Category Archives: Living the Gospel

The Miracles in our Lives

 

34884331One of my favorite books growing up was one that highlighted the miracles Jesus performed – the Wedding at Cana, the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus walking on the water, the healing of the lame man, etc. These wonder-filled stories and dynamic illustrations made a long-lasting impression on me as they helped me understand the power, love and mercy of Jesus, the Son of God.

That wonder and awe of Jesus that we experience as young children is sometimes lost as we grow older. We can be tempted as adults to look at these miracle stories and ask: “What about me? How is God working miracles in my life?” We are sometimes like Thomas and demand a “I have to see it to believe it” attitude in our faith.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (548) tells us the following about miracles: “The signs worked by Jesus attest that the Father has sent him. They invite belief in him. To those who turn to him in faith, he grants what they ask. So miracles strengthen faith in the One who does his Father’s works; they bear witness that he is the Son of God.”

So miracles, these “Signs of the kingdom of God,” live with us in our memory and in our hearts. They also live with us every day of our life … if we are willing to take time to experience them.

Throughout the history of the Catholic Church we are made aware of the God’s miracles through the lives of the saints. In our contemporary lives, we also witness signs that strengthen our belief in God.

  • Think of the beauty of a magnificent sunrise or sunset. You can’t witness such a thing and not believe in a higher power (God).
  • Think of the first time you held a newborn in your arms. This child was no accident of nature. He or she is a “wonderfully made” gift from God.

We need signs and symbols to help remind us that God remains active in our lives and is ever-present to us … if we are willing to open our eyes, our minds and our hearts to him. To do so in our hectic lives, we need to give prayer a priority. We need to take time every day to reflect on the goodness of God in our lives, on the “miracles” he places all around us.

The following are the lyrics to a song I wrote about this topic. Let us pray for the grace to allow God into our lives. Let us pray to be aware and appreciative of all of the “miracles” that help us:

  • Witness God glory;
  • Trust in God’s love and mercy; and
  • Live and love like God want us to.

Miracles

By Dan Donnelly

You took the water and turned it into wine
You healed the lame man and you gave sight to the blind
You fed the thousands and you calmed the stormy sea
Give me the grace to see your miracles
Help me to see your miracles … all around me

My days get busy, keep me running round and round
Its hard to know you when my world’s turned upside down
Give me the courage to just stop; to pray and breathe
Give me the grace to see your miracles
Help me to see your miracles

Open my eyes to see your glory all around me
Give me a heart that beats in time with you
Strengthen my faith to trust that you will always lead me
Help me to live and love, Lord, just like you
Show me your miracles …
Help me to see your miracles …
I need to see your miracles … in my life

 

I hope and pray that you will take time today (and every day) to be courageous in your faith – to stop, to pray and to breathe – to spend time in God’s holy presence. I am confident that, in doing so, you will becomer ever more aware of all of the blessings (the “miracles”) in your life.

In the peace of Christ,

Deacon Dan Donnelly

Love, Relationship and Community In Challenging Times

carlsonHomily for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 15, 2014 

Let me start my homily with a simple question: How do you think of God? Do you think of him as near or distant? Is he frightening or familiar? How do you think of God?

The truth is, at times, God can be seem both near and distant to us. At times, God can seem both frightening and familiar. It all depends on our relationship with him.

When doing my formation work in hospital ministry, I remember the hospital chaplain telling me that the ease by which a person dies is often a reflection of their relationship with God. That made sense to me. The closer we cling to God, the less “baggage” we have to hold onto.

I also remember a quote from one of my ACTS brothers who said: “If you discover that you are distant from God, ask yourself: Who moved?”

If we find ourselves distant from God, it wasn’t God who moved, it was us. We experience this …

  • When we turn our back on God in sin
  • When we focus so much on ourselves that we shut God out of our lives
  • When we allow the events of the world to distract us from living as God intended

Today is Trinity Sunday, a day that calls us to be more aware of the presence of the Trinitarian God in our lives. We are reminded of how the Trinity affects our lives, how it helps us relate more closely with God and to one another.

Today, we remember:

  • God the Father who created us in his own image
  • God the Son who became one of us and redeemed us
  • God the Holy Spirit who remains with us to accompany us and guide us on our spiritual journey

The central themes in today’s readings are relationship and love. Which helps us realize how personal and loving God is. These themes are clearly evident in that beautiful passage from the Gospel of John:

God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

To me, the operative phrase in that passage is believing in God. Whether God seems near or distant to us – we have to keep believing. Whether focused on God or lost in worldly events – we have to keep believing. Whether “swimming in God’s grace or drowning in sin” – we have to keep believing.

It is difficult to explain (and to understand) the mystery of the Trinity. But at the root of this mystery are three things: love, relationship, and community.

In that vein, I want to comment on the controversy this week surrounding Archbishop Carlson and the recent reporting on his depositions. Not to put another spin on the topic. Not to sound as an expert on the matter – because I am not. There is good information about all of this on the Archdiocese website. I recommend viewing the video from Archbishop Carlson and reading the letter from the Archbishop. They reflect the Archbishop I know: very humble, very compassionate … and very human.

I want to use this situation as a teachable moment of how we are to live in love, in relationship, when the foundation and cohesion of our faith community is challenged.

Today, you prove that you are a believing people because you are here. You honor God by your presence.

  • In spite of this cancer of sex abuse that continually attacks the life of the Church, you love God and his Church
  • In spite of the accusations of poor leadership and poor judgment in our Church surrounding the issue of sex abuse, you value the relationship of the Church and God’s people
  • In spite of the questions and accusations in the media, you gather here as community

We are here as a community of faith, hope and love.

But we know that others who are faithful and love their Church may not be here today. Like many of us, they may be confused, hurting, and questioning the Church and its leaders over these recent events.

And when this occurs, when we find our Church under suspicion, the best thing we can do is pray and model how God describes himself in our First Reading: merciful, gracious, slow to anger, rich in kindness and fidelity.

We pray …

  • For the victims and all affected by abuse
  • For those who have fallen away from the Catholic Church in disillusionment
  • For justice
  • For peace
  • For reconciliation in our world

We turn to God in times like this and pray for God’s grace:

  • To lighten the burdens of our questioning minds
  • To overcome whatever distrust, skepticism, or uncertainty that may haunt us
  • To sustain us through periods of unbelief and doubt
  • To save us from the tendency to rush to judgment or speculation

And we pray to the leaders of our Church, as we will in the Eucharistic Prayer today. We will pray for Archbishop Carlson in a very personal way – using his first name (Robert). May we do so with open hearts and open minds. We do not do this in blind obedience, but as compassionate believers.

As we go forth today, let us ask the Holy Trinity – the Father, Son, and Spirit – to make us ever more aware of God’s loving presence in and around us.

Let us go forth this day, in a spirit of love, relationship and community, strengthened by that very Trinitarian prayer St. Paul shared with us in the Second Reading (2 Corinthians 13:11-13):

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Deacon Dan Donnelly

The Reflection of God’s Love and Mercy

9945245Homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In today’s Gospel, we hear discipleship compared to salt and light. Let’s talk a little about this simile of salt and light.

We know that salt (sodium) is necessary for good health, but too much sodium leads to health problems. The disciples would have understood Jesus’ message about salt in two ways:

  1.  They would understand that salt is used to enhance the flavor of food (it’s still one of the most common ingredients in modern cooking), and
  2. They would know that salt is used to preserve foods (for example, before refrigeration, people would apply a thin layer of salt to fish and meats to help preserve them)

So, what Jesus was telling his disciples, as he prepared them for their missionary work was: Carry out your mission with enthusiasm and passion (add flavor to your mission), and be steadfast in preserving and sharing the faith that Christ had taught them.

We also hear Jesus warning that if salt loses its taste it is no longer good for anything and should be thrown out. Technically, salt never loses its flavor, but it can become less effective when other things are added to it, or it becomes impure. Jesus was telling disciples: do not allow your faith and beliefs to be compromised by what they may experience in the outside world (In effect, Jesus was telling the disciples: Be in this world, but not of this world).

Those are lessons that apply to us today. Through our baptism, we are called to be missionaries (to help spread the Good News of Jesus). We are expected to carry out our mission with zeal (with enthusiasm and passion). And our missionary work needs to be “grounded” in the truth so we can both enhance and preserve the Good News of God’s love and mercy.

Another “fun fact” about salt: Salt is referenced many times in Scripture. In all of the times salt is referenced, it is never described as existing only for itself (you wouldn’t go to the movies and order a large box of salt, would you? No, you’d go for the mega bucket of popcorn and use salt to flavor it).

Our faith doesn’t exist for ourselves alone. Our faith is personal, but it is also communal. We are called to live and work in community and to share our gifts and resources with others.We hear this in our First Reading when we are reminded to:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Shelter the oppressed and the homeless
  • Clothe the naked
  • Don’t turn your back on others, but help them

God is telling us to use our faith to take action! And when we do this, “Then [our] light shall break forth like the dawn.”

I was talking to a deacon friend of mine, not too long ago, who told me about a woman he was counseling. While protecting her identity, he shared her predicament with me: The woman had come to him to discuss problems she was experiencing with her 12-year old son. She said her son threw a fit every time he had to go to attend class at the Parish School of Religion (PSR). He complained that he just didn’t like PSR. He said he was too busy with other extracurricular activities, and that he was too tired to go at the end of the day.

After probing into the problem a little more, the deacon asked the woman how her son felt about going to Mass. The woman replied, “Oh, we don’t usually go to Mass” and rattled off a litany of reasons. She said, “neither my husband nor my son like to go to Mass, so it’s a hassle to get them to attend. I often work weekends, so scheduling time for Mass can be difficult. And, frankly, my job wears me out, so I like to sleep in on Sundays.”

Do you detect a parallel here? The son was using the same excuses for not going to PSR as the mother and father did for not going to Mass.

I share this story not to single out families (in full-time or part time school at the parish) who don’t attend Mass on Sundays. I share this story to demonstrate how our actions can reflect negatively on our children, our freinds, and our family – especially when it comes to sharing our faith.

In our Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples that they are the “light of the world” and that they “must shine before others, that [others] may see [their] good deeds and glorify [God].” Were these parents a shining light for their son? From what I heard, I would guess “no.” But I can empathize with the woman in this story.

Its difficult  for kids to attend PSR after a full day of school. Scheduling for busy families can be a problem. Being a parent is hard … and tiring … and sometimes frustrating. But it can also be quite gratifying.

For me, as a parent, life is most gratifying when I see my children behaving in ways that reflect the goodness of God.  I like to think that their mother and I had some influence in those “good things” they reflect in their life.

We are all called to be that good example for others. To be the “Light of Christ” for others. But, to be the “light of the world” does not mean that you have to be the source of that light. We are created in the image and likeness of God. We are not called to be God, but to be a reflection of God, of His love and mercy.

Here’s an example that explains this in everyday terms. Think about where we are in the seasons. We are half way through Winter. Even in the midst of the coldest temperatures and most snowfall we’ve seen in years, we see signs of hope. The sun is staying out a little longer each day. Even in the bitter cold, we are witnessing some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets.

But ask yourself: Is the sky the source of that beauty? Do the clouds dictate the colors? No, these awe-inspiring sunrises and sunsets are the sky and the clouds allowing the light of the sun to reflect in beautiful hues.

We are not the source of the light in our world … God is

Today’s readings help us step back and reflect on we are living our lives as Christians.

  • Are we being the best versions of ourselves, reflecting God’s love and mercy?
  • Are we being good examples for others by our words and actions?
  • Are we helping share the Light of Christ with others?

These are questions we might reflect on this week.

As we prepare to celebrate the Eucharist, let us remember that salt doesn’t act alone. We are a community of believers, called to gather at the Lord’s table, and to go forth to live our faith with zeal.

Through our Baptism, we are called to be light to the world, called to be a reflection of the beauty of God’s love and mercy.

May you have great week, reflecting God’s love and mercy in all that you do!

Doing God’s Will – Lessons from the Saints

Saint Damien of MolokaiMy Homily from the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today’s readings focus on doing God’s will. We hear it quite clearly in today’s Psalm, “Lord, I come to do your will” (Psalm 40) and in the Gospel as we hear John the Baptist describe the Baptism of Jesus from John’s perspective (John 1: 29-34).

John testifies that what had been made known by the Spirit was true; The Promised One, The Lamb of God, had come. This was John’s purpose in life. This was God’s will for John: to prepare the way so Christ may be known to the world.

Today, let us contemplate two questions from our readings:

  • How do we discern God’s will in our lives?
  • How do we help Christ be known in our world? How do we do God’s will?

Time in prayer and reflection is a good start. So is studying the lives of the saints to help understand the big and little things others have done to serve God.

I love this quote from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa), “We cannot do great things on earth, only small things with great love.” To do God’s will, we don’t have to focus on the “big and great” things in life. Small acts of kindness shared with great love can make saints of us all. Saint Damien of Molokai is a great example of this. Let me share with you a little about Saint Damien and his connection with my work.

I work as Director of Sponsorship for the Marianists – a religious order brothers and priests. In my job, we  support the universities, high schools, retreat centers and parishes sponsored by the Marianists throughout the US, Puerto Rico and Ireland. Next month, my wife and I will be traveling to Hawaii for my work (and for some vacation time). There are four Marianist-sponsored ministries in Hawaii (one university, two high schools and one parish).

Here’s the connection: When the Marianists came to Hawaii in the late 1800s to establish schools, the priest who presided at their welcoming mass was Fr. Damien a Catholic priest from Belgium. Saint Damien of Molokai (as he is now known) was a strong, hard-working, athletic priest who went to minister to a leper colony in Hawaii.

Originally, the bishop had arranged for priests to take turns on a three-month rotation, but when Father Damien saw the colony’s destitution, he decided to stay and work there full time. I understand that Father Damien made this decision at the end of a retreat on the grounds of what is now known as St. Anthony Parish in Wailuku Maui, a parish that is sponsored today by the Marianists (a parish we will visit next month).

You could easily make a case that Damien’s decision to minister full time to lepers was a “big thing.” But what makes this Saint so special are all of the “little things” he did – his acts of mercy and love that made such a difference.

  • St. Damien built hundreds of small houses to replace the miserable huts the dying lepers were living in
  • He laid pipes to bring in fresh water from inland springs
  • He built coffins and created a cemetery to bury the dead who previously had been piled into shallow, mass graves
  • He established small farming plots, built clinics and chapels, formed a choir and orchestra, tended the lepers’ hideous wounds with his own hands
  • He brought dignity, order, work, and hope back to the crowds of sick who poured into the colony

For eleven years he tirelessly practiced these corporal works of mercy. Then one Sunday morning in his twelfth year in Molokai, Fr. Damien climbed to the ambo and read the Gospel passage for the day. He paused, looked out across his crowded church, which he and his lepers had built, and began his sermon by addressing the congregation as: “We lepers…”

The congregation gasped when heard this. With those words Damien had informed them that at last he too had contracted the dread disease. For four more years he continued laboring on as his body rotted away, until death took him to his reward. Fr. Damien was beatified in 1995 and canonized in 2009. He is the patron saint of those with leprosy and the patron of the State of Hawaii.

I share this story with you as a reminder that:

  • It takes time in prayer and reflection to discern God’s will – have patience and commitment
  • Sometimes the signs and answers are so clear to us in our discernment; sometimes they are not – have faith and trust in God
  • Doing God’s will is not just about doing “big things” in life –  we do God’s will even in what seems to be “little acts” of kindness and mercy
  • Even though God’s will may be wrought with pain and sorrow, we are never alone – we are worthy and we are loved

Each Mass, during the Communion Rite, the priest elevates the consecrated Body and Blood of Jesus and repeats the words of John the Baptist: “Behold the Lamb of God, behold him who takes away the sins of the world. Blessed are those who are called to the supper of the Lamb.” And how do we respond? The same way as the Roman centurion in the Gospel of Matthew who finds faith in the power of Christ. We say: “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Today, let’s pray those words from the very depths of our hearts, appreciating in a fresh way all of their beauty and meaning. Let us be open to God’s will in our lives, and confident in his faithfulness, his love and his mercy. By our actions, let us make Christ known to the world.

Be at peace, and know that you are loved!

Jesus as Priest, Prophet and King

19391805My Homily from November 24, 2013 – Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe

Today we celebrate what has traditionally been known as the Feast of Christ the King, a day that we recall the fullness of our relationship with Jesus. It would be good for us to reflect on that relationship. Here are two key points we should remember:

  1. Our relationship with Christ is multi-dimensional
  2. It’s a relationship that is supposed to grow over time

We are first introduced to the different dimensions of our relationship with Christ when we are baptized. During the baptism, the celebrant anoints us with the Oil of Chrism and prays, “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body, sharing everlasting life.”

Beginning on the day we enter the Church we are called to live like Christ – Priest, Prophet, and King. But how do we do that? It may be helpful to get a better understanding of these terms: Priest, Prophet and King.

A simple definition of a priest is one who serves as a bridge or mediator between God and humankind. It’s easy to understand Jesus as priest when we think of “bridge” or “mediator”

  • He is God who became man to draw us closer to him
  • He taught us to remember his love for us in our Eucharist celebration (“Do this in memory of me”)
  • He sent the Holy Spirit to guide us on our spiritual journey
  • He continues to mediate for us (to plead for us) to His Father

So, how do we live out our vocation as priest, like Christ?

  • When we participate in the sacramental life (when we gather in His name to connect with each other and with God)
  • When we cultivate a personal prayer life (our prayers can be a two-way bridge to make our concerns known to God and to receive back God’s grace and blessings in our life)
  • When we introduce Christ to others (we can be a bridge to Christ for others)

All of these things help us connect with God

A prophet is a messenger sent by God – one who speaks for God. Jesus is the last and the ultimate prophet. Not only is he a messenger sent by God (to remind us of God’s unconditional love), Jesus IS God, the Word Made Flesh.

So, how do we live out our vocation as prophet, like Jesus?

  • By embracing opportunities to grow in our faith and share that faith with others (we develop a habit of lifelong learning)
  • By inviting others to join in the life of our faith and the life of our parish (there is no better way to help spread the Word of God than to invite others to see and hear God’s word in action)

We might be a little less familiar with the concept of “king.” Our reference is often works of fiction or dark history. We may think of kings as selfish or deceitful rulers. Or we may think of them overburdening people with taxes and other requirements. But Jesus gives us a different (a better) model of what it means to be king.

A king is a person who has superior authority over a territory. But what is Jesus territory? Where does he proclaim superiority over us? The answer is in today’s Gospel. The territory that Jesus claims as his own is our hearts.

After being mocked as “King of the Jews,” Jesus chooses the Cross as his royal throne. His royal office is not judgment or condemnation (but to forgive the repentant sinner). Jesus teaches us that he is willing to forgive anyone, to love anyone, to serve anyone. All he asks from us is our hearts.

So what is Jesus, the King, teaching us?

  • He is teaching us humility and care for others
  • He is teaching us love and forgiveness
  • He is teaching us to serve others with the heart of a servant

And, how do we live out our vocation as King, like Jesus?

  • By being loving, caring and respectful to others
  • By sharing our gifts generously in the spirit of service
  • By forgiving others … and by being willing to accept forgiveness

We will soon turn our thoughts to the Eucharistic Feast, where our relationship with Christ as Priest, Prophet, and King will all come together. As we listen to today’s prayers, may our hearts be open to all that:

  • Connects us to God
  • Engages us in service to our parish and the world we live in
  • And reminds us of our call to love one another

This week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, I encourage you to take some time to be thankful for the times in your life when you have been willing to forgive, and The times in your life when you were willing to accept forgiveness.

May our prayerful reflection help us all grow closer to the God 

Peace be with you!

God’s Patience and Unconditional Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cross-of-st-francis

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are sometimes like the first son:

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

We are sometimes like the second son:

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

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

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

A final thought …

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

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

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

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

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

Setting the World On Fire

File0258Homily from Pentecost Sunday, May 19, 2013

Today is the 17th anniversary of the death of my father, John J. Donnelly, Jr. (lovingly remembered as “Red”). Indulge me for a moment, if you will, as I tie the memories and lessons of his passing to the Feast of Pentecost.

My dad had been sick for a while and would not recover from his illness. So, my family was challenged with the decision of honoring his wishes – to allow him to be removed from life support and to allow him to die in peace. As you can imagine, it was a difficult thing for my mother and her six children to experience.  We had to accept the end of my dad’s earthly life to allow him to begin his new life with God.

Seventeen years later, two things about that day still stick out in my mind. First, was the drive to the hospital to be with my dad. The song “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion was playing on the radio and, as I listened, that song served as a soundtrack of my life as I recalled my relationship with my dad:

“You were my strength when I was weak. You were my voice when I couldn’t speak. You were my eyes when I couldn’t see. You saw the best there was in me. Lifted me up when I couldn’t reach. You gave me faith ‘coz you believed. I’m everything I am because you loved me.”

The second thing was the reaction of my family members after my dad passed away. For me, it was interesting to observe how four sons and two daughters who grew up in the same family would experience and grieve my dad’s death in such different ways.

You may be familiar with the work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross who wrote extensively on the stages of grief. She identified those stages as Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. And she writes that while “these are the responses to loss that many people have, there is not a typical response to loss and there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”

I guess I was expecting something different. There we were; six kids from the same gene pool (shallow and murky as that pool may be) who grew up in the same house, went to the same schools, attended the same church, and shared the same family stories and traditions. But each experienced loss and grief in different ways. And each brought different gifts to the grieving process: none better, none worse – just different.

This reminds me of our First Reading today. The apostles were gathered all in one place. They had experienced their own stages of grief after the death of Jesus. As they witnessed the descent of the Holy Spirit, they each had a different experience. The Holy Spirit allowed them to speak in tongues – in unknown languages that were understood by a diverse group who had gathered in Jerusalem. Just as God does with each of us as we grieve a loss, God sent the Holy Spirit to meet those gathered in Jerusalem “where they were” and to minister to them in ways that allowed them to proclaim Christ in their lives.

This is what Pentecost is all about: For us to recall Christ’s command to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth.

In our Confirmation we have received a new spirit for a new life we are called to live. But this isn’t a one-time deal. We have to be open to receiving the Spirit every day and we have to be open to living the life we are called to live – every day. That’s where the challenge often begins.

Think about a time in your life when you were especially moved by the Holy Spirit. Maybe it was at the birth of your child or the death of a loved one. May be it was during your Timothy 4 retreat or an ACTS retreat. Maybe it was at sight of a beautiful sunset or the words of a particularly moving song or poem. The Spirit moves us in different ways. And each of us has different gifts to offer. But we have to share and live those gifts. We can’t just keep them to ourselves.

The beauty of this is summed up in something I read this week about the value of Catholic communities: “The gift and strength of community is that we come to community with individual gifts, and in turn we are the recipients of the gifts of all those who gather with us.” (Brother Stephen Glodek, SM – Marianist Praxis: Building Marianist Educational Culture) This is why we worship together at Mass each Sunday. This is why we gather – to bring our own unique gifts, and to receive the gifts of community in Christ. But in order for this formula to work we have to be open to accepting our individual and communal gifts. And we have to be open to sharing those gifts with others. This ebb and flow of grace needs to be a constant cycle in our lives.

This past Tuesday, I attended a workshop hosted by the Archdiocese on Social Media and Evangelization. We started the day with Mass. The lector began to proclaim the first reading but you could barely hear her. We continued with the Psalm, but it was hard to hear that as well – until half-way through the Psalm when someone remembered to turn on the sound system! Bishop Rice, who was presiding at the Mass, opened his homily by joking, “Lesson one in evangelization – turn on the microphone!”

We need to ask ourselves a question: Is my evangelization microphone on? Am I continuing to live those grace-filled moments of my ACTS retreat, or my Timothy 4 retreat, or my Luke 18 retreat? Am I allowing the Holy Spirit to continue to work through me and to lead me in my life? Am I on fire with the Holy Spirit … or do I need to rekindle the flame in my heart?

That’s what we are called to do: To be on fire wherever God leads us, to allow the gifts we have received to flow through us, to recognize and believe that we are loved, and to be witnesses to Christ to the ends of the earth.

Sure, sometimes this is scary and uncomfortable. Even the disciples were afraid. As we just heard, they locked themselves in a room after Jesus died out of fear of the Jews. But Jesus came and stood in their midst and he told them repeatedly: “Peace be with you. Peace be with you.”

Maybe that’s how we can help rekindle the fire in our hearts. This evening, when I invite you to share the sign of peace with others, I am going to invite our youth to do something a little different. I am going to invite you to make a symbolic gesture of going forth to share your gifts and spread the love of Christ.

I invite you teens, at the Sign of Peace, to leave your pews and mingle around the church, extending the sign of peace to the rest of the congregation. Allow the Holy Spirit to flow through you. Demonstrate what it means to proclaim Jesus to the ends of the earth (or at least to the ends of the last pews!). Are you willing to accept this invitation?

Let me wrap up this evening with a quick story and a quote. The late Fr. Jim Krings helped me understand my giftedness and my relationship with the Holy Spirit. From his spiritual counsel I adopted the phrase “Be on fire wherever you are” as my spiritual mantra. This was a response to Fr. Krings’ challenge to not just be a person who had received the gifts of the ACTS retreats, but to be a person who lives and shares those gifts. And, from that living and sharing, Fr. Krings challenged us to attract and invite others to share this wonderful experience (to put it in Bishop Rice terms, to “make sure our evangelization microphone was always on”).

It is true with the ACTS retreats. It is true with Timothy 4 retreats, the Luke 18 retreats, Kairos retreats … whatever spiritual movement you may experience. We are not only expected to receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but we are also expected to share (to live) those gifts with others. When we join our individual gifts with the gifts of our community, we can make a world of difference in our lives.

I think this quote from St. Catherine of Sienna sums it up very well. She said:

“Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”

This week, I pray that we will all reflect on these words and help set the world on fire by sharing our gifts and Christ’s love with each other.

Peace be with you!

Love One Another – This is How All Will Know You are Mine

19391733

Homily from the Fifth Sunday of Easter

At the risk of sounding like Garrison Keillor, I share this with you:

There is a story of a Norwegian couple who lived on a farm in Minnesota. They had been married for many years and the wife was starved for affection. Her husband gave her no signs of love or affection and the wife’s need to be appreciated went unfulfilled. At her wit’s end, the wife blurted out, “Husband, why don’t you ever tell me that you love me?” The husband stoically responded, “Wife, when we were married I told you that I loved you … and if I ever change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Several years ago, my wife and I attended a funeral Mass for the mother of a friend. The deceased had requested that the James Taylor song, “Shower the People” be played at the end of the Mass. The woman who had died was introduced to this song through her grandchildren and loved to sing it with them – especially the part of the chorus that says:

“Shower the people you love with love . Show them the way that you feel. Things are gonna be much better if you only will.”

After an earlier Mass today, a parishioner mentioned that my homily reminded him of another song, “What the World Needs Now,” a Hal David and Burt Bacharach tune popular in the 60s. I agreed with the parishioner, especially when you reflect on the words of that song:

“What the world needs now is love, sweet love. It’s the only thing that there’s just too little love. What the world needs now is love, sweet love. No, not just for some, but for everyone.”

In today’s Gospel, Jesus reminds us that this “thing” we call love is more than a feeling, more than an expression or word, more than an action. And, in the case of the farmer, is expressed in more than on a need-to-know basis.

Jesus teaches us that love is an expectation. In fact, Jesus elevates this expectation to the level of a commandment:

“Love one another … This is how all will know you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13: 34-35)

This isn’t the first time Jesus spoke of love as a commandment. Recall Jesus responding to the Pharisees who were testing him about which commandment in the law is the greatest. Jesus replied:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22: 37-40)

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is preparing his disciples for the next stage in their spiritual journey – a time when Jesus would no longer be with them. But he was doing more than preparing his disciples who were with him then. He was also preparing his disciples who are with him now (you and I) to live the life that we are called to in our Baptism: to be missionaries; to help bring Christ to a waiting world; to help bring love to a world starving for hope and truth.

One thing that can sometimes hold us back in our efforts to follow the Lord’s New Commandment is a false idea of what love should feel like. We tend to think that true love is always accompanied by nice feelings, and if the feelings go away, that means the love has gone away too. That’s what radio and TV tell us, but that’s not what the Gospel tells us.  Love, true love, Christ-like love, goes deeper than feelings. It demands sacrifice, self-giving, and self-forgetting (placing others before self).

Christ-like love always involves a cross. That’s what makes it Christ-like; that’s what makes it true love.

If we can get this truth to sink down from our heads into our hearts, we will be freer to love more as Christ loves. We will lead happier lives. And we will make those around us happier.

Maybe the words of a real expert in Christ-like love will help convince us of this. Here is a profile of real Christian love from Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta:

People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway. Why?  Because in the final analysis, all of this is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

Today when Jesus comes to renew his commitment to us in Holy Communion, let’s ask him to convince us once and for all that Christian love doesn’t mean nice feelings, but self-giving, self-forgetting. It means going out of our way to help our neighbors, just as Christ went out of the way to help us.

My prayer for all of us this week is that we may know and live the love of Christ.

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

Meeting People Where They Are

woman_adultery

Homily of the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Do you remember being invited to sign our Parish Covenant Agreement last November? On the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday in November, parishioners of St. Joseph Parish were presented with a list of expectations to help us grow as an engaged and spiritually committed parish. The Agreement spelled out what we should expect from our parish, and what our parish should expect from us.

In addition to signing the Agreement, parishioners were given  an opportunity to set some personal goals for the upcoming year. This was a way to respond to our individual call to exercise stewardship of the gifts God has given each of us.

One of the goals I set for myself centered around the expectation “Embracing opportunities to participate in spiritual growth programs and retreats.” One way I am accomplishing that is by reading more. I’m trying to take more time reading and reflecting on scripture (the Lectio Divina workshops the parish has conducted have been a great help in that area). And I’m trying to read more contemporary works to better understand differing opinions and to better understand some of the contemporary challenges we face in our Church.

I have observed that the people I admire as “spiritual gurus” and great teachers have a common practice: they never stop reading and never stop learning. I’m trying to take that practice to heart in my spiritual life.

Last month, I came across an interesting article in the National Catholic Reporter. It was an interview with Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. What caught my attention was the headline of the article: “Teach truth from pulpit, then meet people where they are.” The article was a roadmap on how to work with Catholics who love the Church, but may have dissenting views.

Now, some will criticize the Church for having too many rules. They will say that these rules are “man-made,” that they are not Bible-based, or that some of the rules  are too restrictive to their personal freedom. I, however, tend to look at Church doctrine and teaching as gifts of wisdom and insight.

The difference between appreciating and hating Church doctrine and Tradition often centers on our true understanding of what the Church teaches. Here’s how Cardinal Wuerl addressed this:

“We sometimes get caught up in one or another aspect of Church teaching, and we forget that if a person hasn’t been introduced to Christ, if a person hasn’t embraced the risen Lord and the Church that’s an expression of that experience, what we’re saying sounds like a bunch of rules or negative statements limiting their personal freedom.”

To me, that speaks to what we sometimes witness when people leave the church: They try to “go wide” to find a different church that better matches their view point or that makes them feel good about the choices they have made My suggestion is to not “go wide” but to “go deep.” Dig deep into the richness and wisdom that is the Catholic Church. Understand the theology, the teachings, the doctrine. It’s not always easy. It takes some study, it takes some work.

Think about some of the current “hot-button” topics in the Church and in society: Abortion, the Death Penalty, Immigration, Contraception, Same-Sex Marriage, Religious Liberty. These are often complex, emotional issues to deal with. So just spouting the rules isn’t enough. “Because I said so” theology is often difficult for the well-developed mind to absorb. The truth needs to be taught. More importantly the truth needs to be understood (there’s a difference between teaching and learning).

When Cardinal Wuerl was asked how to engage Catholics with contrasting views in conversation rather than telling them to get out, he said:

“Our job is to bring people to Christ, to hold them as close to the church as we can. That means working with people who are making their way, hopefully in the same direction. We have to work with people. In the pulpit we’re supposed to present the teaching with all of its unvarnished clarity, but when you step out of the pulpit you have to meet people where they are and try to walk with them.”

We are not a Church of “love it or leave it.” We are a Church of “learn it, live it, and love it.” Pope Francis appears to be a supporter of this same approach. When the new Pope met with a group of reporters this week. He told them:

“The church exists to communicate this: truth, goodness and beauty personified. We are all called not to communicate ourselves but this essential trio.”

You might say that the Pope was quoting his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi:

“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”

That’s what we witnessed in today’s Gospel. The Scribes and Pharisees were trying to trick Jesus. Jesus knows that if he supports the Jewish Law that prescribes the death penalty for those who are caught in adultery he will be acting against Roman law. Israel, an occupied country, did not have the authority to give anyone the death penalty. So if Jesus supported the Jewish law, he would antagonize the Romans. If Jesus did not support the Jewish law, he would antagonize the Jews. So Jesus played it cool and met the people “where they were.” Jesus taught them (through patience) to not be so judgmental of others and to love your neighbor

Some suggest that the two times Jesus wrote in the sand, he was writing down the names of the people in the crowd and their sins. What he wrote, we’re not sure. But whatever he wrote, it had some effect on quieting the crowd.

Then Jesus gave the crowd that had assembled an “out.” He said, “Let the one among you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One by one her accusers left and Jesus was left alone with the woman.

Jesus does not minimize the woman’s sin (the truth is the truth; the law is the law). But Jesus took a pastoral approach (meeting her where she is). He offered the woman forgiveness, not punishment. And then he gave the directive “Go, and do not sin any more.”

Why did Jesus do this? Because he is teaching us a lesson: Hate the sin in our world, but love the sinner.

Remember another run-in Jesus had with the Pharisees? When asked which is the greatest commandment, Jesus replied:

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it:You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Again, Jesus is trying to teach us that love, and a pastoral approach, is a better way than just living in a black and white, judgmental world.

Just as we heard in our First Reading: God made a way for the Israelites – a path to freedom. God has made a way for our own freedom from sin (that path is forgiveness, not punishment). For the Israelites, God was doing something new. Through Jesus, God also gives us something new – truth made richer with compassion and love.

I pray this week that you will reflect on these three Gospel themes:

  1. Hate the sin, but love the sinner
  2. Don’t be judgmental of others, be compassionate
  3. Proclaim the truth, then meet people where they are

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

Turning Back to God

21303485Homily for the First Sunday of Lent

Whenever I meet with my spiritual director I can anticipate him asking me these questions:

  1. How are you growing closer to God?
  2. What are the barriers that are holding you back from experiencing spiritual growth?

These are good questions, especially that last one. We all experience barriers in our lives – things that hold us back from experiencing the fullness of God’s love. This Lenten Season, we are encouraged to try to get past those barriers by “Turning Back to God.”

Unmasking the Barriers

In today’s Gospel, Jesus unmasks three barriers that often block our spiritual growth. These are root causes of sin that we have been battling since Adam and Eve were in the Garden. I call them the “Three P’s”:

  1. Pleasure
  2. Power
  3. Popularity

None of these are necessarily “evil” unto themselves, but can be the root of our sins and the reason we lack spiritual growth.

Root Causes

In a couple of months, a bright, yellow flower will begin blooming all over West County – the dandelion weed. You know from experience that to get rid of dandelions you have to do more than merely cut off the top of the plant. You cut the top off and the weed keeps growing. To get rid of the weed you have to get to the root. Otherwise, the flower goes to seed and those little puffy white balls will spread the weed all over.

The same is true with sin. We sometimes have to dig at the root of the problems that serve as barriers to spiritual growth. Lent is a good time to reflect on the root causes of our sin and to consider ways to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to battle those things that keep us from God.

Lessons from the Word

Let’s take a moment to break open today’s Gospel message (Luke 4: 1-13). In the Gospel, the Devil temps Jesus during his fasting with bread (the temptation of Pleasure). He tempts Jesus with the promise of earthly glory (the temptation of Power). And he tempts Jesus with instant fame (the temptation of Popularity). Jesus responds in the same way St. Paul suggests in the Second Reading: He calls on the name of the Lord to be saved. Jesus does this by invoking the Word of God. He quotes from the Old Testament (Book of Deuteronomy).

Pleasure

The story unfolds like this: After fasting for 40 days, Jesus is hungry. The Devil tempts him by telling him “Command this stone to become bread.” Jesus quotes Deuteronomy: “One does not live on bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3)

The lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us is that life’s pleasures and comforts are good things (after all, God created them). But they don’t last. They don’t “satisfy the hungry heart.” Only God can do that.

The Jews who were tested and afflicted in the desert for 40 years learned that they had to trust in God to sustain them. God provided for them (as he provides for all of us). We need to accept the pleasure and comforts from God as a gift, but not put pleasure and comfort before God.

Power

The second temptation is power. The Devil tells Jesus “Just worship me and I will give you all the power and glory in the world.”

Ever notice that in stories, when someone is granted three wishes, what the person typically wishes for? Power!

Given three wishes, people in these stories typically for ask for all the riches in the world, unlimited power over all other people and, if they are smart, for an unlimited supply of wishes (ALL of the power!).

Have you ever known one of those “three wishes” scenarios work out well? No. Do all of these wishes ever buy true happiness? No.

Jesus reminds us that we should give back to God what God has given us (including power). He quotes “You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.” (Deuteronomy 6:13)

The lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us is that our lives need to be oriented toward God (He is our true purpose and He is what will bring us true happiness). We are not created for arrogance and pride – We are created to love and serve God.

I think Pope Benedict’s recent decision to resign is a great example of how God wants us to deal with power. The pope – the most “powerful” person in the Catholic Church – decided that the best way to serve God and His Church was to relinquish all power of his position so that God’s will may be done. This is a reminder from the Gospel of John: “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:30)

Popularity

The Pope’s decision also speaks to the third temptation: popularity. When the Devil tempts Jesus to take a swan-dive off of the Temple roof to impress everyone and win instant fame, Jesus again quotes scripture: “You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” (Deuteronomy 6:16)

That quote makes reference to the Jews quarreling with Moses in the desert. After the Jews were given Manna (bread from heaven) to feed them, they became desperate for water and wondered whether God had abandoned them. They began quarreling among themselves. Moses was ready to throw up his hands in disgust when God told Moses to strike a rock with his staff and water would flow. Moses did as God instructed, and the Jewish people received an abundant supply of water.

The lesson that Jesus is trying to teach us is to trust in God – at all times, and in all ways. People’s opinions may change from time to time, but God’s love is constant.

Conclusion

Wherever you are on your spiritual path, remember that God is constantly calling us to turn back to him.  God wants us to turn back to Him this Lent with all our hearts, our minds, our souls. He knows that this is sometimes difficult for us and that many times we fail. He just wants us to keep trying!

And so I leave you with this story that a friend shared with me:

A certain Carmelite nun found contemplative (“silent”) prayer to be very difficult because her thoughts would wander a thousand times during a 20-minute prayer session. She was certain that her teacher, Thomas Merton, would rebuke her for being such a failure, so she was surprised when, instead, Merton said that her wandering thoughts were just 1,000 opportunities to return to God.

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.