Sunday, April 25, 2010

Homily: The Call of the Good Shepherd


On this Good Shepherd Sunday I would like to reflect on “The Call” to the priesthood. Last night we celebrated the Year for the Priest and we invited back all of our former active priests who have served St. Barnabas. It was really a memorable moment to stand here in the sanctuary and celebrate the Eucharist with my brother priests that have served you over the year. Afterwards there was a dinner which was put on by the parishioners and they prayed over us, roasted us, and shared some of their memories of our time here. One of the most touching moments was a video that the parishioners made. In it they asked each priest to reflect on their priesthood. It was very moving to hear each of the priests share their love for their priesthood as well as how they were called to the priesthood. So after reflecting on all of our different experiences of the priesthood I’d like to use today’s gospel to help us understand the call.

Jesus said:

“My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.

My Sheep hear my voice.

Fr. Steve Vellenga who served our parish from 1995-1997 said that the call comes in many different ways and from many different people. And I do believe this. I first heard God calling through a friend of the family. After my first communion she came up to me and spoke these words I will never forget “Michael, you look like you would be a great priest one day.” I’ve heard his voice when the prayers were said during the general intercessions and whenever I heard the phrase “We pray for an increase of vocations to the priesthood and religious life.” I heard his voice calling me. Whenever someone asked me what do you want to do with the rest of your life? I heard his voice ever so softly… “You’re supposed to be a priest.” When my older brother told my parents he was thinking about it… I heard “Michael, this is it, this is the moment, don’t deny my call any longer.” When I sat with my Spiritual Director and reflected on my life I heard over and over… “I’m calling you to this life, it is right.” As I prayed in the church looking through the stained glass windows. I asked God for a sign, and the sun glowed through the glass so brightly that I could feel it in my body. I heard his voice once more calling out to me. This was in the depths of my being a voice so familiar and so beautiful. He does speak to us. Bob Chase, who is a parishioner, a police officer and a member of the SWAT team says all the time holding up his fist… “God works in many ways.” And there is some truth to His humor. God does speak to us through people (even their fists) and in the depths of our heart. He is calling out to you right now. You can hear his voice.

I know them,

He speaks to us in a way that know one else can. When we hear his voice, there is no questioning. We do know it. And He knows us, better than we know ourselves. Better than our parents know us, or friends, or your spouses. He knows what brings us joy and what makes us sad. He knows our fears and our sins, our faults and failures. But he also knows our love and our desires and our hopes and our dreams. He made us and we belong to Him. He knows us and he knows what is best for us.

God knows that there are young men in this parish that He is calling to the priesthood. He knows that this is a difficult time to be a priest. He knows there have been scandals, and humiliations. But He also knows what He can do with your “Yes.”

A Georgetown Survey of the 440 men to be ordained this year reveals that 53% say that they were discouraged to be a priest by a friend or classmate and over half of them were discouraged to be a priest by a parent or member of their family. How sad is that?

Jesus knows us better than friends who discourage us even family members or parents can mistake this call. He knows our hearts better than anyone else and loves us even more than anyone else can. So listen to His voice.

And they follow me.

When I finally admitted, accepted, and trusted the call. I followed him. There were friends of mine that did discourage me and I know that some of my family was upset about it. But I trusted his voice and followed. One of my friends said to me if you do this things will never be the same. And from that day they never have been and I love my life and am happier than I have ever been. Those who have remained close to me see this in me. He’s calling out to all of you to follow him. He’s calling some of you young men specifically to follow him to the priesthood. A vocation is a choice unlike any other. It begins with God’s initiating and our responding. He calls us to a particular vocation: Married, Single, Priesthood, or Religious. In our hearts we can hear his voice and know what he is calling us to. Believe me I have seen many people married that are miserable and probably didn’t listen to the call of God. I’ve had men tell me in their 80’s with sadness you know Father I think I was called to be a priest and I didn’t listen. Whatever way of life God is calling you to, if you truly listen to HIS voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd who knows you, it will be a life filled with joy beyond imagining. You can hear his voice; He does know you and you can trust him enough to follow Him wherever He is calling you.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Year for Priests: The Call


Dear Friends, 21.IV.2010

As we celebrate the Year for Priests this Saturday at St. Barnabas I wanted to take a moment and reflect on “The Call” to the priesthood. I took a group of high school boys to the seminary on Tuesday to have dinner with the bishop and reflect on the call to the priesthood. The bishop said something that I thought was very well stated. “A vocation is a choice beyond any other choice that you will make in your lifetime.” Unlike buying a car or a house or choosing a college or even a career path a vocation is a call from God. It is not something that we sit down and look at the different options and try something out, no, we believe that it is a call from God in the depth of our heart. God calls us and we respond. It’s not something that we pick out or choose what we think best suits us. God knows us better than we know ourselves. We hear the message in this Sunday’s Gospel Jesus said: “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I felt the call to the priesthood since I was a young child but I didn’t enter the seminary until I was near the end of college. There were many things that kept me from going, as there are surely a lot of reasons for young men not to answer today, and a lot of it was because I didn’t want to listen to God’s call. It wasn’t until I said yes that I came to discover what a wonderful life the priesthood is. Anyone that knows me well knows I am truly happy in this life. It is better than I ever imagined it could be. I know that God is calling young men in our parish to the priesthood and in He is calling in an abundance. We currently have one seminarian, Adam Zajac, who is currently discerning. I know in my heart there are many more in this parish. The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest (Luke 10:2). We are blessed to have the Statue of St. John Vianney in our Church. This Statue was donated by the Perpetual Adoration so that we could have a visual reminder to pray for Priests and for an increase of Vocations to the Priesthood. St. John Vianney is the Patron Saint of Parish Priests and of Confessors. If you think someone is called to the priesthood let them know. I think people are afraid to invite young men to this life because of the sacrifice as well as some of the bad publicity in the news. All too often I hear parents encourage their sons: “Go to college first, see if you can be successful at something else, if that doesn’t work, then go be a priest.’ Why would you say that to anyone who is being called by God to the priesthood? I’m sure you know good priests, holy priests, who love their life. If someone has this call why would you ever want them to follow something else? I’ve had a number of grown men come up to me over the years and say “Father, I should have been a priest.” God is calling and this is the rest of your life, so pray about it, and with great courage answer the call and you will discover a life beyond anything you could imagine.

In Christ, Fr. Michael

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Homily: Love Languages


Fr. Michael J. Denk

Homily “Love Languages”

Year C, 3rd Sunday of Easter

April 18, 2010

St. Barnabas – 5pm and 7:30 am

Readings: http://www.usccb.org/nab/041810.shtml

There are many ways to say I love you:

In English it is “I love you.”

Do you know how to say it in any other languages?

In French… Je t'aime

In Spanish… Te quiero

In Italiano… Ti amo

Croatian… Volim te

Greek… S'agapo

German… Ich liebe dich

Hawaiin… Aloha wau ia 'oe

Irish… taim i' ngra leat

Korean… Tangsinul sarang ha yo

Polish… Ja Cie Kocham

Swahili… Naku panda

Sign Language…

There are many different ways to say I love you… Jesus asks Simon Peter three times “Do you love me?” And each time he tells him to “Feed my Sheep.” Jesus is helping Simon Peter to see that it is important not only to affirm someone by telling them that you love them, but also to show that you love them through service.

Jesus asks Peter to say it and to do it… I love you.

It is important that we both tell people that we love them and that we show them that we love them. Both are important. Both are essential.

Often times I here men say “I love my wife, I don’t need to tell her I love her, she should know that.” When I ask them how she should know that they say. “Listen Father, I provide for the family, I work all day, I take care of her, I fix things around the house, I fill up her car, I’ve bought her all this stuff… I love her; she should know that I do.”

He’s speaking his primary love language, which is service, to her. However her primary love language may be “Words of Affirmation.” She understands love by affirmation. So she may say to me… “Father we’ve been married for fifty years…” and I can see the tears well up in her eyes. “He never tells me He loves me.” It is not enough for you to do Acts of Service for her. She needs to HEAR it. She needs the Words of affirmation of “I love you.” “Your Beautiful” “You mean so much to me.”

Let me give you an example of what happens when we don’t speak someone else’s language. Shortly after I was ordained I went to Rome on a pilgrimage. I took my family and some close friends. One of the funniest parts was watching my mother and her sisters. These three Italian sisters were in their home land, but they didn’t know a word of Italian. Now this is how the scene would play out every time. They stopped in a local deli to buy some milk, but they wanted Skim Milk. So my aunt kept grabbing the flab on the side of her waist saying – “no fat… no fat”… And when they got to the register and it was 16 Euro my mother questioned the Italian lady and said “How much was this milk? How much is the salami?” Now the Italian lady is getting madder and madder and each time she grabbed the meat slamming it on the counter saying "O Maronna Mia"!! . So my mother is saying in English “How much is this milk?” The Italian Lady had no clue what she was saying. So here’s what my mother would do. She would say it louder. “How much is this milk?” And she wouldn’t understand, so again my mother louder… HOW… MUCH… IS… THIS… MILK? Somehow or another my mother is thinking that if she just said it louder maybe this lady will “get it.” But of course she won’t. The Italian lady speaks… Italian. And if my mother really wanted her to understand she would have to learn how to speak some Italian.

So imagine that Love can be understood in different ways and that we all speak different languages of love. Some people like to say it and hear it, others show their love by service, some show their love by hugging and affection, some show their love by diamond rings and gifts, and some show their love by spending time with those that are important to them.

There’s a wonderful book that helps illustrate this called “The Five Love Languages.” This is a great book for married couples, but also for all of us who need to show and express love. And as Jesus shows Peter we need to not only say it, but do it.

The Author, Dr. Gary Chapman, writes from a Christian and Scriptural perspective, describes that there are five basic love languages: Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Just like my mother speaks English and the Italian Lady Speaks Italian. We probably all have one of these Love languages that we are most fluent in. However if we want to express our love to others and have them really “get it.” We need to learn their primary love language.

All too often, like my mother, we speak the language we are most comfortable with. And when they don’t get it we just speak it louder. And then we end up frustrated. So a guy’s primary love language might be gifts. He brings his wife flowers all the time, buys her earrings and bracelets, and when she doesn’t seem to feel loved, what does he do? Instead of trying to learn her love language he just speaks his louder buying her more expensive gifts and he can’t figure out why she doesn’t feel loved. But gifts aren’t important to her she just wants his time. She just wants to spend an uninterrupted afternoon or evening with him. Instead of buying her more gifts he needs to try and speak her language which is quality time and spend some quality time with her.

Another example is a guy who is starving for affection. His love language is physical touch. He just wants to be touched by his wife. Her primary love language is Acts of Service so she cleans the house, she cooks, she irons, she washes, and she thinks I do all this for him, how can he not know that I love him. But he understands love through touch. He needs to be kissed and hugged and embraced. Until she learns his love language there is going to be a lot of hurt and disappointment in their marriage.

This can also be the same for parents and children. I here some old men say that they never heard their father say they loved them. They’ve held on to this hurt all of their lives. Their father may have tried to show it by acts of service his whole life, but that love was never really felt or understood by his child because he so wanted to here it… “I love you son.” The same is true with physical affection. I know that that was just something men didn’t do. But your child may need to be embraced. Or maybe it’s just quality time that they need from you, just some time for you and them, a father and his son going fishing or camping. A mother shopping with her daughter and going to see a movie. You can provide the world for them, but you also need to be able to express to them “I do love you.” They may need to hear it in words or feel it with a hug or a pat on the back or realize it by a day spent together just with them.

It is important not only that we speak the language of love but that we show it. It is important that we learn to become fluent in other peoples love language and express our love in all five ways but especially in the way that they are most comfortable. And this is what real love is – to love someone else as they need to be loved and not as we prefer. This is the “Feeding my sheep” that Jesus asks of Peter.

How many different ways do you know how to say I love you? How many different ways do you know how to show it? Do you express love using Words of Affirmation? Do you express by spending “Quality Time” with the one you love? Do you express love through thoughtful “Gifts?” Do you express love through Acts of Servcie? And do you Express love through Physical Touch?

All of these are important and ALL of these are necessary. It is important that we both Say I LOVE YOU and show that I LOVE YOU.

It’s important that we become fluent in all the different languages of love and not just the one we are most comfortable with. If you want someone to really know that you love them, then you must learn to speak their love language. If you just keep saying it in your language louder and louder you’re both just going to end up frustrated and resentful.

Jesus was helping Simon Peter to see that Love needs to be expressed in both words and deeds. There are many ways of expressing love and the more fluent we are in expressing it in a variety of words and deeds the more the people we love will know that you love them with all of your heart.

The Five Love Languages:

http://www.5lovelanguages.com/

Take the Love Languages Assessment:

http://www.5lovelanguages.com/assessments/

Available at Grismer’s (They keep it in stock for me).

http://www.grismers.com/

Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/Love-Languages-Secret-That-Lasts/dp/0802473156/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1271515798&sr=8-1

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Father Michael Denk

Homily – Divine Mercy Sunday

Year C

April 11, 2010

The other night I was with a group of priests and we were just reflecting on some of the neat moments in our priesthood. One of the guys shared a story from a recent retreat he was on. The priest that directed the retreat was a Franciscan priest and he told this beautiful story of an experience he had as a newly ordained. I was so moved by this true story that I wanted to share it with you on Divine Mercy Sunday.

So imagine this newly ordained priest around my age who is assigned to a parish and there are four priests living there. The pastor is a monsignor and always dressed very proper. So imagine Fr. Ralph, always finely dressed with cufflinks and suit jacket. Every night they sat down to dinner it was on the formal side and the Franciscan loved it because since he vowed poverty he would come in wearing his brown habit and sandals (a man after my own heart!). One evening as they were eating dinner they got an emergency call that someone was in the hospital dying of AIDS and needed Last Rites. Now this was back in the ‘80s when AIDS had just come on the scene and they weren’t really sure what caused it or how someone contracted it. The Monsignor asked his associates if any of them would be willing to go… the two other associates told him they had something they needed to attend to and when it got to Franciscan he was very candid and said: “I’m a little afraid of going, I don’t know if it is contagious and I’m just not comfortable.” So the Monsignor offered, “How about if I go with you?”

So the Monsignor and the newly ordained Franciscan drove down together to the Hospital. When they arrived there they were instructed to prepare for entering the quarantine. They put on sterile gloves, and face masks with hoods that zipped up the back, and gowns so that they were completely protected and could enter the quarantined room. The Franciscan noticed how strange it was to see the monsignor dressed like this. As they went into the room the man was lying in his bed. The Franciscan nervously watched as the Monsignor prayed the ritual and then went to anoint the man with his gloves still on. After he anointed him the man’s eyes teared up and he looked at them both and began to speak… “Do you know it’s been almost three months…” The tears began to stream and his lips quivered and he choked up… and finally got the rest of the sentence out… “since I’ve been touched by anyone’s bare hands?” He looked at them with such a sadness that it broke the Franciscan’s heart. He didn’t know how to respond and noticed the Monsignor, whom he’d always seen so clean and proper, immediately rip off his gloves and his mask and his hospital gown and sat on the edge of the bed and took the man into his arms touching his hands with his own bare hands. He risked his own health because this dying man so needed to be touched and healed.

This is a beautiful image for Divine Mercy Sunday. Our Lord makes himself vulnerable to us. He strips himself of his Divinity and embraces our humanity. When the doors were locked, where the disciples were, Jesus came and stood in their midst. Nothing will keep him from entering into our quarantine. He knows how much we need him and want to be touched by Him. And when Doubting Thomas misses the experience of his appearance he says “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” The Lord allows him to do just that. He allows Thomas to touch him right in his wounds.

Our Lord allowed himself to be stripped of his garments and made himself so vulnerable to us, willing to risk his health and his life for us. He opened his hands as they were nailed to the cross in complete offering to us. All so that we could be touched by him. We are like the man on that hospital bed and are so in need of God’s touch. He knows that it has been a while since you have felt that. He knows how much you need his touch. He knows that you have in some ways locked the doors or hardened your heart. But he enters through locked doors and he takes off the protective mask and gloves. And He touches us in a very real way. In the Eucharist that we will receive today we will touch the flesh of Christ. We will take his body onto our tongues. And his blood which is pure and holy will cleanse our blood as we drink from the cup. God knows that we need this touch. He is also present in the gathered assembly so as you turn to embrace each other at the sign of peace, these are God’s hands, God’s cheeks, God’s embrace, and God’s eyes. Let him touch you in the sign of peace.

We can also experience his healing touch in the sacrament of Confession which is one of the most beautiful ways of experiencing Jesus’ Divine Mercy. God desired to touch us with human hands and so after your sins are forgiven he uses the hands of the priest to lay on your head and absolve you of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Nothing is too scandalous for him.

Just as the Monsignor did not hesitate to enter the quarantine and then to rip off his gloves, God can enter in through your locked doors. God will not be quarantined from your life. He is not afraid to risk rejection, He is not afraid to be catch your illness, he is not afraid to strip himself of his own dignity to enter into our sinfulness. And he does so in such a beautiful way right here at this altar. We experience the real presence of Christ in the sacraments. All of the sacraments involve touch and in a very beautiful way we experience the touch of Christ in the sacrament of Reconciliation and in the Eucharist. He knows it’s been a long time since you’ve felt his touch and he’s here for you. Nothing will keep him away and nothing will keep him out. He knows that you need to be touched and on this Divine Mercy Sunday He will touch you and heal you.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter Sunday Homily: The Velveteen Rabbit, God is REAL.

Homily for Easter

April 4, 2010

God is not a stuffed animal, He is REAL

Lk 24:1-12

At daybreak on the first day of the week
the women who had come from Galilee with Jesus
took the spices they had prepared
and went to the tomb.
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb;
but when they entered,
they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus.
While they were puzzling over this, behold,
two men in dazzling garments appeared to them.
They were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground.
They said to them,
“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee,
that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners
and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”
And they remembered his words.
Then they returned from the tomb
and announced all these things to the eleven
and to all the others.
The women were Mary Magdalene, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James;
the others who accompanied them also told this to the apostles,
but their story seemed like nonsense
and they did not believe them.
But Peter got up and ran to the tomb,
bent down, and saw the burial cloths alone;
then he went home amazed at what had happened.

-------------------------------------

The Velveteen Rabbit is the Story about a toy rabbit that becomes real. If you have never read it or it has been a long time you can read it here: http://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/williams/rabbit/rabbit.html

or you can read my shortened version.

“Once upon a time, there was a velveteen Rabbit. He was made from soft fur and he was stuffed with sawdust. He had thread for whiskers and his ears were lined with pink satin. When he was given to the Boy on Christmas morning, he was smart, chubby, and very, very cute. He was the best Christmas present.” But as boys tend to do he quickly got bored with the Velveteen Rabbit and began playing with other toys. So he put the Velveteen Rabbit in the closet. While the rabbit was in the closet the other toys began to make fun of him, but one toy talked to him. “The Horse was the oldest toy of all and was very scruffy and worn. Unlike the other toys, he was REAL. ‘What is real?’ asked the Velveteen Rabbit one day. ‘It’s what you become when a child really loves you,’ explained the horse. ‘I was made real a long time ago by the Boy’s uncle. It can take a very long time. By the time you are real some of your fur has dropped out. But it doesn’t matter because once you are real you can’t be ugly.”

One night while the Boy was having trouble sleeping so his mother went into the closet and gave him the Velveteen Rabbit to cuddle with. From that night on, the velveteen rabbit slept with the boy. They grew to love being with each other. They had great fun together too. The boy would make tunnels under the bed sheet for them to play on. The Velveteen Rabbit went wherever the boy went. He had rides on his bicycle and played the Wii with him. He was so happy that he didn’t notice that everywhere the boy dragged him he would lose some fur and every time the Boy kissed his pink nose it grew fainter and fainter.

One day the boy left the Velveteen Rabbit in the woods. Two strange creatures appeared. They looked similar to the Velveteen Rabbit but were fluffy and brand new looking. They were wild rabbits. “Why don’t you come and play with us?” One of them asked. But the Velveteen Rabbit wasn’t able to move. You are not real are you said the wild rabbit. “I am real,’ said the Velveteen Rabbit. “The boy said so and he nearly burst into tears.” Just then the boy ran passed and the bunnies disappeared. The boy picked up the Velveteen Rabbit and carried him home.

A few days later the boy got sick and because he was contagious the Velveteen Rabbit was full of germs so they threw him into the garbage. The boy slept with a new bunny and forgot all about the Velveteen Rabbit.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the garbage the Velveteen Rabbit was feeling very lonely. He thought about the wise and gentle Horse. He wondered what use it was being loved and becoming real if he ended up alone. A real tear trickled down his soft velvet cheek and fell onto the ground. Out of the ground a flower sprouted out and as the blossoms opened a fairy burst out and kissed his nose. “When toys are worn and children don’t need them any more. I take them away and make them real.” “Wasn’t I real before?” asked the Rabbit. “You were real to the Boy.” The Fairy said, “because he loved you. But now you shall be real to everyone.” She took the Rabbit’s arm and flew him into the sky and brought him down into the woods and gently setting him in the midst of a group of rabbits said “Run and play, little Rabbit.” The little Rabbit discovered that he could move and jump and play with the other bunnies. At last he was REAL.

[Hold up the stuffed animal bunny.]

We all have this desire to be real. And along with that is this feeling that we are not truly being what we are supposed to be. We all have this desire of wanting to be alive, to live a full life. If we don’t know the love of Jesus like the Velveteen Rabbit knew the love of the boy, we will always remain a stuffed animal.

When the women came to the tomb with their spices in hand the angel said them “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?
He is not here, but he has been raised.
Remember what he said to you while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners and be crucified, and rise on the third day.”
And they remembered his words.

They remembered all that he had said to them how he loved his own in this world and he loved them until the end.


Like the Velveteen Rabbit all it takes is one person to love us to make us REAL. We have been loved and we have witnessed it over these past 40 days. Jesus loved you so much that he laid his life down for you. And because he was so sure of the love that the Father had for Him that love conquered death itself and he rose on the third day.

What was it that animated Jesus? What allowed him to Live even after death? He knew the love of the Father. It was the Father’s love that made him real. He knew it to his core. And that love is the life of the world.

So how do we become real? Well stop seeking the Living among the dead. We need to realize that God is real. He’s not a stuffed animal and we need to stop treating Him like one. You see we can’t just put God aside when we want and pick him up when we need Him. We will never have life if God isn’t real to us. We can’t treat God like a toy and expect God to submit to us… we are His creation and we must submit to God.

Where do we most experience God most fully alive? Where do we go to seek him and find His love for us? Right here, Sunday after Sunday, not every other Sunday or Easter Sunday once a year. That’s not a Living relationship.

You see in the sacraments God is present and God is alive.

[Grab the live bunny and show it to the people. Hopefully it doesn’t jump out of my hands or poop.]

God is Living, breathing, moving, and active.

If we truly sought Him here and came expecting a Living God we may just walk out of here different. God speaks to us every Sunday in the word that we hear proclaimed… were you listening? (Point to the bunny’s ears) God is present in the gathered assembly when you sing and respond to Him. Are you responding? (Take the bunny near them) God is present – His REAL presence in the Body and Blood that we receive in the Eucharist. Do you seek him there? (He’s real, move the rabbit). And finally God is present in the Priest – he uses my hands to touch you, my eyes to look at you, my voice to speak to you.


It’s here that we all come to discover how loved we are. It’s here that we experience the Resurrected Christ who is REAL. So why are you seeking the Living among the dead? Why are you looking for love with anyone else or anywhere else but here? It is his love that makes you REAL. And just as it took some time of being loved for the Velveteen Rabbit to become real it takes us time, maybe even a whole lifetime to allow the Lord to love us and make us REAL.

God is not a stuffed animal He is real. You too can be real if you let him love you. Let it begin this Easter Sunday and every Sunday.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Thursday Homily

Fr. Michael Denk

Holy Thursday Homily

April 1, 2010

St. Barnabas – 7:30 pm

On Holy Thursday we celebrate the institution of the priesthood and the institution of the Eucharist. They both go hand in hand. Because we are celebrating the year for priests I’d like to begin with a quote by St. John Vianney. “Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love… Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth… The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you.”

If we hade any idea the gift that God has given us in the priesthood we would be completely in awe. Sometimes I need to remember this when I run from thing to thing and then I get to the end of the day and realize how God has used me to speak to people, to touch them, to heal them. God desires to touch us with human hands and he does so in the priest.

And yet one of the things I often here as a priest is: “I don’t need to go to mass on Sunday, I can pray to God on my own.” Followed by another common one: “I don’t need to go to a priest for confession, I can go right to God.”

Let me reflect on the Gospel:

Then he poured water into a basin

and began to wash the disciples’ feet

and dry them with the towel around his waist.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him,

“Master, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus answered and said to him,

“What I am doing, you do not understand now,

but you will understand later.”

Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered him,

“Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.”

Peter says to the Lord, “I don’t really need you to wash my feet.” His saying “I don't need Jesus to wash my feet” is just like saying I don't need to go to mass to experience God or confession to be forgiven.

And Jesus says very strongly – “Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me.” In another reference he says “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood you will have no life with in you.”

A person that says I don’t need to go to mass to experience God is a pantheist and not a true Christian. And this is heresy.

For all generations we have desired to know God, to hear his voice, to see him, to be touched by him, to be held by him. And so God sent his only son into the world. If we could know God without Jesus he wouldn’t have needed to send him. And God sent his only son to suffer and die so that he could be with us.

God knows that we can’t conjure Him up on his own and so he gives us ways of experiencing the unseen God through the sacramental life of the church.

At the center of our faith is the notion of sacrament. God touches us through material things. Making them instruments of the encounter between us and himself. There are four elements in creation on which the world the of the sacraments is built: water, bread, wine and olive oil.

Jesus was born into history and through our encounter with those elements we are born into eternal life. The God that Jesus Christ has revealed to us comes to us in the form bread and wine. He comes to us in the sacramental ministry of the Church. He comes to us in the gifts of water and olive oil.

Water: baptism, cleansing, confession, foot washing. It is by baptism that we are brought into the sacramental life of the church and through baptism that our sins are washed away. We can see God as he really is and not our distorted image of a false god.

Bread: body touch, given up, sacrifice. He feeds us with the Bread of Life. Every time we come to the Eucharist we are fed with His Word and His Body. Another famous line is “I don’t really get anything out of mass.” Or “I’m not fed at that church.” How is that possible? If you go to mass and hear the word of God proclaimed and receive His Body and Blood how are you not fed? Maybe it’s not the priests fault, or the music director, or the design of the church… Maybe, just maybe you are missing something. And instead of blaming someone else you should be asking God… What am I missing here? Help me to hear you God and see you and hunger for you.

Wine: joy, celebration, passion. We heard at the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday, "When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

As Catholics we are not called to be gloomy and sad. We are a people of faith and a people of celebration. All of the sacraments are a celebration. Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding feast where he turned pitchers and pitchers of water into… WINE. We are called to rejoice and be glad!

Oil: healing, mercy, protection, strength for battle, anointing something sacred. Olive oil is used in all of the sacraments of anointing. Why olive oil because as with bread and wine and water this is what Jesus experienced in his Mediterranean upbringing. He really and physically stepped into our world and that piece of history has a significant meaning for us. He grieved in the Mount of Olives. This oil is used at our baptism on our chests to be a shield of protection. The bishop anoints our head to crown us with the oil of salvation. It was used on my hands upon ordination. These hands from that moment on became the hands of a priest and the hands of Christ.

Today in the Holy Thursday offertory all four of these will be brought up.

God desires to touch you with all four of these because he wants to gift you and bring you into a special relationship.

We have a great gift in the priesthood. It involved all of it, suffering, passion, joy, celebration, feeding, cleansing and mercy. We thank God for our priests.

Let God love you. Let him touch you today. Let him use these gifts to heal and restore you. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to him and to wash your feet.

Don’t deny him. Don’t tell him you don’t need him to wash your feet or to reach you in the sacraments because we do. Unless we let him wash our feet and unless we allow ourselves to be loved by him and immersed in the sacramental life of the church we will never experience life.

I hope you are never one of those that say “I don’t need to go to mass to experience God.” Because the truth is we do. And by giving us the gift of the priesthood and of the Eucharist God fulfills our deepest desire that we can really see him, and hear his voice and be touched by his hands.


Let him wash your feet.