Deacon’s Corner, December 9 2018

Our Gospel today finds us listening to John the Baptist in the desert of 1st Century Palestine as he cries out echoing the message of the prophet Isaiah from 700 years earlier – God is coming so be ready.  You don’t want to miss it!  Fix the roads He will travel on.  Make them flat and smooth.  Eusebius, who became the Bishop of Caesarea in 313, makes it clear in the Office of Readings today that Isaiah’s prophecy is not to be fulfilled in Jerusalem where the Temple is neat and tidy, but in the desert.  It is this wilderness, this deserted place, where God will appear and make his plan for salvation known to humankind.  Eusebius says John the Baptist commands us to prepare the way to our heart so we can receive the Word of God.  That the “rough and trackless ground is to made level, so that our God may find a highway when he comes.”  In short, God is coming whether we know it or not.  Whether like it or not.  Whether we are ready or not.  So, be ready.

With only 2 weeks of Advent left, I must ask myself – are my pathways for God to enter my heart crooked, hilly, and rough?  Or have I fully opened my heart to allow Him in?  If not, just what am I doing to prepare the way of the Lord and be ready to receive Him when He comes?  Because, God’s plan is for us to spend eternity with him – and there is nothing on this earth that even begins to represent how awesome that will be!  But to receive God into our hearts and realize His plan, we must be ready.  And that’s what Advent is all about.

Advent is a time to turn away from our sins, from the distracting things of our material lives, and turn toward God, asking His pardon and forgiveness as we pardon and forgive others in our life.  Advent is a time for letting go of feelings that we have been wronged by someone.  It is a time to make peace with the things that are holding us back – a relative we haven’t spoken to, a friend or neighbor we are angry with, a co-worker that has slighted us or driven us crazy.   This Advent, may we turn to God and prepare our hearts to receive Him again at Christmas, with peace inside of us and leaving the sadness that stops us from really living.  By leveling the mountains and valleys of our lives, we will be ready for the coming of the little child who will be born in each of us again this Christmas.  May you have a Blessed week preparing to receive our God.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, November 18 2018

 

Last week, a good friend of ours posted this on Facebook.  I invite you to sit back, let your imagination take over, and hopefully enjoy the story as much as I did….

 In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?”   The other replied, “Why, of course.  There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.” “Nonsense,” said the first. “There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?” 

 The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here.  Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”  The first replied, “That is absurd.  Walking is impossible.  And eating with our mouths?  Ridiculous!  The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need.  But the umbilical cord is so short, so life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”  The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”   The first replied, “Nonsense.  And moreover, if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there?  Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.” 

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet mother and she will take care of us.”

 The first replied “mother? You actually believe in mother? That’s laughable. If mother exists, then where is she now?”  The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of her. It is in her that we live. Without her, our world would not and could not exist.”  Said the first: “Well I don’t see her, so it is only logical that she doesn’t exist.”

 To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and listen, you can perceive her presence, and you can hear her loving voice, calling down from above.”

Maybe this was one of the best explanations of the concept of GOD.

Our relationship with God is very much like our relationships with each other.  Our marriage and friendships need time and nurturing to develop and grow.  The same is true of our relationship with God.  God calls each of us into a relationship with Him.  How, or if, we respond depends on how well we look for His presence every day.   Psalm 46 says “Be still, and know that I am God.”  May we take time this week to seek silence in the chaos and listen for God’s loving voice calling down from above.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, November 4 2018

Why do we use candles in church?  The word “candle” comes from the Latin verb “candeo” meaning to shine, glow, or burn.  We use candles on the Altar, near the tabernacle, during our liturgies, for votives and devotionals to name a few.

The Paschal Candle is unique and easy to recognize by its size.  It can be several feet tall and decorated with ornate images, a cross, and the liturgical year.  At the Easter Vigil, a new Paschal Candle is lit and blessed in expectation of Christ rising from the darkness of the tomb to the light of the Resurrection.  During the Vigil, people light small candles as a reminder to reflect the Light of Christ in their lives.  The Paschal Candle is lit throughout the year for Baptisms, funerals, and during the entire Easter Season.

Using candles on the Altar began sometime before the 12th Century.  These candles not only remind us of the Light of Christ, but also of the many persecuted Christians in the first centuries who secretly celebrated Mass at night or in the catacombs with the only light being candle light.  It was the fortitude and perseverance by those Early Christians that helped our Faith survive and thrive into the 21st Century.

The Sanctuary Candle is seen near the tabernacle in the Church to remind us of Jesus’ Real Presence in the Eucharist.  It has its roots in the Old Testament when God commanded the Israelites to burn an oil lamp before the Tabernacle of the Testimony, which is the tent where the Arc of the Covenant and sacred vessels used in worship were kept (Exodus 27:20).  If this lamp signaled to the Israelites a sacred presence, then how much more aware should we be of the holiest space in a Catholic Church – the tabernacle – where God is truly present in the Eucharist?

We light votive and devotional candles before images and statues of Jesus, Mary, and the saints not as a sign of worship, but as a symbol of our light of faith in asking God for help.  The flame of these candles is symbolic of the fires of Old Testament offerings of burnt sacrifice, petitions, adoration, or reparation of sins.  Although we see these candles in church, we can also use them in our home for prayer.

There are many more uses of candles in our faith, too many to list in this limited space.  But while we can certainly pray and worship without candles, the physical act of lighting a candle touches our human senses to help bring our entire self – body, mind, and soul – closer to God.  Candles are a part of our rich Catholic tradition used to represent the sacred character brought into our prayers and liturgies by Jesus Christ – the True Light.

For “God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness…If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1:5-7.)”  May you have a Blessed week walking in the Light of the Lord.

Deacon John

Adapted from CatholicCompany.com

 

Virtus Training when working with Children

Virtus Training for Working with Children

Virtus training is required by the diocese for all clergy, staff, and volunteers who work with children at church, school, Religious Education, or other activities.  A “child” is defined as someone who is under 18 years old or still in high school. Virtus training will be offered over the next few weeks at both parishes with two types of training programs.

“Protecting Gods’ Children” is required for anyone who has not yet had Virtus training or only received the on-line training.

“Keeping the Promise Alive” is a shorter, refresher training for anyone who has not taken “Protecting God’s Children” within the past year.

Upcoming training dates are:

 

Oct 23Keeping the Promise Alive, St Mary on the Lake, 7pm

Oct 24Protecting God’s Children, St Mary on the Lake, 6:30pm

Nov 8Keeping the Promise Alive, St Mary on the Lake, 11am

All sessions will be held in the parish halls.  Please pre-register on line at www.virtus.org.   If you cannot make these sessions, other sessions are available around the diocese.

If you have any questions, please contact Deacon John.

 

Deacon’s Corner, October 14 2018

Why do we pray? St Ambrose said we pray to “offer God a sacrifice of praise and pay your vows to the Most High.” 

He wrote “Jesus taught you about the goodness of the Father, who knows how to give good things: and so you should ask for good things from the One who is good. Jesus told us to pray urgently and often, so that our prayers should not be long and tedious but short, earnest and frequent. Long elaborate prayers overflow with pointless phrases, and long gaps between prayers eventually stretch out into complete neglect…when you ask forgiveness, you must take special care to grant it also to others…when you pray you must be free from anger and from disagreement with anyone, so that your prayer is not disturbed.”

St Ambrose tells us we can pray anywhere.  He writes “Jesus said go into your room and pray in secret…this “room” is not the room with four walls that confines your body when you are in it, but the secret space within you in which your thoughts are enclosed and where your sensations arrive. That is your prayer-room, always with you wherever you are, always secret wherever you are, with your only witness being God”

St Ambrose says “Above all, you must pray for the whole people…for the whole body, for every part of your mother the Church, whose distinguishing feature is mutual love. If you ask for something for yourself then you will be praying for yourself only, and you must remember that more grace comes to one who prays for others. If each person prays for all people, then all people are effectively praying for each other… If you ask for something for yourself alone, you will be the only one asking for it; but if you ask for benefits for all, all in their turn will be asking for them for you. For you are in fact one of the “all.” Thus it is a great reward, as each person’s prayers acquire the weight of the prayers of everyone… it is a sign of greater humility and more abundant fruitfulness.”

Our Catechism tells us our prayer is God’s gift of grace to us (CCC 2563).  As we enter our prayer-room this week to receive God’s grace, may our prayer be always guided by the Holy and centered in our hearts.   Deacon John

Adapted from the Office of Readings, October 8, 2018

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 30 2018

While walking through the gym at Sacred Heart School 4 years ago, I saw the teacher in the center of the gym surrounded by the Kindergarten class.  As they all began to kneel, it was obvious class was beginning with prayer.  They prayed the St. Michael Prayer from memory – a prayer I learned a long time ago but forgot the words.  The children taught me the prayer that day and now I pray it often.  Many parishes recite this prayer together either before Mass begins or immediately after the closing song.   So, what is the St. Michael prayer and where did it come from?

On Oct. 1, 1884, Pope Leo XIII had a deeply disturbing mystical experience after celebrating Mass.  While in his private chapel, the staff saw him suddenly stand in front of the altar for about 10 minutes as if in a trance, his face drained of color.  Afterwards, Pope Leo went to his office and wrote a prayer to St. Michael, then asked it be offered throughout the Church.  He told his staff he had heard two voices near the tabernacle and believed they were the voices of God and Satan.  Pope Leo heard Satan boast that he could destroy the Church in 75 or 100 years if given the opportunity.  Then he heard God give Satan permission to try.

The prayer which Pope Leo XIII composed was used throughout the Church and prayed after Mass until discontinued in 1964.  In 1994, Pope John Paul II revived use of the prayer saying, “Although the prayer is no longer recited at the end of Mass, I ask every one not to forget it and to recite it to obtain help in the battle against the forces of darkness and against the spirit of the world.”  Pope John Paul clearly intended we pray to St Michael on a regular basis no matter where we are – at Mass, work, school, and in our homes.

Just one look at the headlines each day tells us Satan will never give up trying to destroy us and God’s Church.  But that doesn’t mean we are helpless.  Taking a moment and praying to St Michael is one way I find shelter in the chaos around me.  This week, while facing the forces of darkness, I invite you to do the same by praying…

 

St Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.  Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.  May God rebuke him, we humbly pray.  And do thou, O prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan and all other evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of the souls.  Amen

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, September 23 2018

Our Catholic Mass is the highest form of prayer we can offer God.  It is made up of two parts – the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist.   The Liturgy of the Word is the 1st part of the Mass with roots in  early Jewish synagogue worship.  It includes the Gloria, Scripture readings, the homily, and Intercessory Prayers (the petitions).  The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the 2nd half of the Mass originating from the Last Supper.   It includes preparing the Altar, presentation of the gifts, prayer, and receiving Holy Communion.  “Liturgy” comes from the Greek word “ergos”, meaning “work”;  and “leiton”, meaning “of the people.  So, our Liturgy is the work of the people to give glory and honor to God.

God uses our human senses to reveal Himself in our physical world so our worship of Him can involve our entire being – body and soul.  Throughout Mass, we use symbols and gestures to help our senses connect our human body to our soul.  They remind us to turn our hearts and minds towards God.  Many of these symbols are handed down from Early Christian worship.  So, what are they?

The Sign of the Cross is a symbol of our faith and salvation that is used to bless people and objects.  Christians have marked themselves with the Sign of the Cross since the Early Church.  Striking of the Breast is a sign of repentance, contrition, and humility.  Standing is a sign of joy, respect, and our adoration of God.  Kneeling is a sign repentance or adoration.  Genuflecting is a sign of reverence in the presence of God.  This is why we genuflect in front of the Blessed Sacrament, or the Tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament, which is the Real Presence of Jesus.  Bowing of the head is a sign of reverence often made when saying the name of Jesus, or Mary, or before receiving the Eucharist.  Bowing of the body is a sign of respect and submission.  This gesture replaces genuflecting by bowing to the Altar when there are no hosts in the tabernacle.  Processions are a symbol of the Pilgrim Church.  They occur several times within the Mass, and sometimes in and around the church (such as at Easter Vigil or a Eucharistic Procession for the Feast of Corpus Christi.)

Understanding the meaning of the signs and symbols we use at Mass can have a positive influence on our attitude towards prayer and reverently being in the presence our loving and gracious God.

Deacon John

Adapted from an “Introduction to Catholicism” by Father James Socias

 

Deacon Corner, September 16 2018

Prayer does not always come easy or natural.  There are times for me it can be a real struggle.  Our Catechism calls this THE BATTLE OF PRAYER.  It’s a battle against ourselves to stay focused, and Satan doing all he can to keep us from getting closer to God (CCC 2725).  Our Catechism lists four common struggles in prayer and how to overcome them – lack of time, distractions, dryness, and being uninspired.

Lack of time comes from the failure to see prayer as a necessary part of our life.  There is no simple solution to this one.  Prayer is not optional.  Prayer is absolutely essential to stay close to God and keep the devil away.  We need to find time in our busy day for prayer just as we would any other activity that is important to us.  Even 15 minutes of prayer each day is better than no prayer at all.

Distractions are real and make prayer difficult.  The solution is not to give up but be persistent in refocusing on God.   C.S Lewis wrote it is better to accept distractions as our present problem and make them the main theme of our prayer than ignore they exist.  God understands and wants us to grow closer to Him rather than drift away with frustrating distractions.

Dryness is feeling like you are in the middle of the desert.  No water, no shade, and no hope of ever getting out.  Nothing is working.  Our prayer feels hollow, even futile, and we become no longer interested in our spiritual growth.  Even St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta experienced dryness in prayer.  When we do, we can think of Jesus’ own experience of forty days the desert.  No matter how tempted we are to quit, we can focus on our desire to become closer to God and emerge on the other side with renewed spirit and energy.

Being uninspired can happen when we are overwhelmed, have not prayed for a while, or can’t find the words to pray.  When uninspired, remember St. Ignatius said praying is like talking to Jesus as a friend.  Simply ask Him for forgiveness, protection, and wisdom about the problems you face.

Our Catechism reminds us we cannot pray without “humility, trust, and perseverance” (CCC 2728).  Praying is not rattling off a list of wants and needs (CCC 2650).  We pray to be ever mindful that God is with us no matter what we face in life.  We pray to express both our sorrow and thanksgiving.  We pray to do our best and exalt God in everything we do.  We pray for strength and courage, and yes, we even pray for miracles.  God calls us, and prayer is our response to that call. Through prayer, we train our minds and hearts to focus on what is good and holy to receive the peace of heart we all desire.

Deacon John

Adapted from an “Introduction to Catholicism” by Father James Socias

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 9 2018

When Peter was walking on water toward Jesus during a storm, he was quickly distracted by the wind and waves.  Peter doubted and lost focus – then he began to sink. But as soon as Peter cried out for help, Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him (Matthew 14:29-31).

Life gets too busy.  Work becomes exhausting.  Classes are hard.  Something is always broke and needs to get fixed.  There are errands to run.   Laundry and cleaning to do.  The lawn needs mowing and the snow shoveled (hold it on that one, it’s only September!).  And there never seems to be any time to just relax.  Like Peter, I can get so distracted in the day’s tasks that I lose focus on God.  I forget to ask Him for help of any kind – and I begin to sink.

When I get busy, my prayer time is the first to suffer.  I force myself to sit down for a “quick” morning prayer, then tell myself I’ll spend more time with God tomorrow.  But, tomorrow never happens, and I feel like I have to make it up to God for being so busy and distracted that I lost sight of Him. But that’s not how God works. As soon as we turn to Him for help, God reaches out without hesitation.

In the midst of the storm, Jesus took Peter’s hand and asked, “Why did you doubt?” (v. 31).  We can doubt, too.  When we’re unsettled by the chaos of life, it’s easy to forget that God is standing in the middle of the storm with us.  No matter what we’re going through, Jesus is there.  He is here.  Next to us in this moment, reaching out to rescue us.

May we pray this week to turn to Jesus in the midst of our busyness and life’s distractions. Let’s thank Him for always being here, ready to catch us.  Because, in the midst of our storms, Jesus is waiting for us to turn to Him.  Like Peter, all we have to do is ask.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 2 2018

Thirty years ago this week, on September 6, 1988; Reverend Father Gerald R. Loewen went home to the Lord.  As a deacon, I have the privilege of raising Fr Loewen’s presider chalice at Mass on Sunday.  It is an honor to do so.  It makes me think of him and the impact he had on people’s lives.

I never knew Fr Loewen.  I’ve seen his picture hanging in the halls of both parishes and wondered what he was like as a pastor.  His “smile” gives me the impression of a loving priest who had high expectations for his parishioners and himself.  From the fond memories some of you have shared with me, he was firm but fair, kind and humble.  Whether he was commenting on the proper attire for Mass, passing out report cards to students at Sacred Heart School, celebrating Mass, teaching you our Catholic faith, or being your friend – Fr Loewen loved education, loved being a priest, and loved each one of you.

Sometimes I stop at his photo on the wall and talk to Fr Loewen, or spend a few minutes of silence by his grave at St Mary on the Lake.  I like to ask him how he would handle certain aspects of parish life that I deal with from day to day.  I ask him to help me find the strength, the courage, and the wisdom to be the best deacon I can be in serving you.  Doing all these things helps me find the inner peace and perseverance to continue on.

This Thursday, I invite you to take a moment to remember Fr Loewen.  He touched the hearts of many people at both parishes, and I believe he continues to touch the hearts of those of us who pray to him for help.  May eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.  May perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.  Amen

Deacon John