Category Archives: Change

Holy Spirit, Come

I ran into a parishioner the other day and she commented that she loved to read my blogs. She must be an extremely patient person, as I have been lax at posting anything to my blog for several months. I don’t have the discipline or drive to be a constant poster to the blogosphere. But I do enjoy sharing and I have witnessed how my mini-sermons have had a positive impact on some, so I keep on trying.

Whenever I start to pick on myself for not posting enough, I tend to take the position: Who would want to read anyting I write? I’m not special; I’m not going to change someone’s life by my writing. And then I remember – It’s not about me! It’s about allowing God to work through me.

There’s a parallel to the way I write songs. Again, I question my ability and influence and write lyrics and chords for my own pleasure and distraction with the best intentions of posting them and performing them at some time. But I’m slow to complete a song. My perfectionistic tendencies make me want to work and re-work (and re-re-work) a song until I get it “right”. The lyrics have to relay the right message. The chorus has to have a good hook. The chord progressions have to be pleasing and inviting. But then I remember that I am merely an amateur, writing what is on my mind and in my heart. And if that has all been placed there by God, then that’s enough.

My latest attempt at song writing is an example of this turmoil I put myself through. The re-worked title is “Holy Spirit, Come.” The song came to me over several years and is influenced by a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius Prayer (Suscipe – “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will …”). It is a song of abandonment, of inviting the Holy Spirit to take all control and to shape and mold me as God wishes. I have written and re-written this song several times over the years. Here is the most recent version:

Holy Spirit, Come

Holy Spirit, come, reign over me.
Open up my eyes to see your majesty.
Speak to my heart. Dwell within my soul.
Let your grace reign down on me, and flow through me.
Holy Spirit, come.

Spirit of God, come to me;
You alone stir up my soul.
Wisdom of God, transform me.
Come and take control.
Help to make your wounded servant whole.

Holy Spirit, come …

Light of the world, shine through me.
Let me be your light in the world.
Send me your love and grace, Lord.
Though I’m weak and poor,
Flood my heart, I’ll want for nothing more.

Holy Spirit, come …

Take my life and all I am.
Shape and form me in your hands.
Come, meet me where I am and lead me
to a life that never ends.

Holy Spirit, come …

So, the challenge is in the trusting and letting go – allowing someone else to take the lead in life. The reward is great – eternal life with God.

I pray that today, as you read these words, you allow the Holy Spirit to stir up your soul and flood you with abundant graces. We don’t have to be perfect to be loved, we just have to be willing to try.

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Deacon Dan

Copyright (c) Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Celebrating the Ascensions in our Lives

This Sunday we celebrate the Ascension, when Jesus left this world for his heavenly home. It’s an interesting topic to preach about. To me, there are two central themes in today’s readings:

1. Preparing to receive the Holy Spirit
2. Going forth to live the gospel in our lives

We hear about this in our first reading, from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:1-11). Just before Jesus ascends into heaven, he tells his followers that he wants them to “be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.” This is the last thing he says to his apostles, and after he ascends into heaven his followers are left gawking at the sky wondering, what next? Two men in white robes (angels) appear to them and remind them that Jesus will return again just as he left and, in the mean time, they have some work to do – to live out the mission Jesus has given them.

In the Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:15-20), we hear a similar call for the apostles to “proclaim the gospel to every creature.” And then, again, Jesus leaves his followers and ascends into heaven.

So what does this word “ascension” mean to us. In part, it refers to a time of transition. We are transitioning out of the Easter Season and will soon celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. All of this prepares us to live the gospel message Jesus has called us to – to proclaim the Good News of Christ.

The Paschal Cycles of our Life

We experience many transitions in our lives. Ronald Rohlheiser, in his book, “The Holy Longing” describes these transitions as the paschal cycles of our life – our Good Fridays, our Easter Sundays, our 40 Days of Easter, our Ascension and our Pentecost. Each of these cycles may repeat themselves many times in our lives (similar to the fact that we are called to die to self and rise in Christ daily). Rohlheiser describes each of these cycles this way:

  • Our Good Fridays are the times we suffer losses in our life. These may be the loss of a loved one, the end of a friendship, the loss of a job, the ending of a period in our lives (like graduation from school). Rohlheiser encourages us to name these deaths and to acknowledge them.
  • Our Easter Sundays are when receive new life. This may be a new relationship, a new job, moving from high school to college, or college to professional life. Rohlheiser encourages us to claim these new births as our own.
  • Our 40 Days of Easter are the times needed for readjustment and grieving. If you have ever lost a close friend or loved one, you know how difficult this grieving can be. We men find it extremely difficult to lose a job or to retire from a job because this “loss” often signifies the loss of our identity. Rohlhesier encourages us to grieve what we have lost and to adjust to the new reality. Unlike our “Good Fridays” and our “Easter Sundays” (which tend to be single events) this time of grieving and readjustment may be a series of events and may take some time.
  • Our Ascension is a time of letting go and letting the past bless you. Rohlheiser encourages us to not cling to the old and allow the past to ascend and give us its blessing.
  • Our Pentecost is when we receive a new spirit for a new life we are called to live. Rohlheiser encourages us to accept the spirit of the life that we are in fact now living.

For the Ascension cycles in our lives I suggest we focus on three things:

  1. Letting go of the old – the things we are clinging to, or the things that are weighing us down and preventing us from moving on
  2. Letting the past ascend – let it takes its rightful place (in our distant memory)
  3. Allowing the past to give us a blessing – as we let it go and it ascends

Letting Go of the Old

Remember the readings from Easter Sunday? After it was discovered that Jesus had risen from the tomb, Mary Magdala and the other disciples rushed to the tomb. Mary is overwrought with sadness when she sees that Jesus was gone. Then Jesus appears to Mary and she is ecstatic! But Jesus gives her a word of caution. He says “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father.” (John 20:17).

What Jesus is telling Mary is “don’t cling to the old.” And the reason we cannot cling to the old is that if we do, we cannot ascend to the Holy Spirit – to embrace what God has planned for us.

Here’s an example of how this plays out in real life: A priest I know has been supporting a group of lay men and women for over 40 years in their small faith community. The men and women are now in the late 70s and early 80s and are no longer able to gather as community and pray. This bothered the community members.

Letting the Past Ascend and Bless Us

The priest suggested that a celebration was in order. He encouraged the community to gather one last time, to honor the past, and to say goodbye. This would allow them to be free of the past and to accept the reality of the present. And he reminded them that just because they were no longer able to gather in community doesn’t mean that they are no longer holy or devoted to Christ. They are now free to approach Jesus in a new way.

Holding on to memories and feelings can be a good thing for us. We learn from our experiences. Distance and time gives us perspective. But holding on to those things that hold us back is not good for us.

A friend shared a vision of this with me one time. He told me to think of all of the garbage I was carrying around with me and picture that garbage in trash bag. That bag would contain all of the anger, guilt, remorse and sadness that I refused to let go. Dragging a bag of garbage is tiresome. It stinks and it holds us back from living the life that God wants for us. My friend reminded me that Jesus is the most beloved trash collector in the world! He loves to take away all of this garbage. All we need to do is ask him!

Sure, it’s not always quite that easy. Sometimes we need to spend time in spiritual or psychological counseling to help let go of the garbage we are clinging to. Sometimes we have to give that garbage over to Christ in the sacrament of Reconciliation. Whatever the method, we just have to ask Jesus and he’ll take away all that keeps us from moving on.

We have look for healthy ways to transition emotionally and spiritually. There is no right way to do this. It may take time, but its worth the investment.

Celebrating the Ascension

So, this week, celebrate the Ascensions in your life. As we prepare for Pentecost I encourage you to:

  • Reflect on the bags of stuff you may be clinging to – things that might be keeping you from living the gospel in your life
  • Find ways of asking God to help take away and dispose of any garbage in your life
  • Ask God to bless you with healthy memories of all the “good things” in your past
  • Ask God to open your heart and mind to the new gifts, the new “good things” the Holy Spirit will bring to you in the Pentecost of your life

Prepare yourself to receive a new spirit for the new life you are called to live – “to be God’s witness to the end of the earth!”

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

To Be Patiently Persistent – The Key to Spiritual Growth

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 22, 2011.

In today’s First Reading, we get a glimpse of life in the first “parish” – in Jerusalem, soon after the Resurrection.

Three characteristics stand out, which can help us reflect on our own Christian identity even today.

First, the community of believers is steadily growing. The Church is a living body of believers in Christ, and living things are meant to grow. Growth doesn’t just mean growing in numbers – it also means growing as individuals – growing in faith and relationship (with God and with others).

Second, there is a clear structure of authority in the Church community. The Twelve Apostles are its leaders, as Jesus intended, and they solve the new problem that arises by ordaining the first Deacons (yeah, deacons!). Today as well, every Catholic community is organized with the same hierarchical structure.

  • First there is the pope, the successor St Peter, leader of the Twelve Apostles.
  • Then there is the local bishop, successor of those Apostles.
  • Then there is the pastor of the parish, the bishop’s representative for a specific area.

None of them govern by their own authority. Rather, they receive their authority from Christ, through the sacrament of holy orders.  By obeying them, in matters of faith and morals, Christians are obeying Christ himself.

Finally, even at the very beginning of the Church, we see that there are disagreements among believers. The Greek-speaking believers complain about being treated as second-class Christians.

This is the point I would like to focus on today.

Our faith in Christ doesn’t make us perfect right away, just as it didn’t make the first Christians perfect right away. Spiritual growth is a life-long process. The first Christians had to work through conflicts and selfish tendencies; so do we all.

“God Equips the Called”

Growing in Christian maturity, both as individuals and as a community, is hard work, and it lasts our whole life long. God assists us with his grace.

In the First Reading, we hear how seven men where chosen to be the first deacons. The Apostles accepted them, prayed over them and laid hands on them. I think it’s important to note that laying hands on someone was the customary Jewish way of designating a person for a task and invoking upon them a blessing and power to perform the task.

It reminds me of the saying: “God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.”

That’s a saying I reflect on a lot in my own spiritual development. You see, no one is born into the ministry of priest or  deacon, they are called to that ministry. None of 12 Apostles were born into the ministry of apostle and leader in the Church, they were called – and they responded to that call.

Each of is called and are invited to respond to our particular calling. And each of us can rely on God to give us all we need to live the life he has planned for us.

A Gifted People

Each person who is called is given special gifts, talents, and strengths to serve the way God wants us to serve. The challenge is naming those gifts and being willing to accept them and use them in service to others. That takes time, effort, and honest reflection.

In It for the Long Haul

People who study spiritual development will tell us that most adults (estimated at 75%)  are still living the same stage of spiritual development they lived as teenagers. It appears that when school stopped, so did spiritual development. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Growing spiritually is like being an artist. God gives artists the gift of artistic talent, but the artist has to take responsibility for developing it, and that is hard, painstaking work. But since the vocation of the artist is to make beautiful things, and since beauty can never be exhausted, true artists never stop this process of development.

For example: Michelangelo (the artist, not the Ninja Turtle!) worked on the Dome of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome nonstop for the last twenty years of his life, from age 68 to 88, when most people are relaxing in retirement. That’s what being a Christian is like. We are called to keep sculpting Christ’s image in our souls our whole life long.

Our lives are living works of art. Becoming a mature Christian is a life-long process, both for us as individuals, and for us as a Christian community. If we persevere in this process, never giving up and never falling into a dull routine, we will gradually but steadily grow in wisdom, courage, joy, and holiness.

But you have to take action. And you have to persevere.

Persistent Patience

One key ingredient that will help us persevere is the virtue of patience. Patience is not a popular virtue in today’s culture. Today’s culture wants everything right away. We want life to be like a movie, in which world champions are made in only two hours. We want life to be like FedEx, which delivers whatever we want overnight. It’s like that old Queen song we hear in commercials “I want it all … and I want it now!”
But the spiritual life isn’t like that.

Becoming a mature Christian, and becoming a mature Christian community, takes constant effort over time. Or as I like to say, “to be patiently persistent.”

Someone shared this analogy about spiritual patience. Think of it in context to those delicious home-grown tomatoes you’ve planted in recent weeks:

God’s grace is like sunlight and rain, and our souls are like gardens. Patience is the gardener who goes out every day, rain or shine, to pull out the weeds, fertilize the soil, mend the fences, and prune the plants. How foolish that gardener would be to give up on his garden before the harvest season! To expect ripe, full-grown tomatoes just a week after planting! And how foolish we are when we give up on ourselves or on other people, saying that we can’t change, long before the autumn of life!

Jesus never gives up on us, as he will prove once again by giving himself to us in this Mass. When he does, let’s ask him to teach our hearts the precious virtue of patience, patience with ourselves, and patience with others.

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Outside My Own Little World

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sunday, January 16, 2011.

If you listen to Contemporary Christian Music on the radio, you’re probably familiar with the song “My Own Little World” by Matthew West (here’s a link to the song via YouTube). The song has received a lot of airtime this past year and is a good tie-in to today’s readings.

The song is a story of a man who is living inside his own little world, not very attentive to the needs of others. He feels comfortable and secure; all of his basic needs are being met. He has a faith life. He attends church each week and gives financially to the church (although he admits that he does not give sacrificially but from his excess). If he doesn’t like what he sees going on in the world he simply shuts off the news. He tunes out the rest of the world and focuses on one thing only – himself.

The story continues when the man describes an encounter he has with a homeless widow. The woman is begging by the side of the road. For all the man knows he may have passed by this woman on prior occasions and never really noticed her. But this time was different. The man noticed that the widow had a face, and he looks into her eyes. She moves him with her pain and suffering and he asks himself: “Lord, what have I been doing.” He acknowledges that he has been ignoring this woman (a symbol of all who are longing for love and compassion) and comes to this important revelation:

Maybe there’s a bigger picture.
Maybe he’s been missing out.
Maybe there’s a greater purpose he could be living right now.

He begins to understand that God’s Kingdom extends beyond his own little world. He begins to understand that living in the Kingdom of God is not about comfort, security or self. This story of self-discovery is a good lead-in to today’s readings.

If you were to brand today’s readings, you might borrow the U.S. Army recruiting program “Be all that you can be.” But I think a better slogan might be “Be all that you are called to be.”

We hear this in the First Reading. The prophet Isaiah foretells the mission of Christ by announcing “It is too little for you to [just] be my servant … I will make you light to the nations – that my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.”

That’s how Christ lived his life. At the moment of his baptism (which we hear about again in today’s Gospel), Christ begins his public ministry. He is no longer just the carpenter’s son and a carpenter himself as he has been for the past 30 years. From this point forward, Jesus is all about doing his Father’s will, by sharing the Good News, teaching mercy and love, calling sinners to repent, and (ultimately) dying to free us from our sins. Christ understood his calling, his strengths and his gifts. He used them to be more than “just” a servant.

We hear a similar message in the Second Reading. In his introduction to his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are “Called to be holy.” Another way to say this is: We are called to be like Christ. And indeed we are.

Each baptized Christian is another “Christ.” When we are baptized, we receive the same Holy Spirit as Christ. We are anointed priest, prophet and king as Christ is. And we share his same mission on earth: To do God’s will, and to fulfill God’s plan for our lives.

That is who we are – we are like Christ. That is what we are called to do – to live more fully and to live more holy.

If you get a chance this week, invest $1.29 on iTunes to download and listen to the song “My Own Little World.” Listen to the story as it unfolds. Listen to what is revealed to this man. Then, offer the same prayer to God that he does:

Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours
Open my stony heart and help make me holy. Help me to live your mercy and compassion.

Give me open hands and open doors
Help me to live my life more fully. Help me look and live beyond my own little world. Help me be more than a servant – help me to be Christ.

Put your light in my eyes and let me see
God, be my strength for the journey. Help me understand that the world in which we all live is bigger than me. Help make me a light to the nations.

My own little world is not about me.

That’s the “bigger picture.” That’s the “greater purpose.” That’s the path to holiness.

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

God’s Discipline: Being Formed by the Master

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s homily for the 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time.

Zig Ziglar was a famous motivational speaker and sales guru. I’ve listened to a lot of his motivational and instructional tapes over the years. One of my particular favorites is on the topic of goal setting and the use of SMART goals. “SMART” is a memory aid for the words Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Zig once told a story of how he set a goal to lose five pounds of weight in 30 days. The goal matched all of the “SMART” criteria:

  • Specific – It was a goal for weight loss
  • Measurable – Five pounds, that’s what he wanted to lose
  • Attainable – Five pounds in 30 days seemed reasonable
  • Relevant – He knew that losing weight would have health benefits
  • Time-bound – 30 days, that’s the time period he set for the goal

He said he felt extremely confident about achieving that goal. “In fact,” he said, “I felt so confident about losing five pounds in 30 days that I didn’t even do anything about it for the first 29 days!”

Do you think he achieved that goal? No. His goal was “SMART” in theory but he lacked the discipline to work on it over the 30-day time period.

Discipline can be a difficult thing – especially when it involves our development as Christians. We don’t always like it when we are going through the process of being trained and formed. It can be particularly difficult when it is God who is doing the shaping and forming in our life and we have to give up control – allowing God to help us become the type of person He wants us to be.  That’s what today’s readings are about, being disciplined and having the strength, tenacity and trust to achieve our heavenly goal.

Today’s readings remind me of story of the Tea Cup by my favorite author, “Unknown”. The story goes like this:

A couple took a trip to England to shop in a beautiful antique store to celebrate their wedding anniversary. They both liked antiques and pottery, and especially teacups.  Spotting an exceptional cup, they asked “May we see that?  We’ve never seen a cup quite so beautiful.”

As the storekeeper handed it to them, suddenly the teacup spoke, “You don’t understand.  I have not always been a teacup.  There was a time when I was just a lump of red clay.  My master took me and rolled me, pounded and patted me over and over and I yelled out, ‘Don’t do that. I don’t like it! Let me alone.’ But he only smiled, and gently said; ‘Not yet!'”

“Then, WHAM!  I was placed on a spinning wheel and suddenly I was spun around and around and around.  ‘Stop it!  I’m getting so dizzy!  I’m going to be sick,’ I screamed.  But the master only nodded and said, quietly; ‘Not yet.’

“He spun me and poked and prodded and bent me out of shape to suit himself and then… Then he put me in the oven.  I never felt such heat. I yelled and knocked and pounded at the door. Help!  Get me out of here! I could see him through the opening and I could read his lips as he shook his head from side to side, ‘Not yet’.”

“When I thought I couldn’t bear it another minute, the door opened.  He carefully took me out and put me on the shelf, and I began to cool.  Oh, that felt so good!  Ah, this is much better, I thought.  But, after I cooled he picked me up and he brushed and painted me all over.  The fumes were horrible.  I thought I would gag.  ‘Oh, please; Stop it, Stop it!’ I cried.  He only shook his head and said. ‘Not yet!’.”

“Then suddenly he put me back in to the oven.  Only it was not like the first one.  This was twice as hot and I just knew I would suffocate.  I begged.  I pleaded.  I screamed.  I cried.  I was convinced I would never make it.  I was ready to give up.  Just then the door opened and he took me out and again placed me on the shelf, where I cooled and waited … and waited, wondering ‘What’s he going to do to me next?’   An hour later he handed me a mirror and said ‘Look at yourself.'” “And I did. I said, ‘That’s not me; that couldn’t be me.  It’s beautiful. I’m beautiful!’

Quietly he spoke: ‘I want you to remember, then,’ he said, ‘I know it hurt to be rolled and pounded and patted, but had I just left you alone, you’d have dried up.

I know it made you dizzy to spin around on the wheel, but if I had stopped, you would have crumbled.

I know it hurt and it was hot and disagreeable in the oven, but if I hadn’t put you there, you would have cracked.

I know the fumes were bad when I brushed and painted you all over, but if I hadn’t done that, you never would have hardened. You would not have had any color in your life.

If I hadn’t put you back in that second oven, you wouldn’t have survived for long because the hardness would not have held.

Now you are a finished product.  Now you are what I had in mind when I first began with you.”

Bebo Norman (another one of my favorites) tells a similar story about being formed by the Master in his song, The Hammer Holds. Here’s a link to an interesting YouTube version of the song. You can also purchase and download the song from iTunes.

God’s work is not completed in us. We are not yet what He had in mind for us. And, so, we must experience some spiritual discipline in our lives. We must be open to His will.

As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews:

“At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”

I encourage you to take some time this week to think about where you are in your relationship with God. Are you willing to let God shape you and form you in the discipline of love and service, or are you fighting Him to avoid any pain or discomfort? Have faith, and remember this: “If God brings you to it, he will help get you through it.”

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.