Deacon’s Corner, April 26, 2020

I remember the first time our son was deployed.  Justin was a young Lieutenant helicopter pilot in the Marines.  And although he had already logged many flight hours under grueling conditions, this was his first combat assignment.  He and Michelle were married about a year.  When it came time to say ‘good-bye’, the whole family stood quietly just looking at each other.  After a minute of silence, Michelle started crying first, then I broke down in tears, and the whole family followed.   It was a loving but painful moment saying, ‘good bye’ not knowing what the future would bring.

We feel pain being separated from loved ones.  That is the price of love.  But 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 by Roman executioners before they nailed him to a cross and ran their warrior’s lance through his side.  Because of his love for us, 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 to the village of Emmaus after the Passover. Scripture tells us they were “conversing and debating” and “downcast” about what happened to Jesus just a few days before in Jerusalem.  It must have been painful for them – losing their good friend under such horrible circumstances and wondering what the future would bring.

Then, Jesus approaches and engages them in a conversation.  They don’t recognize him, but still invite him to dinner.  After Jesus leaves they realized who he was and said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”  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 excited and on fire with his love.  And what did they do?  They ran off and told the others!

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 – to go out and announce the Gospel of the Lord!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, April 19, 2020

In the Gospel today, we hear the story about the disciples hiding together in fear behind locked doors – then encountering the risen Jesus.  They believe, but Thomas will not until he can see Jesus for himself.  But, we can’t be too hard on Thomas.  Because today, Jesus presents us with a life-or-death predicament, and our faith will literally will determine the outcome.  It’s a predicament because none of us can literally see the resurrected Christ – yet our salvation depends wholly on our belief in Him.  Unlike Thomas, we don’t have the option of not believing until we see Jesus walk through the door and greet us. We must believe without seeing.

Jesus said in the Gospel today, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” He doesn’t advocate blind faith—that is, faith without reason or support.  And, neither does He want us to believe because of hearsay.   Jesus knows our belief in Him should be something rigorous.  Something we strive for even though it defies human reasoning.  So, our belief must be a process.  It is the work of praying daily, reading Scripture, practicing works of mercy, receiving the sacraments, loving our neighbors, and letting go to put our trust in God.

Ultimately, the hard work of belief arrives at a paradox:  sight without seeing and death without dying.  This paradox becomes the center of the great Paschal Mystery that we began to understand last week on Easter Sunday.  A mystery where we find joy through our sorrow, comfort through our pain, and new life by dying to our old self.  When that happens, our belief allows us to see that the existence of God is all around us.  We begin to see God in the goodness of His creation – in the very air we breathe, in the soil of the earth, and in His gift of life itself that beats in the hearts of each and every one of us.   Jesus is telling us we do not need more evidence to experience God around us.  What we need a better and deeper vision to see what is already here, right before us.

Unfortunately, we can reject the reality of this Mystery by taking refuge behind the locked doors of our mind, or deep within the internet and Hollywood.  Even so, as Jesus tries to break down those doors, we barricade them shut.   But, when we open the doors, we can see Christ.  We see Him daily in the poor.  We see his wounds in our sufferings and hardships.   We feel His wounds by sticking our hands inside through the radical love and solidarity He wants us to have, and He has for us.  Opening the door to Jesus is not always easy or comfortable.  But, it is part of the process we must go through to believe.

As we hide in isolation and fear of the unknown during the coronavirus pandemic, we can understand the temptation of the disciples to do the same.  But like them, whether we open that door or not, Jesus finds his way in.  He loves us too much to stand outside.

May we pray this week to be like those disciples: open to the Lord in our midst, and helping others to believe.   Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have come to believe.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, April 12, 2020

Today is the first time that Kimberly and I don’t remember going to church on Easter.  And although it is sad that we are all sequestered in our home and cannot attend Mass, we can still take comfort in what Easter really means.

Easter remembers the very foundation of Christianity:  Jesus is raised from the dead and He is God.  Those who believe share in a resurrection to new life.  Today is so significant that we continue to celebrate the Easter Season for the next fifty days until God sends His Advocate to us, the Holy Spirit, on Pentecost.  It was only natural for the very first followers of Jesus to hold this moment sacred, to celebrate and re-experience Jesus had risen and will always be with them.

His death occurred on the most important of all Jewish feasts: the Passover.  His resurrection fulfilled all that the Passover had meant to them as Jews.  It was an exodus, or passage, from the old times and oppression of 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 sign of the beginning of a New Covenant with God.  A Covenant which frees us from the slavery of worldly wants, and promises us happiness.  Happiness through spiritual growth from our sufferings, while being content with the blessings He has given us and sharing them with others.

Although we may not be able to celebrate Easter together at Mass, let’s not forget what is Easter all about.  Let’s take some time today to really understand the significance of the day and what it means to our lives.  Because without Easter, Christmas would just be another pagan holiday in December to celebrate the winter solstice.

At the Easter Vigil Mass, the Exsultet decrees “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!”  Easter is about celebrating our Christian roots and what Jesus did for us.

May you have a blessed and joyous Easter Season!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, April 5, 2020

Today is Palm Sunday.  If we could be at Mass, we would hear the Passion Story of Jesus.  A story we have heard many times.  A story we can relate to with our own life experiences.  Because, like Jesus, we too can be betrayed and accused.  Beaten down and left to die.  Whether it be physical, emotional, or spiritual pain – like Jesus in the Gospel today – we cry out from our cross “My God, my God.  Why have you forsaken me?”

But, as Christians, especially Catholics, we know God understands.  He’s been there.  In fact, he never left.  Every time we worship at Mass, we take part in the Eucharist which makes present the sacrifice Jesus made for us on the Cross.  Just like the freedom and forgiveness the Israelites experienced during their celebration of the Passover; the same salvation the disciples experienced through the death and resurrection of Jesus, are the same and real effects made present for us at each and every Mass.

During Palm Sunday Mass, we experience first-hand that Jesus knows what it’s like to feel pain and fear, 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 on 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, and knows how what it’s like to cry out in frustration “Where are you, God!” He knows all of this, so why would He ever 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.  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, people didn’t understand yet what that means.  But we do.  And that’s what we learn, not just from the Passion Story of Jesus today, but every time we worship at Mass.

As we carry our crosses of isolation, loneliness, and fear because a microscopic virus threatens the life of everyone on the planet, may we live in the moment to savor our own passions, knowing our cross is not the end of the story.  Today, Palm Sunday, although we may not be at Mass, I encourage you to still read the Passion Story of Jesus Christ.  Take time to give your hurts to God, trust Him to see you through them, and let Him change your life forever.

Deacon John

 

Prayer from Deacon John

Hello to everyone!
Kimberly and I miss you and look forward to the day we are back together with our parish and school families.  Here is something I wanted to share with you from Tuesday’s Liturgy of the Hours Evening Prayer.  It brought me hope at a time of hopelessness, and comfort during this time of fear.  I pray it does for you too.
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
 
As we face each day with new uncertainties and sacrifices 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.  Peace and blessings to each of you.
Deacon John and Kimberly

Deacon’s Corner, March 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, March 22, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

 

 

Deacon Corner, March 15, 2020

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, March 8, 2020

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

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

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

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

Deacon John

 

Deacon John Bulletin, March 1, 2020

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

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

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

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

Deacon John