Deacon’s Corner, September 21 2018

What is the Catholic Church and what do we believe?

We believe God created everything that exists – and he created a universe that was 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.

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.

Early in the history of the Church, there was the belief 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, and many of 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 has 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 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, and we also operate this nation’s largest non-public school system.  Mostly, we are a billion people on every continent who profess and express a faith in Christ that spans two millennia.

In case you wonder, no, I didn’t write this.  I found it on the Diocese of Lansing website and wanted to share it with you.  You can read more at www.dioceseoflansing.org.  Happy Reading and may God bless your week!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, October 14 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from the Office of Readings, October 8, 2018

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 30 2018

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

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

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

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

 

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

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, September 23 2018

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

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

 

Deacon Corner, September 16 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

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

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 9 2018

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 2 2018

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, August 26 2018

On Sunday, we gather as the Body of Christ to celebrate the Lord’s Day – the day of Christ’s Resurrection.  This celebration is not a solitary, private event.  Instead, we come together as the People of God to worship with one heart and one voice in participating at Mass.  Our Catechism teaches “participation in the communal celebration of the Sunday Eucharist is a testimony of belonging and of being faithful to Christ and the Church (CCC 2182).”

Some people like to think celebrating the Lord’s Day together is not necessary because they can pray at home just as well.  This has been an issue in the Church for almost 2000 years.  In the 4th Century, St John Chrysostom wrote: “You cannot pray at home as at church, where there is great multitude, where exclamations are cried out to God as from one great heart, and where there is something more:  the union of minds, the accord of souls, the bond of charity, the prayers of the priests (CCC 2179.)  Private prayer, though essential to spiritual life, can never replace the celebration of the Eucharistic Liturgy and receiving Holy Communion.   Even in areas without priests that cannot celebrate Mass every Sunday, the Liturgy for a Sunday Celebration without a Priest allows people to gather and keep the Lord’s Day Holy.

When people are absent from Mass, they are missed.  No one should be absent without a serious reason because celebrating the Lord’s Day should be the first thing on the Sunday schedule, not the last.  We should arrive on time, prepared in mind and heart to fully participate in the Mass.  Those who cannot attend because of illness, age, the need to care for infants or the sick, or other serious reasons deserve our prayers and special attention.

Participating at Mass does not complete our celebration of the Lord’s Day.  Our Catechism tells us we must also refrain from activities which “disturb the joy proper to the day of the Lord or necessary for relaxation of mind and body (Compendium 453.)  Unfortunately, in our 24/7 world, tethered to our jobs by laptops and smart phones, or where public safety and businesses run normally no matter what day of the week, it’s important to take some time of rest to recognize that all time belongs to God, and people are more important than things.  Resting on Sundays does not mean we are inactive.  It means we rest from the burdens of daily life by doing things to nurture our body and soul like spending time with family and friends, caring for the sick and needy, enjoying a hobby, or just turning off gadgets and enjoying the silence.

As we take time each week to celebrate the Lord’s Day, may we remind ourselves that we are made in the image and likeness of God who “rested on the seventh day from all the work he had undertaken (Genesis 2:2).

Deacon John

Adapted from “Celebrating the Lord’s Day”, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, USCCB.org

 

Deacon’s Corner, August 19 2018

Five times in the Gospel today the word “eats” is used.  Jesus makes it very clear that the “bread from heaven”, himself, is to be consumed.  Today, we know Jesus was talking about Himself in the Eucharist – His Precious Body and Blood that we receive through the consecrated bread and wine at Mass.   We call this the “Real Presence” of Jesus in the Eucharist.  We can also experience Jesus in the Eucharist through Eucharistic Adoration.

Eucharistic Adoration has been a rich Catholic tradition since about the 4th Century when converts to the faith were invited to pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament for 8 days.  Monks also used Eucharistic Adoration to spend time with Jesus outside of the Mass.  By the 11th Century, Adoration began to flourish as the Church developed the formal Rite for Eucharistic Adoration and encouraged people to visit our Lord often during the week.  In the 19th Century, lay women and men founded their own societies dedicated to perpetual adoration – around the clock – for days.  Many churches now have perpetual adoration chapels where this practice continues even through today.

Eucharistic Adoration is private time with our Lord as He is present in the Blessed Sacrament placed in a Monstrance on the Altar.  Spending this quiet time before Him is like spending time before our Living God, giving Him the keys to our heart.  We turn off our cell phone, genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament, kneel in the pew, and show God our respect being present with Him.

Just as we all pray differently, we may spend time in Adoration differently.  We can sit there and just relax, knit, pray, or read something spiritually uplifting.  Sometimes, I work on a homily or Deacon’s Corner that’s stuck in my mind.   Other times I ponder questions like:  How is God working in my life?, Who does He want me to reach out to?, What is He calling me to do?, How can I be more open to His voice?, and How can I be more faithful?  Or, I may just sit and rest enjoying ‘safe harbor’ from a hectic day.  So restful once, that I actually fell asleep!  No matter how we spend our time, sitting at His feet escaping the busyness and distractions of life allows God to lead us.

I remember as a child when people attending Eucharistic Adoration would pack the church.  Now, we are lucky to have a handful of people show up.  I wonder what would it take to fill the church up again?  If you would like to give it a try, Eucharistic Adoration takes place every Tuesday at Sacred Heart (4:45pm to 5:45pm), and St. Mary on the Lake on the first Thursday of each month (3:30pm to 5pm).  Eucharistic Adoration ends with prayer and a solemn blessing, called Benediction – where the priest or deacon uses the Blessed Sacrament to bless the people.  What better way to end your day than that?

Deacon John