Deacon’s Corner, June 16 2019

Words cannot tell you how grateful I am for all your heartfelt prayers and well wishes during my medical emergency last week.

If you haven’t heard, I spent 3 days in the ICU at Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital in Jackson.  Without warning, my left arm, side of face, and tongue went completely numb.  I was unable to talk.  Kimberly immediately recognized the symptoms as a possible stroke and called 911 for an ambulance.  The symptoms resolved themselves within 20 to 30 minutes with no lasting side effects.   After multiple CT scans, an MRI, EKGs, blood tests, and a heart ultrasound I was diagnosed with a 90% plaque blockage in my right coronary artery.   A heart catheter was inserted to clear the blockage and install a stint.

I was driving at the time and had no warning signs that anything was about to happen.  My cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight were all within the normal ranges.  My condition was diagnosed as hereditary, and I now have prescribed medications to prevent a reoccurrence.   The cardiologist said I was “as good as new” and to return to my regular routine as soon as possible.

Throughout my entire ordeal, I was both surprised and somewhat scared that this could be happening to me.  But, with my family at my side, and your overwhelming response of love, I was able to grasp the reality of my situation and prepare myself to accept whatever outcome the Lord had planned for me.  I am truly blessed to have such caring parish families, and thank God every day for the privilege of being your deacon.

Please always be attentive to whatever signals your body is sending you, and guys, always listen to your wives.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the cardiologist said I was at a very high risk for a massive heart attack within the near future.  He told me he has seen too many cases where a wife saved her husband’s life by immediately calling 911 before the husband knew what was happening.  He said “never forget, wives save lives!”

May you have a wonderful and blessed week!

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, June 9 2019

This past Saturday, June 8th, is the typical day we would have celebrated priestly ordinations.  Sadly this year we did not have any ordinations (we will have two next year).  Bishop Boyea held a special day of prayer and asked for our particular intercession for an increase in vocations.  I have included a prayer for vocations from Pope Francis that we can continue to pray for more to hear Jesus’ call.

 

LORD of the Harvest,

BLESS young people with the gift of courage to respond to your call.

Open their hearts to great ideals, to great things.

INSPIRE all of your disciples to mutual love and giving – for vocations blossom in the good soil of faithful people.

INSTILL those in religious life, parish ministries, and families with the confidence and grace to invite others to embrace the bold and noble path of a life consecrated to you.

UNITE us to Jesus through prayer and sacrament, so that we may cooperate with you in building your reign of mercy and truth, of justice and peace.

Amen.

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 2 2019

St. Paul and St. Silas were preaching in Philippi when they were brutally attacked and imprisoned.  They were stripped, beaten, and locked in chains deep within the prison.  While praying that night, a large earthquake shook the foundations of the prison.  The cell doors flew open, the chains pulled loose, and Paul and Silas were freed (Acts 16:22-34).

During morning prayer last week, I prayed to be freed from the despair of a culture that seems to be losing its focus on God.  Then, the Lord led me to a meditation by the Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.  Thuan would overcome despair by putting his trust in God and praying to love others as God loves them – unconditionally.   Feeling hope through Thuan’s words, I wondered who he was.  With a little research, here’s what I found….

On April 24, 1975, Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan was appointed Archbishop of Saigon.  One week later, the city fell to the communist North Vietnamese Army.  He was immediately imprisoned to endure thirteen years of harsh treatment and deplorable conditions.  Nine of those years were spent in solitary confinement.  During his years of isolation, rather than give in to despair and self-pity, Thuan found God in the darkness: he was never alone, never without comfort.  His life still had purpose, even in the midst of incredible suffering.  Thuan used scraps of paper to compose a tiny Bible; and write messages of hope which were smuggled out to his fellow believers, many who were also suffering for their faith.  He even made a small crucifix from a piece of wood and wire smuggled in by sympathetic guards.

In November 1988, Archbishop Thuan was released but kept under house arrest in Hanoi.  Three years later, he was allowed to visit Rome and did not return until after Vietnam’s government eased restrictions on him.  By now, Thuan was a Cardinal working on the Pope’s staff in Rome.  He died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 74 in Rome.  In 2007, on the fifth anniversary of his death, Pope Benedict began the beatification process for Cardinal Thuan.

Over a thousand of Cardinal Thuan’s messages were smuggled from the damp darkness of his prison cell – passed between barbed wire, traveled thousands of miles across oceans, and handed down over the years to compose a book: “The Road of Hope – a Gospel from prison.” I bought the book and began reading it.  In the first chapter, Cardinal Thuan writes “I have traveled along life’s road where I have experienced both joys and sorrows; but always I have been overflowing with hope because I have our Lord and his mother at my side…If you wish to set off on this road, you must go regardless of what other people may say to ridicule you.  The Magi set off hoping to find the newborn Savior, and they found him…St Paul knew imprisonment and affliction awaited him (Acts 20:30) and Jesus foresaw the road to Jerusalem would lead to his great Passion (Matthew 16:21).  Yet both continued forward…The Lord guides you on this road so you will ‘go and bear fruit’ (John 15:16) which will endure.

As we face our joys and hardships, our happiness and despair, may we pray to be courageous to trust in God and travel the Road of Hope.  For as Psalm 43 says, “Why are you cast down, my soul.  Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God.”

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, May 26 2019

As Americans, we are blessed by God with freedoms to do or say almost anything we want, with more food than one nation can possibly consume, more resources than we can possibly use, and the protection of the mightiest military ever assembled.  As Christians, we strive to be more than the material world.  By virtue of our human reason and free will, we are unique among all other created things.  We can freely choose to accept or reject God’s graces. Turning away from God is not true freedom.  It is an abuse of our freedom that enslaves us into a culture of apathy and violence which threatens human life and dignity.  The Church teaches to understand freedom we must consider the nature and purpose of our humanity – that each of us are made in the image and likeness of God.

St. Pope John Paul II said freedom destroys itself when it is not based on objective truth.  By virtue of our ability to reason and our free will, we are compelled to seek the truth. Our Creator instilled this divine drive within us so we would seek Him, for God is the truth.  Once we find the truth, we are obligated to live it to the best of our ability.  Those obligations include sacrificing our blessings to ensure everyone can enjoy the “certain unalienable Rights” that we believe in.  We cannot satisfy this obligation knowing there is coercion in our society.  After all, how can we thank God for our blessings but ignore the suffering and death of people at the hands of ruthless oppressors, natural disasters, and in famine stricken regions of the world?

As Americans we have the moral responsibility to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves when these privileges are threatened or violated.  This Memorial Day we honor our fallen brothers and sisters who gave their life so others may choose freedom and seek the truth.  The “truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”  May we pray for those who sacrificed their lives for a purpose they believed was greater than themselves.  May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 19 2019

In the Gospel today, Jesus sums up Christian discipleship in three, simple words: “love one another.”  Because, at the end of the day, when the doctrine has been debated, the prayers have been prayed, traditions lived out, hymns have been sung, and the liturgies celebrated, we are left with just one thing: love.

But, what is ‘love’?  After all, I love my wife and family.  I loved my job.  I love my Fighting Irish and would love to see a national championship someday.   I love good food and love sharing it with good friends.   The word ‘love’ has different meanings depending on how we use it.  And to make it harder, Jesus redefined love when he said “love one another, as I have loved you”.  So, how did Jesus “love”?

Jesus showed us love is sacrificial.  At the very heart of our Christian faith is the fact that Jesus died on the cross; not some empty, meaningless, failing type of death, but a death that won a significant victory over the power of sin and death so that we could live in a beautiful relationship with God.  There was no limit to Jesus’ sacrifice – because there was no limit to his love for us.  Jesus gave up everything so we could live:  He gave up his birthright, his power, his majesty, his glory, his own life.  Jesus didn’t just make sacrifices for us. He became a sacrifice for us.

Jesus showed us love is unconditional.   We constantly make a mess of our lives.  But, God loves us anyway. Jesus didn’t set conditions on his love. He never said that we need to do something first in order for him to love us. He never waited until we had proved ourselves worthy of love.  Jesus’ love was absolutely unconditional.

Jesus showed us love is practical.  There are many poems and love songs written to express the emotion of love. But in reality, love is intensely practical.  Like the hospice nurse caring for a dying patient.  The mother cleaning up after her sick child in the middle of the night.  The food pantry volunteer listening to a client and providing for their needs.  The father working two jobs to take care of his family.  And parents sacrificing their own dreams for the sake of their children.  Jesus’ death on the cross was intensely practical. It wasn’t a glorious; he was alone, he was in pain, he had to grit his teeth and just get on with it. That is practical love in action.

We are called to love as Jesus loved. It is not easy, but loving as Jesus loved must be the hallmark of our church and our own lives.  As St. Paul said, if we don’t have love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Without love, our worship is empty, our hymn singing is empty, and all the activities of our church and life are meaningless.  As we prepare for the week ahead, may we pray for the grace to follow the example Jesus set, and fulfil His commandment to love each other as he loves us.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 12 2019

The Deacon’s Corner

Sometimes, I think the hardest thing a parent must do is love their children enough to say ‘no’ because saying ‘yes’ may only harm them even more.

Even God says “no”.  When Jesus prayed in the garden for this cup to pass him by – God told Him “no.”  Jesus said “no”, too.  He told the devil “no” in the desert.  He told Peter “no” a number of times.  He told the man “no” who wanted to be a disciple but first bury his dead father.  Jesus told Martha “no” when she wanted her sister to help prepare for the guests.   He told His Apostles “no” when they were not ready to hear the answers to the questions they asked.  He told them a very strong “no!” when they wanted fire from heaven to destroy those who rejected them.  At first, Jesus said “no” to healing his best friend Lazarus lying on his death bed.  He told his disciples “no, you feed them” when they were looking for a way out of feeding the massive crowd just before His miracle with a few pieces of fish and bread.  Jesus even said ‘no’ sometimes when people wanted miracles worked.  Jesus knew when to say “no”, and when to say “yes.”

So, what is love if we cannot always say “yes” to our children or agree with what they are doing?  That’s a great question to ask on Mother’s Day.  Because, we only need to look at a mother’s love to see how Jesus loved others and how God loves us.  Mom’s love with self-giving sacrifice by putting their family’s needs ahead of their own.  A love so intense that they would rather die on a cross before seeing us harmed by something evil.

God loves us so much that there is nothing we can do to make Him stop even if we don’t like it when He says “no.”  Moms do too.   Thank you, moms,  for showing us how to love as Jesus loved, and loving us enough to know when to say yes and when to say ‘no’.   May you have a very Happy and Blessed Mother’s Day.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 5 2019

Kimberly and I like to sit down together with a cup of coffee and watch reruns of the old, classic TV shows from when we were kids.  They remind us of growing up when life seemed much simpler and television programs promoted moral living, family life, and God. One of our favorites is “Leave it to Beaver”.

Leave it to Beaver was a TV series during the late 1950s and early 1960s about a young boy named “Beaver” and his older brother “Wally”.  Each episode, Beaver and Wally would make some kind of mistake or use poor judgement and get into trouble.  Even their mom and dad struggled at times to make the right decisions on how to handle the situations.  By the end of each episode, the boys learned a lesson about virtue.

We all make mistakes.  I’ve certainly made my fair share of them and continue to so.  Last week, while reading my Magnificat during Adoration, the Lord led me to a short story about St. Asicus who also made mistakes.  He is the patron saint of coppersmiths and the Diocese of Elphin in Ireland.

Asicus was married and lived in the 5th Century.  He was a disciple of St. Patrick who converted Asicus to Christianity.  As a skilled metalworker, he used his talents to craft crosses, patens, and book covers.  Eventually, Asicus became the first Bishop of Elphin.  He founded a monastery and a school of the arts, where students learned to craft copper and silver into beautiful artwork.  A deeply humble man, Asicus never felt totally comfortable as bishop and abbot.  When he became aware of a growing scandal, he decided to resign his office and go into hiding.  Some sources say Asicus told a lie that scandalized his people.  Others say that a serious lie was told about him and spread around.  Whatever the case, Asicus no longer felt worthy to lead his parishioners, so he left.  Asicus spent 7 years in solitary hiding on an uninhabited island.  His monks finally found him and convinced him to come home. By now an old man, Asicus was in poor health and died on the journey home.  He is buried in the village of Balintra in Ireland.

Like Beaver and Wally, mistakes and misunderstandings are a part of life that we must learn from and grow so we become a better person because of it.  No one knows for sure why Asicus fled his post.  Did he make a mistake?  Was he scandalized by people speaking falsely about him?  What we do know is that Asicus was very holy and never felt worthy of holding such a high office in the church.

May the life of St. Asicus be a reminder for us to be humble and remain close to our Merciful Father, especially when we are misunderstood and disliked.  St. Asicus, pray for us.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, April 28 2019

Webster defines “doubt” as a “feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction”.   We doubt ourselves with feelings of uncertainty, hesitation, and indecision.  We doubt God with skepticism and being cynical when things don’t work out the way we want them to.  We doubt others.  We even doubt the doubters.

 

Holy Week is the biggest week of the year.  And now it’s over.  Many people, most volunteers, spent many hours and late nights pulling together all the little details so these Sacred Liturgies of Palm Sunday, the Triduum, the Tenebrae, and Easter Sunday became joyful celebrations of our rich Catholic heritage.  Each year, the planning begins in January.  Even so, there are always last minute changes and overlooked details that make things a little chaotic – candles get misplaced, there is confusion with readings, incense won’t burn, the weather doesn’t always cooperate, and miscues happen during Mass.  Although we have been celebrating these liturgies for almost 2000 years, things never seem to go “perfect”.

 

When the chaos hits, the doubt creeps in.  That’s because the Devil is literally is in the details – and Satan thrives in chaos.  Satan knows that we know what doubt is.  So he gets sneaky.  He plants seeds in of doubt in our minds causing us to second-guess ourselves or criticize others – especially in the midst of the chaos.  So, it shouldn’t surprise us when we begin to doubt ourselves or others in the midst of things falling apart around us.

 

In the Gospel today, Thomas doubted, and I wonder how the disciples really felt.  Did they take his doubt as criticism and become discouraged.   Did they feel disheartened and want to give up because their colleague would not believe them. They could have rejected Thomas – but they didn’t.   Whenever we feel like doubting ourselves or others, let’s remember that Thomas doubted then believed – the disciples were doubted then vindicated.  The devil is in the details and Satan thrives in chaos.  However, Jesus blesses those who do not doubt – but believe.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, April 7 2019

It’s finally April and that means two things.  First (hopefully), Spring is really here!  Second, Lent both continues and ends this month.

As Lent continues, let’s remember that no matter how it’s gone so far, whether we’ve really nailed our Lenten commitments like All-stars or felt like amateurs playing way out of our league, God never has a bad day.   He never fluctuates in His commitments; and is always there for us.  He is our salvation and our strength.

In the daily Gospel from last Tuesday, Jesus heals a man who was cripple for most or all of his life.  Scripture says Jesus tells the man to “Rise up, take your mat, and walk. (John 5:8)” When I read this verse, I wonder -why didn’t Jesus tell him to toss his mat away?  After all, the man was lying on that mat for 38 years.  Maybe Jesus wanted to leave the man with a constant reminder of his former condition?  Lugging around his silly mat might have been annoying, but I’ll bet the man never forgot his life depended on Jesus.

So it is with us – we carry our mats.  Our Catechism tells us that although Baptism removes Original Sin, there are certain worldly consequences of sin like suffering, illness, death, and human weakness that keep us from getting carried away with our self (CCC 1274).   Our human vulnerability to suffering and death actually unites us to Jesus, who suffered and died for us.  Our lifelong war against temptation prepares us to receive a crown of glory.  After all, Jesus did establish seven sacraments to receive sanctifying grace, not just one.  Baptism does indeed make us holy.  The rest of the sacraments, especially regular Confession and Communion, make us more holy.

In our second reading today, St. Paul said “Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13b-14)” As the weather warms, the trees and flowers begin to bud, the beauty of Spring unfolds around us, and we look forward to the joy of Easter, may nothing – no lingering discouragement or regret, cloud or darkness – impede our Lord’s victory over sin and death.  May your final 40 days of Lent be blessed remembering this is the season that unites us to Jesus, our Savior and our Lord.

Deacon John

Adapted from The Magnificat, April 2019

 

Deacon Corner, March 31 2019

One topic I seem to write about the most is prayer.  Maybe that’s because prayer is something I struggle the most with.  So, for Lent, rather than “give something up”, I decided to take something on – to become more disciplined in my prayer.  Specifically, to make sure I make the time each morning and night to pray as I promised I would when I was ordained to be a deacon.

Two weeks ago while dashing through the church to get to a meeting, I realized I had not taken time yet for Morning Prayer.  I sat in the front pew and struggled to focus as I prayed the Breviary, I was speaking the words, but my mind was wandering.  So, I just sat there and talked with God. He helped me sort out my priorities for the day and remember a few things to do that were not on my list.  Although I felt a little guilty for struggling with my Breviary prayer, I also felt refreshed and “ready to go” after talking with God.

Later that evening I read a reflection on prayer by St. Francis de Sales.  He said, “If during vocal prayer your heart is drawn to mental prayer, do not restrain it, but let your devotion take that channel, omitting the vocal prayers which you intended to say: that which takes their place is more acceptable to God, and more useful to your own soul.”   I think that’s what I experienced earlier in the morning while praying.  Was I forcing my mind to vocal and written prayer?  Was God calling me to talk to him through mental prayer?  I’m not sure, but those are questions to add to my list of “things to ask God” someday when I meet Him.

Our Catechism says prayer is God’s gift of grace to us.  Whether we pray through words or gestures, prayer is centered in our hearts (CCC 2563.)  Prayer is not presenting a list of wants and needs to God.  We don’t pray to give Him our grievances about life.  We pray to be ever mindful that God is with us no matter what we are facing.  We pray in thanksgiving and to honor Him.  We pray to do our best in the given situation to keep our focus on God and exalt him in everything we do.  We pray for strength and courage, and yes, we even pray for miracles.  But most of all, we pray to be ever mindful of God’s presence in our life, and keep us focused on doing His will.

To quote my first Deacon’s Corner on prayer: “St. Ignatius said praying is like talking to Jesus as a friend.  Ask forgiveness.  Ask for protection and help.  Ask for wisdom about the problems you face.  Do all this in the spirit of gratitude to receive the grace of peace in your heart that comes through prayer.”

May you have a Blessed week in prayer with our Lord.

Deacon John