Category Archives: Homily

Putting God First

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARING OUR GIFTS WITH GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAY ATTENTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BE NOT AFRAID

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

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

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

The chapter ends with these words of encouragement and challenge:

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

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

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

Living Our Christian Identity

19392077Homily for 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
June 19, 2016

We hear a lot about “identities” in today’s readings. Our identities are important; they help define who and what we are. They help us understand where we came from and what we have become.

Our identities can be quite complex. For example, I am a husband, father, grandfather, deacon, spiritual companion, manager, co-worker, neighbor, friend, etc. Our identities reflect how we perceive ourselves and how others perceive us.

Our Christian Identity

One of the lesson’s in today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that the identity that matters most in life (our primary identity) is that of “Christian.” Paul tells the Christians in Galatia that our primary identities are no longer defined by race, ethnicity, social status and gender. Instead, we “wear a common identity that is Christ.” So, stop focusing on what differentiates us and focus on what unites us: Christ. The same is true for us today. We still retain our unique, individual identities, but those identities take a back seat to our identity as Christian.

I would love to stand here today and proclaim that in the 2000 years since Paul addressed this issue that we  are fully living our Christian identity. Sure, we’ve made some good advancements in treating others in a Christ-like manner but still today, in our “modern world,” issues of race, ethnicity, social status, and gender often separate and divide us. You only have to connect with social media, the 24-hour news cycle, or political propaganda to understand that hatred and divisiveness is all around us. So, we have to remind ourselves often that it is love that truly unites us and allows us to recognize and use our unique, God-given gifts in service to others. That’s what it means to be a Christian.

Clothed in Christ

When we are baptized, a white garment is placed on us as a symbol of what St. Paul describes as having “clothed ourselves in Christ.” After placing the garment, the deacon or priest says this prayer:

“You have become a new creation, and have clothed yourself in Christ. See in the white garment the outward sign of your Christian dignity. With your family and friends to help you by word and example, bring that dignity unstained into the everlasting life of heaven.”

I think it would be a fruitful exercise to take some time to reflect on our lives and ask:

  • How do my words, my thoughts, and my actions reflect my identity as “Christian”?
  • In what ways do I use my unique, God-given gifts and talents in service to others?
  • For us fathers on this Father’s Day
    • Am I an outward sign of Christian dignity to my children and spouse?
    • Does my family witness love, compassion and mercy through me?
    • By my thoughts and words and actions, who would my family say that I am?

To Be a True Disciple

Jesus uses identity questions in today’s Gospel to help instruct his followers on what it means to be an authentic, true disciple. Jesus tells his friends: If anyone wishes to come after me (to be my disciple), they must:

  • Deny themselves
  • Take up their cross daily
  • Follow in Christ’s footsteps

This commandment to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily is about doing for others what Christ has done for us.

In Luke’s gospel, taking up one’s cross is presented as a daily requirement, which indicates our Christian calling is not a one-time event. It’s not about attending a Steubenville Conference and returning to life a usual. It’s not about making an ACTS retreat and silently stumbling down the mountain. It’s not about committing your life to Christian marriage on your wedding day and limiting Christ to a guest appearance now and then in your marriage. What Jesus is telling us is that our Christian calling and identity is a life-long commitment, an ongoing process.

Love is a Vocation

I have had the privilege this past year of working with a group of married couples in our parish to establish a small faith community known as TOOL (Teams of our Lady). These couples want to strengthen and grow their vocation as husband and wife. Some of the readings and discussion from this last month’s TOOL meeting centered on understanding what it means to “take up your cross daily.”

Parts of the readings reminded us that through our marital bond, love is a vocation. As with all vocations, we often experience suffering. We live in a sinful, broken world, so there is no way around it; we will all endure suffering in our life.

The readings suggested that married couples tend to experience suffering in three ways:

  1. Sometimes couples experience suffering together. For example, the couple may experience a miscarriage or other significant loss (They carry the cross together). What the couple learns by taking up their cross together is that their trials can help make their union closer and deeper.
  2. Sometimes couples experience suffering one for the other. For example, your spouse is diagnosed with cancer or some other debilitating illness and you help take up the cross for your ill spouse (One carries the cross for the other). Your helping and nurturing your spouse may entail great sacrifices on your part, but you gladly bear those sufferings for that person whom you love so dearly.
  3. Sometimes couples experience suffering caused by another. For example, through our human weakness one spouse is unfaithful to his or her marriage vows. The unfaithful spouse causes suffering for both spouses (Each carries the cross alone). This suffering can become an obstacle to love. Or, through mercy, forgiveness, reconciliation and counseling, this suffering may further the bond of marriage.

These are just some example of “taking up your cross daily.” You don’t have to be married to experience struggles in life. The cross of Christ is often heavy for each of us.

Following in the Footsteps of Christ

Following in Christ’s footsteps is not easy (those are some big sandals to fill!). We often stumble and fall along our spiritual journey. When we fall, we must also follow the example of Christ: Get back up again, as Christ did on His redemptive way of the cross.

If we look more closely at today’s Gospel, we will see that Jesus didn’t ask us to succeed in the spiritual life. He merely invited us to participate and follow Him (every day!). Beyond that, we must trust in His grace, love and mercy

Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, one of the ways we continue to experience the identity of Jesus in our lives is in the breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup.

Today, as we prepare to celebrate Eucharist, as we receive the Body and Blood of Christ, may our “Amen” be our promise to remain faithful to Christ as we persevere through good times and bad. May our identity as Christians help invite and attract others to God’s eternal love.

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

Praying with the Good Shepherd

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

Cowboys and Cattle and Sheep (Oh, my!)

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice

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

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

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

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

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

The Serenity Prayer

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

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

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

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

Serenity

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

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

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

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

Courage

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

Wisdom

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

Our Call to Action

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

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

Being a Committed Pray-er

shapeimage_1-10

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2016

I recently listened to a podcast featuring the actor, Martin Sheen (The West Wing, Apocalypse Now, The Way). It was very interesting listening to him talk about his deep Catholic faith. (Click here to read the transcript or download the podcast).

The theme of the interview was “Spirituality of Imagination” and focused, in large part, on Sheen’s fascination with prayer. Two things struck me from his comments about prayer:

  1. He talked about how intimate prayer can be – just us and God in conversation, and
  2. He talked about how his style of prayer has changed over the years – how it has grown to be more conversational

Sheen also commented on the 11th chapter of Luke where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11: 1-4). He found the disciples’ request interesting, saying “…they were devout Jews, and they had a very structured form of prayer, and worship, and sacrifice, and they asked him, ‘Teach us to pray,’ is a very curious question to me, that they wanted to go deeper. They wanted to go more personal, I guess.”

I think Mr. Sheen is correct. We all have this longing in our hearts to better know and love God. And God invites us to “go deeper” in our relationship. A crucial step in this relationship is making a commitment to regular (daily) prayer, which this season of Lent helps us remember.

Prayer in Today’s Readings

When we think about prayer, we often overlook one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence that shows us how important prayer really is. What is that evidence? Jesus prayed!

  • Last week we saw him go off into the desert to pray
  • In today’s Gospel, we see him go up the mountain to pray
  • In dozens of other Gospel passages we see the same thing

We read about Jesus getting up early or staying up late to make time for prayer. We hear about Jesus praying for guidance before major events in his life.

Jesus needed regular prayer in his life; and so do we!

Today’s readings remind us that prayer, the most effective way of growing in relationship with God, takes on many forms.

  • Today’s First Reading tells us that “The Lord God took Abram outside…” and had a conversation with him. That’s prayer.
  • The Psalm gives us an example of King David’s prayer in the face of danger, “Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me…”
  • St Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds the Christians in Philippi that while most people occupy their minds “with earthy things… Our citizenship is in heaven.” Our attention is on God – that’s prayer.
  • Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus leads his three closest disciples away from the hustle and bustle of life, up to the top of a high mountain, where he can be alone with them, and give them a lesson in prayer.

Space and Time for Prayer and Reflection

So, we have to ask ourselves:

  • Is our prayer life in good shape? Do we make a commitment to prayer?
  • Has our prayer life improved in the last year, over the last 10 years?
  • Do we allow space and time in our prayer to reflect and to engage in dialogue with God (or are we just rattling off rote prayers)?

A business friend of mine once invited me to lunch. Before lunch, he suggested we stop at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis to pray the Rosary. I thought that was an outstanding idea. When we got there, my friend said he would lead the prayer. In my mind, that meant we would pause, gather our thoughts and take time to reflect on each of the Mysteries of the Rosary. My friend had a different idea.

He proceeded to rip through the Rosary prayers at lightning pace, barely taking a moment to breathe (much less reflect on the fruits of the mysteries we were praying). It made my head spin!

After he had finished (what he called) prayer. I asked him: “Did you ever consider slowing down and reflecting on the Mysteries of the Rosary?” “No,” he said, “I just want to get these prayers done so I am ‘good with God’.” Needless to say, we had much to talk about over lunch.

Our prayer is not merely a commitment or something we check off of our list to feel like we remain in God’s good grace.

If prayer is truly conversation with God, we need to remember what our mothers’ told us: You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion.

We need to speak to God in prayer, but we also need to listen.

If we continue today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we’ll hear one of my favorite Bible passages (Philippians 4:6-7).

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God
.”

God wants us to make our requests known to him, but we also need to allow time and space to listen to God in our prayer. In doing so, we enjoy the gifts of God’s grace.

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

So, make your needs known; then listen for his response. Be persistently patient.

Prayer as a Priority

Matthew Kelly, in his book, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” states that only 7% of Catholics have a daily commitment to prayer. (Click here to learn about Dynamic Catholics.)

About these committed pray-ers, Kelly notes that these people:

  • Have a routine for prayer
  • Have a structure for prayer
  • Many of them pray at the same time every day

For some this means going to Mass in the morning. For others, it means sitting down in a big, comfortable chair in a corner of their home or taking a walk, but they tend to abide by a structure.

Daily prayer, a daily conversation with God, can do great things for our spiritual nourishment and growth. It starts by making a commitment.

As you pray, don’t be afraid to try different styles of prayer or to use different Catholic texts for reading and reflection. Sometimes changing things up can help reinvigorate our prayer life. This season of Lent is an excellent time to try different forms of prayer. Just pick up this week’s Bulletin and look at all of the opportunities in our parish and in neighboring parishes to participate in prayer and spiritual formation programs this Lent.

Make prayer a daily priority in your life and allow time (and space) to reflect on the messages and insight God gives you in prayer. Be silent, be patient and listen!

This week, I encourage you heed the words of the Gospel and God’s voice that came from the cloud:

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.deacondan.com

True Greatness is About Holiness

jamesandjohnHomily from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

Suffering Servants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We see God in our suffering:

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

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

Bumps in the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward in Christ’s Love

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

Choosing Faith Over Fear

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

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

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

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

Our relationships often influence the choices we make.

Choices and Relationships

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

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

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

“Craving the Wave”

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

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

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

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

God is Ever-Present in Our Lives

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

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

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

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

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

How to Build Strong Spiritual Boats

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

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

Lesson One:

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

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

Lesson Two:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lesson Three:

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

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Happy Father’s Day!

Deacon Dan

What are You Looking For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look Back and Thank God

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

Look Forward and Trust God

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

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

Look Around and Serve God

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

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

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

Look around and serve God.

Look Within and Know God

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

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

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

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

And how is God a part of this?

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

Living an Integrated, Christ-centered Life

990459429th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mission Sunday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

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