Deacon Corner, February 23, 2020

It’s that time of year, again.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  But, how many of us really get excited about Lent?  This rich Catholic tradition has been around since the days of the early Church.  At that time, Christians would fast for two days, then join an all-night vigil celebration ending on Easter.  Over time, Lent became a period of spiritual renewal during the weeks before Easter.  By the Middle Ages, on the first day of Lent, sinners publicly declared themselves penitents and were sprinkled with ashes as a sign of their repentance.  Then, they fasted for 40 days to recall Jesus’ time in the desert (Matthew 4:2), and the fasts of Moses (Exodus 34:28) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).  But, no matter how traditions may have changed over the years, the purpose of Lent remains the same: preparing ourselves to celebrate the great mystery of our faith at Easter, the Paschal Mystery – the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

During Lent, we focus on three essential elements: meaningful forms of penance, especially positive ones like charity and community service to help change our heart and foster a greater love for God; personal choices for spiritual renewal such as prayer and fasting; and recalling our Baptismal Vows to remember what it means to be a child of God.  Our goal during Lent is not to lose weight by giving up certain foods.  The purpose of Lent is to acknowledge our human weaknesses and undergo a spiritual revival to grow closer to God.  We do this through a meaningful Lent by doing penance.

Our Catechism tells us penance “can be expressed in many and various ways…above all, three forms:  fasting, prayer, and almsgiving” (CCC 1434). Now, I’ve tried fasting and almsgiving (giving money to feed and house the poor).  But this year, I want to do something different – I want to give more time to the Lord.  Instead of giving up favorite foods, social media, or smart technology, I’ll take precious time out of my daily life and spend it in prayer talking to God.  What about you?  Have you decided yet? How about giving some of your time to the Lord?  After all, when is the last time you spent time in front of the Blessed Sacrament during Adoration and received the solemn blessing we call Benediction?  Attended a weekday Mass? Prayed a rosary? Joined Mary as she walked the Sorrowful Way, the Stations of the Cross, following Jesus on the road to Calvary?  Or just fell on your knees and thanked God for something?  Even if it’s only 5 minutes, Jesus will take whatever time you give Him.

May you have a Happy Lent becoming a better, holier, more loving follower of Christ.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 16, 2020

Last month, Bishop Boyea was invited to address the Lansing City Council on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.   He used the occasion to explain the Catholic Church’s teaching on racism.  In case you missed it, I would like to share some of the highlights of what he said here.

Bishop Boyea explained that the intrinsic dignity and worth of each human person is rooted in our common origin in God Almighty.  Our dignity is not something we confer on ourselves or on one another.   Rather, we are endowed with that dignity from our wise and loving Creator.  Because idolizing myself is such an easy thing to do, to make myself the measure of how I view others, racism usually involves suppressing the truth of the nature of the other person.  So, racism becomes a form of idolatry by placing myself in the place of God.  It is a serious sin in violation of the First Commandment.  To fight racism, he said, 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.

We may wonder why God allowed all these differences among each other in the first place.  Bishop Boyea said, there is no other reason than they can be the opportunity for the exchange of gifts, something that is made possible when we are kind, generous, and open to one another.  He cautions, however, that too often we think that dialogue should always lead to agreement.  It doesn’t.  In fact, part of the exchange of gifts is to hear differences, value them, and recognize that should my views remain, they are never quite the same. Too many of us give up on dialogue simply because we don’t agree with one another. But, as Christians, we are called 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 our brothers and sisters, if we are to be moved with empathy to promote justice.

Bishop Boyea concluded by saying we are all made in the image of God.  For Christians, this is fundamentally an action of seeking first the Kingdom of God such that all these things will follow (Matthew 6:33).   He said, there is no magic way of achieving all these things.  However, with good hearts, and with an abundance of God’s grace, we can move toward the full recognition of the human dignity of all our brothers and sisters.  In the words of Bishop Boyea:  may God bless us, our community, our state, and our country to reach such a noble goal.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, February 9, 2020

Last week, I stopped by to see our 5th and 6th graders at Sacred Heart School.   A simple visit to say “hello” led to an impromptu session answering their random questions about our faith.  A 5th grader asked me: “Do you have to be Catholic to go to heaven?”   Now, that’s a great question.  So, let’s begin with “What is heaven?”

We all have our own vision of heaven and the joys heaven will contain.   Scripture tells us three things about heaven very clearly:  1) The happiness of heaven is perfect, 2) The happiness of heaven is indescribable and unimaginable, and 3) In heaven, we shall see God face-to-face.  Heaven offers much more than we could ever hope to attain here on earth.  Heaven is the promise to live in eternal joy, in perfect friendship, with the Most Holy Trinity, our Holy Mother Mary, and all the angels and saints.

As followers of Christ, we have been offered this gift of heaven because our souls have been saved through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.  But, while Jesus offered Himself freely for all people, God was humble enough to allow each of us to choose salvation.  We can choose to accept Jesus’ sacrifice and live our life as a child of God, or we can reject it.   As Catholics, we believe that those who die in God’s grace and friendship, those who chose to accept salvation, will reach heaven.

One of the most misunderstood teachings of the Church is that outside the Church there is no salvation.  In other words, all salvation comes from Christ with the Church as His Body (Catechism 846).  While true, it is important to note this does not necessarily apply to those who, through no fault of their own, do not know Christ.   That’s because we must always remember the great mercy of God.   Anyone who seeks God with a sincere heart and tries in their actions to do His will as they know it may also attain heaven (Catechism 847).  Jesus died for every single person; salvation is meant for everyone.  Anyone who is ignorant of the Gospel, but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with their understanding of it, can be saved.

So, in short: no, you do not have to be Catholic to go to heaven.   However, as Catholics, we can never forget our God-given duty to evangelize and make disciples of all people.  We must have the courage to live our life in such a way that emulates the life and love of Jesus.  We must have the courage to speak truth in a time when so many people are afraid of it.  While I am grateful that the salvation of others does not lie in my hands, I am aware that I have a responsibility to help lead others to Christ.   May we pray that our words and actions lead others to come to know Jesus and the hope of eternal happiness in heaven.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner – WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE

WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE!

Disciple Maker Index Survey Opens This Week!

It’s official! The Disciple Maker Index Survey opens this week and we need your help!

 

The survey will only be available from Saturday, February 8th through Sunday, March 1st.

Please help us participate by completing a 10-15 minute survey as soon as possible.

 

There are 2 ways to take the survey:

  1. Go to www.disciplemakerindex.com
  2. Obtain a paper copy at the parish entrances or by contacting the parish office. Please return your completed paper copy to the parish office in a sealed envelope no later than March 4th.

 

YOUR RESPONSES WILL BE HELD IN STRICT CONFIDENCE as they are processed by the Catholic Leadership Institute.  The survey is intended for all parishioners age 18 and older.  The survey will provide valuable feedback to Fr. Todd about our parish to help plan for the future and become the best disciples we can be.  All responses are confidential and the parish will only receive information about the community as a whole.  We will receive the results sometime this spring or summer, at which time we will share what we have learned with the entire parish.

Thank you in advance for your participation in the survey.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 26 2020

WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE! 

PLEASE READ

Bishop Boyea has invited Sacred Heart Parish to participate in a parish survey about discipleship conducted by the Catholic Leadership Institute.  We need your help.

Please help us by participating in a 10-15 minute survey from Saturday, February 8 through Sunday, March 1.  The survey will ask you to reflect on your own spiritual growth and enable you to provide feedback on our parish’s efforts to help you grow.  All responses will be confidential and the parish will only receive information about the community as whole.

There will be two ways to access the survey.  It will be available to take online at www.disciplemakerindex.com.   However, if you don’t use a computer – there will be opportunities to complete the survey after Sunday Masses or at home.  If you are unable to obtain a paper copy after these Masses, you can contact Tammy Houser at 517-448-3811 and one will be mailed to you.

We are trying to get the highest survey response rate possible.  This information will be invaluable to Fr. Todd and our various ministries as we plan for the future and strive to be the best disciples we can be.  We will receive the results this spring/summer at which time we will share what we have learned with the entire parish.

Thank you for helping with this important project!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 19 2020

WE ARE CALLED FOR MORE! 

 

Bishop Boyea has invited Sacred Heart Parish to participate in a parish survey about discipleship conducted by the Catholic Leadership Institute.  We need your help.

Please help us by participating in a 10-15 minute survey from Saturday, February 8 through Sunday, March 1.  The survey will ask you to reflect on your own spiritual growth and enable you to provide feedback on our parish’s efforts to help you grow.  All responses will be confidential and the parish will only receive information about the community as whole.

There will be two ways to access the survey.  It will be available to take online at www.disciplemakerindex.com.   However, if you don’t use a computer – there will be opportunities to complete the survey after Sunday Masses or at home.  If you are unable to obtain a paper copy after these Masses, you can contact Tammy Houser at 517-448-3811 and one will be mailed to you.

We are trying to get the highest survey response rate possible.  This information will be invaluable to Fr. Todd and our various ministries as we plan for the future and strive to be the best disciples we can be.  We will receive the results this spring/summer at which time we will share what we have learned with the entire parish.

Thank you for helping with this important project!

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, January 12 2020

Today, we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.  But, sometimes I wonder why Jesus was baptized in the first place.  After all, He is God.  He is already sinless.  He has no reason to repent, change His ways, or ask forgiveness.  Perhaps Jesus came to be baptized as a representative of the sinful human race to foreshadow His death and resurrection three years later?  Or maybe to set the example for the rest of us for what it means to start fresh with a clean heart and follow Him.  After all, John’s mission was to prepare the way for Jesus to come, not to take away sin.

Scripture doesn’t say why Jesus was baptized.  But, the Gospel does tell us that when John the Baptist asked Jesus why He wanted to be baptized, Jesus said it was fitting to fulfill all righteousness.  So, perhaps Jesus asked John to baptize Him simply as an act of obedience to God’s purposes. God had given John the promise of a coming Messiah and the way to identify Him. Jesus fulfilled that promise. His Baptism was simply the right thing at the right time: the last act of Jesus’ private life before beginning His ministry to show us the path to righteousness so we can grow closer to God.

So, what about us?  Why were we baptized?  Because, our Baptism is not a rite of passage into a special club.  Our Baptism is an entry into a covenant with God where we dedicate our life to following His plan for us.  Baptism initiates a lifelong commitment to live, as St. Paul says, in the Spirit, not in the flesh – rejecting godless ways and worldly desires – to live moderately, justly, and devoutly.  That’s what our Baptism is all about: emptying ourselves of material wants, then loving as Jesus loved.

Our Baptism is about bringing the Light of Christ into this world.  When we can do that – when we can bring Jesus into the lives of other people – we will be able to clearly see the plan God has for us and His creation.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, January 5 2020

Today is The Feast of the Epiphany of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is one of the oldest Christian feasts we celebrate.  Webster defines epiphany as an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure; a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being; a moment of sudden revelation or insight.  But as Christians, the Epiphany is much more than that.  Epiphany comes from a Greek verb meaning “to reveal.  So, the “epiphany” of Jesus, is God revealing Himself to the world – not just to a chosen few, but to every person from every nation for eternity.

God’s Epiphany happened through men from faraway lands.  Human beings filled with wisdom and seeking peace.  They brought gifts symbolizing different aspects of the divine, infant Savior’s life.  The gift of frankincense – the sign of divinity –  is offered to Jesus, the Son of God, His eternal Word made Flesh.  The gift of gold – the gift for a king –  is offered to Jesus the King of the Universe.  The gift of myrrh – used to anoint the dead – is offered to the little divine but human savior of the world who will suffer and die for the salvation of all.

At that first Christmas, the magi sought and found God, then brought Him gifts fit for a king.  What about us?  Do we seek God?  Do we find Him around us?  What meaningful or valuable gifts do we bring Him?  The answers to these questions lie deep within our hearts.  Because the best gifts we can give God come from our heart – our gratitude, our humility, our will, our mind, and our love.  The best gift we can give God today is ourselves.  After all, it’s the gift the Lord longs to receive from each of us.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, December 15 2019

Two weeks ago, we piled into the SUV with our kids and grandkids to go see the Nite Lites display at Michigan International Speedway.  It was a beautiful evening, and the 30-minute drive through the display of lights with music was a great way to kick off the Christmas season.  But, decorating for the First Christmas didn’t happen with electrical cords, colored lights, trees, or glitter.  Nor were Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra singing the Christmas classics. There could have been snow; after all, it was winter.  Most likely, it was just another very chilly night in the desert region of Israel we know today as Palestine.

No one baked holiday cookies that night, and no tourists flocked around to see what was happening.  Just a few simple shepherds out in the field witnessed that awesome event of the First Christmas as “the glory of the Lord shone around them” and an angelic choir sang “Glory to God in the Highest.”  Those shepherds went to Bethlehem to see if what the angels said was true.   What they saw filled them with so much joy, they hurried off to tell others what they had heard and seen.  They saw, and they believed.

Advent is the season to have our faith strengthened.  To be reminded of the power of Jesus to work miracles, both in the Gospels and our daily lives.  To grow in faith is to grow in joy because the Lord we come to know is the source of our joy.  Today begins the 3rd week of Advent.  The candle to be lit on the wreath is rose (pink).  That’s because pink symbolizes joy: the joy that Jesus is almost here.  What better time than this week to gather the family around, dust off your Bible, and experience the joy of reading the story of that First Christmas?  (You can find it in the first chapters of Matthew and Luke.)  Then afterwards, go share your joy with others that Jesus – the light of the world – is coming.   Relive this Great Story, and relive the joy it brings.  May you have a blessed week preparing your heart to receive our Savior.

Deacon John