Mary, Who Intercedes for Us

Homily for Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 20, 2019

Mary was the first disciple and first teacher of Jesus (important roles for the Mother of God). Yet there are only a few times in the Bible where we find Mary’s recorded words.

We know that Mary was present throughout Jesus’ life, but only a few times in the Gospels do we “hear” her speak. And every time we come across one of these gems, we learning something important about Mary – and something important about ourselves. For example:

  • At the Annunciation, Mary teaches us to have complete trust in God (“Let it be done to me according to your word.”)
  • At the Visitation, Mary teaches us humility in service (“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my savior … From now on, all will call me blessed.”)
  • In the story of Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple, Mary teaches us to be patient and reflective as we learn from the tension in our lives

The gem we find in today’s Gospel is how Mary serves as an intercessor and how she can help connect our lives and our needs with her son, Jesus.

As we reflect on today’s Gospel of the Wedding at Cana, it is important to reflect on not only what Mary did in this story, but what she didn’t do.

In this reading, Mary demonstrates similar characteristics that we witness in other readings (Mary has a strong faith; she is trusting; she is compassionate; and she is patient.) Mary doesn’t get into an argument with her Son, she simply makes Jesus aware of the situation and instructs the servants “Do whatever he tells you.”

In doing so, Mary intercedes on behalf of the wedding party and places the problem squarely in Jesus’ capable hands.

So, how does this story help us? This story reminds us:

  1. To be attentive to the needs of others and be willing to help.
  2. That in our prayer, we don’t have to have all the answers. We can place our needs in God’s hands with confidence that he will give us what we need.
  3. That we don’t have to do this alone. Others can help and intercede on our behalf.

We regularly rely others to intercede for us.

  • Think of the Hail Mary prayer which we ask Mary to “Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”
  • Think of the Penitential Rite at the beginning of Mass where we are reminded that Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.”
  • We ask the Saints in heaven to “Pray for us.”
  • And, we have each other to rely on in prayer and service

So, what did Mary not do in today’s Gospel? Mary didn’t dictate what Jesus had to do to resolve the problem. She simply made Jesus aware: “They have no wine.”

This, I believe, is one of the most endearing qualities of Mary: She is a good and loving mother. She knows when to be assertive and when to dial things back a bit. And she is always compassionate.

Over the years, I have developed a certain, personal vision of Mary as my mother:

  • She is the one who comes to us as we pray (especially in praying the Rosary).
  • She is the one who stands by our side to help us better know her Son.
  • She is the one who gathers all of our fragmented prayers (our hopes, our fears, our incomplete groaning) intercedes for us.

She takes all of these fragmented prayers, bundles them in her love and presents them to her Son, exclaiming: “They have no wine.”

Mary’s action reminds us that it’s OK to ask God for specific needs and desired outcomes when we pray. But we have to keep our hearts and minds open to the will of God. The outcome, the result of we prayed for may not what we asked. Our fragmented prayers may be answered in different ways than we imagined.

A couple of popular sayings help illustrate this:

  1. “God always answers prayers; sometimes the answer is ‘no’.” We have to pray, but be open to God’s grace.
  2. “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” Our prayer should not be a monologue, a one-way street. We need to be in dialogue with God during our prayer and our planning, taking time to listen.
  3. “When God closes a door, he opens a window.” God’s plans may be different (even better) than our own.

This week, I encourage you to take some time to reflect and pray on this Gospel reading. Ask Mary to pray for you (and with you). Invite her to intercede for you.

And as you do this, speak to Mary as a mother. Share the good news in your life. And talk to her about the “wine” that is missing in your life – the different challenges you face.

Think about the “fragments” in your life that you would like to give to Mary. As a good mother and intercessory, trust that she will bundle your fragmented prayer in love and present them to God. And whatever God’s response may be, have the same confidence and trust as Mary to “Do whatever he tells you.”

Opening Our Treasures

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, January 6, 2019

Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord. When I think of the word “epiphany” I think of those “Ah-hah!” moments in life when you gain a sudden insight or deeper meaning of something. As we experience from today’s Gospel, the word “epiphany” has another meaning – the manifestation or appearance of something. That “something” in today’s Gospel is the appearance of the Savior-child, Jesus. This “epiphany” occurs as the world realizes that the Messiah has come for all people.

We witness this in Matthew’s account of The Visit of the Magi (MT 2:1-12). In today’s Gospel we hear that familiar story of the three visitors (some call them Magi, some call them Wise men, others call them kings, scholars and pilgrims). These visitors come to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews. They saw the star in the eastern sky and traveled as pilgrims to worship the Christ-child.

It’s important to note that these men were not Jewish, yet they acknowledged who Christ truly is. They understood that all nations are called to worship Christ, and that all people are called to praise him with the gift of their lives.

As we hear today, when the Magi found the Christ-child, they prostrated themselves (a sign of great reverence), they honored him for who he is (the Savior-king), and the “opened their treasures” and presented him with precious gifts befitting a king (gold, frankincense, and myrrh).

THREE GIFTS

Theologians over the years have provided a deeper meaning of these three gifts given by the Magi.

Saint Irenaeus teaches that these three gifts signify the mystery of the Incarnate God (God who became man). He teaches that:

  • Gold is a symbol of Christ’s royalty
  • Frankincense (a fragrance used in worship, point’s to Christ’s divinity
  • Myrrh (an oil used as a burial ointment) represents Christ’s humanity – especially in his passion and death

Pope Saint Gregory teaches us that these same items represent gifts that we are to present to God in our daily lives. He teaches that:

  • Gold is the wisdom of God which is to shine in our lives
  • Frankincense is the prayer and adoration we are to give God
  • Myrrh is our daily sacrifices we offer to the Lord

So, with this understanding, a question we should ask ourselves is:

How do we continue to shine in God’s wisdom, as children of light?

The answer comes down to “gifts” – how we acknowledge them, and how we use them.

THE HEART OF A SERVANT

About 15 years ago I was in San Antonio for business. One night, while walking home to my hotel after dinner I heard this question in my mind: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? It startled me and made me pause. Then I heard it again: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? I excitedly walked to my hotel, went to my room, pulled out my journal and waited for the answer to come: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? But nothing came … God was silent and I was left alone with my thoughts.

I reflected on that question for quite some time, not knowing the answer. Then, one day I share this story with my friend, Deacon Joe Kennedy (Joe had served as a mentor and spiritual companion as I discerned my call to become a deacon). Joe encouraged me to reflect on how I have been gifted during my years of formation to become a deacon, and challenged me to do what I love to do … put my thoughts and feelings into a poem or lyrics to a song.

I took Deacon Joe’s challenge and penned these words:

What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?
What treasure do I possess that would glorify my king?
Not diamonds or emeralds, not rubies or gold
Those “treasures” are not enough to lay before your throne

Should I sing you a love song and flood you with praise
To prove that my love for you grows stronger every day?
No, you only want one thing; one gift is enough
You simply want all of me, and to abide with you in love

I give you my heart, the heart of a servant, Lord
I give you my joyfulness, my brokenness – everything I am
May I grow to know and love you, and serve the ones you love
I’ll give you a heart like yours: The heart of a servant

There is more to the song, but you get the gist. The chorus of this song (“I give you my heart …”) became my prayer on my day of ordination – to give God my heart in service to him and his people.

In our Second Reading today (EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6) we hear Paul speak of “the stewardship of God’s grace” that was given to Paul for the benefit of Christ’s followers. That statement from Paul is a reminder that we are all charged with being good stewards of God’s grace. To do this, we should take some time to reflect:

  • What gifts has God given me?
  • What gifts am I called to share with God, and with others?
  • How has God called me? Where is he leading me?
  • How will I cooperate with God to allow his wisdom shine in my life?

There are no quick, simple answers. Like my experience in San Antonio, we have to be patient and persistent in our discernment.

OPENING OUR TREASURES TO GOD

Today’s Gospel teaches us that the light of Christ extends farther then we could ever imagine. God wants to fill us with wisdom and mercy. He wants us to be good stewards of all that he gives us, and to generously share God’s gifts with others. For this to happen, we have to be like the Magi and “open our treasures” to God. We must:

  1. Let the “gold” we offer to God be our talents and efforts
  2. Let the “frankincense” we offer be our prayers and worship
  3. Let the “myrrh” we offer be our sufferings and sorrows, offered up to God

I encourage you to spend some time in prayer this week, and sit with this question:

What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?

And, today, as we receive the Lord again in Holy Communion, be conscious of the grace you are receiving through this sacrament that allows you to respond to whatever the Lord wants for you – and from you.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

Counting Your Blessings

Homily for 4th Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018

Today’s Gospel story is titled The Visitation in which Elizabeth receives Mary at her home. This Gospel is part of a series of stories in Luke’s Gospel that reflect on God’s blessings.

Just before this reading is the story of The Annunciation, where Mary is visited by the Angel, Gabriel, who announces to Mary that she has found favor with God (Mary is blessed). To prove that nothing is impossible for God, Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age (Elizabeth is blessed).

Mary humbly accepts the blessing God has bestowed on her (to conceive and bear a son, Jesus) and she takes off “in haste” to visit her cousin and to witness firsthand this blessing God has bestowed on Elizabeth.

That’s what transpires. So, what do we learn from these stories? That, like Mary, we are servants of the Lord and are recipients of God’s blessings.

And what does it mean to be “blessed”? It means to be made holy, to be consecrated, devoted to God.

Counting Your Blessings

Are you familiar with the term “earworm”? It’s when a catchy song or tune gets stuck in your brain and continually runs through your mind. (I get them all the time!). The earworm stuck in my mind this week is courtesy of the movie, “White Christmas” (one of my favorite Christmas movies). The earworm comes from the song “Count Your Blessings.”

Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sing these words from songwriter, Irving Berlin:

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep 
I count my blessings instead of sheep
and I fall asleep counting my blessings

I thought about this song while praying over today’s readings; how Mary and Elizabeth experienced blessings in their lives, and how their faith in God helped sustain them as they accepted and lived those blessings.

We recall from The Annunciation story that Mary demonstrates great humility in consenting to be the mother of Jesus: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

We hear from today’s story that Elizabeth is moved by the Holy Spirit and testifies that the child in Mary’s womb is the Messiah: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Even John the Baptist gets into the celebration as we hear: “At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

These final days of Advent are good opportunities to reflect on the blessings in our lives. I encourage you to:

  • Take some time to read the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
  • Reflect on how people in these various stories (Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptist) reacted to God’s blessings.
  • Take some time to reflect on your own blessings, and how you respond to God.

The second stanza of “Counting Your Blessings” is this:

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all 
and I fall asleep counting my blessings.

The Visitation story anticipates the kind of joy we would like to celebrate this Christmas. No matter what blessings or challenges we experience in our lives, we always have hope (hope in God, and hope all his blessings).

I found this sentence in this week’s Office of Readings. You may find it beneficial, no matter how you are experiencing this Holiday season:

Hope sustains us. “For if one hopes even though his tongue be still
he is singing always in his heart.”               

Being blessed means singing in your heart. May your hearts be full this Christmas with the beautiful music of the blessings of God.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

Cultivating a Culture of Stewardship

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018

This Sunday marks the beginning of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. It also marks the beginning of the Season of Advent. As I thought about these two events, I remembered that my spiritual director would often ask me how I was going to use a particular liturgical season (Advent, Lent, etc.) to grow in relationship with God. How was I going to participate in the celebration of the season? What change did I want to see in my life as I worked to grow in holiness during that time?

I turned to today’s readings to reflect on the themes of participating, growing, and changing and how they applied to this season of Advent. I found our Second Reading to be particularly helpful in answering these questions.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians (1 THES3:12-4:2) to give them hope in their journey of faith. He sends them a blessing for the work they have been doing, and encourages them to grow even more. He tells them: “increase and abound in love for one another.” What Paul is telling them is:

  • By opening their hearts even more, the will learn to live and love more generously.
  • Their hearts will be strengthened and they will live a more joyful and holy life.

Today, I want to talk about how we, as a parish, can increase and abound; how we can live more generously; and how we can increase our love and care for each other. I have been asked to speak to you today about stewardship.

The Meaning of Stewardship

Growing up, I remember hearing my parents and other adults kidding that there were only three things required to be a good Catholic: Pay, Pray and Obey. To people of my parents’ generation, that was a humorous way of describing “stewardship” as they understood and experienced it: Give money to the Church, go to Mass each Sunday, and toe the “company line.”

I think you would agree that this is an underdeveloped understanding of what stewardship is really about. As we better understand it today, Stewardship is::

  • Growing in relationship with God (and God’s people);
  • Knowing and using our God-given gifts (our strengths) in ways that contribute to our own well-being, and the well-being of others;
  • Acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from God; and
  • Knowing that “to increase and abound in love” we have to allow ourselves to be transformed (to open our hearts and minds and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives)

This process of stewardship is transformative. It happens over time and helps us be grateful and joyful givers. 

Stewardship begins with a single thought: That everything we have is a gift from God. From that thought, we develop an “attitude of gratitude” which further guides us as we grow in love, understanding and generosity.

All Gifts Come from God

Do you believe that everything you have is a gift from God? This thought has been engrained in our minds for years, but if we aren’t paying attention, we may miss it. Think about what we pray every night before dinner, acknowledging our God-given gifts:

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts
Which we are about to receive from Thy bounty
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Read it again — slowly — and think about what it says: God is the origin of all we have, God’s gifts are bountiful, and we are continually blessed through the love of Jesus, our Savior.

This is a simple prayer of gratitude that we can take for granted. But we can’t take stewardship for granted. If we are not intentional, prayerful and reflective about where our gifts come from and how we share those gifts, we may grow complacent and become apathetic about God’s gifts, thinking we don’t have to participate, grow or change.

God blesses us and calls us to share our gifts; to “increase and abound in love for one another” (in our parish community, and for all God’s people). That is what stewardship is all about.

Stewardship Committee

Father Pastorius has asked me to guide a group of parishioners who will focus on stewardship in our parish through the formation of a new Stewardship Committee.

  • The mission of the Stewardship Committee is: To cultivate a culture of stewardship that emphasizes prayer, participation and generosity in St. Joseph Parish.
  • The vision of the Stewardship Committee is: To help transform the life of our parish community by being joyful witnesses to the abundance of our God-given gifts.

Fostered by the work of this Committee, we want stewardship in our parish to be expressed by:

  1. Spending time with God in prayer, taking time every day to recognize the gifts God has given us, and being grateful for them. This moves us to reflection, asking God how he wants us to use the gifts he has given to us.
  • Sharing our talent, acknowledging and using the unique skills and talents and strengths God has given us so that together, we can do the work of Our Lord. It also means encouraging and inviting and welcoming others to use their talents to participate in the mission and ministry of our parish — and the greater CatholicChurch.
  • Generously giving our treasure, giving not in comparison with others, and not from our excess, but in proportion to all that God has given to us, with a generous and joyful heart.

What I have witnessed so far in my research of stewardship practices is that this process of cultivating a culture of stewardship can be truly transformational for a parish like St. Joe’s. And we are blessed to have great resources and support from the Archdiocese to strengthen and sustain our parish in the practice of stewardship.

We would like all parishioners to learn more about Stewardship, and to perhaps consider being part of the Stewardship Committee.

Next weekend, Mr. David Baranowski, Director of Stewardship Education for the Archdiocese will speak at each of the Masses about how we can transform our parish by focusing on our giftedness; how we can use our gifts and strengths together (now and in the future).

The evening of Monday, December 10, David will lead a workshop for St. Joseph parishioners focusing on how our “personal stewardship” can transform not only our own lives, but also how our “parish stewardship” can transform the life of our parish community.

This workshop which will be held in the church from 7:00 – 9:00 pm and is open to all parishioners.  During the workshop, we will also share more information about the work of the Stewardship Committee and how you can be a part of this new endeavor.

An Invitation to Reflective Action

One of the steps in “cultivating” anything (like a culture of stewardship) is to help prepare the soil. That is the purpose of my homily today – to help prepare our hearts and minds to accept the seed of stewardship in our parish.

As we begin this season of Advent, as we await the joyful coming of our Savior, let us prepare our hearts and minds to embrace the spirit of stewardship by reflecting on these questions:

  1. Do I see all thatI have as a gift from God?
  2. What is God calling me to do to increase my generosity?
  3. How can I become a better steward of God’s gifts and foster an attitude of gratitude within me, within my family, and within my parish community?

Blessings to you and yours for a joy-filled Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Deacon Dan

Dimensions of Discipleship

What-Are-You-Looking-ForHomily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 16, 2018

The term “discipleship” has increased in popularity in Catholic circles these past few years. Discipleship is our response to our Baptismal call to follow Jesus, emulating him in thought, action, and word.

Today’s readings remind us that discipleship requires many things, including suffering and service – denying ourselves and following the way of the Lord. Today’s Psalm (Psalm 116) reminds us that God’s strength guides us in our journey, a journey that leads to salvation. In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-35) we witness the tension that existed among the first followers of Jesus regarding a different dimension of discipleship.

WHO DO THEY SAY THAT I AM?

In this Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a little pop quiz to see if they have been paying attention to what he has been trying to teach them. By asking the question “Who do they say that I am?” Jesus gets a sense of how people understand his mission. The disciples responded that most people saw Jesus as John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. But here is where the pop quiz gets tricky: Jesus asks his disciples “But who do YOU say that I am?”

Peter nailed the quiz. He responded “You are the Christ” (the anointed one, the Messiah they had been waiting for). Peter was correct, but there is more to the story …

Jesus described characteristics of a Messiah that the people found uncomfortable. He described a Messiah who would be rejected, would suffer and die, and then rise in three days. The crowd was expecting a more powerful and triumphant Messiah. To many (including Peter) what Jesus was describing was a “failed Messiah.”

Peter reprimands Jesus and an argument ensues between the two.  When things calm down a bit, Jesus uses this incident as a “teachable moment.” He teaches that discipleship means not only emulating Jesus, but following the same path as Jesus – no matter how difficult that path may be, or how different that path may be compared to popular standards. As disciples, it is not enough to be like Jesus; we have to follow the same path as Jesus.

Jesus is the very model of discipleship (he follows the path laid out by his Father). What Jesus teaches us from today’s Gospel is a different dimension of discipleship: suffering and death, that will ironically end in a totally new way of life for us. Armed with this perspective, we understand something the early disciples did not understand.

  • A disciple not only follows Jesus, but is willing to give up this earthly life in order to gain everlasting life in heaven
  • We are called to “give up” this earthly life every day as we choose to live like Jesus.

It’s like what we hear repeatedly during the season of Lent: Repent and live the Gospel (turn away from sin and follow the same path as Jesus). That’s the calling of a disciple.

WHO WILL THEY SAY THAT I AM?

Today’s Gospel reminded me of one other thing: the late Judy Combs. I am certain many of you know Judy. She was an active and engaged member of St. Joseph Parish. She was a beautiful soul with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and the fire of Jesus in her heart.

Six years ago, Judy approached me and asked me to compose a song for an ACTS retreat she was supporting. The theme of that retreat was based on today’s Gospel (“Who do they say that I am?”)

I wasn’t excited about writing a song at the time, but let’s just say that Judy was persistent and persuasive. (Judy wasn’t the kind of person who would follow up with a cordial “How is the song coming along?” She was more direct, asking “When will I see the first draft?” and reminding you “That song won’t write itself, you know.”)

So, I took the theme of the retreat and tried to give it a contemporary spin for the song Judy requested. The chorus of the song was very simple. It was Jesus’ voice speaking to each of us today, asking:

When [people] hear your voice, when they see the work of your hands,
will they know my name? Who sill they say that I am?
Who will they say that I am?

The verses of the song reflect on how we intentionally live as a disciple, asking these questions:

  • Do my thoughts, words and actions – all that I am – reflect Jesus?
  • When people see or hear me, do they know the kindness, love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and generosity of Jesus?

Discipleship (the call to follow Jesus) demands a generous response. Mere words and thoughts are not enough. As we heard in today’s Letter from St. James (James 2:14-18):

  • Faith in the Lord should motivate us to be generous (we cannot ignore the needs of those around us).
  • True faith is demonstrated by good works (we should clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and provide others with the necessities of life).

This is summed up best in a quote attributed to Pope Francis:

You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.

What a great example of discipleship in action!

This week, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your life as a disciple. Ask yourself:

  1. Do my thoughts, words and actions reflect the love of Christ?
  2. When people hear my voice, when they see the work of my hands, do they see Jesus in me?

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

Because God Loves Us!

shapeimage_1-11Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 29, 2018

When we hear about the miracles Jesus performed, we often think: How did he do that?

How did Jesus feed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish? How did Jesus walk on water with human feet? How did Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead? (And, my personal favorite) How did Jesus change ordinary water into wine?

When we think of such miracles, the question isn’t “how”, but “why”? Why did Jesus perform these miracles?

The simple answer is because he loves us, and he wants us to learn to know him, and to trust him. God knows what we need before we even ask for it. We have to trust he will provide what we need.

If you want some insights as to “how” Jesus does all this, look to what Jesus does many times before he performs a miracle: He opens his hands in prayer … and satisfies our deepest needs He does this by being an instrument of God’s grace.

We too, are called to be an instrument of grace.

Here’s a Fun Fact: The miracle story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle contained in all four Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John). Today’s version (from the Gospel of John) is different in what we hear in the Synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is totally in charge. He is the assertive one concerned about feeding the crowd. Jesus himself is the one who distributes the loaves and fishes to the people. John’s version of this miracle story (the multiplication of the loaves and fishes) is a sign Jesus uses to reveal something about him: Jesus is the prophet promised to God’s people. But Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the Bread of Life.

As we know from other scripture, Jesus is the one who ultimately feeds people in abundance with his body and blood.

I went to the Internet (the source of all factual information) and Googled the phrase: “How many Catholic Masses each day?”

According to one source, there are an estimated 350,000 Catholic Masses celebrated every day on planet earth.

Think about it: 350,000 Masses each day, 365 days per year, for over 2,000 years (the numbers are staggering! In the billions!) And why? Because God loves us!

  • He sent his only Son to dwell among us, to experience human needs, and pain, and suffering … just like us!
  • He sent his only Son to lay down his life for the forgiveness of our sins
  • And we – 2,000 years later – continue to celebrate his passion, death and resurrection each day, in every part of the world

That is a strong message of love and trust.

In today’s First Reading, we heard how God provided all that his people needed.

In today’s Psalm, we heard that “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”

Today’s Gospel reminds us that God not only feeds us, but that He will take whatever fragments we have to give, and feed us with abundance.

All he asks is that we trust him.

So I invite you, as we receive Jesus’s Body and Blood today, to be conscious of God’s abundant love and grace.

As we go forward this week, let us reflect on how we trust in God.

  • Do we trust him enough to allow him to be totally in charge of our lives and to guide us?
  • Are we conscious of the many ways we have been abundantly blessed by God’s grace?

Come Away and Rest Awhile

193915251.jpgHomily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 22, 2018

In last week’s Gospel, we heard the story of Jesus sending his apostles into the world, two-by-two, to preach the good news, and to heal the sick. This week, we hear about the apostles returning from their journey and reporting to Jesus what they have experienced.

The apostles’ journey had been a success. They were filled with zeal and were excited to report all that they had done and taught. The apostles where fully engaged in their ministry. They rejoiced for God’s power alive in them, and were delighted to be serving in this way.

Jesus was happy to see his friends and hear their reports, but he was concerned about their wellbeing, knowing the challenges ahead of them. One of the challenges was the growing number of people who hungered for more of what Jesus and his friends offered. To Jesus, these people were like “sheep without a shepherd.”

So, Jesus takes on the role of the “Good Shepherd” in responding to his apostles and the growing crowds of people.

COME AWAY

Notice the language Jesus uses in addressing his apostles. Jesus doesn’t tell them to “go” and do something. Instead, he tells them “come” – indicating that Jesus will accompany them – wherever they go. Jesus doesn’t order his apostles to do anything. Instead, he encourages them:

  • To get some rest (to retreat from all they have been doing)
  • To come away by themselves (and to leave the crowds behind)
  • To make sure they receive nourishment (to be able to continue their work)

This is a good recipe for sustainability in ministry.

Jesus is like the Good Shepherd in today’s Psalm: guiding his sheep to places where they can rest and rejuvenate; accompanying them (even in dark times), giving them courage; feeding them (body and soul) to strengthen them for the journey; and anointing them and blessing them with abundant grace.

REFLECTING ON OUR GIFTS

 A couple of things we need to reflect on from today’s readings:

  1. Each of us is gifted by God and called to a particular ministry
  2. To share those gifts as God intended, we need time to rest, and to be fed

That means that we must:

  • Have balance in our life – setting priorities on what matters most.
  • Trust in God’s grace – realizing that God provides all we need; that he will guide us and guard us on our journey

As a deacon, I love the work I do for our parish and the archdiocese, and I enjoy the work I do in my professional life.

My wife allows me great freedom to fully engage in my ministry as a deacon. My full-time, paying job, working with the Marianists, allows me to incorporate my executive leadership experience to help schools and retreat centers grow their Catholic and Marianist mission and identity. But none of this works if I don’t set priorities and a sense of balance in my life. I am certain that the same is true for you.

Our lives work best when we take time to:

  • Rest, relax and reflect, as we listen to the voice of God
  • Spend time alone (and with family and friends) to enjoy life, and rejuvenate
  • Be fed – physically, emotionally, and spiritually

A question you might want to ask yourself is: “How am I being fed?”

  • What are you doing to nurture your spiritual life?
  • What are the priorities in your life? How is your sense of “balance”?

I heard an interview on TV the other day. The lead singer for a rock-and-roll band was asked about his habit of going to church each week (something you don’t expect from someone in his profession). When asked why he goes to church each week, the rock star replied, “It’s not because I have to; it’s because I want to.”

This man knew he needed to be spiritually renewed each week. That’s a good example of setting priorities and having a sense of balance in your life.

The reason we Catholics go to Mass every week is (first), to worship God – to give God praise for all he has given us. The second reason is to be fed. Like the apostles, we need to be nourished and formed to continue to do the will of God.

We trust that the grace we receive by participating at Mass will help us grow closer to God, and sustain us in our work of proclaiming God in the world.

I encourage you: Take some time this week to “come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Find some place, and some time to be still and rest in God’s love.

Wherever you go, know that Jesus (the “Good Shepherd”) is there with you.

Confessions of an Over Packer


suitcaseHomily for the 15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 15, 2018

I had a conversation with one of my daughters the other day. We were talking about a character flaw we share in common: We are both “over packers.” When packing for trips, we tend to pack too much stuff – too many changes of clothing; too may supplies; and too many things to read.

This over packing usually leads to two things: First, our suitcases are stuffed to the max and they weigh a ton. Second, we rarely ever us all of the things we thought we just had to have for the trip.

I thought about this conversation while reflecting on today’s Gospel. When commissioning his disciples, Jesus gave strict orders what to “pack” and what to leave behind on their journey. The disciples were to bring only what they had on their back – no food, no luggage, no changes of clothing, and no money. They were allowed to bring a walking stick and their sandals (this indicated that they had a long, difficult journey ahead of them).

Rather than being burdened by human decisions as they went about their work as missionaries, Jesus wanted his disciples to:

  • Rely on God’s grace (God would provide all they needed to minister and heal others)
  • Rely on the kindness of strangers (to provide for their earthly needs)
  • Rely on each other (Jesus sent them out two-by-two for a reason!)

And if things didn’t go well in a particular town, and people didn’t listen to the disciples, they were instructed to move on (to “leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them”).

We can learn a lot from this relatively short Gospel passage:

  1. We learn that we have to avoid being overwhelmed and weighed down by our earthly needs and open our ears and our hearts to what God wants to do for us in our “mission” on earth.

 So think about the ways you “over pack” in your life and fail to listen to God.

For me – in addition to over packing my suitcase, I can weigh myself down with all the diversions in my life. For example, not taking enough time in silent prayer, and loading myself up with reading material during adoration, instead of just listening). It’s hard to hear God when you refuse to listen!

  1. We can get caught up trying to minister alone when, in truth, we are called to live and work in community.

It’s hard to hear God when you lock the door to your heat and close out God – and your friends and family.

In whatever we do in life, it is important to listen to God. It is important to trust in God’s grace working all around us.

  1. It is important to persevere in our life’s work, but it is also important to know when it is time to “accept the things you cannot change” and, like the disciples, “shake the dust off your sandals and walk away.

This isn’t giving up; this is moving on. This is not failure; this is commitment to doing God’s will.

Each of us has gifts to share, and each of us is called to share those gifts. W may not think we are “called” to be missionaries, but we are.

Listen to the prophet Amos in the First Reading, we may feel like simple shepherds or farmers, but don’t let that stop you from hearing and responding to God’s call to serve. As Amos understood, “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.”

So, this week, I encourage you to think about a couple of things:

  1. What is it that God is calling you to do – right now – to serve him and God’s people?
  2. What are some of the things that burden you or weigh you down that, if left behind would allow you to be the best version of yourself?

A prophet (like Amos) is one who hears and proclaims the will of God. How are you a prophet? How are you a missionary?

Remember how the disciples trusted God to provide for them in their work. It began with listening.

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.