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.