Category Archives: Reconciliation

Rejoicing in the Hope of the Season

Rejoicing in the Hope of the Season
Homily for Third Sunday of Advent
December 17, 2017

Joy2I heard a story last week that I would like to share: A little boy came home from school one day, excited that he had been chosen to be in the school Christmas pageant. Better yet, he had a speaking role, as the Inn Keeper. So, the little boy had one important line to recite, “There is no room for you at the inn.” The little boy diligently practiced his line every day.

The day of the Christmas pageant, the little boy delivered his line flawlessly. But, as he spoke those words, “There is no room for you …” the boy became overwhelmed with emotion. His eyes began to well up with tears and a lump formed in his throat. Then, going off script, he ran across the stage, chasing after Mary and Joseph, tearfully crying out: “Mary and Joseph, don’t leave. We’ll make room for you; you can stay at our house!”

The surprised crowd rose in thunderous applause for what the little boy had said. The Christmas pageant ended abruptly, but no one seemed to mind. This wasn’t the story ending the crowd was expecting, but it was exactly the ending they needed.

Truth is, we all need to be reminded of the purpose of the Advent season – to “prepare the way” – to make room for the coming of the Christ Child in our lives.

And it’s not too late to invite Jesus into our lives as we prepare to celebrate his joyful birth one week from today.

Finding Joy

Today’s readings remind us that, with proper focus in our life, with a priority given to letting God into our lives, we can experience great joy, no matter what life brings us. That is the central theme in all of today’s readings: finding joy.

The rose color of the candle and vestments we see today are symbolic of joy. The messages contained in the scripture readings are also a reminder of how growing in relationship with God and accepting the plan God has for us can bring great joy into our lives.

We find joy in the First Reading, as we hear that God anointed the prophet Isaiah to bring glad tidings to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, and to proclaim liberty to captives. The prophet rejoices that God has sent him to serve others, and has blessed him with many gifts.

We find joy in the Responsorial Psalm when Mary rejoices in the greatness of God, and in the trust that God places in her to be the mother of Jesus.

We find joy in the Gospel as John the Baptist finds great joy in accepting his role in life – not as the Messiah or some prophet figure as others claimed, but as one who reminds us to prepare the way, to make room for Christ in our lives.

One of the challenges in today’s scripture is to ask: How do we find God’s joy in our life? The one-word answer is “proximity” (meaning nearness in space, time and relationship).

Super Moon

Do you remember the “Super Moon” we experienced at the beginning of December? During the full-moon phase, the moon looked larger and brighter than it normally does. And what was the reason it looked so large and bright? Proximity!

A so-called “super moon” occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to the earth. Because the moon is closer to us, it looks larger. And with the cold, clear winter sky, the moon appears to shine brighter than usual.

But the truth is this: The moon didn’t change in size or brightness; it just got closer to us. That same affect can happen in our spiritual life as we consciously grow closer with God – when we respond to God’s invitation to grow closer in relationship.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Thessalonians, gives us some clues on how to accomplish this.

Rejoice Always

St. Paul, in our Second Reading tells us to rejoice always. We have to trust in God in both the good times, and the difficult time. Sometimes this is hard to do. But Psalm 30 is a good reminder that God hears our cries for help, that He is always faithful, and that we have to persevere in faith

  • We cannot forget God in the good times
  • We cannot forget that God is also with us in the bad times
  • No matter what the circumstances, joy comes from remaining close to God

Pray Without Ceasing

When St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing, he isn’t telling us to stop everything we are doing and only pray. We still have to go to work or school tomorrow. We can’t just “check out” in the world. What Paul is doing is encouraging us to make our life an ongoing act of holiness, as one might do in a Morning Offering.

I like how the singer/songwriter, David Kauffman words it in his song, “I Will Make this Day My Prayer”:

I will make this day my prayer. I will give you everything that I am and do today. I will give you all my cares. All my joys and sufferings, I will make this day my prayer.

  • God wants everything we are – both the good and the bad
  • He wants to be in constant relationship with us
  • Living our lives as a prayer is one way to do this

In All Circumstances Give Thanks

As some of you know through the St. Joseph prayer chain, or via social media, our six-year old granddaughter, Claire contracted a staph infection that is ravaging her little body.  I like the lesson our daughter Jenny tried to teach Claire the first night in the hospital – to look for the things you are thankful for in the midst of her pain and suffering and fear. Things like: TV shows that distract Claire; compassionate caregivers who help make her comfortable; friends and family who pray for her and send their good wishes; and purple Popsicles and grape Slushies that help soothe her pain.

  • Sometimes it is difficult to see God in pain and suffering
  • But we know God is always with us; by the people who surround us in love

Don’t Quench the Spirit

Paul also instructs us: “Do not quench the Spirit.” As important it is for us to move closer to God, it is equally important that we allow God to move closer to us. To keep the fire burning, we have to “make room” for God in our lives. We have to be willing to accept His love, and to accept the love of others. We have to be willing to reconcile with God, and with those who we may find difficult to love.

That’s the greatest way to experience joy: To be in communion with God, and communion with each other!

Advent and Christmas are wonderful opportunities to reconcile with friends and family. Be like a “super moon” and make the first step toward forgiveness. Let your heart grow larger by your example of love and mercy.

This week, as we wait in joyful hope, let us:

  • Open our hearts and minds to God’s invitation to grow closer in relationship with Him
  • Let us trust in God – that He is always with us, and always loves us
  • Remember the power of reconciliation and the joy of allowing others into our lives.

I pray you all enjoy a blessed and joyful Christmas!

Deacon Dan

Bathed in Mercy

24th Sunday in Ordinary Time (A)
September 17, 2017

19265321As I reflected on today’s readings, two themes emerged in my mind: mercy and forgiveness.

Mercy is rooted in love, and is demonstrated by the way we forgive, so you can see how these two themes are connected.

Today’s Psalm (PS 103) gives us a good description of what “Mercy” looks like. It describes the Lord as “kind and merciful, slow to anger, and rich in compassion,” and calls us to act in the same manner, being:

  • Kind hearted – respecting all God’s creation
  • Merciful – loving both friend and enemy alike
  • Slow to anger – exercising patience and caring
  • Compassionate – being empathetic and considerate of others

You could say that “forgiveness” is the way we reflect God’s mercy and love. That’s what I want to focus on today: Our willingness to forgive others; and our willingness to forgive ourselves. Both are necessary to be kind, merciful and compassionate like God.

FORGIVING OTHERS

Today’s Gospel (MT 18:21-35) speaks about the importance of forgiving others. In this, we hear the familiar story of Peter asking Jesus “How many times must I forgive someone?”

It helps to have some context to this question. You see, in Jesus’ time, rabbis had a general rule of thumb about forgiveness: They thought that a sinner could be forgiven as many as three times. That was considered generous and merciful.

But Peter challenges this rule of thumb and proclaims that he is willing to forgive someone seven times (more than double what the rabbis were willing to do.) While this may appear to be a bold move, there is a problem: Peter, too, sets limits on forgiveness. That’s not what Jesus wants.

So Jesus shocks Peter by telling him “No, not seven times, but 77 times” (or as sometimes translated, “70 times seven times.”) The number doesn’t really matter. It is a symbolic way of saying that there is no limit to the depth of God’s love and mercy. So don’t set limits!

After this, Jesus reinforces his teaching with a parable about forgiveness.

Which leads to some very simple reflection questions – some things to chew on this week:

  1. Are you willing to forgive others? Even those we find to be difficult and challenging?
  2. Do you set limits on forgiving? Are you only willing to forgive someone if the other person is willing to forgive you? (I have heard so many stories of rifts caused in families because one family member wouldn’t forgive another until he or she forgave first. It’s silly and destructive behavior.)
  3. Who are the people in your life who need and deserve your forgiveness?

What we learn from today’s Gospel is that God places no limits on forgivenessso why should we? Forgiving others is a way to unburden our hearts and minds, and be more like God.

FORGIVING OURSELVES

As important as it is to forgive others, it is equally important that we forgive ourselves – to be willing to accept God’s grace and love – to be forgiven.

Many years ago (Not sure of the year, but I remember that our two daughters were still very young) I had an interesting experience learning how to forgive myself.

I had gone to church on a Saturday afternoon to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I met with the priest and confessed my sins. The priest gave me my penance (a few extra prayers to pray) and prayed the formula that absolved me of my sins – pretty ordinary stuff as far as Reconciliation goes.

But, as I was heading toward the door, the priest stopped me and said: “Wait a minute. You don’t look like a guy whose sins have been forgiven. You should see your mopey, glum! A man who has just had his sins forgiven should be smiling from ear-to-ear!” The priest told me to sit back down to talk some more.

The priest told me that I shouldn’t leave the confessional dragging a heavy bag of guilt and shame because I hadn’t lived a “perfect life.” The priest coached me to let it all go, that God’s mercy is greater than our sins.

So the priest suggested a revised penance (that was a first!). He suggested I go home and take a warm bath. He told me to let the feeling of the water remind me of God’s abundant grace and unending mercy and love. “Then,” he said, “when you get out of the tub, dry yourself and drain the tub. Be conscious of God washing away your sins and how the sins of your past were flowing down the drain.” He told me to “find comfort and peace in God’s mercy and forgiveness.”

So, I went home to take a bath …

I filled the tub in the hall bathroom (the bathroom with a tub lined with rubber duckies and assorted bath toys for our daughters) and then I put on my swim trunks (did I mention there were little girls at home?).

I climbed into the tub for a relaxing soak along with all of the bath-time toys.

A few minutes into my bathing experience, I heard giggling at the door. I looked up and saw my two daughters who giggled more, then ran down the hall shouting, “Mommy! Daddy is in the bathtub!”

Soon thereafter, my wife arrived at the doorway to the bathroom, took an inquisitive look at me in the bathtub and asked, “What in the heck are you doing.“ I shrugged and replied, “Penance!” Then, as she has done so many times during our 34 years of marriage, my wife shook her head and walked away.

As silly and funny as this experience was, I learned a lot from my dip in the tub. I learned that:

  1. We need to be aware of God’s presence in our life – especially in the person of the priest who stands in the place of God to forgive our sins.
  2. We need to remember that when the priest says that he absolves us of our sins that those sins are gone – down the drain, never to return again.

In further reflection, I think that accepting forgiveness is akin to accepting compliments. When someone pays us a compliment, there is a tendency to not acknowledge the compliment, or to respond how we could have done better. But the best thing we can say when receive a compliment is the same thing we can say when we receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. In both cases we should simply respond: “Thank you.”

PATIENCE

One final thought on today’s readings … Notice the recurring statement in the parable from each of the servants who owe a debt. They respond by saying, “Be patient with me.”

We too need to be patient. We need to be patient with others as they work through the issues in their lives. And we need to be patient with ourselves as we work through our own brokenness. We are perfectly imperfect. “Patience and progress” should be our mantra as we grow in holiness.

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

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

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

Meeting People Where They Are

woman_adultery

Homily of the Fifth Sunday in Lent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright © Deacon Dan Donnelly. All rights reserved.

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.

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.