Author Archives: Deacon Dan Donnelly

The Holy Spirit Reveals and Guides

12170845631587244963flame.svg.medHomily for Feast of Pentecost
May 20, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost is a day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our readings today, we hear several stories of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the faithful.

Our First Reading (Acts 2:1-11) takes place 50 days after Christ’s resurrection. We hear of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the community in Jerusalem. This reading is rich with imagery.

  • The great rush of wind, symbolizing a new, powerful action of God in salvation history: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate Jesus had promised
  • Flames resting above each person, symbolizing the gifts of the Holy Spirit that strengthens the people to proclaim the Good News of the risen Christ
  • People speaking different languages (and in tongues), but everyone able to understand what was said, symbolizing the worldwide mission of the church

In the Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3B-7, 12-13) we are reminded that the same Spirit blesses each of us with varied spiritual gifts. This speaks to the richness of living as a diverse and talented community.

The Gospel Reading (John 20:19-23) is the same reading we heard on the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday). It describes an intimate scene where Jesus, after his resurrection, visits his friends and breathes on the them, giving them authority through the Holy Spirit – the authority to continue Christ’s mission on earth, including forgiveness of sins.

So, why did God send us the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had promised? Two words come to mind: reveal and lead.

  1. To reveal the hidden mysteries of Christ’s mission (to help us more fully understand the gift of God’s love)
  2. To lead us to the truth of God’s infinite love and mercy

St. Augustine said, “Without the Spirit, we can neither love God nor keep his commandments.” Today, I’d like to focus on how the Holy Spirit helps reveal the mysteries of God, and leads us to a closer relationship with God..

The Holy Spirit Reveals

Have you ever felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? Have you ever experienced a time when you were moved by a sound, or a sight, or a feeling that gave you a strong connection to the divine?

Those of us who have children and grandchildren know that experience – when you hold that small miracle of love in your arms for the first time, the Holy Spirit is stirs up your heart as you witness the Divine.

The Holy Spirit is present to us in special times like this, and in ordinary times as well. If we take time to pause and reflect on our life, the Holy Spirit will help reveal all kinds of wonderful things to us.

I had a conversation, recently, with a man who works in hospital ministry. I asked him: What do you see as the biggest spiritual need of people today? His response came quickly. He said, “People need to take more time to pause and reflect. They need to take time to tune out the world and to open their hearts and minds, to tune in to God.”

We need quiet time, time in solitude, where we just listen to what the Holy Spirit longs to reveal to us. We need to spend time reflecting on the Word of God and other worthy spiritual writings to grow deeper in our understanding and appreciation of God. We must retreat and pray, to enter into a deeper, more loving relationship with God. And we must have open hearts and open minds to allow the Spirit to lead us in the life God wants for us.

If you grew up with the old Baltimore Catechism, you know that God made us “to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in heaven”. The Holy Spirit is the gift God gives us to help accomplish all these things.

A good way to tune in to what the Holy Spirit is revealing to you is to reflect on your day and to journal your thoughts and feelings.

I would suggest reflecting on these questions – or something similar – to help you be present to God and conscious of his work in your life:

  1. When did I experience the Holy Spirit present this day?
  2. What is distracting me from experiencing God’s grace?
  3. How is the Spirit leading me, and inviting me to grow?
  4. How has God revealed himself to me this day in his Word?

The site I usually recommend to people to aid in reflection is the site maintained by the Irish Jesuits, called Sacred Space (http://www.sacredspace.ie). This site helps you reflect on God’s presence in your life, and how the Holy Spirit is alive and working in you, and helps create a deeper bond between you and God. As an Irishman might say, “this site is brilliant!”

The Holy Spirit Leads

I have kept a journal most of my adult life. I haven’t always been consistent with journaling, but when I have, I find the process of taking pen to paper to be quite liberating. Through this process, I have learned that, if I only express my thoughts in my mind, the truth can get distorted or masked, and sometimes get stuck in a continuous loop that never resolves itself. But if I write down my thoughts, I find it easier to focus on where I am in relationship with God, and how God (through the Spirit) is leading me.

Even so, my journaling has changed over the years. Early on, my focus was to record my thoughts and experiences in great detail (as if one day they would be published as this great document that will change the world). I was practicing a type of journaling that was consistent with my style of prayer at the time. Like my journal, my prayer was all about me, pouring out all of my thoughts and feelings to God, thinking this was new, exciting information that God just had to know (It wasn’t; he already knew!).

In time, I grew out of this “show up and throw up” type of prayer and journaling (dumping everything on God and asking him to fulfill the plan I had made for myself). As I grew in my prayer life, and in my journaling, I learned that I got more out of jotting down themes, and writing questions that I wanted answered. And then, having the patience to wait for the answer to be revealed, or for the direction to be given. Some of these questions take years to answer, and sometimes God’s answer is “No.” You learn over time to not be disappointed that you didn’t get what you wanted. Most of the times, these unanswered prayers have led me to bigger and better things that God had in store for me.

Revealing and leading; these are two important gifts of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to take some time this week and ask yourself:

  1. What is the Holy Spirit trying to reveal to you in my life?
  2. How is the Holy Spirit tying to lead me to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God?

Here we all are today, on the day of Pentecost, gathered in one place. Let us pray:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.”

Just be Held

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Homily from the Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018

I love the readings during the Easter season. They give us insight into the early Church. They show us how we are called to live as Christians. They help us learn how the disciples came to believe, and better understand why Jesus had to suffer, die and rise again. Today’s readings give insight into what it means to be in a relationship with God, and to grow in faith and understanding.

FIRST READING ACTS 3:13-15, 17-19

Our First Reading today is a powerful speech by Peter, calling the gathered crowd to repentance and conversion. What we don’t hear in this reading is what got Peter so fired up. You have to go back a few paragraphs in the Bible to get the full story (Cure of the Crippled Beggar – Acts 3:1-12).

Here’s what had happened: Peter and John had cured a man crippled from birth. In the name of Jesus the Nazorean, Peter tells the man “Get up and walk.” And he does!

After rising and walking a bit, the Bible tells us that the man “clings to Peter and John.” The man doesn’t want to let go of those who cured him; he wants to remain with them in this saving relationship. This scene helps set the stage for all of today’s readings and helps us reflect on how we grow in relationship with our savior, Jesus the Christ.

From the crippled man, we learn:

  1. That we, too, need to cling our savior – out of love and devotion
  2. We need to remain close to God, and close to God’s people – as a community of faith
  3. We need to abide in God – taking time to rest in his love

We do this by developing a habit of regular prayer and reflection, by engaging in our faith community as we share our gifts with others, and by taking “Sabbath Time” to just rest and enjoy all of the gifts God has given us (especially our families).

From Peter, we are reminded that we are human and make mistakes. As Peter pointed out, the same people who were waiting for a savior acted out of ignorance by denying Christ and ordering him crucified. Even Peter, the one hand-chosen by Jesus to lead his church, denied Christ in his time of need. From Peter, we are reminded that all of this — the suffering, death, and resurrection — were a part of God’s plan, just as the prophets foretold.

From the words of Peter, we learn:

  1. That suffering and death of Jesus were for the sins of man
  2. But the resurrection was the gift of God
  3. God did not condemn us for our actions; Jesus suffered and died for us. His resurrection is our saving grace.

SECOND READING  1 JN 2:1-5A

Our Second Reading is a loving reminder that we are not alone in life’s challenges. When we make mistakes, when we sin, we have an “advocate” in Jesus. He has already helped us – and the whole world – by saving us from sin. He continues his saving work on our behalf, as we hear in the opening prayers at Mass: “He is seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.”

What we learn from this reading is that we are not alone in our pursuit of holiness, and we are not alone when we fall to sin.

  1. We have to be willing to ask God for forgiveness when we sin
  2. We have to be willing to accept forgiveness from God (and others)
  3. We have to be willing to offer forgiveness (to others)

By doing our best to keep God’s commandments, and by reconciling when we fall to sin, we demonstrate the perfect love of God.

GOSPEL LK 24:35-48

All of these things (being in a loving relationship with God, repenting for our sins, and doing our best to live a holy life) lead us to a key message in today’s Gospel: Peace

“Peace” was what Jesus offered to his disciples every time he greeted them after the resurrection. Peace was what the disciples felt when they recognized Jesus as real, and not as a ghost that had appeared to them.

You know, the disciples were a lot like us. They were people prone to make mistakes. They were people looking for direction. They were people in search of peace and joy. What we hear in today’s Gospel is a reminder that all of Christ’s life (including his suffering, death and resurrection) is part of God’s grand plan for us. Two thousand years later, we still need direction. We are still going to mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we give up. We, too, have to trust in God’s great plan for us. We have to continue to open our hearts and minds to God’s love. And we need to be both patient, and persistent. This will lead us to the peace and joy we long for.

We are not alone in our journey. We have an advocate in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Last night, my wife and I attended a concert by Casting Crowns, one of our favorite Christian music groups. The song that really “spoke” to me last night is titled “Just be Held.” (Click here to listen) It touched my heart when they sang it in concert as I reflected on our need to rely on God (and Jesus as our advocate) as we move through difficult times in life. Let the chorus of this song resonate in your hearts:

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held

What a beautiful sentiment. In those times when we think our world is falling apart in chaos, it can merely be a time when God is helping bring our lives together. In those times, God invites us to not cling physically to him, but just allow God to hold us in his heart.

I invite you to take some time this week to allow yourself to “just be held.” Spend some quiet, reflective time in Jesus’ loving arms.

Amid the brokenness in your life, let God help you see the good in your life. Let him help you see the path, the plan he has prepared for you. Allow him to guide you to peace and joy.

God Writes on Our Hearts

sunset-hands-love-woman.jpgHomily from the 5th Sunday of Lent
March 18, 2018

Today’s First Reading provides a powerful image of what it takes to be in a loving relationship with God. What does it take? An open and willing heart to create the type of intimate relationship that God wants with each of us.

As we hear in this reading, man had broken the covenant God made with Moses, and God longed to renew that relationship. So God decides that, rather than an “exterior” covenant – one written on stone that spoke to man from the “outside,” God (who always perseveres in love) decides to speak to man from the “inside.” And so, God writes his new covenant directly on man’s heart.

I just love that image: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.” This allows us to know God’s law (his will for us) in a new, very intimate way. And if we accept what God has written, we can change, and we can grow. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Through prayer and reflection to know God’s will for us
  2. By opening our hearts wider to grow more each day
  3. By trusting God and honoring him by obeying his law

But, lets be honest, sometimes it is difficult to live in relationship with God when we are surrounded by so many challenges. We are exposed to so much brokenness in life (grief … loss … suffering). Some of these life events are quite jarring and painful to us. But, they can also help shape our lives in very positive ways. We can grow through these experiences if we keep our faith … if we trust in God and if we allow God’s grace to sustain us in our challenges.

We have to look inside ourselves to grow in relationship with God. Jesus had some experience in this matter. He experienced very human suffering, and learned from that experience. As we are reminded in our Second Reading today, Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” Jesus understood his mission in life. He was willing to pray and reflect, to understand God’s will. That gave him strength to persevere.

And he was willing to be like a grain of wheat, dying to self and rising with God. Jesus understood that the only way his mission could produce fruit was to put God first. We have a similar challenge:

  • In order to grow in relationship with God, we have to put God first
  • Sometimes that requires us to die to one thing and let go of it for God to do something new in our lives that God wants

Philip and Andrew get a little taste of this in today’s Gospel. People (other than the Jews) became attracted to Jesus’ message. Philip and Andrew had to be open to a new paradigm to expand their ministry. They had to allow Gentiles, as well as Jews, to be followers of Christ.

We can experience similar challenges in our own lives. We are tempted to believe that our vision of Church is the only one that matters. But we have to be willing to open our hearts to include others who also want to have an intimate relationship with God. So, we have to be willing to meet our brothers and sisters where they are and accompany them on their journey. And here is the really good news: As a result, we learn from each other!

To grow in relationship (with God and His people), we need to:

  1. Devote more energy to prayer and reflection (reading what God has written on our hearts)
  2. Be willing to open our hearts and minds to examine various points of view (other than our own)
  3. Practice a greater self-awareness and commitment to others, so we can be good stewards of the gifts God gives us

Let me help you with the prayer and reflection piece. Here are two words I invite you to reflect upon this week: Trust and Grace

  • Trust: Are you willing to read what God has written on your heart, and are you willing to embrace what He is calling you to do with your life?
  • Grace: Do you have the confidence that God will provide all you need to carry out that calling? That God will sustain you as you grow?

Ask yourself: How is “Trust” and “Grace” reflected in my life?

  • How do I incorporate Trust and Grace in how I treat others?
  • How do I incorporate Trust and Grace in way I react to how others treat me?

When we pray and reflect on our life experiences, it will change our perspective. We will experience a more loving and caring, Christ-centered life that will lead us to where God wants us to be.

My favorite quotation remains the one from St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”

  • Listen to what God speaks to you in your heart
  • Take time to develop an interior, reflective, prayerful life
  • Tear down any walls you built around your heart designed to keep God out
  • Enjoy the intimate, loving relationship God offers to us all

Let us, together, set the world on fire with God’s love!

Rejoicing in the Hope of the Season

Rejoicing in the Hope of the Season
Homily for Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2017

Joy2I heard a story last week that I would like to share: A little boy came home from school one day, excited that he had been chosen to be in the school Christmas pageant. Better yet, he had a speaking role, as the Inn Keeper. So, the little boy had one important line to recite, “There is no room for you at the inn.” The little boy diligently practiced his line every day.

The day of the Christmas pageant, the little boy delivered his line flawlessly. But, as he spoke those words, “There is no room for you …” the boy became overwhelmed with emotion. His eyes began to well up with tears and a lump formed in his throat. Then, going off script, he ran across the stage, chasing after Mary and Joseph, tearfully crying out: “Mary and Joseph, don’t leave. We’ll make room for you; you can stay at our house!”

The surprised crowd rose in thunderous applause for what the little boy had said. The Christmas pageant ended abruptly, but no one seemed to mind. This wasn’t the story ending the crowd was expecting, but it was exactly the ending they needed.

Truth is, we all need to be reminded of the purpose of the Advent season – to “prepare the way” – to make room for the coming of the Christ Child in our lives.

And it’s not too late to invite Jesus into our lives as we prepare to celebrate his joyful birth one week from today.

Finding Joy

Today’s readings remind us that, with proper focus in our life, with a priority given to letting God into our lives, we can experience great joy, no matter what life brings us. That is the central theme in all of today’s readings: finding joy.

The rose color of the candle and vestments we see today are symbolic of joy. The messages contained in the scripture readings are also a reminder of how growing in relationship with God and accepting the plan God has for us can bring great joy into our lives.

We find joy in the First Reading, as we hear that God anointed the prophet Isaiah to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, and to proclaim liberty to captives. The prophet rejoices that God has sent him to serve others, and has blessed him with many gifts.

We find joy in the Responsorial Psalm when Mary rejoices in the greatness of God, and in the trust that God places in her to be the mother of Jesus.

We find joy in the Gospel as John the Baptist finds great joy in accepting his role in life – not as the Messiah or some prophet figure as others claimed, but as one who reminds us to prepare the way, to make room for Christ in our lives.

One of the challenges in today’s scripture is to ask: How do we find God’s joy in our life? The one-word answer is “proximity” (meaning nearness in space, time and relationship).

Super Moon

Do you remember the “Super Moon” we experienced at the beginning of December? During the full-moon phase, the moon looked larger and brighter than it normally does. And what was the reason it looked so large and bright? Proximity!

A so-called “super moon” occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth. Because the moon is closer to us, it looks larger. And with the cold, clear winter sky, the moon appears to shine brighter than usual.

But the truth is this: The moon didn’t change in size or brightness; it just got closer to us. That same affect can happen in our spiritual life as we consciously grow closer with God – when we respond to God’s invitation to grow closer in relationship.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Thessalonians, gives us some clues on how to accomplish this.

Rejoice Always

St. Paul, in our Second Reading tells us to rejoice always. We have to trust in God in both the good times, and the difficult time. Sometimes this is hard to do. But Psalm 30 is a good reminder that God hears our cries for help, that He is always faithful, and that we have to persevere in faith

  • We cannot forget God in the good times
  • We cannot forget that God is also with us in the bad times
  • No matter what the circumstances, joy comes from remaining close to God

Pray Without Ceasing

When St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, he isn’t telling us to stop everything we are doing and only pray. We still have to go to work or school tomorrow. We can’t just “check out” in the world. What Paul is doing is encouraging us to make our life an ongoing act of holiness, as one might do in a Morning Offering.

I like how the singer/songwriter, David Kauffman words it in his song, “I Will Make this Day My Prayer”:

I will make this day my prayer. I will give you everything that I am and do today. I will give you all my cares. All my joys and sufferings, I will make this day my prayer.

  • God wants everything we are – both the good and the bad
  • He wants to be in constant relationship with us
  • Living our lives as a prayer is one way to do this

In All Circumstances Give Thanks

As some of you know through the St. Joseph prayer chain, or via social media, our six-year old granddaughter, Claire contracted a staph infection that is ravaging her little body.  I like the lesson our daughter Jenny tried to teach Claire the first night in the hospital – to look for the things you are thankful for in the midst of her pain and suffering and fear. Things like: TV shows that distract Claire; compassionate caregivers who help make her comfortable; friends and family who pray for her and send their good wishes; and purple Popsicles and grape Slushies that help soothe her pain.

  • Sometimes it is difficult to see God in pain and suffering
  • But we know God is always with us; by the people who surround us in love

Don’t Quench the Spirit

Paul also instructs us: “Do not quench the Spirit.” As important it is for us to move closer to God, it is equally important that we allow God to move closer to us. To keep the fire burning, we have to “make room” for God in our lives. We have to be willing to accept His love, and to accept the love of others. We have to be willing to reconcile with God, and with those who we may find difficult to love.

That’s the greatest way to experience joy: To be in communion with God, and communion with each other!

Advent and Christmas are wonderful opportunities to reconcile with friends and family. Be like a “super moon” and make the first step toward forgiveness. Let your heart grow larger by your example of love and mercy.

This week, as we wait in joyful hope, let us:

  • Open our hearts and minds to God’s invitation to grow closer in relationship with Him
  • Let us trust in God – that He is always with us, and always loves us
  • Remember the power of reconciliation and the joy of allowing others into our lives.

I pray you all enjoy a blessed and joyful Christmas!

Deacon Dan

You Have Captured My Heart: A Wedding Homily

marriage

You Have Captured My Heart: A Wedding Homily

Wedding of Amy Donnelly and Justin Gilbert
Friday, October 27, 2017
Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (“Old Cathedral”)
St. Louis, Missouri

Justin and Amy, it is a privilege to have helped prepare you for your new life together. Friends and co-workers asked me if it was difficult to help prepare your own daughter and future son-in-law for their marriage. I told them it was easy; if I just got the two of you talking and stayed out of the way, things would work out just fine. And they did. You two have a great relationship and are wonderful listeners and sharers. It is a special honor, as your father, to officiate this Sacrament of Matrimony.

Justin, I am overwhelmed by your love and compassion, by your kindness and caring. Amy deserves a soul mate that is both tender and strong. She has chosen well.

Amy, I couldn’t be more proud of you; of the woman you have become, and the wife (and hopefully mother!) I know you will be. Justin, you have also chosen well.

As we prepared for today, I invited you to select readings that reflect who you are now (as individuals and as a couple), and who you aspire to be as husband and wife. So, what do we learn about you from the readings you selected?

From the First Reading (Tobit 8:4b-8) it is clear that you understand the “noble purpose” of a marriage, and the importance of growing in relationship with God as the center of your new life as husband and wife. I am certain that if you follow the example of Tobiah and his wife – if you pray and worship God in your lives – you will certainly “live together to a happy old age” as companions on the journey.

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8a) we hear St. Paul paint this beautiful picture of what it means to love:

  • To be patient and kind, to be other-focused;
  • To be willing to bear the difficult times, while rejoicing in the good times; and
  • To never fail in your loving commitment to each other, and your loving relationship with God.

As we heard: If you don’t have love (for each other and for God), you gain nothing in life. So, grow in love!

Finally, in the Gospel reading you chose (John 15:12-16), we learn to base our love for each other on the model that Christ taught us. So, you need to be willing to:

  • Put the needs of your spouse and your marriage ahead of your own (“to be willing to lay down your life for another”);
  • Trust that God has a plan for you and your marriage. By knowing and following God, and by living God’s plan for you your marriage will bear great fruit;
  • Rely on God’s love and mercy; and
  • Pray to God (with great confidence!), knowing that he will continue to bless your marriage.

So, what does this look like in practical terms? How can we best model Christ in our married lives? I think we can do it with song.

I have been playing with lyrics for a song. It’s not a “wedding song” per se, but a song about a wedding, and about what the bride and groom experience during their special day (just as each of you are experiencing today).

The song begins with the groom, standing nervously at the foot of the altar, awaiting the arrival of his bride. The groom looks up and is overwhelmed by what he sees. He sings:

Who is this woman, this beauty so fair, who glides down the aisle, as if walking on air? With tears in her eyes, and a smile on her face, my heart skips a beat for this vision of grace.

The bride at least has her father’s arm to hold onto as she walks down the aisle. As she begins her walk, she looks up and sees her future husband eagerly waiting and sings:

There, see that man standing so proud and tall. I’ve searched all my life for the best one of all. Papa, I’m nervous, but I love him so. Hold on to me, Daddy, but then let me go.

And, finally, as the bride and groom join hands at the altar, they rejoice in song together:

You have captured my heart. You have settled my soul. I will love you for as long as I breathe. With you beside me, and God as our center, I’m certain this love we both know will overflow!

And, that is what your family and friends, gathered here today, wish and pray for both of you; that this love you celebrate for each other today will continue to grow – to overflow in a Christ-centered marriage.

We talked about this many times as you prepared for this day: A marriage is not just about the wedding day. (It’s a good start; let’s have some fun!) A marriage is more than a day. It’s about growing in relationship – relationship with each other, and relationship with God.

Very shortly you will state your intentions to love and honor each other for the rest of your lives. We pray that Christ, as the center of your married life, will bring you great peace, and abundant joy.

Amen!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

Bathed in Mercy

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
September 17, 2017

19265321As I reflected on today’s readings, two themes emerged in my mind: mercy and forgiveness.

Mercy is rooted in love, and is demonstrated by the way we forgive, so you can see how these two themes are connected.

Today’s Psalm (PS 103) gives us a good description of what “Mercy” looks like. It describes the Lord as “kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion,” and calls us to act in the same manner, being:

  • Kind hearted – respecting all God’s creation
  • Merciful – loving both friend and enemy alike
  • Slow to anger – exercising patience and caring
  • Compassionate – being empathetic and considerate of others

You could say that “forgiveness” is the way we reflect God’s mercy and love. That’s what I want to focus on today: Our willingness to forgive others; and our willingness to forgive ourselves. Both are necessary to be kind, merciful and compassionate like God.

FORGIVING OTHERS

Today’s Gospel (MT 18:21-35) speaks about the importance of forgiving others. In this, we hear the familiar story of Peter asking Jesus “How many times must I forgive someone?”

It helps to have some context to this question. You see, in Jesus’ time, rabbis had a general rule of thumb about forgiveness: They thought that a sinner could be forgiven as many as three times. That was considered generous and merciful.

But Peter challenges this rule of thumb and proclaims that he is willing to forgive someone seven times (more than double what the rabbis were willing to do.) While this may appear to be a bold move, there is a problem: Peter, too, sets limits on forgiveness. That’s not what Jesus wants.

So Jesus shocks Peter by telling him “No, not seven times, but 77 times” (or as sometimes translated, “70 times seven times.”) The number doesn’t really matter. It is a symbolic way of saying that there is no limit to the depth of God’s love and mercy. So don’t set limits!

After this, Jesus reinforces his teaching with a parable about forgiveness.

Which leads to some very simple reflection questions – some things to chew on this week:

  1. Are you willing to forgive others? Even those we find to be difficult and challenging?
  2. Do you set limits on forgiving? Are you only willing to forgive someone if the other person is willing to forgive you? (I have heard so many stories of rifts caused in families because one family member wouldn’t forgive another until he or she forgave first. It’s silly and destructive behavior.)
  3. Who are the people in your life who need and deserve your forgiveness?

What we learn from today’s Gospel is that God places no limits on forgivenessso why should we? Forgiving others is a way to unburden our hearts and minds, and be more like God.

FORGIVING OURSELVES

As important as it is to forgive others, it is equally important that we forgive ourselves – to be willing to accept God’s grace and love – to be forgiven.

Many years ago (Not sure of the year, but I remember that our two daughters were still very young) I had an interesting experience learning how to forgive myself.

I had gone to church on a Saturday afternoon to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I met with the priest and confessed my sins. The priest gave me my penance (a few extra prayers to pray) and prayed the formula that absolved me of my sins – pretty ordinary stuff as far as Reconciliation goes.

But, as I was heading toward the door, the priest stopped me and said: “Wait a minute. You don’t look like a guy whose sins have been forgiven. You should see your mopey, glum! A man who has just had his sins forgiven should be smiling from ear-to-ear!” The priest told me to sit back down to talk some more.

The priest told me that I shouldn’t leave the confessional dragging a heavy bag of guilt and shame because I hadn’t lived a “perfect life.” The priest coached me to let it all go, that God’s mercy is greater than our sins.

So the priest suggested a revised penance (that was a first!). He suggested I go home and take a warm bath. He told me to let the feeling of the water remind me of God’s abundant grace and unending mercy and love. “Then,” he said, “when you get out of the tub, dry yourself and drain the tub. Be conscious of God washing away your sins and how the sins of your past were flowing down the drain.” He told me to “find comfort and peace in God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

So, I went home to take a bath …

I filled the tub in the hall bathroom (the bathroom with a tub lined with rubber duckies and assorted bath toys for our daughters) and then I put on my swim trunks (did I mention there were little girls at home?).

I climbed into the tub for a relaxing soak along with all of the bath-time toys.

A few minutes into my bathing experience, I heard giggling at the door. I looked up and saw my two daughters who giggled more, then ran down the hall shouting, “Mommy! Daddy is in the bathtub!”

Soon thereafter, my wife arrived at the doorway to the bathroom, took an inquisitive look at me in the bathtub and asked, “What in the heck are you doing.“ I shrugged and replied, “Penance!” Then, as she has done so many times during our 34 years of marriage, my wife shook her head and walked away.

As silly and funny as this experience was, I learned a lot from my dip in the tub. I learned that:

  1. We need to be aware of God’s presence in our life – especially in the person of the priest who stands in the place of God to forgive our sins.
  2. We need to remember that when the priest says that he absolves us of our sins that those sins are gone – down the drain, never to return again.

In further reflection, I think that accepting forgiveness is akin to accepting compliments. When someone pays us a compliment, there is a tendency to not acknowledge the compliment, or to respond how we could have done better. But the best thing we can say when receive a compliment is the same thing we can say when we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. In both cases we should simply respond: “Thank you.”

PATIENCE

One final thought on today’s readings … Notice the recurring statement in the parable from each of the servants who owe a debt. They respond by saying, “Be patient with me.”

We too need to be patient. We need to be patient with others as they work through the issues in their lives. And we need to be patient with ourselves as we work through our own brokenness. We are perfectly imperfect. “Patience and progress” should be our mantra as we grow in holiness.

Producing Good Soil

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2017

Good SoilToday’s readings remind us that if the Word of God is going to grow within us and bear fruit, we need good spiritual soil – just like plants need good earthly soil to grow.

We hear this in our First Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11), where God’s word is compared to rain and snow that water the earth, making it fertile and fruitful.

We hear this in the refrain of today’s Psalm: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” (Luke 8:8)

And we hear this in today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:1-23), The Parable of the Sower.

In this parable, the seed being sown is the Word of God trying to make its way into our heart and soul. Jesus uses this parable to teach us that there are obstacles that can prevent God’s word from taking seed and bearing fruit.

Jesus cautions us about:

  • Seed sown on the path: That can be stolen and taken away because we hear but don’t understand. That’s like hearing God’s word at Mass and then not giving it another thought.
  • Seed sown on rocky ground: That is initially received with joy, but does not have roots and can’t hold up to life’s trials. That’s like attending an inspirational retreat on the weekend, then falling back into old habits on Monday.
  • Seed sown among the thorns: We hear the Word and it takes root, but bears no fruit because, when we are pressed by life’s difficulties, we lack trust and allow earthly concerns to choke out God’s grace in our lives.

To take root and produce fruit, seed must be sown on rich soil.

Producing Good Soil

So, how do we produce good soil, capable of supporting strong roots and abundant fruit? It begins with growing in relationship with God. It requires an open heart and committed spirit; it requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to grow.

Good farmers (and good gardeners) appreciate the importance of building up good soil. So, they conduct soil tests before planting their crops. They want to check the pH of the soil and determine how the soil needs to be amended and improved to help assure an abundant harvest.

The same process works for those who want to assure that their spiritual soil is capable of supporting an abundant harvest of grace. Here are some questions you might contemplate to conduct your own spiritual soil test.

A Spiritual Soil Test

  1. Do I have a regular prayer life? This is the first step to building a relationship with God. Regular prayer must be a priority in our lives.
  2. Is my prayer a two-way conversation? Good relationships are loving and sharing. So, when I talk (pray) with God, is it prayer a conversation between two friends, or do I monopolize the conversation with an outpouring of my wants and needs?
  3. Do I take time to read and reflect on the Word of God? How can scripture or some other worthy spiritual help nourish me? Am I a committed learner?
  4. How am I growing in my understanding and practice of my Catholic faith? Am I “comfortable” in my faith, or am I committed to growth? Am I growing as a spiritual person, or am I living the same spiritual life I did when in high school?
  5. Where have I witnessed spiritual growth? (My spiritual director always challenges with this one!) Where have I recently seen God in my life? In what ways have ways I have grown spiritually in the last three, six or 12 months?

To create and maintain rich spiritual soil that is open to receiving the Word of God, we have to ask: How am I being fed? Who are the people, the activities, the resources in my life that help me replenish and improve my spiritual soil?

Being Patiently Persistent

We have to be patiently persistent in our faith. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know what I mean. After you’ve prepared the soil, planted and watered the seeds, it seems like all we are doing for the longest time is watering mud. You can’t see any top growth in your garden but you don’t stop watering and fertilizing. Then, one day you notice the tiniest of leaves peeking through the soil – you know that your seed has taken root!

All of your patience and persistence will pay off in time. This is what maintains good soil and leads to new growth.

Sowers of Seeds are Good Witnesses

With this good soil and new growth, we can become more like Jesus; we can be “sowers of seeds,” helping the Word of God grow in others as well. The best way to do this is through our witness.

The Rite of Baptism for Children begins with instructions to the parents and godparents, reminding them of their responsibility to:

  • Train the children in the practice of the Catholic faith
  • Teach them to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught, by loving God and our neighbor

This is the responsibility of all Christians, to be sowers of seeds, inviting others to develop their own rich spiritual soil that sustains us in faith.

The best way to sow these spiritual seeds is not by merely teaching or telling, but by demonstrating through our witness of how we love God and neighbor.

If you are a parent, you know full well that your children learn more from your actions than your words (both the bad things, and the good things). If you’ve survived teenagers, you know that only taking a hard stand (“My house, my rules!”) will have limited effect in teaching them. They learn better when they witness respect, courtesy and responsibility being exercised by their parents.

Here’s the bottom line: If you are a parent, don’t you want your children to witness you growing in faith? We want to be good witnesses for Christ. It is the best way to share our faith with others.

Pope Paul VI (who was pope from 1963 to 1978) said it this way:

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”

As we prepare to gather around the Lord’s Table, we ask to be nourished by God’s grace. By that grace, may we become good witnesses, and share God’s abundant love.

Celebrating the Body and Blood of Jesus

Feast of Corpus Christi
Sunday, June 18, 2017

Pope Francis - MonstranceAs we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, there are two points we should emphasize from today’s readings. First, throughout salvation history, bread sent from heaven has been critical in helping us grow in relationship – relationship with God, and relationship with God’s people. Second, our faith teaches us that Christ is truly present (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) in the Eucharist we receive at Mass, even though the appearance remains as bread and wine.

Bread from Heaven

We are reminded in our First Reading today that while the tribes of Israel wandered through the dessert, God sent them bread from heaven (“manna” – something unknown to their ancestors) to satisfy their physical hunger. As a result of this gift of manna, the Israelites grew in relationship and learned:

  • To trust God to sustain them (i.e., to give them their daily bread);
  • To live as a covenant people, assured that God has a plan for them; and
  • To live as a holy community, committed to God.

The same is still true for us; we have to learn to trust God, to be assured that God has a plan for us, and live as a holy community of believers.

The difference between the Old Testament tribes and us (New Testament people) is that: We are not fed by bread from heaven that lasts only a day. Jesus, the living bread that came down from heaven, feeds us and sustains our spiritual hunger. The living bread we share in Eucharist offers us a different relationship with God; the Flesh we eat and the Blood we drink promises eternal life.

But listen to what else we hear in the First Reading: “Not by bread alone does one live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” The Israelites needed to be fed spiritually by the Word of God. And so do we!

Living Bread

In today’s Gospel, we hear God calling us to an even deeper relationship than the Israelites experienced. Jesus invites us to eat his flesh and drink his blood – to remain in Christ and to continue to feed on him to attain everlasting life, for “whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

You see, God isn’t interested in feeding us for only a day. Through the celebration of the Eucharist, God wants to feed us eternally. But to do this, we (like the Israelites) cannot be sustained by bread alone, but “by every words that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.” The Word of God is critical in our understanding of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

When Human Senses Fail

In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas preached that only one of our human senses allows us to understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Only one of our human senses helps us believe that what still appears to be bread and wine becomes Body and Blood of Christ through the Liturgy of the Eucharist we celebrate at this Mass today.

So, which of our senses helps us believe?

It isn’t the sense of sight – the consecrated bread and wine look no different than the gifts we place on the altar. It isn’t the sense of taste, the sense of touch or the sense of smell – it still tastes, feels and smells like bread and wine.

So, which of our human senses helps us to understand that Jesus is present in the Eucharist? It is our sense of hearing. “From every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.”

It is no coincidence that we celebrate the Liturgy of the Word before we celebrate the Liturgy of the Eucharist when we gather for Mass. Our first feeding in our spiritual diet is the Word of God. We experience this in the reading of scripture and of other spiritual readings; in the teachings and Tradition of the Catholic Church, in the hope and fears we offer to God in prayer; an in the hopes and fears we share with each other.

For us to understand the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity), we have to listen to God and open our hearts and minds as we witness the Eucharistic miracle celebrated at each Mass. And that’s what I invite you to experience today.

Listen and Learn

The Feast of Corpus Christi is a great opportunity to re-calibrate our listening to the Word of God. So, as we continue to celebrate this Mass, as we move from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist, I invite you to listen closely to the words of today’s Eucharistic prayer:

  • Listen to the words of blessing as the priest, standing in the person of Christ, calls down to Holy Spirit to change our simple gifts of bread and wine in to the real Body and Blood of Christ.
  • Listen to the words of Jesus at the Last Supper. As He enters willingly into his Passion, Jesus prayers over the bread and wine and instructs his disciples to take and eat his body, and take and drink his blood

Jesus doesn’t invite his disciples to eat bread and drink wine as a symbolic gesture to remember him. No, Jesus invites his disciples to share in his true presence – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.

And, finally, listen to Christ’s commandment to his disciples: “Do this in memory of me.” In doing so, Jesus commands his disciples to continue the celebration of the Eucharist, as we Catholics have been doing for over 2,000 years.

This mystery of our faith, this miracle we call “transubstantiation” (bread and wine becoming Body and Blood of Jesus) helps all of our human senses come alive in Christ. Remember this as you approach the Table of the Lord today. When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, may our “Amen” help us come alive in Christ as the Word of God permeates our hearts and minds.

So, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, let us remember that Christ is the living bread sent down from heaven … for us!

And as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, let us strive to become what we have received – the Body of Christ. That is the “one loaf” (Second Reading) that we, as individuals share together in God’s love.

Truly Loved and Never Alone

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 21, 2017

shapeimage_1-16Lately, I have been reflecting on how Jesus communicates with his disciples. Jesus uses an occasional parable to get his message across. Or, includes cultural or scriptural references to connect with his audience. But, for the most part, Jesus communicates in a pretty straightforward manner; you know exactly where he stands. That is true in today’s Gospel (John 14:15-21).

Today’s Gospel teaches us two things. First, to be disciples of Jesus, we have to keep his commandments. When Jesus says this, we can assume that he is referring to the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses to guide the Jewish people.

We can also assume he is referencing what we hear in Mathew’s Gospel (Mat 22:36-40) when Jesus was pressed by the Pharisees to tell them “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded:

“You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

LESSON ONE:

So, the first thing today’s Gospel teaches us is that loving Jesus is truly lived by being in a loving relationship. It’s all about love:

  • A loving relationship with the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
  • A loving relationship with others (spouse, co-workers, neighbors, friends – and, yes, even enemies)
  • A loving relationship with ourselves

This third point may need a little more discussion.

If we are to be loving disciples, keeping God’s commandments, we have to allow ourselves to receive love just as much as we strive to give love to God and others. Loving relationships are not one-way streets. If we are willing to give, we must be willing to receive (God wants both for us!).

I recently came across a quote from a man named Diadochus of Photice, a fifth century theologian, mystic and bishop, who puts this in perspective. He writes,

“Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God.”

The love we have for God is a response to God’s love for us (as we learn in the Catechism: God initiates, we respond). God started this loving relationship. He wants us to sustain and grow in relationship with him.

The quote continues:

“In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him.”

How do we know God loves us? The measure is how deeply aware we are of how much God loves us. I found that to be a beautiful and reassuring thought. We should reflect on this and ask ourselves:

  • How aware am I of God’s love in my life?
  • How deeply does God’s love permeate my life?
  • Am I willing to receive God’s love as much as I am willing to share that love with others?

So, today, we learn that if you love God, you will keep his commandments by loving God and others. But, to truly love God, we must be deeply aware of his love for us.

LESSON TWO:

The second thing we learn in today’s Gospel is this: We don’t do this alone!

To strengthen that loving relationship, Jesus promises one additional thing to his disciples: He promises to ask his Father to send an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with them always.

We hear about the Holy Spirit in our First Reading as well. The Holy Spirit is the gift that helped win the hearts and souls of the Samaritan people.

  • The crowds were attracted to Philip and his teaching (their hearts were filled with “great joy”)
  • The people of Samaria were on fire with emotion

But emotion alone is not enough; we need to receive the Holy Spirit into our life to guide us beyond emotion.

  • That’s what the disciples experienced at Pentecost
  • That’s what the Samaritans experienced when Peter and John lay hands on them
  • That’s what we experience in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

That’s what we need in our everyday life – the Holy Spirit guiding us.

Here is an example:

If you are married, think about the wonderful emotions you and your spouse shared on your wedding day. Was that emotion alone enough to sustain you throughout your marriage? Probably not. To sustain your marriage (to experience ongoing joy), you have to grow in relationship.

The Holy Spirit is present in the Sacrament of Matrimony to sustain married couples as they grow in relationship with each other (and, as a couple, in relationship with God). The Spirit is our advocate in this process.

Things are usually great during the honeymoon phase of marriage, but, after the honeymoon phase, when life gets real (and sometimes messy), we need to turn to the Spirit as our advocate and guide.

In fact, whether married or not, God should be the center of every part of our lives. That “center” is at the heart of a building and sustaining loving relationships.

CONCLUSION:

So, when we reflect on Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we should think about relationship – with God, with our neighbors, with our enemies

We do this with the assurance that God is always present to guide us and sustain us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This should bring us great joy! To know (without a doubt) that we are never truly alone, and we are always truly loved!

Putting God First

Homily Fourth Sunday of Advent
stjoseph-dreamingToday’s Gospel from Matthew (Matthew 1:18-24) begins with this confident proclamation: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” The story goes on to describe the conception of Jesus – from Joseph’s perspective.

This reading reflects what we heard earlier today from the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-14) as he foretold the birth of Jesus: “… the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (Which means “God is with us.”)

But we know this is not the only story of the conception of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear the story from Mary’s perspective in the story of “The Annunciation.”

Both Mary and Joseph were visited by an angel who helped calm their fears (“Do not be afraid”) and then announced how God wanted them each to aid in bringing his Son into the world.

These stories are an interesting contrast in style. Mary’s encounter with the angel includes dialogue between Mary and the angel (the angel proclaiming what God wanted, and Mary asking: “how can this be?”). And we hear Mary’s beautiful proclamation of humility and faith, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

But, what words do we hear from Joseph during his encounter with his angel? None!

Surprisingly, there are no recorded words of Joseph in the Bible. But even without words, today’s story teaches us a lot about Joseph:

  • He was a righteous man – he obeyed the law
  • He was also a compassionate man – he didn’t want to expose Mary to shame

Joseph was ready to quietly end his relationship with Mary. But after the angel spoke and Joseph awoke from his dream, we discover one of the finest qualities of Joseph: He was obedient and was willing to do whatever the Lord commanded of him.

Neither Joseph nor Mary was looking to play the role God planned for them as a parent of Jesus. But (thankfully) they each put God first: before their personal wants or needs. I think that is a strong message of Christmas: Putting the wants and needs of God (and others) before our own.

SHARING OUR GIFTS WITH GOD

A few weeks ago, I was out of town for work. During some down time, the group I was with was discussing our family Christmas traditions. We talked about:

  • Which Christmas Mass our families attend, and why?
  • When and how do you decorate your home for Christmas?
  • How does your family exchange gifts?

That question about exchanging gifts was a particularly interesting one. One woman in the group shared that her family follows the tradition of giving their children four gifts each:=

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

(The Internet tells me this is a “thing.”)

I asked the woman, “How does that work out – only those four gifts?” She went on to tell me that buying her children something they could read was easy. She loved to introduce them to her favorite authors and to literary classics, so that was always fun.

She admitted that shopping for clothes was one of her passions and that she loved to pick out special outfits for her children and grandchildren to wear, so that one was a no-brainer.

I asked how she handled giving her children what they want and what they need. “There,” she said, “Things can get a little tricky.” She went on to tell me about the challenge she was facing this year.

Her son and daughter-in law needed a new dishwasher; their old one had seen better days. But the dishwasher they wanted was a top-of-the-line model and cost more than she was willing to spend. So she had the dilemma of providing what her children needed versus wanted.

The woman’s story got me to thinking about how we, as parents and grandparents, would do whatever we can to support the wants and the needs of our children. It also got me thinking about how our give-and-receive relationship works with God.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this Advent, and that thought came to mind as I reflected on today’s readings.

Joseph, through his actions, and Mary, through her words, teach us that our relationship with God is more than simply asking God for what we want or what we need. A healthy, loving relationship exemplifies mutual giving and receiving.

What Joseph wanted was to be holy and righteous, and to avoid exposing Mary to shame. But fortunately, Joseph also listened to what God wanted and needed from him.

  • God wanted Joseph to take Mary as his wife into his home
  • God needed Joseph to play an important part in our salvation history as Jesus’ earthly father

PAY ATTENTION

From my experience, we don’t witness a lot of angels proclaiming heavenly messages from on high (they are rare occasions in the Bible). But that doesn’t mean we can’t hear God speaking.

To hear and to know what God wants and needs from us, we have to pay attention.

  • We have to take time to pray and reflect on the Word of God
  • We need to ask God for answers and direction in our life
  • We need to be open to all possibilities with God
  • We have to wait (patiently) and listen for his guidance

This type of relationship can give us strength, even in the most difficult and challenging times in our lives.

I invite you to reflect on these things for the remainder of Advent (and throughout the Christmas season):

  • What is it that God wants to do for you?
  • What is it that God needs you to do for him?
  • How will you cooperate with God?

It doesn’t have to be as grand as being the mother or father of God (thankfully, those jobs are already filled). But think about how the world is changed because of the simple cooperation of a faithful Mary and an obedient Joseph.

Ask yourself: What is the change in this world that God is calling me to be? And then, listen for “Angels” – they come in many forms.

BE NOT AFRAID

This Advent, I have been reading the book, “On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life by John O’Leary. It’s an inspirational story of a local man who barely survived burns on 100 percent of his body when he was nine years old. (I highly recommend the book as a stocking stuffer this Christmas!)

One of the chapters in the book tells of several visits the author received from an “Angel” by the name of Jack Buck, who helped the frightened nine-year-old “Be not afraid” with words of hope and encouragement (“Kid, listen to me. You are going to live, got that? You are going to survive. And when you get out of here, we are going to celebrate …”)

O’Leary claims it was those visits and those words of encouragement from a man he could not touch, see, or speak to at the time – because of swollen eyes, a ventilator tube down his throat and head-to-toe bandages – that made all the difference in his ability to not only survive, but to eventually thrive in his life.

The chapter ends with these words of encouragement and challenge:

“My friend, we frequently cheapen our ability to influence radical change. We underestimate our personal ability to be a spark that ignites and influences the world in profoundly important ways. We possess the ability and opportunity to positively and permanently effect change around us. Simple action and ordinary people change the world. It starts with one. It starts with you. But you have to pay attention.”

I pray that in the busy-ness of this season, and throughout the year, we are able to “pay attention” to the joy that God brings into our world, and to the Spirit of God working in each of us.

As we proclaim Emmanuel (“God is with us”), let us focus on being with God: reflecting on what God wants and needs us to be.