Sunday, December 26, 2010

Homily: The Holy Family - Wii "Just Dance"

I’m blessed to have my family. One of the great things about being a diocesan priest is that I get to be near my family and I am also blessed to be a part of so many of your families. After all the masses were finished I went to my family home in Parma to celebrate Christmas. It was a truly enjoyable time. And although, like every family we have our own difficulties, yesterday we experienced great unity around… the Wii. My niece got a new game called “Just Dance.” And I gleamed a few insights about what it means to be a holy family from this experience: The first is that each one of us has to be Intense: Intensely focused on God, intensely participating, and intense in our desire to be a holy family. The Second is that there will be times when we mess up and injure each other. During those times we have to must forgive one another. And the Third is that we need to continuously invite one another and include one another.


So for those of you that don’t know what a Wii is or haven’t heard of “Just Dance.” A Wii is a video game system that allows you to hold a wireless remote controller in your hand and it’s able to detect any movement. “Just Dance” is a game that allows you to listen to an upbeat song and follow the motions on the screen. Up to four people can play this together. My living room floor was literally shaking as we danced and stomped and jumped mimicking the dancer on the screen.

Some of us were more intense than others. My sister Christie won the award for the most intense. She had to actually back off because I don’t think the Wii could handle her speed or intensity! Now because I am willing to embarrass not only myself, but my family for a good homily… Here you have INTENSITY. Keep an eye on the girl in the Panda Pajamas.

(Turn off the Blog's background music before playing videos: Go to the bottom of the blog and press the pause button)

As intense as she was in the dancing we need to be in our faith if we desire to live in a Holy Family. As much as she got her groove on we need to put our faith on… St. Paul encourages us “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” We must practice our faith intensely, participating intensely at the Eucharist, singing, praising, and aware. We have to get into it. It may feel awkward. You may not be so sure of your voice or even how to pray or respond, but get over it. We have to look intensely at Christ and this intensity will flow into the rest of our family. This intensity should also be in us every day. At some point during the day we should all spend some time in intense prayer, focused prayer, so that we can follow the Rhythm of our Lord.

Forgiving One Another

Over the course of our lives, because we struggle with sin and our fallen nature. There will be times when we hurt each other. There will be times when we mess up and sometimes unknowingly cause one another pain or disappointment. For the first time my family shared the tradition of the breaking of the Oplatke where you pray together, read from scripture and share the Christmas wafer. At one point of the prayer there is a time when you silently in your heart forgive anyone in the family who has done any wrong to you. Then you pass the wafer around and break a piece off for yourself.
I was given the opportunity to seek forgiveness shortly after this as I was imitating my sister after one of the songs. I got up to imitate her intensity and accidently punched her in the face and then tried to pull my hand back and stepped on her foot knocking her back onto the couch. It was a total accident, but I could see that she was in pain and her lip was bleeding. Seriously, there was blood on her teeth! I was tempted to blow it off, but realized I had to apologize. Thankfully she forgave me and we were able to dance another song together. Here’s a little duet that some of the older generation might be familiar with:

Sometimes we may step on each other’s toes… St. Paul reminds us that being a Holy Family means: “bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.” Is there anyone in your family that you need to forgive? Is there anyone that you have hurt, knowingly or unknowingly, and you need to reach out to them and offer some sign of sorrow? Is there someone you need to bear with more gently? We need this to be a Holy Family.


Finally, we need to continually invite people to the table, both the dinner table as well as the altar at Church. Over the years and at different times each of us will probably stray and we need to continue to invite each other back. Maybe there is someone in your family right now who is away from the faith, or distant from the family. Invite them back. And do so continuously.

One of the hardest people to get to dance was my brother-in-law John. Now, first of all, John had no idea what he was getting himself into when he married into our family. He’s a very polite, proper, and well mannered man. The first time he came to our house my dad was cleaning his guns on the dining room table. His oldest daughter, without asking for it, got a bow-and-arrow from my dad this Christmas. He’s learned to let go and roll with it when he’s over at the Denk house. So he was one of the bigger challenges to play “Just Dance.” But we did succeed and you can see him here. Notice he’s a little off… at times doing the opposite of the rest of us.

The point is though that we need to keep inviting each other into the faith, keep inviting each other to dinner, and most importantly keep inviting each other to the Eucharist. Is there someone in your family right now that is away from their faith? Is there someone that needs to be invited to the celebration?

For our families to be Holy Families we each need to live out our faith intensely, participating in the Eucharist and focusing on Christ in our own lives. We need to reconcile with, forgive each other, and bear with one another. And finally when we stray we need to continuously invite each other back into the family. Through all of this we help to foster the Holy Family that God intends us to be.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Homily 2010: "Undercover Boss"

There’s a show that is on Sunday evenings called “Undercover Boss.” The premise of the show is that the CEO of a company disguises himself as a new employee and works in one of the lowest positions of the company to see what it is like. The show is actually very moving because most CEOs live pretty extravagant lives and this is an opportunity for them to come into contact with some people that they would not normally interact with. They experience the lives of their employees, the customers, and the sufferings of the common person.

Some of the companies that have participated are: Great Wolf Resorts, DIRECTV, NASCAR, Chiquita, Frontier Airlines, Chicago Cubs, Lucky Strike Lanes, Subway, Johnny Rockets, and Norwegian Cruise Lines.

It was fascinating to watch as the owners of these companies entered into the lowest positions. It was a very humbling experience for many of them to see how hard working their employees are. It was also an eye opener for them to see how difficult their lives were.

One episode that I particularly enjoyed was with the 7-Elevan owner, Joe DePinto, who worked a night shift with a driver named Igor. Igor is from Russia. He’s a joyful, fun-loving man who speaks with a Russian accent. Now imagine the scene with the two of them driving together in the truck over night.

Joe begins to ask him: “So, do you have a family?” Igor responds “Yes, I have two kids, I have a granddaughter.” Joe excitedly cuts him off “How bout your wife?” Igor says with a little sadness: “I’m working nights, she’s working daytime.” As they finish unloading palettes from the truck Joe asks him: “You don’t miss being with your family working night shift?” Igor responds very genuinely… “My children I do, my wife… since we only see each other on the weekends… less time to argue, and we are like lovers… we only have two days together, no time to argue.” They both laugh hardily together. Joe continues asking him all kinds of questions: “How do you stay so motivated through the middle of the night?” Igor responds with great enthusiasm: “I’m living the American dream. You guys don’t know how blessed you are. I came here with no English, no knowledge of any culture, and only fifty dollars in my pocket, I’m blessed. You ask me why I’m so motivated… I’m so thankful for this country that allows me to survive and be happy.”

Without realizing it Igor has just worked side by side with the CEO of the company that has provided for his living. Joe came to see and know in Igor such a wonderful man. He experienced up close and personal his dedication and his goodness. In the end he would reward Igor with his own franchise and a dream vacation with his wife.

What if the owner of your company were to lower himself and spend time with you? What if he was working with you on the job so that he could learn not only about what you do, but who you are? What if he cared about your dreams, what your difficulties are, what your hopes and needs are?

Now imagine the CEO of CEOs, THE Creator of the Universe, GOD… humbled Himself, lowered Himself, disguised Himself, and took on human flesh so that He could be with you. Imagine that He wants to experience first-hand what your life is like. What if God were to come into your life in such a real way that you could talk to him, touch him, see him, and interact with Him? What if He humbled himself so much so that He would listen to your frustrations and embrace your suffering and walk with you? What if he really cared to learn about you and make things better for you?

As we celebrate Christmas we discover that God is the “Undercover Boss.”

Listen to these words from the Gospel of John:

“And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,”

The Creator of the universe humbles himself and takes on human flesh so that he can be with us in our lives.

He’s here working side by side with us, often disguised, and we fail to realize his presence:

He was in the world,
and the world came to be through him,
but the world did not know him.

And all of our struggles with work, with family, with relatives, or friends… he knows them. All of our Joys, our thankfulness, our gratitude he knows it too and he delights in sharing it with us.

He is with you this Christmas, working with you side by side, helping you, affirming you, rewarding you… what an amazing gift it is that the God of the universe would humble himself and take on human flesh to be with us. This is what we experience in the Eucharist. This is who you become for others when you receive him. This is why we come here every Sunday to allow the Lord access into our lives and to share it all with him.

May you realize this Christmas day that God is with you and share your life with him because he is so proud of you. Take every opportunity you can to talk to him, to pray with him, to be with him. If you have been away from Him for a while, maybe this is the time to return. Come back to your faith, come back to the sacraments, share your difficulties with him in confession, let him take your sins which he came to free you from, be with him every Sunday at the Eucharist. You can experience him in the Word of God, as the scriptures are read He does speak to you, you can experience him in the Priest who stands in the Person of Christ, you can touch him and be fed by him in the Eucharist, and you can interact with Him in the gathered assembly of people.

He comes to you Undercover because he desires so much to relate to you on your level. The God of the Universe is with you, working side by side with you, delighting in your joys and acknowledging sufferings.

This Christmas may you realize his presence and share your life with him.

You can watch the episode here

Or many more here

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Homily for the Fourth Sunday of Advent: Ask for a Sign/Ask for His Son

The Greatest Sign is His Son
Today’s readings are filled with wonder, signs, prophecies, dreams. We have to get into this kind of mode to be able and try and grasp what God is doing here as we enter the Fourth Sunday of Advent, just a week before Christmas.

I was with a family whose father died and the daughter told me about a sign that she received. It was Monday when we had all that snow and blustery wind and she saw a bird just struggling to get to a tree and when it finally landed it brought her such a great sense of peace and hope. She looked closely and discovered that it looked like a dove. She asked her daughter to look it up online to see if that’s what it really was. For the first time after her father dying she finally felt some peace. She began telling her and brothers and sisters about this Dove. As she’s telling me this story she had to hold back the tears. Her brother then joked that he went to take a shower this morning and was out of soap so he went to the closet and pulled out a bar of dove soap. He was really not joking. He said I don’t use Dove soap, but for some reason this is what was in the closet.

I think at different points in our lives we do ask God for signs either for direction, confirmation, or for a surety of his presence. I remember when I was thinking about becoming a priest I said “God I’ll do this, I’ll give up everything and follow you, but you need to give me some sign and make this clear for me that this is what you want me to do.” He did in many ways.
So use your imagination for a moment. If you could ask God for a sign, any sign, what would you ask him for?

Got it?

Now think bigger…

…think more…
…think eternally.

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the netherworld, or high as the sky!

God is basically telling Ahaz, ask me for anything you want. “Let it be deep as the netherworld”, there’s no depth I wont go to meet you, there’s no sin I can’t save you from. Or “High as the sky!” You can’t dream too big! But Ahaz balks at this… and reacts with a false humility… “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” Well come on, the Lord just told you to ask for a sign!
So what if God told you this: If you could ask God for any sign, what would you ask him for? Would it be something miraculous or fascinating? Would it help you believe in God? …For how long? Would you ever doubt again? Chances are that sign wouldn’t hold up over time.
Ultimately, God gives a sign beyond anything we could hope or imagine or expect. And it is a sign that is mysterious and eternal and always present.

The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home.For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet:Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.”

What if you asked for God to be present to you, to be real to you, to be known and seen by you? What if you asked him to show himself to you and be with you always? What for all of this and more?

You would have a wonderful sign and that sign is His Son, Jesus. The most powerful sign that we could ever ask for… God, can you become one of us. Can you become a person and tell us everything about you. Are we open to receiving the signs that God gives us, are we open to receiving the communications and responding? Are we open to receiving the only sign we need, His Son.

We have God with us. What more could we ever want from God? What sign could ever be better then having him here in the flesh? In the Sacraments we experience this great eternal mystery. Every Sunday Christ is present in the Word, the Gathered Assembly, The Priest, and the Eucharist. This week you will have numerous opportunities to speak to him and hear his voice in the Sacrament of Confession. If you are married Sacramentally he’s present in the love that you experience with your spouse. He’s present as the water is poured over the children that will be baptized today.

God invited Ahaz to experience His wonderful signs, but Ahaz was too hard headed and hard hearted to be open to it. Fortunately for us Joseph wasn’t. What about you? Is your mind open enough to experience Him and your heart soft enough to feel him? The greatest sign we could ever have of God’s love for us and presence in our lives is Jesus who we experience in Word and Sacrament.

So we really don’t really need to worry about what sign to ask for. We don’t need to ask God for a sign, we need to ask God for his Son. Jesus is the greatest wonder, the greatest sign, the greatest prophecy fulfilled. Ask God not for any sign, ask God for His Son and you will experience something more wonderful than you could ever imagine this Christmas.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homily: Third Sunday of Advent: Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?

Who is your favorite super-hero and Why? The top three are Superman, Batman, and Spiderman. Superman because he can fly, Batman because he has lots of cool toys, and Spiderman who says: Whatever life holds in store for me, I will never forget these words: "With great power comes great responsibility." This is my gift, my curse. Who am I? I'm Spider-man.

I have to admit one of my recent favorites is Iron Man. Why? Well, to be honest I think it’s because he is so real, flawed, and funny. The last two movies show a hero that is somewhat dependable, sometimes he’s too drunk, other times he’s pre-occupied. He’s wild, witty, and unpredictable. What I like the most is his candor. I don’t think I’d want him to be the one saving me necessarily, but I think he does show that superheroes are not always what they are cracked up to be.

He actually has some resemblance to John the Baptist. John the Baptist himself was wild and unpredictable. He was also very loud and outspoken so much so that it got him imprisoned by Herod who feared John was going to turn people against him. So John finds himself in need of a Hero.

Imagine John the Baptist in prison. Things are looking pretty bad. He begins to hear about this man Jesus who is doing amazing things and seems to be fulfilling the prophecy that he has been proclaiming. John had glimpsed Jesus’ divinity when he baptized him, he had spoken out against Herod, and when Jesus heard about John’s imprisonment he withdrew to Galilee and from that time on, Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

He saw such great faith in John the Baptist. And it seems at this point that John may be beginning to give up hope. Out of desperation he finally sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Matthew 11

That’s an honest candid question. It’s like he was getting desperate and didn’t want to mess around with Jesus if he wasn’t the one. John just really wanted to know if he could put his hopes on Jesus or not. And I think if it was OK for John the Baptist to ask it, it’s OK for us to ask it.

As we enter into this third Sunday of Advent maybe things haven’t been panning out quiet the way we have expected. Maybe you find your self imprisoned and beginning to give up hope. Maybe your feeling imprisoned in your marriage and beginning to give up hope. Or maybe you’re beginning to give up hope in your alcoholic son. Maybe you’re tempted to give up hope with a longtime friend who hasn’t been a very good friend. Or maybe with the scandals and the church closings you’re tempted to give up hope in your church. Maybe you’ve felt empty when you go to prayer or feel like you “get nothing out of it” when you come to mass. Or to get even more personal, maybe there is a compulsion or an addiction that you are struggling. Maybe you’re suffering from an illness that is chronic and debilitating. Maybe you’ve been unemployed for months and you just can’t take the rejection of another interview. If you’re at the point of giving up hope let this be your question to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

This Sunday we celebrate “Gaudete Sunday” also known as “Rejoice Sunday!” I think at times we all tend to doubt God’s presence or power. We’ve been disappointed by so many “hero’s” in our lives who haven’t lived up to what they are called to be. But on this Sunday we are reminded over and over again that we do have a savior and salvation is almost here. We are so close “The coming of the Lord is at hand” James 5 and “He comes to save us.” Isaiah 35

I think one of the movie genres that will never die is the super-hero movie: Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Ironman, because we all need a hero. We need someone to break us free from our prisons and slavery. And we need it to be someone that we can trust and depend on that will never fail us. We have that man in Jesus. Don’t be afraid to ask him personally. “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?”

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homily for the Immaculate Conception "The Apple Doesn't Fall Far From the Tree."

The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree

You’ve probably heard the phrases:

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”

The idea is that we basically become our parents for good or for bad. Think about all the things about you that you have inherited from your parents: your looks, the color of your eyes and hair, your weight, your predisposition to a condition like heart disease or high blood pressure. And then on top of the physical think about the behaviors you’ve inherited, your personality, or your sense of humor, your impatience or your anger.

We spend our entire lives sorting through this, trying to nurture the good they have given to us and minimize the less than good qualities. We are more like our parents then we realize.

Now throw sin into the mix and it all becomes even a greater mystery. Sin is something that we are born into and can be traced to our original parents, Adam and Eve. The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living.” Gen. 3:20

The idea is that over all these generations, along with our physical, emotional, and personality characteristics, we have also inherited the characteristic of sin. Think about the child who is raised in an alcoholic abusive home. He is going to have a rough life; he is going to struggle with a lot of sin. It’s not his fault, but it’s the reality of the sin of his parents. Think of an infant in the womb whose mother is on drugs, that child is going to experience the consequence of her sin. You can see it run deeply down the family line. I’ve witnessed it in families who have experienced sexual abuse or families that struggle with depression or addictions.

While it is true that “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the Tree.” Something about the tree has radically changed with the Immaculate Conception. The catechism states that: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. #491

By God’s grace Mary was freed from this lineage of bondage. God spared Mary from the repeated inheritance of sin that has been passed down from generation to generation. The chain that had kept mankind in slavery was broken at the moment of Mary’s conception in her mother’s womb. No longer would it be simply “like mother, like daughter.” From this moment on Mary inherited only the good and none of the sin. How does all this work and why, I am not sure. But I do acknowledge what a blessing this is that God began in Mary to free us all from the bondage of sin. That grace allowed Mary to bear the savior. That grace of freedom from original sin allowed her to give a full and total yes to brining Jesus into the world. God’s choosing Mary to be holy and without sin from the moment of her conception has been a part of God’s plan for our freedom from sin.

“God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ… has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as he chose us in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ”. Ephesians 1:3-6

Because we have been destined for adoption to the Father in heaven we are freed from the inheritance of sin from our human parents. Through our baptism in Christ we have become sons and daughters of our Father.

And so the phrase rings true, “The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far From the tree.” We, through the providence of God in the Immaculate Conception of our Mother Mary, are so much like our Father, a “Chip off the old Block”, “Like Father like Son.” We have been adopted by God the Father and inherit all of His qualities as children of God.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Holy Day of Obligation

Just a reminder that tomorrow:

*The Immaculate Conception is a Holy Day of Obligation. Most parishes will offer a Vigil Mass for tonight as well.

And because Christmas and the Solemnity of the Mother of God fall on a Saturday this year there may be some confusion:

*Christmas is a Holy Day of Obligation (on a Saturday) and it is a separate celebration then Sunday (so you do have to go to mass on Sunday as well).

*The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God (New Years Day, also on a Saturday) is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation this year.

Here’s for the whole year for future reference:

January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God;
Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter, the solemnity of the Ascension; (In the province of the State of Ohio, the Feast of the Ascension has been transferred to the Seventh Sunday of Easter)
August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary;
November 1, the solemnity of All Saints;
December 8, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception;
December 25, the solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Whenever January 1, the solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, or August 15, the solemnity of the Assumption, or November 1, the solemnity of All Saints, falls on a Saturday or on a Monday, the precept to attend Mass is abrogated.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Holy Family Prayer Medal (Need a Christmas Gift Idea?)

Father Michael Denk's own unique design engraved on a silver medal that's carried in your pocket, fits in your palm, for times of comfort. 

(Medal is beautifully packaged, blessed, and boxed for shipping) - Suggested Donation is $30

The Prayer Medal Story 

Every Christmas I try to make some creative gift to give to the staff and to special people who support me in the parish. Last year I had this moment of inspiration to create a prayer medal, something that people could hold in their hands and be drawn into the mystery of Christmas. And so I took on the adventure of casting. I have a friend who is a jeweler and he showed me the process of creating a wax model, a mold, melting and pouring the medal, allowing it to harden and then breaking the cast to reveal a metal form of what I had created in wax. It became a beautiful meditation in prayer during the advent season. I decided to portray the Holy Family. I began going through numerous icons and paintings and statues and praying with the different scripture passages of the infancy narratives, always asking God the questions: “What was it like the night he was born?” “How was Mary holding him?” “How was Joseph with him?” “How was Joseph with Mary?” “Were they close?” “Were they affectionate?” Over the years one of the images of Mary that has most touched my heart is the portrait of “Kissing the face of God.” Mary is tenderly cradling the infant Jesus and pulling him up to her as she nuzzles her face up to him and kisses him on the cheek. It is such a tender and intimate image. I was also struck by some of the statues that I saw of Joseph holding Mary as she held Jesus. As I carved into the wax the images began to take shape and it became an icon for me. It was important for me that when holding the prayer medal it would rest comfortably in your hand and feel secure (Psalm 91 “Whoever clings to me I will deliver”). It was also important that as you rubbed it with your thumb your touch would be drawn to Jesus. Ultimately as you press your thumb across the image it will rest there on the face of Christ.
I know that there are times in life when we just need some sacramental to hold on to. Something to rub or squeeze when the pain is so intense or we are plagued with doubt or sadness. Something to hold when we so need to be held. And this is an image that God allowed me to rest in. Ultimately I hoped it would bring others that same sense of security. I wanted to give the medals to some of the people I visited, especially those in hospice. One of our local businesses blessed me with kindness when they offered to donate the medals that would be given to the sick and suffering.
Sometime after the Holy Family Medals were finished a young boy named Michael asked to see me. He came to my office and broke down in tears as he told me his Grandpa Joe was diagnosed with terminal cancer. My heart broke as Michael choked up before me. We talked, I let him get it out, I prayed with him and I still sensed there was such hurt when we were finished he seemed so lost. I couldn’t just let him walk away like this. And yet it seemed as if there were no words to help. And then God reminded me of the medal. “Michael, I have something very special that I would like to give to you,” I said excitedly. I took his hand and opened it and placed the medal into his palm. “Michael, I just wanted you to hold this. Keep it with you as a reminder to hold your Grandpa Joe in prayer.” He looked down at it with such gratitude and as he flipped it over in his palm he noticed the inscription on the back “God is with us.” He looked at me and said “I Know that he is.” I had a sense that Michael could now go in peace.
A few Saturdays after that I was walking along the back of the church getting ready to process down the center aisle for the Vigil Mass and an elderly man tugged at my chasuble. When I turned to greet him he simply held out the medal. I quickly scanned my mind, when did I see this man? Was it at the hospital, a nursing home, I don’t remember giving the prayer medal to him, but I must have. And then thankfully he said “Michael wanted me to have this, thank you Father.” He smiled and clasped it in his hands. Michael would later tell me that he thought his grandfather needed it more than he did so he gave the medal to him to pray with.
Some time later I received a call from one of Michael’s best friends telling me that his family needed to see a priest because their grandfather didn’t have much longer to live. I was just getting ready to head out for my day off so thankfully I was totally free. I drove over to Michael’s house where they had been caring for Grandpa Joe. Michael was in the drive pacing and he hugged me so tight as I told him I was glad he called. The whole family was in the house in the living room in the kitchen in the back bedroom where Joe was. I walked into the room and there was Joe with his wife at his side. The family gathered around and I began the prayers of the Anointing of the Sick and the Commendation of the Dying. It was a very moving experience. The children smiled and the grandchildren wept, but the most calm of all was Joe. As I looked into his eyes I could see in them the eyes of faith and with every response: “Lord Have Mercy,” Joe was the first to mouth the words “Lord have mercy.” I’ve never been with someone so near the point of death that was still able to pray in that way. The words so softly came out of his blood stained lips formed by his blackened tongue. As I laid hands on his head I motioned for his family to lay their hands on him and you could feel the peace of Christ wash through his body and his family. I anointed his forehead with oil and as I reached down to open his palm Joe opened his hand to reveal Holy Family Prayer Medal. His wife told me he wanted me to know that he was holding it and praying with it. I tucked my thumb under the medal and anointed his palm and then gently folded his hand around it once more and I noticed him firmly grabbing it. Michael’s grandpa Joe would die later that night with his family at his side. As he prayed with the medal of the Holy Family God had surrounded him with his family made holy.
When I went to the wake Michael hugged me once more and out of his pocket he pulled the medal. His said to me with such joy “My Grandpa wanted me to have it. I’ll keep this with me forever.” What a gift that God has blessed me with the priesthood, given me hands to bless with, imagination and creativity, and a heart of compassion that would help me to mold and shape a memory that Michael would hold for the rest of his life. And though we may never know exactly what it was like the night that Christ was born, one thing I know for sure is that he was held.

There was touch. There was tenderness and safety as Joseph held him in the palm of his hand and Mary treasured all these things in her heart.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent "Chilean Miners Rescued"

In darkness over 2,000 feet below the surface of the earth, 33 Chilean men were trapped in a mine that collapsed on August 5th. They were thought to be dead by many.

Eight Percussion drills were used to explore the mine in search of the miners. The rescue effort was complicated by out-of-date maps of the mine shafts and several boreholes drifting off-target because of the extreme drilling depth and the notoriously hard rock that caused the drills to drift. One of the probes reached a space where the miners were believed to be trapped but found no signs of life.

17 days after finding nothing, the eighth borehole broke through. For days, in the silence, the miners had heard the drills approaching. Through Though the drilling engineers had thought they heard tapping on the drill tip, they were surprised to discover the notes when the drill bit was pulled out, they discovered a note indicating the miners were alive. The white paper note was written with red ink and attached to the drill bit: "We are alright in the shelter, the 33 [of us].

From the day the mine collapsed, dozens of relatives staked out what they call Camp Hope near the mouth of the mine, where they have built shrines, composed songs and prayed intensely for their loved ones below.

Family members of the trapped miners reacted with joy at the news that their loved ones were alive. There hope was not disappointed.
Below, miner Edison Pena ran 6 miles daily through the mine's tunnels to beat the anxiety, wearing cut-down boots until rescuers sent him a pair of sneakers through a narrow bore hole that served as the miners' umbilical cord to the surface.
"When I ran in the darkness, I was running for life," Pena said, "I was running to show that I wasn't just waiting around. ... I also wanted God to see that I really wanted to live."

While trapped in the darkness the 33 men struggled to communicate with the outside world through video, letters and even poetry. Now, as the rescue process continues, the men have begun speaking their first words above ground in more than 69 days.

Mario Sepulveda: remembers “I was with God and I was with the devil; they fought me but God won. He took me by my best hand, the hand of God, and I held on to him. I never thought for one minute that God wouldn't get me out of there. I believe this was a test... I believe that God does test people and I believe that we have the possibility to confront things in life such as what we had to confront, ... but I'm very happy that it happened to me because I believe it was the moment in which to make changes.”

Another Miner, Jimmy Sanchesz who was only 19 years old wrote in a note to his wife shortly before the rescue mission began: "There are actually 34 of us, because God has never left us down here," He also described how his love for his daughter helped him survive the darkest moments. "In the toughest times I thanked God I had a daughter."

Less than an hour before midnight 69 days after the collapse, a rescue worker stepped into the capsule — named the Phoenix — painted with the red, white and blue of the Chilean flag. A mesh door was closed behind him. Then he descended toward the 33 miners trapped below, as President Sebastián Piñera, who has staked his presidency on rescuing the miners, watched with the families as he slowly disappeared into the darkness to retrieve the trapped miners.

Upon reaching the surface and coming out into the light surrounded by the rescuers, and his loved ones, Mario Gomez Heredia dropped to his knees in prayer: "I looked back on my life; I'm a different man now; I'm a changed man," he said a few hours later.

Today we begin the first Sunday of Advent. Though the miners spent 69 days in darkness, the Season of Advent will be 27 days this year. As the miner’s struggled to communicate with their families above, we struggle to communicate with God in the darkness. Often times we grope and stumble yearning for him to break through to us. We grasp clumsily in prayer and slip and fall in our relations with one another. We may find ourselves imprisoned with hard hearts and deep walls, but he can break through our darkness at any moment.

During this time of Advent, we like the miners must hold on to the hope that the prophet Isaiah proclaims to us: “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed;”

Imagine yourself in that mine as we enter into Advent. In the darkness and the silence listen intently for God’s drill approaching to break through and rescue us. Imagine that Christ the Savior will descend into your darkness and lift you up through that shaft into the light. And yes, above unseen, but not separate, you do have the entire Communion of Saints interceding for you, praying vigilantly for you. This time of Advent can be a time where God “may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.”

It may also be a time for bringing things into the light. “The night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.” We all know that one of the miners had things brought to the light that he probably would have rather kept in darkness. Is there anything in your life right now that is in darkness that you wouldn’t want brought to the light? Maybe this Advent is a time of letting that go. So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.”

Use this next 29 days as a time of conversion so that you too can echo the words of a rescued miner: "I looked back on my life; I'm a different man now; I'm a changed man,"

Let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Year C 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time the God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament

Homily: The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament.

People often refer to the “God of the Old Testament” and say that we don’t believe in that God anymore. The truth is though that the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. In both he admonishes the sinner and lifts up the lowly. "God's Word comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable." The truth is that God knows there are times when we need to be roused from sin and times when we need to be assured in grace.
Here’s an example of being aroused from sin in the Old Testament, today’s first reading:
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
And assured in His Grace (also in the Old Testament, the very same passage):
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.
Here’s an example of being aroused from sin in the New Testament, Today’s Gospel:
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
Is contrasted with his gentleness and protection of the very next line:
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.
You see, there is no difference between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testaments. So how do we reconcile these two aspects of God?
To explain this I’m going to draw on the insight of St. Ignatius and the life of St. Augustine, both prodigal sinners who became the greatest saints of our church. Both knew the voice of God as terrible in their sins, and gentle and encouraging in their virtue.
In his Rules for Discernment, St. Ignatius gives us ways of knowing when God is speaking, what his voice is like, depending on the kind of life we are leading.
First Rule. The first Rule: In the persons who go from mortal sin to mortal sin, the enemy is commonly used to propose to them apparent pleasures, making them imagine sensual delights and pleasures in order to hold them more and make them grow in their vices and sins. In these persons the good spirit uses the opposite method, pricking them and biting their consciences through the process of reason.
Second Rule. The second: In the persons who are going on intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord, it is the method contrary to that in the first Rule, for then it is the way of the evil spirit to bite, sadden and put obstacles, disquieting with false reasons, that one may not go on; and it is proper to the good to give courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.
Depending on the life that we are living God’s voice can seem very different. If we a living a good and virtuous life God’s voice will be very loving, gentle, and encouraging. The enemy, however, wants to keep us from God’s love so he is going to try to confuse us, discourage us, set up obstacles and sadden us. But if we are living a life of sin and moving away from God the voices will be opposite. The enemy, who realizes we are moving from mortal sin to mortal sin is going to try to comfort us, encourage us to keep doing what we are doing, suggest to us not to worry about it, and encourage us that we are OK. God loves us too much, to allow us to believe that we are OK, He will not let us just slip comfortably down this path. So God will do anything he can to get us off the path of sin even if he has to use guilt, shame, sadness or any anything to save us from the evil we are being seduced by.
In his Confessions, St. Augustine writes about the time before his conversion very much from the perspective of the First Rule as the “person who goes from mortal sin to mortal sin.”

Before his conversion St. Augustine was clearly living in the first rule where the enemy was encouraging him:

“You, God, I did not love. Against you I committed fornication, and in my fornication I heard all around me the words: “Well done! Well done!” For the love of this world is fornication against Thee and when one hears these words: “Well done! Well done!” They have the effect of making one ashamed not to be that sort of person.

Think of the guy about to be married going out to celebrate his bachelor party with his buddies. He doesn’t really go to mass, hasn’t been to confession since grade school. He’s been having premarital sex, drinking, even some occasional drugs. He’s sneaking around and not being honest with anyone. He goes out on the night of his bachelor party to do things we all know he shouldn’t be doing… getting drunk, maybe a strip joint, probably doing things he would never want his future wife to know about. What’s the voice of God going to be like in this instance of going from mortal sin to mortal sin? Well we know what the voice of the enemy will be like… “Well done!” as it was for saint Augustine. Every sinful act will be delighted in. with every shot that is slammed his friends will laugh and encourage. God will speak with the opposite voice. The voice of God, will probably be that guilty feeling he has as he hears his fiancé say… “don’t do anything stupid.” It will come with a sting and will bite on their conscience. It will cause tension in him as the enemy tries to calm him. God will not just let this evening play out without trying to get the guy to come to his senses and realize the horrible things he is about to do.

And here we have the voice of God:

I was in torment, reproaching myself more bitterly than ever as I twisted and turned in my chain… and you, O Lord, never ceased to watch over my secret heart. In your stern mercy you lashed me with the twin scourge of fear and shame in case I should give way once more and the worn and slender remnant of my chain should not be broken but gain new strength and bind me all the faster.

Here we see Augustine trapped in his sin and God never ceasing, “stern mercy you lashed me with the twin scourge of fear and shame.” God was using fear and shame to motivate Augustine not to give into his lust.

Have you ever experienced that guilt or shame when you’re doing something you know you shouldn’t be doing? Guess what… that is the voice of God. He loves you too much to just let you do something so damaging.

Now for the conversion, Augustine is no longer going from sin to sin, but striving to live a good and holy life. This is probably all of you who are active in your faith, not only coming to mass every Sunday, but receiving the sacrament of confession, and striving to grow in holiness through prayer and involvement in service of God. In this case the voice of God and the enemy will be reversed. The good spirit will encourage and the enemy will bite, sadden, and place obstacles to discourage a person from progressing towards God.

St. Ignatius uses two descriptions of the person in the second rule: “intensely purifying their sins” and are “rising from good to better in the service of God our Lord.” Does this apply to you?

Listen to the voice of the enemy:

“I was held back by mere trifles, the most paltry inanities, all my old attachments. They plucked at my garment of flesh and whispered, “Are you going to dismiss us? From this moment we shall never be with you again, forever and ever. From this moment you will never be allowed to do this thing or that, for evermore…” These voices… no longer barred my way, blatantly contradictory, but their mutterings seemed to reach me from behind, as though they were stealthily plucking at my back, trying to make me turn my head when I wanted to go forward. That in my state of indecision, they kept me from tearing myself away, from shaking myself free of them and leaping across the barrier to the other side, where you are calling me.”

Do you get a sense of evil here? The enemy whispering, plucking, discouraging, stealthily plucking, trying to make Augustine turn his head away… all of these ways the enemy tries to discourage you from moving forward to a life of freedom. Is there anything in your life that God is gently helping you to let go of and the enemy is causing you all kinds of anxiety?

Now listen to the voice of God:

“But by now… I had turned my eyes elsewhere, and while I stood trembling at the barrier, on the other side I could see the chaste beauty of Continence in all her serene, unsullied joy, as she modestly beckoned me to cross over and to hesitate no more. She stretched out loving hands to welcome and embrace me, holding up a host of good examples to my sight. With her were countless boys and girls, great numbers of the young and people of all ages… and in their midst was Continence herself, not barren but a fruitful mother of children, of joys born of you, O Lord, her Spouse. She smiled at me to give me courage as though she were saying, “Can you not do what these men and women do? Do you think they find the strength to do it in themselves and not in the Lord their God?... Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail? Cast yourself upon God and have no fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall. Cast yourself upon him without fear, for he will welcome you and cure you of your ills.”

Can you hear the encouragement of God, the gentleness, the hope? This is how God speaks to someone striving to grow in holiness.

Do you see why it’s so important to know which voice to listen to? What would have happened if St. Augustine listened to the wrong voices during this time in his life? What happens when you or I listen to the wrong voice? It can mean all the difference in the world.

Depending on the state of life that we are in God can speak in very different ways. The God of the “Old Testament” and the God of the “New Testament” are in fact the same. In different times and states of our spiritual life we need both.

Which Rule applies to you right now? Are you going from mortal sin to mortal sin or are you intensely cleansing their sins and rising from good to better. The voice of God will be very different in each case. The truth is that God knows there are times when we need to be roused from sin and times when we need to be assured in grace. Both are the voice of love and knowing which is the voice of God will make all the difference.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Homily: If you were to die today, what would your obituary say?

If you were to die today what would your obituary say?

St. Paul wrote his obituary before he died. We heard it today in the second reading.

Beloved:I am already being poured out like a libation,and the time of my departure is at hand.I have competed well; I have finished the race;I have kept the faith.

This was what was most important to St. Paul and what he wanted his obituary to read… “I have kept the faith.” Obituaries tell us what was most important in people’s lives. Often times it lists their family members, parents, brothers and sisters. And maybe their place of employment or hobbies. But they rarely speak of what St. Paul is getting at and what ought to be the way that we define ourselves. Jesus is our most important relationship.
Our faith is the best legacy we can leave behind. Will your obituary say anything about your faith and love for the Lord? Will your family, friends, and loved ones see and perceive this as something you want to be remembered by?

If you were to die today, what would your obituary say?

Is there anything you are doing in your life right now that you would not want to be in your obituary? Stop doing that thing, you are writing your obituary every day by the way that you live your life.

Are you competing well and running the race of faith so as to win? Is there anything that you need to do differently in your faith life so that your obituary will read “I have kept the faith?”
If you were to die today what would your obituary say?

We are writing our obituaries every day by the way that we live our lives and by the people and things that we give the most value in our lives. Is faith at the center of it?
You have the opportunity to live a life of faith and to write a legacy that others will remember you by.

If you were to die today, what would your obituary say?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Scary Poor Guy

“Lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.”

On the grounds of St. Barnabas we have a statue that looks like a homeless man begging for money. It has recently been moved closer to the front entrance of the church. This, needless to say, has caused some anxiety. I’ve noticed as people walk by it. Especially if it is their first time seeing it, they are noticeably disturbed. I can see the repulsed look on their face, the questioning eyes, the tensing of their body and their body turning away with their head looking back over their shoulders literally walking as far away from it as possible. Sometimes people will even make big loops around the statue to avoid getting close. I’ve had a number of people ask me: “Father, what’s the deal with that statue? Why is there a scary poor guy there? It’s kind creepy, especially for the kids.” And then without any explanation I walk over to it, motion for them to come up close and bend down low. “Look close,” is all I say. And then momentarily, there is a wonderful moment of realization. They see the nail mark in his hand and begin to realize who it is. They get down lower and closer so they can see under the hood that it is the face of Christ. It’s very powerful.

I have to say at first glance I wasn’t sure about this statue either. But I think what makes it a work of art is that it is so effective in conveying the Gospel message and the reality of how we react to the poor. Clement Cody, who donated the statue, told me how the original sits on the steps of Ave Maria University, in Florida, near the Cleveland Clinic. Weekly the police would get a call about the bum on the stairs.

Think about the last time you saw a homeless person on the street, maybe you were going to the air show or an Indians game this summer or a Browns game more recently. How did you react when you saw a homeless person? What was your initial inclination? What did you feel? How did you respond?

I find that my natural reaction has been to avoid, to walk around them, even if need be to step over them.
That is why I think the statue is so effective. It has that same effect on us. It disturbs us. But, when we got over my initial fear, uneasiness, and avoidance and have the courage to approach the figure, stepping up close, we discover that not only is there nothing to be afraid of, but there’s actually something beautiful there. It is Christ disguised as the beggar.

I know that it’s always been very hard for me to approach the poor. I’ve been afraid of them, uncomfortable, and even disturbed by them at times. Wanting to avoid them, I’ve turned my face, stepped around them, and at times, even over them. But there have been people who have helped me to get over that fear and I have come to see the face of Christ right here in the poor of Cleveland.

The Labre project began when students from St. Ignatius High School set out in a van with some left over food and hot chocolate. They went into the streets of downtown Cleveland and gave the food away to the homeless people they saw who were often sleeping on the streets, alleys, and sidewalks. They discovered that they enjoyed the people they encountered on the streets so much so that they went out again the next Sunday; and continued to go out every Sunday after that. This has evolved into the Labre Project. The name comes for Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, the patron saint of homeless people. It was brought to John Carroll University by a group of Ignatius alumni in 2004 and has continued to grow since then. Now Students from Walsh Jesuit have joined by also taking an evening to care for the poor and meet them personally.

I was able to go with some of the students form John Carroll during one of their winter breaks. These students showed me something I will never forget. They know personally the poor people of Cleveland by name. They know where they live: under bridges, down valleys, in the woods, by the rail road tracks, and in shacks and tents beyond the “road closed” signs. Their purpose is not just to give them something to eat and a blanket to warm them up, but also to warm their spirits. They spend some time talking to them, praying with them, taking down notes of anything they need, and asking them if they can help with any social services or personal favors.

One of the men we met lived under a bridge. It was the dead of winter with beautiful thick snow falling down inches in a matter of hours. As the students walked closer they called out his name. There he lay stretched out on a shopping cart, converted to a fold out bed, with mattress and sleeping bag. He opened up his hooded sweatshirt a little from around his face and a puff of fog came from his mouth. He was so grateful that these students came to see him. And you could tell that it was a regular occurrence. He smiled, his eyes began to tear up, and talked and joked with us. “Hard times, he said, but I’m doing all right, I’m actually really warm in here.” “Anything you need?” our guide asked who was a nineteen year old young lady, with long hair, an upbeat personality, and an extrovert, to say the least. “How ‘bout a blanket?” she asked. “No, I’m good” he said, “There’s probably someone else colder than I am. Save it for them.” This homeless man turned down an extra blanket for the chance of someone else needing it more than he did. He did take a fresh pair of socks and some hot soup though. As we talked, I noticed how gentle he was with the young students, and how concerned they were about him.

In a matter of a few hours, our van covered the east side, while the second van went to the near west side. On the west side, we probably saw a dozen people like that before finishing at one of the drop in centers that sheltered people overnight. Each homeless person kindly helping me see, “Christ is in the poor, do not be afraid to approach him.” These dedicated college students introduced me personally to the poor of Cleveland. Hopefully, I will never have to turn my head from them, walk around them, avoid them, or step over them again.

Today’s Gospel reading haunts me:

'My child, remember that you received
what was good during your lifetime
while Lazarus likewise received what was bad;
but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented.
Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established
to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go
from our side to yours or from your side to ours.'

How do we prevent this chasm from beginning in our lives? We prevent the chasm by eliminating the rift that exists between us and the poor in this life. When we see someone poor on the streets and turn our heads, we create the chasm. When we live very comfortable and elaborate lives failing to care for the poor and the needy, we are digging that chasm. When we encounter poor literally at our feet and fail to acknowledge them, stoop down to them, and see Christ in them, we are deepening the chasm.

Christ does come to us disguised as the poor beggar. We can only get over that fear if we come to know him. I know of no better way than meeting them personally. We, here in the Diocese of Cleveland, are blessed with many ways of doing this:

-The Labre program is one way to meet the poor.

Read quotes from others experiences

-Another of my personal favorites is the West Side Catholic Center Here you can cook for the poor, give them clothing, register them, or just share a meal with them and learn their story.

-Cleveland Catholic Charities does just about everything that you can imagine for the poor and disadvantaged

-And, here locally at our parish (and likely at your own parish) is the St. Vincent de Paul Program (Call the main office 330.467.7959 and ask for Mike, from St. Vincent de Paul). There are poor right here in our parish and in our area who come to the doorsteps of the church.

If we avoid caring for the poor both personally and financially, we deepen the chasm between us and God in everlasting life. I know that meeting the poor helped me personally to get over the fear. Do you avoid the poor? Do you give to them on a regular basis? Are you willing to give up some comfort so that other’s may be comforted? If the answer is no, then maybe one of these programs will help you see in them the Body of Christ. And the next time you see “the poor lying at your door” you will not avoid them, but encounter them, comfort them, see the face of Christ in them, and help destroy the chasm that exists between us.