Deacon’s Corner, February 24, 2019

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While reflecting on the Gospel reading from last Monday, I couldn’t help to think how much I can be like the Pharisees in the story.  They came to see Jesus and demanded he give them a sign from Heaven as a test of who He was.  Jesus gave a deep sigh and said, “Why does this generation ask for a sign? (Mark 8:11-13.)”

The Pharisees tested Jesus throughout the Gospels.  They wanted signs to prove he was really God, asked tricky questions, and tried to prove Him wrong.  But, why?  Before this encounter, Jesus performed miracle after miracle: cleansing lepers, healing paralytics, raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and immediately before this Gospel, feeding four thousand people with a few fish. What more could they want from Him? The Pharisees were looking for a specific sign that their place of honor in Jewish society will be rewarded with a powerful position in Jesus’ kingdom. They wanted Jesus to give them the power and honor that they feel they deserve.

Like the Pharisees, I often want signs from Jesus, too.  I make deals with him – if he does this, I’ll do that.  If I pray he takes away some suffering or hardship from my life, I’ll try harder to be a better person.  If I light a votive candle, my special request will be answered.  If I go to Mass every week, my life will go smoothly.  And if I do all these things, and nothing happens, if Jesus doesn’t give me a sign, well, maybe the Pharisees were right all along.  Maybe Jesus really isn’t God after all.

But Jesus doesn’t work this way.  Our relationship with Him can never be transactional.  It can’t be used to bargain or make deals.   Jesus, by virtue of being God, already has everything.  So, there is nothing we can give God that he needs.  But, we can give him what he wants – our love.  Look at the people in the Gospels who don’t expect anything but receive signs from Jesus. They don’t go to him with a list of reasons why he should do what they ask of Him.  They call out to Him.  They push through the crowds, they drop everything to follow Him to a remote hillside without any idea of how they’ll find dinner. They have faith that God will give them a sign, and they are right.  In return, they give Jesus their faith, hope, and love.  The Pharisees demand a sign, and they leave empty-handed.

What do we ask of God?  What deals do we try to make?  May we pray this week to not seek signs, but for the faith to believe God really does have a plan for us, and his plan is good.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 17 2019

Why do Catholics use the crucifix instead of a cross?   After all, Jesus is not dead, He is alive. A crucifix is a cross with Jesus’ Corpus, a representation of his crucified body.  A cross bears either no figure at all, or one like the Risen Jesus.  There are a few ways to answer this question, so let’s start with the Mass.

Simply put, the General Instruction of the Roman Missal requires a crucifix be clearly visible either on or near the Altar for Mass.  The crucifix is there to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made which becomes present every time we celebrate Mass.  Not that Jesus is sacrificed again at every Mass, but that we are REMINDED of the sacrifice he made for us.  A plain cross just doesn’t have the same impact.  The Crucifixion of Jesus is a one-time event that can never occur again in history. But it is an event which should never be forgotten.

We need to be reminded of what Jesus endured to prove to us that His way is the way into the Kingdom – that He IS GOD, not just someone telling us stories to make us feel good.  Remembering Christ’s Passion, death and resurrection helps us get though our own daily sufferings and struggles – to spiritually grow from them.  Because Jesus’ victory over death is not just physical death, but our road to victory over a spiritual death.  “Spiritual death” can sound scary.  But that’s what Jesus was talking about when He told Nicodemus “unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3.”)  When we die to our old self, we rise to a level of spirituality, we are “born again” into a union with God.

Finally, St Paul said to “preach Christ crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23.)”  In fact, many of Paul’s scripture writings are based on the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the cross and His victory over death – physical death and spiritual death.

By reflecting on our daily struggles with Jesus hanging on the cross, we better understand what Jesus meant when he said to “deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24).  How can we be born again if we are constantly reminded of Jesus being dead instead of alive?  The answer is found from what goes on inside our heart when we sit and reflect on Jesus hanging on the cross.  When suffering comes our way, the image of the crucifix can give us spiritual strength and inspiration because of what Jesus did for us.

The image of the crucifix, is placed in our homes, our churches, our schools, or our hospitals, to make sure that this sacrifice of our Lord for us is not forgotten.  It is a visual reminder of Christ’s battle over sin, the turning point in our spiritual battle, so we never forget God’s redeeming love for us.

May you have a Blessed week!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 10 2019

Our Scripture readings today are as much about humility as they are about God calling us to step up and do whatever he has planned for our life.

The 1st Reading is about the call of Isaiah.  His first response to the Lord was “why me” – my lips are unclean.  The 2nd Reading and Gospel are about the apostles, Peter and Paul, who Jesus called to carry on his message and ministry.  Peter says “why me?”- for I am a sinful man.   Paul says he, too, is sinful – “the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”  In spite of their past, God had a plan for each of them, and used those three, humble men to alter the course of history.

Just who are the Isaiahs, the Peters, and the Pauls in our society today?   When God wants to send a message of love to the outcasts of this world, who will say “Here I am; send me!”  When God wants someone to speak out in the halls of government against injustice, who will say “Here I am; send me!”  When people march out to war, violence, and bigotry and God needs someone to march in the opposite direction with a message of peace, who will be his messenger and say “Here I am, send me!”  As our world suffers from the ill effects of the evils and unfairness we’ve caused, and the Church offers a way out through its social teaching of justice and human dignity, who will be Jesus’ apostles to bring that message to the world?   Who will jump up and say “Here I am, Lord; send me!”

 During a radio message in 1978, Pope John Paul I said, “My brothers and sisters—all people of the world! We are all obliged to work to raise the world to a condition of greater justice, more stable peace, more sincere cooperation. Therefore, we ask and beg all—from the humblest who are the connective fibers of nations to heads of state responsible for each nation—to work for a new order, one more just and honest… We open ourselves with great trust to the assistance of the Lord, who, having called us to be his representative on earth, will not leave us without his all-powerful grace.”

 As Christians, we are called to work for the good of every human being.  God will give us the grace to stand up for those suffering from bullying, poverty, loneliness, and living in fear.  To step up and be humble, virtuous leaders at work and school, in the community, and especially in the family.  And to continue the work of Jesus by spreading his message of peace and salvation for all.  Thousands of years ago, God called Isaiah, Peter, and Paul to carry on this message.  Each thought they were not good enough to do what God needed done.  But, they responded anyway and changed the world.

Who will God call to do his work today?  Just whom will God send?  Will it be YOU?

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 3 2019

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“What good is it…if someone has faith but does not have works?…If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well, but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it (James 2:14:17)?”   Those are the words of St. James in his letter circulating around the house churches in the early days of Christianity.  James’ letter goes far beyond being donors, volunteers, caregivers, and ministers.  It goes directly to the heart of spending our day in the marketplace – those places we where we live, work, study, and play every day.

During a state of the company address in my former life, our CEO presented his thoughts on what it would take to be successful given the global economic crisis at the time.  He said “we must continue to look for ways to be smarter about the projects we bring forward for approval.”  Now that made sense, but I didn’t see projects fail because we weren’t clever enough to know they were bad deals.  I saw projects failing because of greed for personal gain or hastened to meet company goals.

Faith and economics rarely encounter each other in the business world.  St. Pope John Paul II recognized this when he wrote “…on the one hand, [is] the all-consuming desire for profit, and on the other, the thirst for power, with the intention of imposing one’s will upon others.  In order to characterize better each of these attitudes, one can add the expression: at any price (Sollicitdo Rei Socialis §V.37.)”  He argued that accumulation of profit and power cannot be measures of success in business unless they are reinvested back into society to promote the social, cultural, and spiritual well-being of people (§II.9).  In other words, making better projects and business deals is not so much about being smarter as it is to be grounded in our faith.  Making business decisions which consider the greater good, instead of personal gain or maximizing corporate profit, far benefits the company, the employees, and the community as a whole.

For the Christian leader in the marketplace, faith and works are not an “either/or” option.  They are a “both/and” necessity for ethical business life.  To tell an employee “have a good weekend” rings hollow when that same employee is facing low wages, long hours, no insurance, or loss of their job.  Being a Christian leader in the marketplace takes prudence, planning, wise counsel, courage, and compassion.  Daily decisions involving cost cutting, maximizing profits, optimizing equipment maintenance, business unit performance, and product value tradeoffs are a reality in the business world.  But then so does God’s expectation that our faith and works become one.  Ethical life for a Christian in the marketplace is a reflection of Christian discipleship.  For Faith without works is me meaningless.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 27, 2019

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“Rejoice in the Lord Always! Finding joy at the foot of the cross.” That was the theme of the annual retreat I attended last weekend with over 80 men at the St Paul of the Cross Retreat Center in Detroit.  It was a great way to escape from the world and spend some quiet time with God.  Finding joy at the foot of the cross is not easy.  After all, how often do we feel like rejoicing when life isn’t going our way?

Finding joy at the foot of the cross means we look beyond the world, beyond our human feelings, and focus on knowing God is with us through it all.  That is the mystery of our Christian faith – finding joy in our sorrow, comfort in our pain, and new life through death.  Its a mystery we may not understand, but a mystery we can experience if we believe.  Because joy is not found in what we do, it’s found in our attitude toward life.

Rejoicing in the Lord brings us joy in 3 ways – by remembering what God has done for us, being in sync with what God wants for us, and putting ourselves into His hands to see what He will do with us.   Joy is the first characteristic of Christian life.  It is not a by-product of following Jesus.  Joy is the reason we follow Jesus.  Rejoicing is the mark of a Christian even at the foot of our crosses.  It simply means to remain mindful of our ever-present and loving God to find joy through the peace He brings.  A kind of joy that far overshadows anything of the world that makes us happy.

That is the model for Christian living St Paul gave us when he wrote: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!  Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near.  Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.  Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…Then the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9)”

 After a weekend of praying and reflecting on how to “Rejoice in the Lord, always”, I re-discovered finding joy at the foot of my crosses.  God reminded me that even during my trials of pain, sorrow, disappointment, failure, and difficulty I can find joy through His love and blessings I treasure the most –  my family, my friends, my prayer, and my ministry.

What brings YOU joy?  Rejoice in the Lord, always! and the peace of God will remain with you.

Deacon John.

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 20 2019

 

Image result for He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart. And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.

In our Gospel today, Jesus begins His public ministry at a wedding feast in the village of Cana – about four miles from His hometown of Nazareth.  Over the past month, we heard the stories of Jesus’ birth, His dedication in the Temple eight days later, and the visit of Magi when He was about two.  And now, Jesus is around 30 years old.  The last we heard about His youth was Mary and Joseph finding Him in the temple teaching elders when He was about 12 years old.  That story ends with “He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.  And Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man.” (Luke 2:51-52)   Those two sentences contain all that is recorded in Sacred Scripture about the next 18 years in the life of Jesus.  We call these years the “Hidden Years”.

Our Catechism tells us during these years, Jesus was just like every other young, Jewish man growing up in Nazareth – “a life spent without greatness, a life of manual labor. His religious life was that of a Jew obedient to the Law of God, a life in the community (CCC 531).”  Jesus lived an ordinary and unremarkable life, out of the public spotlight.  He probably learned his foster-father’s trade as a carpenter.   Eventually, maybe after the death of Joseph, He continued working as a carpenter in and around Nazareth and took care of His mother.

Understanding these Hidden Years provides us with the perfect model of humility, work ethic, faithfulness, and obedience.  By living an ordinary life, Jesus teaches us how to fight our vanity which causes us to do only what seems great, important, or bringing praise and notice to ourselves.  Jesus went about His work dutifully, day after day, without complaining or being impatient.  In all these things, Jesus obeyed His parents with great love.  The God of all things, almighty and infinite, became submissive to two, poor unknown human beings – Joseph and Mary of Nazareth.

St. Josemaria Escriva, the “saint of ordinary life”, wrote the Hidden Years of Jesus “speak eloquently for itself and contain a wonderful message for us Christians.  They were years of intense work and prayer, years which Jesus lived an ordinary life, a life like ours…which was both divine and human at the same time…He lived in obscurity, but for us, that period is full of light.  It illuminates our days and fills them with meaning for we are ordinary Christians who lead an ordinary life.”

As our new year begins to unfold, may the ordinary life of Jesus be the example we seek to live the Cardinal Virtues of “temperance, prudence, justice, and fortitude; and nothing in life is more useful than these (Wisdom 8.7)”

Deacon John

Adapted from “Introduction to Catholicism for Adults” by Fr James Socias

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 13 2019

 

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Last week in my homily, I talked about Fr. Ron Rolhieser’s new kind of bucket list to experience the Epiphany.  Here is an excerpt from his article with the bigger picture. Fr Ron wrote:

What’s still unfinished in your life?  Well, there’s always a lot that’s unfinished in everyone’s life. Nothing is ever really finished. Our lives, it seems, are simply interrupted by our dying. Most of us don’t complete our lives, we just run out of time. So, consciously or unconsciously, we make a bucket-list of things we still want to see, do, or finish before we die.

What do we still want to do? A number of things probably immediately come to the fore: We want to see our children grow up….see our daughter’s wedding…see our grandchildren.  We want to finish this last work of art, of writing, of building. We want to see our 80th birthday….to reconcile with our family.  But…the better question is:  how do I want to live…to be ready to die when it’s my time?

In a wonderful little book on contemplation, Biography of Silence, Spanish author, Pablo d’Ors, stares his mortality in the face and decides that this is what he wants to do in face of the inalienable fact that he’s one day to die. Here’s his bucket list:“ I have decided to stand up and open my eyes. I have decided to eat and drink in moderation, to sleep as necessary, to write only what contributes toward improving those who read me, to abstain from greed, and never compare myself to others. I have also decided to water my plants and care for an animal. I will visit the sick, I will converse with the lonely, and I will not let much time go by before playing with a child.”

In the same manner I have decided to recite my prayers every day, to bow several times before the things I consider sacred, to celebrate the Eucharist, to listen to the Word, to break bread and share the wine, to give peace, to sing in unison.  To go for walks, which I find essential.  To light the fire, which is also essential. To shop without hurry…greet my neighbors even when I do not like seeing their faces…subscribe to a newspaper…regularly call my friends and siblings…take excursions…swim in the sea at least once a year… read only good books, or reread those that I have liked.  I will live for those things according to an ethics of attention and care.

And this is how I will arrive at a happy old age…with a different kind of bucket-list:  I am going to strive to be as productive as long as I can…to make every day and every activity as precious and enjoyable as possible…to be as gracious, warm, and charitable as possible…to be as healthy as long as I can…to accept others’ love in a deeper way than I have up to now…to live a more-fully “reconciled” life – no room for past hurts anymore…to keep my sense of humor intact…to be as courageous and brave as I can…to never look on what I am losing, but rather to look at how wonderful and full my life has been and is.  And, I am going to lay all of this daily at God’s feet through prayer.  Not incidentally, since then I have also begun to water plants, give care to a feral cat, and feed all the neighborhood birds.

I hope you enjoyed this article a much as I did.  You can read more from Fr. Ron at www.ronrolheiser.com.   May you be blessed with a happy and joyous New Year!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, December 23, 2018

Our Gospel reading today is about Mary.  Two weeks ago, we heard how the Angel Gabriel told Mary that her elderly cousin, Elizabeth, would miraculously conceive a child in her old age.  Gabriel gave Mary this sign to reassure her that something wonderful was unfolding in her own life.  Because the same God who accomplished something impossible in Elizabeth’s life would work an even greater miracle with Mary’s life.  Mary would become the Mother of God!

So, Mary set out and “traveled in haste” to the hill country of Judea to see Elizabeth.  This was no easy task.  It would have taken Mary a couple of weeks to travel from Nazareth in Galilee to Ein Karem, just outside of Jerusalem, where John the Baptist was born.   She would have walked about 80 miles along a winding, stony path with steep hills – while pregnant – to make this journey.  This young lady was tough, determined, fearless, and on fire for God.

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we have to ask ourselves – can we be like Mary?   Mary was a disciple of Jesus first – sharing His love and doing God’s will – and Mother of God second, and that’s the example she set for us. That brave little 14-year-old girl became the first human messenger of the Good News.  To be like Mary means we share that same message.  To be on fire with our faith.  To be the love of Christ.  To be determined and fearless with the heart of a lion, with bold humility and all the compassion of a loving mother.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

Deacon John

 

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