Category Archives: Love

Because God Loves Us!

shapeimage_1-11Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 29, 2018

When we hear about the miracles Jesus performed, we often think: How did he do that?

How did Jesus feed 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish? How did Jesus walk on water with human feet? How did Jesus raise his friend Lazarus from the dead? (And, my personal favorite) How did Jesus change ordinary water into wine?

When we think of such miracles, the question isn’t “how”, but “why”? Why did Jesus perform these miracles?

The simple answer is because he loves us, and he wants us to learn to know him, and to trust him. God knows what we need before we even ask for it. We have to trust he will provide what we need.

If you want some insights as to “how” Jesus does all this, look to what Jesus does many times before he performs a miracle: He opens his hands in prayer … and satisfies our deepest needs He does this by being an instrument of God’s grace.

We too, are called to be an instrument of grace.

Here’s a Fun Fact: The miracle story of the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle contained in all four Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke and John). Today’s version (from the Gospel of John) is different in what we hear in the Synoptic Gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is totally in charge. He is the assertive one concerned about feeding the crowd. Jesus himself is the one who distributes the loaves and fishes to the people. John’s version of this miracle story (the multiplication of the loaves and fishes) is a sign Jesus uses to reveal something about him: Jesus is the prophet promised to God’s people. But Jesus is more than a prophet; he is the Bread of Life.

As we know from other scripture, Jesus is the one who ultimately feeds people in abundance with his body and blood.

I went to the Internet (the source of all factual information) and Googled the phrase: “How many Catholic Masses each day?”

According to one source, there are an estimated 350,000 Catholic Masses celebrated every day on planet earth.

Think about it: 350,000 Masses each day, 365 days per year, for over 2,000 years (the numbers are staggering! In the billions!) And why? Because God loves us!

  • He sent his only Son to dwell among us, to experience human needs, and pain, and suffering … just like us!
  • He sent his only Son to lay down his life for the forgiveness of our sins
  • And we – 2,000 years later – continue to celebrate his passion, death and resurrection each day, in every part of the world

That is a strong message of love and trust.

In today’s First Reading, we heard how God provided all that his people needed.

In today’s Psalm, we heard that “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”

Today’s Gospel reminds us that God not only feeds us, but that He will take whatever fragments we have to give, and feed us with abundance.

All he asks is that we trust him.

So I invite you, as we receive Jesus’s Body and Blood today, to be conscious of God’s abundant love and grace.

As we go forward this week, let us reflect on how we trust in God.

  • Do we trust him enough to allow him to be totally in charge of our lives and to guide us?
  • Are we conscious of the many ways we have been abundantly blessed by God’s grace?

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

More Than a Lifetime (Revisited)

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

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

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

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

Peace!

Deacon Dan

More Than a Lifetime

A Lenten Reflection by Deacon Dan Donnelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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

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

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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.

The Mysteries of the Trinity

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for Trinity Sunday, June 19, 2011.

Today is the Feast day of the Most Holy Trinity. If you came to this Mass hoping to finally learn all of the mysteries of the Holy Trinity, this lowly deacon is sorry to disappoint. The Trinity is indeed a mystery which far greater men than I have tried to comprehend.

St. Patrick had some luck using a shamrock to explain how three persons (three leaves on one stem in this case) could be one being. That was enough to help win over some Irish pagans to the faith. St. Augustine wasn’t as successful. And there’s an old story that describes his failed attempt to understand the Trinity. It goes something like this:

One day, St. Augustine was taking a walk along the seashore, mulling over the Trinity in his head, trying to understand the complexities of it. While walking he saw a little child playing by the sea. The Child had made a hole in the sand and was walking back and forth between the sand and the sea, carrying a little seashell. As St. Augustine watched, he watched the child take the seashell, scoop up some water from the sea, carefully walk back to the hole he had dug and pour the water into the hole. The child would do this repeatedly.

St. Augustine asked the child what he was doing. The child replied, “I am going to empty the sea into that hole, which I have dug in the sand.” St. Augustine laughed out loud and said “Child, that is quite impossible. Look how big the ocean is, and how small that hole is!” The child looked at him and answered, “And yet, it would be easier for me to do this than for you to understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity.” With that, the child left.

It is difficult for us to grasp the idea of the Holy Trinity – three divine persons – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – but one divine nature

An interesting bit of trivia: Pope Benedict has a shell on his coat of arms. It reminds him (and the whole church) that God is infinitely wonderful, beyond our human comprehension. No mere human mind can comprehend the Trinity. As we hear the prophet, Isaiah say:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD.  As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Yet, God provides us with glimpses into the mystery in our readings today.

We, as humans, tend to focus on the “who.” Who is God? Who is Jesus? Who is the Holy Spirit? We want to know who is in charge? Who out ranks the other? In our minds we think: If the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit went out to dinner, who would pick up the check?

We also focus on the “how” How does the Holy Trinity work with us? How do we know which one to call on when we need help?

I think we need to focus more on the “what” part of the equation. What are the characteristics of the Holy Trinity? What can we learn from those characteristics to live a more holy life?

Then we can begin to know God in a different way – from the inside out.

My goal for today is to help us understand how the “what” of the Holy Trinity is woven into the fabric of our spiritual lives – especially as we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

Love, Grace and Fellowship

Our Second Reading ends with a familiar benediction:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

St. Paul gives us three characteristics of the Trinity to ponder:

  1. God is love – the author of love
  2. God is grace – through Jesus, his Son
  3. God is fellowship – through the Holy Spirit

The Father is Love

Today, we hear about God’s love in the First Reading. It might help to get a little background information about the meaning of the “two stone tablets.” You see, God had already given Moses the Ten Commandments. But Moses, in anger when he found his people worshipping a golden calf, destroyed the original set of stone tablets. In the section just before today’s reading, God instructed Moses to bring two more tablets to the mountain so He could re-write the commandments for him. God was (literally) giving Moses and his chosen people a clean slate to work from. In golf parlance, God was giving Moses a mulligan!

Our First Reading goes on with God describing what He is – love. God uses two words to describe himself:

  1. Merciful – showing mercy to his people
  2. Gracious – exercising divine grace; a giver of gifts

In the Gospel reading, we hear God’s love and mercy described in this manner:

“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.”

That is a great testament of the love of God. As a father (and grandfather) on Father’s Day, I couldn’t imagine sacrificing my child the way God so willing chose to do. (Sure, there were a few times during my children’s teenage years that I would have at least entertained the idea, but would never be so bold as to offer my child in sacrifice). But God did – for us, and our sins!

Jesus is Grace

We witness Jesus’ grace in the Gospel as well. Grace is defined as “a supernatural gift from God”, which is what Jesus is. We hear this gift from God each week in the Penitential Rite:

  • He was sent to heal the contrite (those expressing remorse)
  • He came to call sinners
  • He pleads for us at the right hand of the Father

(Note that all three contain words of action: sending, calling, pleading)

And we hear in today’s Gospel:

“God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”

Again, we hear of God’s love – this time through the willing grace of His Son. All Jesus asks of us is to believe in him – and we will be saved.

We, as Catholics, know that it takes more than words to demonstrate that we believe in Jesus. Yes, we proclaim our faith, but are also called to live our faith.

We proclaim our belief when we profess the Creed each week, and I invite you to listen carefully this week as we proclaim these words:

  • We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty
  • We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God
  • We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified

But, more important than words are actions (a lived faith). To demonstrate that belief, we have to live in communion with God:

  • In fellowship with Him
  • To do as he has done
  • To live the model of faith, hope and love that He lived on earth

The Holy Spirit is Fellowship

Jesus told his disciples that he would not abandon them, would not leave them orphan. He promised his Father would send an advocate to dwell among them, to guide them on their journey. He promised the Holy Spirit, who we honored last week at Pentecost.

If we want to grow in relationship with the Holy Trinity – from the inside out – we need to focus on these 3 Things:

  1. We need to open our hearts to the mystery of the Holy Trinity
  2. We need to share our secret thoughts, affections and desires
  3. We need to be open to accepting the innermost thoughts and identity that the Holy Trinity longs to share with us

We need to pray, to reflect, to listen – with our whole being. Prayer cannot be one sided; our prayer must be a dialogue (speaking AND listening.)

We also need to be patient, remembering that spiritual growth is a process

The Ordo for today’s Mass summarizes all of these thoughts this way:

God sent his Son to save us and to forgive us, making us His adopted children. Like the Trinity of persons, may we be united in peace and love through the Spirit, through whom we offer God praise and glory. (Amen.)

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Love Came Down

This entire Advent season, I have been reflecting on the “reason for the season.” Why did God send his Son to heal the contrite? Why did Jesus come to call sinners? What did we do to merit such a wonderful gift? The answer is simple: We did nothing; God did it all … for us!

The phrase that kept running through my head as I reflected and prayed was “Love Came Down.” I’ve taken that phrase and written a song we will debut at the Life Teen Mass on the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, Sunday, January 2. Here are the lyrics to the song:

LOVE CAME DOWN

Love came down
And hope was renewed
A new joy was found when
Love came down
To dwell among the lost and the lonely
To lead us to the one and the only truth
That’s why Love came down

In the fullness of time, in the stillness of night
Over Bethlehem, a bright and glorious light
From this humble place, with no crown for his head
Our Savior-God brings hope to those once dead

Love came down
And hope was renewed
A new joy was found when
Love came down
To dwell among the lost and the lonely
To lead us to the one and the only truth
That’s why Love came down

Let us worship him. Let us give him praise
Heaven’s only Son; let all creation sing!
Let us bring our gifts to the one who saves
Let us celebrate; sing glory to His name!

Sing glory. O sing glory.
Sing glory to his name!
Sing glory. O sing glory.
Sing glory to his name!

Love came down
And hope was renewed
A new joy was found when
Love came down
To dwell among the lost and the lonely
To lead us to the one and the only truth
That’s why Love came down

To lead us home again
That’s why Love came down

Merry Christmas!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

This blog post Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.