Category Archives: Faith

Finding Joy in Times of Sadness

1370004Today we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday” – a day of rejoicing in the season of Advent. We hear it in the words of the scriptures, we hear it in the lyrics of the songs, we see it in the rose color of the vestments and the Advent candle. This third Sunday of Advent is described as the Church’s way of “further heightening our expectations as we draw ever nearer to the celebration of Christmas.” (US Council of Catholic Bishops)

But, frankly, it’s hard to feel joyful when we consider all of the evil and challenging events happening in our world, especially when we think about the senseless killings of innocent school children and adults in Connecticut this week.

How do we get past such a tragic event and find joy in this season of preparation? How do we get past these feelings of sadness and back to the feelings of happiness and joy we usually experience in this season of Advent and Christmas? The Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, makes these important points from his Facebook page today:

  1. He reminds us that joy is deeper than happiness
  2. While happiness may be fleeting, joy is permanent
  3. Joy is about a relationship – a relationship with God
  4. Joy can carry us through difficult times, and even tragedy, because it is rooted in God’s love

These are great thoughts and can be helpful as we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

What should we do?

We hear the question, “What should we do?” asked several times in today’s Gospel. Different groups are coming to John to be baptized. He instructs them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Savior. Each group asks John, as baptized people, what they should do to “produce good fruits” in their lives. He tells them:

  • Develop a generous heart. John tells the first group to be generous with what they have; to share with those who have nothing (share your coat, share your food, share whatever you possess). This is similar to what our parish is experiencing as we participate in our Christmas Outreach to support the families of Fertile, Missouri.
  • Develop a heart of justice. John tells the tax collectors to not take more than they deserve. He instructs them to do what is expected in their work, but do no more that would harm others.
  • Develop a heart of peace and love. John instructs the Roman Soldiers to not lie and to not steal; to be satisfied with what God has given them

I think John’s words are still speaking to us today. We, too, are called to develop hearts that are generous, just, peaceful and loving. This is the type of heart that will bring us closer to God and will help us experience joy in our lives.

I encourage you to take some time in prayer this week to reflect on the words of the Gospel. How do we (individually and collectively) help bring peace and joy into our world? How do we rise above the evil that touches our lives? How do we help others know the good news of a loving, merciful God?

Let’s take some time to practice this now.

I invite you to close your eyes and envision standing with John on the banks of the River Jordan. Hear the water flowing. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, the coolness of the desert breeze. Listen to John as he proclaims the good news of the Lord. Then, turn to John, as a person who has been baptized and redeemed, and ask him:

What should I do?
What should I do to produce good fruit in my life?

And then, listen … just listen.

No deacon or preacher has to tell you the answer. Just listen to what God has already written on your heart.

I encourage you to practice this several times this week. Ask … and listen.

Extraordinary

As I was preparing today’s homily I recalled a song I wrote some years ago titled “Extraordinary.” The first verse of the song goes like this:

Live an ordinary life, but focus it on Christ
and share extraordinary grace
that comes from God above. His most
abundant love makes life extraordinary.

John didn’t tell the people that they had to do anything extraordinary to be a follower of Christ. And I suspect he will tell us the same thing if we speak to him in prayer.

Certainly, we all do some extraordinary things in our lives, and we are called to be the best version of ourselves. But, the truth be told, most of us (by definition) are “ordinary.” And that’s OK. Being ordinary is not a bad thing. But, being ordinary and focusing our lives on Christ is a great thing – an extraordinary thing.

To paraphrase Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: We are not called to do great (extraordinary) things, but to do small (ordinary) things with great love.

Think about how we will soon experience Christ in the Eucharist. We will bring our ordinary gifts of bread and wine to the altar. And something extraordinary will happen there: through the prayer and blessings of the priest, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ. We will encounter Christ in a very special way. That encounter will help give us the strength, the grace, to be (extraordinary) followers of Christ in our (ordinary) lives. We will grow in relationship with God and can live a life of joy.

Rejoice!

As you are taking time to pray this week, should you need additional comfort and confidence in discerning how to produce abundant spiritual fruit for yourself and for others, I recommend reflecting on our Second Reading today from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
(Keep your focus on God)

Your kindness should be known to all.
(Be generous, just, peaceful and loving)

The Lord in near.
(He is near in our happiness, in our sadness – in our joy)

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and
petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests know to God.
(Build that God-centered relationship. Ask … and listen)

And if we pray in this way, we will share in the beautiful blessing that Paul uses to close his letter:

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I pray you will continue to experience a joyful Advent and a blessed Christmas!

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

Live Like You Are Dying

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In today’s readings, we hear about the End Times – when the end of history will come about and Jesus will return “in power and glory” to gather his people. In the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples: “But of that day or hour, no one knows … only the Father.”

When Jesus speaks to us through the Gospel, and when Jesus talks to his disciples, he tells us to be watchful, but doesn’t tell us exactly when the end of history will come, just as he doesn’t tell us exactly when our own death will come. Why is that? Because Jesus wants us to live each day of our lives to the full, by loving God and loving our neighbor.

These readings today remind us to be watchful, to be vigilant and to persevere in the faith that Jesus taught us. These readings also remind me of the Tim McGraw song, Live like You Are Dying.

Are you familiar with the song? It tells the story of  a man who found out that he was going to die at a relatively young age. After moping around a bit the man decides to make the most of the time he has left in life. He tells of some of the fun adventures he decided to do:  going skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing and riding 2.7 seconds on a bull named “Fu Man Chu.” (Note to self: If you ever own a bull, name it something cool like “Fu Man Chu.”)

These are some exciting and thrilling things to do before you die. But through the song, we discover the real value of what the man learned about himself and about his relationships – about what truly mattered in his life. By changing the way he lived his life, he said he:

  • Learned to love deeper and speak sweeter
  • Gave forgiveness he’d been denying
  • Finally became the husband that most the time he wasn’t
  • Became a friend a friend would like to have

The man tells us: “I hope someday you get the chance – to live like you are dying.”

Well, not to freak you out, but that day is now! Yes, we do not know the day or the hour for the End Times, but we know the fact: Jesus will come again; history will end; the sun will set, and God wants us to stay ready, by working, by praying, and by growing in relationship with God and with others.

This is a great time of the year to put thought into action. And that’s the key: putting thought into action.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: “Once upon a time in a land far, far away, three frogs were sitting on a lily pad in the cool pond outside of the high walls of an enchanted castle. Two of the frogs decided to jump into the cool water of the pond.” Question: How many frogs were left on the lily pad?

The answer is “three” (not one) – because there is a difference between deciding to jump and actually jumping. God calls us to take a leap of faith. Don’t just talk about it; do it!. (My 12-Step friends will relate this to Step 3 of their recovery program: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”)

God will take care of the End Times. Our job is to live the life God gave us and to live it in a way that is consistent with God’s plan for us.

This Thanksgiving, while giving thanks for all of our blessings, maybe we can take a little more time to focus on ways we can love deeper, speak sweeter, give (and accept) forgiveness we’ve been denying. Two key questions that may help:

  1. Are there relationships in my life that need repair?
  2. Are there people in my life with whom I need to reconcile?

While giving thanks this week, maybe we can also ask God to help us  to be the best version of ourselves – to be the kind of spouse, parent, co-worker, son, daughter, or friend we want to be (and that God calls us to be). Again, ask yourself:

  1. Are there relationships in my life that need repair?
  2. Are there people in my life with whom I need to reconcile?

Then, take action! Relying on God’s grace and love, jump in (don’t stay sitting on the lily pad)!

A couple of months ago, my wife and I rented the movie, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It’s a story about two men who are both dying of a terminal illness. Together, they agree to make the most of the time they have left on earth by doing the things they always wanted to do before they “Kick the Bucket.” They made a list, and as they completed each task, they crossed it off their “Bucket List.”

The two experienced many wonderful worldly adventures, but the items on their Bucket List that were both the most difficult to do, and the most rewarding to experience, centered on repairing relationships and reconciling with others. To not spoil the movie, I’ll just leave it at that. But I will share this with you …

My favorite quote in the movie is Carter (Morgan Freeman’s character) speaking of Edward (Jack Nicholson’s character) after Edward dies. He says: “Even now I cannot understand the meaning of a life, but I can tell you this. I knew that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open.”

When you close your eyes this week in prayer, I invite you to pray that you will allow God to open your heart to all of his love and blessings.

Be watchful, and vigilant. And take action. Persevere in building and repairing relationships.

I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Be thankful for all of God’s blessings and take a chance: Live like you are dying!

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Deacon Dan

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

To Rise In You

I have been working on a new song since the beginning of Lent. I keep tweaking the music, but I think the lyrics are solid. They reflect my prayer during the Lenten season as I examined my own challenges and flaws. The thought that kept coming to me was that of trying all the time to be good and holy, failing some of the time, but being called to keep trying. That’s where the words of the Chorus come in: “We fall down and we get back up to rise in you!”

The Pre-Chorus has also been a revelation to me. I liked the image of us as precious wine, but flawed in our humaness (i.e., “broken vessels”). I also thought the writings of one of the early Church Fathers spoke to our condition: “Human hearts laid low by sin.” The question we face when we fall to sin is: What do we do next? The answer is rather simple. We turn to Christ and ask him to lift us back up again. Through forgiveness, through mercy, and through the sacrament of Reconciliation, God gives us another chance to live the true and pure life we long to live. God leads us to new life in Him – his love never fails!

These are the lyrics to this song:

To Rise In You

Pure and true, trying to be just like you.
In all we say and do, but sometimes we fall.
Knocked down again and burdened by the weight of sin,
You reach down to free our hearts again with mercy and love.

We are blessed, but we are broken
Though we try, we fall to sin
Help restore us to your graces
To die to self and rise again.

On our knees, prying for complete release,
You set us free with mercy and love.
Renewed again, we promise to avoid all sin.
You lead us to life in you again;
Your love never fails!

We are blessed, but we are broken
Though we try, we fall to sin
Help restore us to your graces
To die to self and rise again.

We lift our prayers to heaven.
We lift our hands and hearts to you, our Savior.
Send down your grace from heaven.
Teach us to die to self and rise in you.

We are blessed, but we are broken
Though we try, we fall to sin
Help restore us to your graces
To die to self and rise again.

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

“Peter’s Song” – A Good Friday Reflection

During Holy Week we hear the Lord’s Passion played out several times. We heard Matthew’s telling of the story on Palm Sunday. On Good Friday we hear John’s recounting of Christ’s suffering and death.

Several years ago I was reflecting on Christ’s Passion and began to wonder how Peter might have felt about the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Peter, who Christ chooses to lead his Church, sounds like a strong, proud man. He commits his life to Christ. He promises that he will never betray his friend. He draws his sword to defend Jesus when taken captive in the Garden. But its also Peter who later denies knowing Jesus – three times.

Peter, with all of his strength and bravery, is just like you and I. He is human and not perfect. And Peter’s humanness is reflected in his deserting Jesus in his time of need.

As I reflected on Peter’s actions I began to jot down some words for a song. Using the melody line from the song, Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) by Don McLean, I penned this song. I titled it Peter’s Song (Lonely, Lonely Night). With apologies to Mr. McLean, I offer you the following as a personal reflection during Holy Week:

Peter’s Song
Lyrics by Dan Donnelly

Lonely, lonely night, lifeless corpse in silence lay
Christ abandoned, gone away are those who loved him more than faith would show
Mother’s love was true. At the cross she stayed with you
I just hid; what could I do as fear and darkness covered up my soul

I want to understand what you tried to say to me
How you’d suffer for humanity. How you’d die to set us free
I could not listen, I did not know how. Lord, help me listen now

Nailed upon a tree, stripped of all your dignity
I could not bear what I’d see; a bloody rose hung high between two thorns
What, Lord, did I do? I said would die for you
Love denied I turned from you; I turned my back when faith was needed most

But, my Lord, I love you, and I always will
And though no hope is left in sight on this lonely, lonely night
I pray you will forgive the things I do
I could have told you, Jesus
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

Lonely, lonely night, guarded tomb with boulder placed
How I long to see your face; to hold you in my arms and not let go
Speak to me, my Lord. Help me hear your healing words
Teach me, Lord, what I have heard. The words you wrote upon my aching heart

Help me understand what you tried to say to me
How you’d suffer for humanity. How you’d die to set us free
I could not listen, I did not know how
Lord, help me listen now

Wishing you a blessed Easter.

Deacon Dan

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Keep Believing – The Holy Week Challenge

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s Palm Sunday homily of April 17, 2011.

The sign outside the church says “Palm Sunday – The Beginning of Holy Week.” And as quickly as it begins, Holy Week get busy and complex. While we celebrate Palm Sunday and commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we also celebrate Passion Sunday as we recall Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion. As soon as Holy Week begins, we are stuck in the middle of a paradox – a contradiction of terms.

On the one hand, we are joyful and excited about the coming of the Messiah, the Savior. On the other hand, we are saddened by the death of a friend. This paradox is typical of life many days, and is typical of our spiritual journey at times. Our spiritual journey may not always be a smooth path, but what keeps us moving forward, one step at a time, is our faith. We are a congregation of believers. That belief in better things to come is what keeps us holding on and pressing forward.

Last Fall I attended an Encounter liturgy at church with our Youth Group. Encounter is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction set to contemporary praise and worship music. During that particular liturgy I sat and reflected on the beautiful music and the expressions on the faces of those who were there as they poured out their prayers before Jesus, present in the Eucharist. As I looked at the faces of the youth and adults in attendance it struck me that I could not know where each person was on their spiritual journey.

I did not know what issues may be affecting them at that particular time. I could not tell if they were experiencing joy or hardship in their personal and spiritual relationships. What I did know, however, was that Jesus was meeting each person exactly where they were in their spiritual journey and loved them dearly for who they are – and who they they are called to be. It was a moving experience for me and I later journaled these words about our paradox of faith:

The sweetest songs we sing, come from restless hearts believing
The deepest source of prayer can be joy and can be grieving

Each day’s a gift from God, but some days the gift is hidden
But don’t give up the fight, just embrace the cross you’r given

No matter where you are. No matter where you’ve been
Whether swimming in God’s grace or drowning in sin
You have to keep believing!

This Holy Week, and the period of Easter following Holy Week, are are great times to sit with the Holy Spirit and to explore our paradox of faith. And this week is a great time to participate in the dozens of liturgies and prayer services planned for our parish to help prepare ourselves for Easter. This is a great time to rediscover our faith in personal prayer and communal liturgies. Not out of obligation, but by invitation. I invite you and encourage you to attend as many of these events as you can. And I encourage you to invite others to join you as well.

When we are baptized, our parents, godparents and the entire assembly gathered to celebrate this wonderful sacrament and to renew their own baptismal promises. Together, we stated what we believe. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe in all that the Catholic Church holds to be true. That same promise is repeated each Sunday as we recite the Nicene Creed. That same sense of belief, that same strong conviction will help carry you through Holy Week and beyond.

I draw your attention to our newer Stations of the Cross in our church. I love how these stations were mounted on the wall. Rather than mounting them in a straight line, the Stations are mounted at various heights, representing Jesus’ journey to the hill on Calvary, and then down to his tomb. To me, this reflects the up-and-down struggles in our faith. Our spiritual journey is not always easy, but our belief in God keeps us moving forward.

And if you look at our Stations, you will notice that they leave you in a down spot. The fourteenth station, Jesus is buried in the tomb, is the lowest spot in the display. Next week at this time, we will celebrate the Resurrected Jesus. If we were to place a fifteenth station to reflect that reality, the ceiling of the building would not be high enough to reflect this wonderful event.

If our faith ended at placing Jesus is the tomb, we could all sleep in on Easter morning. But it doesn’t (so you can’t sleep in!). Our faith is one of journey, struggle, and eventual victory. And how do we get to that victory? How do we get through the paradox that is Holy Week? The answer is simple: You have to keep believing!

Have a blessed Holy Week and a glorious Easter!

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Love Came Down

This entire Advent season, I have been reflecting on the “reason for the season.” Why did God send his Son to heal the contrite? Why did Jesus come to call sinners? What did we do to merit such a wonderful gift? The answer is simple: We did nothing; God did it all … for us!

The phrase that kept running through my head as I reflected and prayed was “Love Came Down.” I’ve taken that phrase and written a song we will debut at the Life Teen Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Sunday, January 2. Here are the lyrics to the song:

LOVE CAME DOWN

Love came down
And hope was renewed
A new joy was found when
Love came down
To dwell among the lost and the lonely
To lead us to the one and the only truth
That’s why Love came down

In the fullness of time, in the stillness of night
Over Bethlehem, a bright and glorious light
From this humble place, with no crown for his head
Our Savior-God brings hope to those once dead

Love came down
And hope was renewed
A new joy was found when
Love came down
To dwell among the lost and the lonely
To lead us to the one and the only truth
That’s why Love came down

Let us worship him. Let us give him praise
Heaven’s only Son; let all creation sing!
Let us bring our gifts to the one who saves
Let us celebrate; sing glory to His name!

Sing glory. O sing glory.
Sing glory to his name!
Sing glory. O sing glory.
Sing glory to his name!

Love came down
And hope was renewed
A new joy was found when
Love came down
To dwell among the lost and the lonely
To lead us to the one and the only truth
That’s why Love came down

To lead us home again
That’s why Love came down

Merry Christmas!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

This blog post Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Jesus, Emmanuel, Lord

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent – December 19, 2010.

Have you ever wondered how and why your parents chose your name? Were you, perhaps, named for a favorite relative or a famous person? Does your name have any special meaning? Was yours a popular baby name the year you were born? It might be interesting to ask your parents how and why they chose your particular name for you.

I did a little research on my name, “Daniel.” I discovered that it is Hebrew in origin and means, “God is my judge.” It wasn’t a very popular name when I was born but has since grown in popularity (I claim no responsibility for its increase in popularity). As far as I know, there isn’t a great story behind the choice of my name by my parents. My guess is that they like the name and it seemed to “fit” me.

In today’s readings God reveals to us three of his names. We’ve heard them before, but we need to think about them again in this last week of Advent. In today’s readings, we hear the names Jesus, Emmanuel, and Lord. Two of these are names that God gives us to refer to his Son. One is a name we give to his Son in response for all that he is and all he has done for us.

I’m certain your parents took a lot of care in naming you. They wanted your name to mean something, to signify how important your life is to them. God the Father was also careful about naming his child. He didn’t leave it up to chance or to Mary and Joseph’s creativity (He didn’t want “Moon Unit” or “Apple” for his Son’s name). God chose Jesus’ name himself and sent an angel to announce the choice to Mary and Joseph.

In the Old Testament, God often changed people’s names – mostly when someone was given a special mission – like Abram (who became Abraham) and Jacob (who became Israel). The meaning of their new names signified their role in God’s plan. When God instructs Joseph to call Mary’s son “Jesus” (even before he was born) God shows that Jesus is not just another prophet. He shows that Jesus is his Son in an entirely unique way.

And what does that name mean? In Hebrew, Jesus means “God saves.” This names reveals Christ’s mission. Unlike the Old Testament prophets, Jesus didn’t come to earth only to announce God’s plan for saving us from sin and evil; he came to be that plan – to win salvation for us!

But another name is also revealed to us today: Emmanuel. In our first reading, we hear the prophet Isaiah announce the name Emmanuel. In our Gospel reading, we hear St. Matthew apply that name to Jesus “Emmanuel” in Hebrew means, “God is with us.”

Think about these two names that God has given us:

  • The name “Jesus” (God saves) refers to Christ’s mission, what he came to do (to save us from sin)
  • The name “Emmanuel” (God with us) refers to his identity, to who he is

Biblical scholars and theologians will tell us that the names Jesus and Emmanuel are closely related. The only way Jesus is capable of saving us is because he is both true man and true God. We were exiled from heaven and God’s friendship because of Original Sin – the sin of Adam and Eve. And we couldn’t get back to God’s friendship on our own – it was out of our reach. To reestablish friendship with God, we needed God himself to take the initiative. We needed a Savior who could bring God and his human family back together.

Jesus is that Savior.

God is his father, so he is fully divine. Mary is his mother, so he is fully human. God becoming man to save a fallen human race is the greatest story ever told. This is the real meaning of Christmas.

And yet, there is still another name the Church presents us with today. In the second reading, St. Paul refers to Jesus as “Our Lord.” “Jesus” and “Emmanuel” are names that only God could have given. But “Lord” is a name that only we can give.

  • God initiates a plan to save us by sending his only Son to die for our sins
  • We respond by accepting Jesus as “Lord” (in Hebrew, “Adonai”)
  • St. Paul acknowledges Jesus as the ultimate source of all order, power, and greatness

In Mass today, we will acknowledge the exact same thing when we pray:

“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

Think about those words and you prepare to receive Christ in Holy Communion. Think about Christ – who he is, what his mission is, and how you respond to him in your life.

And in the few days remaining before Christmas, let’s keep all three names on our lips and in our hearts:

  1. Jesus – our Savior
  2. Emmanuel – God with us
  3. Lord – our ultimate source, our “higher power”

I invite you to reflect on these names this week. The more we understand them, the closer we can grow in relationship with God.

Have a merry, and blessed Christmas!

Deacon Dan

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. http://www.deacondan.com

God’s Discipline: Being Formed by the Master

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Paul reminds us in his letter to the Hebrews:

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

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

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. http://www.deacondan.com

Of Tree Roots and Bird Wings

The following is the text of a reflection I gave this evening during Encounter, which is Eucharistic Adoration combined with praise and worship music. The focus of the evening (and of the talk) is our Life Teen youth group, but I think the message pertains to us “old folks” as well. Enjoy!

I’ve been playing with the lyrics to a new song I’m writing (tentatively titled Wings to Fly). The inspiration of the song came from a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago with Greg Barker, our Youth Minister. He and I were talking about changes in life and how some of our teens are going through one of the biggest changes they’ve ever experienced. Some of them are leaving home and family to attend college for the first time. It’s both an exciting and anxious time for teens and their parents. I know it can also be an anxious time for siblings and friends who remain behind.

Each of you is going through some major changes in your lives as well – changes with school, with sports, with work, and with relationships. Greg and I talked about equipping our teens spiritually for these changes. As we talked, two pictures stuck out in my mind; one was a picture of the roots of a tree, the other a picture of the wings of a bird.

We talked about our jobs as parents and ministers to help our teens be rooted in their faith, to help them grow deep and strong roots so they can withstand the challenges that lie before them in life. Scripture tells us that a strong root system can allow a tree to withstand difficulty and still bear fruit.  Here is what the prophet Jeremiah says:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit. (Jer 17:7-8)

Roots that are well cared for will help us bear much fruit – even in difficult times of change. Tonight you are following the advice of Jeremiah – you are staying close to the greatest source of strength for our spiritual roots – Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. And that’s awesome. Enjoy this special time with Jesus. I encourage you to keep coming back. The Adoration Chapel is open 24/7 and Jesus is just waiting for you to stop by for a visit.

The other visual of the wings of a bird has to do with stretching ourselves and exploring new things in our lives. I have to tell you: It hurts our hearts as parents to think that our baby birds are stretching their wings to fly away from the loving nest we have built for you. But our job as parents (and ministers) is to help fit you with strong wings to allow you to fly to new heights. That’s where the refrain of the song I am writing comes in:

Give me wings to fly, so I can rise above this. Help me touch the sky, and find a better way. Come and lift me up; raise me even higher than I’ve ever known, than I’ve ever known. Give me wings to fly!

I encourage you, as you pray before the Blessed Sacrament this evening, to think about the spiritual roots in your lives. Greg, Carrie and the Core Team do an excellent job helping you prepare for your spiritual journey. Think about the lessons and good examples your parents and youth ministers have shared with you to build those strong roots. Trust that the Lord will help lead you through any difficulties you may be experiencing in this time of transition.

Think also about the new heights in your life that God is calling you to. Change can be a good thing; it can mean progress. Perhaps God is using this time in your life to call you to a new level of trust and intimacy with Him. Perhaps he is calling  you to a new way of service, answering a call to a vocation, or improving an area of your life where you don’t always live and love like Jesus. Trust in the Lord and have hope.

Ask God to remove any burdens that may be weighing heavy on your heart. Ask God to give you spiritual wings to rise to the heights He wants for you. Find your way and fly high, trusting and hoping in the Lord. And above all else, remember that you are loved!

Lord, Open My Lips …

I presided at a Benediction service the other night (Benediction is a devotional prayer service before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar). After the service, a friend approached me and commented on my closing prayer. She said she liked it and had never heard it before. I told her, “Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that prayer as well.” You see, my practice when I preside at such events is to pray from my heart at the end of the service and I don’t know what will be said until I speak. I just follow the words of the ancient psalmist:

“Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 51:17).

I simply let the Holy Spirit guide me in my prayer.

Sure, I get in the way of God’s grace a bit by giving the prayer some structure (a beginning, a middle and an end), but I truly never know what words God will give me to speak. This type of spontaneous prayer is powerful and I’ve found it to be very helpful in my ministry. It’s an invitation to allow God to do the talking; for me to get out of the way and let his message flow.

When you pray this way and take time to reflect on what you prayed, you can begin to detect patterns and themes in your prayer life. Your heart is often freer to speak the truth than your mind, which can get stifled by pride and supposition. Another way to “peek” into your heart is to journal by themes and expressions.

Most of the time when I journal, I am recording an event or feeling that I have experienced and write like I was writing a letter, using complete sentences and paragraphs. But some of the most interesting journaling I’ve done has been to write as quickly as I can to record the experience or feelings I have bottled up inside me. I forgo grammar and sentence structure and spill it all out there on paper. Messy as it may appear, it is an effective way of identifying the themes and issues that are affecting your life. It is those themes and issues that you can bundle up and present to God as prayers of the heart.

You might give this a try: Take a pad of paper and begin writing all of the thoughts (one to three words at the most per thought) that expresses where you are in your life – your joys, your concerns, your needs, your desires. Write freely; leave the analysis for a later time. Then, when you’ve emptied the well of thoughts and emotions, take time in prayer to identify recurring themes and issues. These are the areas where you might focus future prayer … and future spiritual counseling.

“Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.” I pray these words a lot – before counseling people, before preaching, before proclaiming the Word, before leading a meeting, before singing at Mass, etc. It’s a simple prayer and it is powerful. These are also the first words of the Invitatory – the first offering of prayer each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours. What a great way to start the day.

I heard Amy Grant sing her new song, “Better than a Hallelujah” on a television special not too long ago. (Here’s a link to one YouTube version of the song) It’s a beautiful song about how God loves us as we are and where we are. The refrain of the song is this:

“We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are; the honest cries of breaking hearts … are better than a Hallelujah.”

We all have thoughts and feelings bottled up inside of us. Some of them can be beneficial to us and others, and some can be harmful. But if the thoughts and feelings are of God, they will be beautiful. So let God speak in your prayer.

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

This Blog Post Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. http://www.deacondan