Category Archives: Living the Gospel

Cultivating a Culture of Stewardship

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018

This Sunday marks the beginning of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. It also marks the beginning of the Season of Advent. As I thought about these two events, I remembered that my spiritual director would often ask me how I was going to use a particular liturgical season (Advent, Lent, etc.) to grow in relationship with God. How was I going to participate in the celebration of the season? What change did I want to see in my life as I worked to grow in holiness during that time?

I turned to today’s readings to reflect on the themes of participating, growing, and changing and how they applied to this season of Advent. I found our Second Reading to be particularly helpful in answering these questions.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians (1 THES3:12-4:2) to give them hope in their journey of faith. He sends them a blessing for the work they have been doing, and encourages them to grow even more. He tells them: “increase and abound in love for one another.” What Paul is telling them is:

  • By opening their hearts even more, the will learn to live and love more generously.
  • Their hearts will be strengthened and they will live a more joyful and holy life.

Today, I want to talk about how we, as a parish, can increase and abound; how we can live more generously; and how we can increase our love and care for each other. I have been asked to speak to you today about stewardship.

The Meaning of Stewardship

Growing up, I remember hearing my parents and other adults kidding that there were only three things required to be a good Catholic: Pay, Pray and Obey. To people of my parents’ generation, that was a humorous way of describing “stewardship” as they understood and experienced it: Give money to the Church, go to Mass each Sunday, and toe the “company line.”

I think you would agree that this is an underdeveloped understanding of what stewardship is really about. As we better understand it today, Stewardship is::

  • Growing in relationship with God (and God’s people);
  • Knowing and using our God-given gifts (our strengths) in ways that contribute to our own well-being, and the well-being of others;
  • Acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from God; and
  • Knowing that “to increase and abound in love” we have to allow ourselves to be transformed (to open our hearts and minds and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives)

This process of stewardship is transformative. It happens over time and helps us be grateful and joyful givers. 

Stewardship begins with a single thought: That everything we have is a gift from God. From that thought, we develop an “attitude of gratitude” which further guides us as we grow in love, understanding and generosity.

All Gifts Come from God

Do you believe that everything you have is a gift from God? This thought has been engrained in our minds for years, but if we aren’t paying attention, we may miss it. Think about what we pray every night before dinner, acknowledging our God-given gifts:

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts
Which we are about to receive from Thy bounty
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Read it again — slowly — and think about what it says: God is the origin of all we have, God’s gifts are bountiful, and we are continually blessed through the love of Jesus, our Savior.

This is a simple prayer of gratitude that we can take for granted. But we can’t take stewardship for granted. If we are not intentional, prayerful and reflective about where our gifts come from and how we share those gifts, we may grow complacent and become apathetic about God’s gifts, thinking we don’t have to participate, grow or change.

God blesses us and calls us to share our gifts; to “increase and abound in love for one another” (in our parish community, and for all God’s people). That is what stewardship is all about.

Stewardship Committee

Father Pastorius has asked me to guide a group of parishioners who will focus on stewardship in our parish through the formation of a new Stewardship Committee.

  • The mission of the Stewardship Committee is: To cultivate a culture of stewardship that emphasizes prayer, participation and generosity in St. Joseph Parish.
  • The vision of the Stewardship Committee is: To help transform the life of our parish community by being joyful witnesses to the abundance of our God-given gifts.

Fostered by the work of this Committee, we want stewardship in our parish to be expressed by:

  1. Spending time with God in prayer, taking time every day to recognize the gifts God has given us, and being grateful for them. This moves us to reflection, asking God how he wants us to use the gifts he has given to us.
  • Sharing our talent, acknowledging and using the unique skills and talents and strengths God has given us so that together, we can do the work of Our Lord. It also means encouraging and inviting and welcoming others to use their talents to participate in the mission and ministry of our parish — and the greater CatholicChurch.
  • Generously giving our treasure, giving not in comparison with others, and not from our excess, but in proportion to all that God has given to us, with a generous and joyful heart.

What I have witnessed so far in my research of stewardship practices is that this process of cultivating a culture of stewardship can be truly transformational for a parish like St. Joe’s. And we are blessed to have great resources and support from the Archdiocese to strengthen and sustain our parish in the practice of stewardship.

We would like all parishioners to learn more about Stewardship, and to perhaps consider being part of the Stewardship Committee.

Next weekend, Mr. David Baranowski, Director of Stewardship Education for the Archdiocese will speak at each of the Masses about how we can transform our parish by focusing on our giftedness; how we can use our gifts and strengths together (now and in the future).

The evening of Monday, December 10, David will lead a workshop for St. Joseph parishioners focusing on how our “personal stewardship” can transform not only our own lives, but also how our “parish stewardship” can transform the life of our parish community.

This workshop which will be held in the church from 7:00 – 9:00 pm and is open to all parishioners.  During the workshop, we will also share more information about the work of the Stewardship Committee and how you can be a part of this new endeavor.

An Invitation to Reflective Action

One of the steps in “cultivating” anything (like a culture of stewardship) is to help prepare the soil. That is the purpose of my homily today – to help prepare our hearts and minds to accept the seed of stewardship in our parish.

As we begin this season of Advent, as we await the joyful coming of our Savior, let us prepare our hearts and minds to embrace the spirit of stewardship by reflecting on these questions:

  1. Do I see all thatI have as a gift from God?
  2. What is God calling me to do to increase my generosity?
  3. How can I become a better steward of God’s gifts and foster an attitude of gratitude within me, within my family, and within my parish community?

Blessings to you and yours for a joy-filled Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Deacon Dan

Dimensions of Discipleship

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

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

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

WHO DO THEY SAY THAT I AM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHO WILL THEY SAY THAT I AM?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a great example of discipleship in action!

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

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

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

Come Away and Rest Awhile

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

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

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

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

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

COME AWAY

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

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

This is a good recipe for sustainability in ministry.

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

REFLECTING ON OUR GIFTS

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

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

That means that we must:

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

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

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

Our lives work best when we take time to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Rejoicing in the Hope of the Season

Rejoicing in the Hope of the Season
Homily for Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2017

Joy2I heard a story last week that I would like to share: A little boy came home from school one day, excited that he had been chosen to be in the school Christmas pageant. Better yet, he had a speaking role, as the Inn Keeper. So, the little boy had one important line to recite, “There is no room for you at the inn.” The little boy diligently practiced his line every day.

The day of the Christmas pageant, the little boy delivered his line flawlessly. But, as he spoke those words, “There is no room for you …” the boy became overwhelmed with emotion. His eyes began to well up with tears and a lump formed in his throat. Then, going off script, he ran across the stage, chasing after Mary and Joseph, tearfully crying out: “Mary and Joseph, don’t leave. We’ll make room for you; you can stay at our house!”

The surprised crowd rose in thunderous applause for what the little boy had said. The Christmas pageant ended abruptly, but no one seemed to mind. This wasn’t the story ending the crowd was expecting, but it was exactly the ending they needed.

Truth is, we all need to be reminded of the purpose of the Advent season – to “prepare the way” – to make room for the coming of the Christ Child in our lives.

And it’s not too late to invite Jesus into our lives as we prepare to celebrate his joyful birth one week from today.

Finding Joy

Today’s readings remind us that, with proper focus in our life, with a priority given to letting God into our lives, we can experience great joy, no matter what life brings us. That is the central theme in all of today’s readings: finding joy.

The rose color of the candle and vestments we see today are symbolic of joy. The messages contained in the scripture readings are also a reminder of how growing in relationship with God and accepting the plan God has for us can bring great joy into our lives.

We find joy in the First Reading, as we hear that God anointed the prophet Isaiah to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, and to proclaim liberty to captives. The prophet rejoices that God has sent him to serve others, and has blessed him with many gifts.

We find joy in the Responsorial Psalm when Mary rejoices in the greatness of God, and in the trust that God places in her to be the mother of Jesus.

We find joy in the Gospel as John the Baptist finds great joy in accepting his role in life – not as the Messiah or some prophet figure as others claimed, but as one who reminds us to prepare the way, to make room for Christ in our lives.

One of the challenges in today’s scripture is to ask: How do we find God’s joy in our life? The one-word answer is “proximity” (meaning nearness in space, time and relationship).

Super Moon

Do you remember the “Super Moon” we experienced at the beginning of December? During the full-moon phase, the moon looked larger and brighter than it normally does. And what was the reason it looked so large and bright? Proximity!

A so-called “super moon” occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth. Because the moon is closer to us, it looks larger. And with the cold, clear winter sky, the moon appears to shine brighter than usual.

But the truth is this: The moon didn’t change in size or brightness; it just got closer to us. That same affect can happen in our spiritual life as we consciously grow closer with God – when we respond to God’s invitation to grow closer in relationship.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Thessalonians, gives us some clues on how to accomplish this.

Rejoice Always

St. Paul, in our Second Reading tells us to rejoice always. We have to trust in God in both the good times, and the difficult time. Sometimes this is hard to do. But Psalm 30 is a good reminder that God hears our cries for help, that He is always faithful, and that we have to persevere in faith

  • We cannot forget God in the good times
  • We cannot forget that God is also with us in the bad times
  • No matter what the circumstances, joy comes from remaining close to God

Pray Without Ceasing

When St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, he isn’t telling us to stop everything we are doing and only pray. We still have to go to work or school tomorrow. We can’t just “check out” in the world. What Paul is doing is encouraging us to make our life an ongoing act of holiness, as one might do in a Morning Offering.

I like how the singer/songwriter, David Kauffman words it in his song, “I Will Make this Day My Prayer”:

I will make this day my prayer. I will give you everything that I am and do today. I will give you all my cares. All my joys and sufferings, I will make this day my prayer.

  • God wants everything we are – both the good and the bad
  • He wants to be in constant relationship with us
  • Living our lives as a prayer is one way to do this

In All Circumstances Give Thanks

As some of you know through the St. Joseph prayer chain, or via social media, our six-year old granddaughter, Claire contracted a staph infection that is ravaging her little body.  I like the lesson our daughter Jenny tried to teach Claire the first night in the hospital – to look for the things you are thankful for in the midst of her pain and suffering and fear. Things like: TV shows that distract Claire; compassionate caregivers who help make her comfortable; friends and family who pray for her and send their good wishes; and purple Popsicles and grape Slushies that help soothe her pain.

  • Sometimes it is difficult to see God in pain and suffering
  • But we know God is always with us; by the people who surround us in love

Don’t Quench the Spirit

Paul also instructs us: “Do not quench the Spirit.” As important it is for us to move closer to God, it is equally important that we allow God to move closer to us. To keep the fire burning, we have to “make room” for God in our lives. We have to be willing to accept His love, and to accept the love of others. We have to be willing to reconcile with God, and with those who we may find difficult to love.

That’s the greatest way to experience joy: To be in communion with God, and communion with each other!

Advent and Christmas are wonderful opportunities to reconcile with friends and family. Be like a “super moon” and make the first step toward forgiveness. Let your heart grow larger by your example of love and mercy.

This week, as we wait in joyful hope, let us:

  • Open our hearts and minds to God’s invitation to grow closer in relationship with Him
  • Let us trust in God – that He is always with us, and always loves us
  • Remember the power of reconciliation and the joy of allowing others into our lives.

I pray you all enjoy a blessed and joyful Christmas!

Deacon Dan

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.

Producing Good Soil

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2017

Good SoilToday’s readings remind us that if the Word of God is going to grow within us and bear fruit, we need good spiritual soil – just like plants need good earthly soil to grow.

We hear this in our First Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11), where God’s word is compared to rain and snow that water the earth, making it fertile and fruitful.

We hear this in the refrain of today’s Psalm: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” (Luke 8:8)

And we hear this in today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:1-23), The Parable of the Sower.

In this parable, the seed being sown is the Word of God trying to make its way into our heart and soul. Jesus uses this parable to teach us that there are obstacles that can prevent God’s word from taking seed and bearing fruit.

Jesus cautions us about:

  • Seed sown on the path: That can be stolen and taken away because we hear but don’t understand. That’s like hearing God’s word at Mass and then not giving it another thought.
  • Seed sown on rocky ground: That is initially received with joy, but does not have roots and can’t hold up to life’s trials. That’s like attending an inspirational retreat on the weekend, then falling back into old habits on Monday.
  • Seed sown among the thorns: We hear the Word and it takes root, but bears no fruit because, when we are pressed by life’s difficulties, we lack trust and allow earthly concerns to choke out God’s grace in our lives.

To take root and produce fruit, seed must be sown on rich soil.

Producing Good Soil

So, how do we produce good soil, capable of supporting strong roots and abundant fruit? It begins with growing in relationship with God. It requires an open heart and committed spirit; it requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to grow.

Good farmers (and good gardeners) appreciate the importance of building up good soil. So, they conduct soil tests before planting their crops. They want to check the pH of the soil and determine how the soil needs to be amended and improved to help assure an abundant harvest.

The same process works for those who want to assure that their spiritual soil is capable of supporting an abundant harvest of grace. Here are some questions you might contemplate to conduct your own spiritual soil test.

A Spiritual Soil Test

  1. Do I have a regular prayer life? This is the first step to building a relationship with God. Regular prayer must be a priority in our lives.
  2. Is my prayer a two-way conversation? Good relationships are loving and sharing. So, when I talk (pray) with God, is it prayer a conversation between two friends, or do I monopolize the conversation with an outpouring of my wants and needs?
  3. Do I take time to read and reflect on the Word of God? How can scripture or some other worthy spiritual help nourish me? Am I a committed learner?
  4. How am I growing in my understanding and practice of my Catholic faith? Am I “comfortable” in my faith, or am I committed to growth? Am I growing as a spiritual person, or am I living the same spiritual life I did when in high school?
  5. Where have I witnessed spiritual growth? (My spiritual director always challenges with this one!) Where have I recently seen God in my life? In what ways have ways I have grown spiritually in the last three, six or 12 months?

To create and maintain rich spiritual soil that is open to receiving the Word of God, we have to ask: How am I being fed? Who are the people, the activities, the resources in my life that help me replenish and improve my spiritual soil?

Being Patiently Persistent

We have to be patiently persistent in our faith. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know what I mean. After you’ve prepared the soil, planted and watered the seeds, it seems like all we are doing for the longest time is watering mud. You can’t see any top growth in your garden but you don’t stop watering and fertilizing. Then, one day you notice the tiniest of leaves peeking through the soil – you know that your seed has taken root!

All of your patience and persistence will pay off in time. This is what maintains good soil and leads to new growth.

Sowers of Seeds are Good Witnesses

With this good soil and new growth, we can become more like Jesus; we can be “sowers of seeds,” helping the Word of God grow in others as well. The best way to do this is through our witness.

The Rite of Baptism for Children begins with instructions to the parents and godparents, reminding them of their responsibility to:

  • Train the children in the practice of the Catholic faith
  • Teach them to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught, by loving God and our neighbor

This is the responsibility of all Christians, to be sowers of seeds, inviting others to develop their own rich spiritual soil that sustains us in faith.

The best way to sow these spiritual seeds is not by merely teaching or telling, but by demonstrating through our witness of how we love God and neighbor.

If you are a parent, you know full well that your children learn more from your actions than your words (both the bad things, and the good things). If you’ve survived teenagers, you know that only taking a hard stand (“My house, my rules!”) will have limited effect in teaching them. They learn better when they witness respect, courtesy and responsibility being exercised by their parents.

Here’s the bottom line: If you are a parent, don’t you want your children to witness you growing in faith? We want to be good witnesses for Christ. It is the best way to share our faith with others.

Pope Paul VI (who was pope from 1963 to 1978) said it this way:

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”

As we prepare to gather around the Lord’s Table, we ask to be nourished by God’s grace. By that grace, may we become good witnesses, and share God’s abundant love.

Truly Loved and Never Alone

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 21, 2017

shapeimage_1-16Lately, I have been reflecting on how Jesus communicates with his disciples. Jesus uses an occasional parable to get his message across. Or, includes cultural or scriptural references to connect with his audience. But, for the most part, Jesus communicates in a pretty straightforward manner; you know exactly where he stands. That is true in today’s Gospel (John 14:15-21).

Today’s Gospel teaches us two things. First, to be disciples of Jesus, we have to keep his commandments. When Jesus says this, we can assume that he is referring to the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses to guide the Jewish people.

We can also assume he is referencing what we hear in Mathew’s Gospel (Mat 22:36-40) when Jesus was pressed by the Pharisees to tell them “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded:

“You shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

LESSON ONE:

So, the first thing today’s Gospel teaches us is that loving Jesus is truly lived by being in a loving relationship. It’s all about love:

  • A loving relationship with the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
  • A loving relationship with others (spouse, co-workers, neighbors, friends – and, yes, even enemies)
  • A loving relationship with ourselves

This third point may need a little more discussion.

If we are to be loving disciples, keeping God’s commandments, we have to allow ourselves to receive love just as much as we strive to give love to God and others. Loving relationships are not one-way streets. If we are willing to give, we must be willing to receive (God wants both for us!).

I recently came across a quote from a man named Diadochus of Photice, a fifth century theologian, mystic and bishop, who puts this in perspective. He writes,

“Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God.”

The love we have for God is a response to God’s love for us (as we learn in the Catechism: God initiates, we respond). God started this loving relationship. He wants us to sustain and grow in relationship with him.

The quote continues:

“In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him.”

How do we know God loves us? The measure is how deeply aware we are of how much God loves us. I found that to be a beautiful and reassuring thought. We should reflect on this and ask ourselves:

  • How aware am I of God’s love in my life?
  • How deeply does God’s love permeate my life?
  • Am I willing to receive God’s love as much as I am willing to share that love with others?

So, today, we learn that if you love God, you will keep his commandments by loving God and others. But, to truly love God, we must be deeply aware of his love for us.

LESSON TWO:

The second thing we learn in today’s Gospel is this: We don’t do this alone!

To strengthen that loving relationship, Jesus promises one additional thing to his disciples: He promises to ask his Father to send an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with them always.

We hear about the Holy Spirit in our First Reading as well. The Holy Spirit is the gift that helped win the hearts and souls of the Samaritan people.

  • The crowds were attracted to Philip and his teaching (their hearts were filled with “great joy”)
  • The people of Samaria were on fire with emotion

But emotion alone is not enough; we need to receive the Holy Spirit into our life to guide us beyond emotion.

  • That’s what the disciples experienced at Pentecost
  • That’s what the Samaritans experienced when Peter and John lay hands on them
  • That’s what we experience in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

That’s what we need in our everyday life – the Holy Spirit guiding us.

Here is an example:

If you are married, think about the wonderful emotions you and your spouse shared on your wedding day. Was that emotion alone enough to sustain you throughout your marriage? Probably not. To sustain your marriage (to experience ongoing joy), you have to grow in relationship.

The Holy Spirit is present in the Sacrament of Matrimony to sustain married couples as they grow in relationship with each other (and, as a couple, in relationship with God). The Spirit is our advocate in this process.

Things are usually great during the honeymoon phase of marriage, but, after the honeymoon phase, when life gets real (and sometimes messy), we need to turn to the Spirit as our advocate and guide.

In fact, whether married or not, God should be the center of every part of our lives. That “center” is at the heart of a building and sustaining loving relationships.

CONCLUSION:

So, when we reflect on Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we should think about relationship – with God, with our neighbors, with our enemies

We do this with the assurance that God is always present to guide us and sustain us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This should bring us great joy! To know (without a doubt) that we are never truly alone, and we are always truly loved!

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.