Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mr. and Mrs. Nied. "My son take care of your father when he is old."

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“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
               -Mark Twain


As a great man once told me you can never tell someone you love them enough.

As I was praying over the readings for this Feast of the Holy Family I kept being drawn to the first reading from the Prophet Sirach.  There was someone from my last parish that kept coming to mind.  I remembered him always brining his elderly parents to the Saturday Vigil mass.  He faithfully brought them for every mass and sat with them in the front pew.

I was always impressed by the way that Greg cared for and attended to his parents and also know of the great respect that he has for them.  So I gave him a call and said "Hey Greg, I've been thinking about you and praying for you.  How are your parents?"  He went on to tell me of their latest struggles and then made sure to sincerely ask how I was.  "I answered briefly but said Greg this is why I'm really calling.  Do you want some homework?"  (This was a Friday afternoon by the way).  Greg, without hesitation, said: "Father, you know I will never say no to you."  So I asked him to pray with the first reading from this Sunday and share with me what it is like to take care of your parents when they are old.  Greg, instead of going to the movies Friday night, spend the evening doing just this.  As I hoped it turned out to be a very beautiful reflection.


God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;

grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,

Greg's Reflection in his own words:

I am my father and mother’s son

"Watching my parents grow old makes for the the hardest moments of my life that I have faced to date.  It is such a contracts to the family memories of my youth, and of the family my wife and I are raising today. Remembering my early family event’s puts smiles to my mouth, and a few tear behind my eyes, more often than I want. My earliest memories of my dad are going to 8 am mass every Sunday morning, we were ushers at that mass, greeting and seating people, taking up the collection, releasing each pew to go to the rail in front of the altar to receive Holy Communion, and handing out the bulletin after mass. My mother and four sisters would go to a later mass because we only had two small bath rooms for seven of us.  During the mass dad and I would sit in the back of the church, dad would give me his rosary to occupy me when me during the reading’s or homily. I would pretend that the rosary was a semi and I was driving it up and down hills. I also played with my dad’s leather gloves, I very vividly recall just how large the gloves were, both of my hands would fit into one glove with plenty of room to spare, I wondered if my hands would get that large.


My mother was a tuff as nails type person, like Betty Davis or Barbara Stanwyck... full of love, but 'Do as I tell you or else!'  I confess I have grown to admire that quality in people today. Oh, by the way mom and dad are 100 % polish, 'good stock' as I like to call it. Mom did all the raising of me because Dad owned his own business and was always at work and I am the last of 5 kids by just how many years I am not allowed to say. She wanted the best for us, as I saw it, I say that because there 5 of us and I am sure each one of use has a different story or side of it. Together they made me who I am today and I never will be able to thank them enough or repay them. Mom was a great cook she would make great meals for all of us when the whole family was at home, and when it was just dad and myself, we never had cold food for lunch, I never thought about it until my wife brought it to my attention after one great hot meal with candles lit.


Dad started a garden center back in the early 50’s and he was never home, mom ran the show she took all the responsibility of raising me. When I did have a problem and went to my dad I would tell him what was on my mind and all I would get was one of this famous one liners like: 'Tomorrow is another day.' 'It will all work out in the end.'  'Love many, trust few always paddle your own canoe.'  'If it’s not one thing it is another.'  When you are going through teen problems or are asking questions you want more than that. I can say now, my father was the greatest person in my life though, in the fact that he let me do for the most part whatever I wanted to do within reason knowing, trusting that I would learn from it, and if I didn’t he would be there to help me. No one can tell you how hot fire is, dad would also make wise recommendations and I could do what I wished. THEY TOGETHER MADE ME WHAT I AM TODAY, I CAN NEVER THANK THEM ENOUGH OR DO ENOUGH TO REPAY THEM FOR THERE UNWAVERING LOVE AND SUPPORT.


Ok, now that the back ground has been set, today is a much different story. The first hard moment was about 5 to 10 years earlier when dad and I were talking and I noticed he was looking at me and listening to me!  'My God' I thought, that was a first, who was getting older?  Taking away his driving privileges was another painful moment in time for all of us.  I had difficulty understanding what was happening to our father, the guy with the big hands, that I always wondered if my hands would be like his. I remember one instance when I was helping him try to find the legal he was working with that day, later I found out that this was the first stage of Lewy Body Dementia.


Life is starting to get painful, changes are coming.  My wife is in medical field and she is letting me know just what is up.  It continues to get worse and I know the worst is yet to come.  About two years ago, dad started to shuffle this feet so he lessened the chances of a fall. This past year dad now a use a walker with Christmas bells.  Those two sounds have made me cry more then you will ever know unless you have been there.  I or we could never understand when were your mom and dad’s young children, only time, only time.  I have saved my father best one liner for last.  It is “Old too soon, smart too late”.  

It truly is very painful on both ends. As you can tell, I have spent more time with dad now than my mom, I run the business and try to spend as much time at home with my family, also I love our Lord our God and to spend as much time at Church as I can.  I can never thank him for all the talents he has bestowed on me.  I can never repay my parents for loving me through the growing-up years and through all of the times that I let them down, they never stopped calling me their son.

Mom has lost the ability to talk so we do not know what she is saying.  We now use a dry erase board to try to understand her but that too is becoming a lost cause. Mom weighs 97 pounds, and dad is down to 159, that "rock" used to weigh 220. 

One day I put my hand on dads back to support him and I could not count high enough to count all the bones in his back. I take mom and dad to church every Saturday and consider it a honor for all they have given to me. They still love each other and always tell us to take care of your mother, her first. 

IT HURTS EVER DAYTO SEE THIS but feels GREAT to give back. Looking back at it now thru the eyes of a 56 year old person it hurts the most that I can never say 'thank you' enough and 'just how much I love you.' 

Have you had the privilege yet of taking care of your parents?

Are you right now experiencing the joys and sorrows, the grieving and the pain of watching them get old?  

If you parents have already died, you could consider talking to them in prayer, apologizing to them, thanking them, telling them I love you, and hearing them say it back.  We believe in the communion of Saints.

Would you ever consider being a minister to the homebound and caring for the elderly?

It is such a privileged experience to care for someone who has cared for you, to love someone out of this world who loved you into it, and to realize the sacredness of these movements before they are over.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;

"Old too soon, smart too late."


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Thank you to the Nied Family for your witness and your willingness to share this journey with your parents with all of us.  I love you very much, Fr. Michael

If you are ever in the Northfield area visit The Nied Garden Center!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Frozen

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The past week has been classic Cleveland weather. Just last week there were 5...6...7 inches of snow on the ground. I don't like the cold but I try to force myself to enjoy it. I went cross country skiing and the next day I came out to find my tracks covered in snow and made another set of tracks. The next day when I woke up... the snow and ice was totally gone and it was a sixty degree day in December.

And now... "A White Christmas."

The truth is, anyone that knows me knows I don't like the cold... I love the sun and the warmth and the heat. One of my priest friends says that I'm "solar powered."

Disney's "Frozen" deals with this whole theme of a town covered in a perpetual winter snow storm and desiring a spring thaw.

And I discovered a character that I can totally relate too:

Olaf.




Here are my favorite lines of his:

"Oh I don't know why but I've always loved the idea of summer, and sun, and all things hot."

"Some people are worth melting for."

"Hi everyone, I'm Olaf and I like warm hugs."

Olaf grinned. “I've always loved the idea of summer, and sun and all things hot,” he said. “The warm sun on my face and getting a gorgeous tan.” “I'm guessing you don't have much experience with heat," said Kristoff smiling.  "Nope" Olaf replied, come on let's go bring back summer!"

In the movie Olaf plays the comic relief, but he's also an image of revelation, he slowly comes to understand what it means to be frozen, what it means to melt, and what it truly means to love.

What he doesn't realize is that in order for him to experience sun, and warmth, and love... he will melt.

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of our Savior. What we often don't realize is that for God to take on human flesh he had to become poor like us, weak, powerless... He came in the form of a child. In His very love for us and desire for our life, and warmth, and love and to bring us the light, and the warmth and the heat of love he would indeed melt... he would lose his life. The wood which held him as he was laid in a manger would become the "wood" that held him nailed to the cross.

God is born for us, he gives Himself to us, He is born at every Eucharist on the altar... and placed into our hands, vulnerable, weak, powerless, so that our hearts may melt so that we may experience the light of life. He comes to transform our kingdom of ice, and cold, and sin and death into a kingdom of love.

"For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.


Elsa




Elsa is the older sister and she discovers early on she has been given this "gift", this "power" to freeze things at will.

The movie begins with a magical scene of two sisters playing in the snow.

Elsa and her baby sister Anna build a snowman together. Anna begins to run and jump while Elsa delights in freezing slides under her and platforms to land on. But Anna begins running, jumping, and sliding too fast and Elsa can't keep up. Elsa slips as she sees Anna jump from a great height, she shoots the ice to try to help her but ends up blasting her in the head.

Haven't we all experienced this? As kids playing and daring and pushing our limits... and the line we know by heart... "Your not going to be happy until someone gets hurt."

After she hurts her sister and realizes her power and not wanting to hurt anyone ever again she locks herself up in her room and later in an ice castle.

Elsa's theme becomes: "Conceal, Don't feel, don't let them know."

One of the gurus in the film warns her that: "your power will only grow. There is beauty in it, but also great danger. You must learn to control it, fear will be your enemy."

Her parents assure her that she can learn to control it... "but until then we'll lock the gates we'll reduce the staff, will limit her contact with people and keep her powers hidden from everyone, including Anna."

Anna's eyes sadden as the door closes. Elsa's power only grows stronger and more out of control in her isolation. Until she finally gives in and gives herself over to the power. She no longer identifies herself as a sister, or a daughter, or a princess... all she can identify with now is "Frozen". And her power to freeze becomes unmanageable... "let the storm rage on - the cold never bothered me anyway. it's good to have some distance makes everything seem small the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all its time to see what i can do to test the limits and .... I'm free... let it go. I am one one with the wind and sky.... you'll never see me cry here i stand and here i say let the storms rage on." She runs away to build her own castle of ice.

And realizes she created "the kingdom of isolation and it looks like I'm the queen."

The truth is we are all born with the power to freeze or thaw, we have all of these drives and urges and energy. The temptation is to try to control them ourselves, to lock ourselves up, to isolate ourselves, to keep others from knowing about it, to try to control it, conceal it. But we can't... we were never meant to do it on our own. If we try to do it on our own we find that what we try to control ends up controlling us.

Sadly, from time to time we will hurt people, from time to time we will allow our own hearts to become frozen, we will shut others out and even shut God out. But there is a way to thaw what was frozen, there is a way to heal what was hurt, and there is a way to redeem what seems beyond repair.

Is there anything in your life that you are trying to deal with on your own? Is there any power that you can't control? Is your heart frozen?

If you have been baptized then the thawing has already begun.


When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.


Anna




Anna is constantly knocking at the Elsa's door inviting her out of her isolation, inviting her out to play, inviting her to share her life with all of its blessings and curses.

"We used to be best buddies and now were not I wish you would tell me why."

She sings this song every day outside of her door for years: "Do you want to build a snowman?" "It doesn't have to be a snowman. I never see you anymore come out the door, it's like you've gone away. Elsa, please I know your in there, people are asking where you've been. they say have courage and I'm trying to I'm right out here for you just let me in, we only have each other its just you and me what are we going to do? Do you want to build a snowman?"

"Three Years Later"

Elsa is still in a self imposed isolation. "Don't let them in don't let them see be the good girl you always have to be. conceal don't feel put on a show make one move and everyone will know. it's only for today. "For the first time in forever." Elsa continues even stronger her theme: "Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know."

Anna pleads in song:

"You don't have to protect me,
I'm not afraid.  
Please don't shut me out again, 
please don't slam the door, 
you don't have to keep you distance anymore."  
You don't have to protect me I'm not afraid
Please don't shut me out again,
Please don't slam the door
You don't have to keep your distance anymore
'Cause for the first time in forever,
I finally understand
For the first time in forever,
We can fix this hand in hand,
We can head down this mountain together,
You don't have to live in fear
Cause for the first time in forever,
I will be right here."  

Anna was sure they could figure it out together, but Elsa grew more upset and frustrated. She cried: "I can't!" An icy blast shot across the room and hit Anna in the chest.

Anna remembers the only way that she can ever be saved is by a true act of love. Now remember this is a Disney Movie! So she begins frantically seeking a prince charming to kiss her and fall in love with her.

It is not until a couple of failed attempts she tries with one more final attempt...

Anna nearly frozen moved slowly across the ice towards Kristoff but she saw something else out of the corner of her eyes. Hans was about to strike Elsa with a sword to take over the kingdom.


With all of her remaining strength Anna threw herself in front of Elsa. Hans broughtt his sword down just as Anna was about to turn to solid ice. With a resounding clank, the blade shattered.


Elsa spun in surprise and threw her arms around her frozen sister. "Oh Anna..." She sobbed.


Anna began to thaw.


"Elsa?"  Whispered Anna.


Olaf suddenly exclaims: "An act of true love can thaw a frozen heart."

With her sacrifice Anna finally helped her sister realize love was stronger than fear. And Elsa's fear faded, love filled her heart and the winter snow began to melt.





Elsa weeps over frozen anna holding her crying... weeping, holding and then the mist from her heart begins to thaw.... from the inside out anna is thawed the sisters embrace.

"You sacrificed yourself for me, I love you."

Elsa looks at her hands and realizes with great joy: "Love will thaw? Love of course Elsa love she looks around love.... and she begins to use her power to thaw and everything is once more swept in the beauty of steam as love thaws. the love pouring from her heart and her hands transforms and redeems the entire city."

Frozen Arendelle seasons

Elsa says: "I like the open gates... we are never closing them again."


The truth is Christ has been born into our world and the thawing has already begun.


So how do we live this out?  

1. Olaf: Realize that God is wiling to humble himself, to allow himself to "melt", to hand himself over to us as an infant. To enter our world of sin. To come into our frozen, dark, sinful world. Realize that you are deeply loved this Christmas day. If you have been baptized the melting has begun, your heart is already thawing. Every minute you spend in His Presence your heart is thawing... Every Sunday that you receive Jesus in the Eucharist... you surround yourself with the love and the support of the community and the communion of Saints. Jesus was born into our world... Let him be born in your heart once more.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

What came to be through him was life
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

2. Elsa: If your heart is frozen. If you have shut anyone out of your life. If you have shut God out of your life... This Christmas... "Let him in." Like Anna he knocks at the door... asking over and over again as you grow older: "Do you want to build a snowman?" He's asking you... Do you want to build your life with me? Do you want to play and love and let others in? Jesus, like Anna is knocking on the door of your isolation. Let him in. Open wide the doors to Christ. If you have been away open the door once more to your faith.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.

3. Anna: An act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. Instead of searching for someone to love you... love and serve and give yourself to another. You can't make anyone love you, but you can love others and that love is what will save you and them.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.


This Christmas: Know that you are loved, Let Jesus in, and remember that you can't make others love you, but a true act of love can thaw a frozen heart.


You don't have to remain "Frozen" any longer: This Christmas let Him in.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Make Firm the Knees that are Weak... Ooh Child Things are Going to Get Easier

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There's a book called "A Father's Legacy" and the whole idea behind the book is that you spend time interviewing your father so that you can hear some of the stories of his life. I've been doing this with my Uncle Jim, who is actually my Grandfather's brother.  Since all of my Grandparents have died he is the closest thing that I have to a grandfather now.  It has been a privilege to hear him tell some of the stories that I've never heard before, some make you laugh and some make you cry.  He's finally opened up and began telling some of the stories from the war.  My Uncle and Grandfather served in World War II, but neither of them ever talked about it.  I found out that he was shot in the leg and received a purple heart.  Coincidentally I also found out he has had 4 complete knee replacements.

My father for many years, fifteen if I remember correctly, had put off his knee replacement.  I've heard many people say it is the most painful surgery and difficult recovery there is.  Some people say to get them both done at the same time because if you don't you won't go back after the pain of the first one.

I watched as my father began to limp around, miss out on activities and wince in pain from time to time.  I remember times when his knee went out and we actually had to carry him to the car to get him to the hospital.  He was finally mustering up the courage to look into getting his knee replaced so he figured he'd go to the expert:  my Uncle Jim!

He asked my Uncle Jim which was worse "knee surgery or getting shot in the war?"  My Uncle Jim responded without hesitation and in all seriousness "Oh knee surgery for sure, I'd take getting shot in the leg anytime over another knee surgery."

Needless to say this give my dad any assurance to go ahead with the surgery.  Finally when the pain became too great, and the frustration of a bad knee had built up, he went and had the surgery.  It was every bit as painful as my Uncle Jim described, recovery was long and painful, but my dad being the dedicated German that he is did it faithfully and today he gets around fine.

I have a beautiful picture of him from just this fall of him playing in the leaves with all three of my neices and nephew.  Not only was he rolling around in the leaves with them, he was falling and jumping in the pile and throwing leaves up in the air.  He doesn't regret having the surgery.  I've actually heard that consistently from people... "Father it was painful, but I don't regret doing it."

In the first reading we hear from the prophet Isaiah:

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!                          


The truth is we all have weaknesses, if not physical, then mental, emotional, developmental, spiritual and all of the above.  "Be strong, fear not!"  Weaknesses are not to be feared but embraced, bound, and healed.

St. James reminds us:  "Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."  

The reality is that we are all broken in some way, we all have need of healing, strengthening, and firming.  It is often during the suffering, waiting, therapy, and setbacks that we are truly healed.

St. Ignatius is one of the greatest teachers in prayer.  He was a mystic who devoted his entire life and founded the Jesuits on the motto Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or ad majorem Dei gloriam "For the Greater Glory of God."  We can thank him in part for our current Holy Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit.  Ignatius left us with some of the greatest gifts for prayer and discernment: The Spiritual Exercises, the Rules for Discernment, The Examen of Consciousness, and the Prayer of Contemplation where he teaches us deep, intimate, profound ways of praying with scripture by actually entering into the scenes by imaginative prayer.  We can actually experience being there with Jesus and encounter him in a very real and intimate way.

He was not always a religious man, in fact before his conversion, he was pretty vain, egotistical, and a womanizer.  He wanted to go off and be a war hero, not because he really cared about serving his country.  It was another opportunity to get the ladies.

Igantius was a charismatic, attractive and passionate man who kept his army fighting even though they were loosing.  That was until the enemy fired a canon ball which took out his legs and at that point they surrendered.

This was the time before anesthesia so surgeries were very serious and there was a high mortality rate.  After Ignatius had his knee surgery to repair the damage he discovered that the doctors had actually shortened one of his legs so he was now walking with a limp.  A bone protruded from his leg and looked unsightly.  He nearly died during the surgery.  His leg was set but did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and reset it, again without anesthesia.  Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death.  Having a limp was unacceptable for Igantius so he, against the doctors wishes, went in for a third surgery on his leg.

He spent months in recovery and being laid up in bed was bored out of his mind.  He would often ask  his brother for war novels and books about heroes until he finally ran out of them.  So his brother told him all he had left was the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints.  Ignatius was so bored that he read them.  He discovered something very interesting.  When he read the war stories about heroes and conquests he was excited but he found that after he put them down his heart was heavy and the excitement left him.  However, when he read the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints he was not only inspired and excited when he read it, but afterwards he realized that his heart remained lifted and there was an increase of faith, hope and love.  He imagined himself doing the things that St. Francis did and many of the other great saints... and thought "suppose I could do this."

This seemingly tragic event in the life of St. Ignatius lead to his conversion and changed his life for the good, and all of us are forever blessed because of it.

It is often through the difficult times in our lives that we discover true joy.  Knee surgery may an fact be a very painful surgery and the recovery seems daunting but it is all worth if it we can have stronger knees and firmer hearts.

St. Paul encourages us:
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Maybe you are going through some suffering in your life right now.  It may be physical, back pain, knee pain, or difficulty getting around.  It may just be the difficulty of getting old.  You may be experiencing emotional suffering, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or despair.  It may be a spiritual suffering of desolation or the Dark Night, it may be suffering the loss of a loved one, the death of a parent or spouse or child.  It may be the pain of tension in your family, a divorce, or a child who has separated from the family.  It may be suffering a disappointment, a lost job, a friend who suddenly leaves you out, or some other kind of experience of rejection, isolation, or setback.  

Whatever you are going through is Holy Ground, because "The Lord hears the cry of the Poor."  "Be strong, Fear not!"  God is working in this so "Be patient, make your hearts firm" because this moment of brokenness can actually be your conversion.  The part of you that was so weak and feeble becomes strong and resilient.  

We celebrate and rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday because the Lord is so near.  The suffering will not last as long as you think it will.  The suffering is actually part of your conversion and strengthening in faith, hope and love.  

And like my father who can now play and jump in the leaves again and Ignatius who went on to be one of our greatest spiritual leaders, when you make it through it you will once more be able to enjoy life even more so, the pain will be gone, the weakness will be strengthened, and you may even discover that you have met God in the experience.  

So we too like John the Baptist may question:  "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?"  

Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.


We wear "rose" colored vestments on Gaudete Sunday as a sign that the end of our waiting is so near, the time of recovery is coming to an end, Christ's coming into your heart will be sooner than you think.  You will experience His healing and peace, goodness and joy.  We can rejoice because because  things will get better and sooner than you think.


I have no better way to end this than a classic song from the '70s "Ooh Child"


Ooh-oo childThings are gonna get easier

Ooh-oo child
Things'll get brighter
Ooh-oo child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child
Things'll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We'll get it together and we'll get it all done
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter





Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela, The Sound of Music and Harmony.

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Freedom fighter, prisoner, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.

That was Nelson Mandela, who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead his country out of decades of apartheid.

He died Thursday night at age 95.

His message of reconciliation, not vengeance, inspired the world after he negotiated a peaceful end to segregation and urged forgiveness for the white government that imprisoned him.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison," Mandela said after he was freed in 1990.

Mandela, a former president, battled health issues in recent years, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations.

Despite rare public appearances, he held a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world. (CNN)

His philosophy of learning to love instead of hate made him one of the moral leaders of his era. This was a man that went from being a prisoner to being the president, from being a radical to being a man of peace, from a self and a country that was divided to one of harmony.

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."

During his lifetime Mandela inspired us with his numerous words of wisdom, etched in our memories till tomorrow. And his words remain. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Difficulties break some men but make others.

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

When people are determined they can overcome anything.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion" he wrote in his autobiography.

"People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for loves comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Finally, regarding the conversion he experienced in prison:

"Let me say first", Mandela said, "It is a great tragedy to spend the best years of your life in prison. But if I had not been to prison, I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing yourself. I had that opportunity because in prison you have what we don't have in our life outside prison: the opportunity to sit down and think."

The most difficult task in life is "Changing yourself". This self change brought about a sense of "Harmony" not only in Nelson Mandela, but a harmony that would flow over the entire country of South Africa.

The truth is we can all experience this inner harmony, not by changing others or the world around us, but by beginning with ourselves.

Do we allow ourselves the silence to "sit down and think?"

This is some of the wonder of Advent.  It is a time of waiting, and silence, and solitude... have you taken the time to make this a prayerful Advent?  If you have not there is a great opportunity for 24 hours of silence on a Poustinia retreat that I am leading.  You are welcome to join us.  Click here to enter the Desert.

Are you experiencing inner harmony?  Is there harmony in your families?  Is there harmony in your marriage?  Is there harmony at your work?  Is there harmony with your children?

If there is not harmony, the temptation is to try to change others.  We try to change our boss, our spouse, our friends, our kids, our parents...  but "the most difficult task in our lives is changing ourselves."  When we do this we discover harmony. 
John the Baptist was preparing people for this inner transformation.  
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.


To repent is to feel so bad about something that we have done or failed to do that we are willing to change ourselves.  Ultimately this "most difficult task of changing ourselves."  Is changing our will into the will of God. When our will is aligned with God's will there will be harmony.

This brings me to the sound of music.  "The hills are alive with the sound of music..." 

I go to the hills
When my heart is lonely
I know I will hear
What I've heard before
My heart will be blessed,
With the sound of music
And I'll sing once more.


It was amazing to see this special event on Prime Time TV.  The sound of the church bells, stained glass, nuns in habit, singing vespers... all is well with the world!

I noticed a line that I've never noticed before.  Mother superior is explaining to Maria (Carrie Underwood) that she has to leave the convent and that she is just not ready for this way of life yet.  Maria's whole life's dream has been to enter the convent and she's about to experience this huge let down.  Mother Superior asks her this question:  "Tell me Maria, What is the most important lesson you have learned here?"

Maria thinks to herself and responds with great resolve:  "To find out what is the will of God and do it wholeheartedly."

(Watch it here at 15:50)



The most important lesson we can all learn in life is to find out what the will of God is and do it with our whole heart, mind, soul.  When we find out the will of God and do it, we will experience this Harmony.  

Have you experienced this Harmony?  Have you found the will of God for your life?  Are you living it wholeheartedly?  

Maria is instructed by Mother Superior to go to the Von Trapp family to help bring harmony to a family.  She discovers that this family has forgotten how to sing.  What do we do if we have forgotten to sing?  Where do we begin if we have forgotten our call?  

"Let's start at the very beginning a very good place to start.  When you read you begin with A, B, C.  When you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi..." 



So how do we find this harmony in our lives?

We must start at the very beginning.  Go back to the basics.

St. Paul to the Romans:
Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Harmony can be found through our endurance and by the "encouragement of Scriptures."

How do we do this?

The most profound way that we are encouraged by Scriptures is at the Sunday Eucharist.  When we come to mass every sunday we are encouraged as we hear the word of God and receive His very essence in the Eucharist.  It is also extended as we spend time daily meditating on the word.

We experience the greatest harmony in the Eucharist.  Are you going to mass every Sunday and receiving this encouragement?

Are you enduring in the life of faith and your life of prayer?

These are the very beginning and essential steps for us to find harmony.  Sometimes we need to go back to the basics and start at the very beginning.

If we truly want to find Harmony we need to spend the time as Nelson Mandela did by spending the time to "sit down and think..." to remember that "the most difficult task in life is changing ourselves."  Changing our wills to the will of God.

And what is the most important lesson Maria learned in the convent?  "To find out what is the will of God and do it wholeheartedly."

When we do this we will discover not only harmony in our deepest self, but bring our entire world into this harmony.

May you discover the gift of Harmony by "changing yourself" and discovering God's will in your life and doing it wholeheartedly.  

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Fireman is Christ the King

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There is a story of a young man named Victor and a fireman who came to his rescue.  Victor is in his early thirties.  He's a young, attractive, and outgoing young man.  He had been away living in North Carolina working side jobs, partying on the beach, and he didn't have much focus in his life.  One day he received a call that his father died unexpectedly.  He returned to his home town to pick up the pieces, celebrate the funeral mass, go through his father's belongings and try to make sense of his life now.

He ended up staying in his father's apartment and waitressing at a restaurant.  He would go to work, come home, and keep going through his father's possessions.  Victor felt isolated, alone and lost.  He was seeking direction for his life but coming up empty.  His nights were restless.  He was grieving the loss of his father without really understanding it.  One night as he was drifting off to sleep there was a short in one of the kitchen appliances.  A tiny spark caught fire and after a couple of flicks the wall behind the refrigerator began to burn.  The flames moved fast and traveled up the wall.  What was once a tiny spark had become a raging fire.  It spread through the kitchen and then the living room.  The smoke began to roll and kreep under the doors and into his bedroom.  As the oxygen was pulled from the air Victor fell into the deepest sleep he'd had in a long time.  The fire raged on.

Meanwhile, the fire had spread from his apartment to other rooms.  Someone had called 911 and a lone firetruck arrived at the scene.  The fireman raced into the building trying to find the source and came to Victor's apartment.  He kicked down the door screaming loudly asking if anyone were there.  He ran through the living room and found the fire was burning up the side of the bedroom door.  He opened and shined his flashlight through the smoke to find Victor unconscious in his bed.  He picked him up and threw his limp body over his shoulders carried him down three flights of stairs and out of the building.  He laid victor down gently in the parking lot and then ran back into the building.  He carried person after person out of the now flaming building.

Finally Victor came to consciousness.  He rubbed his eyes as he began to wake up and realized he was outside of his apartment.  He slightly remembered being carried but didn't know what was going on.  He was confused and became afraid.  The fireman approached him once more and said: "Listen, I know that you are weak, and I know that you barely made it out of there, but there are more people in that building and unless we get them out of there fast the fire is going to kill them.  I need someone else to help me carry them out.  Will you help me save them?"  Victor trembled with the realization that he would have to go back into the fire that he was just saved from the.  He saw the sincerity in the fireman's eyes, he knew that others were in there, and without hesitation he followed the firman back into the flaming building.

The truth is that many people are dying and they don't even know it.  Many people in our world are spiritually unconscious while the flames of hell and the smoke of sin is surrounding them.  If you have been baptized you have been saved.  If you are reading this, you have probably been pulled out of that fire.

But the reality is there are other people that are being consumed by the fire right now.  The fireman represents Christ the king.

He is the head of the body, the church.  
He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,
that in all things he himself might be preeminent.
For in him all the fullness was pleased to dwell,
and through him to reconcile all things for him,
making peace by the blood of his cross
through him, whether those on earth or those in heaven.
(Colossians 1:12-20)


Jesus is the fireman, he is the head, he is the Savior.  He came into the fire of sin.  He has descended into our hell.  He has saved us and rescued us.  But there are many out there who are in the midst of the fire and they are spiritually dead.  He's asking you who have been saved to help him.  He is asking you, even if you are weak in your faith, even if you are afraid, even if you feel like you don't have it all together to go back into the fire with him and to carry the spiritually unconscious out.  God chooses the weak to make them strong.

Try and think of the people who are trapped in the fire.  Recall those who are spiritually unconscious, those who are away from the faith or have never really come to know and love God.  He needs you to go into their hell, to go into the fire and to pick them up and carry them back to safety.  He needs you to introduce them to Jesus, the fireman, Christ the King, the savior.  They may not be even able to help themselves.  They may not even realize that they need rescuing.  They may not even respond.  So you may have to pick them up and carry them away from sin and into the Sacraments of the Church.

Jesus says to you:  "I know that you are weak, but I choose the weak and make them strong.  I know you are afraid, but I hold all things together, I will not fail you.  I know you are unsure but I am your surety.  I am the Way and the Truth and the Life."

Christ the King, the Fireman, asks you today:  "Will you help me save them?"

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Vatican wants to survey You!

VATICAN POPE SPEECH

Your Answers Due December 20th!  (2013) 
email responses to: frmdsurvey@gmail.com
The following series of questions allows the particular Churches to participate actively in the preparation of the Extraordinary Synod, whose purpose is to proclaim the Gospel in the context of the pastoral challenges facing the family today.


1. The Diffusion of the Teachings on the Family in Sacred Scripture and the Church’s Magisterium
a) Describe how the Catholic Church’s teachings on the value of the family contained in the Bible,Gaudium et spesFamiliaris consortio and other documents of the post-conciliar Magisterium is understood by people today? What formation is given to our people on the Church’s teaching on family life?
b) In those cases where the Church's teaching is known, is it accepted fully or are there difficulties in putting it into practice? If so, what are they?
c) How widespread is the Church's teaching in pastoral programmes at the national, diocesan and parish levels? What catechesis is done on the family?
d ) To what extent — and what aspects in particular — is this teaching actually known, accepted, rejected and/or criticized in areas outside the Church? What are the cultural factors which hinder the full reception of the Church’s teaching on the family?

2. Marriage according to the Natural Law
a) What place does the idea of the natural law have in the cultural areas of society: in institutions, education, academic circles and among the people at large? What anthropological ideas underlie the discussion on the natural basis of the family?
b) Is the idea of the natural law in the union between a man and a woman commonly accepted as such by the baptized in general?
c) How is the theory and practice of natural law in the union between man and woman challenged in light of the formation of a family? How is it proposed and developed in civil and Church institutions?
d) In cases where non-practicing Catholics or declared non-believers request the celebration of marriage, describe how this pastoral challenge is dealt with?

3. The Pastoral Care of the Family in Evangelization
a) What experiences have emerged in recent decades regarding marriage preparation? What efforts are there to stimulate the task of evangelization of the couple and of the family? How can an awareness of the family as the "domestic Church" be promoted?
b) How successful have you been in proposing a manner of praying within the family which can withstand life’s complexities and today’s culture?
c) In the current generational crisis, how have Christian families been able to fulfill their vocation of transmitting the faith?
d) In what way have the local Churches and movements on family spirituality been able to create ways of acting which are exemplary?
e) What specific contribution can couples and families make to spreading a credible and holistic idea of the couple and the Christian family today?
f) What pastoral care has the Church provided in supporting couples in formation and couples in crisis situations?

4. Pastoral Care in Certain Difficult Marital Situations
a) Is cohabitation ad experimentum a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage?

b) Do unions which are not recognized either religiously or civilly exist? Are reliable statistics available?
c) Are separated couples and those divorced and remarried a pastoral reality in your particular Church? Can you approximate a percentage? How do you deal with this situation in appropriate pastoral programmes?
d) In all the above cases, how do the baptized live in this irregular situation? Are they aware of it? Are they simply indifferent? Do they feel marginalized or suffer from the impossibility of receiving the sacraments?
e) What questions do divorced and remarried people pose to the Church concerning the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation? Among those persons who find themselves in these situations, how many ask for these sacraments?
f ) Could a simplification of canonical practice in recognizing a declaration of nullity of the marriage bond provide a positive contribution to solving the problems of the persons involved? If yes, what form would it take?
g) Does a ministry exist to attend to these cases? Describe this pastoral ministry? Do such programmes exist on the national and diocesan levels? How is God’s mercy proclaimed to separated couples and those divorced and remarried and how does the Church put into practice her support for them in their journey of faith?

5. On Unions of Persons of the Same Sex
a) Is there a law in your country recognizing civil unions for people of the same-sex and equating it in some way to marriage?
b) What is the attitude of the local and particular Churches towards both the State as the promoter of civil unions between persons of the same sex and the people involved in this type of union?
c) What pastoral attention can be given to people who have chosen to live in these types of union?
d) In the case of unions of persons of the same sex who have adopted children, what can be done pastorally in light of transmitting the faith?

6. The Education of Children in Irregular Marriages
a) What is the estimated proportion of children and adolescents in these cases, as regards children who are born and raised in regularly constituted families?
b) How do parents in these situations approach the Church? What do they ask? Do they request the sacraments only or do they also want catechesis and the general teaching of religion?
c) How do the particular Churches attempt to meet the needs of the parents of these children to provide them with a Christian education?
d) What is the sacramental practice in these cases: preparation, administration of the sacrament and the accompaniment?

7. The Openness of the Married Couple to Life
a) What knowledge do Christians have today of the teachings of Humanae vitae on responsible parenthood? Are they aware of how morally to evaluate the different methods of family planning? Could any insights be suggested in this regard pastorally?
b) Is this moral teaching accepted? What aspects pose the most difficulties in a large majority of couple’s accepting this teaching?
c) What natural methods are promoted by the particular Churches to help spouses put into practice the teachings of Humanae vitae?
d) What is your experience on this subject in the practice of the Sacrament of Penance and participation at the Eucharist?
e) What differences are seen in this regard between the Church’s teaching and civic education?
f) How can a more open attitude towards having children be fostered? How can an increase in births be promoted?

8. The Relationship Between the Family and the Person
a) Jesus Christ reveals the mystery and vocation of the human person. How can the family be a privileged place for this to happen?
b) What critical situations in the family today can obstruct a person’s encounter with Christ?
c) To what extent do the many crises of faith which people can experience affect family life?

9. Other Challenges and Proposals
What other challenges or proposals related to the topics in the above questions do you consider urgent and useful to treat?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"The Dot Theory"

the dot theory
One of the Men in my Men's fellowship told me about this theory he has called the "Dot Theory."

Over the last year this men's group has grown and gotten really close. The guys are at the point where they can share their struggles. Mike Bruewer shared his theory with us last week.

Mike said in his office at work he has a large white circle on his wall. Inside that circle he has a tiny red dot. He explains that whatever is going on in our lives right now. Whatever struggles, difficulties, or suffering we are going through is "The Dot".

It all seems to be so huge and overwhelming but when you take a step back the dot seems pretty small. There's a whole lot of white space. The white space is the rest of our lives. The white space is all of the other joy and goodness in our lives. The white space is a representation of not only this life, but life eternal. The dot is tiny when you look at the white surrounding it.

We hear this from the book of Psalms: "Before the LORD the whole universe is as a grain from a balance or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth."

Often times we think our crisis' are so big, our problems are insurmountable, our difficulties are to much to handle. But they are a dot, a grain of sand from a balance or morning dew come down upon the earth.

In the Gospel we hear about Zacchaeus who is "short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus."

When he climbed that tree his perspective changed and so did his stature.

Jesus comes to seek what was lost. He is aware of all of our sufferings. But the truth is they are just dots compared to everything else in our lives and in the scope of eternity.

In all of the Sacraments we encounter Jesus and he says "Today I must come and stay at your house... for today salvation has come to this house."
If you are struggling with anything right now in your life. Remember the "Dot Theory". It's a tiny little dot in the scope of eternity.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Fr. Denny St. Marie died today.

Fr.Denny St. Marie

I heard about Fr. Denny when I was first assigned to St. Joseph.  He is one of those "legendary" priests in our diocese.  He spent time in the missions as well as traveled the world teaching Natural Family Planning to some of the poorest of the poor.  Pictured above is the map with thumbtacks of all the places he has been.  We shared many laughs.  One of his favorite lines whenever anyone asked about how he was doing he would say "I'm fine, I've got Scotch-guard."  He loved his Scotch.  He loved being a priest too.

May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace.  Amen.


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Fr. Denny Funeral , a set on Flickr.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Christie and Darren's Wedding



I got to spend a couple of days in my family home with my parents and sister before her wedding. I give thanks to my God upon these memories:

Running errands with Christie and Darren and whenever it got stressful Darren lightening it up with some silliness. A rehearsal where surprisingly everyone listened and a dinner with my new family. When it was all done sitting around my parent's dining room table telling stories from the day. Sleeping in my own bed in my old room.

Since the rehearsal was on a Thursday and I was sick as a dog I stayed at my parents again on Friday. Christie and I spent the morning together went to lunch. It was quality time with my little sister before her big day - what a special memory.

Setting up the hall, jamming with my future brother-in-law and his twin brother on the drums. Nothing like a rehearsal with such talent! Dinner with just my sister and my parents. Late night shopping with Mom, just like old times! And then her and I made a Holy Hour for my sister and Darren. It was one of the best hours Lord that I've had with you in a long time. Laughing with Christie and her Matron of honor on the Eve of her wedding.

Waking up at my parents house the morning of my sister's wedding. Hearing her and her childhood friends laughing, giggling and presumably lots and lots of hairspray or fake-tan or both. Seeing my nieces dressed in white as the flower girls. Getting to the Church early to pray and prepare. Seeing Darren praying by himself in the Sacristy moments before the mass. Walking my mother down the aisle... that's a first! Seeing my sister and Darren step up to the altar and getting to be the priest that married them... hopefully helping it to be a wonderful, joyful, prayerful, and peaceful celebration. Consecrating the Eucharist and realizing what a great privilege it is to transform these gifts of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Realizing that Christie and Darren's love would now become a Sacrament - a sign to the world of God's presence in our lives. My Godmother as the Eucharistic Minister. Watching the bride and groom walk down the aisle to such a beautiful song.

Riding in the limo bus with my five siblings, nieces, and friends. My Goddaughter saying "Uncle Mike... you can sit next to me." Watching as people at the art museum stopped and watched this huge bridal party and beautiful bride and groom. There is still something so special about a bride in her dress that is completely mesmerizing to people. Crowds gathered to watch wherever pictures were taken. One old man even stopped them to ask if he could take a picture of them. God's sacramental presence going out to all the world... so awesome!

The reception from beginning to end. Singing the Father-Daughter song with the groom picking the guitar, Bobby on Rhythm, Dan on the Drums, Down Town Julie Brown on the Keys and my mother singing too. Flash Dance with the bridal party. Dancing through three, yes count them, three shirts! Watching the slide show and hearing the laughter and love as people saw their pictures from years ago. Some absolutely beautiful toasts. And my favorite moment of all... the last dance. Holding my youngest niece "my little nugget" and watching this circle of love surrounding Christie and Darren as the held each other for the very last dance of their wedding day. There was something about it, maybe it was the way they held each other still as if they wanted the night to last forever. A miracle happened... her brother who never cries.... eyes moistened and one precious tear dropped down my left cheek. My sister is the Bride.

So I write this at the end of the night with a truly grateful heart. I was privileged to be the chauffeur and drive them to their home, watch as a man that I have come to love and trust carried my sister through the threshold... her blue shoes popping out of her white dress, a giant smile on her face, so full of joy so blessed by God. What an honor and a privilege.

And this is what it is like to be a priest.... "to have a front row seat in the theater of God's grace."

Thank you God... "This is the day The Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad!"

Christie and Darren's Wedding Slideshow

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Join Me for a Special Trip for the Canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII

View and Download Pictures from the Pilgrimage:

Fr. Michael's Pictures
Pilgrims Pictures.  


view all of my pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fathermichaeljdenk/

Fr. michael Denk Canonization



Today was defiantly a historic moment in our church and certainly a day I will never forget.  I am truly grateful that God has brought me here as a priest to be with these four popes that have shaped me so much.


We left our hotel at 6:30 am to begin our trek to the Vatican.  It was normally only a fifteen minute walk, but we were informed by another priest that we had to enter on the opposite side near the entrance for the scavi tour.  Most people know this entrance by the Swiss Guards at the gate.  If you are standing right at the doors of the Vatican facing the Vatican and go to your left that is where we had to enter.  

As you know we had gotten our tickets a few days before and we had to hold them in the air as we passed through each check point.  It was standing and waiting in line with a thousand other priests that Fr. Terry gave me his classic look and said: “Priest shortage… What?”   It was great to see priests from all over the world but I found myself anxious to try to talk to them because I had no idea what language they spoke.  When we got in to the seating area it was funny to see that priests are just as excited as the people to see the Pope.  Even the older priests were scrambling to get the closest seats.  

I had been thinking and praying for my group all night.  Because they were not issuing tickets (other than clergy and dignitaries) most people, if they wanted to get into the square had to spend the night outside waiting.  It turned out to be a very difficult experience for them but for those that found a spot and made it through the night they had a wonderful time, met some great new friends from Texas and found it an experience they will never forget.  I have to say, though I am truly grateful for the sleep and having a ticket, I wanted to be in that crowd overnight anticipating this gathering.  

I learned a lesson from the last time I saw Pope Benedict that it’s better to have a seat by the side even than to be closer up, because if he comes in procession you’ll be right there.  

Fr. Terry and I found some seats right along the edge… well  as close to the edge as we could get because it was lined up by large tough looking polish priests.  One of the Monsignor’s next to me seemed more like a bouncer than a priest.  We had a couple of hours to wait to mass.  I was glad Fr. Terry was with me because I was able to go to Confession on Divine Mercy Sunday ust before mass with the Pope.  I love going to confession and that was a great image of two priests in the midst of all of these others being immersed in the Father’s Divine Mercy.  
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The crowd was surprisingly subdued, maybe because I was in the midst of 5,000 priests.  There wasn’t the cheering and chanting and singing and applause like I was used to at World Youth Days.  Maybe it was because everybody was so tired.  I think everyone was so confused because they wanted to cheer for John Paul but didn’t want to neglect John XXIII.  As I reflected before I think John XXIII had just as much warmth and Charisma as John Paul, but John Paul is obviously more known and celebrated maybe because he was more recent and was the Pope for so long.  

We had nothing but time so I prayed the Rosary as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet and then rested and dozed as I meditated on the wonder of being there with these four Papas that I loved so much.  

As mass was about to begin the Bishops and Cardinals filed out and then the screen showed Pope Benedict for the first time.  I was so glad that he was there as he had worked all of those years under John Paul II and though he is spending his final years in prayer and solitude it was so good of him to be present at this event.  He was the Pope at the time I was ordained and I handed him my Ordination Card seven years ago when I was there in the audience and he drove by in the Pope Mobile.  

It was so exciting and heart warming to watch as Pope Francis greeted him.  The mass began with the Litany of the Saints.  I have always been moved by this ancient chant which invokes all of the Saints to be with us, to intercede for us, and to be present especially at the Mass when we are surrounded by all of the angels and the saints and united with everyone else who is in communion with Christ.  

The prayers for the mass were powerful.  Everyone in the square was given a booklet that has the prayers, biographies of the two popes to be canonized, and the official pictures of Sts. John XXIII and JPII.  They really are a treasure of this wonderful and historic occasion. 

There were three petitions directed to the Holy Father at the beginning of mass:

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The First Petition 

Most Holy Father,
Holy Mother Church earnestly beseeches Your Holiness to enroll Blessed
John XXIII
and John Paul II
among the Saints, that they may be invoked as such by all the Christian faithful.
Dear brothers,
let us lift up our prayers to God the Father Almighty through Jesus Christ, that through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all his Saints he may sustain with his grace the act which we now solemnly undertake.

 We ask you, Lord, graciously to accept the prayers of your people, that our de- voted service may be pleasing to you and contribute to the growth of your Church. Through Christ our Lord.

Second Petition

Most Holy Father, strengthened by unanimous prayer, Holy Church more earnestly beseeches Your Holiness to enroll these, her children, among the Saints.
Let us, then, invoke the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life, that he may enlighten our minds and that Christ the Lord may not permit his Church to err in a matter of such importance.

Third Petition

Most Holy Father,
Holy Church, trusting in the Lord’s promise to send upon her the Spirit of Truth, who in every age keeps the supreme Magisterium immune from error, most earnestly beseeches Your Holiness to enroll these, her elect, among the Saints.
 For the honour of the Blessed Trinity, the exaltation of the Catholic faith and the increase of the Christian life, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, and our own, after due deliberation and frequent prayer for divine assistance, and having sought the counsel of many of our brother Bishops, we declare and define 

Blessed

John XXIII
and John Paul II

be Saints and we enroll them among the Saints, decreeing that they are to be venerated as such by the whole Church.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Most Holy Father,
in the name of Holy Church I thank Your Holiness for making this proclamation and humbly request that you decree that the Apostolic Letter concerning the act of Canonization be drawn up.

The Holy Father, Pope Francis responded: “Decernimus."

We so decree.

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The music was beautiful with instruments in harmony, the organ, and beautiful cantors singing.  The homily was rather brief but what I understand and remember is that Pope Francis was talking about how important “the family” was to John XXIII and we all know to John Paul II and they made the Church feel like a family.  Every year the Church promotes a teaching or a motto (Remember the year for Priests, the Year for Marriage, the Year for St. Paul, this past year was the Year of Faith).  This upcoming year will be dedicated to the Family.  

Communion even amongst the priests was a little organized chaos.  We did get to see one of our priests from Cleveland, Fr. Chris Trenta, distributing communion.  He is over here in Italy studying Liturgical Theology.  I think the time of mass that I felt God’s presence the most was after communion they announced a moment of silence.  It was deeply profound to be there with a million people, having received the Body of Christ, taken part in the Canonization of these two Saints in the presence of our two wonderful Popes.  

At the end of mass Pope Francis spent about an hour greeting every single dignitary and letting them take “selfies”, then he got into the pope mobile and drove right by us.  We were right at the fence and I stood on a chair shouting “Papa Francisco… Papa Francisco… Papa Francisco…’  by the time he looked over the car was past us.  But now I can say that I have seen this pope and got as close as I could to him.  In hindsight I wish I would have jumped over the fence and begged him for a  hug, but you just never know how that is going to go over.  



After mass we spent an hour or so just waiting for the crowds to clear out.  Fr. Terry and I decided that we might as well head back into the Vatican for one last time.  The Basicilica was only open for people to walk quickly by the tombs of the two Saints.  John Paul II’s tomb had already been changed to say “Sanctus” for St. John Paul II.  John XXIII’s tomb was beautifully decorated with dozens and dozens of fresh red roses to match his red garment and shoes.  He looked pretty good for a dead guy.  Really, though, it was very beautiful and I got to kneel and spend some time at his tomb just thanking God for the opportunity to once more be so near the body of a Saint.  I also thank St. John XXIII for the influence that he has had on my me and my priesthood.  

I grew up knowing John Paul II.  The first time I ever got to see him was at World Youth Day in Denver in 1993 the summer after I had just graduated 8th grade.  I also got to see him at World Youth Day in Toronto.  My favorite memories of him at both events were when the millions in the crowd would chant "JPII we love you... JPII we love you... JPII... we love you..."  He would just smirk and and wait for a moment of pause and respond "JPII loves you too!"  I was most specifically shaped by him during my seminary time especially by the papal document that he wrote for the formation of Priests.   "I will give you Shepherds."  PASTORES DABO VOBIS.  He also has a series of books that are a reflection of his Priesthood on his fiftieth anniversary entitled "Gift and Mystery" and "Crossing the Threshold of Hope."   His personal maxim "Courragio" "Be Not Afraid!"  Gave me the courage to answer the call to the priesthood.

The next pope I would be introduced to in the Seminary was John XXIII.  While taking Fr. Tifft's Church History Class we had to choose one event or church figure and read 500 pages and write a 15 page paper.  Fr. Bob Stec told me I should look at John XXIII.  I wasn't sure who he meant but when I came across a book which referred to him as how many of you knew him "The Good Pope."  I remember going through the seminary library and seeing that book, picking it up, reading a few paragraphs and falling in love with him instantly.

J. D. Salinger once said:

"What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while...
What really knocks me out is a book that,
when you're all done reading it,
you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours
and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it.
That doesn't happen much, though."

...but it does!  I found this to be true when I read John XXIII's Journal of a Soul.  I felt like after reading that and a number of biographies my favorite by Thomas Cahill.  I found that I had this "Good Pope", this father figure, that I could relate to.  As I read his journal all the way from his time of growing up, to the seminary, to the priesthood... I was edified by his spiritual life and the kind and caring man that he was.  I wanted to be like him.  What I've found is that through the communion of saints (and now that he is one!), unlike J. D. Salinger's quote ending... it does happen much!  John XXIII has become one of my nearest and dearest friends, a father figure to me, a brother priest, a bishop, and the "Good Pope".

Saint John XXIII helped me see that one of the most important things of being a priest is to be a joyful one.  He had an inscription that he put above his wall in his study... As a youth he greatly admired his parish priest.  On his wall in his study was a maxim that read "“Peace within the cell; fierce warfare without. Hear all; believe a few; honor all. Do not believe everything you hear; do not judge everything you see; do not do everything you can; do not give everything you have; do not say everything you know. Pray, read, withdraw, be silent, be at peace.”  John XXIII took this to heart and entered it into his journal.  I have a painting that I made while I was in the seminary with the script "Pray, read, withdraw, be silent, be at peace."  It hangs to this day in my sitting room at the rectory reminding me of the importance of solitude.  You can read my Church History Paper on John XXIII.  

Pope Benedict has also been influential on me.  As Cardinal Ratzinger he was kind of known as being the Church's "Pit-bull" as the defender of the faith.  When he became pope I found him to be such a kind and gentle man.  What really reveals this is his writing.  I think that the greatest gift that he will leave us are the Trilogy that he wrote: "Jesus of Nazareth".  These are absolutely profound and beautiful writings that showed me the importance of experiencing the Person of Jesus.

After I was newly ordained I was able to make a trip to Rome with some priest friends, family, and seminarians.  Two of my favorite memories were both in the Vatican.  The first was actually getting to celebrate mass on the Altar of John XXIII where his body lies in the glass casket.  I felt like I was finally able to meet him and be with him especially as I celebrated the Eucharist and received the Body of Christ.  The Second memory was the last day of the trip.  We took the scavi tour and at the end of the tour Fr. Ireland had arranged for me to say mass in the Clementine Chapel.  This is a tiny golden chapel just below the altar in the vatican.  You can see down if you look through the grate in the vatican.  Below this altar are the bones of St. Peter.  It was amazing to be newly ordained and saying mass at the very place where Peter's bones are buried.  After mass because we were already in the crypt I was able to walk directly to the place where John Paul II was buried (this was also the place John XXIII was buried before he became as Saint and was moved up into the Basilica in the glass casket.)  I vividly remember walking over to John Paul's tomb and kneeling down and thanking him for helping me to the priesthood and forming me into the priest that I am today.

4popes


Click here to view the official program which has wonderful pictures, biographies and all of the prayers from the Mass Rite of Canonization.

view all of my pictures here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/fathermichaeljdenk/

Here are some of the official videos:





We arrived here in Roma safe and sound.  Since we got here at 6:30 am we were unable to check in to our Hotel so we went directly to one of the four major basilicas in rome.  The Basilica of St. Paul "Outside the Walls"  According to tradition, the Apostle Paul linked to a Roman soldier, who assured the guard during surveillance at home, waiting for his trial, while he continued to teach and write: "Remember my chains!" ( Letter to the Colossians 4:18).  The tomb of St. Paul as well as his chains are here.

I think it is also providential that we start here as we prepare for the Canonization of two Saints on this Divine Mercy Sunday as we reflect on Paul's words to the Thessalonians

For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the holy Spirit and [with] much conviction. You know what sort of people we were [among] you for your sake.  And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, receiving the word in great affliction, with joy from the holy Spirit,7so that you became a model for all the believers. (1 Thessalonians 1:5-7)

"Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us."  (Hebrews 12:1)






 What I most love about this church is that it contains the icons of every pope that we have ever had.  The icons are ordered chronologically all the way from Peter until our Current Pope Francis.

Since we are here for the Canonization of John Paul II and John XXIII I've included their pictures as well.

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(Pope Francis)

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(Pope Benedict)

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(Pope John Paul II)

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(Pope John XXIII)


The Basilica also has the Chapel of St. Lawrence so I made sure to say a prayer for my Pastor, Fr. Larry Martello.

To watch the event live or learn more click here you can also get the app at the Apple Store and Google Play Store!

Please know that I hold all of you in my hearts and prayers during this sacred, special, and historic time for the church!







Rome - Tuscany - Florence - Assisi - Venice

April 23-May 2, 2014

Pope Francis on Monday morning held the Public Ordinary Consistory for the forthcoming Canonization of Blessed Pope John XXIII and Blessed Pope John Paul II. During the course of the Consistory in the Vatican's Consistory Hall, the Pope decreed that his two predecessors will be raised to Sainthood on April 27, 2014, the day on which the Church celebrates the Second Sunday of Easter and Divine Mercy. (Vatican Radio)