Category Archives: Service

Cultivating a Culture of Stewardship

Homily for the First Sunday of Advent
December 2, 2018

This Sunday marks the beginning of a new Liturgical Year in the Church. It also marks the beginning of the Season of Advent. As I thought about these two events, I remembered that my spiritual director would often ask me how I was going to use a particular liturgical season (Advent, Lent, etc.) to grow in relationship with God. How was I going to participate in the celebration of the season? What change did I want to see in my life as I worked to grow in holiness during that time?

I turned to today’s readings to reflect on the themes of participating, growing, and changing and how they applied to this season of Advent. I found our Second Reading to be particularly helpful in answering these questions.

Paul writes to the Thessalonians (1 THES3:12-4:2) to give them hope in their journey of faith. He sends them a blessing for the work they have been doing, and encourages them to grow even more. He tells them: “increase and abound in love for one another.” What Paul is telling them is:

  • By opening their hearts even more, the will learn to live and love more generously.
  • Their hearts will be strengthened and they will live a more joyful and holy life.

Today, I want to talk about how we, as a parish, can increase and abound; how we can live more generously; and how we can increase our love and care for each other. I have been asked to speak to you today about stewardship.

The Meaning of Stewardship

Growing up, I remember hearing my parents and other adults kidding that there were only three things required to be a good Catholic: Pay, Pray and Obey. To people of my parents’ generation, that was a humorous way of describing “stewardship” as they understood and experienced it: Give money to the Church, go to Mass each Sunday, and toe the “company line.”

I think you would agree that this is an underdeveloped understanding of what stewardship is really about. As we better understand it today, Stewardship is::

  • Growing in relationship with God (and God’s people);
  • Knowing and using our God-given gifts (our strengths) in ways that contribute to our own well-being, and the well-being of others;
  • Acknowledging that everything we have is a gift from God; and
  • Knowing that “to increase and abound in love” we have to allow ourselves to be transformed (to open our hearts and minds and allow the Holy Spirit to work in our lives)

This process of stewardship is transformative. It happens over time and helps us be grateful and joyful givers. 

Stewardship begins with a single thought: That everything we have is a gift from God. From that thought, we develop an “attitude of gratitude” which further guides us as we grow in love, understanding and generosity.

All Gifts Come from God

Do you believe that everything you have is a gift from God? This thought has been engrained in our minds for years, but if we aren’t paying attention, we may miss it. Think about what we pray every night before dinner, acknowledging our God-given gifts:

Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts
Which we are about to receive from Thy bounty
Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Read it again — slowly — and think about what it says: God is the origin of all we have, God’s gifts are bountiful, and we are continually blessed through the love of Jesus, our Savior.

This is a simple prayer of gratitude that we can take for granted. But we can’t take stewardship for granted. If we are not intentional, prayerful and reflective about where our gifts come from and how we share those gifts, we may grow complacent and become apathetic about God’s gifts, thinking we don’t have to participate, grow or change.

God blesses us and calls us to share our gifts; to “increase and abound in love for one another” (in our parish community, and for all God’s people). That is what stewardship is all about.

Stewardship Committee

Father Pastorius has asked me to guide a group of parishioners who will focus on stewardship in our parish through the formation of a new Stewardship Committee.

  • The mission of the Stewardship Committee is: To cultivate a culture of stewardship that emphasizes prayer, participation and generosity in St. Joseph Parish.
  • The vision of the Stewardship Committee is: To help transform the life of our parish community by being joyful witnesses to the abundance of our God-given gifts.

Fostered by the work of this Committee, we want stewardship in our parish to be expressed by:

  1. Spending time with God in prayer, taking time every day to recognize the gifts God has given us, and being grateful for them. This moves us to reflection, asking God how he wants us to use the gifts he has given to us.
  • Sharing our talent, acknowledging and using the unique skills and talents and strengths God has given us so that together, we can do the work of Our Lord. It also means encouraging and inviting and welcoming others to use their talents to participate in the mission and ministry of our parish — and the greater CatholicChurch.
  • Generously giving our treasure, giving not in comparison with others, and not from our excess, but in proportion to all that God has given to us, with a generous and joyful heart.

What I have witnessed so far in my research of stewardship practices is that this process of cultivating a culture of stewardship can be truly transformational for a parish like St. Joe’s. And we are blessed to have great resources and support from the Archdiocese to strengthen and sustain our parish in the practice of stewardship.

We would like all parishioners to learn more about Stewardship, and to perhaps consider being part of the Stewardship Committee.

Next weekend, Mr. David Baranowski, Director of Stewardship Education for the Archdiocese will speak at each of the Masses about how we can transform our parish by focusing on our giftedness; how we can use our gifts and strengths together (now and in the future).

The evening of Monday, December 10, David will lead a workshop for St. Joseph parishioners focusing on how our “personal stewardship” can transform not only our own lives, but also how our “parish stewardship” can transform the life of our parish community.

This workshop which will be held in the church from 7:00 – 9:00 pm and is open to all parishioners.  During the workshop, we will also share more information about the work of the Stewardship Committee and how you can be a part of this new endeavor.

An Invitation to Reflective Action

One of the steps in “cultivating” anything (like a culture of stewardship) is to help prepare the soil. That is the purpose of my homily today – to help prepare our hearts and minds to accept the seed of stewardship in our parish.

As we begin this season of Advent, as we await the joyful coming of our Savior, let us prepare our hearts and minds to embrace the spirit of stewardship by reflecting on these questions:

  1. Do I see all thatI have as a gift from God?
  2. What is God calling me to do to increase my generosity?
  3. How can I become a better steward of God’s gifts and foster an attitude of gratitude within me, within my family, and within my parish community?

Blessings to you and yours for a joy-filled Advent and a Merry Christmas.

Deacon Dan

Dimensions of Discipleship

What-Are-You-Looking-ForHomily for the 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 16, 2018

The term “discipleship” has increased in popularity in Catholic circles these past few years. Discipleship is our response to our Baptismal call to follow Jesus, emulating him in thought, action, and word.

Today’s readings remind us that discipleship requires many things, including suffering and service – denying ourselves and following the way of the Lord. Today’s Psalm (Psalm 116) reminds us that God’s strength guides us in our journey, a journey that leads to salvation. In today’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-35) we witness the tension that existed among the first followers of Jesus regarding a different dimension of discipleship.

WHO DO THEY SAY THAT I AM?

In this Gospel, Jesus gives his disciples a little pop quiz to see if they have been paying attention to what he has been trying to teach them. By asking the question “Who do they say that I am?” Jesus gets a sense of how people understand his mission. The disciples responded that most people saw Jesus as John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets. But here is where the pop quiz gets tricky: Jesus asks his disciples “But who do YOU say that I am?”

Peter nailed the quiz. He responded “You are the Christ” (the anointed one, the Messiah they had been waiting for). Peter was correct, but there is more to the story …

Jesus described characteristics of a Messiah that the people found uncomfortable. He described a Messiah who would be rejected, would suffer and die, and then rise in three days. The crowd was expecting a more powerful and triumphant Messiah. To many (including Peter) what Jesus was describing was a “failed Messiah.”

Peter reprimands Jesus and an argument ensues between the two.  When things calm down a bit, Jesus uses this incident as a “teachable moment.” He teaches that discipleship means not only emulating Jesus, but following the same path as Jesus – no matter how difficult that path may be, or how different that path may be compared to popular standards. As disciples, it is not enough to be like Jesus; we have to follow the same path as Jesus.

Jesus is the very model of discipleship (he follows the path laid out by his Father). What Jesus teaches us from today’s Gospel is a different dimension of discipleship: suffering and death, that will ironically end in a totally new way of life for us. Armed with this perspective, we understand something the early disciples did not understand.

  • A disciple not only follows Jesus, but is willing to give up this earthly life in order to gain everlasting life in heaven
  • We are called to “give up” this earthly life every day as we choose to live like Jesus.

It’s like what we hear repeatedly during the season of Lent: Repent and live the Gospel (turn away from sin and follow the same path as Jesus). That’s the calling of a disciple.

WHO WILL THEY SAY THAT I AM?

Today’s Gospel reminded me of one other thing: the late Judy Combs. I am certain many of you know Judy. She was an active and engaged member of St. Joseph Parish. She was a beautiful soul with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, and the fire of Jesus in her heart.

Six years ago, Judy approached me and asked me to compose a song for an ACTS retreat she was supporting. The theme of that retreat was based on today’s Gospel (“Who do they say that I am?”)

I wasn’t excited about writing a song at the time, but let’s just say that Judy was persistent and persuasive. (Judy wasn’t the kind of person who would follow up with a cordial “How is the song coming along?” She was more direct, asking “When will I see the first draft?” and reminding you “That song won’t write itself, you know.”)

So, I took the theme of the retreat and tried to give it a contemporary spin for the song Judy requested. The chorus of the song was very simple. It was Jesus’ voice speaking to each of us today, asking:

When [people] hear your voice, when they see the work of your hands,
will they know my name? Who sill they say that I am?
Who will they say that I am?

The verses of the song reflect on how we intentionally live as a disciple, asking these questions:

  • Do my thoughts, words and actions – all that I am – reflect Jesus?
  • When people see or hear me, do they know the kindness, love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and generosity of Jesus?

Discipleship (the call to follow Jesus) demands a generous response. Mere words and thoughts are not enough. As we heard in today’s Letter from St. James (James 2:14-18):

  • Faith in the Lord should motivate us to be generous (we cannot ignore the needs of those around us).
  • True faith is demonstrated by good works (we should clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and provide others with the necessities of life).

This is summed up best in a quote attributed to Pope Francis:

You pray for the hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.

What a great example of discipleship in action!

This week, I invite you to take a moment to reflect on your life as a disciple. Ask yourself:

  1. Do my thoughts, words and actions reflect the love of Christ?
  2. When people hear my voice, when they see the work of my hands, do they see Jesus in me?

You are loved,

Deacon Dan

The Holy Spirit Reveals and Guides

12170845631587244963flame.svg.medHomily for Feast of Pentecost
May 20, 2018

The Feast of Pentecost is a day when we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our readings today, we hear several stories of the Holy Spirit at work in the lives of the faithful.

Our First Reading (Acts 2:1-11) takes place 50 days after Christ’s resurrection. We hear of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the community in Jerusalem. This reading is rich with imagery.

  • The great rush of wind, symbolizing a new, powerful action of God in salvation history: the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate Jesus had promised
  • Flames resting above each person, symbolizing the gifts of the Holy Spirit that strengthens the people to proclaim the Good News of the risen Christ
  • People speaking different languages (and in tongues), but everyone able to understand what was said, symbolizing the worldwide mission of the church

In the Second Reading (1 Corinthians 12:3B-7, 12-13) we are reminded that the same Spirit blesses each of us with varied spiritual gifts. This speaks to the richness of living as a diverse and talented community.

The Gospel Reading (John 20:19-23) is the same reading we heard on the Second Sunday of Easter (Divine Mercy Sunday). It describes an intimate scene where Jesus, after his resurrection, visits his friends and breathes on the them, giving them authority through the Holy Spirit – the authority to continue Christ’s mission on earth, including forgiveness of sins.

So, why did God send us the Holy Spirit, as Jesus had promised? Two words come to mind: reveal and lead.

  1. To reveal the hidden mysteries of Christ’s mission (to help us more fully understand the gift of God’s love)
  2. To lead us to the truth of God’s infinite love and mercy

St. Augustine said, “Without the Spirit, we can neither love God nor keep his commandments.” Today, I’d like to focus on how the Holy Spirit helps reveal the mysteries of God, and leads us to a closer relationship with God..

The Holy Spirit Reveals

Have you ever felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life? Have you ever experienced a time when you were moved by a sound, or a sight, or a feeling that gave you a strong connection to the divine?

Those of us who have children and grandchildren know that experience – when you hold that small miracle of love in your arms for the first time, the Holy Spirit is stirs up your heart as you witness the Divine.

The Holy Spirit is present to us in special times like this, and in ordinary times as well. If we take time to pause and reflect on our life, the Holy Spirit will help reveal all kinds of wonderful things to us.

I had a conversation, recently, with a man who works in hospital ministry. I asked him: What do you see as the biggest spiritual need of people today? His response came quickly. He said, “People need to take more time to pause and reflect. They need to take time to tune out the world and to open their hearts and minds, to tune in to God.”

We need quiet time, time in solitude, where we just listen to what the Holy Spirit longs to reveal to us. We need to spend time reflecting on the Word of God and other worthy spiritual writings to grow deeper in our understanding and appreciation of God. We must retreat and pray, to enter into a deeper, more loving relationship with God. And we must have open hearts and open minds to allow the Spirit to lead us in the life God wants for us.

If you grew up with the old Baltimore Catechism, you know that God made us “to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this world, and to be happy with him forever in heaven”. The Holy Spirit is the gift God gives us to help accomplish all these things.

A good way to tune in to what the Holy Spirit is revealing to you is to reflect on your day and to journal your thoughts and feelings.

I would suggest reflecting on these questions – or something similar – to help you be present to God and conscious of his work in your life:

  1. When did I experience the Holy Spirit present this day?
  2. What is distracting me from experiencing God’s grace?
  3. How is the Spirit leading me, and inviting me to grow?
  4. How has God revealed himself to me this day in his Word?

The site I usually recommend to people to aid in reflection is the site maintained by the Irish Jesuits, called Sacred Space (http://www.sacredspace.ie). This site helps you reflect on God’s presence in your life, and how the Holy Spirit is alive and working in you, and helps create a deeper bond between you and God. As an Irishman might say, “this site is brilliant!”

The Holy Spirit Leads

I have kept a journal most of my adult life. I haven’t always been consistent with journaling, but when I have, I find the process of taking pen to paper to be quite liberating. Through this process, I have learned that, if I only express my thoughts in my mind, the truth can get distorted or masked, and sometimes get stuck in a continuous loop that never resolves itself. But if I write down my thoughts, I find it easier to focus on where I am in relationship with God, and how God (through the Spirit) is leading me.

Even so, my journaling has changed over the years. Early on, my focus was to record my thoughts and experiences in great detail (as if one day they would be published as this great document that will change the world). I was practicing a type of journaling that was consistent with my style of prayer at the time. Like my journal, my prayer was all about me, pouring out all of my thoughts and feelings to God, thinking this was new, exciting information that God just had to know (It wasn’t; he already knew!).

In time, I grew out of this “show up and throw up” type of prayer and journaling (dumping everything on God and asking him to fulfill the plan I had made for myself). As I grew in my prayer life, and in my journaling, I learned that I got more out of jotting down themes, and writing questions that I wanted answered. And then, having the patience to wait for the answer to be revealed, or for the direction to be given. Some of these questions take years to answer, and sometimes God’s answer is “No.” You learn over time to not be disappointed that you didn’t get what you wanted. Most of the times, these unanswered prayers have led me to bigger and better things that God had in store for me.

Revealing and leading; these are two important gifts of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to take some time this week and ask yourself:

  1. What is the Holy Spirit trying to reveal to you in my life?
  2. How is the Holy Spirit tying to lead me to a deeper, more intimate relationship with God?

Here we all are today, on the day of Pentecost, gathered in one place. Let us pray:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.”

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

What are You Looking For?

What-Are-You-Looking-ForHomily for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time. January 18, 2015

Today’s readings culminate with a familiar story from the Gospel of John (John 1:35-42). It’s a story about Jesus gathering his disciples.

In this story, John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Messiah (the “Lamb of God”) and two of John’s disciples immediately leave John and begin following Jesus. As the two disciples follow, Jesus stops and asks them an interesting question: “What are you looking for?” It’s a good question to ask those who are discerning their future vocation. It helps clarify their intent.

John’s disciples don’t give a clear answer. From the readings we learn that the men already know Jesus as “Rabbi” (“Teacher”). Their response to Jesus is another question: “Where are you staying?” This is more than a question about where Jesus lives or works. What the disciples are telling Jesus is that they want to know more about Jesus, to grow in relationship with him. Jesus accepts their offer of friendship and replies, “Come, and you will see.”

We long to know Jesus and to grow in relationship with him. This process of “looking” and “seeing” is a good spiritual practice to help support that goal.

I’d like to share a simple, four-part process I learned to assist you in your own spiritual reflection. It’s all about looking and seeing:

  1. Look back and thank God
  2. Look forward and trust God
  3. Look around and serve God
  4. Look within and know God

Look Back and Thank God

If you do any kind of spiritual reflection, if you take time to look back and reflect on how God has been working in your life, you will no doubt find occasions to thank God for all of the things he has done for you. So take a look back and thank God for how he has been with you in your journey, how he has provided you with insights and grace, how he has placed people in your life to be you companions and wisdom figures, and how he has helped you in difficult times. Look back and thank God.

Look Forward and Trust God

Trust that God will always be there for you; in the highs and lows, in the peaks and valleys of your daily life. We hear in our prayers at Mass how Jesus is “seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.” Jesus promised that he will never abandon us and gave us his Holy Spirit to guide us. Jesus always keeps his promises.

The challenging part of trusting God is to understand that God reveals himself to us in his own way, and in his own time. We know that God answers all prayers, but sometimes the answer is “No.” Still, we must look forward and trust God.

Look Around and Serve God

If we are aware of our gifts, our strengths, and our talents; if we use them with an open mind and open heart; we can look around us and serve God and his people in unique and wonderful ways. As I look around at the people in the congregation today, I am aware of the many ways in which our parishioners serve God’s people. I am thankful to serve such a self-giving group people.

But serving God takes courage. We have to have the heart of a servant, like Samuel in our First Reading (1 Samuel 3:3B-10, 19) who is willing to face God and say, “Speak, for your servant is listing.”

Serving God also takes action. We have to be like the psalmist in today’s Psalm (Psalm 40:2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10) who proclaims: “Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.”

Look around and serve God.

Look Within and Know God

We hear it all the time: You have to take time to pray! You have to make regular prayer a priority in your life! Trust that when you hear this, you are not being singled out or accused, but loved. It is a way of inviting you into a deeper relationship with God.

I work for the Marianists, a religious order of brothers and priests. The most quoted saying of the founder of this religious order, Blessed William Joseph Chaminade, is “The essential is the interior.” To truly know God and to learn God’s will for us, we have to develop a strong interior life. Time devoted to regular prayer and quiet reflection is the best way to develop your interior life. Look within and know God.

This week, I encourage you to reflect on this question: “What are you looking for?

  • What are you looking for in your spiritual life?
  • What are you looking for in your personal and professional life?

And how is God a part of this?

As we come to the Table of God today, as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, may we find comfort and consolation in knowing that the grace and wisdom we receive will help sustain us in doing the awesome will of God.

Serving “the Least” Among Us

begging handsMy office is located in the Central West End area of St. Louis City. Every day I travel Highway 40 to the Kingshighway exit and usually have to stop on the exit ramp, waiting for the light to change. Many days, while I am waiting for the light, I see a man or woman, presumably a transient or homeless person, standing by the road, begging for assistance.

This typical scene played out for me in a different way a couple of weeks ago. I exited the highway, stopped at the traffic light and saw a young man holding a cardboard sign on which he had printed in neat, black letters: “No job. Need help. God bless.”

I had experienced this situation so many times over the years that my mind was numb to the man’s plea and my brain went into auto-pilot with doubt and judgment:

  • I avoided eye contact with the person (because if you can’t see them, they can’t see you – any two-year old will back me up on that one).
  • I thought about the stash of coins in my car’s console and the dollar bills in my wallet (but questioned if my contribution would help the person, or just feed an addiction).
  • I questioned whether the person was legit. (Is this for real, or a scam?)

I questioned … I judged … I did nothing.

Then I saw the window roll down on the vehicle next to me and a young, high-school age girl reached out and handed the man a couple of dollars. The man accepted the simple donation with a grateful nod and the young girl responded with a look of great joy and happiness. The light changed and the vehicle next to me left. And so did I …

An Image of Christ the King

In today’s Gospel (MT 25:31-46), Matthew introduces us to an image of Christ the King as one who will judge us for our actions. In the story, Jesus divides all of the nations into two groups: those who lived an acceptable life; and those who did not.

We learn from this story that:

  • Those judged positively will be invited to inherit the kingdom God has promised us.
  • Those judged negatively will be cast into eternal fire prepared for the devil.

Today’s Gospel encourages us to live our lives for others and teaches us the corporal acts of mercy (feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, hospitality to a stranger, clothing to the naked, caring for the ill, visiting those in prison). Today’s story is about two things: Doing and Being.

  • Doing the work of Christ to help those in need
  • Being and living like Christ with a giving and joyful heart

How We Can Serve Like Christ

So, how do we live like Christ, especially when dealing with “the least” in our lives? I conducted an informal survey this week using social media. I posted a question to my Facebook friends and asked them:

  • How do you react to beggars you encounter on the street?
  • How do you address their request for money and other support?

What I learned is that there are many different ways to face this issue.

  • Some were very comfortable giving money directly to those in need. They didn’t judge the person and his or her intentions. They simply saw this as a way of answering God’s call to be charitable.
  • Other’s didn’t feel comfortable giving money directly. They chose to give them other things, like gift cards to restaurants or the lunch they had packed for themselves.
  • One person commented about how she keeps protein bars in her car to give to those who are hungry. Another commented on sharing a spare coat with someone in need.
  • Some were quite bold and took the hungry person to dinner.
  • Still, others preferred to make donations to support those organizations that assist those in need.

Their varied responses reminded me of the old Chinese saying (slightly modified): Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. Send the man fishing with Fr. Santen (my pastor) and all he’ll want to do is fish every day!

The common theme in all of these responses was: 1) they all did something; and 2) they did it with a joyful heart.

It’s easy to see a poor, homeless person begging for money as one of “the least” in our world. But, for the most part, we don’t encounter a lot of beggars in our parish community. But we do have many people in need and (fortunately) we have many great ways to help them.

Our St. Vincent de Paul Society is one great example of a local resource for those in need. They do great work in a spirit of service and outreach. I encourage you to read their information in the Bulletin and on the St. Joe Website. You can make a monthly donation to this organization, using your parish donation envelopes, and you can place money in the “Poor Boxes” near the doors in church to help support their work.

You can also help the St. Vincent de Paul Society this Thursday at the Thanksgiving Mass. Each person is invited to bring an offering to support their work in the form of non-perishable food or a monetary offering.

A Call to Action

This week, as we celebrate Thanksgiving, let us reflect on who are “the least” in our world and how we might answer Jesus’ call to serve them. Let us continue to pray for peace and justice in our world, and let us pray for joyful hearts that lead us to take action.

And as we approach the altar today to receive God’s grace in the Eucharist, let us be open to the power of God’s spirit working in and through us, calling us to a life of service to others.

Love, Relationship and Community In Challenging Times

carlsonHomily for Holy Trinity Sunday – June 15, 2014 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, we remember:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We pray …

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon Dan Donnelly

The Reflection of God’s Love and Mercy

9945245Homily for 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are questions we might reflect on this week.

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

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

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

Jesus as Priest, Prophet and King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of these things help us connect with God

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is Jesus, the King, teaching us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace be with you!

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.