Category Archives: Faith

God Writes on Our Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Producing Good Soil

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus cautions us about:

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

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

Producing Good Soil

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

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

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

A Spiritual Soil Test

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

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

Being Patiently Persistent

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

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

Sowers of Seeds are Good Witnesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating the Body and Blood of Jesus

Feast of Corpus Christi
Sunday, June 18, 2017

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

Bread from Heaven

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

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

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

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

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

Living Bread

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

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

When Human Senses Fail

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

So, which of our senses helps us believe?

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

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

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

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

Listen and Learn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Truly Loved and Never Alone

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

LESSON ONE:

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

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

This third point may need a little more discussion.

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

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

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

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

The quote continues:

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

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

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

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

LESSON TWO:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an example:

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

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

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

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

CONCLUSION:

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

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

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

Praying with the Good Shepherd

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

Cowboys and Cattle and Sheep (Oh, my!)

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice

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

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

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

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

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

The Serenity Prayer

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

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

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

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

Serenity

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

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

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

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

Courage

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

Wisdom

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

Our Call to Action

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

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

True Greatness is About Holiness

jamesandjohnHomily from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

Suffering Servants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We see God in our suffering:

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

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

Bumps in the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward in Christ’s Love

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

Choosing Faith Over Fear

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

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

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

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

Our relationships often influence the choices we make.

Choices and Relationships

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

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

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

“Craving the Wave”

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

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

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

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

God is Ever-Present in Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

How to Build Strong Spiritual Boats

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

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

Lesson One:

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

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

Lesson Two:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Three:

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

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Happy Father’s Day!

Deacon Dan

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.

Praying for Peace in Ferguson

9972635The following is my homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary time (August 17, 2014):

I am certain I am not alone in my confusion and frustration surrounding the events occurring in Ferguson, Missouri this week. We have been witness to a lot of hurting in our community as a result of the shooting death that occurred on August 9th. It’s sad and it’s scary, and our hearts go out to all who have been affected by these tragic events.

But it’s not enough to be casual observers of the pain and suffering of others.

  • We have to have open hearts and open minds to understand others’ pain and suffering.
  • We must stand for justice and personal accountability, and for respect of all people and all property.
  • We have to be patient and persistent in helping bring about healing and peace in our community.

I choose my words carefully; my intent is not to comment on politics or public opinion. Instead, my intent is to call us all to a greater sense of love, of community and of peace.

Today’s Gospel (Mt. 15: 21-28, The Canaanite Woman’s Faith) is a good example of how we are affected by community and how being patient and persistent can help bring about healing. It’s a good example of how faith can help change hearts and minds.

The Canaanite woman displays great patience, persistence and faith in dealing with Jesus and his disciples. But that doesn’t mean the woman had an easy task. She faced several challenges when turning to Jesus for help for her daughter:

  1. The disciples simply told the woman to go away
  2. Initially, Jesus dismisses her because she isn’t one of the “chosen people.” (Jesus’ mission was describe as for Jews only).
  3. In fact, Jesus went as far as referring to the woman as “a dog” (a common slur in those days used to describe non-Jews) – a dog not worthy of the scraps that fall from the table

But the woman doesn’t give up. She never loses hope. She remains persistent and patient as she goes about doing what she knows she must do: find healing for her daughter.

The woman demonstrates great faith. She knows she would be happy to receive whatever scraps of grace Jesus would share. Eventually, Jesus sees that her faith is over-powering and Jesus cannot let this go unrecognized. He grants her request and her daughter is healed.

My hope and my prayer is that, together, we can find similar healing for Ferguson.

Hope is a wonderful gift from God. Hope is God-focused. It helps us see beyond our current circumstances. And as God graces us with hope, he expects something in return – he expects us to be a channel of hope for others. In living the Gospel, we are expected to be compassionate, prayerful and supportive of others.

The “shadow side” of hope is despair. Despair is me-focused. It causes us to see only ourselves. It is easy to fall into despair when we are bombarded by countless images and news stories from the fallout of the shooting in Ferguson.

When we find ourselves sliding away from hope and falling into despair, we have to re-center ourselves in prayer. We have to turn back to God.

Despair strips us of our purpose, but prayer can help us regain our bearings. Prayer can help us find our spiritual center.

Jesus is a good example of this – regularly going off by himself to pray, to reorient himself to his true purpose.

It will be a long, difficult challenge to move beyond all of the emotion and hurt so tightly wrapped around the events taking place in Ferguson. It will take great hope and great faith to move beyond where we are today.

So, what fueled the Canaanite woman’s hope and faith? What can we learn from her experience?

  1. First, she was motivated beyond herself. She wanted to be a part of the healing for her daughter. She was focused on service for another.
  2. Second, she was willing to be active and to be persistent. Her energy was focused on doing good; doing what was right.

The rejection she experiences from Jesus and his disciples does not deter her. In fact, it seems to energize her because she knew she was doing the right thing. This encourages her boldness. It gives her a sense of empowerment.

So, how can we use the example of the Canaanite woman’s patience and persistence in dealing with the events in Ferguson?

Archbishop Carlson and the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis calls “for all people to pray for calm and peace and to be part of healing.”

  • They remind us that we need to ask hard questions about what causes the turmoil and hatred we have experienced. As we heard Isaiah say in our the First Reading today, we need to “Observe what is right [and] do what is just”. (Isaiah 56:1)
  • They also remind us that we need to work for lasting solutions to overcome the systemic problems that plague our community. As Paul explains in today’s Second Reading, our ministry of peace and love cannot be limited to our own back yard (Paul preached to the Gentiles, not God’s chosen people, the Jews). We have to be willing to reach out to other communities in need.

This week, I invite you to pray for peace, that we can begin to move beyond the raw emotions and hurt that cripples us as a community, and take positive steps toward healing and true justice.

The rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson is “No justice, no peace.” I understand and support the need for justice. But to move forward, we first need peace.

And as we approach the altar today to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, let us remember that what we receive at Communion is not meager “scraps” from the table to appease us. What we received is truly Jesus (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) which strengthens us for the journey.

If we truly want justice, let us start by praying for peace.

In the peace of Christ,

Deacon Dan Donnelly