresses the value of perseverance:

It is perseverance that wins us the crown. Yet it is the most difficult of all the virtues because of the weakness and inconstancy of the human spirit. One minute we desire to do one thing, but soon after we change our mind. We must keep constant watch over ourselves. The nectar of divine love cannot be distilled into a heart where the old self reigns. To grow in God’s love we have to work diligently at letting go of our self-centeredness, and live according to reason, not according to worldly tendencies.

Have courage. The teacher does not always demand that the pupil know the lesson without mistakes. It is enough that the pupil takes care to do its best to learn the lesson. Have you ever seen those who learn to ride a horse? They often fall off. Yet they do not think they are defeated. For it is one thing to be beaten sometimes, and quite another thing to be vanquished.

We do not always have to feel courageous and strong. It is enough to hope that God will give us the strength and courage when and where we need them. Surely Our Lord would never exhort the faithful to persevere if he were not ready to give them the power to do so. If we are faithful we will make great progress. Perseverance is the most desirable gift that we can hope for in this life. For this reason we must continually ask for perseverance by using the means God gives us in order to obtain it: prayer, helping others, frequenting the sacraments, associating with good companions, and hearing and reading Holy Scripture.

We must be like those sailing on the sea. Always looking to the pole star, they make headway because they know they are going in the right direction. Let us follow this beautiful star and this divine compass fearlessly, for it is our Lord who never fails us.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 11, 2016)

Today’s readings emphasize gratitude. Gratitude is so much at the heart of Salesian Spirituality that St. Francis de Sales even makes it a part of his method of meditation. The following are some contemporary Salesian prayers of thankfulness:

Thank you God: for making haste slowly with my soul lest it stumble, for replacing my anxiety and preoccupation with care and solicitude, and for reminding me that only one thing is necessary, trust in you.

Thank you God for all the gifts of this day. In my impatience to do it my way, you alone know how many times today I have stumbled over you without ever recognizing you. Thank you for your patience with me. May I let you do your part.

Thank you God for blessing my efforts, not caring whether they were great or small, done well or badly. It mattered only that I tried to do Your Will. That always is enough.

Thank you for responding to my anger with your gentleness, for answering my petty lies with your truth, for healing my wounds and those I have wounded.

Thank you for taking me by the hand this day. Thank you for a day filled with a thousand trivial trials and little opportunities, and for the strength I borrowed from you in those scattered moments when I recognized your presence and responded to it as best I could.

Thank you for planting, in all the corners of this day, tiny reminders of your presence, that is, gentle inspirations meant to blossom into love. Cultivate these inspirations in me all the days to come. Please don’t stop now!

Thank you for walking with me, chatting with me and leading me gently through the garden of your love. Thank you for placing me in this garden where alone I will find you.

(Adapted from John Kirvan, Set Your Heart Free, Ave Maria Press, 1997)

Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time (October 2, 2016)

Today’s readings remind us that it is not enough to be a part of a believing community. For our faith to be alive we must share it through service. St. Francis de Sales notes:

A living faith produces the fruit of good works in all seasons. When we are open to the truths of God’s word, we live according to God’s love and not nature. Thus, our faith in divine love raises us up to unite our spirit with God, and it brings us to love the image of God in our neighbor.

An attentive servant must show unconquerable faith in our Savior especially in the midst of interior and exterior troubles. We must never lose courage in helping those who refuse God’s love, but pray and help them as far as their misfortune permits. Let us use all possible remedies to prevent the birth, growth and domination of evilness. In this let us imitate our Lord, who never ceases to exhort, promise, prohibit, command and inspire us in order to turn our will away from evilness, without depriving our will of its liberty.

Yet, we must not look for surpassingly perfect love in this life. Our progress in holy love is like the mythical bird called the phoenix. When newly hatched from ashes, it has little, tender feathers, and can only leap rather than fly. As it grows strong it soars freely in the air but not enough to remain long on the wing and often comes down to earth to rest. When it is perfectly renewed in spirit and strength, it remains on the mountaintop. In heaven, we shall indeed have a heart and spirit entirely free from contradictions and conflicts. As yet we have neither the spirit nor strength of the blessed. It is enough for us to love with all our heart, which means simply to love with a good heart and without reservation. Courage then! Let us rouse our faith again, and give it life through using the gifts God gave us to perform good works with holy love, since this is in our power.

(Adapted from the writings of St. Francis de Sales)