Category Archives: Music

Outside My Own Little World

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time – Sunday, January 16, 2011.

If you listen to Contemporary Christian Music on the radio, you’re probably familiar with the song “My Own Little World” by Matthew West (here’s a link to the song via YouTube). The song has received a lot of airtime this past year and is a good tie-in to today’s readings.

The song is a story of a man who is living inside his own little world, not very attentive to the needs of others. He feels comfortable and secure; all of his basic needs are being met. He has a faith life. He attends church each week and gives financially to the church (although he admits that he does not give sacrificially but from his excess). If he doesn’t like what he sees going on in the world he simply shuts off the news. He tunes out the rest of the world and focuses on one thing only – himself.

The story continues when the man describes an encounter he has with a homeless widow. The woman is begging by the side of the road. For all the man knows he may have passed by this woman on prior occasions and never really noticed her. But this time was different. The man noticed that the widow had a face, and he looks into her eyes. She moves him with her pain and suffering and he asks himself: “Lord, what have I been doing.” He acknowledges that he has been ignoring this woman (a symbol of all who are longing for love and compassion) and comes to this important revelation:

Maybe there’s a bigger picture.
Maybe he’s been missing out.
Maybe there’s a greater purpose he could be living right now.

He begins to understand that God’s Kingdom extends beyond his own little world. He begins to understand that living in the Kingdom of God is not about comfort, security or self. This story of self-discovery is a good lead-in to today’s readings.

If you were to brand today’s readings, you might borrow the U.S. Army recruiting program “Be all that you can be.” But I think a better slogan might be “Be all that you are called to be.”

We hear this in the First Reading. The prophet Isaiah foretells the mission of Christ by announcing “It is too little for you to [just] be my servant … I will make you light to the nations – that my salvation might reach to the ends of the earth.”

That’s how Christ lived his life. At the moment of his baptism (which we hear about again in today’s Gospel), Christ begins his public ministry. He is no longer just the carpenter’s son and a carpenter himself as he has been for the past 30 years. From this point forward, Jesus is all about doing his Father’s will, by sharing the Good News, teaching mercy and love, calling sinners to repent, and (ultimately) dying to free us from our sins. Christ understood his calling, his strengths and his gifts. He used them to be more than “just” a servant.

We hear a similar message in the Second Reading. In his introduction to his letter to the Corinthians, Paul reminds us that we are “Called to be holy.” Another way to say this is: We are called to be like Christ. And indeed we are.

Each baptized Christian is another “Christ.” When we are baptized, we receive the same Holy Spirit as Christ. We are anointed priest, prophet and king as Christ is. And we share his same mission on earth: To do God’s will, and to fulfill God’s plan for our lives.

That is who we are – we are like Christ. That is what we are called to do – to live more fully and to live more holy.

If you get a chance this week, invest $1.29 on iTunes to download and listen to the song “My Own Little World.” Listen to the story as it unfolds. Listen to what is revealed to this man. Then, offer the same prayer to God that he does:

Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours
Open my stony heart and help make me holy. Help me to live your mercy and compassion.

Give me open hands and open doors
Help me to live my life more fully. Help me look and live beyond my own little world. Help me be more than a servant – help me to be Christ.

Put your light in my eyes and let me see
God, be my strength for the journey. Help me understand that the world in which we all live is bigger than me. Help make me a light to the nations.

My own little world is not about me.

That’s the “bigger picture.” That’s the “greater purpose.” That’s the path to holiness.

Copyright © Deacon Dan 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
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.

Stir Up the Fire

The following is Deacon Dan’s homily for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time – September 26, 2010.

There’s an old story about a man who dies and goes to heaven. The man approaches the throne of God and tells God “You know, I’m very angry at you. Can’t you see that the world you created is filled with suffering and ugliness and destruction? Why don’t you do something to fix this mess you created?” God looks down at the man, and in a gentle voice says, “I did do something. I sent you.”

Some People Don’t Get It

That’s the central message of our readings today. “God sends us to be his light to the world.” But not everyone gets the message.

In our first reading, the prophet Amos condemns those who are rich for focusing only on their own comforts. God blessed these people in many ways. But they chose to only concern themselves with their own well-being.

Our Gospel from Luke builds on that theme. In his parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus urges those who have to share with those who do not have.

Jesus does not condemn the wealthy for being wealthy, but reminds us that our well-being and comfort must never blind us to the needs of others. The lesson that we draw from this parable is that the rich man should have done more while he was alive to help the poor and others who are less fortunate. That message is intended for us as well.

It’s just not enough for Christians to obey the Ten Commandments and to avoid committing sins. Jesus is calling us to follow the model he gave us, living an active faith of love and service. The rich man in the parable was not barred from heaven because of a laundry list of sins he committed, but because of his “sins of omission.” Day after day, he closed his heart to a neighbor who was in dire need of help.

Our Faith On Fire

By show of hands, how many of you have ever sat around a campfire? It can be one of the most enjoyable experiences sitting there, watching the flames flicker, listening to the wood crackle and pop, seeing the golden glow of the embers. But it’s not just a passive experience – it takes a little work. I think a campfire is a good image of how we are called to live our faith.

Once you get a campfire burning, you can’t just sit back and relax. To enjoy the fire to its fullest requires some work. You have to keep the fire going by stirring up the coals, adding more wood to fuel the fire, and assuring that the fire gets enough oxygen so it can burn brightly. And what’s the best part of enjoying a campfire? (No, not Smores!) It’s sharing the experience with others.

Stirring Up the Fire – Stirring Up Our Faith

As many of you know, one of my hobbies is writing music and poems. One song that I wrote some time ago is titled “Stir Up the Fire.”

The song describes people who (like Lazarus) may be lying in our doorstep, people whom we tend to overlook as we go about our daily lives —– but who are counting on us to share our gifts with them. The first verse about a woman in need:

There is one … who feels lost, alone, forsaken
There is one … whose tears are all she sees
There is one … whose scars are deep and jagged
Be the one … who shares what we’ve received

What we’ve received from Christ is a model of service, a model of love and compassion.

Jesus did not avoid the marginalized in our world (the sinner, the leper, the adulterer, the thief). No, he sought out these people and, like a good shepherd, helped guide them to a better life.

I spent some time this week with a group of seventh graders. We were talking about the sacrament of Confirmation and how we can use the gifts God gives us to help others. I asked them to consider two questions (and I encourage you to do the same).

1.    What are the gifts that God has given you that you can use in service to others?

2.    What are the gifts you would like to develop so you can use them in service to others?

As we discussed these questions, some of the students talked about grandiose plans for doing things in their life. While still encouraging them to dream big I reminded the students of the importance of building on their dreams day-by-day, step-by-step. I reminded them of the words of Mother Teresa:

“We are not called to do great things, but small things with great love.”

By doing those small things with great love, we can accomplish great things for God.

The second verse of the song is about a man in need:

There is one … longing for compassion
There is one … a friend is all he needs
There is one … who wants to know the Father
Be the one … who shares what we believe

We need to be on the lookout for those around us “longing for compassion.” Sometimes a kind word or gesture is all it takes for people to see the face of Christ. We have to be willing to reach out to those needing a shoulder to cry on, or those longing for someone who will listen to them in their time of need.

I guess what I’m really saying is: We have to be willing to look outside of ourselves and to be active in service to others.

That’s what we’re talking about today. Taking simple steps to let someone know you care and to reassure them that they are loved and that they matter.

That’s what the rich man lacked in his life. That’s why he didn’t go to heaven. He cared only about himself when he had so much to give to others.

Jesus tells us that we are not meant to keep our talents hidden under a bushel basket. Instead, he calls us to be “light unto the world.” That sentiment is summed up in the bridge of the song:

Be the hands, be the feet
Be the face of God to everyone you meet
Be the reach, be the touch
Be the kind word spoken that says, “You’re loved so much”

God gave us hands and feet to serve, hearts to love, and voices to speak His words of love and compassion.

It All Begins with Prayer

How do we put these concepts into action? How do we discern what God wants from us? One of the best ways I know is by prayer and reflection. In his pastoral letter on Stewardship Awareness Sunday, Archbishop Carlson encouraged us to begin every day with this simple prayer: “Thank you, Father, for all your blessings.” And then pray: “Lord, what do you want me to do with all the gifts you have given me?” Archbishop Carlson tells us: “Listen to God’s answer. He speaks to us — not necessarily in words — in the stillness of our hearts.”

A Call to Action

This brings us to the chorus of the song. This brings us to the challenge that I want to leave you with this week.

Think of your faith as a campfire that you want to keep burning brightly. Be active in your faith.

Stir up the fire … of the Spirit that’s within you
Fan the flame … (be active and) let it burn for all to see
Be on fire … be the light of Christ to others
God sent you … to be light unto the world

God sent you (and me … all of us) … to be light unto the world

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

You Have to Keep Believing

I attended Encounter again last week. This is a special monthly gathering of our Youth in praise and worship before the Blessed Sacrament. I accompanied our Youth Music Minister, Carrie, on vocals, trying to add some harmonies to her beautiful voice. The music was great and moving, but the most inspiring moment for me occurred when we finished one of the songs and took a break. To me, the sudden silence was overwhelming. As I looked around the church, I saw faces of beautiful believers in deep, silent prayer. The spiritual force I felt almost knocked me over. I sat back and reflected on what I was experiencing – what I was feeling.

I knew many of the people in the church. I knew that some of them have been experiencing some rather challenging times in their life. I knew that others were experiencing the deepness of God’s love in new and exciting ways. I also knew that I was only aware of a snapshot of where they were in their lives. But I experienced this overwhelming sense of awe as I felt the Holy Spirit filling His church with hope and love. I wanted to begin writing down my thoughts and feelings, but the time wasn’t right. So I just sat back and experienced the amazing event that God allowed me to participate in.

The song “Restless” written by Audrey Assad and Matt Maher was one of the songs Carrie selected for the evening. It is based on the St. Augustine quote: “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” This quote has been a favorite of mine for years and has inspired some of my early writing. You’ll hear it referenced in my song “My Only One.” St. Augustine’s quote speaks to the truth that we will never be fully at rest during our pilgrim journey on earth. It will only be when we meet the Lord face-to-face and share completely in his love that our hearts will be at rest. But that doesn’t keep us from knowing and loving God in our limited capacity while on earth. That doesn’t mean that we cannot believe and trust in the Lord to be with us every step of the journey.

As those of you who follow my blog and my website know, these “Jesus moments” lead me to reflection and prayer, and reflection and prayer leads me to writing songs and poems. This experience is no different. I haven’t completed the work yet, but the thought “Keep believing” has been floating around my brain ever since I attended Encounter. The song I am working on right now is tentatively titled “Keep Believing.” It goes like this:

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

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
You have to keep believing

Each day’s a gift from God
Tough sometimes the prize is hidden
But don’t give up the fight
Just embrace the cross you’re given

No matter where you are …

Day after day, never give up, never surrender!
We don’t walk alone; God’s at your side
Our guide and defender!

The sweetest songs we pray …
The deepest source of prayer …
Each day’s a gift from God …
So, don’t give up the fight …

No matter where you are …

I encourage you to reflect on these words. And I invite you to share your thoughts and feelings with me, either via Blog comments or via private e-mail. I’d like to know:

  1. When do you most feel the presence of God in your life?
  2. What helps you know, that even though you may be going through a difficult time in your life, your faith and belief in God is essential to calming your restless heart?

Be at peace and know that you are loved.

Deacon Dan

This Blog Post Copyright Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Lord, Open My Lips …

I presided at a Benediction service the other night (Benediction is a devotional prayer service before the Blessed Sacrament exposed on the altar). After the service, a friend approached me and commented on my closing prayer. She said she liked it and had never heard it before. I told her, “Honestly, that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that prayer as well.” You see, my practice when I preside at such events is to pray from my heart at the end of the service and I don’t know what will be said until I speak. I just follow the words of the ancient psalmist:

“Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise” (Psalm 51:17).

I simply let the Holy Spirit guide me in my prayer.

Sure, I get in the way of God’s grace a bit by giving the prayer some structure (a beginning, a middle and an end), but I truly never know what words God will give me to speak. This type of spontaneous prayer is powerful and I’ve found it to be very helpful in my ministry. It’s an invitation to allow God to do the talking; for me to get out of the way and let his message flow.

When you pray this way and take time to reflect on what you prayed, you can begin to detect patterns and themes in your prayer life. Your heart is often freer to speak the truth than your mind, which can get stifled by pride and supposition. Another way to “peek” into your heart is to journal by themes and expressions.

Most of the time when I journal, I am recording an event or feeling that I have experienced and write like I was writing a letter, using complete sentences and paragraphs. But some of the most interesting journaling I’ve done has been to write as quickly as I can to record the experience or feelings I have bottled up inside me. I forgo grammar and sentence structure and spill it all out there on paper. Messy as it may appear, it is an effective way of identifying the themes and issues that are affecting your life. It is those themes and issues that you can bundle up and present to God as prayers of the heart.

You might give this a try: Take a pad of paper and begin writing all of the thoughts (one to three words at the most per thought) that expresses where you are in your life – your joys, your concerns, your needs, your desires. Write freely; leave the analysis for a later time. Then, when you’ve emptied the well of thoughts and emotions, take time in prayer to identify recurring themes and issues. These are the areas where you might focus future prayer … and future spiritual counseling.

“Lord, open my lips; my mouth will proclaim your praise.” I pray these words a lot – before counseling people, before preaching, before proclaiming the Word, before leading a meeting, before singing at Mass, etc. It’s a simple prayer and it is powerful. These are also the first words of the Invitatory – the first offering of prayer each morning in the Liturgy of the Hours. What a great way to start the day.

I heard Amy Grant sing her new song, “Better than a Hallelujah” on a television special not too long ago. (Here’s a link to one YouTube version of the song) It’s a beautiful song about how God loves us as we are and where we are. The refrain of the song is this:

“We pour out our miseries, God just hears a melody. Beautiful the mess we are; the honest cries of breaking hearts … are better than a Hallelujah.”

We all have thoughts and feelings bottled up inside of us. Some of them can be beneficial to us and others, and some can be harmful. But if the thoughts and feelings are of God, they will be beautiful. So let God speak in your prayer.

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

This Blog Post Copyright © Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved. http://www.deacondan