Spirituality Matters 2019: June 13th - June 19th
“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?
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out…if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off…”
In his commentary on today’s selection from the Gospel of Matthew, William Barclay wrote:
“The words of Jesus are not to be taken literally. However, what Jesus is saying is that anything that may entice us to sin is to be ruthlessly rooted out of our lives. If there are habits that tempt us to sin - if there are associations that can increase the likelihood of wrongdoing - if there are pleasures that could lead to our ruin - then such things must be surgically excised from our lives.”
Drawing from wisdom gleaned from countless spiritual classics, Barclay offers a two-pronged approach to rooting out from our minds, hearts and attitudes anything that can serve as a stumbling block in our efforts to imitate the life of Jesus:
“First, do something! One way to defeat negative thoughts or influences is through Christian action. Fill your life so full with Christian labor and service that you have little or no time left for negative thoughts or feelings. One effective cure for evil thoughts or attitudes is being fully engaged in good action.”
Second, fill your mind with good thoughts and your heart with good feelings. “There is a famous scene in Peter Pan in which Peter in the children’s bedroom – they have seen him fly, and they wish to fly, too. They have tried to fly from the floor, and they have tried it from the beds, both resulting in failure. ‘How do you do it?’ John asks Peter. ‘You just think lovely, wonderful thoughts and they will lift you up in the air.’” The other effective remedy for evil thoughts or feelings is to choose to think or feel something else. (The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, Volume 1, pp. 148-150)
Are there negative thoughts, feelings or attitudes that are holding you back from being more like Jesus? While you might be tempted to simply rip them out, it is perhaps more advisable – and far more Salesian – to replace them with good thoughts, feelings and attitudes, and to allow such life-giving transplants to lead to more God-like actions.
“Let your ‘Yes’ mean ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No’ mean ‘No.’ Anything more is from the Evil One.”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales counseled:
“Your language should be restrained, frank, sincere, candid, unaffected and honest. Be on guard against equivocation, ambiguity and dissimulation: such things are dangerous…As the sacred word tells us, the Holy Spirit does not dwell in a deceitful or tricky soul. No artifice is nearly as good or desirable as honest, plain dealing. While worldly prudence and carnal artifice belong to the children of this world, the children of God walk a straight path and their hearts are without guile. ” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 30, p. 206)
We are children of God. May our efforts - just this day - to both speak the truth and to also walk in the truth enable us to talk the talk – and to and walk the walk - of Jesus Christ!
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(June 16, 2019: Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity)
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“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.
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(June 17, 2019: Monday, Eleventh Week in Ordinary Time)
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“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 18, 2019: 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 19, 2019: 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!
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