Deacon John Bulletin Article, April 15 2018

It’s only been three weeks since we heard the Passion Story of Jesus.  A story where we can only imagine the pain of His mother and disciples as they watched him die a horrible death on the cross.  A pain we only begin to feel when we are separated from those we love.  That pain is the price of love.

Jesus felt the ultimate pain of separation when He paid the price of his love for us on the cross.  Jesus loves us so much that he came into our world as a vulnerable little baby.  He accepted the abuse of the teachers and elders of the law.  He was scorned, humiliated, and brutally beaten.  Jesus was nailed to a cross and pierced by a Roman warrior’s lance.  It was a painful “good-bye” for those he loved.  Because of love, Jesus suffered and died to be the perfect Passover sacrifice, standing in our place before the Father so we can live.

In the Gospel today, some disciples meet Jesus while walking home after the Passover.  They didn’t recognize him at first.  But after Jesus left, their hearts were on fire as His words opened Scripture to them.  This time, saying “good-bye” was not painful – it was joyful.  And although those disciples may not have understood the big picture yet of Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection they were exited and on fire with his love.

As we continue celebrating this Easter Season, can we share in those feelings of being on fire with our faith and his love?  Jesus died to give us life.  But, we live today not because Jesus died, but because of His love for us.  Now, like those disciples on the road to Emmaus, our job is to share His love with others.

Deacon John

 

Deacon John Homily, April 8 2018

Holy Week is over.  What a week it was for our two parishes!   We prayed together on Palm Sunday, at weekday Masses and Adoration, Stations of the Cross, the Mass of the Last Supper, Good Friday, an evening Tenebrae service, Easter Vigil, and Easter Sunday.  We became one community of believers celebrating the biggest week of our church liturgical year with 18 liturgies, including the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral.

Combining two unique parishes into one, week long, celebration was no small task.  Planning began last January with a combined team from both parishes. Many people, adults and children alike, spent long hours and late nights pulling together all the little details so these Sacred Liturgies would be joyful celebrations of our rich Catholic heritage.  I counted over 100 volunteers between our two parishes working together as lectors, Eucharistic Ministers, servers, masters of ceremony, choir and musicians, ordering supplies, setting up, and preparing our churches for worship.  Many went unnoticed behind the scenes.  I couldn’t possibly begin to name them all, but it couldn’t have happened without all of them involved.

From the beginning of planning in January, to the end of the last Mass on Easter Sunday, we had only one goal in mind – a joyful experience giving glory and praise to God with our two parishes worshipping together in harmony.  Despite all the planning, not everything went smooth.  We had miscues, disagreements, last minute changes, and mistakes (including myself).  Some you may have seen, others you didn’t.  And, yes, some things we will change for next year.  But, with God’s grace, we persevered.  You would think after planning and celebrating these liturgies for almost 2000 years, things would just go “perfect” – that we could get it right at least once.  But, as Kimberly’s Grandmother used to say, only God makes things perfect.

We hear in our first reading today from Acts about the first-generation Christians living immediately after Jesus ascended into Heaven.  It says, The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common (Acts 4:32).”  I’m sure they had their fair share of miscues and disagreements, too.  After all, they were human like us.  But in the end, they must have figured it out or we wouldn’t have celebrated Easter last Sunday.  Our job is to be like them.  To work out our differences as two unique parishes and worship as one faith family – two parishes, one flock, one pastor, one Shepherd.  I think last week was one more step in bringing us together in Christ.

As the early Christians used to say in greeting each other, “HE HAS RISEN!  HE HAS RISEN INDEED!!”  May you have a blessed and joyous Easter Season!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, EASTER

A month before my ordination, Kimberly and I met for an interview with Bishop Boyea.  These interviews were an annual occurrence for me to be accepted into the next year of diaconate formation.  The purpose of this interview was to receive his final approval for me to be ordained.  After talking with us for a while, the Bishop asked me to leave the room so he could talk with Kimberly in private.  He needed to make sure she had no reservations about sharing me with him in my ministry.  After all, the last thing he wanted was to disrupt our Sacrament of Marriage with me receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  When satisfied there were no concerns, Bishop Boyea asked, “is there anything else?”  Kimberly said “Yes, there is one thing.  I need to make a deal with you.  I understand the importance of Easter.  It’s the highlight of the Church year.   But, at Christmas, we travel to see our kids and grandchildren.  It’s the only time we can all get together.  You can have John for Holy Week, but I get him at Christmas.  Deal?”   The Bishop leaned over his desk with a big smile, shook her hand, and said “DEAL!”

Why is Easter greater than Christmas?  If Easter had not happened, Christmas would have no meaning.  If the tomb was not empty, the cradle makes no difference.  If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then he really was just another misguided Jewish rabbi with delusions of grandeur to be the promised messiah.  If Easter is not true, then Christmas is just one more cute Hallmark story about an obscure baby born in an out-of-the way village in a forgotten land 2000 years ago.  It’s Easter that gives Christmas its meaning.

Easter is the very foundation of Christianity.  Jesus rises from the dead and He is God.  His death and resurrection on the most important of all Jewish feasts, the Passover, fulfilled all that the Passover had meant.  It was an exodus, or passage, from the days of oppression and slavery to spiritual freedom.  Jesus was the Paschal Lamb (Pasch, from Hebrew Pesach, meaning “Passover”) slain and sacrificed to achieve this freedom.  Jesus’ resurrection was the beginning of a New Covenant with God.  A Covenant freeing us from the slavery of earthy temptations and delivering us into God’s world of happiness – spiritual growth through our sufferings while finding peace with the blessings He gives us.

What is Easter all about? It’s about our Christian roots and celebrating what Jesus did for us.   As the Exsultet decrees on Easter Vigil “THIS IS THE NIGHT, WHEN CHRIST BROKE THE PRISON BARS OF DEATH, AND ROSE VICTORIOUS FROM THE UNDERWORLD. OUR BIRTH WOULD HAVE BEEN NO GAIN, HAD WE NOT BEEN REDEEMED!

May you have a joyous and Blessed Easter!

 

Deacon’s Corner, March 25, 2018

Jesus cried out from the cross,“My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”  Have you cried out asking God that same question?  If so, God understands.  He’s been there.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be misunderstood and not accepted.  He knows what it’s like to laugh and cry and grieve. He knows anguish, anger, and unanswered prayer.  Jesus knows what it’s like to carry a cross and fall down.  He knows what it’s like to always be told you are wrong – that we don’t do it that way, don’t try to change things, and say this not that.  He knows what it’s like to fight when the bad guys are winning; when evil and defeat are everywhere; and injustice, hatred, and rejection are commonplace.  He’s felt the pain of whips and nails.  He knows all of this, so why would He forsake us?

No, God doesn’t forsake us.  He understands us.  But only through our willingness to experience our own passions are we able to even begin to understand why.  Because our passions tell stories of hurt, anger, betrayal, falling down, fear, denial, and needing help to carry our cross.  And that’s what we learn from the Passion Story of Jesus.

May we live in the moment and savor our own passions, knowing our cross is not the end of the story.  Knowing all the time that God does not promise to wave a magic wand and make all the hurt go away.  But he does promise to see us through to the other side.  To die to our old self and rise to a new life.  To be Born Again.  2000 years ago, they didn’t understand yet what that means.  But we do.  This Palm Sunday and Good Friday, let’s take time to give our hurts to God, trust Him to see us through them, and let Him change our lives forever.

 

Deacon’s Corner, March 12, 2018

 

The history of the Church is a history of holiness.   Not just bishops, priests, deacons, and religious – but each and every one of us.  By virtue of our Baptism, we are all called to be holy witnesses of Christ in every aspect of our daily life.  That’s what it means to be a Christian.  Anyone who dares to call themselves a Christian will outwardly carry the marks to identify them as a disciple of Christ.  Do YOU carry these marks?

Do you conform yourself to Christ in word and deed?  Jesus spoke out against sin and injustice, yet He treated everyone with love and compassion.  He worked for the good of everyone by offering His love, care, and healing regardless of their wealth or social status. He had a special place in His heart for the poor, the outcast, the sick, and the grieving.

Do you seek the will of God in everything you do?  Do you regularly pray and receive the Sacraments?  Because, all of the Sacraments are an abundant source of Grace.  Do you allow yourself to be guided by the wisdom of the Church?  Do you continuously strive to join your will to God’s will?

Do you devote yourself to God’s glory?  God is the ultimate source of the very gifts we have.  Do you recognize His glory and might so the good you accomplish is done in His name?  Are you humble in doing so?

Do you seek to love your neighbor?   God places people in our lives who need our help.  Are you vigilant to recognize them, and help them the best you can?  Do you take care of those less fortunate or outside your circle of friends?

Do you accept the crosses that inevitably come your way?  Suffering in this life is inevitable.  And being a Christian does not give you a free pass to avoid suffering.  But, Jesus showed us how to give value to our suffering especially when we join our suffering to His.  When you offer up your suffering for others, you can experience a liberating transformation which helps you grow closer to God.  You can, in essence, be “Born Again”.

God invites us to holiness so we can experience the same happiness on earth that we will in Heaven.  His universal call to holiness demands nothing less than to always live with the ultimate goal of Heaven in our hearts.  Jesus came into the world to show us how to do just that. How many marks of His disciple do you carry?   Deacon John

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

 

 

 

Deacon John Bulletin Article March 11, 2018

In the Second Reading, St Paul writes because of God’s mercy and great love for us, He “brought us to life with Christ – by grace you have been saved.”   The word “grace” comes from the Greek word charis, which means “favor, blessing, or kindness.” We can extend grace to others; but when the word grace is used in connection with God, it takes on a more powerful meaning. Grace is God choosing to bless us rather than curse us as our sin deserves.  Grace is His gift to us of kindness, compassion, generosity, and goodwill.  Because grace is a gift, we can choose to accept or reject it.  But, only by accepting God’s grace, then showing His mercy and great love to others, can we turn something evil into something good.

In the wake of the tragedy at a high school in Florida three weeks ago, Sam Houser posted on Facebook:  “Recently, I have been seeing a lot of conflict following the tragedy in Florida.  I’ve seen a lot of arguing, name-calling, and blaming going around, like the Left blaming the Right or the Right blaming the Left.  However, I think that we can agree that what happened was a lack of love and respect for fellow people. I know that there’s still going to be conflict, especially those who you don’t particularly care for. Going forward, I have no idea what’s going to happen regarding any legislation.  However, I do have an idea that if we treat others with love and respect, we may be able to help the world become better.  Just remember that no act of love is too small or insignificant; rather, every act of love is important.”

I have known Sam for almost 4 years.  He is an alumnus of Sacred Heart School and currently studying mathematics at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids.  Sam is a humble, kind, gentleman who will do anything for anyone, whether they agree with him or not.  His words remind us of what it means to be “brought to life with Christ”.  Jesus did not take sides on politics.    He didn’t place blame or exclude anyone from His social circle.  He didn’t bully those who disagreed with Him.  Jesus always treated others with respect and showed the same love for his friend Lazarus as he did to the soldiers who nailed him to the cross.  Through His example, Jesus invites us to accept God’s grace to save us from the anger and bitterness that exists in our society today.  For it is only through our kindness, compassion, generosity, and goodwill are we able to do those acts of love that are so important to bringing harmony into the world even though we have no idea what will happen next.

Deacon John

 

Deacon John Bulletin March 4, 2018

Last week I wrote how God doesn’t allow evil to happen to in the world – we do.  God gave us a free will to make our own choices.  Evil exists because of the choices we make between following God and doing good or rejecting God and doing evil.  Sadly, choosing to sin affects many people.  So, our choices to sin can hurt innocent people and allow them to suffer, too.  The existence of evil is a stumbling block for many people who believe in God.  Fortunately, our Christian faith has a solution to the problem.  In a nutshell, here it is:

To begin, God created everything good.  He gave human beings the power of free will to accept or reject Him.  Without free will, human beings would just be robots without the ability to love.  But, humans use this free will to sin against God and separate themselves from Him.  As a result, our human desires and passions became disordered.  Our sin brought suffering and death into the world.  God saw this, and sent Jesus, His Only Begotten Son, into the world to redeem all people and restore human nature to its original state before the fall of Adam and Eve.  Through Jesus’ example – His life, death, and resurrection – God invites us to seek a greater holiness and perfection so we may enjoy eternal life with Him in heaven.  Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, we are called to imitate Christ, even in how we bear our sufferings, to unite our human wills to God’s Divine Will.

Therefore, the solution to the problem of evil in the world is to launch a great Christian revolution to convert pain into fruitful suffering and turn bad things into something good.  In doing so, we will conquer eternity by depriving Satan of the only weapon he has – trying to convince us the glamor of evil is far more satisfying than being united with God.  God looks for us to something good from the consequences of evil.

Because He knows when we do, we will put Satan out of business forever.

Deacon John 

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

 

Deacon John Bulletin Article February 25, 2018

Deacon’s Corner

The finger pointing after the tragedy in a Florida high school 10 days ago was all too familiar.  Some said it could have been avoided if guns were outlawed.  Others said we need more guns.  Some blamed poor health care or a broken educational system.  Some even blamed God.  So, where does the blame lie?  And just why would God allow evil in the world?  Those questions have no simple answers.  So, let’s start with what we know.

We know God loves everyone and that He is All-good.   We also know from experience that God allows suffering in the world.   Even ‘good’ people suffer the effects of evil, sometimes even more so than ‘bad’ people.  To answer these questions, we must first appreciate the nature of evil.  Evil does not exist by itself.  Evil results from the absence of good.  What we call “evil” is really the failure to live up to the purpose God created us for.  God gave each of us the gift of free will with the ability to choose to follow His will or reject it.  So, evil is the vacuum created when whenever we choose not to reach the true fulfillment of our lives as God intended. When we consider the evil in the world and the suffering caused by it – murder, drug abuse, rape, war, poverty, to name a few – we can see evil results directly from choosing not to respect God or love our neighbor.

So, evil exists because of the choices we make.  Sadly, choosing to sin can affect many, so the innocent often suffer along with the guilty.  Even so, God looks for us to do a good from the consequences of an evil.  St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th Century, “There is nothing to prevent human nature’s being raised up to something greater, even after sin. God permits evil in order to draw forth some greater good. Thus St Paul says, ‘Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more.’

So, what caused this latest tragedy?  Quite frankly, I don’t know.  Mother Theresa said, “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of war, of hatred.  If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other?”   The answer to what happened in Florida lies somewhere in how well our culture embraces God and valuing (or not) the dignity of human life.  Those are things not resolved with laws, political agendas, Facebook, or sensationalism in the news.  Embracing God and respecting life is something that grows in the heart as we strive for holiness, perfection, and being in total union with God.  When we choose to be with God, not separated from Him, we can build a culture of life where evil can’t exist.  When that happens, our world becomes a better place to live.

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

 

Deacon’s Corner 2/18/18

Did you know by the 2nd Century, Christians prepared for the annual celebration of Easter by fasting for two days?  This was the natural thing to do in preparation for the holiest of times when the Early Christians expected Jesus’ immediate return.  By the 3rd Century, this fasting was extended to all of Holy Week.  The 40 days of Lent, we know it today, began sometime in the early 4th Century.

Lent is that time of year when we buckle down, don’t eat meat on Fridays, and “give up something”.   We call this “penance”.   We do penance to remind us that suffering a little bit can make us a better person.  Through this suffering, we come to appreciate what we have and realize we can really do more with less.  Our Catechism tells us penance “can be expressed in many and various ways…above all three forms:  fasting, prayer, and almsgiving (CCC 1434.)”

When looking for something to “give up” during Lent, let’s remember the goal is to acknowledge our weaknesses so we can undergo a spiritual revival to grow closer to God.  Doing penance without reflecting on how it can change us for the better misses the whole point of Lent.  If we deny ourselves a favorite food to develop the self-discipline for spiritual renewal – that’s good!  But if we “give up” that same tasty treat during Lent as a motive to lose a few pounds, well, we should probably think again.

Lent emphasizes three very specific aspects of personal choice for spiritual renewal.  These are prayer, fasting; and recalling our Baptismal Vows to remember what it means to belong to God’s people.  “Giving up” something can include giving up our time to do Corporal Works of Mercy – feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and imprisoned, giving to the poor, and burying the dead.  Burying the dead can be as simple as attending a funeral for someone you don’t know, especially if their funeral is not well attended.  Doing Corporal Works of Mercy helps foster conversion of our heart by instilling a greater love for God and others.

Lent is a time of preparation to help us find our ourselves and encounter God.  May you have a Blessed Lenten Season with our Lord!  Deacon John

Deacon’s Corner 1/27/18

I sat staring at the computer last week struggling to write something.  Nothing was coming to mind.  I thumbed through my file of ideas.  Nothing jumped out at me. I paused and prayed, asking God to give me an idea on what to write about.  Then, I remembered an email a parishioner sent me about my Deacon’s Corner from last week.  It was one, simple sentence that said, “Loved your thoughts on abortion; beautifully written.” I thought about it a minute, then decided I had to write more this week.

Abortion is one of biggest issues that divides our society today.  We mourn the lives lost long before their time, the mothers and fathers who feel forced into this decision due to lack of support, the families torn apart, and the cultural betrayal of human dignity.  When we see the gift of life as expendable, we begin to disregard the dignity the unborn and all those whom we perceive as different—we become a society divided against itself.

As we witness the many offenses against human life, it is important to remember there are people out there working to build a culture of life.  A culture that fights for the protection of the unborn -for the protection of all life -will stand united.  But to do so, we must build that culture of life together.  We must rely on God and draw encouragement from the examples of the people He puts into our lives every day.  When we join this community of life, we stand united to bring forth God’s kingdom showing consistent and genuine care for all vulnerable people.  Including the unborn.  Our witness for life will move others to do the same.