Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent Journey Making some adjustments along The Way

The Lord be with you… and with you [Now] and with your spirit.

You notice this weekend that we have begun using the New Translation of the Roman Missal.  The Church found that what we were using here in the United States was a little off so an adjustment is needed. 

The prophet Isaiah proclaims in today’s first reading: “Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not?”

Life is a journey and sometimes we need to make adjustments along the way.  For some reason in God’s plan of freedom he does allow us to “Wander”. 

There is a movie that I’m very excited to see called “The Way”  If you haven’t heard of it yet it is a movie directed by Emilio Estevez and his real life father Martin Sheen (Who by the way is a Devout Catholic and took his screen name after Fulton Sheen). 

The movie opens with a scene of father, Tom, and son, Daniel, driving to the airport.  The son is begging his father: “You should fly with me… Come on a father son trip it will be fun.” 

“When you coming back?”  His father asks. 

“I don’t know.”

“So you don’t have a plan?...  You know most people don’t have the luxury of just picking up and leaving it all behind.”

“Well I’m not most people.”

“My life here might not seem like much to you, but it’s the life I choose.”

“You don’t choose a life dad, you live one.”

Sometime later the father receives a phone call that his son was dead.  He was killed in an accident during a freak storm in the Pyrenees while making the Camino de Santiago de Campostela, the centuries-old pilgrimage route to the Cathedral of St. James in Santiago, Spain. The father goes to France to reclaim his son's body. When he learns that his son was making "the Way" - the traditional name for the pilgrimage - Tom impulsively decides to take his son's backpack and gear and to complete the pilgrimage in Daniel's memory.  

Though he prefers to keep to himself, Tom finds himself journeying with three other pilgrims - all very different personalities, all with their own reasons for undertaking the 800-kilometer trek: A bitter Canadian divorcee treks to St. James to quit smoking, but finds forgiveness and acceptance along the way; a gregarious Dutchman wants to shed his excess weight, but discovers the kindness and joy within him; an Irish writer is looking for a story for a novel but rediscovers his lost faith; and Tom goes to spread Daniel's ashes but comes to a new understanding and loving respect for his son.           

Their journey is quietly transforming.  Tom along with the others find that their hardened hearts begin to break and soften. During their trek, Tom and his fellow travelers help one another discover the difference between "the life we live and the life we choose."

We can’t always choose the life that we are living, but we can choose to live it differently.  Advent is a time to make some adjustments along the journey.  Just as the Church realized that we needed to make adjustments to the way that we pray the mass, we too need to look at our own lives and make adjustments along the way. 

As we enter into this Season of Advent are there any adjustments that you need to make in your life? 

Are there any adjustments that you need to make in the way that you pray? 

Are there any adjustments that you need to make as you continue the journey and prepare for the Second Coming? 

Allow this time of Advent to be a retreat for you, a preparation for Christmas.  Commit to some time to pray or learn a new way of praying. 

Go to a presentation at your parish. 

St. Joseph is having their annual Advent Day:

Advent Day 2011 - Sunday, Nov. 27th

Join us in the Social Hall for these activities!

Begin with LUNCH following Noon Mass (about 1:00 PM).

We’ll have salad, soup, sandwiches, & goodies for dessert!

Reservation can made at the parish office - 988-2848

At 1:45 PM, our own Fr. Michael will present:

“Enter the Manger: Contemplating Advent”

Do an online Advent Retreat:

Fr. Larry Gillick is an amazing priest that I met years ago and hosts one online:

Make a retreat:

            The Jesuit Retreat House in Parma

Go on your own pilgrimage to one of our shrines in Ohio and spend the day in prayer

Begin reading a good Spiritual Book:

Also Check out all of the links as you scroll down the right side of my blog. 

Read the latest edition of our newsletter with an article beautifully written by Diane Peabody about "The Journey". 

Make some adjustments to get back on the right path! 

Isaiah asks “Why do you let us wander Lord.”  Have you wandered from the path?
Isaiah asks “Why do you let us harden our hearts?”  Have your heart been hardened? 

This Advent can be a time for you to make the adjustments you need to continue the journey. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dr. Naft - A Teacher who Believed in Me

After a long time
the master of those servants came back
and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received five talents came forward
bringing the additional five.
He said, 'Master, you gave me five talents.
See, I have made five more.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, my good and faithful servant.
Since you were faithful in small matters,
I will give you great responsibilities.
Come, share your master's joy.'

As a priest I’m often given the opportunity to reflect on life.  It happened recently at a conference where we were called to share in small groups.  I have a friend in the seminary who jokes that he believes this is what hell will be like.  We were asked to share about the first time we had a teacher that really believed in us.  I knew who mine was right away.  Dr. Naft was my Speech teacher in my first year of college at Tri-C.  Now I have to tell you that I was not thrilled about speech class.  I was terrified to have to speak in front of other people.  I remember I was sweating bullets, nervous, legs shaking for my first speeches.  But he saw something in me and said something to me in a way that I’d never heard before.  “Michael you have a gift for this.”  It was the first time in my life that I’d ever heard someone say something like that to me… it wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I heard a teacher say that he actually believed in me.  I have never forgotten that moment. 

            In the weeks since then I have thought about Dr. Naft often and thought I should let him know what I’m doing now.  I should let him know what a profound affect he had on me.  So I decided to look him up.  I tried Facebook… No.  LinkedIn… No.  Twitter… No.  I wasn’t finding him anywhere so I had to go the old fashioned way… I found him in the phone book!  He lives in Solon.  So one evening around 9 O’clock at night I was finishing up with all of the stuff that I “had to do” in the office and could now get to something that I wanted to do.  I nervously waited as the phone rang and a woman answered.  I asked if Dr. Naft was there: “Who’s this?” she said as if expecting a telemarketer.  I said “Well, I don’t think he will know me, but I think I was one of his students.  Did he teach at Tri-C around 2001?”  “I’ll put him on,” she responded. 

            I recognized his voice immediately and began introducing myself as “Fr. Denk”.  I said that I had him back in 2001 and he said: “Well I’ve been retired quite a while.”  I said in a very gentle warm tone “Dr. Naft, I wouldn’t expect you to remember me because I’m a lot different now than I was back then.  But you were the first teacher that ever told me that I had a gift… you were the first one that I knew ever believed in me.  And I just wanted you to know what an impact that has had on me over the years.  I want you to know that I use that gift all the time now… I’m a Catholic Priest and I have to get up in front of hundreds of people every Sunday and Preach.  I’ve also been asked to preach for Catholic Relief Services to priests in other diocese and am often asked to speak at other parishes and events.  I just wanted you to know that you helped me discover this gift.” 

            I turns out that he’s Jewish!  But he loved that I called.  We had the most wonderful 15 minute conversation.  I could tell by his voice that he absolutely delighted in me.  He said “Well I did have a knack for seeing things in people.”  And just the idea that one of his students was using the gift of speech brought him such great joy.  He even offered to take me out to lunch just to hear more about it.  There was so much joy that was shared... me in what I was doing and in what he had done for me, and he seeing some of the fruit of his years of teaching.
How much more does God delight in us?  God, the Father, who created us… who knows us… whose Spirit shapes us and molds us.  Imagine what it will be like for us after this long journey of faith when we finally come to that last moment when we meet our maker and we say: “God, look at all that I have done with the gifts you’ve given me.” 
In the Parable of the Talents we hear that a man went on a long journey and came back to see what his servants had done with the talents that he had given to them.  The interesting thing is that when the master discovers what they have done with their talents he not only gave them more but he ended each time with this phrase: “Come and share your master’s joy!” 
God takes such joy in us when we use our gifts. 

Now here’s the part for you to think about.  Have you ever had an experience like this when someone helped you to realize your gifts?  It’s a wonderful thing when we realize that we do have gifts, that there are people that believe in us, and that our talents will bring God, ourselves, and the world great joy.

First, do you know what your talents are?  God has given each and every one of us gifts and talents.  In a special way you have been given a gift.  Do you know what it is?  God created you, shaped you, molded you into being and continues to work in your life.  He has gifted you with something that is very special to Him and very personal to you.  Do you realize the talent that He has given to you? 

Second, are you using your talent?  God gave us these gifts and talents to be used for the life of the world.  In some way we can use our gifts and talents to serve God and to build up the Kingdom of God.  Are you using your gifts? 

Finally, is there fruit?  Just as we hear in the parable today one servant says: 'Master, you gave me five talents. See, I have made five more.'  The other “Master you gave me two talents.  See, I have made you two more.”  When we use the talents that we have been given there will be an increase… there will be a fruitfulness… there will be an abundance.  This is the way of really determining if we know our gifts and are using them.  You see life wasn’t meant to be a drudgery… it is supposed to be enjoyed.  When we use our talents we will find that God is going to bless us more and more.  We will be using them in ways that we never imagined.  If there isn’t this fruit, this joy in your life… maybe you haven’t been using your talents.  Maybe you haven’t yet discovered your giftedness.  Pray that God will send someone into your life that will help you to see them.  Ask God what your talent is.  Ask God what he is calling you to in this Life.  And you will discover your true vocation. 

And just like the master after he returned from his long journey.  God, our master, will take great delight in us when we share with him all that we have done with the talents that He has given to us.  Imagine that moment when we meet our Maker, when we see God face to face, and he says…

“Well done, good and faithful servant, come and share your master’s joy!” 

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Praying in Your Sleep

Is God the last thing that you think about before you go to bed and the first thing you think about when you wake up in the morning?  

Sometimes I have difficulty falling asleep and I was going through one of those spurts a couple of weeks ago.  When I mentioned it to Fr. Larry he gave me a good suggestion.  He gently said: “Tonight, when you’re trying to fall asleep meditate on the Good Shepherd.  He’ll protect you.  He’s got you inside the gate.  Whatever you are worried about leave it outside the gate and just rest with him.”  

So that night as I was trying to go to sleep I did that.  It was such a simple suggestion, but it worked.  As I was going to sleep anything that caused me any anxiety I just imagined leaving it outside of the gate and the Good Shepherd closing the gate and saying “Don’t worry about that, it will be there tomorrow, just rest with me.”  I had to do this a number of times with all the things I was worried about, until finally I could just be with him, no worries, no carries, just rest.  I slept like a baby.  I woke up the next morning peaceful, joyful, and grateful.  There was something very wonderful about being able to sleep safe in the care of the Good Shepherd.  

What do you fall asleep thinking about at night?  

What was different about that night?  

What was different about that night is that I fell asleep meditating on the truth.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He’s got us in his care.  We are inside the gate, safe, protected, nothing to worry about.  Just graze in the green grass beside restful waters.  Much better than being focused on what I have to do in the morning, being worried about something I did or something someone said, thinking about something I had just read in the news, or seen on TV.  

Jesus tells us to pray always… Does that mean even when we are resting or sleeping?

Here are some excerpts from today’s readings that do indicate that we can and meditate on God from the time that we go to bed until the time that we wake up in the morning. 

Psalm 63
I will remember you upon my couch,
and through the night-watches I will meditate on you:
The psalmist delights in remembering God in times of rest.  “I will remember you upon my couch.” 
What’s the first thing that you do when you lay down on the couch?
 Grab the paper?  Grab the remote?  Grab the bag of chips?  What if that became a time just to rest with the Lord?  What if instead of grabbing the remote and just numbing yourself in TV you remembered the Lord for a moment?  

Here are just a few ways of doing this.  Sit for some time in silence and just rest.  Enjoy the sun coming through the window, or the sound of silence.  Notice the trees outside.  Delight that you finally have this time to rest with the Lord.  Thank Him for something good in your day.  Keep your bible on the coffee table so you can pick it up and meditate on one of the psalms or your favorite parable.  Pray the Rosary meditating on the life of Christ.  Spend some time journaling or reflecting.  How will this transform your afternoon or evening?  Can you imagine the peace, the rejuvenation, the joy?  

and through the night-watches I will meditate on you:
What if you kept some of these things by your bed so that when you wake up in the middle of the night instead of worrying or tossing and turning or watching an infomercial, you could meditate on the Lord? 
Maybe it’s a picture of the good shepherd, or an image of Jesus, an icon or painting.  You could fall asleep to your favorite parable, psalm, the creation story, or meditating on the daily readings or best of all the reading for the upcoming Sunday.  Wouldn’t that bring much more peace than watching those late night infomercials: Ms. Cleo’s Psychic hotline, Ginsu steak knife, ShamWow, or the Snuggie?  

How much deeper could our sleep be if we immersed ourselves in Jesus and meditated on Him in those last moments of consciousness? 

The book of Wisdom invites us:
and whoever for her sake keeps vigil
shall quickly be free from care;

The dictionary defines a vigil as this: A vigil (from the Latin vigilia, meaning wakefulness) is a period of purposeful sleeplessness, an occasion for devotional watching, or an observance. The Italian word vigilia has become generalized in this sense and means "eve"

Do you have this “purposeful sleeplessness?”  This time of “devotional watching” sometime in the evening? 

In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus warns us in the parable of the 10 virgins with the lamp:
Since the bridegroom was long delayed,
they all became drowsy and fell asleep.
At midnight, there was a cry,
stay awake,
for you know neither the day nor the hour."

The catechism makes it very clear that if we don’t make the time for prayer it isn’t going to happen. 
The choice of the time and duration of the prayer arises from a determined will, revealing the secrets of the heart. One does not undertake contemplative prayer only when one has the time: one makes time for the Lord, with the firm determination not to give up, no matter what trials and dryness one may encounter. One cannot always meditate, but one can always enter into inner prayer, independently of the conditions of health, work, or emotional state.  (2710)

Finally, what is the first thing that you do when you wake up in the morning? 

Is Jesus the first thing that we think of when we wake up in the morning? 

In today’s 1st reading from the book of Wisdom we are given great hope that if we think of Him first in the morning, he will be there for us all day…
Whoever watches for her at dawn shall not be disappointed,
for he shall find her sitting by his gate.

What if the first thing that we did when we woke up I the morning was meditated on Jesus?  Imagine how our day would be transformed if before we did anything else… check our phone for texts, emails, missed calls, read the paper, turned on the TV… we prayed.  

This could be as simple as opening the bible to that favorite psalm or parable of yours.  Maybe it just kneeling down beside your bed and saying your favorite prayer.  I always begin my day by lying down prostrate before the crucifix and giving my day, my life to the Lord.  If we did something like this we would find him “wisdom sitting by our gate.”  We would find the Lord right there at our bedroom door just sitting and waiting to join us and be with us throughout our day.  

Jesus can be the last thing that we think of before we go to bed at night and the first thing that we think of when we wake up in the morning and Oh how much more peaceful, joyful, and prayerful our lives would really be.