Category Archives: Spiritual Growth

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

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.”

Just be Held

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Homily from the Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018

I love the readings during the Easter season. They give us insight into the early Church. They show us how we are called to live as Christians. They help us learn how the disciples came to believe, and better understand why Jesus had to suffer, die and rise again. Today’s readings give insight into what it means to be in a relationship with God, and to grow in faith and understanding.

FIRST READING ACTS 3:13-15, 17-19

Our First Reading today is a powerful speech by Peter, calling the gathered crowd to repentance and conversion. What we don’t hear in this reading is what got Peter so fired up. You have to go back a few paragraphs in the Bible to get the full story (Cure of the Crippled Beggar – Acts 3:1-12).

Here’s what had happened: Peter and John had cured a man crippled from birth. In the name of Jesus the Nazorean, Peter tells the man “Get up and walk.” And he does!

After rising and walking a bit, the Bible tells us that the man “clings to Peter and John.” The man doesn’t want to let go of those who cured him; he wants to remain with them in this saving relationship. This scene helps set the stage for all of today’s readings and helps us reflect on how we grow in relationship with our savior, Jesus the Christ.

From the crippled man, we learn:

  1. That we, too, need to cling our savior – out of love and devotion
  2. We need to remain close to God, and close to God’s people – as a community of faith
  3. We need to abide in God – taking time to rest in his love

We do this by developing a habit of regular prayer and reflection, by engaging in our faith community as we share our gifts with others, and by taking “Sabbath Time” to just rest and enjoy all of the gifts God has given us (especially our families).

From Peter, we are reminded that we are human and make mistakes. As Peter pointed out, the same people who were waiting for a savior acted out of ignorance by denying Christ and ordering him crucified. Even Peter, the one hand-chosen by Jesus to lead his church, denied Christ in his time of need. From Peter, we are reminded that all of this — the suffering, death, and resurrection — were a part of God’s plan, just as the prophets foretold.

From the words of Peter, we learn:

  1. That suffering and death of Jesus were for the sins of man
  2. But the resurrection was the gift of God
  3. God did not condemn us for our actions; Jesus suffered and died for us. His resurrection is our saving grace.

SECOND READING  1 JN 2:1-5A

Our Second Reading is a loving reminder that we are not alone in life’s challenges. When we make mistakes, when we sin, we have an “advocate” in Jesus. He has already helped us – and the whole world – by saving us from sin. He continues his saving work on our behalf, as we hear in the opening prayers at Mass: “He is seated at the right hand of the Father to intercede for us.”

What we learn from this reading is that we are not alone in our pursuit of holiness, and we are not alone when we fall to sin.

  1. We have to be willing to ask God for forgiveness when we sin
  2. We have to be willing to accept forgiveness from God (and others)
  3. We have to be willing to offer forgiveness (to others)

By doing our best to keep God’s commandments, and by reconciling when we fall to sin, we demonstrate the perfect love of God.

GOSPEL LK 24:35-48

All of these things (being in a loving relationship with God, repenting for our sins, and doing our best to live a holy life) lead us to a key message in today’s Gospel: Peace

“Peace” was what Jesus offered to his disciples every time he greeted them after the resurrection. Peace was what the disciples felt when they recognized Jesus as real, and not as a ghost that had appeared to them.

You know, the disciples were a lot like us. They were people prone to make mistakes. They were people looking for direction. They were people in search of peace and joy. What we hear in today’s Gospel is a reminder that all of Christ’s life (including his suffering, death and resurrection) is part of God’s grand plan for us. Two thousand years later, we still need direction. We are still going to mistakes. But that doesn’t mean we give up. We, too, have to trust in God’s great plan for us. We have to continue to open our hearts and minds to God’s love. And we need to be both patient, and persistent. This will lead us to the peace and joy we long for.

We are not alone in our journey. We have an advocate in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit to guide us.

Last night, my wife and I attended a concert by Casting Crowns, one of our favorite Christian music groups. The song that really “spoke” to me last night is titled “Just be Held.” (Click here to listen) It touched my heart when they sang it in concert as I reflected on our need to rely on God (and Jesus as our advocate) as we move through difficult times in life. Let the chorus of this song resonate in your hearts:

So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
You’re world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held

What a beautiful sentiment. In those times when we think our world is falling apart in chaos, it can merely be a time when God is helping bring our lives together. In those times, God invites us to not cling physically to him, but just allow God to hold us in his heart.

I invite you to take some time this week to allow yourself to “just be held.” Spend some quiet, reflective time in Jesus’ loving arms.

Amid the brokenness in your life, let God help you see the good in your life. Let him help you see the path, the plan he has prepared for you. Allow him to guide you to peace and joy.

God Writes on Our Hearts

sunset-hands-love-woman.jpgHomily from the 5th Sunday of Lent
March 18, 2018

Today’s First Reading provides a powerful image of what it takes to be in a loving relationship with God. What does it take? An open and willing heart to create the type of intimate relationship that God wants with each of us.

As we hear in this reading, man had broken the covenant God made with Moses, and God longed to renew that relationship. So God decides that, rather than an “exterior” covenant – one written on stone that spoke to man from the “outside,” God (who always perseveres in love) decides to speak to man from the “inside.” And so, God writes his new covenant directly on man’s heart.

I just love that image: “I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts.” This allows us to know God’s law (his will for us) in a new, very intimate way. And if we accept what God has written, we can change, and we can grow. There are several ways to do this:

  1. Through prayer and reflection to know God’s will for us
  2. By opening our hearts wider to grow more each day
  3. By trusting God and honoring him by obeying his law

But, lets be honest, sometimes it is difficult to live in relationship with God when we are surrounded by so many challenges. We are exposed to so much brokenness in life (grief … loss … suffering). Some of these life events are quite jarring and painful to us. But, they can also help shape our lives in very positive ways. We can grow through these experiences if we keep our faith … if we trust in God and if we allow God’s grace to sustain us in our challenges.

We have to look inside ourselves to grow in relationship with God. Jesus had some experience in this matter. He experienced very human suffering, and learned from that experience. As we are reminded in our Second Reading today, Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” Jesus understood his mission in life. He was willing to pray and reflect, to understand God’s will. That gave him strength to persevere.

And he was willing to be like a grain of wheat, dying to self and rising with God. Jesus understood that the only way his mission could produce fruit was to put God first. We have a similar challenge:

  • In order to grow in relationship with God, we have to put God first
  • Sometimes that requires us to die to one thing and let go of it for God to do something new in our lives that God wants

Philip and Andrew get a little taste of this in today’s Gospel. People (other than the Jews) became attracted to Jesus’ message. Philip and Andrew had to be open to a new paradigm to expand their ministry. They had to allow Gentiles, as well as Jews, to be followers of Christ.

We can experience similar challenges in our own lives. We are tempted to believe that our vision of Church is the only one that matters. But we have to be willing to open our hearts to include others who also want to have an intimate relationship with God. So, we have to be willing to meet our brothers and sisters where they are and accompany them on their journey. And here is the really good news: As a result, we learn from each other!

To grow in relationship (with God and His people), we need to:

  1. Devote more energy to prayer and reflection (reading what God has written on our hearts)
  2. Be willing to open our hearts and minds to examine various points of view (other than our own)
  3. Practice a greater self-awareness and commitment to others, so we can be good stewards of the gifts God gives us

Let me help you with the prayer and reflection piece. Here are two words I invite you to reflect upon this week: Trust and Grace

  • Trust: Are you willing to read what God has written on your heart, and are you willing to embrace what He is calling you to do with your life?
  • Grace: Do you have the confidence that God will provide all you need to carry out that calling? That God will sustain you as you grow?

Ask yourself: How is “Trust” and “Grace” reflected in my life?

  • How do I incorporate Trust and Grace in how I treat others?
  • How do I incorporate Trust and Grace in way I react to how others treat me?

When we pray and reflect on our life experiences, it will change our perspective. We will experience a more loving and caring, Christ-centered life that will lead us to where God wants us to be.

My favorite quotation remains the one from St. Catherine of Siena: “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!”

  • Listen to what God speaks to you in your heart
  • Take time to develop an interior, reflective, prayerful life
  • Tear down any walls you built around your heart designed to keep God out
  • Enjoy the intimate, loving relationship God offers to us all

Let us, together, set the world on fire with God’s love!

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

You Have Captured My Heart: A Wedding Homily

marriage

You Have Captured My Heart: A Wedding Homily

Wedding of Amy Donnelly and Justin Gilbert
Friday, October 27, 2017
Basilica of St. Louis, King of France (“Old Cathedral”)
St. Louis, Missouri

Justin and Amy, it is a privilege to have helped prepare you for your new life together. Friends and co-workers asked me if it was difficult to help prepare your own daughter and future son-in-law for their marriage. I told them it was easy; if I just got the two of you talking and stayed out of the way, things would work out just fine. And they did. You two have a great relationship and are wonderful listeners and sharers. It is a special honor, as your father, to officiate this Sacrament of Matrimony.

Justin, I am overwhelmed by your love and compassion, by your kindness and caring. Amy deserves a soul mate that is both tender and strong. She has chosen well.

Amy, I couldn’t be more proud of you; of the woman you have become, and the wife (and hopefully mother!) I know you will be. Justin, you have also chosen well.

As we prepared for today, I invited you to select readings that reflect who you are now (as individuals and as a couple), and who you aspire to be as husband and wife. So, what do we learn about you from the readings you selected?

From the First Reading (Tobit 8:4b-8) it is clear that you understand the “noble purpose” of a marriage, and the importance of growing in relationship with God as the center of your new life as husband and wife. I am certain that if you follow the example of Tobiah and his wife – if you pray and worship God in your lives – you will certainly “live together to a happy old age” as companions on the journey.

From the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:8a) we hear St. Paul paint this beautiful picture of what it means to love:

  • To be patient and kind, to be other-focused;
  • To be willing to bear the difficult times, while rejoicing in the good times; and
  • To never fail in your loving commitment to each other, and your loving relationship with God.

As we heard: If you don’t have love (for each other and for God), you gain nothing in life. So, grow in love!

Finally, in the Gospel reading you chose (John 15:12-16), we learn to base our love for each other on the model that Christ taught us. So, you need to be willing to:

  • Put the needs of your spouse and your marriage ahead of your own (“to be willing to lay down your life for another”);
  • Trust that God has a plan for you and your marriage. By knowing and following God, and by living God’s plan for you your marriage will bear great fruit;
  • Rely on God’s love and mercy; and
  • Pray to God (with great confidence!), knowing that he will continue to bless your marriage.

So, what does this look like in practical terms? How can we best model Christ in our married lives? I think we can do it with song.

I have been playing with lyrics for a song. It’s not a “wedding song” per se, but a song about a wedding, and about what the bride and groom experience during their special day (just as each of you are experiencing today).

The song begins with the groom, standing nervously at the foot of the altar, awaiting the arrival of his bride. The groom looks up and is overwhelmed by what he sees. He sings:

Who is this woman, this beauty so fair, who glides down the aisle, as if walking on air? With tears in her eyes, and a smile on her face, my heart skips a beat for this vision of grace.

The bride at least has her father’s arm to hold onto as she walks down the aisle. As she begins her walk, she looks up and sees her future husband eagerly waiting and sings:

There, see that man standing so proud and tall. I’ve searched all my life for the best one of all. Papa, I’m nervous, but I love him so. Hold on to me, Daddy, but then let me go.

And, finally, as the bride and groom join hands at the altar, they rejoice in song together:

You have captured my heart. You have settled my soul. I will love you for as long as I breathe. With you beside me, and God as our center, I’m certain this love we both know will overflow!

And, that is what your family and friends, gathered here today, wish and pray for both of you; that this love you celebrate for each other today will continue to grow – to overflow in a Christ-centered marriage.

We talked about this many times as you prepared for this day: A marriage is not just about the wedding day. (It’s a good start; let’s have some fun!) A marriage is more than a day. It’s about growing in relationship – relationship with each other, and relationship with God.

Very shortly you will state your intentions to love and honor each other for the rest of your lives. We pray that Christ, as the center of your married life, will bring you great peace, and abundant joy.

Amen!

Deacon Dan Donnelly

Truly Loved and Never Alone

Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sunday, May 21, 2017

shapeimage_1-16Lately, I have been reflecting on how Jesus communicates with his disciples. Jesus uses an occasional parable to get his message across. Or, includes cultural or scriptural references to connect with his audience. But, for the most part, Jesus communicates in a pretty straightforward manner; you know exactly where he stands. That is true in today’s Gospel (John 14:15-21).

Today’s Gospel teaches us two things. First, to be disciples of Jesus, we have to keep his commandments. When Jesus says this, we can assume that he is referring to the Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses to guide the Jewish people.

We can also assume he is referencing what we hear in Mathew’s Gospel (Mat 22:36-40) when Jesus was pressed by the Pharisees to tell them “which commandment of the law is the greatest?” Jesus responded:

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

LESSON ONE:

So, the first thing today’s Gospel teaches us is that loving Jesus is truly lived by being in a loving relationship. It’s all about love:

  • A loving relationship with the Blessed Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
  • A loving relationship with others (spouse, co-workers, neighbors, friends – and, yes, even enemies)
  • A loving relationship with ourselves

This third point may need a little more discussion.

If we are to be loving disciples, keeping God’s commandments, we have to allow ourselves to receive love just as much as we strive to give love to God and others. Loving relationships are not one-way streets. If we are willing to give, we must be willing to receive (God wants both for us!).

I recently came across a quote from a man named Diadochus of Photice, a fifth century theologian, mystic and bishop, who puts this in perspective. He writes,

“Anyone who loves God in the depths of his heart has already been loved by God.”

The love we have for God is a response to God’s love for us (as we learn in the Catechism: God initiates, we respond). God started this loving relationship. He wants us to sustain and grow in relationship with him.

The quote continues:

“In fact, the measure of a man’s love for God depends upon how deeply aware he is of God’s love for him.”

How do we know God loves us? The measure is how deeply aware we are of how much God loves us. I found that to be a beautiful and reassuring thought. We should reflect on this and ask ourselves:

  • How aware am I of God’s love in my life?
  • How deeply does God’s love permeate my life?
  • Am I willing to receive God’s love as much as I am willing to share that love with others?

So, today, we learn that if you love God, you will keep his commandments by loving God and others. But, to truly love God, we must be deeply aware of his love for us.

LESSON TWO:

The second thing we learn in today’s Gospel is this: We don’t do this alone!

To strengthen that loving relationship, Jesus promises one additional thing to his disciples: He promises to ask his Father to send an Advocate (the Holy Spirit) to be with them always.

We hear about the Holy Spirit in our First Reading as well. The Holy Spirit is the gift that helped win the hearts and souls of the Samaritan people.

  • The crowds were attracted to Philip and his teaching (their hearts were filled with “great joy”)
  • The people of Samaria were on fire with emotion

But emotion alone is not enough; we need to receive the Holy Spirit into our life to guide us beyond emotion.

  • That’s what the disciples experienced at Pentecost
  • That’s what the Samaritans experienced when Peter and John lay hands on them
  • That’s what we experience in the Sacrament of Confirmation.

That’s what we need in our everyday life – the Holy Spirit guiding us.

Here is an example:

If you are married, think about the wonderful emotions you and your spouse shared on your wedding day. Was that emotion alone enough to sustain you throughout your marriage? Probably not. To sustain your marriage (to experience ongoing joy), you have to grow in relationship.

The Holy Spirit is present in the Sacrament of Matrimony to sustain married couples as they grow in relationship with each other (and, as a couple, in relationship with God). The Spirit is our advocate in this process.

Things are usually great during the honeymoon phase of marriage, but, after the honeymoon phase, when life gets real (and sometimes messy), we need to turn to the Spirit as our advocate and guide.

In fact, whether married or not, God should be the center of every part of our lives. That “center” is at the heart of a building and sustaining loving relationships.

CONCLUSION:

So, when we reflect on Jesus’ words, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” we should think about relationship – with God, with our neighbors, with our enemies

We do this with the assurance that God is always present to guide us and sustain us through the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This should bring us great joy! To know (without a doubt) that we are never truly alone, and we are always truly loved!

Putting God First

Homily Fourth Sunday of Advent
stjoseph-dreamingToday’s Gospel from Matthew (Matthew 1:18-24) begins with this confident proclamation: “This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about.” The story goes on to describe the conception of Jesus – from Joseph’s perspective.

This reading reflects what we heard earlier today from the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 7:10-14) as he foretold the birth of Jesus: “… the virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.” (Which means “God is with us.”)

But we know this is not the only story of the conception of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke, we hear the story from Mary’s perspective in the story of “The Annunciation.”

Both Mary and Joseph were visited by an angel who helped calm their fears (“Do not be afraid”) and then announced how God wanted them each to aid in bringing his Son into the world.

These stories are an interesting contrast in style. Mary’s encounter with the angel includes dialogue between Mary and the angel (the angel proclaiming what God wanted, and Mary asking: “how can this be?”). And we hear Mary’s beautiful proclamation of humility and faith, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”

But, what words do we hear from Joseph during his encounter with his angel? None!

Surprisingly, there are no recorded words of Joseph in the Bible. But even without words, today’s story teaches us a lot about Joseph:

  • He was a righteous man – he obeyed the law
  • He was also a compassionate man – he didn’t want to expose Mary to shame

Joseph was ready to quietly end his relationship with Mary. But after the angel spoke and Joseph awoke from his dream, we discover one of the finest qualities of Joseph: He was obedient and was willing to do whatever the Lord commanded of him.

Neither Joseph nor Mary was looking to play the role God planned for them as a parent of Jesus. But (thankfully) they each put God first: before their personal wants or needs. I think that is a strong message of Christmas: Putting the wants and needs of God (and others) before our own.

SHARING OUR GIFTS WITH GOD

A few weeks ago, I was out of town for work. During some down time, the group I was with was discussing our family Christmas traditions. We talked about:

  • Which Christmas Mass our families attend, and why?
  • When and how do you decorate your home for Christmas?
  • How does your family exchange gifts?

That question about exchanging gifts was a particularly interesting one. One woman in the group shared that her family follows the tradition of giving their children four gifts each:=

  • Something they want
  • Something they need
  • Something to wear
  • Something to read

(The Internet tells me this is a “thing.”)

I asked the woman, “How does that work out – only those four gifts?” She went on to tell me that buying her children something they could read was easy. She loved to introduce them to her favorite authors and to literary classics, so that was always fun.

She admitted that shopping for clothes was one of her passions and that she loved to pick out special outfits for her children and grandchildren to wear, so that one was a no-brainer.

I asked how she handled giving her children what they want and what they need. “There,” she said, “Things can get a little tricky.” She went on to tell me about the challenge she was facing this year.

Her son and daughter-in law needed a new dishwasher; their old one had seen better days. But the dishwasher they wanted was a top-of-the-line model and cost more than she was willing to spend. So she had the dilemma of providing what her children needed versus wanted.

The woman’s story got me to thinking about how we, as parents and grandparents, would do whatever we can to support the wants and the needs of our children. It also got me thinking about how our give-and-receive relationship works with God.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this Advent, and that thought came to mind as I reflected on today’s readings.

Joseph, through his actions, and Mary, through her words, teach us that our relationship with God is more than simply asking God for what we want or what we need. A healthy, loving relationship exemplifies mutual giving and receiving.

What Joseph wanted was to be holy and righteous, and to avoid exposing Mary to shame. But fortunately, Joseph also listened to what God wanted and needed from him.

  • God wanted Joseph to take Mary as his wife into his home
  • God needed Joseph to play an important part in our salvation history as Jesus’ earthly father

PAY ATTENTION

From my experience, we don’t witness a lot of angels proclaiming heavenly messages from on high (they are rare occasions in the Bible). But that doesn’t mean we can’t hear God speaking.

To hear and to know what God wants and needs from us, we have to pay attention.

  • We have to take time to pray and reflect on the Word of God
  • We need to ask God for answers and direction in our life
  • We need to be open to all possibilities with God
  • We have to wait (patiently) and listen for his guidance

This type of relationship can give us strength, even in the most difficult and challenging times in our lives.

I invite you to reflect on these things for the remainder of Advent (and throughout the Christmas season):

  • What is it that God wants to do for you?
  • What is it that God needs you to do for him?
  • How will you cooperate with God?

It doesn’t have to be as grand as being the mother or father of God (thankfully, those jobs are already filled). But think about how the world is changed because of the simple cooperation of a faithful Mary and an obedient Joseph.

Ask yourself: What is the change in this world that God is calling me to be? And then, listen for “Angels” – they come in many forms.

BE NOT AFRAID

This Advent, I have been reading the book, “On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life by John O’Leary. It’s an inspirational story of a local man who barely survived burns on 100 percent of his body when he was nine years old. (I highly recommend the book as a stocking stuffer this Christmas!)

One of the chapters in the book tells of several visits the author received from an “Angel” by the name of Jack Buck, who helped the frightened nine-year-old “Be not afraid” with words of hope and encouragement (“Kid, listen to me. You are going to live, got that? You are going to survive. And when you get out of here, we are going to celebrate …”)

O’Leary claims it was those visits and those words of encouragement from a man he could not touch, see, or speak to at the time – because of swollen eyes, a ventilator tube down his throat and head-to-toe bandages – that made all the difference in his ability to not only survive, but to eventually thrive in his life.

The chapter ends with these words of encouragement and challenge:

“My friend, we frequently cheapen our ability to influence radical change. We underestimate our personal ability to be a spark that ignites and influences the world in profoundly important ways. We possess the ability and opportunity to positively and permanently effect change around us. Simple action and ordinary people change the world. It starts with one. It starts with you. But you have to pay attention.”

I pray that in the busy-ness of this season, and throughout the year, we are able to “pay attention” to the joy that God brings into our world, and to the Spirit of God working in each of us.

As we proclaim Emmanuel (“God is with us”), let us focus on being with God: reflecting on what God wants and needs us to be.

Being a Committed Pray-er

shapeimage_1-10

Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent
February 21, 2016

I recently listened to a podcast featuring the actor, Martin Sheen (The West Wing, Apocalypse Now, The Way). It was very interesting listening to him talk about his deep Catholic faith. (Click here to read the transcript or download the podcast).

The theme of the interview was “Spirituality of Imagination” and focused, in large part, on Sheen’s fascination with prayer. Two things struck me from his comments about prayer:

  1. He talked about how intimate prayer can be – just us and God in conversation, and
  2. He talked about how his style of prayer has changed over the years – how it has grown to be more conversational

Sheen also commented on the 11th chapter of Luke where the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (Luke 11: 1-4). He found the disciples’ request interesting, saying “…they were devout Jews, and they had a very structured form of prayer, and worship, and sacrifice, and they asked him, ‘Teach us to pray,’ is a very curious question to me, that they wanted to go deeper. They wanted to go more personal, I guess.”

I think Mr. Sheen is correct. We all have this longing in our hearts to better know and love God. And God invites us to “go deeper” in our relationship. A crucial step in this relationship is making a commitment to regular (daily) prayer, which this season of Lent helps us remember.

Prayer in Today’s Readings

When we think about prayer, we often overlook one of the most remarkable pieces of evidence that shows us how important prayer really is. What is that evidence? Jesus prayed!

  • Last week we saw him go off into the desert to pray
  • In today’s Gospel, we see him go up the mountain to pray
  • In dozens of other Gospel passages we see the same thing

We read about Jesus getting up early or staying up late to make time for prayer. We hear about Jesus praying for guidance before major events in his life.

Jesus needed regular prayer in his life; and so do we!

Today’s readings remind us that prayer, the most effective way of growing in relationship with God, takes on many forms.

  • Today’s First Reading tells us that “The Lord God took Abram outside…” and had a conversation with him. That’s prayer.
  • The Psalm gives us an example of King David’s prayer in the face of danger, “Your presence, O Lord, I seek. Hide not your face from me…”
  • St Paul, in the Second Reading, reminds the Christians in Philippi that while most people occupy their minds “with earthy things… Our citizenship is in heaven.” Our attention is on God – that’s prayer.
  • Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus leads his three closest disciples away from the hustle and bustle of life, up to the top of a high mountain, where he can be alone with them, and give them a lesson in prayer.

Space and Time for Prayer and Reflection

So, we have to ask ourselves:

  • Is our prayer life in good shape? Do we make a commitment to prayer?
  • Has our prayer life improved in the last year, over the last 10 years?
  • Do we allow space and time in our prayer to reflect and to engage in dialogue with God (or are we just rattling off rote prayers)?

A business friend of mine once invited me to lunch. Before lunch, he suggested we stop at the Cathedral Basilica in St. Louis to pray the Rosary. I thought that was an outstanding idea. When we got there, my friend said he would lead the prayer. In my mind, that meant we would pause, gather our thoughts and take time to reflect on each of the Mysteries of the Rosary. My friend had a different idea.

He proceeded to rip through the Rosary prayers at lightning pace, barely taking a moment to breathe (much less reflect on the fruits of the mysteries we were praying). It made my head spin!

After he had finished (what he called) prayer. I asked him: “Did you ever consider slowing down and reflecting on the Mysteries of the Rosary?” “No,” he said, “I just want to get these prayers done so I am ‘good with God’.” Needless to say, we had much to talk about over lunch.

Our prayer is not merely a commitment or something we check off of our list to feel like we remain in God’s good grace.

If prayer is truly conversation with God, we need to remember what our mothers’ told us: You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion.

We need to speak to God in prayer, but we also need to listen.

If we continue today’s Second Reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, we’ll hear one of my favorite Bible passages (Philippians 4:6-7).

“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition,
with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God
.”

God wants us to make our requests known to him, but we also need to allow time and space to listen to God in our prayer. In doing so, we enjoy the gifts of God’s grace.

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

So, make your needs known; then listen for his response. Be persistently patient.

Prayer as a Priority

Matthew Kelly, in his book, “The Four Signs of a Dynamic Catholic” states that only 7% of Catholics have a daily commitment to prayer. (Click here to learn about Dynamic Catholics.)

About these committed pray-ers, Kelly notes that these people:

  • Have a routine for prayer
  • Have a structure for prayer
  • Many of them pray at the same time every day

For some this means going to Mass in the morning. For others, it means sitting down in a big, comfortable chair in a corner of their home or taking a walk, but they tend to abide by a structure.

Daily prayer, a daily conversation with God, can do great things for our spiritual nourishment and growth. It starts by making a commitment.

As you pray, don’t be afraid to try different styles of prayer or to use different Catholic texts for reading and reflection. Sometimes changing things up can help reinvigorate our prayer life. This season of Lent is an excellent time to try different forms of prayer. Just pick up this week’s Bulletin and look at all of the opportunities in our parish and in neighboring parishes to participate in prayer and spiritual formation programs this Lent.

Make prayer a daily priority in your life and allow time (and space) to reflect on the messages and insight God gives you in prayer. Be silent, be patient and listen!

This week, I encourage you heed the words of the Gospel and God’s voice that came from the cloud:

“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”

Be at peace and know that you are loved!

Deacon Dan

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

More Than a Lifetime (Revisited)

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

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

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

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

Peace!

Deacon Dan

More Than a Lifetime

A Lenten Reflection by Deacon Dan Donnelly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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