Category Archives: Letting Go

Just be Held

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Homily from the Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018

I love the readings during the Easter season. They give us insight into the early Church. They show us how we are called to live as Christians. They help us learn how the disciples came to believe, and better understand why Jesus had to suffer, die and rise again. Today’s readings give insight into what it means to be in a relationship with God, and to grow in faith and understanding.

FIRST READING ACTS 3:13-15, 17-19

Our First Reading today is a powerful speech by Peter, calling the gathered crowd to repentance and conversion. What we don’t hear in this reading is what got Peter so fired up. You have to go back a few paragraphs in the Bible to get the full story (Cure of the Crippled Beggar – Acts 3:1-12).

Here’s what had happened: Peter and John had cured a man crippled from birth. In the name of Jesus the Nazorean, Peter tells the man “Get up and walk.” And he does!

After rising and walking a bit, the Bible tells us that the man “clings to Peter and John.” The man doesn’t want to let go of those who cured him; he wants to remain with them in this saving relationship. This scene helps set the stage for all of today’s readings and helps us reflect on how we grow in relationship with our savior, Jesus the Christ.

From the crippled man, we learn:

  1. That we, too, need to cling our savior – out of love and devotion
  2. We need to remain close to God, and close to God’s people – as a community of faith
  3. We need to abide in God – taking time to rest in his love

We do this by developing a habit of regular prayer and reflection, by engaging in our faith community as we share our gifts with others, and by taking “Sabbath Time” to just rest and enjoy all of the gifts God has given us (especially our families).

From Peter, we are reminded that we are human and make mistakes. As Peter pointed out, the same people who were waiting for a savior acted out of ignorance by denying Christ and ordering him crucified. Even Peter, the one hand-chosen by Jesus to lead his church, denied Christ in his time of need. From Peter, we are reminded that all of this — the suffering, death, and resurrection — were a part of God’s plan, just as the prophets foretold.

From the words of Peter, we learn:

  1. That suffering and death of Jesus were for the sins of man
  2. But the resurrection was the gift of God
  3. God did not condemn us for our actions; Jesus suffered and died for us. His resurrection is our saving grace.

SECOND READING  1 JN 2:1-5A

Our Second Reading is a loving reminder that we are not alone in life’s challenges. When we make mistakes, when we sin, we have an “advocate” in Jesus. He has already helped us – and the whole world – by saving us from sin. He continues his saving work on our behalf, as we hear in the opening prayers at Mass: “He is seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.”

What we learn from this reading is that we are not alone in our pursuit of holiness, and we are not alone when we fall to sin.

  1. We have to be willing to ask God for forgiveness when we sin
  2. We have to be willing to accept forgiveness from God (and others)
  3. We have to be willing to offer forgiveness (to others)

By doing our best to keep God’s commandments, and by reconciling when we fall to sin, we demonstrate the perfect love of God.

GOSPEL LK 24:35-48

All of these things (being in a loving relationship with God, repenting for our sins, and doing our best to live a holy life) lead us to a key message in today’s Gospel: Peace

“Peace” was what Jesus offered to his disciples every time he greeted them after the resurrection. Peace was what the disciples felt when they recognized Jesus as real, and not as a ghost that had appeared to them.

You know, the disciples were a lot like us. They were people prone to make mistakes. They were people looking for direction. They were people in search of peace and joy. What we hear in today’s Gospel is a reminder that all of Christ’s life (including his suffering, death and resurrection) is part of God’s grand plan for us. Two thousand years later, we still need direction. We are still going to mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we give up. We, too, have to trust in God’s great plan for us. We have to continue to open our hearts and minds to God’s love. And we need to be both patient, and persistent. This will lead us to the peace and joy we long for.

We are not alone in our journey. We have an advocate in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Last night, my wife and I attended a concert by Casting Crowns, one of our favorite Christian music groups. The song that really “spoke” to me last night is titled “Just be Held.” (Click here to listen) It touched my heart when they sang it in concert as I reflected on our need to rely on God (and Jesus as our advocate) as we move through difficult times in life. Let the chorus of this song resonate in your hearts:

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held

What a beautiful sentiment. In those times when we think our world is falling apart in chaos, it can merely be a time when God is helping bring our lives together. In those times, God invites us to not cling physically to him, but just allow God to hold us in his heart.

I invite you to take some time this week to allow yourself to “just be held.” Spend some quiet, reflective time in Jesus’ loving arms.

Amid the brokenness in your life, let God help you see the good in your life. Let him help you see the path, the plan he has prepared for you. Allow him to guide you to peace and joy.

God Writes on Our Hearts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bathed in Mercy

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
September 17, 2017

19265321As I reflected on today’s readings, two themes emerged in my mind: mercy and forgiveness.

Mercy is rooted in love, and is demonstrated by the way we forgive, so you can see how these two themes are connected.

Today’s Psalm (PS 103) gives us a good description of what “Mercy” looks like. It describes the Lord as “kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion,” and calls us to act in the same manner, being:

  • Kind hearted – respecting all God’s creation
  • Merciful – loving both friend and enemy alike
  • Slow to anger – exercising patience and caring
  • Compassionate – being empathetic and considerate of others

You could say that “forgiveness” is the way we reflect God’s mercy and love. That’s what I want to focus on today: Our willingness to forgive others; and our willingness to forgive ourselves. Both are necessary to be kind, merciful and compassionate like God.

FORGIVING OTHERS

Today’s Gospel (MT 18:21-35) speaks about the importance of forgiving others. In this, we hear the familiar story of Peter asking Jesus “How many times must I forgive someone?”

It helps to have some context to this question. You see, in Jesus’ time, rabbis had a general rule of thumb about forgiveness: They thought that a sinner could be forgiven as many as three times. That was considered generous and merciful.

But Peter challenges this rule of thumb and proclaims that he is willing to forgive someone seven times (more than double what the rabbis were willing to do.) While this may appear to be a bold move, there is a problem: Peter, too, sets limits on forgiveness. That’s not what Jesus wants.

So Jesus shocks Peter by telling him “No, not seven times, but 77 times” (or as sometimes translated, “70 times seven times.”) The number doesn’t really matter. It is a symbolic way of saying that there is no limit to the depth of God’s love and mercy. So don’t set limits!

After this, Jesus reinforces his teaching with a parable about forgiveness.

Which leads to some very simple reflection questions – some things to chew on this week:

  1. Are you willing to forgive others? Even those we find to be difficult and challenging?
  2. Do you set limits on forgiving? Are you only willing to forgive someone if the other person is willing to forgive you? (I have heard so many stories of rifts caused in families because one family member wouldn’t forgive another until he or she forgave first. It’s silly and destructive behavior.)
  3. Who are the people in your life who need and deserve your forgiveness?

What we learn from today’s Gospel is that God places no limits on forgivenessso why should we? Forgiving others is a way to unburden our hearts and minds, and be more like God.

FORGIVING OURSELVES

As important as it is to forgive others, it is equally important that we forgive ourselves – to be willing to accept God’s grace and love – to be forgiven.

Many years ago (Not sure of the year, but I remember that our two daughters were still very young) I had an interesting experience learning how to forgive myself.

I had gone to church on a Saturday afternoon to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I met with the priest and confessed my sins. The priest gave me my penance (a few extra prayers to pray) and prayed the formula that absolved me of my sins – pretty ordinary stuff as far as Reconciliation goes.

But, as I was heading toward the door, the priest stopped me and said: “Wait a minute. You don’t look like a guy whose sins have been forgiven. You should see your mopey, glum! A man who has just had his sins forgiven should be smiling from ear-to-ear!” The priest told me to sit back down to talk some more.

The priest told me that I shouldn’t leave the confessional dragging a heavy bag of guilt and shame because I hadn’t lived a “perfect life.” The priest coached me to let it all go, that God’s mercy is greater than our sins.

So the priest suggested a revised penance (that was a first!). He suggested I go home and take a warm bath. He told me to let the feeling of the water remind me of God’s abundant grace and unending mercy and love. “Then,” he said, “when you get out of the tub, dry yourself and drain the tub. Be conscious of God washing away your sins and how the sins of your past were flowing down the drain.” He told me to “find comfort and peace in God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

So, I went home to take a bath …

I filled the tub in the hall bathroom (the bathroom with a tub lined with rubber duckies and assorted bath toys for our daughters) and then I put on my swim trunks (did I mention there were little girls at home?).

I climbed into the tub for a relaxing soak along with all of the bath-time toys.

A few minutes into my bathing experience, I heard giggling at the door. I looked up and saw my two daughters who giggled more, then ran down the hall shouting, “Mommy! Daddy is in the bathtub!”

Soon thereafter, my wife arrived at the doorway to the bathroom, took an inquisitive look at me in the bathtub and asked, “What in the heck are you doing.“ I shrugged and replied, “Penance!” Then, as she has done so many times during our 34 years of marriage, my wife shook her head and walked away.

As silly and funny as this experience was, I learned a lot from my dip in the tub. I learned that:

  1. We need to be aware of God’s presence in our life – especially in the person of the priest who stands in the place of God to forgive our sins.
  2. We need to remember that when the priest says that he absolves us of our sins that those sins are gone – down the drain, never to return again.

In further reflection, I think that accepting forgiveness is akin to accepting compliments. When someone pays us a compliment, there is a tendency to not acknowledge the compliment, or to respond how we could have done better. But the best thing we can say when receive a compliment is the same thing we can say when we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. In both cases we should simply respond: “Thank you.”

PATIENCE

One final thought on today’s readings … Notice the recurring statement in the parable from each of the servants who owe a debt. They respond by saying, “Be patient with me.”

We too need to be patient. We need to be patient with others as they work through the issues in their lives. And we need to be patient with ourselves as we work through our own brokenness. We are perfectly imperfect. “Patience and progress” should be our mantra as we grow in holiness.

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

More Than a Lifetime (Revisited)

19266212Last Lent, I published a reflection on Archbishop Carlson’s pastoral letter, “Partakers of the Divine Nature” and encouraged readers to pray as a way of growing closer to God. I also noted that that this relationship begins where we are and lasts beyond our earthly lifetime. These same thoughts continue to percolate in my mind this season of Lent.

I was reminded of this reflection and the song I began to write last year as I was serving on an ACTS Retreat last week. I love to hear about other people’s journeys in Christ, especially their stories of spiritual growth. This growth is a paradox – of letting go, while actively abiding in the Lord. One important way to foster this spiritual growth happens is in prayer and reflection.

So, as I served on last week’s retreat I also spent time in prayer and reflection to help remind me of the value and importance of prayer, and of the abiding relationship to which Christ has called us.

With some refinements from last Lent’s version, I offer the following prayer/song as we prepare our hearts and minds for Easter. Have faith, trust in God, spend time in prayer!

Peace!

Deacon Dan

More Than a Lifetime

A Lenten Reflection by Deacon Dan Donnelly

I come, humbled by your grace for I am broken
But I know I am yours
I come, to this time and place to be awakened
By the light of your love

Calm my heart, soothe my soul
Draw me in, O Breath of God!

 It will take me more than a lifetime to understand your love
To give completely all that I am and to know you as you are
So I will come to you in silence
And abide with you in prayer
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face

 I come, yearning to be free from all that binds me
From what’s holding me back
I come, letting down these walls that separate me
From your mercy and love

Calm my heart, soothe my soul
Draw me in, O Breath of God!

It will take me more than a lifetime to understand your love
To give completely all that I am and to know you as you are
So I will come to you in silence
And abide with you in prayer
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face

I will join you in prayer (in your Holy Presence)
And I will never despair (for you are always with us)
Though I see you now so dimly, some day just as you are
I will see you as you are!

It will take me more than a lifetime to understand your love
To give completely all that I am and to know you as you are
So I will come to you in silence
And abide with you in prayer
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face
Longing for that day when I will see you face-to-face

Copyright © 2014 Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.
http://www.deacondan.com

God’s Patience and Unconditional Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cross-of-st-francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are sometimes like the first son:

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

We are sometimes like the second son:

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

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

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

A final thought …

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Holy Spirit, Come

I ran into a parishioner the other day and she commented that she loved to read my blogs. She must be an extremely patient person, as I have been lax at posting anything to my blog for several months. I don’t have the discipline or drive to be a constant poster to the blogosphere. But I do enjoy sharing and I have witnessed how my mini-sermons have had a positive impact on some, so I keep on trying.

Whenever I start to pick on myself for not posting enough, I tend to take the position: Who would want to read anyting I write? I’m not special; I’m not going to change someone’s life by my writing. And then I remember – It’s not about me! It’s about allowing God to work through me.

There’s a parallel to the way I write songs. Again, I question my ability and influence and write lyrics and chords for my own pleasure and distraction with the best intentions of posting them and performing them at some time. But I’m slow to complete a song. My perfectionistic tendencies make me want to work and re-work (and re-re-work) a song until I get it “right”. The lyrics have to relay the right message. The chorus has to have a good hook. The chord progressions have to be pleasing and inviting. But then I remember that I am merely an amateur, writing what is on my mind and in my heart. And if that has all been placed there by God, then that’s enough.

My latest attempt at song writing is an example of this turmoil I put myself through. The re-worked title is “Holy Spirit, Come.” The song came to me over several years and is influenced by a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius Prayer (Suscipe – “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will …”). It is a song of abandonment, of inviting the Holy Spirit to take all control and to shape and mold me as God wishes. I have written and re-written this song several times over the years. Here is the most recent version:

Holy Spirit, Come

Holy Spirit, come, reign over me.
Open up my eyes to see your majesty.
Speak to my heart. Dwell within my soul.
Let your grace reign down on me, and flow through me.
Holy Spirit, come.

Spirit of God, come to me;
You alone stir up my soul.
Wisdom of God, transform me.
Come and take control.
Help to make your wounded servant whole.

Holy Spirit, come …

Light of the world, shine through me.
Let me be your light in the world.
Send me your love and grace, Lord.
Though I’m weak and poor,
Flood my heart, I’ll want for nothing more.

Holy Spirit, come …

Take my life and all I am.
Shape and form me in your hands.
Come, meet me where I am and lead me
to a life that never ends.

Holy Spirit, come …

So, the challenge is in the trusting and letting go – allowing someone else to take the lead in life. The reward is great – eternal life with God.

I pray that today, as you read these words, you allow the Holy Spirit to stir up your soul and flood you with abundant graces. We don’t have to be perfect to be loved, we just have to be willing to try.

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Deacon Dan

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

Ask and You Shall Receive

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s homily for July 24, 2011 – the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time.

One of the recurring themes in old movies and cartoons is the Genie in the Lamp. The story goes that if you find a magic lamp and rub it three times, a Genie will appear and, out of gratitude for being liberated from the lamp, will grant you three wishes. In movies and cartoons, the person who has been granted the three wishes typically asks for the same things. First, they ask for all the power and wealth in the world. Second, they ask to live forever. Third (if they are smarter than the Genie), they ask for an unlimited number of additional wishes.

God takes a different approach with Solomon in our first reading. God tells Solomon “Ask something [to paraphrase: ‘Ask one thing’] of me and I will give it to you.”

Solomon responds not by asking for power or riches. He doesn’t ask for eternal life. Instead, Solomon asks for help. He knows that God has asked a lot of him to lead his people. He knows that he cannot do God’s will without God’s help. So, what Solomon asks for is the “Heart of a Servant.” He asks for an understanding heart – with the ability to judge wisely, to distinguish right from wrong, and to serve God’s people well. This pleases God and God promises Solomon a “heart so wise and understanding.” God promises Solomon wisdom the world has never known before – and will never know again. This, I believe, is a great lesson in humility and surrender to God’s will. And it’s a lesson of how we can grow closer to God by asking and receiving.

This reminds me of a personal experience I had some years ago. While traveling to San Antonio for business, a thought came to me. As I was walking back to the hotel after dinner one night, I heard clearly in my mind the question: “What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?” That same question kept coming to mind as I returned to my hotel. Excited that God was speaking to me through the Holy Spirit, I returned to my hotel room and jotted down that question in my prayer journal. “What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?” Then I sat and waited for the answer. And waited. And waited. But nothing came to me that night. God had planted the question in my head (and my heart) and, over time, I would pray and reflect on the answer.

Over time, the question was expanded to “What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? What treasure do I posses that would glorify my King?” That question led me to write the song “The Heart of a Servant.” I learned that what God was asking me was to give back to him all of the gifts, the strengths and treasures he had so graciously given me. I think that is true for all of us.

The song “The Heart of a Servant” became my theme song and prayer during my formation to become a deacon. I dedicated the song to my ordination class (“The Great Class of 2007”) and was asked by Archbishop (now Cardinal) Burke to sing it for him at a dinner he hosted for my class just before ordination. And the real miracle to the story is this: Archbishop Burke ordained me even AFTER he heard me sing!

The refrain of the song is what I used as my prayer at ordination. And if you ever get a copy of one of my “Deacon Dan” business cards, that prayer/refrain is what appears on the back:

“I give you my heart, the heart of a servant, Lord. I give you my joyfulness, my brokenness – every thing I am. May I grow to know and love you and serve the ones you love. Day by day, this I pray: To give you my heart – the heart of a servant.”

In my life, that’s the treasure I have found: The desire to accept, to grow, and to nurture a heart like Christ’s.

We hear about treasure in today’s Gospel. Jesus tells his disciples:

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.”

The idea of hiding a treasure in a field may seem odd to us today with the advent of banks, safety deposit boxes, personal safes, etc. But in Jesus’ time, it was not unusual to guard valuables by burying them in the ground.

The key point in this reading is that the person who found the treasure invested everything he had to secure that treasure – to make it his own.

So it is with our faith. Once we discover our faith, we answer our call to grow closer to God – every day and in every way. We answer God’s call to know him, love him and serve him by investing all that we own (our hearts, our minds, our words and our actions) to secure that treasure. We want to do this, but sometimes life gets in the way.

But we can overcome the obstacles that keep us from God by following the example of God and Solomon:

  1. Take it one day at a time
  2. Ask for one thing at a time
  3. Move closer to God one step at a time

Growing in our faith is a lifelong process. It reminds me of the old adage: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”

I encourage you to spend some time in prayer this week. Pray and reflect about the treasure God has given you in your life – your strengths, your gifts of the Spirit, your talents and abilities. Then, follow the advice of Michael Fonseca (a former Jesuit priest).

In his book, Living in God’s Embrace: The Practice of Spiritual Intimacy, Fonseca invites readers in one of the spiritual exercises (Exercise Forty-One: Discipleship) to:

“Imagine yourself in a setting that is familiar to you where you meet Jesus in person. He looks into your eyes with a gaze that penetrates your being and dissolves camouflage and deceit. He asks you the question: ‘What do I need to do for you so that you can follow me with love and eagerness, beyond all fear and anxiety?’”

What is it that you need to let go of?

  • Fear of failure?
  • A painful experience from the past?
  • Sinful inclinations or actions?
  • Useless worry?
  • Resentment, anger, control?

Whatever that one thing is, NAME IT. Then turn it over to God and believe, like the wise Solomon, that God will give you what you need to overcome that obstacle.

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Outside My Own Little World

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sunday, January 16, 2011.

If you listen to Contemporary Christian Music on the radio, you’re probably familiar with the song “My Own Little World” by Matthew West (here’s a link to the song via YouTube). The song has received a lot of airtime this past year and is a good tie-in to today’s readings.

The song is a story of a man who is living inside his own little world, not very attentive to the needs of others. He feels comfortable and secure; all of his basic needs are being met. He has a faith life. He attends church each week and gives financially to the church (although he admits that he does not give sacrificially but from his excess). If he doesn’t like what he sees going on in the world he simply shuts off the news. He tunes out the rest of the world and focuses on one thing only – himself.

The story continues when the man describes an encounter he has with a homeless widow. The woman is begging by the side of the road. For all the man knows he may have passed by this woman on prior occasions and never really noticed her. But this time was different. The man noticed that the widow had a face, and he looks into her eyes. She moves him with her pain and suffering and he asks himself: “Lord, what have I been doing.” He acknowledges that he has been ignoring this woman (a symbol of all who are longing for love and compassion) and comes to this important revelation:

Maybe there’s a bigger picture.
Maybe he’s been missing out.
Maybe there’s a greater purpose he could be living right now.

He begins to understand that God’s Kingdom extends beyond his own little world. He begins to understand that living in the Kingdom of God is not about comfort, security or self. This story of self-discovery is a good lead-in to today’s readings.

If you were to brand today’s readings, you might borrow the U.S. Army recruiting program “Be all that you can be.” But I think a better slogan might be “Be all that you are called to be.”

We hear this in the First Reading. The prophet Isaiah foretells the mission of Christ by announcing “It is too little for you to [just] be my servant … I will make you light to the nations – that my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.”

That’s how Christ lived his life. At the moment of his baptism (which we hear about again in today’s Gospel), Christ begins his public ministry. He is no longer just the carpenter’s son and a carpenter himself as he has been for the past 30 years. From this point forward, Jesus is all about doing his Father’s will, by sharing the Good News, teaching mercy and love, calling sinners to repent, and (ultimately) dying to free us from our sins. Christ understood his calling, his strengths and his gifts. He used them to be more than “just” a servant.

We hear a similar message in the Second Reading. In his introduction to his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are “Called to be holy.” Another way to say this is: We are called to be like Christ. And indeed we are.

Each baptized Christian is another “Christ.” When we are baptized, we receive the same Holy Spirit as Christ. We are anointed priest, prophet and king as Christ is. And we share his same mission on earth: To do God’s will, and to fulfill God’s plan for our lives.

That is who we are – we are like Christ. That is what we are called to do – to live more fully and to live more holy.

If you get a chance this week, invest $1.29 on iTunes to download and listen to the song “My Own Little World.” Listen to the story as it unfolds. Listen to what is revealed to this man. Then, offer the same prayer to God that he does:

Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours
Open my stony heart and help make me holy. Help me to live your mercy and compassion.

Give me open hands and open doors
Help me to live my life more fully. Help me look and live beyond my own little world. Help me be more than a servant – help me to be Christ.

Put your light in my eyes and let me see
God, be my strength for the journey. Help me understand that the world in which we all live is bigger than me. Help make me a light to the nations.

My own little world is not about me.

That’s the “bigger picture.” That’s the “greater purpose.” That’s the path to holiness.

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.