Author Archives: Deacon Dan Donnelly

The Narrow Gate


Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Most good stories contain three important parts: the Beginning, the Middle and the End. In the simplest of terms, the Beginning introduces the characters and events that shape the rest of the story; the Middle is where we witness the characters develop; and the End reflects the choices made by the characters throughout the story. Today’s readings, when viewed as a whole, are an example of a good story with a Beginning, Middle and End.

Our First Reading today (IS 66:18-21) is a story of God gathering his chosen people to himself and preparing them to go out and proclaim his glory to people who have never heard of Him before. This is the beginning of our Salvation Story – Our good, good Father calling us to share in His love and to “proclaim his glory to distant lands.”

Today’s Second Reading (HEB 12:5-7, 11-13) takes place in the middle of our Salvation Story. It is a story of how we are shaped and formed by the Father. The author of this Letter to the Hebrews reminds us to “not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when we are reproved by him.” That can be a difficult thing for our “modern” ears to hear, as the word “discipline” has so many definitions in the English language.

The word “discipline” can mean:

  • To punish (as you would someone for not obeying rules or laws)
  • To coach (as to help someone act or perform in a certain way)
  • To train (as to learn to do something)

In this reading, God’s discipline is about coaching and training, not to punish.

So why does God discipline us? Because he wants us to be what Matthew Kelly describes as “the best version of ourselves.”

The Olympic Challenge

For the last couple of weeks, the world has been following the Olympic competition. It is always fun to witness the fantastic athleticism of the competitors. It is a celebration of the God-given gifts these athletes received. But winners in athletic competitions don’t rely solely on their own natural abilities. To achieve “greatness” in their field, they must be disciplined. Olympic champions appreciate:

  • The important of practice
  • The value of coaching and learning
  • The benefits of growth and progress

The attributes of an Olympic champion are the same as for those who want to grow spiritually and to develop a deep relationship with God. It takes practice. It requires coaching and learning. It requires a willingness to grow. Not to be perfect, but to make progress (which is all that God asks of us).

Many Olympic competitions are decided by the smallest measure (fractions of time, millimeters of distance). Our Gospel story today (LK 13:22-30) teaches us that admittance into heaven may also be decided by a small measure (what Jesus describes as our ability to pass through the narrow gate).

Training for the Narrow Gate

What does it mean to “enter trough the narrow gate”? It means living a holy, God-focused life by following God’s commandments and the teachings of His Church. It means developing a strong, genuine relationship with God. And it means being strong – not just physically strong or mentally strong, but also spiritually strong.

So, how do we become spiritually strong?

A couple of years ago, the parish gave parishioners a copy of the book, “The Four Sings of a Dynamic Catholic,” written by Matthew Kelly. The premise of the book is that “Dynamic Catholics” (who Kelly describes as the top 7% of the Catholics he studied) demonstrated great signs of discipline. In his work Kelly identified four characteristics of Dynamic Catholics:

  1. They practiced their faith. They were a people of prayer, praying regularly and giving prayer a priority in their life. Some had a prayer ritual for the morning, some prayed a Rosary each day. Some attended daily Mass. Prayer was a discipline they developed and valued.
  2. They were continuous learners. They invested time each day to learn more about their faith (not great, prolonged amounts of time, just 14 minutes or so every day). They would read scripture or other spiritual writing. They listened to Catholic CDs, podcasts and radio programs. This continuous learning was a way for them to explore the Way of Jesus and the teachings of His Church.

The two remaining characteristics of Dynamic Catholics are:

  1. Generosity. They were filled with a spirit of service
  2. Evangelization. They invited others to share the love of God with them.

I know that regular prayer has made a big impact in my life. And even before I entered into formation to be a deacon I had a voracious appetite to learn about our faith. Listening to Catholic Answers Live and other programming on Catholic radio were a great help in building up my knowledge. Reading books about Catholic spirituality helped me put into words the longings I had in my heart. Practicing my faith through prayer and dedicating myself to a system of lifelong learning has been a great blessing in my spiritual life and in my service as a deacon.

Gut Check Time

So, how doe you measure up with Dynamic Catholics?

  • Do you give a priority to regular prayer?
  • Do you take time to read and learn about your faith?
  • Are you a person of service?
  • Are you willing to share your faith with others?

We all want to get to heaven. These are the type of things that will help us enter the narrow gate that leads to heaven. Our relationship with God, our openness to the Holy Spirit, and our willingness to grow in our faith will support us in that journey.

I pray that you will take time this week to reflect on these thoughts and to take action.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the ending to my salvation story that I want to write with God?
  • What am I being called to do to ensure that my story ends with the best ending possible …

And they all lived happily ever after!

Be at peace and know that you are loved,

Deacon Dan

Living Our Christian Identity

19392077Homily for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016

We hear a lot about “identities” in today’s readings. Our identities are important; they help define who and what we are. They help us understand where we came from and what we have become.

Our identities can be quite complex. For example, I am a husband, father, grandfather, deacon, spiritual companion, manager, co-worker, neighbor, friend, etc. Our identities reflect how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.

Our Christian Identity

One of the lesson’s in today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that the identity that matters most in life (our primary identity) is that of “Christian.” Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that our primary identities are no longer defined by race, ethnicity, social status and gender. Instead, we “wear a common identity that is Christ.” So, stop focusing on what differentiates us and focus on what unites us: Christ. The same is true for us today. We still retain our unique, individual identities, but those identities take a back seat to our identity as Christian.

I would love to stand here today and proclaim that in the 2000 years since Paul addressed this issue that we  are fully living our Christian identity. Sure, we’ve made some good advancements in treating others in a Christ-like manner but still today, in our “modern world,” issues of race, ethnicity, social status, and gender often separate and divide us. You only have to connect with social media, the 24-hour news cycle, or political propaganda to understand that hatred and divisiveness is all around us. So, we have to remind ourselves often that it is love that truly unites us and allows us to recognize and use our unique, God-given gifts in service to others. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Clothed in Christ

When we are baptized, a white garment is placed on us as a symbol of what St. Paul describes as having “clothed ourselves in Christ.” After placing the garment, the deacon or priest says this prayer:

“You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in the white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”

I think it would be a fruitful exercise to take some time to reflect on our lives and ask:

  • How do my words, my thoughts, and my actions reflect my identity as “Christian”?
  • In what ways do I use my unique, God-given gifts and talents in service to others?
  • For us fathers on this Father’s Day
    • Am I an outward sign of Christian dignity to my children and spouse?
    • Does my family witness love, compassion and mercy through me?
    • By my thoughts and words and actions, who would my family say that I am?

To Be a True Disciple

Jesus uses identity questions in today’s Gospel to help instruct his followers on what it means to be an authentic, true disciple. Jesus tells his friends: If anyone wishes to come after me (to be my disciple), they must:

  • Deny themselves
  • Take up their cross daily
  • Follow in Christ’s footsteps

This commandment to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily is about doing for others what Christ has done for us.

In Luke’s gospel, taking up one’s cross is presented as a daily requirement, which indicates our Christian calling is not a one-time event. It’s not about attending a Steubenville Conference and returning to life a usual. It’s not about making an ACTS retreat and silently stumbling down the mountain. It’s not about committing your life to Christian marriage on your wedding day and limiting Christ to a guest appearance now and then in your marriage. What Jesus is telling us is that our Christian calling and identity is a life-long commitment, an ongoing process.

Love is a Vocation

I have had the privilege this past year of working with a group of married couples in our parish to establish a small faith community known as TOOL (Teams of our Lady). These couples want to strengthen and grow their vocation as husband and wife. Some of the readings and discussion from this last month’s TOOL meeting centered on understanding what it means to “take up your cross daily.”

Parts of the readings reminded us that through our marital bond, love is a vocation. As with all vocations, we often experience suffering. We live in a sinful, broken world, so there is no way around it; we will all endure suffering in our life.

The readings suggested that married couples tend to experience suffering in three ways:

  1. Sometimes couples experience suffering together. For example, the couple may experience a miscarriage or other significant loss (They carry the cross together). What the couple learns by taking up their cross together is that their trials can help make their union closer and deeper.
  2. Sometimes couples experience suffering one for the other. For example, your spouse is diagnosed with cancer or some other debilitating illness and you help take up the cross for your ill spouse (One carries the cross for the other). Your helping and nurturing your spouse may entail great sacrifices on your part, but you gladly bear those sufferings for that person whom you love so dearly.
  3. Sometimes couples experience suffering caused by another. For example, through our human weakness one spouse is unfaithful to his or her marriage vows. The unfaithful spouse causes suffering for both spouses (Each carries the cross alone). This suffering can become an obstacle to love. Or, through mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and counseling, this suffering may further the bond of marriage.

These are just some example of “taking up your cross daily.” You don’t have to be married to experience struggles in life. The cross of Christ is often heavy for each of us.

Following in the Footsteps of Christ

Following in Christ’s footsteps is not easy (those are some big sandals to fill!). We often stumble and fall along our spiritual journey. When we fall, we must also follow the example of Christ: Get back up again, as Christ did on His redemptive way of the cross.

If we look more closely at today’s Gospel, we will see that Jesus didn’t ask us to succeed in the spiritual life. He merely invited us to participate and follow Him (every day!). Beyond that, we must trust in His grace, love and mercy

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, one of the ways we continue to experience the identity of Jesus in our lives is in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

Today, as we prepare to celebrate Eucharist, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, may our “Amen” be our promise to remain faithful to Christ as we persevere through good times and bad. May our identity as Christians help invite and attract others to God’s eternal love.

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

Praying with the Good Shepherd

193915251.jpgHomily for the 4th Sunday of Easter
In today’s Gospel [John 10:27-30], we hear a very short passage from Jesus’ Good Shepherd discourse. Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd and reveals two important traits of his sheep: 1) they hear his voice, and; 2) they follow him. We are his sheep. Jesus knows us and we need to know him better each day.

Cowboys and Cattle and Sheep (Oh, my!)

We are a country that is more familiar with cowboys and cattle than we are with shepherds and sheep. Hollywood has produced hundreds of movies about cowboys and cattle. Many of those movies depict cowboys driving a herd of cattle to market.

What we learn from those movies is that it takes a lot of cowboys to drive a herd of cattle. The cowboys drive the cattle from behind the herd; they whistle and shout, they poke and prod to get the cattle to move forward. And it requires other cowboys riding on the side of the herd to keep them together, and to gather up the strays.

Shepherding sheep is different. A shepherd leads his flock from the front. As he walks along, he sings, or whistles or talks to the sheep. As long as the sheep hear his voice, they follow him. If the sheep can’t hear the shepherd’s voice, they can get separated from the flock and get lost, or fall prey to wolves or other predators.

Jesus is not like the cowboy who pushes us from behind and drives us to where he wants us to go. He is a good and loving shepherd who wants us to hear his voice and follow him.

Jesus uses this image of the sheep and the shepherd to answer the ongoing question of the Jewish religious leaders: “Are you the messiah?” The answer is “yes.” He is not only the messiah (the promised deliverer of the Jewish people), but also the Son of God. Jesus tells us that he and the Father are one. He promises eternal life to those who hear his voice and follow him. This gives us great hope!

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice

Like many, I have been focused on Cardinal baseball lately. It’s always fun to watch the season opener and home opener on television. It reminds me of the times, growing up, when I would go to Busch Stadium to watch a Cardinal baseball game. I’d often bring a little handheld transistor radio with me so I could listen to the play-by-play call of the game. It helped enhance my understanding of what was going on in the game. Listening to the announcers and commentators, I developed a better understanding of the game of baseball. It helped me develop a lifelong love for the game.

The funny thing about those tiny radios, however, is they didn’t work! They didn’t work unless you turned them on and tuned them in. Only then you could enjoy a richer, more connected relationship with the game.

And so it is in our relationship with God: To hear the Shepherd’s voice, to build a relationship with Jesus, we have to turn on and tune in on a regular basis – we have to pray daily!

  • We have to open our hearts, our ears, our eyes and our minds to God
  • We have to stay close to him and listen
  • We have to be willing to be led by the Good Shepherd

Whether alone, or in community, we have to pray daily.

The Serenity Prayer

So, what’s the best way to pray? That’s a good question. The answer is: The way that works best for you! You pick the style, the setting, the time, and the focus of your prayer. No type of prayer is better than the other. The key is to give prayer a priority, to make it a daily habit in your life.

One of my favorite prayers (the one I recommend to people wanting to incorporate prayer in their life) is the Serenity Prayer. The first part of this prayer is:

God, grant me the serenity to accept
the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the thing I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

Three simple words (serenity, courage and wisdom) can make a huge difference in your prayer life … and in your relationship with God.


Serenity comes from letting go. It brings about a feeling calm and peace; of feeling unburdened and untroubled. We hear about this in our first reading today, from the Acts of the Apostles [Acts 13:14, 53-52].

Paul and Barnabas did their best to invite the Jewish people to the good news of Christ. Some of the Jews and converts to Judaism accepted the good news; others rejected the invitation. So Paul and Barnabas turned their focus to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people in the region). The Jewish leaders, reacting poorly to this, had Paul and Barnabas run out of the city. In protest, Paul and Barnabas shook the dust from their feet and moved on. They let it go.

Did this letting go give the two disciples peace and serenity? You bet! When they left the city, “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” They simply let go of those things they could not change or control. They were unburdened.

So, what are the things in our life that need to be unburdened? What is the dust clinging to our feet we needs to shake off? Is it sin? Is it hatred or ill feelings? Is it lack of forgiving others … or the unwillingness to accept forgiveness? Take this to prayer. Talk about it with the Good Shepherd. Then let it go!


Courage comes from using our God-given gifts and strengths with confidence. It comes from trusting God to lead us like the Good Shepherd he is. It is courage that allows Paul and Barnabas to “speak out boldly for their faith.” They were willing to trust God and follow him wherever he led them. Take this to prayer as well. Ask God to help you acknowledge and use your gifts and strengths. Ask God for direction in your life and ask him: Lord, what would you have me do in my life, with my gifts, with my strengths?


Wisdom comes from experiencing life and learning from those experiences. It comes from prayer and reflection – from having a loving and open dialogue with God. It comes from times of meditation, reflection, examination, discernment and honest dialogue. If comes from being a sheep who is willing to listen and to follow the Good Shepherd.

Our Call to Action

Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” Today, as Jesus renews his commitment as our good shepherd, let’s renew our commitment to be his good sheep, to give daily prayer the priority it deserves in our lives.

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

Being a Committed Pray-er


Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2016

I recently listened to a podcast featuring the actor, Martin Sheen (The West Wing, Apocalypse Now, The Way). It was very interesting listening to him talk about his deep Catholic faith. (Click here to read the transcript or download the podcast).

The theme of the interview was “Spirituality of Imagination” and focused, in large part, on Sheen’s fascination with prayer. Two things struck me from his comments about prayer:

  1. He talked about how intimate prayer can be – just us and God in conversation, and
  2. He talked about how his style of prayer has changed over the years – how it has grown to be more conversational

Sheen also commented on the 11th chapter of Luke where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11: 1-4). He found the disciples’ request interesting, saying “…they were devout Jews, and they had a very structured form of prayer, and worship, and sacrifice, and they asked him, ‘Teach us to pray,’ is a very curious question to me, that they wanted to go deeper. They wanted to go more personal, I guess.”

I think Mr. Sheen is correct. We all have this longing in our hearts to better know and love God. And God invites us to “go deeper” in our relationship. A crucial step in this relationship is making a commitment to regular (daily) prayer, which this season of Lent helps us remember.

Prayer in Today’s Readings

When we think about prayer, we often overlook one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence that shows us how important prayer really is. What is that evidence? Jesus prayed!

  • Last week we saw him go off into the desert to pray
  • In today’s Gospel, we see him go up the mountain to pray
  • In dozens of other Gospel passages we see the same thing

We read about Jesus getting up early or staying up late to make time for prayer. We hear about Jesus praying for guidance before major events in his life.

Jesus needed regular prayer in his life; and so do we!

Today’s readings remind us that prayer, the most effective way of growing in relationship with God, takes on many forms.

  • Today’s First Reading tells us that “The Lord God took Abram outside…” and had a conversation with him. That’s prayer.
  • The Psalm gives us an example of King David’s prayer in the face of danger, “Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me…”
  • St Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds the Christians in Philippi that while most people occupy their minds “with earthy things… Our citizenship is in heaven.” Our attention is on God – that’s prayer.
  • Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus leads his three closest disciples away from the hustle and bustle of life, up to the top of a high mountain, where he can be alone with them, and give them a lesson in prayer.

Space and Time for Prayer and Reflection

So, we have to ask ourselves:

  • Is our prayer life in good shape? Do we make a commitment to prayer?
  • Has our prayer life improved in the last year, over the last 10 years?
  • Do we allow space and time in our prayer to reflect and to engage in dialogue with God (or are we just rattling off rote prayers)?

A business friend of mine once invited me to lunch. Before lunch, he suggested we stop at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis to pray the Rosary. I thought that was an outstanding idea. When we got there, my friend said he would lead the prayer. In my mind, that meant we would pause, gather our thoughts and take time to reflect on each of the Mysteries of the Rosary. My friend had a different idea.

He proceeded to rip through the Rosary prayers at lightning pace, barely taking a moment to breathe (much less reflect on the fruits of the mysteries we were praying). It made my head spin!

After he had finished (what he called) prayer. I asked him: “Did you ever consider slowing down and reflecting on the Mysteries of the Rosary?” “No,” he said, “I just want to get these prayers done so I am ‘good with God’.” Needless to say, we had much to talk about over lunch.

Our prayer is not merely a commitment or something we check off of our list to feel like we remain in God’s good grace.

If prayer is truly conversation with God, we need to remember what our mothers’ told us: You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion.

We need to speak to God in prayer, but we also need to listen.

If we continue today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we’ll hear one of my favorite Bible passages (Philippians 4:6-7).

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God

God wants us to make our requests known to him, but we also need to allow time and space to listen to God in our prayer. In doing so, we enjoy the gifts of God’s grace.

“Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

So, make your needs known; then listen for his response. Be persistently patient.

Prayer as a Priority

Matthew Kelly, in his book, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” states that only 7% of Catholics have a daily commitment to prayer. (Click here to learn about Dynamic Catholics.)

About these committed pray-ers, Kelly notes that these people:

  • Have a routine for prayer
  • Have a structure for prayer
  • Many of them pray at the same time every day

For some this means going to Mass in the morning. For others, it means sitting down in a big, comfortable chair in a corner of their home or taking a walk, but they tend to abide by a structure.

Daily prayer, a daily conversation with God, can do great things for our spiritual nourishment and growth. It starts by making a commitment.

As you pray, don’t be afraid to try different styles of prayer or to use different Catholic texts for reading and reflection. Sometimes changing things up can help reinvigorate our prayer life. This season of Lent is an excellent time to try different forms of prayer. Just pick up this week’s Bulletin and look at all of the opportunities in our parish and in neighboring parishes to participate in prayer and spiritual formation programs this Lent.

Make prayer a daily priority in your life and allow time (and space) to reflect on the messages and insight God gives you in prayer. Be silent, be patient and listen!

This week, I encourage you heed the words of the Gospel and God’s voice that came from the cloud:

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

The Carpenter’s Hands

begging handsIf you are a father, you know the awesome (and somewhat terrifying) feeling of holding your newborn child in your arms.

You love your child with all your heart. In spite of your imperfections and unworthiness, you are given a great gift to nurture, to protect, and to love (unconditionally). You strive to be the best father you can be for your child. I am certain Joseph had similar thoughts and feelings when he held his son, Jesus, in his arms.

The following are lyrics to  a song I penned a couple of years ago. I think about this every year when we hear the story of the birth of Jesus.

May we use this Christmas season to reflect on the love and mercy of the Newborn King and how, despite our unworthiness, God comes into our lives, meets us where we are and invites us to live with him in peace and love.

Merry Christmas!

The Carpenter’s Hands

Love lies resting in my arms tonight
This tiny blossom brings new hope in our lives
How is it that I should be a part of heaven’s plan
That this child should be entrusted to this carpenter’s hands?

Hush, my little one, be not afraid
Just close your eyes and sleep; I’ll keep you safe
Dream of bright tomorrow’s now, as only children can
For tonight you rest here safely in this carpenter’s hands

This carpenter’s hands are rough and calloused
But they are good and strong
They will guard you; they will guide you
And protect you from all harm
I will do my best to teach you as you grow to be a man
But tonight, my love, just rest here in this carpenter’s hands

Angel voices join as one and sing
“God is with us; praise the newborn king.”
Is this what the Lord had planned before all time began
That the Son of God is placed here in the carpenter’s hands?

This carpenter’s hands are rough and calloused
But they are good and strong
They will guard you; they will guide you
And protect you from all harm
I will do my best to teach you as you grow to be a man
But tonight, my love, just rest here in this carpenter’s hands

Love lies sleeping in my arms tonight
Heaven’s offspring brings great joy and light
One day they will proclaim your name in near and distant lands
But tonight, my love, just rest here
Go to sleep, my love, you’re safe here
Be at peace, for you are loved here in this carpenter’s hands

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Learn from the Fig Tree

fig tree

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Apocalyptic stories, like we hear today, can be terrifying. But that is not the intent of today’s readings. Today’s readings teach us to be watchful and to live wisely.

Lessons from a Gravestone

There is a story of a priest who was preaching at a funeral and used a gravestone to illustrate what matters in life. He told the congregation, “You can learn a lot from a gravestone. For example, you can learn the person’s name and if it was a man or woman buried there. Sometimes, you learn what special quote or Bible verse was important to the deceased (or to the people grieving their loss). And you learn when the person was born, and when the person died. But the most important marking on the gravestone,” said the priest, “is the mark between the date of birth and date of death – the dash mark. Why? Because the dash mark reflects the story of how that person lived their life.”

We don’t have much control over when we are born, and we don’t always have control of when we will die. But we do have control over how we choose to live our lives. And what we learn from today’s readings is that we are called to live our lives being watchful and holy. But what does it mean to be “watchful and holy”?

I think it means three things:

  1. Making our personal relationship with God a true priority. As engaged parishioners of St. Joseph’s parish, we would describe that as “Participating actively in the sacramental lifeof the parish cultivating a personal prayer life.”
  2. It means sharing with others the good news that Jesus has shared with us. Again, engaged parishioners would describe that as: “Sharing our gifts generously in a spirit of service; embracing opportunities to participate in spiritual growthprograms and retreats; and inviting others to join in the life of the parish.
  3. It means following Christ’s example in our daily lives.

Jesus as Model

So what does it look like if we follow Christ’s example in our daily lives? The theme of my first ACTS retreat was from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John: “I have given a model to follow; so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” I often reflect on that quote and ask: What was the model Jesus gave us? It is a life characterized by: love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, obedience, prayer, relationship, servanthood, trust, faithfulness, … and on and on.

Jesus’ whole life in public ministry reflected this model of love and self-giving. And so should our lives. That model Jesus gave us has to be applied to our contemporary world. It’s as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. That’s where watchfulness combines with holiness.

Learn from the Fig Tree

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples a story. He tells them: “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Remember that when Jesus instructs his disciples, he usually does so in a gentle, encouraging way that the disciples can understand and relate to. The disciples were familiar with fig trees – they were an important staple for nourishment in their region. The disciples also had a familiarity of the growth cycle of fig trees. They knew that when the branches sprouted leaves, summer was coming. They knew that the fruit of the fig tree would be harvested some time in summer or fall. Jesus was instructing his disciples that, just like they observed the growth cycle of the fig tree, so should they also be watchful in observing the signs of the coming end times. Not that they could do anything about it. Not that they could predict the day or time (As Jesus tells them: only God knows the day and the time). But because it serves a reminder to live a life of holiness – to be faithful to God!

Reading the Signs of the Times

Part of living a holy life is “reading the signs of the times” – being watchful and aware of what is happening in our world and discerning how we can participate in those happenings in a Christ-like way.

For example: the 20th century theologian, Karl Barth is attributed as saying “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” This reminds us that we need to remain firm in our faith while remaining attentive to the needs of an ever-changing world.

Another example of “reading the signs of the times” is Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Archdiocese of Washington, DC) and what he said earlier this month at the Synod of Bishops. The Cardinal was speaking about the concern of the bishops who want clarity about the church’s teachings. He told news reporters, “The church’s teaching is quite clear. But the church’s pastoral life is the application of the teaching to where people are. And that’s always been the pastoral challenge of the church.”

He went on to say, “You have to speak with clarity, but then knowing what the fullness of the teaching is, you go out and meet people where they are,” he continued. “And the Holy Father keeps saying to us, ‘Accompany them.’ You don’t go out to meet people where they are to scold them. You go out to bring them the truth but sometimes to be heard you have to let the person know you know their struggle if you’re going to accompany them at all.”

Think about that advice:

  • Teach the truth
  • Meet people where they are … with compassion
  • Accompany them on their journey

Sounds like a Christ-like model to me!

Reflection and Prayer

It might be good to take some time this week to reflect on the “lessons” God wants us to learn in our lives and ask ourselves:

  • Where is the Holy Spirit calling me to grow in my life?
  • How do I model Jesus’s teachings of love, mercy, and compassion?
  • Who are the people in my family, in my community, in my world who need my “accompaniment” – who need to know the truth, but also need to know compassion?

If we are going to allow today’s readings to touch our hearts and guide our lives, we have to be watchful, holy and open to growth.

As we journey in our life of faith, let us find comfort Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” His truth and his love are always with us!

And let us find strength in the Eucharist we share today to go forth as the watchful, holy people God calls us to be.

True Greatness is About Holiness

jamesandjohnHomily from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

We learn two important lessons from today’s Gospel (Mark 10:35-34): First, that true greatness is about holiness, not self-gain. Second, that as we travel the path of holiness, we are going to encounter some bumps in the road … and some dead ends as well. Jesus gives us some insight on how to deal with both.

Suffering Servants

The reading begins in the middle of an exchange between Jesus and his apostles. Jesus had just told his followers about his imminent passion – how he would soon be captured, tortured and put to death. The apostles didn’t quite get it, even thought this was the third time Jesus had told them. The apostles didn’t yet grasp the fact that Jesus came into this world to serve (not to be served). And the apostles had a different idea of what it meant to be powerful and great.

So we hear the story of James and John telling Jesus “Teacher, we want you to do whatever we ask of you” (Kind of sounds like the way we often pray: “God, give me what I want and give it to me now!”)

James and John have the audacity to ask Jesus to put them ahead of others – to seat them in places of great honor when Jesus comes into his glory. Jesus tells them “That is not for me to decide,” indicating that such decisions are God’s alone. Jesus also tells them “You do not know what you are asking,” as a way of indicating that the path to holiness (to the kingdom of God) demands suffering. And even though James and John said they were ready to suffer along with Christ, Jesus knows better. He knows that they have much to learn about being suffering servants.

The apostles had a distorted vision of what it means to be great. Their experience was that those recognized as “great rulers” in the world held onto their power by lording it over others. Jesus offers encouragement to his apostles when he tells them “You are better than that.” Jesus wants them to be like him! The lesson Jesus was trying to teach his apostles is this: True greatness is about holiness; not about self-gain

We are not called to live in the spotlight and soak up all that light and glory for ourselves. True holiness is being the light of Christ for others, receiving God’s grace and being a reflection of God’s love.

Jesus wants us to be like him, living a life that is other-centered, not self-centered.

As we strive to be holy people, we are going to experience difficulties from time to time. We, too, are going to suffer. We can’t save ourselves (or anyone) from the trials of being human. But, through Jesus, we can have hope and we can help give hope to others.

Jesus understands our sufferings because he was fully human … in every way but sin. So we put our trust in God as we face our difficulties and our sufferings.

The up side is that these times of difficulty and suffering can be times of growth. It’s often hard to see this growth when we’re in the moment of our challenges. But time and distance gives us perspective, so we can look back and reflect on how God was present in difficult times.

We see God in our suffering:

  • When we turned our hearts toward God when we are tempted to do otherwise
  • When we experience the compassion of others in times of loss
  • When we seek and receive forgiveness for things we have done to hurt others

When we see God is with us in our difficulties, it reminds us that we are beloved children of God. It gives us hope.

Bumps in the Road

I watched an inspiring movie on Netflix recently, titled “Unconditional.” It’s a story about a woman named Samantha Crawford who was living a wonderful life. She had a farm, rode horses each day, wrote children’s books and had a husband who adored her. She lived a perfect life, and then her life was shattered when her husband is murdered.

At her lowest of lows, Samantha reconnects with a childhood friend, Joe Bradford, who has also fallen on tough times. In one scene in the movie, Samantha and Joe are lamenting about the suffering and pain they had experienced in their lives. Samantha says to Joe, “In my life, I’ve been down a lot of dead end roads.” Joe responds, “I’ve been down a few of those myself. But it’s not a dead end if it takes you somewhere you needed to go.”

I found that statement very inspiring. It reminds us that not all suffering is bad … if it takes us somewhere we need to go. Those “dead ends” can be places where we can be shaped and molded and grow with God.

We might benefit by taking some time to reflect on the struggles we’ve experienced in life and ask ourselves

  • What did I learn from that experience? If I strip away all of the anxiety and F.E.A.R. (that’s False Expectations Appearing Real), what were the life lessons I learned?
  • Then ask yourself: How can that knowledge benefit me in the future? How was God with me in my time of need? Who was Christ for me?

Unfortunately, it will take more than a lifetime to understand the will of God. So we have to have patience … we have to have faith. And, in both good times and in bad, we have to place your trust in God.

Moving Forward in Christ’s Love

In Eucharist, we are reminded of Jesus’ suffering – of his blood selflessly poured out in love so that we may live in God’s love. May our sharing of Christ’s cup today remind us of the promise of God’s unconditional love for us.

Choosing Faith Over Fear

Jesus calming the sea12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father’s Day – 2015

“Life is about choices …” That was the topic of a long discussion I had recently with a friend as we shared stories about raising our children.

Some of life’s choices are simple with minimal consequences: Will I eat a hamburger or a hot dog at today’s family picnic (or both)? Will I take time to pray this morning or will I sleep in? Will I choose to get stuck in rush hour traffic on Highway 40 or I-44?

Some choices are more difficult and have more severe consequences: Will I choose good or evil? Will I choose right or wrong? Will I choose fear or faith?

Our relationships often influence the choices we make.

Choices and Relationships

While in formation to become deacons, we spent a year in hospital ministry. We learned to minister to patients; to be present to them and their loved ones. We would spend a lot of time listening and praying with these patients and their families, helping provide comfort and hope.

One of the things the hospital chaplain taught us is that the way people accept death has a lot to do with their relationship with God. The chaplain told us: If people have a good relationship with God, they are better able to accept death and better able to transition from this world to the next. If people do not have a good relationship with God, the transition can be difficult. Death can be a fearful process, but good relationships with God and with others help us embrace our faith.

Facing fearful situations is part of being human. Relationship has a lot to do with how we face challenges in life.

“Craving the Wave”

Today is the first day of summer. Most summers, my family will vacation in Michigan. Some of my favorite memories are of the times I would spend with my wife and two daughters on those vacations – playing games, being silly, and having fun! When my daughters were elementary school-age, we would love to go to the beach and play a game we called “Crave the Wave” (named after those old Ocean Spray Cranberry commercials). The three of us would join hands and wade into Lake Michigan. We would have the time of our lives, riding the waves as they came in.

If the waves were not cooperative, we would taunt them with sayings like, “Come on, waves, we’re not afraid of you!” Or we’d give it that personal touch: “Your mother was a dribble; your father was a drip!”

When the waves would come in I’d feel my daughters’ grip tighten around my hand. We’d all float atop the waves, screaming “Wee!” When the waves came in too strong, or too close together I’d feel a death-grip on my hand as the girls were knocked around by the waves. When that would happen, I’d yank the girls out of the water and draw them close to me and they would respond by spitting water in my face as they gasped for breath. When they were able to calm down and realize they were OK, they would inevitably tell me, “Let’s do it again, Daddy! Let’s do it again!”

Because of the relationship we had developed with each other, they trusted me … even in fearful or anxious times.The same is true in our relationship with God.

God is Ever-Present in Our Lives

We often face fearful and anxious times in our lives. But our faith tells us that God is always present in those moments when we cannot handle things on our own. And when we face those trying times, we have to ask ourselves: Will we choose fear or faith?

Today’s Gospel from Mark contains one of the miracle stories: The Calming of the Storm. This story has Jesus asking himself if his disciples truly had faith. The disciples had been with Jesus for a while and heard him preach about the reign of God. They had witnessed Jesus perform a healing or two, but hadn’t yet witnessed any of the “big” miracles we read about later in Mark’s Gospel. So, when the storm came and appeared to threaten their lives, as the water flooded the boat, the disciples showed that they were still learning and developing their relationship with Jesus.

Listen to how they address Jesus, asleep in the boat: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” “Teacher” – they knew Jesus as a wise person, a “Rabbi,” but didn’t yet understand or accept Jesus as an almighty power, the Son of God. So, when Jesus commanded the wind and the sea, and they obeyed, this was quite a wake up call. The disciples asked: “Who is this here in the boat with us?”

This was a great teachable moment for the disciples. A real eye opener! This story is a great teachable moment for us as well. As we are confronted with real life choices and must choose between acting in fear or with faith, when our personal ships of faith seem ready to sink from time to time, when we confront the troubles in our lives, in our families, and in the world, we have to ask ourselves: Will we face these challenges with fear or with faith?

One way we can influence that decision is by building a strong “spiritual boat” for our journey.

How to Build Strong Spiritual Boats

In the early Christian church (and even today) a boat was often used to symbolize the Church. The early Church often appeared ready to swamp and sink because of persecutions by the Romans and Jewish authorities. Today, the Church might also seem like it will sink because of scandals brought on by sexual abuse or financial mismanagement. Challenges will always face us; we need to be prepared.

To prepare for challenges, to build a strong boat that strengthens our Church and our personal faith, we must grow in relationship with God and his Church. Here are three lessons in spiritual boat building that may help you in your work.

Lesson One:

The first lesson in spiritual boat building is to remember that we are not alone. We heard in our First Reading how Job wondered why so many terrible things happened in his life. Job wanted God to explain why a thoroughly innocent man had to suffer so much. God reminds Job of all of the blessings he takes for granted (for example, how storms may come, but God set limits on waters of the sea, and how God stilled the waves to protect Job).

God did not abandon Job (and neither does God abandon us). God gave us his Son and the Holy Spirit to be with us and to guide us in our lives. All that God asks in return is that we be open to his love and mercy: to know him, to love him, to serve him.

Lesson Two:

The second lesson in spiritual boat building is the same thing we fathers learn from raising our children: We have to spend time with the ones we love, talking to each other, listening to each other and sharing our feelings. Relationship building takes time, but it is well worth the effort.

Think about these first two lessons. And, in prayer this week, I encourage you to reflect on your relationship with God:

  • Where has God provided for you in your life? What are some of the blessings God has shared with you?
  • Where has God established limits to protect you? When has God been like a protective father and pulled you close to him in safety?

Your relationship with God affects the choices you make in your life. In times of trouble, do you choose fear or faith?

We sometimes sing a song during the Youth Mass titled, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail).” The chorus of that song is a beautiful prayer to God:

So I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace,
for I am Yours and You are mine.

“I am yours and you are mine.” That’s the kind of close, no-holds-barred, all-in type of relationship God wants for us (and we need from Him) to make good, faithful choices in our lives. God wants us to accept all of His love, grace and power. In return, God wants us to give all of ourselves back to Him. “I am yours and you are mine.” Here’s a link to a nice acoustic version of this song if you’d like to reflect on this thought.

Lesson Three:

Finally, let us remember this: Faith is always stronger when it is shared. So, as we gather at God’s table today to receive his Body and Blood, may it give us courage and strength to reach out and be that reassuring hand that helps others know God – especially in times of need.

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Happy Father’s Day!

Deacon Dan

Hear My Message

10024225Third Sunday of Easter

Some of the readings we hear at Mass are simple and straightforward. Other times, the readings are complex and more difficult to understand. My experience is that the readings that are most difficult understand and to preach on are the ones that occur on the third Sunday of the month (the weekend the deacons in our parish preach!).

Today’s readings are complex with lots of theological and scriptural nuances. As I reflected on today’s readings and worked on my homily, I was reminded of one of our parishioners who gave a witness talk not too long ago.

The parishioner was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. as a young man to better his life. In time, he became a naturalized citizen, got married and began to raise a family. As he began his witness talk, the man apologized if it was difficult to understand his English. His English was fine (and was much better than my Spanish ever will be). But to overcome any potential language barriers, he instructed the audience: “Don’t get lost in my words, but hear my message.”

I think that is sound advice for listening and reflecting on Scripture: Don’t get hung up on the language, the theology, the historical references – listen with your heart to the message God wants to share.

We hear some encouraging messages in today’s readings. In our First Reading, we hear Peter tell the people to repent and be converted, and your sins will be wiped away. This must have been very encouraging to a group of people who turned their back on Jesus and denied him, who asked that a murderer (Barabbas) be released from prison instead of Jesus, and who demanded that “the author of life” be put to death. These are grievous acts. But Peter gives the people a message of hope.

Peter comforts the people by reminding them that they acted out of ignorance (just as their leaders did) and that what happened had to happen to fulfill God’s plan. The remedy for these transgressions, Peter tells the people, is to repent and be converted.

Peter’s call to repentance and conversion does two things. First, it wipes away the peoples’ sins, allowing them to put the past behind them. Second, it serves as a call to action, giving the people direction to move forward with a holy purpose. To Peter and the Apostles, we are not called to be passive in our faith (to merely be listeners of the Word). We are called to a very specific response – to live and share our faith.

In living our faith we are not expected to be perfect, but we are expected to make progress. And when we slip up and sin, Saint John in our Second Reading reminds us that we have an advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” who intercedes for us and who has made amends for our sins.

There was no reason for the people to be trapped in the past. And there is no reason for us to be trapped by our sins as well. Repent, beg forgiveness and move forward with a holy purpose.

In our Gospel reading, we hear some of the final words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. These are some of the final words Jesus speaks to his friends before his Ascension, so you know that these words are spoken with great love:

  • “Peace be with you” – let you heart be at peace
  • “Don’t be troubled” – I am with you always
  • “Don’t let your hearts be filled with questions. – have faith in me
  • “Listen to me with open minds” – I will show you the way

Jesus also provides a message that challenges. He tells his friends that as witnesses to his suffering, death and resurrection, they are to go be witnesses to all the nations, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Go” is such a powerful word in this discourse. These are the words Jesus gives to his Church, direction all of us to evangelize and be a witness in the world. Jesus’ instructions demand action.

In gospel terms, a witness is not someone who just knows the facts or who was present for a particular event. In gospel terms, a witness is one who can give personal testimony and share what they have heard, what they have seen, and what they have experienced. Witnessing to the Gospel (the Good News) calls us to a very specific response to how we live our lives:

  • It calls us … to have an open mind and open heart to receive the Word of God – and be willing to reach out to share that truth
  • It calls us … to be willing to keep God’s commandments – the greatest of which are to love God and to love our neighbor
  • It calls us … to lead our lives as a living example of Christ

I encourage you to reflect on these thoughts this week:

  • How does Jesus appear to us in this day and age?
  • Who are the people who witness to Jesus in our lives?
  • How can each of us be a living witness to our Catholic faith?

There are four messages from today’s readings that I hope will inspire us all:

  1. Turn our hearts to God – let go and let God be the center of our lives
  2. Trust in God as an advocate and healer – lean on God and his mercy
  3. Live in peace – know the peace of Christ and share it with others
  4. Be an active witness to Christ’s love – “You may be the only Gospel some people will ever read”

And as we approach the altar today in Eucharist, let us recall how the first disciples knew the resurrected Jesus in the breaking of the bread. May our hearts be on fire with a renewed commitment to take the Lord’s message and share it with all the world.

You are loved!

Deacon Dan

More Than a Lifetime (Revisited)

19266212Last Lent, I published a reflection on Archbishop Carlson’s pastoral letter, “Partakers of the Divine Nature” and encouraged readers to pray as a way of growing closer to God. I also noted that that this relationship begins where we are and lasts beyond our earthly lifetime. These same thoughts continue to percolate in my mind this season of Lent.

I was reminded of this reflection and the song I began to write last year as I was serving on an ACTS Retreat last week. I love to hear about other people’s journeys in Christ, especially their stories of spiritual growth. This growth is a paradox – of letting go, while actively abiding in the Lord. One important way to foster this spiritual growth happens is in prayer and reflection.

So, as I served on last week’s retreat I also spent time in prayer and reflection to help remind me of the value and importance of prayer, and of the abiding relationship to which Christ has called us.

With some refinements from last Lent’s version, I offer the following prayer/song as we prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. Have faith, trust in God, spend time in prayer!


Deacon Dan

More Than a Lifetime

A Lenten Reflection by Deacon Dan Donnelly

I come, humbled by your grace for I am broken
But I know I am yours
I come, to this time and place to be awakened
By the light of your love

Calm my heart, soothe my soul
Draw me in, O Breath of God!

 It will take me more than a lifetime to understand your love
To give completely all that I am and to know you as you are
So I will come to you in silence
And abide with you in prayer
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face

 I come, yearning to be free from all that binds me
From what’s holding me back
I come, letting down these walls that separate me
From your mercy and love

Calm my heart, soothe my soul
Draw me in, O Breath of God!

It will take me more than a lifetime to understand your love
To give completely all that I am and to know you as you are
So I will come to you in silence
And abide with you in prayer
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face

I will join you in prayer (in your Holy Presence)
And I will never despair (for you are always with us)
Though I see you now so dimly, some day just as you are
I will see you as you are!

It will take me more than a lifetime to understand your love
To give completely all that I am and to know you as you are
So I will come to you in silence
And abide with you in prayer
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.