Deacon’s Corner, March 29, 2020

With everything essentially shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it will be a while before we gather again to celebrate Mass on Sunday.   Who would have ever imagined that our Lenten sacrifice would include Mass?  So, as I considered what to write for the bulletin this week, I thought I would spend the next few weeks dusting off some of my old Deacon’s Corners which talk about what the Mass is and why we go to Mass in the first place.  Let’s begin with what Sunday is all about.  It is the Sabbath: The Lord’s Day.

There was a time when Kimberly and I had our Sunday routine down pretty good – Mass in the morning, rush home, quick lunch, do all the yard work and house projects, quit about 6pm, be too tired for dinner, call the parents and kids to see how they’re doing, then get ready for the upcoming week.  One hot Sunday afternoon, we took a break from mowing the lawn.  Across the street we noticed our neighbors.  Mom and Dad were sitting on the front porch.  He was strumming his guitar.  She was reading a book.  The kids were running around the yard playing soccer.  Then, it hit us both at the same time – why don’t we do that?  Why can’t we just relax on Sunday afternoon?  Kimberly and I walked over and talked to our neighbors, then decided to follow their example of setting Sunday aside as a day of rest.  You see, our neighbors were also our very good friends.  And still are.  They are Mormon, and take the Third Commandment quite literally.  They believe in family values and honoring the Sabbath as a solemn day of rest to thank God for their blessings.

Funny thing, so do we.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “The seventh day is a Sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord” (2168).  It goes on to say that “God entrusted the Sabbath to Israel to keep as a sign of the irrevocable covenant, and set the day apart for the praise of God and his work of creation” (2171)…“If God rested and was refreshed on the seventh day, then we, too, should rest and let others do the same…The Sabbath brings everyday work to a halt and provides a respite.  It is a day of protest against the servitude of work and the worship of money” (2172).

Sunday is a day of rest and leisure to nurture our spiritual, family, and social life.  It is a day to avoid unnecessary demands on ourselves and others.  Of course, there are always emergencies, and some people do have to work on Sunday to keep the paycheck coming.  And that’s OK.  But we must always remember, Sunday is the Lord’s Day – the Sabbath.  It is a day to attend Mass and worship our God.  A day to enjoy the world God created for us.  It is a day to do humble works of service for others, as Jesus did.

The word “Sabbath” comes from the Hebrew verb shabbat, meaning “to rest from labor”: the day of rest.  It is first used in the Bible for the seventh day of Creation when God rested (Exodus 16:23).  So, if God rested on the Sabbath, why can’t we?   That’s something to think about when life gets back to normal after the COVID-19 shutdown ends.

May you always enjoy the Sabbath, and have a blessed week!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, March 22, 2020

Everything I’ve read this past week seems to be about the coronavirus.  This Deacon’s Corner is no different. So, if you are tired of reading coronavirus stories, feel free to pass on this one.

Last Saturday, in the midst of school closings, public events being canceled, and panic buying, Kimberly and I went to our place near Gaylord for a long weekend.  We had just finished stocking my mom with groceries before her senior living residence went into lockdown.  The flurry of emails about Mass, school closing, religious education classes, and meetings had ended.  Our trip had been on the calendar for weeks.  So, we decided to go and meet some friends for 5pm Mass at St. Mary Cathedral.  Upon arriving and double-checking the Mass time, we found out the Bishop had suspended all Masses within the Diocese of Gaylord.

Now, I’m a cradle Catholic.  So, I’ve been literally going to Mass my entire life.  My initial reaction to Mass being suspended was a shoulder shrug considering everything else going on in the news.  But then it hit me.  No Masses for a while. Now, I have to sheepishly admit, there are times it would be nice not to “have to go to Mass.”   But, this news of no Masses at all made me realize how much I have come to rely on Sunday Mass as a critical staple in my personal well-being.

As I am writing this the next day on Sunday morning, I already miss gathering together to worship God as a faith community.   I miss sharing the Word of God, singing hymns of praise, bringing Jesus our gifts of bread and wine, and Jesus giving them back as Himself in the Precious Body and Blood of the Eucharist.  I miss the praying of the Lord’s Prayer together, embracing with the Sign of Peace, and quietly reflecting on my blessings as the choir sings the Communion Hymn.  I miss standing by the Altar with Fr. Todd and Fr. Tomy, assisting them as their deacon.  And I miss proclaiming to you at the end of Mass: “Go and Announce the Gospel of the Lord!”  I miss all of that.  Then I think about all the people who can never attend Mass.  Like our homebound parishioners, residents (like my mom) in senior living centers, people in Africa where there are not enough priests, and those persecuted in China and other countries with no 1st Amendment rights.  It makes me realize that suspending Masses here is one small sacrifice to make in order to get our great nation back on its feet from this crisis.

I saw on Facebook where someone posted that COVID 19 stands for Christ Over Viruses and Infectious Diseases, and “19” refers to Joshua 1:9.  Think about that, then look up Joshua 1:9 in your Bible.  Is God trying to send us a message?  Someday our coronavirus crisis will be over.  Once again, the store shelves will overflow with everything we could ever need and want.   The stock market will recover, schools will be back in session (sorry kids), life will return to normal, and we will once again gather as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Lord’s Day.  Until then, may we be grateful for what we have, mindful of those who have nothing, and develop a deeper appreciation for the Mass and our Faith.

Deacon John

 

 

Deacon Corner, March 15, 2020

I remember a few years ago grumbling about Lent to a parishioner.  Then, he reminded me that one of the things I gave up for Lent was complaining about Lent.  I quickly realized that although my mind tried not to complain about Lent, my heart was still hardened against it.

The First Reading from Exodus tells us the Israelites “grumbled” and complained to Moses that he led them into the desert to die of starvation and thirst.  They forgot that he had led them out of slavery.  Moses responds (with God’s help) by producing water for them to drink from the rock of Horeb.  In the Gospel, Jesus talks to a Samaritan woman at the well.  At first, she appears skeptical and keeps her distance, perhaps because Samaritans and Jews had nothing to do with each other.  Jesus responds by promising she can drink “living water” which will become a fountain within her springing up to provide eternal life.  In both of these readings, the immediate need for people is to physically quench their thirst.  But looking deeper, the need is really to soften their hearts.

We know Lent is about prayer, fasting, and doing works of mercy.  But did we know it’s really about softening our hearts?  St. Paul said in the Second Reading that the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  A love that makes us a forgiving people to be brought together in unity and peace.  Our goal this Lent is to open our hearts to be concerned for the poor and suffering, to forgive the criminal, to welcome the stranger, to love our enemies, and to lift up the oppressed.

Pope St. John Paul II said that showing mercy and helping others not only fulfills a commandment or moral obligation, it is “also a case of satisfying a condition of major importance for God to reveal himself in his mercy to man.”  When we open our hearts to others and do works of mercy, St. John Paul II said, “the merciful shall obtain mercy.” On this 3rd Sunday of Lent, may we pause to reflect on what we are doing for Lent to change our hearts.  Grumbling about another 3 weeks of Lent does nothing to help us help others.  But opening our hearts to their needs does everything to spread the love of Christ.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, March 8, 2020

In the Gospel today, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John to encounter God as they have never experienced Him before.  They get a sneak peek at the awesome glory of God, and what it will be like to live eternally with Him in heaven.  But first, they had to climb a mountain to find out.

We all need to go up the mountain to find solitude so we can encounter God.  Going up the mountain means we step away from our busy world and take time to be quiet and still and listen for God.  It means we strive to feel His presence with all of our mind and senses.  It means we look for Him in our surroundings and in the people around us, and we truly believe God is present among us every minute of the day.  But to climb that mountain, we must have the emotional desire to not just meet God, but to want to be with God—to experience Jesus.  Because, no one in the Gospels ever just “met” Jesus.  They “encountered” Him.  They “experienced” Him.   And when they were open to His Word, they were filled with grace and felt His mercy.

Pope Francis says we are called to bear the fruit of our experiences with God by sharing the grace we receive. He tells us we must go up the mountain to experience God, then come back down and share our joy with the many brothers and sisters weighed down by fatigue and sickness, injustice and ignorance, and poverty—both material and spiritual.  To these brothers and sisters in difficulty, through our mercy and compassion, Pope Francis says we must help them experience good, too.

As we seek God’s graces this Lent, let’s follow Jesus up the mountain to experience Him like never before.  Then, lead others to do the same.   When we do these things, we can enjoy God’s presence and change our life forever.  It did for Peter, James, and John.  And it will for us, too.  After all, isn’t that what Lent is all about?

Deacon John

 

Deacon John Bulletin, March 1, 2020

Today in the Gospel, we hear the story of the devil tempting Jesus in the desert.  Satan attacked Jesus’ human side because he knew he would lose the battle with Jesus’ divine side.  But Satan still lost anyway.  Our Catechism tells us that through Jesus’ temptation, God is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tested in every respect as we have been tested, and Jesus won those tests.  It says: “By the solemn forty days of Lent, the Church unites herself to the mystery of Jesus in the desert” (CCC 540).

Lent is our time to imitate Jesus by fasting and praying to offer God all of our temptations, self-interests, and brokenness.   It’s a time to chill out and see where our emotions are taking us. It is a time to understand the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection with the ultimate goal of changing our lives.  To undergo a conversion of the heart that only comes from dying to our old self and rising again.  Lent is our “forty days” in the desert to find our way back to the life Jesus won for us.  A life where inner peace comes from choosing not to let something or someone control us – and to make the right choices when they do.

Pope Francis said going to the desert during Lent helps us hear the voice of God.  It helps us make room for others in our heart and strengthens solidarity with our brothers and sisters.  He says that when our interior life gets caught up in our own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others – God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of His love is no longer felt, the desire to do good fades – and that is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life.  Pope Francis says that is not what God wants for us – nor is it the life of a Christian whose heart has its source in the risen Christ.

As we begin our Lenten Journey, may we use this time to imitate Jesus by surrendering ourselves to the care of our Heavenly Father and be a servant to His will and the plan He has for us.  May we pray this week for a renewed, personal encounter with God as we walk through the desert, like Jesus, with the Holy Spirit leading the way.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, February 23, 2020

It’s that time of year, again.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  But, how many of us really get excited about Lent?  This rich Catholic tradition has been around since the days of the early Church.  At that time, Christians would fast for two days, then join an all-night vigil celebration ending on Easter.  Over time, Lent became a period of spiritual renewal during the weeks before Easter.  By the Middle Ages, on the first day of Lent, sinners publicly declared themselves penitents and were sprinkled with ashes as a sign of their repentance.  Then, they fasted for 40 days to recall Jesus’ time in the desert (Matthew 4:2), and the fasts of Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).  But, no matter how traditions may have changed over the years, the purpose of Lent remains the same: preparing ourselves to celebrate the great mystery of our faith at Easter, the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

During Lent, we focus on three essential elements: meaningful forms of penance, especially positive ones like charity and community service to help change our heart and foster a greater love for God; personal choices for spiritual renewal such as prayer and fasting; and recalling our Baptismal Vows to remember what it means to be a child of God.  Our goal during Lent is not to lose weight by giving up certain foods.  The purpose of Lent is to acknowledge our human weaknesses and undergo a spiritual revival to grow closer to God.  We do this through a meaningful Lent by doing penance.

Our Catechism tells us penance “can be expressed in many and various ways…above all, three forms:  fasting, prayer, and almsgiving” (CCC 1434). Now, I’ve tried fasting and almsgiving (giving money to feed and house the poor).  But this year, I want to do something different – I want to give more time to the Lord.  Instead of giving up favorite foods, social media, or smart technology, I’ll take precious time out of my daily life and spend it in prayer talking to God.  What about you?  Have you decided yet? How about giving some of your time to the Lord?  After all, when is the last time you spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration and received the solemn blessing we call Benediction?  Attended a weekday Mass? Prayed a rosary? Joined Mary as she walked the Sorrowful Way, the Stations of the Cross, following Jesus on the road to Calvary?  Or just fell on your knees and thanked God for something?  Even if it’s only 5 minutes, Jesus will take whatever time you give Him.

May you have a Happy Lent becoming a better, holier, more loving follower of Christ.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 16, 2020

Last month, Bishop Boyea was invited to address the Lansing City Council on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.   He used the occasion to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching on racism.  In case you missed it, I would like to share some of the highlights of what he said here.

Bishop Boyea explained that the intrinsic dignity and worth of each human person is rooted in our common origin in God Almighty.  Our dignity is not something we confer on ourselves or on one another.   Rather, we are endowed with that dignity from our wise and loving Creator.  Because idolizing myself is such an easy thing to do, to make myself the measure of how I view others, racism usually involves suppressing the truth of the nature of the other person.  So, racism becomes a form of idolatry by placing myself in the place of God.  It is a serious sin in violation of the First Commandment.  To fight racism, he said, we must intentionally focus on God, who is the origin and destiny of us all.  This is the foundation for the common dignity of all human beings.

We may wonder why God allowed all these differences among each other in the first place.  Bishop Boyea said, there is no other reason than they can be the opportunity for the exchange of gifts, something that is made possible when we are kind, generous, and open to one another.  He cautions, however, that too often we think that dialogue should always lead to agreement.  It doesn’t.  In fact, part of the exchange of gifts is to hear differences, value them, and recognize that should my views remain, they are never quite the same. Too many of us give up on dialogue simply because we don’t agree with one another. But, as Christians, we are called to listen and know the stories of our brothers and sisters.  So, we must create opportunities to hear, with open hearts, the tragic stories that are deeply imprinted on the lives of our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved with empathy to promote justice.

Bishop Boyea concluded by saying we are all made in the image of God.  For Christians, this is fundamentally an action of seeking first the Kingdom of God such that all these things will follow (Matthew 6:33).   He said, there is no magic way of achieving all these things.  However, with good hearts, and with an abundance of God’s grace, we can move toward the full recognition of the human dignity of all our brothers and sisters.  In the words of Bishop Boyea:  may God bless us, our community, our state, and our country to reach such a noble goal.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 9, 2020

Last week, I stopped by to see our 5th and 6th graders at Sacred Heart School.   A simple visit to say “hello” led to an impromptu session answering their random questions about our faith.  A 5th grader asked me: “Do you have to be Catholic to go to heaven?”   Now, that’s a great question.  So, let’s begin with “What is heaven?”

We all have our own vision of heaven and the joys heaven will contain.   Scripture tells us three things about heaven very clearly:  1) The happiness of heaven is perfect, 2) The happiness of heaven is indescribable and unimaginable, and 3) In heaven, we shall see God face-to-face.  Heaven offers much more than we could ever hope to attain here on earth.  Heaven is the promise to live in eternal joy, in perfect friendship, with the Most Holy Trinity, our Holy Mother Mary, and all the angels and saints.

As followers of Christ, we have been offered this gift of heaven because our souls have been saved through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  But, while Jesus offered Himself freely for all people, God was humble enough to allow each of us to choose salvation.  We can choose to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and live our life as a child of God, or we can reject it.   As Catholics, we believe that those who die in God’s grace and friendship, those who chose to accept salvation, will reach heaven.

One of the most misunderstood teachings of the Church is that outside the Church there is no salvation.  In other words, all salvation comes from Christ with the Church as His Body (Catechism 846).  While true, it is important to note this does not necessarily apply to those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ.   That’s because we must always remember the great mercy of God.   Anyone who seeks God with a sincere heart and tries in their actions to do His will as they know it may also attain heaven (Catechism 847).  Jesus died for every single person; salvation is meant for everyone.  Anyone who is ignorant of the Gospel, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with their understanding of it, can be saved.

So, in short: no, you do not have to be Catholic to go to heaven.   However, as Catholics, we can never forget our God-given duty to evangelize and make disciples of all people.  We must have the courage to live our life in such a way that emulates the life and love of Jesus.  We must have the courage to speak truth in a time when so many people are afraid of it.  While I am grateful that the salvation of others does not lie in my hands, I am aware that I have a responsibility to help lead others to Christ.   May we pray that our words and actions lead others to come to know Jesus and the hope of eternal happiness in heaven.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner – WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE

WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE!

Disciple Maker Index Survey Opens This Week!

It’s official! The Disciple Maker Index Survey opens this week and we need your help!

 

The survey will only be available from Saturday, February 8th through Sunday, March 1st.

Please help us participate by completing a 10-15 minute survey as soon as possible.

 

There are 2 ways to take the survey:

  1. Go to www.disciplemakerindex.com
  2. Obtain a paper copy at the parish entrances or by contacting the parish office. Please return your completed paper copy to the parish office in a sealed envelope no later than March 4th.

 

YOUR RESPONSES WILL BE HELD IN STRICT CONFIDENCE as they are processed by the Catholic Leadership Institute.  The survey is intended for all parishioners age 18 and older.  The survey will provide valuable feedback to Fr. Todd about our parish to help plan for the future and become the best disciples we can be.  All responses are confidential and the parish will only receive information about the community as a whole.  We will receive the results sometime this spring or summer, at which time we will share what we have learned with the entire parish.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the survey.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 26 2020

WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE! 

PLEASE READ

Bishop Boyea has invited Sacred Heart Parish to participate in a parish survey about discipleship conducted by the Catholic Leadership Institute.  We need your help.

Please help us by participating in a 10-15 minute survey from Saturday, February 8 through Sunday, March 1.  The survey will ask you to reflect on your own spiritual growth and enable you to provide feedback on our parish’s efforts to help you grow.  All responses will be confidential and the parish will only receive information about the community as whole.

There will be two ways to access the survey.  It will be available to take online at www.disciplemakerindex.com.   However, if you don’t use a computer – there will be opportunities to complete the survey after Sunday Masses or at home.  If you are unable to obtain a paper copy after these Masses, you can contact Tammy Houser at 517-448-3811 and one will be mailed to you.

We are trying to get the highest survey response rate possible.  This information will be invaluable to Fr. Todd and our various ministries as we plan for the future and strive to be the best disciples we can be.  We will receive the results this spring/summer at which time we will share what we have learned with the entire parish.

Thank you for helping with this important project!

Deacon John