Deacon’s Corner, November 3 2019

What a beautiful way to pray together: Fr. Todd explained the Mass while we celebrated the Mass!  He mentioned that our Mass has its traditions and roots in both ancient Jewish and early Christian worship.  Hearing that reminded me of an earlier Deacon’s Corner I wrote about St. Justin Martyr describing the Mass to a Roman emperor almost 2000 years ago.  I would like to share some of that with you again this week.

St. Justin Martyr was a scholar and converted to Christianity after years of studying various pagan philosophies.  He adamantly defended the Christian faith from attacks by pagans, Jews, and heretics.  In 155 AD, Justin wrote a letter to the Roman emperor appealing for justice and mercy for Christians by clarifying the Christian worship liturgy.  At that time, Christians were being falsely accused of engaging in cannibalistic rituals.  Justin’s letter described what we call today the Mass.  He wrote:

“On the day we call the day of the sun, all who dwell in the city or country gather in the same place.  The memoirs of the apostles and the writings of the prophets are read…When the reader has finished, he who presides over those gathered admonishes and challenges them to imitate these beautiful things.  Then we all rise together and offer prayers for ourselves…and for others…so that we may be found righteous by our actions, and faithful to the commandments, so as to obtain eternal salvation.  When the prayers are concluded we exchange the kiss.  Then someone brings bread and a cup of water and wine mixed together to him who presides over the brethren.  He takes them and offers praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and…gives thanks (in Greek: eucharistian) that we have been judged worthy of these gifts.   When he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all present give voice to an acclamation by saying “Amen.”  When he who presides has given thanks and the people have responded, those whom we call deacons give to those present the “eucharisted” bread, wine and water and take them to those who are absent” [from The Lamb’s Supper, Scott Hahn, pages 34 & 35].

How many parts of today’s Mass can you find in Justin’s letter: the Readings? Homily? Petitions? Preparation of the Gifts? Eucharistic Prayer? The Amen?  Sign of Peace?  Communion in both forms?  Communion to homebound parishioners?  Even the day, the “day of the sun,” or Sunday, shows that our Mass has been celebrated on the weekday of Jesus’ Resurrection since the beginning of the Church.

About 10 years after St. Justin Martyr wrote this letter, he was tried, convicted, scourged, and beheaded for refusing to worship Roman gods.  As we walk into church for Mass today, may we take a moment to remember St. Justin Martyr and the early Christians who endured hardships, persecution, and martyrdom for this liturgy that is our highest form of prayer.  May we find joy in the Mass, as they did, by experiencing God in our hearts.  After all, it’s been that way for almost 2000 years.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, October 7, 2019

 

Why do we have music at Mass? Music is as much a part of the Mass as the prayers and Scripture readings.  According to the General Instruction of the Roman Missal (the GIRM), which tells us how to celebrate the Mass, singing is of “great importance” and should be part of the Mass whenever possible, especially during Sundays and Holy Days.

Music at Mass helps us come together as one. It encourages everyone to participate in expressing our joy and love of God. Our Catechism teaches that the music and song of the Mass “participate in the purpose of the liturgical words and actions: the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful” (1157). That’s a lot of words, but it tells us that the Mass, in itself, is a song.  Music at Mass has its roots in our Jewish heritage. Jesus would have sung Psalms in the synagogues and temple with His family, friends, and the Apostles as a way of giving glory and praise to God. The Gospel tells us Jesus sang at the Last Supper when He instituted the Holy Eucharist (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). So, we should not be surprised that for almost 2,000 years, we have had music and singing during Mass. Music helps us express spiritual union, show gladness in our heart, and creates a feeling of unity as we gather in sharing the Eucharist together. The GIRM encourages all of us to sing along as part of the dialogue of prayers with the priest so we do not lose the beauty and joy of praying through music as our ancestors did.  St. Paul said, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16). Singing is the sign of the heart’s joy (Acts 2:46). As we join together today at Mass, let’s remember that music and singing are part of our deep, Catholic roots. Those roots are the identity of our Church we must work to preserve for generations to come.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner

In 1917, Mary appeared six times in Fatima, Portugal, telling people to pray the Rosary for world peace.  The last appearance was on October 13.  It had rained throughout the night before, soaking the ground and the pilgrims traveling to Fatima by the thousands to see Our Lady appear at noon as she had promised.  As noon local time passed, Mary did not appear.  However, when the sun arrived directly overhead, Mary was seen rising in the east.  She turned the palms of her hands towards the sky.  Although the rain had stopped, dark clouds still obscured the sun.  Suddenly, the sun burst through the clouds and was seen as a soft spinning disk of silver.  Recorded eyewitness accounts tell how people saw the face of the Blessed Virgin Mary and watched the sun, without any discomfort, as it trembled and danced in the sky.  Some claimed the sun changed colors and whirled on itself like a giant wheel that lowered to the earth as if to burn it with its rays.   The crowd cried out and people fell on their knees to pray.  70,000 people witnessed this Miracle of the Sun, including atheists, communists, and non-Catholics.  Some of them converted to our faith.

 

Yesterday, at noon, as part of a worldwide celebration of the Miracle of the Sun at Fatima, a group of our parishioners gathered at the club house at Shaffer’s Evergreen Golf Course in Hudson to pray the Rosary for peace as our Blessed Mother requested 102 years ago.  The word ‘rosary’ comes from Latin and means ‘a garden of roses.’  Our Rosary is a form of devotional prayer in honor of our Blessed Mother.   The Rosary prayers come from Scripture and the traditions of the early Christians.  There are four sets of mysteries of the Rosary based on different aspects of Jesus’ life.  These are the Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious, and Luminous Mysteries.  Praying the Rosary and reflecting on these mysteries gives us a profound, intimate, personal experience with Jesus through the eyes of Mary.

 

Taking 20 minutes to pray the Rosary can draw out the deepest desires in our souls—desires for God and God alone.  Even taking just a few minutes to pray one decade allows us to slow down, calm our hearts, and rest in God’s presence. This week, let’s all take time to pray the Rosary for world peace.  Then ask our Blessed Mother to help us find peace in our heart.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, October 6 2019

In last Monday’s Gospel reading, Jesus watched His disciples argue about which one of them was the greatest.  So, He took a child by His side and said to them, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me; for the least among all of you is the greatest” (Luke 9:46-48).  Now, these are good words for the Gospel, but not so good when my Fighting Irish are going head-to-head against a rivalry and bragging rights are at stake.

 

While praying on this Gospel, I read a reflection written by a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame who wrote about her experience attending the football game in Athens, Georgia two weeks ago when Notre Dame played the Georgia Bulldogs.  The possibility of a national championship was at stake. It was a chance to prove who was the greatest among them.  Her reflection on this Gospel says it all, and I want to share it with you here.

 

She wrote:  “Welcome to Athens!” “Good luck tonight!” “Go Irish!” – All heard coming from the amazingly friendly Georgia fans two weekends ago. Walking up to the sea of red at the Georgia tailgates while wearing my Irish green was pretty intimidating, but I was happily surprised by the friendly faces, smiles, and words of welcome we received. Some Georgia fans stopped us to ask how our experience in Athens had been. They were glad we were having a great time and being welcomed enthusiastically because they and everyone they knew had had such a pleasant time at Notre Dame [during the game] in 2017.  Later we talked with a member of the SilverDawgs, who explained how the University of Georgia instituted the SilverDawgs based on the Notre Dame [football stadium] Ushers. Georgia wanted to create the same kind of welcoming atmosphere they had experienced at Notre Dame.

 

Every football weekend, when we welcome opponents to our campus, we truly live out Christ’s call to love everyone regardless of background and affiliation. We embody Christ’s message, “Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me.” Though we sometimes don’t receive back the kindness we give or see the fruits of our generosity, that’s not why we love in the first place…It was a blessing to see Christ’s love shining through both sets of fans. It’s amazing how a kind word and smile, multiplied by thousands of Notre Dame fans, set in motion a wave of love and kindness in the Georgia fans. The love Christ shares with us is meant to be received as a gift and shared tangibly with the people we encounter daily.

 

What beautiful words to describe how Jesus wants us to treat each other!  On a side note, our very own Delmar Marry (Sacred Heart Parishioner) is a stadium usher for Notre Dame home football games.  That means Delmar helps bring the love of Christ to over 80,000 people every time he is in the stadium.  I’m not sure how many people can do that!  Certainly, not me.  Go Delmar!

 

May we pray this week to be welcoming, to open our hearts in humility, and to receive the gift of the cross so we can give ourselves away in service to others for the love of Christ.

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, September 29 2019

Over the past month:  Summer came to an end, school went back in session, college football kicked off (no pun intended), and Fall officially started.  Amid all of this busyness, our volunteer catechists at both parishes prepared for another year of teaching our parish children their Catholic faith.

This year we expect almost 100 students attending religious education/faith formation classes each Sunday between our two parishes.  Give or take for holidays and spring break, there are about 25 Sundays available for classes.   That’s about 30 total hours of instruction over the year for our children to learn their faith, assuming no classes are missed and everyone shows up on time.   Essentially, we have a lot of students with precious little class time to teach them what they need to know.

It takes more than classroom time to form our children’s faith.  It takes family time during the week, and that’s not easy with everything going on around us.  I remember those years when Kimberly and I struggled to balance work, school, sports, scouts, visiting grandparents, and having fun as a family.  Getting our children off to CCD classes each Sunday between their early morning paper route and 11 am Mass was always a challenge.  Sometimes we grumbled about it, and sometimes we failed.  Although I’m glad we don’t have to go through that phase of parenting anymore, I often wish we would have tried harder to make more time at home to teach our children their faith.

Our Catechism says parents have the first responsibility to educate their children.  That includes more than just dropping them off for class on Sunday morning.  It means teaching the faith at home, too.  It means praying together as a family – before and after meals, at night, the Act of Contrition, the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, the rosary, to heal those hurting, and bless those who need it to name a few.  Prayer and faith must openly be part of the family’s daily routine and decision making.

For our parish religious education/faith formation parish programs to work, our children must experience all of us – parents, relatives, friends, and parishioners alike – engaged in our faith by outwardly living a life devoted to Christ through our words and examples.  They must see us as truly faithful to the virtues of patience, temperance, charity, humility, diligence, kindness, and chastity.  Not in a showy way, but in a way they can relate to.

As classes begin next Sunday, may we always be mindful of our responsibility to teach the children of our parishes about God and our great Catholic faith.   As parents, that means taking time at home to learn our faith together.  For the rest of us, it means doing whatever we can to support our parents and volunteer catechists.  For they have a daunting task, and neither of them can do it alone.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 22 2019

Last Sunday, Kimberly and I went to Mass at St. Columbkille in Omaha while visiting to celebrate our youngest grandson’s birthday.  We could have easily decided not to go to Mass.  It was hot and humid. We were tired, had another big day planned with the family, and most of them didn’t want to go.  But, we did.

Just walking into the church brought a sense of calm and peace.  Our Catholic brothers and sisters were welcoming.  The liturgy was empowering, the music was uplifting, the priest was heartwarming, and the deacon preached a great message about not judging and inviting people to experience Jesus.  (By the way, he is one of fifteen deacons at St. Columbkille.  That’s a lot of deacons!) We left the church after Mass feeling spiritually fed and part of a universal faith family.  Everyone there had the common bond of giving thanks to God and sharing His presence through the Eucharist.

So, why do we go to Mass, anyway?  We go for our spiritual benefit and worship together as a faith community.  We go to Mass to stand together and share in our mission as witnesses for Christ in the world while openly professing and celebrating our Catholic faith. We go to Mass to share in the wonder of God’s love and be transformed by the Spirit of holiness.  When that happens, we go forth to spread the Good News that there is something greater in l the life to come.  But we cannot experience this feeling if we only go to Mass simply because we always have, because it is our Sunday “obligation,” or someone told us we had to, or we feel guilty if we don’t.

In his book, Rediscovering Catholicism, Matthew Kelly writes that we have lost our sense of wonder about the Mass.  He says we are “so unaware of the mystery and the privilege [of the Mass] that we can hardly wait to get out of church.”   Kelly tells us that if we truly believe Christ is present in the Eucharist, then the power unleashed within us through receiving the Eucharist is “unfathomable.”   He says the only way to undergo this spiritual transformation at Mass is to rediscover the wonder of the Mass – the same wonder those First Christians discovered celebrating Jesus’ presence among them when He said, ‘Do this in memory of me.’

Our Catechism reminds us that God’s overall plan is to draw us closer to Him so we can share in His life.  God calls us to seek Him, to know and love Him, and to be in unity with His family.  That is why we go to Mass – not because we have to, but so we can join together and be one with God.

Deacon John

 

Deacon’s Corner, September 8 2019

 

We are finally at the last reason to consider why God is real from the book The God Answers.  Reason No. 5 of five is Personal Experience.”  For doubters, this is the hardest one to accept.  They think the idea of talking to God is absurd.  The author of the book shares his personal experience with God.  I’ve shared mine with you before, and it was so powerful I would like to share it again.  It happened with my dear friend, Mr. Bob, who is now home with the Lord.

Mr. Bob’s life was a struggle. He had his health issues.  He lived with his daughter.  His dad was hit and killed by a car when he was 7.  Mr. Bob survived the Great Depression and World War 2.  His marriage and business failed.  His children left the church.  At 90 years old, his heart was bad and he walked with a cane.  Despite all his setbacks, Mr. Bob was a faithful Catholic who loved the Lord.  He enjoyed life and considered me a son.

Mr. Bob and I were praying together one afternoon in the chapel at a men’s retreat.  He sensed I was troubled and asked me what was wrong.  He knew I was studying to be a deacon.  I told him I was scared.  How could I ever do what God would ask of me?  Could I visit people in prison and the hospital?  Could I feel the pain of the poor and the helpless?  Could I preach the Gospel, provide comfort at funerals, and pray with families as their loved one was dying?  Was this really what God wanted me to do?  And what if I failed?  After listening to me, Mr. Bob gently leaned over until our faces were only a few inches apart.  His face was wrinkled.  He looked worn and tired.  His hair was grey and thinning, and his beard needed a trim.

Then something glorious happened.  Mr. Bob’s face became perfect and dazzling, glowing with awe and tranquility.  I knew just then that everything would be OK.  Then, it struck me – I was face-to-face with GOD!  In a gentle but reassuring voice, Mr. Bob said, “You can put all those fears aside.  You’re going to make a hell of a deacon!”  He put his arm around my shoulder. I was at peace and not afraid any more.  Then, as quick as it began, it was over.  Mr. Bob looked at me with his wrinkled face, grey and thinning hair, his beard still needing a trim and said, “Now, let’s go get dinner.”

Some people believe I saw God.  Others politely say, “Now that’s a nice story,” and walk away.  Still others tell me it only happened because I wanted to believe it did.  Maybe so.  But I do know that my experience with Mr. Bob, and others like it, are enough evidence to convince me there is a God, and God wants to have a relationship with me.  He wants to have one with you, too.

The Bible says everyone can experience God if they sincerely look for Him: “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you”. (Matthew 7:7). Some people really want to believe in God.  They want assurance they are not alone in this universe.  Others have an equally strong desire NOT to believe in God.  The thought of an all-powerful Creator cramps their style.  Admittedly, the five reasons for why God is real are not a slam-dunk case, but they do present some strong evidence to His existence.  For me, it takes more faith to believe there is no God than believe there is.  What about you?  Is God Real?

Deacon John

 

Deacon Corner, September 1 2019

Originally for this week I was going to wrap up the five reasons why God is real from the book, “The God Answers”.   But while praying during Holy Hour in Adoration last Tuesday, I began reflecting on the life of St. Monica.  It was her Feast Day, and the Lord moved me to write about her this week instead.

St. Monica (322-387 A.D.) was raised in a Christian home in North Africa. Early in life she struggled with alcoholism, sneaking wine from the family cellar, before being caught and overcoming the habit. She was given in marriage to an ill-tempered and adulterous pagan Roman official. She suffered greatly because of her husband and unkind mother-in-law who she lived with.  Monica prayed hard for their conversion for many years.  Her patience and kindness became a source of encouragement for other women in similar situations.  Monica gave birth to three children, and was deeply saddened that her husband would not allow them to be baptized. Her oldest son, Augustine, caused her the most pain.

Augustine became very involved with groups who spread heresies about the Church.  He was intrigued with worldly attractions, lust for women, and pagan philosophies.  Monica was distressed to learn that her son was living an immoral life. For a while, she refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on, she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him.  Despite the great anxiety and pain he caused her, Monica never stopped praying for him.

Eventually, through her persistence in prayer and good example, Monica’s husband converted to Christianity shortly before his death.  Augustine experienced a profound conversion.  He was baptized, and lived the rest of his life in holiness, prayer, and penance.  Augustine became a priest, bishop, theologian, writer, and the founder of a religious order of priests. Augustine was declared a Saint and Doctor of the Church.  He is considered one of the most influential saints and theologians to have ever lived.  His writings are widely read to this very day.  As for St. Monica, everything we know of her heroic virtue is from the writings of her son.

As parents, it’s hard to watch our children wander away from the Church and live a wayward lifestyle.  St. Monica is a model of patience for parents.   Her long years of prayer, coupled with a strong, well-disciplined character, finally led to the conversion of her hot-tempered husband, her cantankerous mother-in-law and her brilliant but wayward son.  May she be an example for us to never give up.  St. Monica is the patron saint of home makers, difficult marriages, alcoholism, abuse victims, victims of adultery, widows, and parents facing family difficulties.  Her feast day is August 27th.

May we pray this week… St. Monica, for the sake of my children, please teach me to persist in faithful prayer as you did for your son’s sake.  Inspire me to behave in ways that will gently bring my children closer to Christ.  Pray for me, and for my children, that we may acquire heaven, joining with you, there, in offering constant and thankful praise to God.  Amen  

Deacon John

PS – Next week, we will finish “Is God Real?” with Reason No. 5 – Personal Experience.

 

Deacon Corner, August 25 2019

Deacon’s Corner

One of the best reasons that God exists is the life of Jesus Christ.  Over the last few weeks, I’ve been addressing the five reasons God is real from the book, “The God Answers”.   Last week was Part 1 of Reason No. 4 – Did Jesus really die?  Jesus wasn’t the first person to die on a cross.  Nor would He be the last.  By the time of Christ, the Romans had crucified over 30,000 men in Palestine alone.   They were so good at using crucifixion as a form of execution that people never had any doubt the victim was actually dead.  Jesus was dead, and everyone knew it.  This week, Reason No. 4, Part 2 – He is alive!

After Jesus was buried and his tomb ordered sealed by Pontius Pilate, his disciples were so scared and in shock they hid so the same thing didn’t happen to them.  When the first reports of Jesus’ resurrection came in, the disciples refused to believe he was alive.  They checked the tomb and found it empty.  But what did that prove?  Did someone steal Jesus’ body and claim he rose from the dead?   To answer that question, consider this…

The penalty for breaking a Roman governor’s seal was crucifixion upside down.  Who would have the courage or motivation to do this?  Even if they did, the huge stone (weighing about 2 tons) covering the tomb opening would have to be rolled uphill to open the entrance.  Who would have the strength and numbers to do this?  Opening the tomb would have taken time and tools and would be difficult to do in secret.  The squad of Roman guards at the tomb were trained to hold their ground against an entire battalion.  Who could have overpowered them?

At least 6 people looked in the tomb on the First Easter Sunday morning and found it empty:  Mary Magdalene; Mary the Mother of James; Salome; Joanna; Peter; and John. They found the burial cloths undisturbed lying in the form of a body, slightly caved in and empty, except for the face cloth which was folded up separately by itself.  How did this happen? Surely, someone stealing Jesus body would not take the time to neatly arrange the tomb before leaving.

Jesus made a number of appearances over the 40-day period after His death.  He walked with two disciples the road to Emmaus.  He appeared to the remainder of the Twelve Disciples, Thomas absent; then later to all of them with Thomas present.  Jesus appeared to seven disciples on the Sea of Galilee, and again to over five hundred people at the same time. He also appeared to James.  Finally, Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus – the man who became the Apostle Paul.

The disciples who saw Jesus were convinced, beyond any doubt, that he had risen from the dead.  They experienced something life-changing as the numbers of believers grew from a few dozen to hundreds and thousands over a very short period of time.  Today, there are about 2.3 billion Christians in the world, meaning 1 out of every 3 people is Christian. How would a stolen body have this kind of effect on people 2000 years later – including you and me?

Of the original 12 Apostles, Judas hanged himself believing he caused Jesus’ death.  John died in Roman exile on an island off the coast of modern day Turkey.  The other 10, as well as Paul, were beheaded, crucified, flayed, burned, stoned, or stabbed – all put to death because they saw Jesus alive and proclaimed He was God.  What can explain this?  As the Roman centurion watched Jesus die on the cross said “Truly, this man was the Son of God!”  Jesus is God.  God is real. Next week, Reason No. 5 – Personal Experience.

Deacon John