Category Archives: Living the Gospel

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.

Living Our Christian Identity

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

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

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

Our Christian Identity

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

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

Clothed in Christ

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

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

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

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

To Be a True Disciple

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

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

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

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

Love is a Vocation

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

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

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

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

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

Following in the Footsteps of Christ

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

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

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

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

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

Praying with the Good Shepherd

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

Cowboys and Cattle and Sheep (Oh, my!)

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

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

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

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

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

Hearing the Shepherd’s Voice

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

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

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

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

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

The Serenity Prayer

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

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

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

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

Serenity

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

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

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

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

Courage

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

Wisdom

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

Our Call to Action

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

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

True Greatness is About Holiness

jamesandjohnHomily from the 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time

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

Suffering Servants

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We see God in our suffering:

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

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

Bumps in the Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward in Christ’s Love

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

What are You Looking For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look Back and Thank God

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

Look Forward and Trust God

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

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

Look Around and Serve God

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

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

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

Look around and serve God.

Look Within and Know God

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

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

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

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

And how is God a part of this?

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

Serving “the Least” Among Us

begging handsMy office is located in the Central West End area of St. Louis City. Every day I travel Highway 40 to the Kingshighway exit and usually have to stop on the exit ramp, waiting for the light to change. Many days, while I am waiting for the light, I see a man or woman, presumably a transient or homeless person, standing by the road, begging for assistance.

This typical scene played out for me in a different way a couple of weeks ago. I exited the highway, stopped at the traffic light and saw a young man holding a cardboard sign on which he had printed in neat, black letters: “No job. Need help. God bless.”

I had experienced this situation so many times over the years that my mind was numb to the man’s plea and my brain went into auto-pilot with doubt and judgment:

  • I avoided eye contact with the person (because if you can’t see them, they can’t see you – any two-year old will back me up on that one).
  • I thought about the stash of coins in my car’s console and the dollar bills in my wallet (but questioned if my contribution would help the person, or just feed an addiction).
  • I questioned whether the person was legit. (Is this for real, or a scam?)

I questioned … I judged … I did nothing.

Then I saw the window roll down on the vehicle next to me and a young, high-school age girl reached out and handed the man a couple of dollars. The man accepted the simple donation with a grateful nod and the young girl responded with a look of great joy and happiness. The light changed and the vehicle next to me left. And so did I …

An Image of Christ the King

In today’s Gospel (MT 25:31-46), Matthew introduces us to an image of Christ the King as one who will judge us for our actions. In the story, Jesus divides all of the nations into two groups: those who lived an acceptable life; and those who did not.

We learn from this story that:

  • Those judged positively will be invited to inherit the kingdom God has promised us.
  • Those judged negatively will be cast into eternal fire prepared for the devil.

Today’s Gospel encourages us to live our lives for others and teaches us the corporal acts of mercy (feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, hospitality to a stranger, clothing to the naked, caring for the ill, visiting those in prison). Today’s story is about two things: Doing and Being.

  • Doing the work of Christ to help those in need
  • Being and living like Christ with a giving and joyful heart

How We Can Serve Like Christ

So, how do we live like Christ, especially when dealing with “the least” in our lives? I conducted an informal survey this week using social media. I posted a question to my Facebook friends and asked them:

  • How do you react to beggars you encounter on the street?
  • How do you address their request for money and other support?

What I learned is that there are many different ways to face this issue.

  • Some were very comfortable giving money directly to those in need. They didn’t judge the person and his or her intentions. They simply saw this as a way of answering God’s call to be charitable.
  • Other’s didn’t feel comfortable giving money directly. They chose to give them other things, like gift cards to restaurants or the lunch they had packed for themselves.
  • One person commented about how she keeps protein bars in her car to give to those who are hungry. Another commented on sharing a spare coat with someone in need.
  • Some were quite bold and took the hungry person to dinner.
  • Still, others preferred to make donations to support those organizations that assist those in need.

Their varied responses reminded me of the old Chinese saying (slightly modified): Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Send the man fishing with Fr. Santen (my pastor) and all he’ll want to do is fish every day!

The common theme in all of these responses was: 1) they all did something; and 2) they did it with a joyful heart.

It’s easy to see a poor, homeless person begging for money as one of “the least” in our world. But, for the most part, we don’t encounter a lot of beggars in our parish community. But we do have many people in need and (fortunately) we have many great ways to help them.

Our St. Vincent de Paul Society is one great example of a local resource for those in need. They do great work in a spirit of service and outreach. I encourage you to read their information in the Bulletin and on the St. Joe Website. You can make a monthly donation to this organization, using your parish donation envelopes, and you can place money in the “Poor Boxes” near the doors in church to help support their work.

You can also help the St. Vincent de Paul Society this Thursday at the Thanksgiving Mass. Each person is invited to bring an offering to support their work in the form of non-perishable food or a monetary offering.

A Call to Action

This week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us reflect on who are “the least” in our world and how we might answer Jesus’ call to serve them. Let us continue to pray for peace and justice in our world, and let us pray for joyful hearts that lead us to take action.

And as we approach the altar today to receive God’s grace in the Eucharist, let us be open to the power of God’s spirit working in and through us, calling us to a life of service to others.

Praying for Peace in Ferguson

9972635The following is my homily for the 20th Sunday in Ordinary time (August 17, 2014):

I am certain I am not alone in my confusion and frustration surrounding the events occurring in Ferguson, Missouri this week. We have been witness to a lot of hurting in our community as a result of the shooting death that occurred on August 9th. It’s sad and it’s scary, and our hearts go out to all who have been affected by these tragic events.

But it’s not enough to be casual observers of the pain and suffering of others.

  • We have to have open hearts and open minds to understand others’ pain and suffering.
  • We must stand for justice and personal accountability, and for respect of all people and all property.
  • We have to be patient and persistent in helping bring about healing and peace in our community.

I choose my words carefully; my intent is not to comment on politics or public opinion. Instead, my intent is to call us all to a greater sense of love, of community and of peace.

Today’s Gospel (Mt. 15: 21-28, The Canaanite Woman’s Faith) is a good example of how we are affected by community and how being patient and persistent can help bring about healing. It’s a good example of how faith can help change hearts and minds.

The Canaanite woman displays great patience, persistence and faith in dealing with Jesus and his disciples. But that doesn’t mean the woman had an easy task. She faced several challenges when turning to Jesus for help for her daughter:

  1. The disciples simply told the woman to go away
  2. Initially, Jesus dismisses her because she isn’t one of the “chosen people.” (Jesus’ mission was describe as for Jews only).
  3. In fact, Jesus went as far as referring to the woman as “a dog” (a common slur in those days used to describe non-Jews) – a dog not worthy of the scraps that fall from the table

But the woman doesn’t give up. She never loses hope. She remains persistent and patient as she goes about doing what she knows she must do: find healing for her daughter.

The woman demonstrates great faith. She knows she would be happy to receive whatever scraps of grace Jesus would share. Eventually, Jesus sees that her faith is over-powering and Jesus cannot let this go unrecognized. He grants her request and her daughter is healed.

My hope and my prayer is that, together, we can find similar healing for Ferguson.

Hope is a wonderful gift from God. Hope is God-focused. It helps us see beyond our current circumstances. And as God graces us with hope, he expects something in return – he expects us to be a channel of hope for others. In living the Gospel, we are expected to be compassionate, prayerful and supportive of others.

The “shadow side” of hope is despair. Despair is me-focused. It causes us to see only ourselves. It is easy to fall into despair when we are bombarded by countless images and news stories from the fallout of the shooting in Ferguson.

When we find ourselves sliding away from hope and falling into despair, we have to re-center ourselves in prayer. We have to turn back to God.

Despair strips us of our purpose, but prayer can help us regain our bearings. Prayer can help us find our spiritual center.

Jesus is a good example of this – regularly going off by himself to pray, to reorient himself to his true purpose.

It will be a long, difficult challenge to move beyond all of the emotion and hurt so tightly wrapped around the events taking place in Ferguson. It will take great hope and great faith to move beyond where we are today.

So, what fueled the Canaanite woman’s hope and faith? What can we learn from her experience?

  1. First, she was motivated beyond herself. She wanted to be a part of the healing for her daughter. She was focused on service for another.
  2. Second, she was willing to be active and to be persistent. Her energy was focused on doing good; doing what was right.

The rejection she experiences from Jesus and his disciples does not deter her. In fact, it seems to energize her because she knew she was doing the right thing. This encourages her boldness. It gives her a sense of empowerment.

So, how can we use the example of the Canaanite woman’s patience and persistence in dealing with the events in Ferguson?

Archbishop Carlson and the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis calls “for all people to pray for calm and peace and to be part of healing.”

  • They remind us that we need to ask hard questions about what causes the turmoil and hatred we have experienced. As we heard Isaiah say in our the First Reading today, we need to “Observe what is right [and] do what is just”. (Isaiah 56:1)
  • They also remind us that we need to work for lasting solutions to overcome the systemic problems that plague our community. As Paul explains in today’s Second Reading, our ministry of peace and love cannot be limited to our own back yard (Paul preached to the Gentiles, not God’s chosen people, the Jews). We have to be willing to reach out to other communities in need.

This week, I invite you to pray for peace, that we can begin to move beyond the raw emotions and hurt that cripples us as a community, and take positive steps toward healing and true justice.

The rallying cry for the protesters in Ferguson is “No justice, no peace.” I understand and support the need for justice. But to move forward, we first need peace.

And as we approach the altar today to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus, let us remember that what we receive at Communion is not meager “scraps” from the table to appease us. What we received is truly Jesus (Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity) which strengthens us for the journey.

If we truly want justice, let us start by praying for peace.

In the peace of Christ,

Deacon Dan Donnelly