Category Archives: Living the Gospel

Because He Loves Us

Homily for the Fifth Sunday of Easter
May 19, 2018

John J. Donnelly, Jr. 1927-1996

Our First Reading today (ACTS 14:21-27) gives us another glimpse into the early Christian Church. We hear about Paul and Barnabas, and their missionary journey to help bring the Good News of Christ to the Gentiles (the non-Jewish people). This is a real game-changer for the Church. The faith and zeal of these disciples helped “open the door of faith” to everyone. Through their missionary efforts, they “made a considerable number of disciples.”

By cooperating with the Holy Spirit and doing as Jesus directed them, they helped the Christian Church grow at an outstanding rate.

Another game changer we hear today is in the Gospel (JN 13:31-33A, 34-35) where Jesus preaches a radical commandment to his disciples before he is turned over to be crucified. Jesus tells his disciples (as he is telling us today) that we are to love one another. He says, “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.”

This is our identity as Christian disciples: To be people who love one another; people who reach out to share their faith with others.

This is the type of discipleship that built the Church 2000 years ago. This is the type of discipleship we need to re-build our church and our parish today.

As I read scripture and prepared my homily for today I spent a lot of time reflecting on the theme of Christ-like love. As I did so, memories of my father filled my heart and mind. Today is the 23rd anniversary of my father’s death and reflecting on his death made me remember an experience I had on the day he died.

While driving to the hospital to be with my mom and my siblings as we waited for Dad to pass, I was overcome with emotion. As I drove, a familiar Celine Dion song (“Because You Loved Me“) came on the radio and I heard those beautiful and reassuring words: “I’m everything I am, because you loved me.”

The song describes a supportive, loving relationship (like the one I had with my dad). As I listened, I reflected on how my dad cared for his family – not necessarily providing all that we wanted, but providing what we needed. How he inspired each of us to be the best version of ourselves. How we became Christian believers because he believed. And how we became who we are (for better or worse) because he and mom loved us.

If you were to sum up all of Christ’s teaching into one word, that word would be “love.”

Not simply a physical or emotional love. Not just treating each other nicely and with respect. But actively loving each other as Jesus did.

The love Jesus expressed is extraordinary:

  1. Jesus’ love is unconditional – Sinner or saint, friend or foe, Jesus loves you.
  2. Jesus’ love is sacrificial – He humbled himself, becoming human like us, and gave his life so we may live forever.
  3. Jesus loved social outcasts as well as the “in crowd” – He dined with prostitutes and tax collectors, as well as leaders of the Jewish community. Through his actions, he answered that age-old question: Is church for sinners or the saints? The answer is both – both deserves love.
  4. Jesus treated all as equals – Jesus healed lepers, and the Roman centurion’s servant. He washed the feet of the disciples, and healed the pagan woman’s daughter. Jesus didn’t pick and choose who to love – he taught us to love all God’s people.
  5. Jesus’ love was compassionate – Jesus was concerned for the sufferings and misfortunes of others – and he did something about it!

Jesus demonstrated an active love. He didn’t preach from the sidelines; he was “in the game.” For example, think of what happened at the Last Supper when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples. He came down and assumed the garb and gestures of a servant. He made himself an equal to the people he was going to serve.

Jesus calls us to that same type of servant-focused love today. We learn this by acknowledging those who have demonstrated Christ-like love to us.

I encourage you to take some time this week to reflect on the last sentence in today’s Gospel. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

If you are bold, maybe start a conversation with your spouse or your children. Do as the early Christians did:

  • Tell the stories of who, in your life taught you to love like Jesus.
  • Discuss how evident that type of love is in your life today.
  • Share ideas of how you can be Christian disciples in the world today.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

Peaks and Valleys

Homily for Second Sunday in Lent
March 17, 2019

In spite of the challenges we face in life (our struggles, doubt, hardship and confusion), we are people of faith; we have hope. Amidst life’s challenges, God blesses us from time to time with
“Glimpses of Glory” – times when God’s actions in our lives surprise and amaze us, disrupting our sense that we are in control. Today’s readings reflect times with God communicated with people on earth and offered them glimpses of something greater in their life.

Whenever I hear our first reading, I am reminded of a trip my wife and I took to Montana. We were staying at a resort just outside Yellowstone National Park. One night, while walking back from the dining hall, we paused and looked up at the big, beautiful Montana sky. It was amazing! The sky was so clear! I had never seen so many stars and constellations!

Two thoughts overcame me at the time. The first was: God, our Creator does really good work! Our God truly is an awesome God. The second thought was: In the overall scheme of things, I am just a miniscule speck of matter (and not the center of the universe I sometime believe).

That’s what these “Glimpses of Glory” do – they help give us clarity and help us see beyond our limited vision.

GLIMPSES OF GLORY

In each of today’s readings, the characters are given a new glimpse of what God is calling them to do in their life. This helps strengthen their trust in God. The readings also suggest that the characters will experience some sort of suffering in their lives that will further challenge them to be open to God’s will.

  • In the First Reading (Genesis 15:5-12; 17-18), God creates as new covenant with Abram, who is challenged and confused about how he will fulfill what God wants. He hesitates putting complete trust in God, so God uses the stars in the heavens to demonstrate how his covenant promises much more than Abram can ask, or imagine. This gives Abram the assurance he needs to go forward with God’s plan.
  • In the Second Reading (Philippians 3:17-4:1), Paul offers his own spiritual journey as a model for others to imitate. He encourages his followers to put aside their worldly interests and fix their eyes on heaven (our ultimate goal). Paul knows that his journey will not be easy (he will be imprisoned and killed for his faith), but Paul’s words strengthen his follower’s will and courage.
  • In the Gospel Reading (Luke 9:28b-36), we witness one of the greatest “Glimpse of Glory,” the Transfiguration of Jesus. The Transfiguration was a short-lived occurrence, but it was an everlasting sign and promise of the Resurrection (which will last forever). This event helps strengthen Peter, James and John as they accompany Jesus to Jerusalem, where he will be crucified.

Today’s Gospel is also a good example of what happens after we experience one of the “Glimpses of Glory.” After experiencing these spiritual highs – the “mountaintop experiences” – we must walk down the mountain, back to reality. This can be a tricky thing to navigate. The challenge is to allow what we experienced on the mountain to influence and change us – for the better.

PEAKS AND VALLEYS

While we may not experience a “Glimpse of Glory” every day, our lives are a series of peaks and valleys. Our “highs” and “lows” are part of life. We want our “highs” to energize us (to strengthen our faith and trust in God). We want our “lows” to not define us (they are where we are, but not what we are). What helps to make these changes in altitude easier to navigate is our prayer life.

You may be familiar with Dr. Spencer Johnson, the author of several best-selling books, including The One Minute Manger and Who Move My Cheese (a book about dealing with change). Another personal favorite written by Dr. Johnson is Peaks and Valleys: Making Good and Bad Times Work for You – At Work and In Life. The book is about a young man who lives unhappily in a valley until he meets an old man (a peaceful, successful man) who lives on a peak. The meetings of the two men helps change the young man’s life – for the better.

In their meetings, the young man learns that:

  1. Prayer is an important tool to navigate life’s highs and lows. (Developing a strong prayer life can help us become more open to God’s will)
  2. In addition to prayer, we need time to rest and reflect on our life. (We can’t be running full-throttle all of the time. That’s why spiritual retreats are so important to us)
  3. We will always have peaks and valleys (highs and lows) in our lives. (We must learn to praise God in the highs – and to not curse him in the lows)
  4. With a prayerful attitude (an attitude of gratitude) we will notice that when we are standing on a peak, we have a better view of the other possibilities God places before us (We can look around and better see where God is leading us next)
  5. When we experience valleys, prayer helps reduce the magnitude of the valley. (The valleys don’t seem so low, and we don’t seem to get stuck in them as long)

Our prayer life is a critical part of our connection with God, and our ability to navigate the complexities of life.

A CALL TO ACTION

So, this week I encourage you to reflect on those “Glimpses of Glory” moments in your life. Ask yourself: What did I experience in those moments? What did I learn? And how am I different (better) because of those experiences.

Also take time to reflect on the peaks and valleys (the highs and lows) you are experiencing in life at this moment. How are you using prayer, rest and reflection to navigate these experiences?

And as we share in Eucharist today, let us give thanks God is with us – even in our struggles, doubt, hardship and confusion.

You are loved!

Deacon Dan

Opening Our Treasures

Homily for the Epiphany of the Lord
Sunday, January 6, 2019

Today the Church celebrates the Epiphany of the Lord. When I think of the word “epiphany” I think of those “Ah-hah!” moments in life when you gain a sudden insight or deeper meaning of something. As we experience from today’s Gospel, the word “epiphany” has another meaning – the manifestation or appearance of something. That “something” in today’s Gospel is the appearance of the Savior-child, Jesus. This “epiphany” occurs as the world realizes that the Messiah has come for all people.

We witness this in Matthew’s account of The Visit of the Magi (MT 2:1-12). In today’s Gospel we hear that familiar story of the three visitors (some call them Magi, some call them Wise men, others call them kings, scholars and pilgrims). These visitors come to pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews. They saw the star in the eastern sky and traveled as pilgrims to worship the Christ-child.

It’s important to note that these men were not Jewish, yet they acknowledged who Christ truly is. They understood that all nations are called to worship Christ, and that all people are called to praise him with the gift of their lives.

As we hear today, when the Magi found the Christ-child, they prostrated themselves (a sign of great reverence), they honored him for who he is (the Savior-king), and the “opened their treasures” and presented him with precious gifts befitting a king (gold, frankincense, and myrrh).

THREE GIFTS

Theologians over the years have provided a deeper meaning of these three gifts given by the Magi.

Saint Irenaeus teaches that these three gifts signify the mystery of the Incarnate God (God who became man). He teaches that:

  • Gold is a symbol of Christ’s royalty
  • Frankincense (a fragrance used in worship, point’s to Christ’s divinity
  • Myrrh (an oil used as a burial ointment) represents Christ’s humanity – especially in his passion and death

Pope Saint Gregory teaches us that these same items represent gifts that we are to present to God in our daily lives. He teaches that:

  • Gold is the wisdom of God which is to shine in our lives
  • Frankincense is the prayer and adoration we are to give God
  • Myrrh is our daily sacrifices we offer to the Lord

So, with this understanding, a question we should ask ourselves is:

How do we continue to shine in God’s wisdom, as children of light?

The answer comes down to “gifts” – how we acknowledge them, and how we use them.

THE HEART OF A SERVANT

About 15 years ago I was in San Antonio for business. One night, while walking home to my hotel after dinner I heard this question in my mind: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? It startled me and made me pause. Then I heard it again: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? I excitedly walked to my hotel, went to my room, pulled out my journal and waited for the answer to come: What gift can I give to the one who gives everything? But nothing came … God was silent and I was left alone with my thoughts.

I reflected on that question for quite some time, not knowing the answer. Then, one day I share this story with my friend, Deacon Joe Kennedy (Joe had served as a mentor and spiritual companion as I discerned my call to become a deacon). Joe encouraged me to reflect on how I have been gifted during my years of formation to become a deacon, and challenged me to do what I love to do … put my thoughts and feelings into a poem or lyrics to a song.

I took Deacon Joe’s challenge and penned these words:

What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?
What treasure do I possess that would glorify my king?
Not diamonds or emeralds, not rubies or gold
Those “treasures” are not enough to lay before your throne

Should I sing you a love song and flood you with praise
To prove that my love for you grows stronger every day?
No, you only want one thing; one gift is enough
You simply want all of me, and to abide with you in love

I give you my heart, the heart of a servant, Lord
I give you my joyfulness, my brokenness – everything I am
May I grow to know and love you, and serve the ones you love
I’ll give you a heart like yours: The heart of a servant

There is more to the song, but you get the gist. The chorus of this song (“I give you my heart …”) became my prayer on my day of ordination – to give God my heart in service to him and his people.

In our Second Reading today (EPH 3:2-3A, 5-6) we hear Paul speak of “the stewardship of God’s grace” that was given to Paul for the benefit of Christ’s followers. That statement from Paul is a reminder that we are all charged with being good stewards of God’s grace. To do this, we should take some time to reflect:

  • What gifts has God given me?
  • What gifts am I called to share with God, and with others?
  • How has God called me? Where is he leading me?
  • How will I cooperate with God to allow his wisdom shine in my life?

There are no quick, simple answers. Like my experience in San Antonio, we have to be patient and persistent in our discernment.

OPENING OUR TREASURES TO GOD

Today’s Gospel teaches us that the light of Christ extends farther then we could ever imagine. God wants to fill us with wisdom and mercy. He wants us to be good stewards of all that he gives us, and to generously share God’s gifts with others. For this to happen, we have to be like the Magi and “open our treasures” to God. We must:

  1. Let the “gold” we offer to God be our talents and efforts
  2. Let the “frankincense” we offer be our prayers and worship
  3. Let the “myrrh” we offer be our sufferings and sorrows, offered up to God

I encourage you to spend some time in prayer this week, and sit with this question:

What gift can I give to the one who gives everything?

And, today, as we receive the Lord again in Holy Communion, be conscious of the grace you are receiving through this sacrament that allows you to respond to whatever the Lord wants for you – and from you.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

Counting Your Blessings

Homily for 4th Sunday in Advent
December 23, 2018

Today’s Gospel story is titled The Visitation in which Elizabeth receives Mary at her home. This Gospel is part of a series of stories in Luke’s Gospel that reflect on God’s blessings.

Just before this reading is the story of The Annunciation, where Mary is visited by the Angel, Gabriel, who announces to Mary that she has found favor with God (Mary is blessed). To prove that nothing is impossible for God, Gabriel tells Mary that her cousin, Elizabeth has conceived a son in her old age (Elizabeth is blessed).

Mary humbly accepts the blessing God has bestowed on her (to conceive and bear a son, Jesus) and she takes off “in haste” to visit her cousin and to witness firsthand this blessing God has bestowed on Elizabeth.

That’s what transpires. So, what do we learn from these stories? That, like Mary, we are servants of the Lord and are recipients of God’s blessings.

And what does it mean to be “blessed”? It means to be made holy, to be consecrated, devoted to God.

Counting Your Blessings

Are you familiar with the term “earworm”? It’s when a catchy song or tune gets stuck in your brain and continually runs through your mind. (I get them all the time!). The earworm stuck in my mind this week is courtesy of the movie, “White Christmas” (one of my favorite Christmas movies). The earworm comes from the song “Count Your Blessings.”

Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney sing these words from songwriter, Irving Berlin:

When I’m worried and I can’t sleep 
I count my blessings instead of sheep
and I fall asleep counting my blessings

I thought about this song while praying over today’s readings; how Mary and Elizabeth experienced blessings in their lives, and how their faith in God helped sustain them as they accepted and lived those blessings.

We recall from The Annunciation story that Mary demonstrates great humility in consenting to be the mother of Jesus: “Let it be done to me according to your word.”

We hear from today’s story that Elizabeth is moved by the Holy Spirit and testifies that the child in Mary’s womb is the Messiah: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Even John the Baptist gets into the celebration as we hear: “At the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”

These final days of Advent are good opportunities to reflect on the blessings in our lives. I encourage you to:

  • Take some time to read the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel.
  • Reflect on how people in these various stories (Zechariah, Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptist) reacted to God’s blessings.
  • Take some time to reflect on your own blessings, and how you respond to God.

The second stanza of “Counting Your Blessings” is this:

When my bankroll is getting small
I think of when I had none at all 
and I fall asleep counting my blessings.

The Visitation story anticipates the kind of joy we would like to celebrate this Christmas. No matter what blessings or challenges we experience in our lives, we always have hope (hope in God, and hope all his blessings).

I found this sentence in this week’s Office of Readings. You may find it beneficial, no matter how you are experiencing this Holiday season:

Hope sustains us. “For if one hopes even though his tongue be still
he is singing always in his heart.”               

Being blessed means singing in your heart. May your hearts be full this Christmas with the beautiful music of the blessings of God.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

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