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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

Producing Good Soil

15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 16, 2017

Good SoilToday’s readings remind us that if the Word of God is going to grow within us and bear fruit, we need good spiritual soil – just like plants need good earthly soil to grow.

We hear this in our First Reading (Isaiah 55:10-11), where God’s word is compared to rain and snow that water the earth, making it fertile and fruitful.

We hear this in the refrain of today’s Psalm: “The seed that falls on good ground will yield a fruitful harvest.” (Luke 8:8)

And we hear this in today’s Gospel (Matthew 13:1-23), The Parable of the Sower.

In this parable, the seed being sown is the Word of God trying to make its way into our heart and soul. Jesus uses this parable to teach us that there are obstacles that can prevent God’s word from taking seed and bearing fruit.

Jesus cautions us about:

  • Seed sown on the path: That can be stolen and taken away because we hear but don’t understand. That’s like hearing God’s word at Mass and then not giving it another thought.
  • Seed sown on rocky ground: That is initially received with joy, but does not have roots and can’t hold up to life’s trials. That’s like attending an inspirational retreat on the weekend, then falling back into old habits on Monday.
  • Seed sown among the thorns: We hear the Word and it takes root, but bears no fruit because, when we are pressed by life’s difficulties, we lack trust and allow earthly concerns to choke out God’s grace in our lives.

To take root and produce fruit, seed must be sown on rich soil.

Producing Good Soil

So, how do we produce good soil, capable of supporting strong roots and abundant fruit? It begins with growing in relationship with God. It requires an open heart and committed spirit; it requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to grow.

Good farmers (and good gardeners) appreciate the importance of building up good soil. So, they conduct soil tests before planting their crops. They want to check the pH of the soil and determine how the soil needs to be amended and improved to help assure an abundant harvest.

The same process works for those who want to assure that their spiritual soil is capable of supporting an abundant harvest of grace. Here are some questions you might contemplate to conduct your own spiritual soil test.

A Spiritual Soil Test

  1. Do I have a regular prayer life? This is the first step to building a relationship with God. Regular prayer must be a priority in our lives.
  2. Is my prayer a two-way conversation? Good relationships are loving and sharing. So, when I talk (pray) with God, is it prayer a conversation between two friends, or do I monopolize the conversation with an outpouring of my wants and needs?
  3. Do I take time to read and reflect on the Word of God? How can scripture or some other worthy spiritual help nourish me? Am I a committed learner?
  4. How am I growing in my understanding and practice of my Catholic faith? Am I “comfortable” in my faith, or am I committed to growth? Am I growing as a spiritual person, or am I living the same spiritual life I did when in high school?
  5. Where have I witnessed spiritual growth? (My spiritual director always challenges with this one!) Where have I recently seen God in my life? In what ways have ways I have grown spiritually in the last three, six or 12 months?

To create and maintain rich spiritual soil that is open to receiving the Word of God, we have to ask: How am I being fed? Who are the people, the activities, the resources in my life that help me replenish and improve my spiritual soil?

Being Patiently Persistent

We have to be patiently persistent in our faith. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know what I mean. After you’ve prepared the soil, planted and watered the seeds, it seems like all we are doing for the longest time is watering mud. You can’t see any top growth in your garden but you don’t stop watering and fertilizing. Then, one day you notice the tiniest of leaves peeking through the soil – you know that your seed has taken root!

All of your patience and persistence will pay off in time. This is what maintains good soil and leads to new growth.

Sowers of Seeds are Good Witnesses

With this good soil and new growth, we can become more like Jesus; we can be “sowers of seeds,” helping the Word of God grow in others as well. The best way to do this is through our witness.

The Rite of Baptism for Children begins with instructions to the parents and godparents, reminding them of their responsibility to:

  • Train the children in the practice of the Catholic faith
  • Teach them to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught, by loving God and our neighbor

This is the responsibility of all Christians, to be sowers of seeds, inviting others to develop their own rich spiritual soil that sustains us in faith.

The best way to sow these spiritual seeds is not by merely teaching or telling, but by demonstrating through our witness of how we love God and neighbor.

If you are a parent, you know full well that your children learn more from your actions than your words (both the bad things, and the good things). If you’ve survived teenagers, you know that only taking a hard stand (“My house, my rules!”) will have limited effect in teaching them. They learn better when they witness respect, courtesy and responsibility being exercised by their parents.

Here’s the bottom line: If you are a parent, don’t you want your children to witness you growing in faith? We want to be good witnesses for Christ. It is the best way to share our faith with others.

Pope Paul VI (who was pope from 1963 to 1978) said it this way:

“Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses”

As we prepare to gather around the Lord’s Table, we ask to be nourished by God’s grace. By that grace, may we become good witnesses, and share God’s abundant love.

The Narrow Gate

narrow-gate

Homily – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time

Most good stories contain three important parts: the Beginning, the Middle and the End. In the simplest of terms, the Beginning introduces the characters and events that shape the rest of the story; the Middle is where we witness the characters develop; and the End reflects the choices made by the characters throughout the story. Today’s readings, when viewed as a whole, are an example of a good story with a Beginning, Middle and End.

Our First Reading today (IS 66:18-21) is a story of God gathering his chosen people to himself and preparing them to go out and proclaim his glory to people who have never heard of Him before. This is the beginning of our Salvation Story – Our good, good Father calling us to share in His love and to “proclaim his glory to distant lands.”

Today’s Second Reading (HEB 12:5-7, 11-13) takes place in the middle of our Salvation Story. It is a story of how we are shaped and formed by the Father. The author of this Letter to the Hebrews reminds us to “not disdain the discipline of the Lord or lose heart when we are reproved by him.” That can be a difficult thing for our “modern” ears to hear, as the word “discipline” has so many definitions in the English language.

The word “discipline” can mean:

  • To punish (as you would someone for not obeying rules or laws)
  • To coach (as to help someone act or perform in a certain way)
  • To train (as to learn to do something)

In this reading, God’s discipline is about coaching and training, not to punish.

So why does God discipline us? Because he wants us to be what Matthew Kelly describes as “the best version of ourselves.”

The Olympic Challenge

For the last couple of weeks, the world has been following the Olympic competition. It is always fun to witness the fantastic athleticism of the competitors. It is a celebration of the God-given gifts these athletes received. But winners in athletic competitions don’t rely solely on their own natural abilities. To achieve “greatness” in their field, they must be disciplined. Olympic champions appreciate:

  • The important of practice
  • The value of coaching and learning
  • The benefits of growth and progress

The attributes of an Olympic champion are the same as for those who want to grow spiritually and to develop a deep relationship with God. It takes practice. It requires coaching and learning. It requires a willingness to grow. Not to be perfect, but to make progress (which is all that God asks of us).

Many Olympic competitions are decided by the smallest measure (fractions of time, millimeters of distance). Our Gospel story today (LK 13:22-30) teaches us that admittance into heaven may also be decided by a small measure (what Jesus describes as our ability to pass through the narrow gate).

Training for the Narrow Gate

What does it mean to “enter trough the narrow gate”? It means living a holy, God-focused life by following God’s commandments and the teachings of His Church. It means developing a strong, genuine relationship with God. And it means being strong – not just physically strong or mentally strong, but also spiritually strong.

So, how do we become spiritually strong?

A couple of years ago, the parish gave parishioners a copy of the book, “The Four Sings of a Dynamic Catholic,” written by Matthew Kelly. The premise of the book is that “Dynamic Catholics” (who Kelly describes as the top 7% of the Catholics he studied) demonstrated great signs of discipline. In his work Kelly identified four characteristics of Dynamic Catholics:

  1. They practiced their faith. They were a people of prayer, praying regularly and giving prayer a priority in their life. Some had a prayer ritual for the morning, some prayed a Rosary each day. Some attended daily Mass. Prayer was a discipline they developed and valued.
  2. They were continuous learners. They invested time each day to learn more about their faith (not great, prolonged amounts of time, just 14 minutes or so every day). They would read scripture or other spiritual writing. They listened to Catholic CDs, podcasts and radio programs. This continuous learning was a way for them to explore the Way of Jesus and the teachings of His Church.

The two remaining characteristics of Dynamic Catholics are:

  1. Generosity. They were filled with a spirit of service
  2. Evangelization. They invited others to share the love of God with them.

I know that regular prayer has made a big impact in my life. And even before I entered into formation to be a deacon I had a voracious appetite to learn about our faith. Listening to Catholic Answers Live and other programming on Catholic radio were a great help in building up my knowledge. Reading books about Catholic spirituality helped me put into words the longings I had in my heart. Practicing my faith through prayer and dedicating myself to a system of lifelong learning has been a great blessing in my spiritual life and in my service as a deacon.

Gut Check Time

So, how doe you measure up with Dynamic Catholics?

  • Do you give a priority to regular prayer?
  • Do you take time to read and learn about your faith?
  • Are you a person of service?
  • Are you willing to share your faith with others?

We all want to get to heaven. These are the type of things that will help us enter the narrow gate that leads to heaven. Our relationship with God, our openness to the Holy Spirit, and our willingness to grow in our faith will support us in that journey.

I pray that you will take time this week to reflect on these thoughts and to take action.

Ask yourself:

  • What is the ending to my salvation story that I want to write with God?
  • What am I being called to do to ensure that my story ends with the best ending possible …

And they all lived happily ever after!

Be at peace and know that you are loved,

Deacon Dan

The Carpenter’s Hands

begging handsIf you are a father, you know the awesome (and somewhat terrifying) feeling of holding your newborn child in your arms.

You love your child with all your heart. In spite of your imperfections and unworthiness, you are given a great gift to nurture, to protect, and to love (unconditionally). You strive to be the best father you can be for your child. I am certain Joseph had similar thoughts and feelings when he held his son, Jesus, in his arms.

The following are lyrics to  a song I penned a couple of years ago. I think about this every year when we hear the story of the birth of Jesus.

May we use this Christmas season to reflect on the love and mercy of the Newborn King and how, despite our unworthiness, God comes into our lives, meets us where we are and invites us to live with him in peace and love.

Merry Christmas!

The Carpenter’s Hands


Love lies resting in my arms tonight
This tiny blossom brings new hope in our lives
How is it that I should be a part of heaven’s plan
That this child should be entrusted to this carpenter’s hands?

Hush, my little one, be not afraid
Just close your eyes and sleep; I’ll keep you safe
Dream of bright tomorrow’s now, as only children can
For tonight you rest here safely in this carpenter’s hands

This carpenter’s hands are rough and calloused
But they are good and strong
They will guard you; they will guide you
And protect you from all harm
I will do my best to teach you as you grow to be a man
But tonight, my love, just rest here in this carpenter’s hands

Angel voices join as one and sing
“God is with us; praise the newborn king.”
Is this what the Lord had planned before all time began
That the Son of God is placed here in the carpenter’s hands?

This carpenter’s hands are rough and calloused
But they are good and strong
They will guard you; they will guide you
And protect you from all harm
I will do my best to teach you as you grow to be a man
But tonight, my love, just rest here in this carpenter’s hands

Love lies sleeping in my arms tonight
Heaven’s offspring brings great joy and light
One day they will proclaim your name in near and distant lands
But tonight, my love, just rest here
Go to sleep, my love, you’re safe here
Be at peace, for you are loved here in this carpenter’s hands


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

Learn from the Fig Tree

fig tree

Homily for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Apocalyptic stories, like we hear today, can be terrifying. But that is not the intent of today’s readings. Today’s readings teach us to be watchful and to live wisely.

Lessons from a Gravestone

There is a story of a priest who was preaching at a funeral and used a gravestone to illustrate what matters in life. He told the congregation, “You can learn a lot from a gravestone. For example, you can learn the person’s name and if it was a man or woman buried there. Sometimes, you learn what special quote or Bible verse was important to the deceased (or to the people grieving their loss). And you learn when the person was born, and when the person died. But the most important marking on the gravestone,” said the priest, “is the mark between the date of birth and date of death – the dash mark. Why? Because the dash mark reflects the story of how that person lived their life.”

We don’t have much control over when we are born, and we don’t always have control of when we will die. But we do have control over how we choose to live our lives. And what we learn from today’s readings is that we are called to live our lives being watchful and holy. But what does it mean to be “watchful and holy”?

I think it means three things:

  1. Making our personal relationship with God a true priority. As engaged parishioners of St. Joseph’s parish, we would describe that as “Participating actively in the sacramental lifeof the parish cultivating a personal prayer life.”
  2. It means sharing with others the good news that Jesus has shared with us. Again, engaged parishioners would describe that as: “Sharing our gifts generously in a spirit of service; embracing opportunities to participate in spiritual growthprograms and retreats; and inviting others to join in the life of the parish.
  3. It means following Christ’s example in our daily lives.

Jesus as Model

So what does it look like if we follow Christ’s example in our daily lives? The theme of my first ACTS retreat was from the 13th chapter of the Gospel of John: “I have given a model to follow; so that as I have done for you, you should also do.” I often reflect on that quote and ask: What was the model Jesus gave us? It is a life characterized by: love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, obedience, prayer, relationship, servanthood, trust, faithfulness, … and on and on.

Jesus’ whole life in public ministry reflected this model of love and self-giving. And so should our lives. That model Jesus gave us has to be applied to our contemporary world. It’s as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. That’s where watchfulness combines with holiness.

Learn from the Fig Tree

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples a story. He tells them: “Learn a lesson from the fig tree.” Remember that when Jesus instructs his disciples, he usually does so in a gentle, encouraging way that the disciples can understand and relate to. The disciples were familiar with fig trees – they were an important staple for nourishment in their region. The disciples also had a familiarity of the growth cycle of fig trees. They knew that when the branches sprouted leaves, summer was coming. They knew that the fruit of the fig tree would be harvested some time in summer or fall. Jesus was instructing his disciples that, just like they observed the growth cycle of the fig tree, so should they also be watchful in observing the signs of the coming end times. Not that they could do anything about it. Not that they could predict the day or time (As Jesus tells them: only God knows the day and the time). But because it serves a reminder to live a life of holiness – to be faithful to God!

Reading the Signs of the Times

Part of living a holy life is “reading the signs of the times” – being watchful and aware of what is happening in our world and discerning how we can participate in those happenings in a Christ-like way.

For example: the 20th century theologian, Karl Barth is attributed as saying “We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” This reminds us that we need to remain firm in our faith while remaining attentive to the needs of an ever-changing world.

Another example of “reading the signs of the times” is Cardinal Donald Wuerl (Archdiocese of Washington, DC) and what he said earlier this month at the Synod of Bishops. The Cardinal was speaking about the concern of the bishops who want clarity about the church’s teachings. He told news reporters, “The church’s teaching is quite clear. But the church’s pastoral life is the application of the teaching to where people are. And that’s always been the pastoral challenge of the church.”

He went on to say, “You have to speak with clarity, but then knowing what the fullness of the teaching is, you go out and meet people where they are,” he continued. “And the Holy Father keeps saying to us, ‘Accompany them.’ You don’t go out to meet people where they are to scold them. You go out to bring them the truth but sometimes to be heard you have to let the person know you know their struggle if you’re going to accompany them at all.”

Think about that advice:

  • Teach the truth
  • Meet people where they are … with compassion
  • Accompany them on their journey

Sounds like a Christ-like model to me!

Reflection and Prayer

It might be good to take some time this week to reflect on the “lessons” God wants us to learn in our lives and ask ourselves:

  • Where is the Holy Spirit calling me to grow in my life?
  • How do I model Jesus’s teachings of love, mercy, and compassion?
  • Who are the people in my family, in my community, in my world who need my “accompaniment” – who need to know the truth, but also need to know compassion?

If we are going to allow today’s readings to touch our hearts and guide our lives, we have to be watchful, holy and open to growth.

As we journey in our life of faith, let us find comfort Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” His truth and his love are always with us!

And let us find strength in the Eucharist we share today to go forth as the watchful, holy people God calls us to be.

Hear My Message

10024225Third Sunday of Easter

Some of the readings we hear at Mass are simple and straightforward. Other times, the readings are complex and more difficult to understand. My experience is that the readings that are most difficult understand and to preach on are the ones that occur on the third Sunday of the month (the weekend the deacons in our parish preach!).

Today’s readings are complex with lots of theological and scriptural nuances. As I reflected on today’s readings and worked on my homily, I was reminded of one of our parishioners who gave a witness talk not too long ago.

The parishioner was born in Mexico and came to the U.S. as a young man to better his life. In time, he became a naturalized citizen, got married and began to raise a family. As he began his witness talk, the man apologized if it was difficult to understand his English. His English was fine (and was much better than my Spanish ever will be). But to overcome any potential language barriers, he instructed the audience: “Don’t get lost in my words, but hear my message.”

I think that is sound advice for listening and reflecting on Scripture: Don’t get hung up on the language, the theology, the historical references – listen with your heart to the message God wants to share.

We hear some encouraging messages in today’s readings. In our First Reading, we hear Peter tell the people to repent and be converted, and your sins will be wiped away. This must have been very encouraging to a group of people who turned their back on Jesus and denied him, who asked that a murderer (Barabbas) be released from prison instead of Jesus, and who demanded that “the author of life” be put to death. These are grievous acts. But Peter gives the people a message of hope.

Peter comforts the people by reminding them that they acted out of ignorance (just as their leaders did) and that what happened had to happen to fulfill God’s plan. The remedy for these transgressions, Peter tells the people, is to repent and be converted.

Peter’s call to repentance and conversion does two things. First, it wipes away the peoples’ sins, allowing them to put the past behind them. Second, it serves as a call to action, giving the people direction to move forward with a holy purpose. To Peter and the Apostles, we are not called to be passive in our faith (to merely be listeners of the Word). We are called to a very specific response – to live and share our faith.

In living our faith we are not expected to be perfect, but we are expected to make progress. And when we slip up and sin, Saint John in our Second Reading reminds us that we have an advocate with the Father, “Jesus Christ the righteous one” who intercedes for us and who has made amends for our sins.

There was no reason for the people to be trapped in the past. And there is no reason for us to be trapped by our sins as well. Repent, beg forgiveness and move forward with a holy purpose.

In our Gospel reading, we hear some of the final words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. These are some of the final words Jesus speaks to his friends before his Ascension, so you know that these words are spoken with great love:

  • “Peace be with you” – let you heart be at peace
  • “Don’t be troubled” – I am with you always
  • “Don’t let your hearts be filled with questions. – have faith in me
  • “Listen to me with open minds” – I will show you the way

Jesus also provides a message that challenges. He tells his friends that as witnesses to his suffering, death and resurrection, they are to go be witnesses to all the nations, preaching repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

“Go” is such a powerful word in this discourse. These are the words Jesus gives to his Church, direction all of us to evangelize and be a witness in the world. Jesus’ instructions demand action.

In gospel terms, a witness is not someone who just knows the facts or who was present for a particular event. In gospel terms, a witness is one who can give personal testimony and share what they have heard, what they have seen, and what they have experienced. Witnessing to the Gospel (the Good News) calls us to a very specific response to how we live our lives:

  • It calls us … to have an open mind and open heart to receive the Word of God – and be willing to reach out to share that truth
  • It calls us … to be willing to keep God’s commandments – the greatest of which are to love God and to love our neighbor
  • It calls us … to lead our lives as a living example of Christ

I encourage you to reflect on these thoughts this week:

  • How does Jesus appear to us in this day and age?
  • Who are the people who witness to Jesus in our lives?
  • How can each of us be a living witness to our Catholic faith?

There are four messages from today’s readings that I hope will inspire us all:

  1. Turn our hearts to God – let go and let God be the center of our lives
  2. Trust in God as an advocate and healer – lean on God and his mercy
  3. Live in peace – know the peace of Christ and share it with others
  4. Be an active witness to Christ’s love – “You may be the only Gospel some people will ever read”

And as we approach the altar today in Eucharist, let us recall how the first disciples knew the resurrected Jesus in the breaking of the bread. May our hearts be on fire with a renewed commitment to take the Lord’s message and share it with all the world.

You are loved!

Deacon Dan

My Cup Overflows (…For Now)

I believe that God only gives me as much as I can handle. Some times that’s a little, other times that’s a lot. Some times I’m open to all that God gives me, most times I try to control the flow (Note to self: Dan, you seem to have control issues!). I am experiencing a time of great abundance in creativity. I am experiencing a time of great joy.

A week or so ago a Facebook friend posted that he was a little dry with his song writing, so he was going to focus on learning other songs. That made me think about my writing experience. There are times when songs, poems and reflections seem to flow from inside me and other times when I feel like my friend in the desert. In reflection, I have come to learn that both conditions are OK if you believe that God only gives you as much as you can handle. Right now, God must believe I can handle a lot and my cup overflows!

For me, this change took place when I got back to a routine of journaling thoughts as I took time to pray Morning and Evening Prayer. And a big help in that endeavor has been praying a special prayer before hand. It’s a prayer included in some of the guidebooks for the Liturgy of the Hours and goes like this:

Lord, open my lips to praise your holy name. Cleanse my heart of any worthless, evil or distracting thoughts. Give me the wisdom and love necessary to pray this Office with attention, reverence and devotion. Father, let my prayer be heard in your presence, for it is offered through Christ our Lord. Amen.

You can strike the words “this Office” from this prayer and it becomes a universal prayer of preparation. Think of it as taking a cup that is turned over and setting it righ-side up, then praying to God: “Lord, fill my cup with as much as you think I need today.”

This prayer seems to be working for me at this time in my life. And, as I pray with more focus and less distraction, with paper and pen nearby to capture my thoughts, God has blessed me with an abundance of thoughts, phrases and scripture quotes that are getting my creative juices flowing. This has led to the beginning of some songs, a few short poems, and cataloging memorable thoughts that help me grow in relationship to God. My cup overflows (for now).

One day (and I never know when it will happen), the flow of thoughts will end for a time and I’ll be led to a desert place. That’s OK. That’s God’s way of telling me “Take it easy for a while. Let your mind soak up all that I have given you. In time, I will flood your mind and your soul with more insight.”

God knows me well. He knows that I need discipline and time to reflect. I think he wants that for all of us. Summer may be a great time to cash in on the gift of reflection and silence. Or it may be your time to overflow with insight. Either way, enjoy the gifts God so longs to share with you.

Peace!

Deacon Dan

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

Ave Maria! Praying with Mary.

Wow, the month of May sure went by fast! And so did the celebration of Mary as our Mother. But we don’t have let our thoughts and prayers be dictated by a calendar. As we move to the month of June and beyond, we still have a wonderful mother who will intercede for us as we pray. We still have a model of faithfulness beyond compare who is willing to be with us and hear our prayers. We can still take time to remember the life of Christ and the life of his mother, Mary whenever we pray the Rosary – whether alone or in community.

I remember sitting in a class several years ago, thinking to myself: I know I need to step back from some of my commitments at church so I can concentrate on my deacon formation classes, but I still want to be connected to my parish in a way that moves me. The thought of praying the Rosary immediately came to mind.

I am not a daily Rosary prayer, and, honestly, I can find the repetition sometimes distracting, but I have learned that praying the Rosary is not about me and my feelings. It can be about community – about bringing people together for a common cause and growing in our faith as we “walk” with each other. That’s where the thought of a regular Rosary prayer night came to mind.

I sent out an e-mail to some friends of mine, inviting them to begin praying the Rosary with me on Wednesday nights. The commitment was simple enough: come when you can; come when you need to. The other part of the commitment was that we would gather and pray the Rosay outside in the parish courtyard, regardless of the weather conditions. And so the “tradition” began.

I have been at Church on Wednesday nights when I have been the only person gathering to pray. I have been there also when we have had upwards of 40 people in attendance. There have been weeks when commitments kept me from attending. But the chain has never been broken.We gather and pray for our parish community, for the ACTS retreats in St. Louis and around the world, and for the many and varied concerns of our friends, families and neighbors.

We have gone inside on a few rare occassions when the weather was sub-freezing, but you’ll usually find us in the courtyard of St. Joseph Church in Manchester, Missouri about 8:45 PM every Wednesday night. Everyone is invite to attend – whenever you want to, or whenever you need to. Or, if you would like us to pray for you, send me an email at prayers@deacondan.com.

In closing, allow me to share the words to a song I wrote in honor of Mary, Mother of the Rosary. May the peace of Christ and the love of Mary abound in your hearts!

AVE MARIA

Ave, ave Maria. Holy Mary, Mother of God
Ave, ave Maria. Pray for us, Mary; pray for us now.

There’s a woman I know, comes to me when I pray
She stands by my side, helps me find the way
A vision of ultimate grace, in faithfulness none can compare
She is hope for a sinner like me, she’s my partner in prayer

Ave …

I get lost in my prayers
Earthly longings keep steering me far from my goal
But I don’t despair
Mother Mary comes to me and helps take control
She takes all my fragmented prayers
And bundles them gently in love
Wraps them up and presents them to God
At the foot of his throne

Ave …

By your “yes” you transformed the whole word
Evil’s crushed, new life’s begun
Mystical Rose, may your fragrance flow over me
Lead me to your Son

Ave, ave Maria. Holy Mary, Mother of God
Ave, ave Maria. Pray for us, Mary; pray for us now
Pray for us, Mary; pray for us now!

Copyright (c) Daniel R. Donnelly. All Rights Reserved.

Be On Fire Wherever You Are

I have been signing my e-mails with the tag line: “Be On Fire Wherever You Are” for some time now. Some people think it refers to my prior career in the fire protection business. Nope, that’s not it. The saying has nothing to do with extinguishing fires. It has to do with keeping the flame of the Holy Spirit alive in our lives. Is this an original phrase of mine? Nope, to that one too. It is a paraphrase of an important lesson I learned from the late Fr. Jim Krings.

I attended a scripture presentation by Fr. Krings some years back. During the presentation he commented on how “alive” the parish had been since the introduction of the ACTS retreats, a parish-based weekend retreat led by lay volunteers. Fr. Krings loved the fact that so many people were “fired up” about the retreats and he encouraged us to keep that same “fire” burning in whatever we do, wherever we do it. The message struck a chord with me and I paraphrased it as “Be On Fire Wherever You Are!”

This Sunday (Pentecost Sunday) we hear of the fire of the Holy Spirit that filled the hearts of the disciples:

“When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”

The reading goes on to tell us that the people were amazed because the Apostles were speaking in different languages that were understood by the diverse group that had gathered. It was as if God had said, “I know what each of you need to hear to believe and I will make it so.” God, through the Holy Spirit, is still speaking to us in words we need to hear. We just have to listen. And that can be difficult with all of the distractions in our life. But whatever the tasks and challenges in our lives, we have to remember that God loves us and that he expects the best of us. He expects us to be “on fire” – wherever we are, whatever the circumstance.

There’s a story about a little boy who was brought to a room to receive a present. When the little boy opened the door to the room, all he saw was a large pile of horse manure. With a look of glee, the little boy dove headfirst into the pile and started digging anxiously into the manure. When the adult that had accompanied the little boy asked why in the world he was digging into the manure, the little boy exclaimed “Look at all of this manure! There has to be a pony in here somewhere!”

Yep, some days it looks like we are faced with a pile of manure. Don’t let that keep you from being “on fire” for the Lord. As the saying goes, “If God brings you to it, he’ll show you a way through it.” So, this week, remember the story of Pentecost. Remember the story of Fr. Krings. Remember the story of the little boy in search of a pony. Then remember that God loves you and wants the best of you … and for you. Take each day one at a time and “Be On Fire Wherever You Are!” Let the Holy Spirit work in your life!

Blessings!

Deacon Dan

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

Lord, Lift Me Higher

I had a rough week. I’m sure I’m not the only one with this experience. Let’s face it, some weeks are better or worse than others. For me, the difference is how I deal with the ups and downs in my life.

After a particularly rough couple of days I went to my favorite prayer place, lit a candle and asked God to guide me in prayer. I expected a typical dialogue between the Divine and the delinquent (I am the latter).  What I received was a song. This isn’t the first time I shared this experience with God. A lot of the songs and poems I write come from spending time in prayer and asking God to help solve my problem du jour. Here are the words God gave me:

Steer me past emotion. Chase my fears away. Help me find surrender. Calm my heart today. Take me. Make me. Show me and mold me, Lord. Reach me. Teach me. Raise me. Amaze me, Lord.

Lord, lift me higher; higher than the dreams my heart can know. Set me on fire; fan the flame that burns within my soul.

Lead me to the answers. Point me to the truth. Set me on your path, Lord. I will walk with you. Take me. Make me. Show me and mold me, Lord. Reach me. Teach me. Raise me. Amaze me, Lord.

Lord lift me higher; higher than the dreams my heart can know. Set me on fire; fan the flame that burns within my soul.

There’s more to the song, but that’s the heart of it: Wanting God to help me get “back on track” with my life and to continue to lift me up when I am down. As with most songs that God gives me I am tweaking the melody, the chords, and the lyrics to best tell the story. This process usually consumes me (i.e., waking up with the song playing in my head) until I put it all on paper and say, “Enough is enough.” I’m almost to that stage and have enjoyed reflecting on the feelings I am experiencing through words and music.

I am reading a wonderful book, “How Big Is Your God?” by a Jesuit priest, Paul Coutinho. Several friends have recommended the book and it made its way to the top of my reading pile. What a treasure. I’m about half way through the book and am enjoying reading and reflecting on these simple but profound chapters that help you “Experience the Divine.”

The connection between the song I am writing and the book I am reading is the thought I have been reflecting about recently. We are taught that we are made in the image and likeness of God. That’s what I believe, but is that what I live? As I reflect on my life experiences I detect that many people (myself among them) focus more on making God in their image and likeness – limiting God and his grace to a tidy little package that allows us to feel comfortable in our faith. I’m pretty sure that’s not what God wants from us. It’s the other way around: God wants to form us (not us form God). And so, time in prayer, writing songs, and reading good books helps me reflect on all of this.

My prayer is to allow God to continue to form me and to lift me up when I am down. This is the life I want to live.

What is your prayer this day?

Blessings,

Deacon Dan

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