Category Archives: Faith

Dimensions of Discipleship

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

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

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

WHO DO THEY SAY THAT I AM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO WILL THEY SAY THAT I AM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a great example of discipleship in action!

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

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

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

Because God Loves Us!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is a strong message of love and trust.

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

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

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

All he asks is that we trust him.

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

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

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

Come Away and Rest Awhile

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

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

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

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

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

COME AWAY

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

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

This is a good recipe for sustainability in ministry.

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

REFLECTING ON OUR GIFTS

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

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

That means that we must:

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

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

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

Our lives work best when we take time to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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