Category Archives: Discernment

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.”

Putting God First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARING OUR GIFTS WITH GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAY ATTENTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BE NOT AFRAID

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

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

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

The chapter ends with these words of encouragement and challenge:

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

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

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

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!

Peace!

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.
http://www.deacondan.com

What are You Looking For?

What-Are-You-Looking-ForHomily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. January 18, 2015

Today’s readings culminate with a familiar story from the Gospel of John (John 1:35-42). It’s a story about Jesus gathering his disciples.

In this story, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Messiah (the “Lamb of God”) and two of John’s disciples immediately leave John and begin following Jesus. As the two disciples follow, Jesus stops and asks them an interesting question: “What are you looking for?” It’s a good question to ask those who are discerning their future vocation. It helps clarify their intent.

John’s disciples don’t give a clear answer. From the readings we learn that the men already know Jesus as “Rabbi” (“Teacher”). Their response to Jesus is another question: “Where are you staying?” This is more than a question about where Jesus lives or works. What the disciples are telling Jesus is that they want to know more about Jesus, to grow in relationship with him. Jesus accepts their offer of friendship and replies, “Come, and you will see.”

We long to know Jesus and to grow in relationship with him. This process of “looking” and “seeing” is a good spiritual practice to help support that goal.

I’d like to share a simple, four-part process I learned to assist you in your own spiritual reflection. It’s all about looking and seeing:

  1. Look back and thank God
  2. Look forward and trust God
  3. Look around and serve God
  4. Look within and know God

Look Back and Thank God

If you do any kind of spiritual reflection, if you take time to look back and reflect on how God has been working in your life, you will no doubt find occasions to thank God for all of the things he has done for you. So take a look back and thank God for how he has been with you in your journey, how he has provided you with insights and grace, how he has placed people in your life to be you companions and wisdom figures, and how he has helped you in difficult times. Look back and thank God.

Look Forward and Trust God

Trust that God will always be there for you; in the highs and lows, in the peaks and valleys of your daily life. We hear in our prayers at Mass how Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.” Jesus promised that he will never abandon us and gave us his Holy Spirit to guide us. Jesus always keeps his promises.

The challenging part of trusting God is to understand that God reveals himself to us in his own way, and in his own time. We know that God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is “No.” Still, we must look forward and trust God.

Look Around and Serve God

If we are aware of our gifts, our strengths, and our talents; if we use them with an open mind and open heart; we can look around us and serve God and his people in unique and wonderful ways. As I look around at the people in the congregation today, I am aware of the many ways in which our parishioners serve God’s people. I am thankful to serve such a self-giving group people.

But serving God takes courage. We have to have the heart of a servant, like Samuel in our First Reading (1 Samuel 3:3B-10, 19) who is willing to face God and say, “Speak, for your servant is listing.”

Serving God also takes action. We have to be like the psalmist in today’s Psalm (Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10) who proclaims: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Look around and serve God.

Look Within and Know God

We hear it all the time: You have to take time to pray! You have to make regular prayer a priority in your life! Trust that when you hear this, you are not being singled out or accused, but loved. It is a way of inviting you into a deeper relationship with God.

I work for the Marianists, a religious order of brothers and priests. The most quoted saying of the founder of this religious order, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, is “The essential is the interior.” To truly know God and to learn God’s will for us, we have to develop a strong interior life. Time devoted to regular prayer and quiet reflection is the best way to develop your interior life. Look within and know God.

This week, I encourage you to reflect on this question: “What are you looking for?

  • What are you looking for in your spiritual life?
  • What are you looking for in your personal and professional life?

And how is God a part of this?

As we come to the Table of God today, as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, may we find comfort and consolation in knowing that the grace and wisdom we receive will help sustain us in doing the awesome will of God.

Living an Integrated, Christ-centered Life

990459429th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mission Sunday

My wife and I have two daughters, Amy and Jenny. I remember asking the girls, when they were little, what they wanted to be when they grew up. Amy (the older of the two) surprised me with this answer: “On Mondays and Wednesdays I’m going to be a doctor; on Tuesdays and Thursdays I’m going to be a teacher; and on Friday’s I’m going to be an astronaut.” With a smile on my face, I asked her what she was going to be on the weekends. Without hesitation, she gleefully told me, “A rock star!”

Well, Amy is all grown up now, working in New York City for an advertising firm. She isn’t a doctor. She isn’t a teacher. And she isn’t an astronaut. But, in her parent’s eyes, she is always a “rock star!”

I share this story with you to demonstrate how we tend to want to separate our lives by organizing it into neat, little packages – living our lives in silos. But we are not made to live our lives in little packages or silos. We’re not made to live our lives like the fussy toddler at mealtime who can’t tolerate his peas touching his mashed potatoes. In our lives, and in our faith, we are made to live an integrated life, with all of its joys … and all of its messiness.

As Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, we are called to live what some would call a “purpose-driven life.” And that purpose is God.

The story in today’s Gospel (the story of Paying taxes to the Emperor) describes a plot to trap Jesus into a phony political debate about taxes paid to Cesar as ruler of the land, and to King Herod as a temple tax.

The challenge of this story is that, for the Jews, everything ultimately belongs to God. But Jesus escapes the trap and uses the occasion to point out what is really important in life: paying attention to the things of God. These “things of God” are the gifts, the talents, the strengths that each of us have to give back to God and his Church.

I think we have a good understanding of the saying “repaying Cesar what belongs to Cesar.” We are good, hard-working folks who pay their taxes. But what “work” do we do for God? How do we repay to God what belongs to God?

It is helpful to remember some of the points in today’s other readings. In our First Reading, the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that there is only one God, there is no other (that’s the First Commandment – I am the LORD your God: you shall have no other Gods before me.) Like our Jewish ancestors, we believe that it is God who gives us everything. So that begs the question:

  • What gifts has God given each of us?
  • How are we giving them back to God and his people?
  • Do we use these gifts to live a holy and integrated life?

It might be good to start by taking an inventory of your strengths (your God-given gifts). The StrengthsFinder training offered in our parish is a good place learn your strengths and how to use them in your personal, professional and spiritual life.

If you know our strengths, you might consider exercising them and sharing them with others by participating in parish ministries such as the ACTS Retreats, our upcoming Pastoral Assembly, or by becoming a Stephens Minister.

Our Second Reading reminds us of the faith, hope and love Jesus demonstrated by his life, death and resurrection. Saint Paul encourages the Thessalonians (and us as well) to:

  • Take time to give thanks and praise to God
  • Take time to pray and grow closer to God
  • Endure the hardships and “messiness” of life with hope, knowing we are God’s beloved children who are never alone

The strength of the Holy Spirit gives us power and conviction to use and share our gifts with others.

This Mission Sunday, it would be good to reflect on how we use our gifts to bring Christ to the world.

Some people will say that life is all about balance. I say that life is not about balance, but about choices. And so I invite you to reflect on these questions this week:

  1. As one of God’s beloved, how do you give God a priority in your life?
  2. Do you open your heart and invite God into your integrated and sometimes messy life?
  3. How do you know and share your God-given gifts with others?

As we approach the altar today in Eucharist, let us pray for the faith and trust to accept our gifts of bread and wine made flesh and blood of Jesus, and prepare our hearts to give everything to the One who gives us everything we need!

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

The Miracles in our Lives

 

34884331One of my favorite books growing up was one that highlighted the miracles Jesus performed – the Wedding at Cana, the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on the water, the healing of the lame man, etc. These wonder-filled stories and dynamic illustrations made a long-lasting impression on me as they helped me understand the power, love and mercy of Jesus, the Son of God.

That wonder and awe of Jesus that we experience as young children is sometimes lost as we grow older. We can be tempted as adults to look at these miracle stories and ask: “What about me? How is God working miracles in my life?” We are sometimes like Thomas and demand a “I have to see it to believe it” attitude in our faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (548) tells us the following about miracles: “The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him. To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask. So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.”

So miracles, these “Signs of the kingdom of God,” live with us in our memory and in our hearts. They also live with us every day of our life … if we are willing to take time to experience them.

Throughout the history of the Catholic Church we are made aware of the God’s miracles through the lives of the saints. In our contemporary lives, we also witness signs that strengthen our belief in God.

  • Think of the beauty of a magnificent sunrise or sunset. You can’t witness such a thing and not believe in a higher power (God).
  • Think of the first time you held a newborn in your arms. This child was no accident of nature. He or she is a “wonderfully made” gift from God.

We need signs and symbols to help remind us that God remains active in our lives and is ever-present to us … if we are willing to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to him. To do so in our hectic lives, we need to give prayer a priority. We need to take time every day to reflect on the goodness of God in our lives, on the “miracles” he places all around us.

The following are the lyrics to a song I wrote about this topic. Let us pray for the grace to allow God into our lives. Let us pray to be aware and appreciative of all of the “miracles” that help us:

  • Witness God glory;
  • Trust in God’s love and mercy; and
  • Live and love like God want us to.

Miracles

By Dan Donnelly

You took the water and turned it into wine
You healed the lame man and you gave sight to the blind
You fed the thousands and you calmed the stormy sea
Give me the grace to see your miracles
Help me to see your miracles … all around me

My days get busy, keep me running round and round
Its hard to know you when my world’s turned upside down
Give me the courage to just stop; to pray and breathe
Give me the grace to see your miracles
Help me to see your miracles

Open my eyes to see your glory all around me
Give me a heart that beats in time with you
Strengthen my faith to trust that you will always lead me
Help me to live and love, Lord, just like you
Show me your miracles …
Help me to see your miracles …
I need to see your miracles … in my life

 

I hope and pray that you will take time today (and every day) to be courageous in your faith – to stop, to pray and to breathe – to spend time in God’s holy presence. I am confident that, in doing so, you will becomer ever more aware of all of the blessings (the “miracles”) in your life.

In the peace of Christ,

Deacon Dan Donnelly

Doing God’s Will – Lessons from the Saints

Saint Damien of MolokaiMy Homily from the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings focus on doing God’s will. We hear it quite clearly in today’s Psalm, “Lord, I come to do your will” (Psalm 40) and in the Gospel as we hear John the Baptist describe the Baptism of Jesus from John’s perspective (John 1: 29-34).

John testifies that what had been made known by the Spirit was true; The Promised One, The Lamb of God, had come. This was John’s purpose in life. This was God’s will for John: to prepare the way so Christ may be known to the world.

Today, let us contemplate two questions from our readings:

  • How do we discern God’s will in our lives?
  • How do we help Christ be known in our world? How do we do God’s will?

Time in prayer and reflection is a good start. So is studying the lives of the saints to help understand the big and little things others have done to serve God.

I love this quote from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), “We cannot do great things on earth, only small things with great love.” To do God’s will, we don’t have to focus on the “big and great” things in life. Small acts of kindness shared with great love can make saints of us all. Saint Damien of Molokai is a great example of this. Let me share with you a little about Saint Damien and his connection with my work.

I work as Director of Sponsorship for the Marianists – a religious order brothers and priests. In my job, we  support the universities, high schools, retreat centers and parishes sponsored by the Marianists throughout the US, Puerto Rico and Ireland. Next month, my wife and I will be traveling to Hawaii for my work (and for some vacation time). There are four Marianist-sponsored ministries in Hawaii (one university, two high schools and one parish).

Here’s the connection: When the Marianists came to Hawaii in the late 1800s to establish schools, the priest who presided at their welcoming mass was Fr. Damien a Catholic priest from Belgium. Saint Damien of Molokai (as he is now known) was a strong, hard-working, athletic priest who went to minister to a leper colony in Hawaii.

Originally, the bishop had arranged for priests to take turns on a three-month rotation, but when Father Damien saw the colony’s destitution, he decided to stay and work there full time. I understand that Father Damien made this decision at the end of a retreat on the grounds of what is now known as St. Anthony Parish in Wailuku Maui, a parish that is sponsored today by the Marianists (a parish we will visit next month).

You could easily make a case that Damien’s decision to minister full time to lepers was a “big thing.” But what makes this Saint so special are all of the “little things” he did – his acts of mercy and love that made such a difference.

  • St. Damien built hundreds of small houses to replace the miserable huts the dying lepers were living in
  • He laid pipes to bring in fresh water from inland springs
  • He built coffins and created a cemetery to bury the dead who previously had been piled into shallow, mass graves
  • He established small farming plots, built clinics and chapels, formed a choir and orchestra, tended the lepers’ hideous wounds with his own hands
  • He brought dignity, order, work, and hope back to the crowds of sick who poured into the colony

For eleven years he tirelessly practiced these corporal works of mercy. Then one Sunday morning in his twelfth year in Molokai, Fr. Damien climbed to the ambo and read the Gospel passage for the day. He paused, looked out across his crowded church, which he and his lepers had built, and began his sermon by addressing the congregation as: “We lepers…”

The congregation gasped when heard this. With those words Damien had informed them that at last he too had contracted the dread disease. For four more years he continued laboring on as his body rotted away, until death took him to his reward. Fr. Damien was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009. He is the patron saint of those with leprosy and the patron of the State of Hawaii.

I share this story with you as a reminder that:

  • It takes time in prayer and reflection to discern God’s will – have patience and commitment
  • Sometimes the signs and answers are so clear to us in our discernment; sometimes they are not – have faith and trust in God
  • Doing God’s will is not just about doing “big things” in life –  we do God’s will even in what seems to be “little acts” of kindness and mercy
  • Even though God’s will may be wrought with pain and sorrow, we are never alone – we are worthy and we are loved

Each Mass, during the Communion Rite, the priest elevates the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus and repeats the words of John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” And how do we respond? The same way as the Roman centurion in the Gospel of Matthew who finds faith in the power of Christ. We say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Today, let’s pray those words from the very depths of our hearts, appreciating in a fresh way all of their beauty and meaning. Let us be open to God’s will in our lives, and confident in his faithfulness, his love and his mercy. By our actions, let us make Christ known to the world.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Turning Back to God

21303485Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

Whenever I meet with my spiritual director I can anticipate him asking me these questions:

  1. How are you growing closer to God?
  2. What are the barriers that are holding you back from experiencing spiritual growth?

These are good questions, especially that last one. We all experience barriers in our lives – things that hold us back from experiencing the fullness of God’s love. This Lenten Season, we are encouraged to try to get past those barriers by “Turning Back to God.”

Unmasking the Barriers

In today’s Gospel, Jesus unmasks three barriers that often block our spiritual growth. These are root causes of sin that we have been battling since Adam and Eve were in the Garden. I call them the “Three P’s”:

  1. Pleasure
  2. Power
  3. Popularity

None of these are necessarily “evil” unto themselves, but can be the root of our sins and the reason we lack spiritual growth.

Root Causes

In a couple of months, a bright, yellow flower will begin blooming all over West County – the dandelion weed. You know from experience that to get rid of dandelions you have to do more than merely cut off the top of the plant. You cut the top off and the weed keeps growing. To get rid of the weed you have to get to the root. Otherwise, the flower goes to seed and those little puffy white balls will spread the weed all over.

The same is true with sin. We sometimes have to dig at the root of the problems that serve as barriers to spiritual growth. Lent is a good time to reflect on the root causes of our sin and to consider ways to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to battle those things that keep us from God.

Lessons from the Word

Let’s take a moment to break open today’s Gospel message (Luke 4: 1-13). In the Gospel, the Devil temps Jesus during his fasting with bread (the temptation of Pleasure). He tempts Jesus with the promise of earthly glory (the temptation of Power). And he tempts Jesus with instant fame (the temptation of Popularity). Jesus responds in the same way St. Paul suggests in the Second Reading: He calls on the name of the Lord to be saved. Jesus does this by invoking the Word of God. He quotes from the Old Testament (Book of Deuteronomy).

Pleasure

The story unfolds like this: After fasting for 40 days, Jesus is hungry. The Devil tempts him by telling him “Command this stone to become bread.” Jesus quotes Deuteronomy: “One does not live on bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us is that life’s pleasures and comforts are good things (after all, God created them). But they don’t last. They don’t “satisfy the hungry heart.” Only God can do that.

The Jews who were tested and afflicted in the desert for 40 years learned that they had to trust in God to sustain them. God provided for them (as he provides for all of us). We need to accept the pleasure and comforts from God as a gift, but not put pleasure and comfort before God.

Power

The second temptation is power. The Devil tells Jesus “Just worship me and I will give you all the power and glory in the world.”

Ever notice that in stories, when someone is granted three wishes, what the person typically wishes for? Power!

Given three wishes, people in these stories typically for ask for all the riches in the world, unlimited power over all other people and, if they are smart, for an unlimited supply of wishes (ALL of the power!).

Have you ever known one of those “three wishes” scenarios work out well? No. Do all of these wishes ever buy true happiness? No.

Jesus reminds us that we should give back to God what God has given us (including power). He quotes “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

The lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us is that our lives need to be oriented toward God (He is our true purpose and He is what will bring us true happiness). We are not created for arrogance and pride – We are created to love and serve God.

I think Pope Benedict’s recent decision to resign is a great example of how God wants us to deal with power. The pope – the most “powerful” person in the Catholic Church – decided that the best way to serve God and His Church was to relinquish all power of his position so that God’s will may be done. This is a reminder from the Gospel of John: “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Popularity

The Pope’s decision also speaks to the third temptation: popularity. When the Devil tempts Jesus to take a swan-dive off of the Temple roof to impress everyone and win instant fame, Jesus again quotes scripture: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

That quote makes reference to the Jews quarreling with Moses in the desert. After the Jews were given Manna (bread from heaven) to feed them, they became desperate for water and wondered whether God had abandoned them. They began quarreling among themselves. Moses was ready to throw up his hands in disgust when God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water would flow. Moses did as God instructed, and the Jewish people received an abundant supply of water.

The lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us is to trust in God – at all times, and in all ways. People’s opinions may change from time to time, but God’s love is constant.

Conclusion

Wherever you are on your spiritual path, remember that God is constantly calling us to turn back to him.  God wants us to turn back to Him this Lent with all our hearts, our minds, our souls. He knows that this is sometimes difficult for us and that many times we fail. He just wants us to keep trying!

And so I leave you with this story that a friend shared with me:

A certain Carmelite nun found contemplative (“silent”) prayer to be very difficult because her thoughts would wander a thousand times during a 20-minute prayer session. She was certain that her teacher, Thomas Merton, would rebuke her for being such a failure, so she was surprised when, instead, Merton said that her wandering thoughts were just 1,000 opportunities to return to God.

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

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.

Mary: Service Above Self

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s homily for December 18, 2011 – the Fourth Sunday of Advent.

I was a member of the St. Louis Rotary Club for almost 15 years. If you’re not familiar with Rotary, it is an international humanitarian service organization of business and professional leaders in a world-wide community. Their motto is “Service Above Self.”

I was taught, as a Rotarian, that if a fellow Rotarian approached you with a request, you responded: “The answer is ‘yes.’ What’s the question?” We tried to be open to service (above self) no matter what the conditions. This is a tradition that has inspired people for over 100 years.

In today’s Gospel, we hear of another positive response that has inspired people for over 2,000 years. We hear Mary’s beautiful response to the angel, “I am a handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.”

This is my favorite passage from the Bible. To me, it summarizes how we are called to live our lives as Christians:

  • To be open to God’s invitations in our lives
  • To trust that God has a plan for us (one that is greater than our limited view allows)
  • To think about others – outside of and above ourselves

The Four-Way Test

As I reflected on today’s readings I was reminded of the Rotary Club and what Rotarians call “The Four-Way Test.” In all they think, say or do in their professional (and personal) lives, Rotarians are encouraged to use these four questions as part of their discernment and decision-making process:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  3. Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

The Four-Way Test is a good way to help make decisions. As I prepared for today’s homily , I thought how Mary might apply the Four-Way Test to what she experiences in today’s Gospel reading. So, play along with me as we break open the Word.

Question 1: Is it the TRUTH?

Mary experienced something quite unique in the Bible.

  • The Bible only mentions three Angels by name: Gabriel (the angel named in today’s Gospel) Raphael and Michael.
  • When angels interact and speak with humans, it’s not of their own doing. They are sent by God.
  • In fact, the word “angel” in Greek means “messenger.”

So, recognizing that it was an angel addressing her, Mary had to know that what he was speaking was the truth.

  • Mary was favored by God
  • She was chosen (by God) to be the Mother of His Son

In this story, the question isn’t whether the Angel is telling the truth. The question is how would Mary respond to the truth – this remarkable invitation from God to participate in Creation History.

Question 2: Is it FAIR for all concerned?

It doesn’t seem “fair” that God would ask so much of one person as he did of Mary (a young, unwed virgin who, if she allowed God’s plan to play out and she bore God’s child, exposed herself to (at a minimum) public humiliation and (at a maximum) to be stoned to death according to Jewish Law.

But I think that is just our earthly, human understanding of what the word “fair” means. To better understand the term “fair” we need to look at today’s First Reading (from the Book of Samuel):

  • In this story, King David didn’t think it was fair that he should live in a nice house while the ark of God dwelt in a tent. King David wanted to do something about that.
  • The prophet, Nathan, knows what is on David’s mind (to build a more fitting house for God to dwell in)
  • God speaks to Nathan in a dream and tells him: “Go, tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD; Should you build me a house to dwell in?’”
  • Then God reminds David how God has taken care of him for all of his life, and how God will continue build David’s family and his kingdom.

As human’s we often have difficulty understanding what is “fair.” We tend to view fairness from our personal and limited perspective:

  • It doesn’t seem “fair” when a loved one dies unexpectedly
  • It doesn’t seem “fair” when someone loses their job without notice
  • It doesn’t seem “fair” when a person is forced leave a committed marriage relationship because of an abusive spouse

We will only know what is truly “fair” in life when we finally see God face-to-face and He is fully-revealed to us. Until then, we have to keep believing – to have faith in God.

I think Mary understood that. I think Mary, because of her love and firm faith, was willing to take a longer view of the situation. As we heard in the First Reading, God was honored that David was willing to do more than God required, but all God wants us to do is what he asks.

That’s what Mary did. And she is a good model for us to follow.

Question 3: Will it build GOODWILL and BETTER FRIENDSHIPS

As a dedicated servant of God, Mary understood the power and importance of having a strong relationship with God. I am certain, that as one who loves God, Mary had a strong prayer life. I am certain she communicated with God regularly and wanted to grow closer to him. I am certain Mary and God had a good relationship.

Mary’s consent to God’s request helped build goodwill and better their friendship. The same is true of us when we take time to pray, to grow in relationship with God and to be open to God’s will in our lives.

Question 4: Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

Any time we participate in God’s plan, it is beneficial to us. Any time we respond positively to God’s call, it honors and pleases God Any time we choose to serve God and our fellow man, we do so for the benefit of all (“service above self”).

And that’s what Mary chose to do. By her “yes,” she transformed the whole world

  • She was an active participant in salvation history
  • She became the first disciple and the premier model of faith

By Mary’s “yes,” Evil was crushed and we have all received new life. A “new life” we will celebrate this coming week at Christmas.

Conclusion:

So what do we learn from all of this? What are our “take-aways” from today’s readings? I think it’s simple:

  1. We need to keep praying to grow closer to God
  2. We need to be open to what God is asking of us in our lives
  3. We need to be willing to be like Mary, our Mother and our model
  • To humbly accept who we are – Beloved children of God, handmaids of the Lord
  • To be willing to say “yes” to God
  • To trust and to honor God in all that we say, think and do

May God bless you and yours abundantly this Christmas Season!

Deacon Dan

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.