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.