Spirituality Matters 2019: May 16th - May 22nd
“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. Those great Saints (Augustine, Gregory and Hilary whose feast we are keeping today!) 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 is to give witness to the goodness of the Lord at work in us and at work among us.
Together, let us sing of 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!
“Do not let your hearts be troubled…”
We all have a deep-seated fear. Using the image of musical chairs, we fear that when the music stops, there won’t be a chair for us. Jesus promises that this situation won’t 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; 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 we attempt to live our lives today?
"The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit…”
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 following 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 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 difficult to be joyful, let’s do our best to at least be brave and confident.
And perhaps today even find joy in that!
"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.”
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 who and how 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
“Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me…”
In his Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales observed:
“When I saw in St. Catherine of Siena’s life so many raptures and elevations of spirit, words of wisdom and even sermons uttered by her, I did not doubt that by the eye of contemplation she had ravished the heart of her heavenly Spouse. But I was equally edified when I saw her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, kindling fires, dressing meat, kneading bread and doing the meanest household chores cheerfully and filled with love and affection for God. I do not have less esteem for the humble, little meditations she made during these ordinary, lowly tasks than for the ecstasies and raptures she experienced so often. Perhaps the latter were granted to her precisely because of her humility...I cite her life as an example so that you may know how important it is to direct all our actions – no matter how lowly they may be – to the service of his divine Majesty” (IDL, Part III, Chapter 35, p. 214)
The Salesian tradition reminds us that great ways of keeping God’s commandments are rare; opportunities to display our love for God in remarkable ways are few and far between. By contrast, opportunities to love God and to keep his commandments in everyday, ordinary ways are legion. It is interesting to consider the possibility that it was St. Catherine’s ability to recognize – and to love – God in the midst of the mundane responsibilities and demands of everyday life that enabled her to recognize – and to love – God – in extraordinary ways!
Today how might we imitate St. Catherine’s example in our approach to the ordinary tasks that will be part and parcel of our experience today?
“Peace I leave you; my peace I give you…”
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.”
Jesus adds this caveat as he offers peace to his disciples: “I do not give it as the world gives it…” What does this mean?
In broad strokes, many – if not most - of the things that the “world” offers us as sources of peace tend to come from the outside: income, zip code, cologne, clothing, cars, looks, diplomas, etc., etc. As we see in the case of Jesus, true peace comes from the inside!
It has been said that the essence of peace is being comfortable in your own skin. This way of being at peace, in turn, does not result in complacence. In contrast, it unleashes personal power flowing from a person’s clear and convincing sense of identity and purpose. In the ebb and flow that marked Jesus’ life and ministry, he was – remarkably and powerfully – comfortable in his own skin. He was at home with himself and with his Father’s will for him. Jesus’ way of being at peace, in turn, helped him to unleash this same peace – this power – in the lives of those he touched.
Jesus shows us the way to true peace in his own life – not a peace that is passive, but rather, a peace imbued with potential, possibility and power!
How can we experience that peace ourselves – and share that peace with others – today?
“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?