Category Archives: Music

Choosing Faith Over Fear

Jesus calming the sea12th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father’s Day – 2015

“Life is about choices …” That was the topic of a long discussion I had recently with a friend as we shared stories about raising our children.

Some of life’s choices are simple with minimal consequences: Will I eat a hamburger or a hot dog at today’s family picnic (or both)? Will I take time to pray this morning or will I sleep in? Will I choose to get stuck in rush hour traffic on Highway 40 or I-44?

Some choices are more difficult and have more severe consequences: Will I choose good or evil? Will I choose right or wrong? Will I choose fear or faith?

Our relationships often influence the choices we make.

Choices and Relationships

While in formation to become deacons, we spent a year in hospital ministry. We learned to minister to patients; to be present to them and their loved ones. We would spend a lot of time listening and praying with these patients and their families, helping provide comfort and hope.

One of the things the hospital chaplain taught us is that the way people accept death has a lot to do with their relationship with God. The chaplain told us: If people have a good relationship with God, they are better able to accept death and better able to transition from this world to the next. If people do not have a good relationship with God, the transition can be difficult. Death can be a fearful process, but good relationships with God and with others help us embrace our faith.

Facing fearful situations is part of being human. Relationship has a lot to do with how we face challenges in life.

“Craving the Wave”

Today is the first day of summer. Most summers, my family will vacation in Michigan. Some of my favorite memories are of the times I would spend with my wife and two daughters on those vacations – playing games, being silly, and having fun! When my daughters were elementary school-age, we would love to go to the beach and play a game we called “Crave the Wave” (named after those old Ocean Spray Cranberry commercials). The three of us would join hands and wade into Lake Michigan. We would have the time of our lives, riding the waves as they came in.

If the waves were not cooperative, we would taunt them with sayings like, “Come on, waves, we’re not afraid of you!” Or we’d give it that personal touch: “Your mother was a dribble; your father was a drip!”

When the waves would come in I’d feel my daughters’ grip tighten around my hand. We’d all float atop the waves, screaming “Wee!” When the waves came in too strong, or too close together I’d feel a death-grip on my hand as the girls were knocked around by the waves. When that would happen, I’d yank the girls out of the water and draw them close to me and they would respond by spitting water in my face as they gasped for breath. When they were able to calm down and realize they were OK, they would inevitably tell me, “Let’s do it again, Daddy! Let’s do it again!”

Because of the relationship we had developed with each other, they trusted me … even in fearful or anxious times.The same is true in our relationship with God.

God is Ever-Present in Our Lives

We often face fearful and anxious times in our lives. But our faith tells us that God is always present in those moments when we cannot handle things on our own. And when we face those trying times, we have to ask ourselves: Will we choose fear or faith?

Today’s Gospel from Mark contains one of the miracle stories: The Calming of the Storm. This story has Jesus asking himself if his disciples truly had faith. The disciples had been with Jesus for a while and heard him preach about the reign of God. They had witnessed Jesus perform a healing or two, but hadn’t yet witnessed any of the “big” miracles we read about later in Mark’s Gospel. So, when the storm came and appeared to threaten their lives, as the water flooded the boat, the disciples showed that they were still learning and developing their relationship with Jesus.

Listen to how they address Jesus, asleep in the boat: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” “Teacher” – they knew Jesus as a wise person, a “Rabbi,” but didn’t yet understand or accept Jesus as an almighty power, the Son of God. So, when Jesus commanded the wind and the sea, and they obeyed, this was quite a wake up call. The disciples asked: “Who is this here in the boat with us?”

This was a great teachable moment for the disciples. A real eye opener! This story is a great teachable moment for us as well. As we are confronted with real life choices and must choose between acting in fear or with faith, when our personal ships of faith seem ready to sink from time to time, when we confront the troubles in our lives, in our families, and in the world, we have to ask ourselves: Will we face these challenges with fear or with faith?

One way we can influence that decision is by building a strong “spiritual boat” for our journey.

How to Build Strong Spiritual Boats

In the early Christian church (and even today) a boat was often used to symbolize the Church. The early Church often appeared ready to swamp and sink because of persecutions by the Romans and Jewish authorities. Today, the Church might also seem like it will sink because of scandals brought on by sexual abuse or financial mismanagement. Challenges will always face us; we need to be prepared.

To prepare for challenges, to build a strong boat that strengthens our Church and our personal faith, we must grow in relationship with God and his Church. Here are three lessons in spiritual boat building that may help you in your work.

Lesson One:

The first lesson in spiritual boat building is to remember that we are not alone. We heard in our First Reading how Job wondered why so many terrible things happened in his life. Job wanted God to explain why a thoroughly innocent man had to suffer so much. God reminds Job of all of the blessings he takes for granted (for example, how storms may come, but God set limits on waters of the sea, and how God stilled the waves to protect Job).

God did not abandon Job (and neither does God abandon us). God gave us his Son and the Holy Spirit to be with us and to guide us in our lives. All that God asks in return is that we be open to his love and mercy: to know him, to love him, to serve him.

Lesson Two:

The second lesson in spiritual boat building is the same thing we fathers learn from raising our children: We have to spend time with the ones we love, talking to each other, listening to each other and sharing our feelings. Relationship building takes time, but it is well worth the effort.

Think about these first two lessons. And, in prayer this week, I encourage you to reflect on your relationship with God:

  • Where has God provided for you in your life? What are some of the blessings God has shared with you?
  • Where has God established limits to protect you? When has God been like a protective father and pulled you close to him in safety?

Your relationship with God affects the choices you make in your life. In times of trouble, do you choose fear or faith?

We sometimes sing a song during the Youth Mass titled, “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail).” The chorus of that song is a beautiful prayer to God:

So I will call upon Your name and keep my eyes above the waves.
When oceans rise, my soul will rest in Your embrace,
for I am Yours and You are mine.

“I am yours and you are mine.” That’s the kind of close, no-holds-barred, all-in type of relationship God wants for us (and we need from Him) to make good, faithful choices in our lives. God wants us to accept all of His love, grace and power. In return, God wants us to give all of ourselves back to Him. “I am yours and you are mine.” Here’s a link to a nice acoustic version of this song if you’d like to reflect on this thought.

Lesson Three:

Finally, let us remember this: Faith is always stronger when it is shared. So, as we gather at God’s table today to receive his Body and Blood, may it give us courage and strength to reach out and be that reassuring hand that helps others know God – especially in times of need.

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Happy Father’s Day!

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

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 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.

Finding Joy in Times of Sadness

1370004Today we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday” – a day of rejoicing in the season of Advent. We hear it in the words of the scriptures, we hear it in the lyrics of the songs, we see it in the rose color of the vestments and the Advent candle. This third Sunday of Advent is described as the Church’s way of “further heightening our expectations as we draw ever nearer to the celebration of Christmas.” (US Council of Catholic Bishops)

But, frankly, it’s hard to feel joyful when we consider all of the evil and challenging events happening in our world, especially when we think about the senseless killings of innocent school children and adults in Connecticut this week.

How do we get past such a tragic event and find joy in this season of preparation? How do we get past these feelings of sadness and back to the feelings of happiness and joy we usually experience in this season of Advent and Christmas? The Jesuit priest, Fr. James Martin, makes these important points from his Facebook page today:

  1. He reminds us that joy is deeper than happiness
  2. While happiness may be fleeting, joy is permanent
  3. Joy is about a relationship – a relationship with God
  4. Joy can carry us through difficult times, and even tragedy, because it is rooted in God’s love

These are great thoughts and can be helpful as we continue to prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ.

What should we do?

We hear the question, “What should we do?” asked several times in today’s Gospel. Different groups are coming to John to be baptized. He instructs them to prepare themselves for the coming of the Savior. Each group asks John, as baptized people, what they should do to “produce good fruits” in their lives. He tells them:

  • Develop a generous heart. John tells the first group to be generous with what they have; to share with those who have nothing (share your coat, share your food, share whatever you possess). This is similar to what our parish is experiencing as we participate in our Christmas Outreach to support the families of Fertile, Missouri.
  • Develop a heart of justice. John tells the tax collectors to not take more than they deserve. He instructs them to do what is expected in their work, but do no more that would harm others.
  • Develop a heart of peace and love. John instructs the Roman Soldiers to not lie and to not steal; to be satisfied with what God has given them

I think John’s words are still speaking to us today. We, too, are called to develop hearts that are generous, just, peaceful and loving. This is the type of heart that will bring us closer to God and will help us experience joy in our lives.

I encourage you to take some time in prayer this week to reflect on the words of the Gospel. How do we (individually and collectively) help bring peace and joy into our world? How do we rise above the evil that touches our lives? How do we help others know the good news of a loving, merciful God?

Let’s take some time to practice this now.

I invite you to close your eyes and envision standing with John on the banks of the River Jordan. Hear the water flowing. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face, the coolness of the desert breeze. Listen to John as he proclaims the good news of the Lord. Then, turn to John, as a person who has been baptized and redeemed, and ask him:

What should I do?
What should I do to produce good fruit in my life?

And then, listen … just listen.

No deacon or preacher has to tell you the answer. Just listen to what God has already written on your heart.

I encourage you to practice this several times this week. Ask … and listen.

Extraordinary

As I was preparing today’s homily I recalled a song I wrote some years ago titled “Extraordinary.” The first verse of the song goes like this:

Live an ordinary life, but focus it on Christ
and share extraordinary grace
that comes from God above. His most
abundant love makes life extraordinary.

John didn’t tell the people that they had to do anything extraordinary to be a follower of Christ. And I suspect he will tell us the same thing if we speak to him in prayer.

Certainly, we all do some extraordinary things in our lives, and we are called to be the best version of ourselves. But, the truth be told, most of us (by definition) are “ordinary.” And that’s OK. Being ordinary is not a bad thing. But, being ordinary and focusing our lives on Christ is a great thing – an extraordinary thing.

To paraphrase Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta: We are not called to do great (extraordinary) things, but to do small (ordinary) things with great love.

Think about how we will soon experience Christ in the Eucharist. We will bring our ordinary gifts of bread and wine to the altar. And something extraordinary will happen there: through the prayer and blessings of the priest, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, the bread and wine will become the Body and Blood of Christ. We will encounter Christ in a very special way. That encounter will help give us the strength, the grace, to be (extraordinary) followers of Christ in our (ordinary) lives. We will grow in relationship with God and can live a life of joy.

Rejoice!

As you are taking time to pray this week, should you need additional comfort and confidence in discerning how to produce abundant spiritual fruit for yourself and for others, I recommend reflecting on our Second Reading today from Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!
(Keep your focus on God)

Your kindness should be known to all.
(Be generous, just, peaceful and loving)

The Lord in near.
(He is near in our happiness, in our sadness – in our joy)

Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and
petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests know to God.
(Build that God-centered relationship. Ask … and listen)

And if we pray in this way, we will share in the beautiful blessing that Paul uses to close his letter:

Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding
will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

I pray you will continue to experience a joyful Advent and a blessed Christmas!

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

Live Like You Are Dying

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time.

In today’s readings, we hear about the End Times – when the end of history will come about and Jesus will return “in power and glory” to gather his people. In the Gospel Jesus tells his disciples: “But of that day or hour, no one knows … only the Father.”

When Jesus speaks to us through the Gospel, and when Jesus talks to his disciples, he tells us to be watchful, but doesn’t tell us exactly when the end of history will come, just as he doesn’t tell us exactly when our own death will come. Why is that? Because Jesus wants us to live each day of our lives to the full, by loving God and loving our neighbor.

These readings today remind us to be watchful, to be vigilant and to persevere in the faith that Jesus taught us. These readings also remind me of the Tim McGraw song, Live like You Are Dying.

Are you familiar with the song? It tells the story of  a man who found out that he was going to die at a relatively young age. After moping around a bit the man decides to make the most of the time he has left in life. He tells of some of the fun adventures he decided to do:  going skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing and riding 2.7 seconds on a bull named “Fu Man Chu.” (Note to self: If you ever own a bull, name it something cool like “Fu Man Chu.”)

These are some exciting and thrilling things to do before you die. But through the song, we discover the real value of what the man learned about himself and about his relationships – about what truly mattered in his life. By changing the way he lived his life, he said he:

  • Learned to love deeper and speak sweeter
  • Gave forgiveness he’d been denying
  • Finally became the husband that most the time he wasn’t
  • Became a friend a friend would like to have

The man tells us: “I hope someday you get the chance – to live like you are dying.”

Well, not to freak you out, but that day is now! Yes, we do not know the day or the hour for the End Times, but we know the fact: Jesus will come again; history will end; the sun will set, and God wants us to stay ready, by working, by praying, and by growing in relationship with God and with others.

This is a great time of the year to put thought into action. And that’s the key: putting thought into action.

There’s an old story that goes something like this: “Once upon a time in a land far, far away, three frogs were sitting on a lily pad in the cool pond outside of the high walls of an enchanted castle. Two of the frogs decided to jump into the cool water of the pond.” Question: How many frogs were left on the lily pad?

The answer is “three” (not one) – because there is a difference between deciding to jump and actually jumping. God calls us to take a leap of faith. Don’t just talk about it; do it!. (My 12-Step friends will relate this to Step 3 of their recovery program: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.”)

God will take care of the End Times. Our job is to live the life God gave us and to live it in a way that is consistent with God’s plan for us.

This Thanksgiving, while giving thanks for all of our blessings, maybe we can take a little more time to focus on ways we can love deeper, speak sweeter, give (and accept) forgiveness we’ve been denying. Two key questions that may help:

  1. Are there relationships in my life that need repair?
  2. Are there people in my life with whom I need to reconcile?

While giving thanks this week, maybe we can also ask God to help us  to be the best version of ourselves – to be the kind of spouse, parent, co-worker, son, daughter, or friend we want to be (and that God calls us to be). Again, ask yourself:

  1. Are there relationships in my life that need repair?
  2. Are there people in my life with whom I need to reconcile?

Then, take action! Relying on God’s grace and love, jump in (don’t stay sitting on the lily pad)!

A couple of months ago, my wife and I rented the movie, “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It’s a story about two men who are both dying of a terminal illness. Together, they agree to make the most of the time they have left on earth by doing the things they always wanted to do before they “Kick the Bucket.” They made a list, and as they completed each task, they crossed it off their “Bucket List.”

The two experienced many wonderful worldly adventures, but the items on their Bucket List that were both the most difficult to do, and the most rewarding to experience, centered on repairing relationships and reconciling with others. To not spoil the movie, I’ll just leave it at that. But I will share this with you …

My favorite quote in the movie is Carter (Morgan Freeman’s character) speaking of Edward (Jack Nicholson’s character) after Edward dies. He says: “Even now I cannot understand the meaning of a life, but I can tell you this. I knew that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open.”

When you close your eyes this week in prayer, I invite you to pray that you will allow God to open your heart to all of his love and blessings.

Be watchful, and vigilant. And take action. Persevere in building and repairing relationships.

I pray you have a blessed Thanksgiving. Be thankful for all of God’s blessings and take a chance: Live like you are dying!

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Deacon Dan

Copyright (c) Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Holy Spirit, Come

I ran into a parishioner the other day and she commented that she loved to read my blogs. She must be an extremely patient person, as I have been lax at posting anything to my blog for several months. I don’t have the discipline or drive to be a constant poster to the blogosphere. But I do enjoy sharing and I have witnessed how my mini-sermons have had a positive impact on some, so I keep on trying.

Whenever I start to pick on myself for not posting enough, I tend to take the position: Who would want to read anyting I write? I’m not special; I’m not going to change someone’s life by my writing. And then I remember – It’s not about me! It’s about allowing God to work through me.

There’s a parallel to the way I write songs. Again, I question my ability and influence and write lyrics and chords for my own pleasure and distraction with the best intentions of posting them and performing them at some time. But I’m slow to complete a song. My perfectionistic tendencies make me want to work and re-work (and re-re-work) a song until I get it “right”. The lyrics have to relay the right message. The chorus has to have a good hook. The chord progressions have to be pleasing and inviting. But then I remember that I am merely an amateur, writing what is on my mind and in my heart. And if that has all been placed there by God, then that’s enough.

My latest attempt at song writing is an example of this turmoil I put myself through. The re-worked title is “Holy Spirit, Come.” The song came to me over several years and is influenced by a prayer attributed to St. Ignatius Prayer (Suscipe – “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will …”). It is a song of abandonment, of inviting the Holy Spirit to take all control and to shape and mold me as God wishes. I have written and re-written this song several times over the years. Here is the most recent version:

Holy Spirit, Come

Holy Spirit, come, reign over me.
Open up my eyes to see your majesty.
Speak to my heart. Dwell within my soul.
Let your grace reign down on me, and flow through me.
Holy Spirit, come.

Spirit of God, come to me;
You alone stir up my soul.
Wisdom of God, transform me.
Come and take control.
Help to make your wounded servant whole.

Holy Spirit, come …

Light of the world, shine through me.
Let me be your light in the world.
Send me your love and grace, Lord.
Though I’m weak and poor,
Flood my heart, I’ll want for nothing more.

Holy Spirit, come …

Take my life and all I am.
Shape and form me in your hands.
Come, meet me where I am and lead me
to a life that never ends.

Holy Spirit, come …

So, the challenge is in the trusting and letting go – allowing someone else to take the lead in life. The reward is great – eternal life with God.

I pray that today, as you read these words, you allow the Holy Spirit to stir up your soul and flood you with abundant graces. We don’t have to be perfect to be loved, we just have to be willing to try.

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Deacon Dan

Copyright (c) Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

To Rise In You

I have been working on a new song since the beginning of Lent. I keep tweaking the music, but I think the lyrics are solid. They reflect my prayer during the Lenten season as I examined my own challenges and flaws. The thought that kept coming to me was that of trying all the time to be good and holy, failing some of the time, but being called to keep trying. That’s where the words of the Chorus come in: “We fall down and we get back up to rise in you!”

The Pre-Chorus has also been a revelation to me. I liked the image of us as precious wine, but flawed in our humaness (i.e., “broken vessels”). I also thought the writings of one of the early Church Fathers spoke to our condition: “Human hearts laid low by sin.” The question we face when we fall to sin is: What do we do next? The answer is rather simple. We turn to Christ and ask him to lift us back up again. Through forgiveness, through mercy, and through the sacrament of Reconciliation, God gives us another chance to live the true and pure life we long to live. God leads us to new life in Him – his love never fails!

These are the lyrics to this song:

To Rise In You

Pure and true, trying to be just like you.
In all we say and do, but sometimes we fall.
Knocked down again and burdened by the weight of sin,
You reach down to free our hearts again with mercy and love.

We are blessed, but we are broken
Though we try, we fall to sin
Help restore us to your graces
To die to self and rise again.

On our knees, prying for complete release,
You set us free with mercy and love.
Renewed again, we promise to avoid all sin.
You lead us to life in you again;
Your love never fails!

We are blessed, but we are broken
Though we try, we fall to sin
Help restore us to your graces
To die to self and rise again.

We lift our prayers to heaven.
We lift our hands and hearts to you, our Savior.
Send down your grace from heaven.
Teach us to die to self and rise in you.

We are blessed, but we are broken
Though we try, we fall to sin
Help restore us to your graces
To die to self and rise again.

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

“Peter’s Song” – A Good Friday Reflection

During Holy Week we hear the Lord’s Passion played out several times. We heard Matthew’s telling of the story on Palm Sunday. On Good Friday we hear John’s recounting of Christ’s suffering and death.

Several years ago I was reflecting on Christ’s Passion and began to wonder how Peter might have felt about the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion. Peter, who Christ chooses to lead his Church, sounds like a strong, proud man. He commits his life to Christ. He promises that he will never betray his friend. He draws his sword to defend Jesus when taken captive in the Garden. But its also Peter who later denies knowing Jesus – three times.

Peter, with all of his strength and bravery, is just like you and I. He is human and not perfect. And Peter’s humanness is reflected in his deserting Jesus in his time of need.

As I reflected on Peter’s actions I began to jot down some words for a song. Using the melody line from the song, Vincent (Starry, Starry Night) by Don McLean, I penned this song. I titled it Peter’s Song (Lonely, Lonely Night). With apologies to Mr. McLean, I offer you the following as a personal reflection during Holy Week:

Peter’s Song
Lyrics by Dan Donnelly

Lonely, lonely night, lifeless corpse in silence lay
Christ abandoned, gone away are those who loved him more than faith would show
Mother’s love was true. At the cross she stayed with you
I just hid; what could I do as fear and darkness covered up my soul

I want to understand what you tried to say to me
How you’d suffer for humanity. How you’d die to set us free
I could not listen, I did not know how. Lord, help me listen now

Nailed upon a tree, stripped of all your dignity
I could not bear what I’d see; a bloody rose hung high between two thorns
What, Lord, did I do? I said would die for you
Love denied I turned from you; I turned my back when faith was needed most

But, my Lord, I love you, and I always will
And though no hope is left in sight on this lonely, lonely night
I pray you will forgive the things I do
I could have told you, Jesus
This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you

Lonely, lonely night, guarded tomb with boulder placed
How I long to see your face; to hold you in my arms and not let go
Speak to me, my Lord. Help me hear your healing words
Teach me, Lord, what I have heard. The words you wrote upon my aching heart

Help me understand what you tried to say to me
How you’d suffer for humanity. How you’d die to set us free
I could not listen, I did not know how
Lord, help me listen now

Wishing you a blessed Easter.

Deacon Dan

Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Keep Believing – The Holy Week Challenge

The following is a summary of Deacon Dan’s Palm Sunday homily of April 17, 2011.

The sign outside the church says “Palm Sunday – The Beginning of Holy Week.” And as quickly as it begins, Holy Week get busy and complex. While we celebrate Palm Sunday and commemorate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we also celebrate Passion Sunday as we recall Jesus’ suffering and death by crucifixion. As soon as Holy Week begins, we are stuck in the middle of a paradox – a contradiction of terms.

On the one hand, we are joyful and excited about the coming of the Messiah, the Savior. On the other hand, we are saddened by the death of a friend. This paradox is typical of life many days, and is typical of our spiritual journey at times. Our spiritual journey may not always be a smooth path, but what keeps us moving forward, one step at a time, is our faith. We are a congregation of believers. That belief in better things to come is what keeps us holding on and pressing forward.

Last Fall I attended an Encounter liturgy at church with our Youth Group. Encounter is exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction set to contemporary praise and worship music. During that particular liturgy I sat and reflected on the beautiful music and the expressions on the faces of those who were there as they poured out their prayers before Jesus, present in the Eucharist. As I looked at the faces of the youth and adults in attendance it struck me that I could not know where each person was on their spiritual journey.

I did not know what issues may be affecting them at that particular time. I could not tell if they were experiencing joy or hardship in their personal and spiritual relationships. What I did know, however, was that Jesus was meeting each person exactly where they were in their spiritual journey and loved them dearly for who they are – and who they they are called to be. It was a moving experience for me and I later journaled these words about our paradox of faith:

The sweetest songs we sing, come from restless hearts believing
The deepest source of prayer can be joy and can be grieving

Each day’s a gift from God, but some days the gift is hidden
But don’t give up the fight, just embrace the cross you’r given

No matter where you are. No matter where you’ve been
Whether swimming in God’s grace or drowning in sin
You have to keep believing!

This Holy Week, and the period of Easter following Holy Week, are are great times to sit with the Holy Spirit and to explore our paradox of faith. And this week is a great time to participate in the dozens of liturgies and prayer services planned for our parish to help prepare ourselves for Easter. This is a great time to rediscover our faith in personal prayer and communal liturgies. Not out of obligation, but by invitation. I invite you and encourage you to attend as many of these events as you can. And I encourage you to invite others to join you as well.

When we are baptized, our parents, godparents and the entire assembly gathered to celebrate this wonderful sacrament and to renew their own baptismal promises. Together, we stated what we believe. We believe in God. We believe in Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit. We believe in all that the Catholic Church holds to be true. That same promise is repeated each Sunday as we recite the Nicene Creed. That same sense of belief, that same strong conviction will help carry you through Holy Week and beyond.

I draw your attention to our newer Stations of the Cross in our church. I love how these stations were mounted on the wall. Rather than mounting them in a straight line, the Stations are mounted at various heights, representing Jesus’ journey to the hill on Calvary, and then down to his tomb. To me, this reflects the up-and-down struggles in our faith. Our spiritual journey is not always easy, but our belief in God keeps us moving forward.

And if you look at our Stations, you will notice that they leave you in a down spot. The fourteenth station, Jesus is buried in the tomb, is the lowest spot in the display. Next week at this time, we will celebrate the Resurrected Jesus. If we were to place a fifteenth station to reflect that reality, the ceiling of the building would not be high enough to reflect this wonderful event.

If our faith ended at placing Jesus is the tomb, we could all sleep in on Easter morning. But it doesn’t (so you can’t sleep in!). Our faith is one of journey, struggle, and eventual victory. And how do we get to that victory? How do we get through the paradox that is Holy Week? The answer is simple: You have to keep believing!

Have a blessed Holy Week and a glorious Easter!

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.