Deacon Corner, August 2, 2020

In the Gospel today we hear the familiar story of Jesus using a few pieces of fish and bread to feed a crowd of 5000.  Actually, the crowd probably numbered 10,000 to 20,000 with women and children included as only the men were counted at that time.  And although this is a miracle indeed, I always wonder who brought the 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish anyway?   Someone in the crowd went out for the day to hear a famous preacher speak, only to find themselves giving up their dinner so the crowd could be fed.  How many of us would have done that?

I also wonder what the person said when they gave away their food knowing they were hungry themselves?  Did they give it freely?  Did they object?  We’ll never know because Scripture doesn’t record these details.  But, we do know that whoever it was responded in the moment to God’s call to share what they had – and something wonderful happened.  Whoever did this shows us how the most unexpected things can happen when we are open to God wanting to do something through us.  With their small gesture to help, God did great things through this person whose name is forever lost to history.

Mother Teresa said that not all of us are called to go great things.  Not everyone is called be a CEO or vice president of a major corporation.  Not everyone is called to be a great athlete, solve the problem of world hunger, win a Nobel Peace Prize, or find a cure for cancer.  But Mother Teresa did say “WE ARE ALL CALLED TO DO SMALL THINGS WITH GREAT LOVE.”  What is God calling you to do?  Not just with your life, but right now in this moment.

When we do even the little things, like give our lunch to someone who’s hungry, then we truly respond to Gods call doing small things each day with great love.  May you have a Blessed week doing small things with great love.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, July 26, 2020

In our Gospel today, Jesus uses parables to describe the Kingdom of Heaven.  He says it’s like finding an expensive pearl, a treasure in a field, and even very tasty fish.  But, what exactly is this Kingdom Jesus speaks of so often?  Why is it so precious and important?  After all, when Jesus was interrogated by Pilate, He told him: “My Kingdom is not of this world.”

Think about it – when Jesus taught his Apostles to pray to their Heavenly Father, His prayer included “thy Kingdom come, thy will be done.”   So, Christ’s Kingdom must have something to do with what God wants from us.  That means His Kingdom must reign within our hearts and our minds, because those are the two things we have that only we can control. Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven exists deep within our inner self.  When we do what God asks of us, His “Kingdom” or “kingship” comes.  When we let God reign within us, He bestows on us the wisdom King Solomon was seeking in our 1st Reading – the wisdom to tell the difference between good and evil.  And when we choose the good, God’s will is done.

How can we enjoy the Kingdom of Heaven in our homes and families today?  The answer is easy, but doing it can be hard.  To enjoy the Kingdom, we simply need to do what Christ said at the Last Supper: obey My commands, and you will remain in My love.  The key word here is “love.”  Loving as Jesus loved.  And how did Jesus love? He loved by serving others and sacrificing for them.  He was compassionate, willing to listen, forgiving, and respectful.  Jesus treated everyone as a friend.  Not a friend on Facebook, but a friend who He would do anything for, even give His life for them.  What a difference it would make in the world if each of us could do the same.

Finding the Kingdom of Heaven today is finding the love of Christ in our heart, then doing God’s will to bring peace to a broken world.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, July 5, 2020

Four years ago, our nation was emotionally charged and deeply polarized.  There was a lot of rhetoric and drama in the media about who is most qualified to lead our country.   Fast forwarding to today, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.   So, for this 4th of July, I would like to share my Deacon’s Corner with you from four years ago.  It helps to remind me that our nation is not about Democrats vs Republican, liberals vs conservatives.  Our nation about preserving the values it was founded on 244 years ago…

What does our Catechism say about people with authority to govern?  It basically, says: a society cannot be well-ordered nor prosperous unless the people with authority to govern preserve its institutions and devote themselves to work and care for the common good.   The foundation of this authority must lie in moral order derived from God.  It cannot be contrary to His Natural Law.  The common good consists of three essential elements:  respect for fundamental rights and dignity of each person; development of society’s spiritual and material needs; and the peace and security of the people.  Our Catechism says everyone should be concerned to create and support institutions that improve the conditions of human life (paragraphs 1897 – 1927.)

The founding fathers of our great country knew these principles of government.  The Declaration of Independence is clear about God’s role, fundamental rights, and human dignity.  It reads “We hold these 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…and for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” 

The Constitution recognizes a common good as it reads “We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Prosperity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

The leaders who signed these documents knew that no form of government was perfect.  So, they established a country founded on faith in God and following His laws.  They crafted a structure for a nation where it’s people could self-govern by choosing leaders who would preserve their institutions, and work for the common good of all.

As we celebrate the birth of our country, let’s not forget what our founders stood for.  No matter our political affiliation, may we pray for the wisdom to elect leaders who will rely on the Divine Providence of God to secure the Blessings of our Liberty so that, as Abraham Lincoln said, this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, June 28, 2020

In our 2nd reading today, St. Paul shows his frustration that many of the early Christians did not seem to realize that Baptism is a life-changing event.  Because, many of them still spent their time and energy pursing their own interests as they did before they were baptized.  He wants them to understand that in Baptism they took on a new identity.  They died to their old habits and were transformed into a new life – a life of Christ.

 

Today’s reading, Romans 6:1-11, is St. Paul’s main teaching on Baptism.  He wrote: When you were baptized, you went into the tomb with Jesus and joined him in death so just as Christ was raised from the dead, you, too, might live a new life.  Those words were easily understood by the Roman Christians he was writing to, but can be a little mystifying for us today.  The reason is that we administer the Sacrament of Baptism differently than they did.  Today, the priest or deacon dribbles a little water on the head of a child and the baptism is basically done.  But for the early Christians, Baptism was a total bodily immersion in a special baptistery, set into the floor of the church.  After an act of faith, an adult being baptized would step down into the water and symbolically “die” by going right under the water, then symbolically rise up to a new life.   But, no matter how the Sacrament of Baptism is conducted, through it we become identified with Christ.

 

In our Gospel today, Jesus identifies Himself completely with His friends and disciples when He says, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me.”  That identification which Christ speaks of is shared with every one of us through our Baptism.   Through our Baptism, we receive special graces to grow in union with Jesus to be less attracted to sin.  We begin to understand that the consequence of sin is a loss of profound peace and joy that comes from a relationship with God, and miss the experience of Christ’s own energy flowing within us when we devote everything we do to promoting the Kingdom of God to His people.

 

This week, may we pray to be open to our Baptismal graces, and use those graces to stop being so self-consumed with our own concerns that we don’t recognize the needs of people around us.  May we pray for the wisdom to know how to approach people who need strength and encouragement so they, too, can experience Jesus in their life and enter the Kingdom of God.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 14, 2020

I wonder how God feels after watching the violence we’ve inflicted on each other the past 2 weeks?  I have to believe He feels the same as a parent watching their children do each other harm.   Last January, I wrote my Deacon’s Corner about Bishop Boyea speaking to the Lansing City Council on Martin Luther King Day.  He used the occasion to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching on racism.  I would like to share some of that Corner again with you, as the Bishop’s words are even more relevant today as we begin to restore our society from the ashes of everything that has recently happened.  Essentially, Bishop Boyea said……

We are all children of God.  We are all made in His image and likeness.  That means we are endowed with an intrinsic dignity and worth which is rooted in our common origin in God Almighty.  Our dignity is not something we confer on ourselves or on one another.   Our dignity is a gift from our wise and loving Creator at the time we are conceived.

Racism is a form of idolizing myself, which is such an easy thing to do.   When that happens, I make myself the measure of how I view others, which suppresses the truth of the nature of the other person.  So, racism is a form of idolatry because I put myself in the place of God.  It is a serious sin in violation of the First Commandment.  To fight racism, 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 – the dignity that comes with being a child of God.

Despite the urge to argue or even hate each other because we don’t agree, we can never give up talking altogether.  Because, God calls us 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 each other.  Doing so moves us with empathy to promote justice.  Bishop Boyea concluded by saying again, we are all made in the image of God.

Violence, arguing, politics, boisterous opinions on social media, or making laws will not solve the unrest we’ve seen over the past 2 weeks. There is no magic way of achieving unity and peace to solve social injustice for anyone.  However, in the words of Bishop Boyea, “with good hearts, and an abundance of God’s grace, we can take that first step in fully recognizing the human dignity of all our brothers and sisters.  May God bless us, our community, our state, and our country to reach such a noble goal.”

Deacon John

 

Deacon’ Corner, May 31, 2020

St. Paul said, “You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of your ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:3).

Nine years ago on May 21st, I was ordained a deacon.  Last week, I was literally overwhelmed by the love and support I received from you through all the Facebook comments, cards, and emails.   In God’s own way, the timing for me to receive so many “congratulations” and “thank yous” was incredible.  Because being cooped up for almost 3 months due to this pandemic, I’ve had plenty of time to think about why God called me to be a deacon in the first place, and wonder if my ministry is really “a letter from Christ.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says the deacon is “configured to Christ, who made himself the ‘deacon’ or servant of all” (CCC 1570).  It goes on to say that the deacon assists the bishop and priests in celebrating the divine mysteries (our sacraments and liturgies), proclaiming the Gospel, preaching, presiding over marriages and funerals, and being dedicated to the ministries of charity and service [diakonia] (CCC 1570).

Now, the “assisting” part of the deacon’s ministry is easy for me to see if I’m fulfilling those responsibilities.  The hard part is seeing if what I’m doing is “dedicated to the ministries of charity and service.”  On top of that, during my diaconate formation, we were constantly reminded of the awesome responsibility that accompanies the humbling privilege of receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  We were told that if we think we are worthy to wear the deacon’s stole and submit to a life of serving God and His people, then we are not.  If we think we are worthy, we are not.  Nine years later, I still don’t think I’m worthy.  But, your thoughts and prayers, your congratulations and well wishes, your Facebook “likes”, your words of encouragement and inspiration all answered my prayers to reassure me that I am doing what God wants me to do.

Through my deacon ministry, I have learned that to be a good minister I need to meet people where they live and work.  I’ve learned that ministry is more than committee meetings, outreach programs, newsletters, and liturgies.  Ministry is going out and walking with people in their suffering, step by step, to let them know God cares.  It’s helping people regain their human dignity and understand that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.  I have learned that everyone is entitled to the love of Jesus – from an unborn baby to people locked away for crimes against humanity, confined to a hospital bed, struggling with darkness, unable to get out of a senior home, or wondering if God forgot about them.  Ministry is helping people experience the love of Christ so they can grow closer to God.  But, I can’t do any of that without your help.  In fact, my ministry and YOUR ministry go hand in hand.  We are two sides of the same coin.

Today, we face the same evil in the world as those 1st Century Christians.  We live in a society filled with injustice and turmoil.  A culture where the erosion of human dignity and disregard for life threaten to snuff out the fires lit by the Holy Spirit at that first Pentecost almost 2000 years ago.  But, like them, we cannot let that happen!  All of us must work to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ so everyone can experience the compassion of God written on their hearts.  Together, we must work side by side and bring Christ’s presence into the lives of others.

Thank you for making my 9th anniversary a very special one.  Together, let’s GO AND ANNOUNCE THE GOSPEL OF THE LORD!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 24, 2020

 

It is difficult for me to write something different each Memorial Day.  Because, no words can describe such a solemn day to remember the men and women who literally gave everything they had so we can enjoy the freedoms we have.  So, I would like to share my favorite Deacon’s Corner for Memorial Day from a few years ago.  I wrote about 2 great men who had a big influence in my life.  This year, I’ve added one more.  Each of them were part of the Greatest Generation we all owe so much.  The generation that taught my generation how to preserve in hard times when the entire world can seem hopeless.  Each of these men were faithful and hardworking.  They loved God, their Catholic faith, and are now home with the Lord.

My dad was 19 and part of a landing craft crew when he landed on Utah Beach the morning of D-Day.  As they hit the beach, his landing craft was disabled.  Under heavy fire, they abandoned their craft, hastily picked up whatever equipment they could find lying in the sand and joined an Army recon unit fighting their way off the beach.  For a month, he fought to liberate French towns in Normandy before returning to his ship.  On one of those Sundays, dad attended Mass at a small, village church.  A little, feisty nun made he and his buddies leave all their guns and ammunition outside the church door before they could enter for Mass.  When he got back to his ship, he discovered half of his crew never made it off the beach.  Dad died suddenly over 10 years ago, never really talking much about his war experience.

Bob was a dear friend who God put in my life after dad died at a time when I really needed a father figure. He was also crewed a landing craft.  Bob was 18 and halfway to Japan for invasion of the mainland when the war finally ended.  Bob provided security for the USS Missouri as the Japanese signed the surrender document aboard it.  He remembers sailing into Tokyo Bay immediately afterward, wondering if it was all really a trap.  Bob spent the rest of the war clearing the rubble from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and bringing food and water to Japanese citizens who survived the devastation.  Bob died 3 years ago when his heart was too tired to pump anymore.

John was a parishioner at St. Mary on the Lake.  He sat at the end of the pew each Sunday and shook my hand as I processed out.  Each time, I thanked him for his service to our country, and he thanked me for serving God.  John was barely 18 when he fought in General Patton’s 7th Army all the way up the Italian peninsula to push the German army out.  John has 3 Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.  The last time I saw John was this past February as he re-told me his many memories about his wartime experience.  He was bed-ridden at home and I brought him communion.  John died a few weeks later, taking his stories with him.

I remember about a month before Bob died, our son wrote him a letter for his 90th birthday celebration.  The letter said, “instead of me saying ‘thank you for your service,’ I want to say thank you for putting your life on hold 70 years ago to preserve our nation’s freedom and fight tyranny abroad.  Thank for ensuring evil will not triumph or reach our nation shores.  Few people know the unique feeling of signing your life away for a cause greater than one’s self.  Few people know what it is like to raise your right hand and take an oath.  Few people know what it is like to put your life on hold and go to a foreign country to fight, knowing full well that a living, breathing, thinking enemy is waiting for them when they get there.  Your service to our country meant the preservation of our freedom for many years to come, and your sacrifices for our nation will never be forgotten.   Respectfully, Major Justin Amthor USMC.”

While speaking at a memorial service after the war, General George Patton said, “let’s not ask God why these men had to die. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”  As we kick off the summer this Memorial Weekend, may we pray for the men and women who sacrificed their lives to fight evil and protect freedom.  May we never forget them – and thank God that they lived.  May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 17, 2020

For me, there are two types of people – those who believe God exists and those who don’t.  Because, how can you be in the middle?  Is “kind of” believing a “yes” or a “no”?   The answer to that question determines how someone views life.  So, here is something to quietly ponder while sitting around the house waiting to go dine at your favorite restaurant again….

 

An atheist would say this: I will live my life according to these beliefs:  God does not exist.  It is foolish to think that there is a God with a cosmic plan.  That an all-powerful God brings redemption and healing to the pain and suffering in the world is a comforting thought, however, it is only wishful thinking.  People can do as they please without eternal consequences.  The idea that I am deserving of Hell because of sin is a lie meant to make me a slave to those in power.  The more you have, the happier you will be.  Our existence has no grand meaning or purpose in a world with no God.  There is freedom to be who I want to be.  But “with God, everything is fine”, it is ridiculous to think I am lost and in need of saving.

 

I have to admit, this view of life is a compelling argument for someone who only wants to be accountable to themselves.  But, what about the view of a Christian?  To find out, let’s take a look at what the atheist said, and say it in reverse.  Let’s begin where the atheist’s belief in God ends.

 

As a Christian, I say thisI am lost and in need of saving.  It is ridiculous to think everything is fine.  But, with God, there is freedom to be who I want to be.  In a world with no God, our existence has no grand meaning or purpose.  “The more you have, the happier you are” is a lie meant to make me a slave to those in power.  Because of sin, I am deserving of Hell.  The idea that people can do as they please without eternal consequences is only wishful thinking.  It is a comforting thought, however, that an all-powerful God brings redemption and healing to the pain and suffering in the world.  That there is a God with a cosmic plan, it is foolish to think God does not exist.  I will live my life according to these beliefs.

 

The difference in how an atheist and I view life can be summed up in one simple word – HOPE.  Hope that even though my life has been turned upside down, God has a plan, and His plan is good.  Hope that God will see me through to the other side of the crosses I carry, and my life will be better because of it.

 

In our second reading today, St. Peter said we must “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15).  What will YOU say when asked?  Will it be “because the more I have, the happier I will be”?  Or, will you say “an all-powerful God brings redemption and healing to the pain and suffering in the world”?  The choice is yours to make.  But, the consequences of that choice determine how you view your life.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 10, 2020

In the Gospel today, Jesus tells his disciples to keep the faith and not worry.  They still ask “where are you going?  Can we come along?  How do we get there?”  Jesus says, “where I am going you know the way”.  We know the way, too.  But, the way is not always an easy path to travel.  Because the way takes us through a conversion of our heart.  It begins with our own crucifixion – travels through forgiveness – and ends being filled with compassion and mercy.

Whoever dares to follow Jesus will undergo crucifixion.   We suffer will suffer the same fate as Jesus.  Satan used misunderstanding, ignorance, and jealousy to kill Jesus.  So, why wouldn’t he use them to take us down a dark path of spiritual death?  After all, some point in life, we can be misunderstood, envied, and even hated.  It can lead to persecution or false accusation, and eventually being nailed to a cross.  But that’s where resurrection comes in.  Through our crucifixions we die to our old self – but then rise again with a new heart that God forms to show compassion and the ability to forgive.  Through our crucifixions we are born to a new life.

Forgiveness lies at the core of our Christian faith.  Remember, Jesus extended His forgiveness even when dying on the cross – even praying to His Father asking to forgive them.  Jesus didn’t hang on to bitterness or anger.  He showed grace and love to those who wronged Him.  The ability to forgive requires humility with the desire to understand each other and reconcile – no matter who is at fault.  Choosing to forgive doesn’t condone sin.  It doesn’t excuse the wrongs done to us.  Nor does it make the hurts go away.  Offering forgiveness simply frees us to enjoy God’s mercy by inviting Him to accomplish beautiful works of peace within our hearts to restore grace in our relationships with others.  Forgiving demonstrates our humbleness and expresses our trust in God that everything will be OK.

As followers of Christ, we don’t have to ask how to get to the Father’s house.  We know the way because Jesus showed us.  It’s a journey that begins and ends in our heart.  A heart which undergoes conversion filled with compassion, mercy, forgiveness, and the burning desire to help others.  The question is – do we want to make that journey?

In the spirit of this Easter Season, may we always remember that resurrection trumps crucifixion, and none of us who are crucified for Christ stays in the tomb for long.  God will always roll back the stone so we can be born again with a heart that wants nothing more than to just be content with our life as it is – and love our God more than anything else.  We know the way to the Father.  The only question we must ask ourselves is do we have the courage and faith to take that first step to get there?

Deacon John

 

 

As we face each day with new uncertainties from the COVID-19 pandemic, may we be thankful for the blessings God has given us, grateful for the families and friends we are isolated from, and mindful of those less fortunate than ourselves.

 

Psalm 20, “A prayer for the king’s victory”:

May the Lord answer in this time of trial; may the name of Jacob’s God protect you.

May he send you help from his shrine and give you support from Zion.

May he remember all of your offerings and receive your sacrifice with favor.

 

May he give you your heart’s desire and fulfill everyone of your plans.

May we ring out our joy at your victory and rejoice in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your prayers.

 

I am sure now that the Lord will give victory to the anointed, 

will reply from his holy heaven with the mighty victory of his hand.

 

Some trust in chariots and horses, but we in the name of the Lord.

They will collapse and fall, but we shall hold and stand firm.

 

Give victory to the king, O Lord, give answer on the day we call.

 

The prayer after the Psalm reads:

Lord, you accepted the perfect sacrifice of your Son upon the cross.  Hear us during this time of trouble and protect us by the power of his name, that we who share in his struggle on earth may merit a share in his victory.  God has crowned his Christ with victory!   Amen

 

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 3, 2020

As we begin our 7th week of isolation from COVID-19, I can’t help to think of everything put on hold that I used to take for granted.   I don’t need to ramble here about what all those things are, you know as well as me.  But, I do think this Sunday is a good time to reflect on something we can all take for granted, because it has been there seemingly forever.  That “something” is my Catholic faith.

During this isolation, I’ve realized how I take for granted worshiping at Mass every Sunday with my parish families, or any day of the week.  I take for granted how I can receive the Eucharist almost at will, or can stop by the church anytime during the day to spend a few minutes of solitude with our Lord.  I take for granted the rich traditions of my Catholic faith, and what I really believe as a Catholic.  So, I thought I would take another look here at just what do we believe?

We believe God created everything that exists – and he created a universe that is good.  Our story is humanity’s story, and begins before time was even measured.  It is recorded in the Bible, which simply means “book.” Jews and Christians share the first books of the Bible – for Christians, they are called the Old Testament.  The New Testament is our story of Salvation.  The Easter Story we celebrate every time we worship at Mass.

We are a community of believers who span the globe – our very name, “catholic,” means universal. We are members of smaller faith communities called “parishes”.  Our core beliefs are summed up in our Creed which we pray at every Mass.  We are the original Christian Church, which began when Jesus himself said to the Apostle Peter, “You are the rock on which I will build my church. The gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Every pope since then has been part of an unbroken line of succession since Peter, the first pope.

Ever since the 1st Century, we have believed that when Jesus said at the Last Supper, “Take this and eat – this is my body; take this and drink – this is my blood,” he was giving us the gift of his real presence in the form of bread and wine. We call this the Eucharist – a name that comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. The Catholic Mass is a Eucharistic celebration and a celebration of God’s word in Scriptures. We believe that holy men and women who have come before us still pray for us and aid us. We call them saints.  Many of them were martyred, and our churches are named for them.  First among the saints is Mary, a virgin who gave birth to the child Jesus, and who is honored as the mother of God and the mother of the Church.

From the beginning of Christianity, the Catholic Church handed on God’s word to each new generation – and defined what it meant to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Through the centuries, it is the Catholic Church that preserved the Bible, as well as many other written works, through its monasteries and libraries. It instituted the university system in order to educate.

We also believe that beauty is a sign of God’s loving presence – and so we have commissioned and preserved some of the world’s greatest art-works. Without the sponsorship of the Church, Michelangelo would never have painted his famous Sistine Chapel nor carved the Pietà.

Today, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest charitable organization; we provide a significant portion of social service needs for Americans. There are nearly 250 Catholic universities and colleges in the United States alone. We also operate this nation’s largest non-public school system, one of those schools is right here in our community.

Mostly, we are over a billion people on every continent who profess and express a faith in Christ that spans two millennia.  We are Catholics.  We will survive this time of quarantine, and soon be back together worshiping our glorious God at Mass again.  Until then, stay safe and have a Blessed Easter Season!

Deacon John  Adapted from  www.dioceseoflansing.org.