31 August 2010

It's All About Charity

The devil knows a good thing when he sees it. And the devil isn't just a supporting actor in a first century drama about a renegade preacher who taught people to love their enemies. The devil continues to torment those who seek earnestly to follow Christ by the way they live their lives.

When Jesus approached the man with the unclean spirit, as we hear in today's Gospel, the devil recognized him. Brute force and medical remedies have no power over the devil, as any exorcist can attest. Perfect charity, purity of heart and love of neighbor, however, are enough to frighten the devil, disarm him and send him packing.

Consider for a moment the words of 12th century monk, Hugh of St. Victor: "The devil is not afraid of us when we give alms to the poor because he himself does not own anything. Neither does he fear us when we fast because he does not take food. And even when we keep vigil at night he is not afraid because he does not sleep. But if we are united in charity, of this the devil is terrified -- and immensely so -- because he realizes that we safeguard on earth what he disdained in heaven."

As we seek to cultivate charity in our daily lives: to love our neighbors more perfectly, to be gracious and kind to those whom we find difficult company, to forgive those who have offended us, and to grow in virtue, we should not be surprised if we find that we are plagued by temptations to be discouraged from these good works. The devil does know a good thing when he sees it and, just as he recognized Jesus: "I know who you are -- the Holy One of God," he will recognize us has his followers when he sees our efforts to conform our lives to Christ -- to be like this Holy One of God. Would that our charity be so pure and so perfect that it causes the devil to shudder!

"If without charity we cannot keep the commandments, much less can we without it have all the virtues. True it is, one may have some virtue, and live some small time without offending God, though wanting in divine love . . . but imperfectly, and only for a short time, so a heart separated from charity, may indeed bring forth some acts of virtue but not for long. All virtues separated from charity are imperfect."
St. Francis de Sales

27 August 2010

Fashion Advice From St. Francis de Sales

No, this isn't a joke. Honest. We couldn't make up something this good if we tried!

St. Francis de Sales was truly a shepherd of souls. He spent many hours each day meeting with men and women who sought his advice in the everyday living out of their faith in matters big and small. In addition to being an available presence for those who knocked at his door, this patron saint of journalism was also a faithful correspondent. In a letter to Madame le Blanc Mions, wife of President Pierre Le Blanc de Mions, St. Francis de Sales responds to her question as to whether or not she should powder her hair. (Honest, we're not joking!) Below, in its entirety, is the priceless reply to this question:

"As she has a right intention she may powder her hair, and the cogitations she makes about it she must put out of her mind, they are no more than cobwebs that would entangle and embarrass her. The hair of her spirit is even thinner than that of her head; this is why she fidgets and make so many reflections. Let her walk boldly in good faith amid the fair virtues of humility and simplicity, drop these subtle considerations, and powder her hair without more ado; for even the respectable pheasants powder their plumage to keep off the lice."
St. Francis de Sales

23 August 2010

Mark Your Calendars!

It'e never too early to mark your calendars for a good meal and a fun evening. Locals will recall last year's fall gathering where many of us put away some larger-than-life meatballs. We've set our date for this year's "Monastic Meatball Supper" Sunday, 26 SEPTEMBER. The evening will begin with Vespers at 6pm and the supper will follow. Locals interested in attending can RSVP directly or stay tuned for our Facebook event in early September.

In addition to our meatball supper, locals might also like to mark their calendars for the THIRD FRIDAY of each month where we'll be hosting our "Pizza and Movie" nights along with all-night Adoration. This year's movies will include: "The Jeweler's Shop," "Sanctity Within Reach: Pier Giorgio," "The Thirteenth Day," "The Night of the Prophet: Padre Pio" and many others! Stay tuned for more details!

19 August 2010

Liturgical Accident of the Happiest Kind

It is quite by accident that today's commemoration of St. John Eudes coincides with the readings for Thursday of the twentieth week in ordinary time. In today's first reading from Ezekiel, we hear the Lord promising the Israelites that he will replace their "stony" hearts with "natural hearts." How fitting a reading for this 17th century apostle of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus!

What is promised, metaphorically, to the Israelites in exile is given, spiritually, to Christians who seek to conform their hearts to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The process by which our hearts become more like the Heart of the Savior is an exercise in expansion. Our hearts cannot grow to be like His Sacred Heart and make room for others if we ourselves are strangers to suffering.

When we experience sufferings -- be they circumstances which befall us, illnesses that afflict our loved ones, the grief of losing a family member or a close friend or *merely* the vicissitudes of daily life: the little injustices and unkindnesses which remind us that we're still on the near side of eternity -- we find that, here and there, these sufferings tear open the corners of our hearts. And as painful as that may be, our hearts are ever more capable of opening wider and wider to the needs and cares of those around us. What happens when our hearts are perforated by suffering? Wounded ourselves, we become aware of the need to be gentle with the wounds of others. We enter more tenderly into the lives of those whom the Lord has put in our path. Ever more keenly will we feel the pain of those who entrust their cares to us; ever more deeply will we experience their joy. The price of conforming our hearts to the Throne of Mercy which was pierced for love of us: nothing less than everything. The reward: a profound joy which is out of this world -- literally and figuratively.

"This heart in love with its God, desiring infinitely to love, sees notwithstanding that it can neither love nor desire sufficiently. And this desire which cannot come to effect is as a dart in the side of a noble spirit; yet the pain which proceeds from it is welcome, because whosoever desires earnestly to love, loves also earnestly to desire, and would esteem himself the most miserable man in the universe if he did not continually desire to love that which is so sovereignly worthy of love. Desiring to love, he receives pain; but loving to desire, he receives sweetness."
St. Francis de Sales

15 August 2010

The Yes that Echoes

Our late -- and great -- Holy Father Pope John Paul II encouraged us to help create a culture of life by the witness of how we live our own lives and the choices we make. And our actions and choices always affect those around us -- whether we realize it or not. In a moment of weakness when choosing to practice virtue seems too difficult, it is sometimes the example of a friend or coworker that helps us to persevere.

Behold, then, the example of Our Lady. She said "Yes" to the Lord when she was faced with what seemed to be an impossible promise. Since the dawn of creation, Almighty God has waited for one of His beloved creatures to utter an unfaltering, "YES" to Him and His holy will. Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Mary's "Yes" to the Lord is the trend-setting response toward which all the baptized should direct their gaze.

"Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." Mary trusted the Lord when common sense might have suggested otherwise. We are challenged to do the same thing every single day: Can it ever be the case that my annoying coworker will respond to my gentle overtures in a positive way? After a few initial experiences of rejection, we might be tempted to turn away and ignore the office curmudgeon; it's much easier than reaching out and the risk of disappointment is smaller. Do we trust, however, that whatever we do to the least of His little ones we have done to the Lord? If we do, then we might try new ways to engage the local grouch. If at first it seems too difficult, perhaps we would receive the grace to do so after we witness one of our colleagues being solicitous and kind to this company crosspatch. If a coworker's example can help us grow beyond the limits of our own comfort, how much more, then, can the example of Our Lady help us to grow in holiness. Virtue, like many less-desirable afflictions such as the common cold or the chicken pox, is highly contagious. Infect someone today with your good example!

"Never were there seen so many merits and so much love carried to Heaven by any pure creature as the most holy Virgin brought there at her glorious Assumption. In reward for this, the eternal and great King, the Almighty God, gave her a degree of glory worthy of her greatness, and also power to distribute to her clients graces worthy of her liberality and magnificence."
St. Francis de Sales

11 August 2010

Timeless Solemnity

Tomorrow we will celebrate the Solemnity of St. Jane de Chantal. In years past we have recounted the amazing adventure of this (apparently) "movable feast." New readers might enjoy this short account from a couple of years ago.

As movable as this Solemnity is, one might stop to consider how timeless is the example of our Foundress. The readings proper to the feast bring us to the Gospel account where Jesus asks who his mother and brothers are. One cannot help but to associate that text with the often-recounted scene of St. Jane de Chantal stepping over the body of her (overly) dramatic son as she entered the religious life. This often-recounted pericope overshadows the relevance of St. Jane de Chantal's path to sanctity.

We've always tried to keep our blog posts to a friendly length that does not discourage reading and sharing, so this is a thumbnail sketch of what happened before and after she stepped over the threshold of her son to enter religious life: At age 28 she lost her husband to a "friendly fire" hunting accident and was left with four small children. Her father-in-law threatened to remove her children from the family inheritance if she did not come to live with him. There she raised her children alongside his own illegitimate children. She was treated poorly by his mistress but never once allowed that to affect the loving attention she paid to their children. She faced criticism for the foundation of our Order, was predeceased by her earliest companions in religious life, buried three of her own children as well as her beloved friend and spiritual guide, St. Francis de Sales and established 80 monasteries of the Visitation in France prior to her death.

St. Jane de Chantal is proof that holiness is not acquired because of the ideal circumstances in which we find ourselves practicing virtue effortlessly. It might be easy if everyone with whom we interacted was patient, thoughtful and kind; if we were never late because never got stuck in traffic; if the xerox machine never jammed up when we had an emergency; if no one in our house ever ate the last chocolate chip cookie; and if everyone refilled the ice-cube tray when it was *almost* empty. Most of us, however, don't live in such a paradise. Rather, one grows in holiness by the trusting acceptance of the circumstances he cannot change and the virtues demonstrated in the face of such challenging events.

St. Jane de Chantal is a timeless example for us of a woman who practiced virtue amid the joys and deep sorrows she experienced in her life.

"How good it is to see the servants of God . . . have no other tomorrow than that of His Providence!"
St. Jane de Chantal

07 August 2010

Salesian Conference 2010

In honor of the 400th anniversary of the Visitation Order, the 28th annual National Salesian Conference is taking as its theme: "The Visit" and exploring the mystery of the Visitation as an image for today's Christian to imitate. Three talks will explore this mystery as a biblical event, as a paradigm for community and as a sign of commitment. A "teleconference" will take place in seven locations throughout east coast and mid west. A freewill offering is asked of those who attend. Those who would like to learn more can click here for details. As always, CD's and DVD's of the presentations will be available for purchase from the DeSales Resource center. We look forward to seeing many members of our Salesian family -- and meeting new friends -- at the conference today!

03 August 2010

Fiat Days 2010!

This past weekend our Sister Anne Francis and Sister Anne Elizabeth (that would be the "Sisters Anne E and F") attended the Arlington Diocese's inaugural "Fiat Days Camp" for young women. Above, Sister Anne F prepares for Vespers after finishing Sunday afternoon's Rosary walk.

The three days included talks, discussions, games, Liturgy of the Hours, daily Mass, Adoration, a fireside chat and a lighted Marian procession. Above, Sister Anne E talks with the group about prayer.

During the retreat, Sisters, staff and participants stayed in dorms at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. Sister Anne F and a lovely little Sister of the Poor (our next-door-neighbor) are shown waiting patiently for the "keeper of the keys" to come let them into their dorm. Among the "camping" adventures of the weekend, one Visitation sister left her bedding back on 35th Street as they gang was loading up the car (we won't say which "Sister Anne" it was but curious readers might want to check out the rest of the pictures on our Facebook page ... it shouldn't be too hard to tell!)