Deacon’s Corner, July 14 2019

Ever have a day when nothing seems to go right?  It starts out with something small, like maybe forgetting where you put the car keys (don’t ask me how I know that).  Then, the domino effect takes over and circumstances seem so bleak that nothing even remotely positive will come out of the day.  And, the hope of tomorrow becomes the only escape from today’s overwhelmingly difficult situations.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  Why are we so easily defeated?  Maybe it’s not because we are too pessimistic, but rather because we try to be too optimistic.  If you are like me, I can put enormous pressure on myself to handle whatever life throws at me with composure and fortitude, rather than facing the reality that in a fallen world, nothing will ever be perfect.

We can treat our spiritual health the same way.  When we don’t set aside quiet time the morning for prayer, we immediately treat it as if it were a “cheat day” on a diet:  assuming the damage is already done and we’ll just have to get it right tomorrow.  When that happens, I think God looks at us as says “HELLO!  Today is still here!”  After all, He’s given us many examples in the Bible of His power to transform miserable days into joyous ones.  Scripture records Jesus performing dozens of miracles.  Some of the most notable were raising people from the dead, on what had to be their family’s worst day of their life.   John tells us Jesus did many other incredible things as well, too numerous to cover in his Gospel (John 21:25).  So, we can only imagine what He did to make things work out for his followers.   And He will do the same for us.  Every single day, the Holy Spirit will comfort and encourage us to overcome seemingly impossible obstacles we face.  But, only if we believe.

Unlike our human instincts, God doesn’t want us to rush through our bad days.  He wants us to use them as an opportunity to lean on Him, so we can learn that He and He alone is what we need for fulfillment.  Every bad day we have is actually a chance for us to grow more intimate with Him.  And as our trust in God develops, we are then able to help others to find comfort in Him as well.  So, the next time you’re having a bad day, don’t wish it away.  Pause and ask God to for help.  Because, it’s never too late for God to bring goodness out of a situation you are in.

As we go through the week, may we pray to our God of compassion to comfort us, so we can comfort others in trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from Him.

Deacon John

Adapted from a July 7, 2019 Fox News commentary.

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 30 2019

 

Last week we talked about why we have funerals.  Funerals help us understand that death is the doorway to heaven.  They provide us a time and place to reaffirm our faith in the new life Jesus promised us where death is only the end of our earthly life, but not the end of our spiritual life and relationship with God.   Funerals give us a chance to say “goodbye” and remember the person who lived.   This week let’s take a look at planning funerals.

Although planning someone’s funeral may seem burdensome and untimely, it is really a privilege.  But, that doesn’t mean planning a funeral is easy.  Think of a funeral as a gift to the family and friends of the person who died, so they can mourn and embrace the painful feelings of grief over losing a loved one.  Although they may be deeply saddened, the planning process helps acknowledge the reality of the death.  But, when all is said and done, planning the funeral can leave a feeling of deep satisfaction that they helped plan a meaningful tribute for someone they care so much about.

Funerals have a way of getting us to wake up, to embrace the wonder of life, think about what we truly care about, and how we want to spend our precious remaining days. Planning and attending a meaningful funeral can have a lasting and positive impact on the lives of so many people. Tapping into the power of a funeral liturgy helps us discover what it means to have a relationship with God.  After all, as Christians, the happiest day of our life is when we meet God face-to-face and enjoy everlasting life in His presence.

Celebrating Christian funerals brings hope and consolation to the living.  While proclaiming the Gospel and witnessing hope in the resurrection, funerals also recall God’s mercy and our need to turn to Him in times of crisis.   By embracing funerals, we begin to recognize the spiritual bond that exists between the living and the dead, knowing we will someday be raised up and reunited in the new heaven and earth where death will be no more.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, June 23 2019

Last week, we celebrated three funerals in five days between our two parishes.   With so many funerals, have you ever wondered why we have funerals at all?  Many, if not most, people don’t even want to talk about death or dying.  Some view funerals as simply the end of the person’s life.  However, a Christian funeral celebrates the completion of a person’s life from baptism to death then going home to God.

At a funeral, we bring the body of a loved one back to the church or funeral home one last time.  Just as they were welcomed at the church door on the day of baptism, washed free from sin and clothed in the white robe of redemption, we sprinkle the casket or urn with holy water and clothe it in the white cloth (the pall) as a reminder of our baptismal garment.

A complete Catholic Christian funeral is celebrated with three liturgies:  a Vigil Service on the evening before the funeral to keep watch with the grieving family and remember the loved one who died, the Funeral Service (which can be with or without a Mass), and the Graveside Committal Service for burial of the body or cremated remains.

Many people don’t like, or want to think about, planning a funeral.   But it’s important to remember, when someone dies, we want to make all the right decisions to honor that person.   So, one of the most important gifts of planning a meaningful funeral is that it helps family and friends to focus their thoughts and feelings on something positive. The funeral encourages them to think about the person who has died and remember the ways they touched our lives.  The remembering, deciding, and reflecting that takes place in planning the funeral liturgies is an important part of the process of grief and mourning. This process of contemplation and discovery creates a memorable and moving funeral experience for all who attend.

Funerals provide us a time and place to reaffirm our faith in a new life after death.  Funerals show us that death is only the end of our earthly life, but not the end of our spiritual life and relationship with God.   By staking our lives with the hope of resurrection assured to us by Jesus, we believe that death is the doorway to heaven. Baptism celebrates the beginning of our life in Christ, funerals celebrate our earthly life and faithful relationship with God as we look toward the promise of everlasting life.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 16 2019

Words cannot tell you how grateful I am for all your heartfelt prayers and well wishes during my medical emergency last week.

If you haven’t heard, I spent 3 days in the ICU at Henry Ford Allegiance Hospital in Jackson.  Without warning, my left arm, side of face, and tongue went completely numb.  I was unable to talk.  Kimberly immediately recognized the symptoms as a possible stroke and called 911 for an ambulance.  The symptoms resolved themselves within 20 to 30 minutes with no lasting side effects.   After multiple CT scans, an MRI, EKGs, blood tests, and a heart ultrasound I was diagnosed with a 90% plaque blockage in my right coronary artery.   A heart catheter was inserted to clear the blockage and install a stint.

I was driving at the time and had no warning signs that anything was about to happen.  My cholesterol, blood pressure, and weight were all within the normal ranges.  My condition was diagnosed as hereditary, and I now have prescribed medications to prevent a reoccurrence.   The cardiologist said I was “as good as new” and to return to my regular routine as soon as possible.

Throughout my entire ordeal, I was both surprised and somewhat scared that this could be happening to me.  But, with my family at my side, and your overwhelming response of love, I was able to grasp the reality of my situation and prepare myself to accept whatever outcome the Lord had planned for me.  I am truly blessed to have such caring parish families, and thank God every day for the privilege of being your deacon.

Please always be attentive to whatever signals your body is sending you, and guys, always listen to your wives.  I didn’t know it at the time, but the cardiologist said I was at a very high risk for a massive heart attack within the near future.  He told me he has seen too many cases where a wife saved her husband’s life by immediately calling 911 before the husband knew what was happening.  He said “never forget, wives save lives!”

May you have a wonderful and blessed week!

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, June 9 2019

This past Saturday, June 8th, is the typical day we would have celebrated priestly ordinations.  Sadly this year we did not have any ordinations (we will have two next year).  Bishop Boyea held a special day of prayer and asked for our particular intercession for an increase in vocations.  I have included a prayer for vocations from Pope Francis that we can continue to pray for more to hear Jesus’ call.

 

LORD of the Harvest,

BLESS young people with the gift of courage to respond to your call.

Open their hearts to great ideals, to great things.

INSPIRE all of your disciples to mutual love and giving – for vocations blossom in the good soil of faithful people.

INSTILL those in religious life, parish ministries, and families with the confidence and grace to invite others to embrace the bold and noble path of a life consecrated to you.

UNITE us to Jesus through prayer and sacrament, so that we may cooperate with you in building your reign of mercy and truth, of justice and peace.

Amen.

 

Deacon’s Corner, June 2 2019

St. Paul and St. Silas were preaching in Philippi when they were brutally attacked and imprisoned.  They were stripped, beaten, and locked in chains deep within the prison.  While praying that night, a large earthquake shook the foundations of the prison.  The cell doors flew open, the chains pulled loose, and Paul and Silas were freed (Acts 16:22-34).

During morning prayer last week, I prayed to be freed from the despair of a culture that seems to be losing its focus on God.  Then, the Lord led me to a meditation by the Venerable Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan.  Thuan would overcome despair by putting his trust in God and praying to love others as God loves them – unconditionally.   Feeling hope through Thuan’s words, I wondered who he was.  With a little research, here’s what I found….

On April 24, 1975, Bishop Nguyen Van Thuan was appointed Archbishop of Saigon.  One week later, the city fell to the communist North Vietnamese Army.  He was immediately imprisoned to endure thirteen years of harsh treatment and deplorable conditions.  Nine of those years were spent in solitary confinement.  During his years of isolation, rather than give in to despair and self-pity, Thuan found God in the darkness: he was never alone, never without comfort.  His life still had purpose, even in the midst of incredible suffering.  Thuan used scraps of paper to compose a tiny Bible; and write messages of hope which were smuggled out to his fellow believers, many who were also suffering for their faith.  He even made a small crucifix from a piece of wood and wire smuggled in by sympathetic guards.

In November 1988, Archbishop Thuan was released but kept under house arrest in Hanoi.  Three years later, he was allowed to visit Rome and did not return until after Vietnam’s government eased restrictions on him.  By now, Thuan was a Cardinal working on the Pope’s staff in Rome.  He died of cancer in 2002 at the age of 74 in Rome.  In 2007, on the fifth anniversary of his death, Pope Benedict began the beatification process for Cardinal Thuan.

Over a thousand of Cardinal Thuan’s messages were smuggled from the damp darkness of his prison cell – passed between barbed wire, traveled thousands of miles across oceans, and handed down over the years to compose a book: “The Road of Hope – a Gospel from prison.” I bought the book and began reading it.  In the first chapter, Cardinal Thuan writes “I have traveled along life’s road where I have experienced both joys and sorrows; but always I have been overflowing with hope because I have our Lord and his mother at my side…If you wish to set off on this road, you must go regardless of what other people may say to ridicule you.  The Magi set off hoping to find the newborn Savior, and they found him…St Paul knew imprisonment and affliction awaited him (Acts 20:30) and Jesus foresaw the road to Jerusalem would lead to his great Passion (Matthew 16:21).  Yet both continued forward…The Lord guides you on this road so you will ‘go and bear fruit’ (John 15:16) which will endure.

As we face our joys and hardships, our happiness and despair, may we pray to be courageous to trust in God and travel the Road of Hope.  For as Psalm 43 says, “Why are you cast down, my soul.  Hope in God; I will praise him still, my savior and my God.”

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, May 26 2019

As Americans, we are blessed by God with freedoms to do or say almost anything we want, with more food than one nation can possibly consume, more resources than we can possibly use, and the protection of the mightiest military ever assembled.  As Christians, we strive to be more than the material world.  By virtue of our human reason and free will, we are unique among all other created things.  We can freely choose to accept or reject God’s graces. Turning away from God is not true freedom.  It is an abuse of our freedom that enslaves us into a culture of apathy and violence which threatens human life and dignity.  The Church teaches to understand freedom we must consider the nature and purpose of our humanity – that each of us are made in the image and likeness of God.

St. Pope John Paul II said freedom destroys itself when it is not based on objective truth.  By virtue of our ability to reason and our free will, we are compelled to seek the truth. Our Creator instilled this divine drive within us so we would seek Him, for God is the truth.  Once we find the truth, we are obligated to live it to the best of our ability.  Those obligations include sacrificing our blessings to ensure everyone can enjoy the “certain unalienable Rights” that we believe in.  We cannot satisfy this obligation knowing there is coercion in our society.  After all, how can we thank God for our blessings but ignore the suffering and death of people at the hands of ruthless oppressors, natural disasters, and in famine stricken regions of the world?

As Americans we have the moral responsibility to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves when these privileges are threatened or violated.  This Memorial Day we honor our fallen brothers and sisters who gave their life so others may choose freedom and seek the truth.  The “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.”  May we pray for those who sacrificed their lives for a purpose they believed was greater than themselves.  May perpetual light shine upon them, and may they rest in peace.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 19 2019

In the Gospel today, Jesus sums up Christian discipleship in three, simple words: “love one another.”  Because, at the end of the day, when the doctrine has been debated, the prayers have been prayed, traditions lived out, hymns have been sung, and the liturgies celebrated, we are left with just one thing: love.

But, what is ‘love’?  After all, I love my wife and family.  I loved my job.  I love my Fighting Irish and would love to see a national championship someday.   I love good food and love sharing it with good friends.   The word ‘love’ has different meanings depending on how we use it.  And to make it harder, Jesus redefined love when he said “love one another, as I have loved you”.  So, how did Jesus “love”?

Jesus showed us love is sacrificial.  At the very heart of our Christian faith is the fact that Jesus died on the cross; not some empty, meaningless, failing type of death, but a death that won a significant victory over the power of sin and death so that we could live in a beautiful relationship with God.  There was no limit to Jesus’ sacrifice – because there was no limit to his love for us.  Jesus gave up everything so we could live:  He gave up his birthright, his power, his majesty, his glory, his own life.  Jesus didn’t just make sacrifices for us. He became a sacrifice for us.

Jesus showed us love is unconditional.   We constantly make a mess of our lives.  But, God loves us anyway. Jesus didn’t set conditions on his love. He never said that we need to do something first in order for him to love us. He never waited until we had proved ourselves worthy of love.  Jesus’ love was absolutely unconditional.

Jesus showed us love is practical.  There are many poems and love songs written to express the emotion of love. But in reality, love is intensely practical.  Like the hospice nurse caring for a dying patient.  The mother cleaning up after her sick child in the middle of the night.  The food pantry volunteer listening to a client and providing for their needs.  The father working two jobs to take care of his family.  And parents sacrificing their own dreams for the sake of their children.  Jesus’ death on the cross was intensely practical. It wasn’t a glorious; he was alone, he was in pain, he had to grit his teeth and just get on with it. That is practical love in action.

We are called to love as Jesus loved. It is not easy, but loving as Jesus loved must be the hallmark of our church and our own lives.  As St. Paul said, if we don’t have love, we are nothing (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).  Without love, our worship is empty, our hymn singing is empty, and all the activities of our church and life are meaningless.  As we prepare for the week ahead, may we pray for the grace to follow the example Jesus set, and fulfil His commandment to love each other as he loves us.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 12 2019

The Deacon’s Corner

Sometimes, I think the hardest thing a parent must do is love their children enough to say ‘no’ because saying ‘yes’ may only harm them even more.

Even God says “no”.  When Jesus prayed in the garden for this cup to pass him by – God told Him “no.”  Jesus said “no”, too.  He told the devil “no” in the desert.  He told Peter “no” a number of times.  He told the man “no” who wanted to be a disciple but first bury his dead father.  Jesus told Martha “no” when she wanted her sister to help prepare for the guests.   He told His Apostles “no” when they were not ready to hear the answers to the questions they asked.  He told them a very strong “no!” when they wanted fire from heaven to destroy those who rejected them.  At first, Jesus said “no” to healing his best friend Lazarus lying on his death bed.  He told his disciples “no, you feed them” when they were looking for a way out of feeding the massive crowd just before His miracle with a few pieces of fish and bread.  Jesus even said ‘no’ sometimes when people wanted miracles worked.  Jesus knew when to say “no”, and when to say “yes.”

So, what is love if we cannot always say “yes” to our children or agree with what they are doing?  That’s a great question to ask on Mother’s Day.  Because, we only need to look at a mother’s love to see how Jesus loved others and how God loves us.  Mom’s love with self-giving sacrifice by putting their family’s needs ahead of their own.  A love so intense that they would rather die on a cross before seeing us harmed by something evil.

God loves us so much that there is nothing we can do to make Him stop even if we don’t like it when He says “no.”  Moms do too.   Thank you, moms,  for showing us how to love as Jesus loved, and loving us enough to know when to say yes and when to say ‘no’.   May you have a very Happy and Blessed Mother’s Day.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, May 5 2019

Kimberly and I like to sit down together with a cup of coffee and watch reruns of the old, classic TV shows from when we were kids.  They remind us of growing up when life seemed much simpler and television programs promoted moral living, family life, and God. One of our favorites is “Leave it to Beaver”.

Leave it to Beaver was a TV series during the late 1950s and early 1960s about a young boy named “Beaver” and his older brother “Wally”.  Each episode, Beaver and Wally would make some kind of mistake or use poor judgement and get into trouble.  Even their mom and dad struggled at times to make the right decisions on how to handle the situations.  By the end of each episode, the boys learned a lesson about virtue.

We all make mistakes.  I’ve certainly made my fair share of them and continue to so.  Last week, while reading my Magnificat during Adoration, the Lord led me to a short story about St. Asicus who also made mistakes.  He is the patron saint of coppersmiths and the Diocese of Elphin in Ireland.

Asicus was married and lived in the 5th Century.  He was a disciple of St. Patrick who converted Asicus to Christianity.  As a skilled metalworker, he used his talents to craft crosses, patens, and book covers.  Eventually, Asicus became the first Bishop of Elphin.  He founded a monastery and a school of the arts, where students learned to craft copper and silver into beautiful artwork.  A deeply humble man, Asicus never felt totally comfortable as bishop and abbot.  When he became aware of a growing scandal, he decided to resign his office and go into hiding.  Some sources say Asicus told a lie that scandalized his people.  Others say that a serious lie was told about him and spread around.  Whatever the case, Asicus no longer felt worthy to lead his parishioners, so he left.  Asicus spent 7 years in solitary hiding on an uninhabited island.  His monks finally found him and convinced him to come home. By now an old man, Asicus was in poor health and died on the journey home.  He is buried in the village of Balintra in Ireland.

Like Beaver and Wally, mistakes and misunderstandings are a part of life that we must learn from and grow so we become a better person because of it.  No one knows for sure why Asicus fled his post.  Did he make a mistake?  Was he scandalized by people speaking falsely about him?  What we do know is that Asicus was very holy and never felt worthy of holding such a high office in the church.

May the life of St. Asicus be a reminder for us to be humble and remain close to our Merciful Father, especially when we are misunderstood and disliked.  St. Asicus, pray for us.

Deacon John