Category Archives: Faith

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

Love, Relationship and Community In Challenging Times

carlsonHomily for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 15, 2014 

Let me start my homily with a simple question: How do you think of God? Do you think of him as near or distant? Is he frightening or familiar? How do you think of God?

The truth is, at times, God can be seem both near and distant to us. At times, God can seem both frightening and familiar. It all depends on our relationship with him.

When doing my formation work in hospital ministry, I remember the hospital chaplain telling me that the ease by which a person dies is often a reflection of their relationship with God. That made sense to me. The closer we cling to God, the less “baggage” we have to hold onto.

I also remember a quote from one of my ACTS brothers who said: “If you discover that you are distant from God, ask yourself: Who moved?”

If we find ourselves distant from God, it wasn’t God who moved, it was us. We experience this …

  • When we turn our back on God in sin
  • When we focus so much on ourselves that we shut God out of our lives
  • When we allow the events of the world to distract us from living as God intended

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day that calls us to be more aware of the presence of the Trinitarian God in our lives. We are reminded of how the Trinity affects our lives, how it helps us relate more closely with God and to one another.

Today, we remember:

  • God the Father who created us in his own image
  • God the Son who became one of us and redeemed us
  • God the Holy Spirit who remains with us to accompany us and guide us on our spiritual journey

The central themes in today’s readings are relationship and love. Which helps us realize how personal and loving God is. These themes are clearly evident in that beautiful passage from the Gospel of John:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

To me, the operative phrase in that passage is believing in God. Whether God seems near or distant to us – we have to keep believing. Whether focused on God or lost in worldly events – we have to keep believing. Whether “swimming in God’s grace or drowning in sin” – we have to keep believing.

It is difficult to explain (and to understand) the mystery of the Trinity. But at the root of this mystery are three things: love, relationship, and community.

In that vein, I want to comment on the controversy this week surrounding Archbishop Carlson and the recent reporting on his depositions. Not to put another spin on the topic. Not to sound as an expert on the matter – because I am not. There is good information about all of this on the Archdiocese website. I recommend viewing the video from Archbishop Carlson and reading the letter from the Archbishop. They reflect the Archbishop I know: very humble, very compassionate … and very human.

I want to use this situation as a teachable moment of how we are to live in love, in relationship, when the foundation and cohesion of our faith community is challenged.

Today, you prove that you are a believing people because you are here. You honor God by your presence.

  • In spite of this cancer of sex abuse that continually attacks the life of the Church, you love God and his Church
  • In spite of the accusations of poor leadership and poor judgment in our Church surrounding the issue of sex abuse, you value the relationship of the Church and God’s people
  • In spite of the questions and accusations in the media, you gather here as community

We are here as a community of faith, hope and love.

But we know that others who are faithful and love their Church may not be here today. Like many of us, they may be confused, hurting, and questioning the Church and its leaders over these recent events.

And when this occurs, when we find our Church under suspicion, the best thing we can do is pray and model how God describes himself in our First Reading: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity.

We pray …

  • For the victims and all affected by abuse
  • For those who have fallen away from the Catholic Church in disillusionment
  • For justice
  • For peace
  • For reconciliation in our world

We turn to God in times like this and pray for God’s grace:

  • To lighten the burdens of our questioning minds
  • To overcome whatever distrust, skepticism, or uncertainty that may haunt us
  • To sustain us through periods of unbelief and doubt
  • To save us from the tendency to rush to judgment or speculation

And we pray to the leaders of our Church, as we will in the Eucharistic Prayer today. We will pray for Archbishop Carlson in a very personal way – using his first name (Robert). May we do so with open hearts and open minds. We do not do this in blind obedience, but as compassionate believers.

As we go forth today, let us ask the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Spirit – to make us ever more aware of God’s loving presence in and around us.

Let us go forth this day, in a spirit of love, relationship and community, strengthened by that very Trinitarian prayer St. Paul shared with us in the Second Reading (2 Corinthians 13:11-13):

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Deacon Dan Donnelly

The Reflection of God’s Love and Mercy

9945245Homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In today’s Gospel, we hear discipleship compared to salt and light. Let’s talk a little about this simile of salt and light.

We know that salt (sodium) is necessary for good health, but too much sodium leads to health problems. The disciples would have understood Jesus’ message about salt in two ways:

  1.  They would understand that salt is used to enhance the flavor of food (it’s still one of the most common ingredients in modern cooking), and
  2. They would know that salt is used to preserve foods (for example, before refrigeration, people would apply a thin layer of salt to fish and meats to help preserve them)

So, what Jesus was telling his disciples, as he prepared them for their missionary work was: Carry out your mission with enthusiasm and passion (add flavor to your mission), and be steadfast in preserving and sharing the faith that Christ had taught them.

We also hear Jesus warning that if salt loses its taste it is no longer good for anything and should be thrown out. Technically, salt never loses its flavor, but it can become less effective when other things are added to it, or it becomes impure. Jesus was telling disciples: do not allow your faith and beliefs to be compromised by what they may experience in the outside world (In effect, Jesus was telling the disciples: Be in this world, but not of this world).

Those are lessons that apply to us today. Through our baptism, we are called to be missionaries (to help spread the Good News of Jesus). We are expected to carry out our mission with zeal (with enthusiasm and passion). And our missionary work needs to be “grounded” in the truth so we can both enhance and preserve the Good News of God’s love and mercy.

Another “fun fact” about salt: Salt is referenced many times in Scripture. In all of the times salt is referenced, it is never described as existing only for itself (you wouldn’t go to the movies and order a large box of salt, would you? No, you’d go for the mega bucket of popcorn and use salt to flavor it).

Our faith doesn’t exist for ourselves alone. Our faith is personal, but it is also communal. We are called to live and work in community and to share our gifts and resources with others.We hear this in our First Reading when we are reminded to:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Shelter the oppressed and the homeless
  • Clothe the naked
  • Don’t turn your back on others, but help them

God is telling us to use our faith to take action! And when we do this, “Then [our] light shall break forth like the dawn.”

I was talking to a deacon friend of mine, not too long ago, who told me about a woman he was counseling. While protecting her identity, he shared her predicament with me: The woman had come to him to discuss problems she was experiencing with her 12-year old son. She said her son threw a fit every time he had to go to attend class at the Parish School of Religion (PSR). He complained that he just didn’t like PSR. He said he was too busy with other extracurricular activities, and that he was too tired to go at the end of the day.

After probing into the problem a little more, the deacon asked the woman how her son felt about going to Mass. The woman replied, “Oh, we don’t usually go to Mass” and rattled off a litany of reasons. She said, “neither my husband nor my son like to go to Mass, so it’s a hassle to get them to attend. I often work weekends, so scheduling time for Mass can be difficult. And, frankly, my job wears me out, so I like to sleep in on Sundays.”

Do you detect a parallel here? The son was using the same excuses for not going to PSR as the mother and father did for not going to Mass.

I share this story not to single out families (in full-time or part time school at the parish) who don’t attend Mass on Sundays. I share this story to demonstrate how our actions can reflect negatively on our children, our freinds, and our family – especially when it comes to sharing our faith.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “light of the world” and that they “must shine before others, that [others] may see [their] good deeds and glorify [God].” Were these parents a shining light for their son? From what I heard, I would guess “no.” But I can empathize with the woman in this story.

Its difficult  for kids to attend PSR after a full day of school. Scheduling for busy families can be a problem. Being a parent is hard … and tiring … and sometimes frustrating. But it can also be quite gratifying.

For me, as a parent, life is most gratifying when I see my children behaving in ways that reflect the goodness of God.  I like to think that their mother and I had some influence in those “good things” they reflect in their life.

We are all called to be that good example for others. To be the “Light of Christ” for others. But, to be the “light of the world” does not mean that you have to be the source of that light. We are created in the image and likeness of God. We are not called to be God, but to be a reflection of God, of His love and mercy.

Here’s an example that explains this in everyday terms. Think about where we are in the seasons. We are half way through Winter. Even in the midst of the coldest temperatures and most snowfall we’ve seen in years, we see signs of hope. The sun is staying out a little longer each day. Even in the bitter cold, we are witnessing some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

But ask yourself: Is the sky the source of that beauty? Do the clouds dictate the colors? No, these awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets are the sky and the clouds allowing the light of the sun to reflect in beautiful hues.

We are not the source of the light in our world … God is

Today’s readings help us step back and reflect on we are living our lives as Christians.

  • Are we being the best versions of ourselves, reflecting God’s love and mercy?
  • Are we being good examples for others by our words and actions?
  • Are we helping share the Light of Christ with others?

These are questions we might reflect on this week.

As we prepare to celebrate the Eucharist, let us remember that salt doesn’t act alone. We are a community of believers, called to gather at the Lord’s table, and to go forth to live our faith with zeal.

Through our Baptism, we are called to be light to the world, called to be a reflection of the beauty of God’s love and mercy.

May you have great week, reflecting God’s love and mercy in all that you do!

Doing God’s Will – Lessons from the Saints

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

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

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

Today, let us contemplate two questions from our readings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I share this story with you as a reminder that:

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

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

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

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Jesus as Priest, Prophet and King

19391805My Homily from November 24, 2013 – Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today we celebrate what has traditionally been known as the Feast of Christ the King, a day that we recall the fullness of our relationship with Jesus. It would be good for us to reflect on that relationship. Here are two key points we should remember:

  1. Our relationship with Christ is multi-dimensional
  2. It’s a relationship that is supposed to grow over time

We are first introduced to the different dimensions of our relationship with Christ when we are baptized. During the baptism, the celebrant anoints us with the Oil of Chrism and prays, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

Beginning on the day we enter the Church we are called to live like Christ – Priest, Prophet, and King. But how do we do that? It may be helpful to get a better understanding of these terms: Priest, Prophet and King.

A simple definition of a priest is one who serves as a bridge or mediator between God and humankind. It’s easy to understand Jesus as priest when we think of “bridge” or “mediator”

  • He is God who became man to draw us closer to him
  • He taught us to remember his love for us in our Eucharist celebration (“Do this in memory of me”)
  • He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us on our spiritual journey
  • He continues to mediate for us (to plead for us) to His Father

So, how do we live out our vocation as priest, like Christ?

  • When we participate in the sacramental life (when we gather in His name to connect with each other and with God)
  • When we cultivate a personal prayer life (our prayers can be a two-way bridge to make our concerns known to God and to receive back God’s grace and blessings in our life)
  • When we introduce Christ to others (we can be a bridge to Christ for others)

All of these things help us connect with God

A prophet is a messenger sent by God – one who speaks for God. Jesus is the last and the ultimate prophet. Not only is he a messenger sent by God (to remind us of God’s unconditional love), Jesus IS God, the Word Made Flesh.

So, how do we live out our vocation as prophet, like Jesus?

  • By embracing opportunities to grow in our faith and share that faith with others (we develop a habit of lifelong learning)
  • By inviting others to join in the life of our faith and the life of our parish (there is no better way to help spread the Word of God than to invite others to see and hear God’s word in action)

We might be a little less familiar with the concept of “king.” Our reference is often works of fiction or dark history. We may think of kings as selfish or deceitful rulers. Or we may think of them overburdening people with taxes and other requirements. But Jesus gives us a different (a better) model of what it means to be king.

A king is a person who has superior authority over a territory. But what is Jesus territory? Where does he proclaim superiority over us? The answer is in today’s Gospel. The territory that Jesus claims as his own is our hearts.

After being mocked as “King of the Jews,” Jesus chooses the Cross as his royal throne. His royal office is not judgment or condemnation (but to forgive the repentant sinner). Jesus teaches us that he is willing to forgive anyone, to love anyone, to serve anyone. All he asks from us is our hearts.

So what is Jesus, the King, teaching us?

  • He is teaching us humility and care for others
  • He is teaching us love and forgiveness
  • He is teaching us to serve others with the heart of a servant

And, how do we live out our vocation as King, like Jesus?

  • By being loving, caring and respectful to others
  • By sharing our gifts generously in the spirit of service
  • By forgiving others … and by being willing to accept forgiveness

We will soon turn our thoughts to the Eucharistic Feast, where our relationship with Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King will all come together. As we listen to today’s prayers, may our hearts be open to all that:

  • Connects us to God
  • Engages us in service to our parish and the world we live in
  • And reminds us of our call to love one another

This week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take some time to be thankful for the times in your life when you have been willing to forgive, and The times in your life when you were willing to accept forgiveness.

May our prayerful reflection help us all grow closer to the God 

Peace be with you!

God’s Patience and Unconditional Love

cross-of-st-francisHomily for September 15, 2013

There are many great stories and lessons in today’s readings. Two themes that run throughout are patience and unconditional love. These are two virtues that God models for us in today’s readings. These are two virtues that we must incorporate in our daily lives.

Pope Francis, celebrating his “Installation Mass” as the bishop of Rome, painted a beautiful picture of these themes. He said:

God is not impatient like us, who often want everything all at once, even in our dealings with other people. God is patient with us because he loves us, and those who love are able to understand, to hope, to inspire confidence; they do not give up, they do not burn bridges, they are able to forgive.

We get a good sense of this in today’s readings. In the first reading, the Lord tells Moses that he has had enough with the Israelites’ behavior. They had turned their backs on God and began worshiping a “new god” – a molten calf (a false god). In that reading, God tells Moses that he wants to wipe out all of these sinners. Then God will make the remaining Israelites “a great nation.”

But why did God threaten this? Is it because he is impatient? No, not at all. Theologians tell us that God made this threat to test Moses … and Moses passed the test. Moses reminded God (and reminded himself) of the great things God has done for his people:

  • He brought them out of the land of Egypt with His power
  • He swore to Abraham, Isaac and Israel that he would make their descendants “as numerous as the stars”

God wasn’t threatening to wipe out his people; he wasn’t being impatient. God was not forgetful of his promises. He was helping Moses remember a valuable lesson: God loves ALL of us UNCONDITIONALLY. Sure, God isn’t always pleased with our actions, but He always loves us.

We hear another story of patience and unconditional love in today’s Gospel. I chose the long version of the Gospel because I love the story of the Prodigals. If you are a parent, and have ever raised teenagers, you understand the value and importance of patience and unconditional love. You can probably relate to the Father in this story; doing your best to give your children what they want and need, and balancing that by being brave enough to let your children go and grow, and make it on their own (even if that means witnessing them make mistakes).

Like the father in the story, patiently waiting for your liberated child to return to you is one of the obligations of a parent. Whether they return triumphant or broken – you love your children. Sure, there are boundaries and limits to behaviors, but there are no limits or conditions placed on your love for your child. Just like there are no limits on God’s love for us.

cross-of-st-francis

The image of Jesus on the cross is a good representation of this type of unconditional love. We see Jesus nailed to the Cross with arms wide open. He is willing to open His arms to let us go … and He is willing to open His arms to receive us back. Letting go and receiving back are two challenges we parents face with our children. It’s a challenge all of us face in many relationships. We would do well to reflect on the Cross and Jesus’ great example of patience, mercy and unconditional love.

The father in this story is a good example of God and his patient, unconditional love (loving with arms wide open). Whereas the two brothers show very little patience and place a lot of conditions on their relationship with their father.

The first son wants his inheritance right then and there … those were his conditions. His demands are non-negotiable. How does the father respond? Unconditionally, “Here is what belongs to you and your brother.”

After squandering his inheritance, the first son returns and begs forgiveness and again sets conditions – “I am not worthy. Treat me as you would a hired hand” The father responds how? He dresses his son in the finest robe; he puts a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. He throws a big party for his son. Patience, mercy and unconditional love; that is the father’s response.

The story ends with the second son becoming angry. He tells his father: “I was a good son; I did whatever you said and never disobeyed you. This is how you honor me? You throw a party for my brother who squandered his inheritance? You never even gave me a small goat to share with my friends.” In other words, “It’s not fair!”

The father reminds and assures the second son with great compassion: I have always loved you – everything I have is yours. Join me in celebrating your brother’s return.

We are sometimes like the first son:

  • When we focus everything on ourselves
  • When we turn our back on God
  • When we fail to fully commit to what God wants for us

We are sometimes like the second son:

  • When we get wrapped up in the sin of comparison
  • When we don’t acknowledge all of the wonderful gifts that God has given us
  • When we don’t respect and value all of the people God places in our lives

Today’s readings teach us about patience and unconditional love This week, I invite you to reflect on your own life and your relationships. Ask yourself:

  • Where in my life must I be more patient and forgiving?
  • Where in my life have I placed unrealistic expectations and conditions on others that harm our relationships?

A final thought …

I think an amazing example of patience and unconditional love is the gift of marriage. This week, my wife, Becky, and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. In this very church, we pledged our love to each other; to honor each other as husband and wife for the rest of our lives.

Has it always been easy to be patient and love unconditionally? No (just ask my wife!), but we have been blessed with a marriage that has allowed us to sustain our commitment and to grow in love.

To me, the love of a married couple is a great example of how our relationship with God should be: It is patient, it is merciful, and it is unconditional.  It grows every day – because you work at it every day.

Not all people are called to the married life, and not all marriages last. But, no matter what, remember that God is patient and loves us all … unconditionally. May God bless us all!

Deacon Dan Donnelly
St. Joseph Catholic Church – Manchester, Missouri

Turning Back to God

21303485Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

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

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

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

Unmasking the Barriers

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

  1. Pleasure
  2. Power
  3. Popularity

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

Root Causes

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

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

Lessons from the Word

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

Pleasure

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

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

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

Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Popularity

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.