Deacon Corner, August 30,2020

In our first reading today, poor Jeremiah says, “You duped me, O LORD…all the day I am an object of laughter; everyone mocks me.”  He complains that by acting with integrity and responding to God’s call, he is a daily laughingstock among the people.  Despite his temptation to give up, Jeremiah finds the courage to go on.  In the Gospel, Jesus was tempted to give up, too.  He knew He had to make his last journey to Jerusalem and face the suffering that awaited Him there.  However, Peter, albeit with good intentions, tries to persuade Jesus not to go.  Jesus says, “Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”  Jesus and Jeremiah show us that it takes courage to do what God asks of us, especially in a hostile environment.  Both would be insulted, ridiculed, and the brunt of jokes.  But still, they were prepared to suffer for doing what was right—and Jesus, He gave His life because of it.  Tradition tells us that Jeremiah did too, being stoned to death by his own people.

In speaking to the early Christians in Rome, St. Paul said in the second reading to hold on to your principles and do what is holy and pleasing to God.  He told them not to conform to the behaviors of the world, but to discern the will of God and do what is “good and pleasing and perfect.”  That means we try to live by a higher standard of love and virtue than what is found in the world.  We try to live by the 10 commandments.  We love God with our whole heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.  We do this not only because that’s what Jesus expects of us.  We do these things to teach our children how to live a virtuous life, too.

As disciples of Christ, we must be prepared to be rejected, outcast, and suffer for doing what is right.  That’s why Jesus tells us today to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him.  Having the courage to carry our cross, set a good example, and love each other will lead not only to a much better world, but also to a reward in Heaven much greater than anything possible here on earth.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, August 23, 2020

In our Gospel today, Jesus tells Peter: “You are the rock on which I will build my church.”  Jesus promises that the gates of hell will not prevail against this rock or the Church built on it.  Now, that’s a comforting thought, because it means there actually is something evil cannot destroy!  But, the problem is, reading the headlines these days, it looks like the gates of hell are beginning to prevail against Christ’s Church.

 If we wanted to blame somebody about this mess, we could blame Peter.  After all, he was chosen to be the rock and lead the Church.  But, what did Peter do?  He betrayed Jesus at a time when the Lord really needed him.  A betrayal like that does seem to have something hellish about it.  Incidentally, Judas also betrayed Jesus.  In fact, John’s Gospel tells us that Satan entered into Judas before he went to the Pharisees to conspire with them to get Jesus.  There is certainly something hellish about that!  So, if the gates of hell prevailed against two of Jesus’ chosen apostles, while Jesus was still with them, what happened to the promise Jesus made?

The answer comes with looking at the difference between Peter and Judas.  At first, we might think Peter repented and Judas didn’t.  But Matthew’s Gospel makes it clear that Judas repented, too (Matthew 27:3).   So, the real difference is that when Judas saw the sin of his betrayal for what it was, even though he was forgiven, he threw his life away as hopeless and irredeemable.  But Peter came back to Christ in the face of his own brokenness.  That is why Peter is the rock on which the Church is founded.  The Church is not a collection of the sinless; God never intended it to be.  The Church was founded on a sinner, Peter, who loved, sinned, was forgiven, and held on to the Lord anyway.  That is the type of love that evil can never prevail against.

Together, we are a collection of sinners.  We are also the Church, a community of believers who come to know who Jesus is.  We have been chosen by Him to continue building the Church on the rock where Peter started.  We do that by loving one another as Jesus and Peter loved each other.  May we pray for the grace this week to continue building Christ’s Church on love, so the gates of the netherworld shall never prevail against it.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, August 16, 2020

Our Gospel today can give us the impression that Jesus and his disciples are prejudice.  A woman calls out to Jesus to heal her sick daughter.  At first, Jesus will not even talk to her.  His disciples demand he sends her away because she is a trouble-maker, a bother, and worse yet – a Canaanite.  Jesus seems to agree with them.  The woman is a foreigner, from an ancient enemy of the Jews.  Jesus replies “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”   But, this is so unlike Jesus.  Instead of responding quickly and with great compassion, he turns his back on her.  Doesn’t the love of Christ bring comfort to you and me when we ask God for help?

Finally, the poor woman walks up, shows her deep faith, and says, “Lord, help me.” Now, Jesus would never ignore such words.  But, we hear him say, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”  The woman turns Jesus’ words back on him and asks perhaps she could be like a little puppy and just have a scrap?  Seeing her faith, the same faith his disciples have, Jesus heals her daughter.  What at first appears to be act of prejudice, is really Jesus showing us that there are no boundaries or walls between God’s people no matter who they are.

Now, that makes for a good bible story to hear on Sunday morning, but what about us?  Because, each of us can build boundaries or walls between other people.   Boundaries and walls we use to let some people in, and keep others out.  Boundaries and walls such as politics, skin color, the way someone looks or acts, how they dress, or where they live.  But, Jesus welcomes everyone, and so should we.  As followers of Christ, Jesus shows us there can be no doubt that God’s care extends beyond the barriers we set up between each other.

In the 1st Reading today, God says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.  May we pray this week for an end to our biases and prejudices so everyone feels welcome and the love of Christ in God’s Creation.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, August 9, 2020

As I sit down to write this week’s Deacon’s Corner, I can’t help to see how the pandemic dominates every part of our life.  We have rules for everything from standing in line, attending church, social gatherings, and even using a public restroom.  Some people argue that the government doesn’t do enough to protect us from the virus.  Others argue that the government does too much.  Sometimes I think my civil liberties are violated because I’m required to wear a mask.  But, then the senior living center where my mom lives goes on lockdown again because a resident has COVID-19.    Did someone not wear a mask when they were supposed to?  Is it a false positive test result?  Was there an underlying health condition that mimics COVID-19?  Who knows – even the experts can’t agree!

As I tie myself in knots trying to make sense of all this, I remember the story in Matthew 22, when a group of Pharisees confronted Jesus and asked whether it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar.  Jesus responded by asking whose face was engraved on the coins used to pay the taxes. When they answered it was Caesar’s face, Jesus replied, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).  Jesus is not mixing politics and religion.  His response is about how we relate to the government vs. how we relate to God.

The Roman government in Jesus’ day was totalitarian, corrupt, and ruled by a dictator.  Still, Jesus promoted an attitude of respect toward the government by obeying the law and paying taxes.  If the Roman government deserved the Jews’ respect, doesn’t our much more fair government deserve ours?  Even if we don’t like our current political leaders, we must remember that our citizens placed them there through fair and open elections.  Following the rules for this pandemic may seem to be an infringement on our constitutional rights to some.  But for others, the rules could possibly mean the difference between life and death.  Only God knows for sure.

At the beginning of this pandemic, Bishop Boyea wrote a Friday Memo reminding us that wearing masks is a sign of love for each other.  When I think about his words, I shouldn’t wear a mask because the government tells me to.  I should wear a mask out of love for people who are vulnerable to the virus or fear they will get it.  If Jesus were here today, would He say, give to Caesar what is Caesar’s by following the COVID-19 rules, and give to God what is God’s by loving each other?   I think He would.

Deacon John

 

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 Corner, July 19, 2020

I love our 2nd reading today.  St. Paul said, “The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because he intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.”  I know my prayer is not perfect.  I can easily lose focus or let my prayer become an endless string of wandering thoughts.  But, St. Paul is saying that’s OK because God already knows what is weighing on my heart.  And with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can articulate that heaviness to God.

Our prayer doesn’t have to be a meticulous articulation of words.  But, it does have to be undertaken with a humble spirit and complete trust and faith in God. Just like we are different people, we are each somewhat unique in how we like to pray.  But, no matter how we pray, we must remember that prayer is about deepening our relationship with God.  So, we don’t pray to present God with our grievances.  We pray to remind ourselves that God is with us no matter what we are facing in life.  We pray to express our sorrow.  We pray in thanksgiving and to honor Him.  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.  But most of all, we pray to be ever mindful of God’s presence and keep our focus on doing His will.

Whenever you have trouble praying, remember that St. Ignatius said praying is like talking to Jesus as a friend.  He says to just “Ask forgiveness.  Ask for protection and help.  Ask for wisdom about the problems you face.  Do all this in the spirit of gratitude to receive the grace of peace in your heart that comes through prayer.”  Prayer is God’s gift of grace to us.

As we go through this week, may we pray not just for ourselves, but for each other and our country.  May we remember to pray for those who are hurting and oppressed so they, too, feel the love of Jesus.  May we pray for His divine love and compassion so we can respond, as Jesus did, to our sisters and brothers in need.

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