Monday, December 29, 2014

Mark Wahlberg and The Secret to a Holy Family


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A few days before Christmas, Mark Wahlberg was on the Kelly and Michael Show, now Kelly and Michael. And us -- my generation know him better as Marky Mark from Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Yeah, you got that? But he's gone on to be the professional Mark Wahlberg, and he really is. He's an outstanding actor. And believe it or not, he's an outstanding Catholic.

I'm actually going to use him and his model of family for the image of the Holy family. So for those of you who don't know who Mark Wahlberg is, you might know him when I name some of the movies. He was in Boogie Nights, Three Kings, The Perfect Storm, Planet of the Apes, Rock Star, The Italian Job. He won an Academy Award for the best supporting actor in The Departed. He was in The Other Guys, The Fighter. You might know him from Ted, that movie with the teddy bear that was really bad and obscene, and Transformers: Age of Extinction. Some of the kids might know him from Transformers.

So he was on Kelly and Michael. And as he was being interviewed, they asked him, "What are you going to do for the holidays?" And when he got on to the show, he said by the way, "Merry Christmas" to everybody, and Kelly and Michael were very quick to say, "Happy Holidays." And he said, "Merry Christmas," like three or four times, and every time they corrected him "Happy Holidays" to be politically correct.

And so they asked him, "What are you going to do for Christmas?" And he said, "We're going to spend Christmas in our house and then we're going to Barbados for vacation with my wife and family. I was thinking about somewhere cold and kind of scenic where there is snow and let the kids snowboard, and my wife said that would be the end of our marriage. My wife is from Florida and she only likes warm weather. I'm happy to take my wife wherever she wants to go."

So they had a sneak peek of their holiday picture. So you know you have the family picture everybody sends out for Christmas now, where you have all the kids and mom and dad, and everybody looks beautiful and happy. So they showed this picture, and it was beautiful. And all of a sudden you hear everybody on the set laughing, because when they showed the picture, Kelly said, "You know what? Everybody is smiling, but you look like you are in pain."

And Mark Wahlberg said, "Yes, I was in pain because trying to get these kids to sit down and pose for a picture when all they want to do is play. And of course, that's the one picture out of 500 that my wife chooses, right, the one where I'm looking like that. And of course she wants to go from one location to the other and all these different sets and costumes and dresses, and all the kids want to do is play, and they're running around like crazy. You can't make them do some organized photo shoot.

"So it's going crazy, and I'm yelling at them, and everybody is all over the place, and that's the picture that she chooses. And my wife still manages to get a smirk while all of that is going on. She loves the holidays.

"You know, I want to push the religious aspect of Christmas a little bit more, like no gifts and, hey, let's go to church."

And Kelly said, "How did that work out for you?"

He goes, "The same way as the winter vacation. I'm not suggesting anything anymore."

So he went on to talk about how he's been really changing his life. So he's removed, for the last seven years, he's been trying to remove all of his tattoos. And he, you know, as some of you may know, lived a very bad life after he was out of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. He went on to do some pretty bad things, and he actually went to jail and he did some time and he hurt some people. He did some pretty horrible things. He's had a huge conversion. And he goes on now to be famous, right? He's really made it as a famous movie star, but he says that "being Catholic is the most important aspect of my life."

He said this at an interview:

Once I focused on my faith, wonderful things started happening to me. And I don't mean professionally. That's not what that's about. These days I'll be in church and people come up to me and say -- now, remember he's Catholic, and being in a Catholic church, and people come up to him and say, "Do you mind if I sit and pray with you?" And they will start praying, and it will turn out that they're praying for their new movie to be a success or whatever. I'm like, this is not what I'm here for. For me to sit down and ask for material things is ridiculous. It's much bigger than that. I want to serve God and to be a good human being and to make up for the mistakes that I made and the pain that I put people through. That's what I am praying for, and that's what I recommend to anybody.

His whole life changed when he centered his life on prayer, on his faith and on his family. He stayed focused on what was most important in life, and his career followed that path.

Wahlberg goes on to say, "Being a good actor or good producer, that's not going to help me sleep at night, or is not going to help me get into heaven. The most important thing from where I sit is to be a good father, a good husband, and a good human being -- a man who helps his fellow man and raises his kids to be good human beings too. Every single aspect of my family life is joy."

He loves his family. Remember, this is coming from the successful actor. So often we see people when they get success, they get the fame, what happens to their married life and their families? It usually falls apart. He's got something right here.

So how does he stay so focused when he's this man of Hollywood? He's rich. He's famous. He can fly to all these places for vacation. And it goes back to his faith. He actually has a spiritual director. So Father Flavin is his parish priest. And Father Flavin has known Mark Wahlberg since he was 13 years old. He's known him for all these years. He helped him when he was in jail.

Wahlberg said, "He's been in life since I was 13. He married me and my wife and baptized all of my children," and he also helped him to lead and guide him in some of the movie choices that he makes. And, no, he's not always been in great movies, but Wahlberg says that helps show some of the humanity. One of the most powerful things about it is his daily life.

So, he begins every day in prayer and he goes to daily mass. And if he can't go to daily mass for some reason, he goes into whatever local Catholic church he can find, and he spends ten minutes in prayer and spends some quality time with Jesus.

So he said, "The first thing I do when I start my day is I get down on my hands and knees and I give thanks to God." So he gets down on his hands and knees and thanks God for his life. "If I can start my day off by saying my prayers and getting myself focused, then I know I'm doing the right thing. That ten minutes helps me in every way throughout the day." So he begins every day with ten minutes in prayer.

Mark Wahlberg and his family and his faith are witnesses to Hollywood, and I think to all of us, of what it truly means to be a holy family and how Jesus will really help and lead us and guide us through the crazy world that we live in. If he can lead and guide Mark Wahlberg through the craziness he's been through, believe me, he can lead and guide each and every one of us through whatever craziness we face.

So today we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family.

When I was born, my mother, she did this with all six of us, but she kind of consecrated us to God. With each one of us, she blessed us and asked God for these three things. She said, "Please help my child to be holy, healthy and happy," in that order. To be holy, healthy and happy. That was her prayer for each one of us when we were born. And the truth is, it does need to be in that order. Holiness first, healthiness and then happiness.

Sometimes we get mixed up if we go in the opposite order and we want happiness first or healthiness first, and we kind of put holiness on the back burner. Holiness has to come first.

What does it mean to have a holy family? When we hear in the scripture today, "God sets a father in honor over his children." So think about this. Mark Wahlberg is a spiritual leader of his family. He is the one that is leading family in the faith. The truth is, in our faith tradition, it's always been the father figure that has been the teacher, the primary teacher of the faith. We even say this at baptisms, that the father, that he be not only the primary teacher, but the best teachers of the faith. The father is really supposed to be the one that leads the family in the faith. And I think the difficulty so often we've gotten our priorities mixed up.

Oftentimes, when I'll bury a father, their children will tell me about what was important to him, and they will say to me, "My father never missed a day of work in his whole life." And they think -- that's a wonderful virtue by the way. But they say that's what he prided above all. He never missed a day of work in his whole life. Now, he didn't go to church or he didn't really pray to God, or anything like that. He was a good guy, but he never missed a day of work in his whole life. Did that father help his children get into heaven? No. He missed the boat, totally. He focused his whole life thinking he was doing good, thinking that work was the most important thing. But the most important thing is not work. It's God.

Imagine if a child said to me, "My father never missed a mass a day of his whole life," or say, "He never missed a Sunday mass or Holy day a day in his whole life." You've got 52 masses a year, plus the Holy days. Let's say 60. You times that by 80. That's -- what is that? Eight times six. What is it? Somebody yell it loud that can do math.


Four hundred eighty thousand. 480. Yeah, but like 80 years. Is that it? Forty-eight hundred. Thank you. None of you know math.

So imagine if 4800 times God was put first. Now, I know all of you today on Sunday, Sunday mass right now, you have given up something to be here, right? Maybe it's -- maybe you could have slept in. I don't know what it is. You've given up something to be here Sunday, and Sunday after Sundayafter Sunday after Sunday you've given up something. You have chosen holiness over something else 4800 times over your whole life.

Then we hear in the second reading, "Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord forgives, so must you do. And over all these put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts."

That's what truly holiness is, when the peace of Christ is at the center of our lives and he controls our hearts.

"Let the word of God dwell richly in you." How does that happen? It happens by coming to mass every Sunday and hearing the word of God. And as Mark Wahlberg did, every day spending ten minutes letting the word of God dwell richly in us.

"Singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs in gratitude in your hearts to God."

So we hear, you know, Jesus made it very simple. He said if you want to get to heaven, there's only two commandments. The first is love God with all of your heart, all of your mind and all of your soul. And the second is love your neighbor as yourself. These are the two commandments, and all of the commandments fall under these.

I think the problem is we've lost the first one: Love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul. That's what makes us holy. We just kind of focused on the second one, which is the good-guy heresy, I'd like to say. Just be a good guy and that's enough. That's wonderful, but if you are not loving God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, you're failing, we're failing in our priorities.

So finally we hear in the Gospel, Jesus is consecrated. He's taken to the temple. So right after he is born, Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the temple and they lay him down in the altar. Now, the altar was always a symbol of sacrifice. So in the temple back in those times, 2000 years ago, they would sacrifice animals. And that's why they were taking a pair of turtle doves. They would sacrifice animals for God to make atonement for their sins.

Jesus, they actually took Jesus to the altar and laid him on the altar and they gave their son to God. And that's when we heard Simeon say, "Now you let your servant go in peace, for your word has been fulfilled."

Notice for Mary, she chose holiness first, but happiness didn't follow, because we hear in the Gospel the prophet says to her, "In your heart, Mary, a sword shall pierce." Mary would experience pain by giving her child to God. Holiness would not ultimately lead, in all cases, to happiness. I'm sure there were many happy occasions for Mary, but she's known as the sorrowful mother because holiness came first.

So the truth is, for all of us, that's the order, the priority that we ought to have with our families: Holy, healthy and happy. We want all three. And hopefully we do have all three, but they have to come in order. And sometimes healthiness and happiness don't happen, but holiness can always happen.

And just as Mark Wahlberg had been living a horrible life, and he was saved and kind of turned back to God, his whole life changed and he took once more that role of being the spiritual father of the family. He's the one that insists that Christmas really is about Christ. He's the one that insists on daily prayer and going to mass together as a family and really focusing on what Christmas is really about. He's the one that goes on a talk show and says, "Merry Christmas" when everybody else says "Happy Holidays." Something has changed in him.

So for all of us, in order for us to have holy families, we truly do need to keep our priorities in order. I think we can do that by Sunday mass, maybe even daily mass, and by at least daily prayer by taking ten minutes, getting down on our knees as we start our day and asking God to help make us and our families holy, happy and healthy.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas!

Mike Christmas Tag 4x6

The Crippled Lamb Christmas Homily

the crippled lamb
The Crippled Lamb. By Max Lucado

Once upon a time in a sunny valley, there lived a little lamb named Joshua.
He was white with black spots, black feet, and … sad eyes.

Josh felt sad when he saw the other lambs with snow-white wool and no spots.

He felt sad when he saw the other sheep with their moms and dads because he didn’t have a mom or dad.

But he felt saddest when he saw the other lambs running and jumping, because he couldn’t.

Josh had been born with one leg that didn’t work right. He was crippled. He always limped when he walked.

That’s why he always watched while the other lambs ran and played. Josh felt sad and alone – except when Abigail was around.

Abigail was Josh’s best friend. She didn’t look like a friend for a lamb. She was an old cow.

She was brown with white blotches that looked like rain puddles on a path.

Her belly was as round as a barrel, and her voice was always kind and friendly.

Some of Josh’s Favorite hours were spent with Abigail.

They loved to pretend they were on adventures in distant lands.  Josh liked to listen to Abigail tell stories about the stars.

They would spend hours on the hill, looking into the valley. They were good friends. But even with a friend like Abigail, Josh still got sad.

It made him sad to be the only lamb who could not run and jump and play in the grass.

That’s when Abigail would turn to him and say:
"Don’t be sad, little Joshua. God has a special place for those who feel left out."

Josh wanted to believe her. But it was hard. Some days he just felt alone.  He really felt alone the day the shepherds decided to take the lambs to the next valley where there was more grass.  The sheep had been in the valley so long, the ground was nearly bare.

All the sheep were excited when the shepherd told them they were going to a new meadow.

As they prepared to leave, Josh hobbled over and took his place on the edge of the group.

But the others started laughing at him.

"You’re too slow to go all the way to the next valley."

"Go back, Slowpoke. We’ll never get there if we have to wait on you!"

"Go back Joshua, you can’t keep up with us."

That’s when Joshua looked up and saw the shepherd standing in front of him.

"They are right, my little Joshua. Go and spend the night in the stable."

Josh looked at the man for a long time. Then he turned slowly and began limping away.

When Josh got to the top of the hill, he looked down and saw all the other sheep headed toward the green grass. Never before had he felt so left out.  A big tear slipped out of his eye, rolled down his nose, and fell on a rock.

Just then he heard Abigail behind him. And Abigail said what she always said when Joshua was sad.

"Don’t be sad, little Joshua. God has a special place for those who feel left out.”

Slowly the two friends turned and walked to the stable together.
By the time they got to the little barn, the sun was setting like a big orange ball. Josh and Abigail went inside and began to eat some hay out of the feed box.

They were hungry and the hay tasted good.

For a little while, Joshua forgot he had been left behind.

"Go to sleep little friend," Abigail said, after they'd finished eating, "you’ve had a hard day."

Josh was tired. So he lay down in the corner on some straw and closed his eyes. He felt Abigail lie down beside him, and he was glad to have Abigail as a friend.

Soon Josh was asleep. At first he slept soundly, curled up against Abigail’s back.

In his sleep he dreamed. He dreamed of running and jumping just like the other sheep. He dreamed of long walks with Abigail through the valley. He dreamed of being in a place where he never felt left out.

Suddenly strange noises woke him up.

"Abigail," he whispered: "wake up. I’m scared!"

Abigail lifted her big head and looked around.  The stable was dark except for a small lamp hanging on the wall.

"Somebody is in here," Josh Whispered.

They looked across the dimly lighted stable. There, lying on some fresh hay in the feed box, was a baby. A young woman was resting on a big pile of hay beside the feed box.

Joshua looked at Abigail, thinking his friend could tell him what was going on.
But Abigail was just as surprised as Josh.

Josh looked again at the women and the child, then limped across the stable.

He stopped next to the mother and looked into the baby’s face. The baby was crying. He was cold. The women picked up the baby and put him on the hay next to her.

Josh looked around the stable for something to keep the baby warm. Usually there were blankets. But not tonight. The shepherds had taken them on their trip across the valley.

Then Josh remembered his own soft, warm wool. He walked over and curled up close to the baby.

"Thank you, little lamb," the baby's mother said softly.

Soon the little child stopped crying and went back to sleep.

About that time, a man entered the stable carrying some rags.

"So sorry Mary," he explained, "but this is all the cover I could find."

"It’s okay," she answered, "this little lamb has kept the new king warm."

Joshua looked at the baby and wondered who he might be.

"His name is Jesus," Mary spoke as if she knew Josh's Question: "God’s son. He came from heaven to teach us about God."

Just then there was a noise at the door. It was the shepherds, the ones who had left Joshua behind.

There eyes were big and they were excited: "We saw a bright light and heard the angels," they began.
Then they saw Joshua next to the baby.

"Joshua! Do you know who this baby is?"

"He does now!" It was a young mother who was speaking. She looked at Joshua and smiled.

"God has heard your prayers little one. This little baby is the answer."

Joshua looked down at the baby. Somehow he knew this was a special child, and this was a special moment.

He also understood why he had been born with a crippled leg. Had he been like the other sheep, he would have been in the valley. But since he was different, he was in the stable, among the first to welcome Jesus into the world.

He turned and walked back to Abigail and took his place beside his friend.

"You were right he told her, God does have a special place for me!"


"Somehow he knew this was a special child, and this was a special moment."

This is a very special moment and you are in a very special place.

As the altar is prepared and the gifts of bread and wine are brought forth, we will be brought to the stable.  The the laying on of the hands and the prayers of the priest the gifts of bread and wine will be transformed into the "Real Presence" the very "Body and Blood" of Christ.

This altar becomes the Stable where Christ is born for us.

And he has a special place for you and for me, especially those who are weakest among us.

If you can relate to the crippled lamb, then especially now at this time The Baby Jesus longs to be close to you.  Your weakness, your illness, your brokenness, your sinfulness will not keep him away from you.  Rather, it is that very wound that brings Him close to you.

The Baby Jesus needs and desires your warmth, your comfort, your brokenness and uniqueness like no others.

Today on this altar He is born for you.

He came ultimately for the lost sheep.  And maybe you find yourself lost spiritually.   Maybe you have been away from the faith, or from the church or from the Sacraments.  This is a very special time and this is a very special place.  Maybe because of one reason or another you are unable to receive communion this Christmas or maybe you have been disillusioned or disappointed by the church or have felt abandoned by the church: "God has a special place for those who feel left out."

No matter what your weakness, or disability, or difference, or addiction, or sin is, He has permitted it so that He can meet you in it.  He wants to be "warmed" by you and close to you in your brokenness.  You don't have to suffer alone.

If you have been away from the Sacraments maybe now is the special time and the special place to come back.

Every church has regularly scheduled confession times and you can always call and make a special appointment to meet with the priest.  Find out how here. 

Maybe you are reading this and you aren't Catholic, but would like to be.  All are welcome into our faith and all are welcome to receive the Eucharist, but there is a process of initiation.  It's called the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation).  You can do this at any parish or with any priest.

Maybe it is just a situation you are in, a divorce, or an invalid marriage, a sexual relationship outside of marriage.  Maybe you have been abused or abandoned.  Maybe you have felt rejection by those who are supposed to love you the most... The Baby Jesus wants to be near you in your brokenness.  Your suffering becomes an entry way for Him to be born in you.

Many of us come to this Christmas Season struggling for different reasons: it could be depression, illness, grief of the loss of a loved one, a spouse or a child or a parent or a friend.  This is your "cripple"... that feeling of something being wrong, of being left behind, or left out, or in desolation.  That "cripple" is the very reason and the very place of intimacy that the Baby Jesus wants to be warmed by you and to warm you.

You are here providentially today at this special time and in this special place for a reason and for a purpose.

You are so loved by Jesus, by the Father, and by all of us.  You bring us and God warmth without realizing it and we are so grateful to have you here.

Some of you will come forward to receive communion today and in that moment as you take the Body and Blood of Christ into your mouth, as you are fed and nourished by God, Christ is born in you.  Christmas happens every time and with every person that receives communion.  You become one with Christ.  He is in you and you are in Him!  This is a very special time and a very special place.  God is taking on Flesh in and through you.  You become Christ.

You are Christ now.  And as you go out into the world you will be the one who finds the lost sheep, who is comforted and warmed by those who come to you with their wounds, their brokenness, and their sins.  Jesus makes a wonderful promise to us when he says:  "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father."

You will do greater things than the works that Jesus did!  Can you imagine that?  What a special time and a special Season!  What a gift we are given in the Eucharist.  What a blessing that he has called you here today for a very special purpose and he wants to change the world forever through you.

Just as Joshua looked down at the baby. Somehow he knew this was a special child, and this was a special moment.

He also understood why he had been born with a crippled leg. Had he been like the other sheep, he would have been in the valley. But since he was different, he was in the stable, among the first to welcome Jesus into the world.

He turned and walked back to Abigail and took his place beside his friend.

"You were right he told her, God does have a special place for me!"

And he does for you too!


You can purchase "The Crippled Lamb" here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Guadete Sunday: Grandma Markusic. The Father walks in front of us and guides us in our blindness.

blind pitfall

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Gaudete Sunday is my absolute favorite Sunday of the year because it truly is celebrating light coming into the darkness. So the third candle for Advent is lit, the rose-colored vestments are worn. Christmas is almost here. The darkness has almost come to an end.

I was reading about some of the darkest places in the world right now. So Scandinavia is one of the darkest places where it is night for almost the entire day. And yesterday was the Feast of Saint Lucy. And Saint Lucy was always celebrated on the shortest day of the year, the longest night of the year. And Saint Lucy is the Patron Saint of those who are blind and also the Patron Saint of those who need light in their lives.

Now, as I told you, I'm from Cleveland, and Cleveland is usually cloudy and dark. So, actually, last year I broke down and I bought one of those sunlamps, and it worked like a miracle last year. It was a wonderful saving grace. But I sit in front of the sunlamp and I just allow myself to soak it in. One of my priest friends says that I'm solar powered. He claims that I need have the sunlight or I start to, like, wilt away.
We all need the light. And the truth is, spiritually, we're in darkness.

Growing up, there were six kids in my family growing up, three boys, three girls. And my family all still lives in Parma, in the area, and it's great to have them together. But when we were growing up, when I was a teenager, my grandmother came to move in with us. So my grandmother was widowed and she was getting older and she came to move in with us. I loved my Grandma Markusic. It was wonderful to have her live with us. She was a holy woman and a wonderful woman, and very helpful. And one of the things I loved is she would do my laundry. So anytime that I had my laundry done, I would just bring them up and she would fold clothes for me.

Well, as she got older, she began to develop dementia and then she began to develop Alzheimer's, and then she had a stroke and she went blind in one eye, and a couple of months later she had another stroke and she went blind in the other eye and she was completely blind. And from that moment on, it was absolute darkness, and because she kind of struggled with the Alzheimer's and dementia, she was a little confused. She was thinking, "Could somebody please turn the lights on?" And we had to learn to lead her to the dining room, or if she had to go to the bathroom, to the bathroom. And you know, when we first started doing it, she would call out and we would come and we would take her hand, and she was a little reluctant to follow us. And we found out the reason why is that when you are totally blind and you have somebody following here, you don't know what's in front of you.

And so we learned that the best thing to do, actually, was to stand in front of her, to put both of our hands out like this, and to walk in front of her and lead her like this. And she knew that if you were walking in front of her, she wasn't going to run into anything. If there was a ditch, she wasn't going to fall into it, because you are going first. And it was actually a wonderful experience.

I remember many times taking her to the bathroom and she would call, she would say, "Michael," you know, whoever was around, and we would walk over to my grandmother and pick her up and take her by the arms and lead her like this, walk backwards, and she totally trusted us. It was wonderful that she would just walk with us right where she was going through her blindness. And I think it's a wonderful image.

So today on Gaudete Sunday, we celebrate the fact we hear John the Baptist say that he is not the light, but he is pointing to the light. And John the Baptist is saying, "Make straight the way the Lord." Make our pathways straight. And I think about that with my grandmother. You know, especially with the Denk household, with six kids, believe me, like, there were booby traps everywhere. There were toys everywhere. There were plenty of things she could have fallen on. But if we were leading her, she could faithfully trust that she was going to get to wherever she wanted to safely.

Now, the truth is, with all of us, we are in spiritual darkness. Because of sin we are all blind. And we're all blind more so than we have any idea. Completely blind. It's dark. Night. We can't get from point A to B without God's help or without getting way off path, or without falling on some obstacles. And the truth is we need Him. We need Jesus to take us by the hand.

But the wonderful thing is he doesn't walk beside us. He doesn't just take our hand and walk beside us. He actually does walk in front of us. He takes us by the hand and he leads us, and he goes first through whatever we're going through in life. So we don't have to worry about anything that we're facing. We don't have to worry about any obstacles that are in front of us because Jesus goes first, and he leads them through them.

So if you are going through any darkness in your life right now, if you are struggling with anything spiritually heavy, or maybe you're just struggling with the loss of someone you love or with depression or with addiction, or who knows what you are struggling with, we all have our crosses, but Christ is the light and he leads us. He walks through those darknesses first, so that we can ultimately walk with Him without any fear, without any trepidation, because he goes first.

So this week I'll be doing your parish mission. And I'm here tonight at 6:30 to 7:30; Monday, 6:30 to 7:30; and Tuesday, 6:30 to 7:30. So it's just an hour each night. And what I'm going to help you to do is realize that at each and every moment of your lives Christ is there, and all you have to do is reach out your hand and he will lead you through whatever it is you are going through. You don't have to do anything alone. We don't even have to let him walk beside us. He walks ahead of us. So if you are going through any darkness, if you feel distant from the Lord, if you just want to be reconnected with the Lord, this is a wonderful opportunity to do it.

And so I am a younger priest, and I'm kind of into some of the modern technology. And I've been working for a couple of years on developing an app. So I worked for two years, and I finally developed this app. And I was so excited to finish it, I went home and I told my parents, I said, "Mom and Dad, the app is done and it's on the market." And my dad goes, "What's an app?" He had no clue what I was talking about. So how many of you know what an app is? Raise your hand if you do. Okay, good. Most -- great, I think all of you do. Good. So if you don't know, it's on your Smartphone or tablet or device, or anything like that.

But, basically, I've created this app, and it is to help you really allow yourself to be led by Jesus throughout the day, day in and day out, at any time of the day, literally, you can call, you can call Jesus and ask him for advice, and he's going to walk you through it.
If you don't have an app or you don't have a Smartphone, come and bring a notebook and pen. You're still going to love it. And invite anybody that you can to come to it as well. And if you don't know how to do it, how to load the app on your thing, ask your grand kids or your kids, and they will show you how to do it. So I look forward to sharing a wonderful mission.

And part of what I always try to do is always tie it in with music and song and story. And so the song I want to end with today deals with darkness and light. It deals with what it's like to be blind and to have our sight restored. So if service could help me.

I got a ukulele when I was in Hawaii a couple of years ago, and it's become my favorite instrument. So I'm going to entertain you for a little bit with a ukulele. I think you're going to know this song, too. If you are really in the mood, you could even clap along, too. Don't feel like you have to.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone.

You know it?

I can see all the obstacles in my way

How about some clapping?

Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, there's nothin' but blue skies.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,

It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

Sing that.

It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

One more time.

It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

All right. Don't you feel, don't you feel better after that song? And Jesus does, he wants to be our light in the darkness. And that's what we are celebrating in this season of Advent, especially this Gaudete Sunday. It's going to be a bright sun-shiny day. That's my promise to you, if you come to the mission these next three nights, tonight, Monday night and Tuesday night, that truly, with the grace of God and the Holy Spirit, I will help to bring light into your darkness, and every day of your lives you can reach out and let God lead you through whatever it is you are going through.

So we celebrate this day, this Gaudete Sunday, and we rejoice that the light is overcoming the darkness.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I tried hard to find a live lamb... this was the next best thing!

fr michael denk lamb hat

"Like a shepherd, he feeds his flock. In his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care."

If you're friends with me on Facebook, you know I've been trying to find a lamb all week long for this homily. And if you are not friends with me on Facebook, please friend me because I am always desperate for things like this.

I wasn't able to find a lamb. I found out two things about lamb: First of all, lamb are baby sheep; and second of all, baby sheep don't come until the springtime. So it was kind of difficult for me to find a lamb. But there are some crazy things in the Rectory. So as I searched around the Rectory, I found something in Father Martello's closet that worked out pretty good for me.

"I am the lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world." You think this was in his closet? It wasn't. It was in mine, actually. They are adorable, aren't they? And then another parishioner gave me this for the homily, too, a little cuddly lamb.

"Like a shepherd who feeds his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care."

Advent. Advent is a time for us to be gentle. We hear this in the first reading from the Prophet Isaiah. "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says the Lord. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem." "Comfort, give comfort to my people and speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

So as I was desperately trying to find a lamb all week, I talked to a farmer who is a sheep farmer, and he told me that, no, it would be very difficult to find a lamb this time of year. But he also said that he never eats sheep. I said, "I love veal. It's like the best thing ever." And he goes, "Well, let me tell you why. Because when I raise the lambs, they're bottle fed." So a lot of times he will hold the lambs in his arm like this, and he will feed them a bottle. As he was telling me about this, he got choked up and teary eyed, and he said, "They're just so beautiful and just so tender."

This is how God wants to carry us during this Advent season. Like a lamb, he gathers us to his bosom.

So one of the most important dispositions that we can have during Advent is this tenderness, is this gentleness, is this comfort. And so the Prophet Isaiah says, "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem." I want you to think about that first for yourself. Are you gentle with yourself, or do you beat yourself up? When you talk to yourself or speak to yourself, do you speak tenderly to yourself? Do you comfort yourself? Do you allow God to comfort you?

And secondly is, when you look around at your family, how do you speak to them? Are you tender? Do you speak tenderly with your words? Are your words comforting? Are your actions comforting? If they're not, this could be a time to change, because Advent is ultimately a time of new year. It's a time of new life. It's a time of entering into grace.

I think about pregnant women who are bearing children right now and the tenderness that comes about that. Oftentimes, they will take care of themselves like they never have before when they have a child in the womb. They may have been a smoker all their life, and like that, they quit smoking, or they stop drinking or they eat healthy or take time to rest. They comfort that child within them. They are tender to that life within them.

The truth is, in Advent we are bearing Christ in us. God is, right now, it's like a time of pregnancy. He is being born in us. He is being created in us. So we have to be very tender and gentle with ourselves. "Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem."

There's a wonderful poem called "Desiderata," which is by Max Ehrmann. It talks about this gentleness and this tenderness. So as I read this poem, I'm going to end with this, and I just want you to think to yourself about Advent as being a time of tenderness, and how every moment your day and your life should be this kind of kindness, of gentleness, of comfort.

I think about even the craziness of the shopping, the Black Friday shopping sometimes you see on the news the people, like, mauling each other to get the gift; and think about the violence that we have in our schools, children killing each other; think about the riots that are going on. We need, above all, tenderness. We need to have tender moments in our lives. My home hope and prayer for you is sometime today or sometime this week, God is going to give you a moment of tenderness. Maybe it's even hugging your husband or wife that you haven't done in a while. Maybe it's somebody placing a baby into your lap, or maybe it's holding a pet, holding a dog or a cat or being gentle with the lamb. So here is "Desiderata."

"Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals; and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy." 

"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says the Lord. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Like a shepherd, he feeds his flock and gathers the lambs to himself, carrying them in his bosom and leading the ewes with care." This season of Advent be gentle, be tender and bring comfort.

Can anyone get me a live lamb for the homily this weekend? I have 10 and noon on Sunday.

This song made me smile and I hope you do too.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Advent Poustinia Retreat this Friday and Saturday

Call St. Joseph, Amherst for more information 440.988.2848 or email Bob Glatz at

Please pray for me as I will for you.

I will be away on my annual 8 day retreat. Please pray for me as I will for you. My director is Monsignor John Esseff, exorcist for the Diocese of Scranton, spiritual son of Padre Pio, Spiritual Director to Mother Teresa and her sisters. You can see his blog here:

Saturday, November 22, 2014

5 Easy Ways to "Get More" out of Mass.

praying before mass

1.  Come early

Get to mass at least 15 minutes early so that your not rushing in during the readings, speeding, or anxious about getting there on time.   This will give you time to prepare your heart, quiet your mind, and allow your soul to enter into the Liturgy.  It was often said by our spiritual director at the seminary: "If you come to mass on time... you're late!"  

2.  Pray with the Sunday Readings

Nearly every church has a missallette.  Simply look up the readings for that Sunday by date and spend some time reading through them.  Take notice of any lines, words, or phrases that catch your attention.  That just may be God speaking to you!  You can find them here.  If you have an iOS or Android you can us this app by clicking on "Daily Readings".  

3.  Got Guilt?  

You probably did something stupid over the last week.  We all sin.  Try to think about anything you feel sorry about, feel shame from, or simply need to let go of.  The Penitential Rite is at the very beginning of mass.  "Brothers and Sisters, Let us acknowledge our sins, and so prepare ourselves to celebrate the sacred mysteries."  The priest (hopefully) pauses for a moment of silence.  We are actually supposed to be doing something here!   It helps if we know before hand what sins we want to acknowledge, be forgiven for and enter into mass with a clean conscience!  (Please note all venial sins are forgiven at every mass - this is Awesome!  However, if you have any serious sin or if you haven't been to confession in over a year then let yourself be loved by God in that way first.  Click here to learn more about Confession).  

4.  If you could ask God for anything... what would you ask him for?  

We begin every mass with "The Sign of the Cross" and then the "Opening Prayer".  When the priest says "Let us pray."  Again, there is a moment of silence.  That is your time to pray and ask God for anything that you want!  

Jesus promises us that the Father will grant us anything that we ask for, especially when we are gathered together in his name.

"Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father.  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Matthew 18:19-20

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened."  Matthew 7:7-8 

5.  Eucharist means Thanksgiving! 

Take some time for gratitude.  It's easy as thinking about all the good things that God has given to you.  

"The Eucharist is a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Father, a blessing by which the Church expresses her gratitude to God for all his benefits, for all that he has accomplished through creation, redemption, and sanctification. Eucharist means first of all “thanksgiving.”  Catechism 1360

If we enter into the Eucharist not only prayerfully but with thanksgiving we are going to be much more able to see and experience the Risen Lord.

"Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  Philippians 4:6-8

I hope these 5 Ways will help you "Get More" out of Mass!  

Fr. Michael Denk 


There's a wonderful app that can actually help you to do all of this.  It's called the Examen Prayer and it helps us learn to be aware of God so that we can experience Him more fully, especially at the mass.  

Monday, November 17, 2014

End of the Year Tax Deductible Donation to the Prodigal Father Productions

Consider an end of the year tax deductible donation to
"The Prodigal Father Productions".

Please Consider Making A Donation

I’m grateful for your generosity and support of the work that I am doing to help teach people how to pray using new media.

Your donation will be used to further create more videos, CDs, Apps, and media for people to connect with God in the midst of their lives.

Through prayer and guidance of the Holy Spirit and an invitation from our Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, I’m hoping to answer the call to reach many in this way.

May you remain always in The Father’s Loving Consolation,

Donate Online:


Mail a check to:

The Prodigal Father Productions
P.O. Box 453
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This Tuesday November 18, 2014 at St. Vincent de Paul in Elyria - Prayer: There's an App for that!


The Fall, 2014 series continues with:

“Prayer, there’s an app for that!”

on Tuesday, November 18 at 7:00 PM

The ExAMEN App: Do you want to grow in your prayer

life? The ingeniousness of this app is that it will remind

you to pray the Examen daily and walk you through the

steps helping you to reflect and make changes in your

life that will bring you closer to God.

Father Michael Denk, Parochial Vicar, St. Joseph

Church, Amherst, Ohio will introduce his first app

“ExAMEN” which is available on iTunes and the Google

Play Store for all iOS and Android devices. This talk is

designed to help people always be connected to God

and be reminded to pray throughout the day.

EVERYONE...with or without devices, will benefit

from this presentation!

Mark you calendars now! This series is open to all

parishioners and friends. You don’t want to miss this

rare opportunity for spiritual growth!

St Vincent de Paul Parish
41295 North Ridge Road
Elyria, OH 44035Phone: (440) 324-4212 Fax: (440) 324-2892 A Parish of The Roman Catholic Diocese of Cleveland OH

The Difference between Fear of the Lord and Burying our talents out of Fear.

burying talents

Thirty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Lectionary: 157

Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting;

the woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Give her a reward for her labors,

and let her works praise her at the city gates.

Blessed are you who fear the LORD,

who walk in his ways!

For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork;

blessed shall you be, and favored.

Then the one who had received the one talent came forward and said,

'Master, I knew you were a demanding person,

harvesting where you did not plant

and gathering where you did not scatter;

so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.

Here it is back.'

His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked, lazy servant!

The common theme that goes through all three of these readings, and I didn't realize it until a couple of days ago when I read about the third servant, the common theme that goes through all of them is this notion of fear. And it gives us a couple different versions of fear.

One version of fear is fear of the Lord. And it's a Godly fear. It's a gift. It's one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The last gift is fear of the Lord. And the other fear that we hear about with the servant is a fear that causes him to be servile, to kind of bury his talents, and to actually kind of wither up inside and do nothing. It's a paralyzing fear. They're two very different kinds of fear.

And I think fear of the Lord is one of those things that's often misunderstood or not understood at all by the faith. So that's what I'm going to talk about today, the difference between fear as we know it and what it means to fear the Lord.

The first reading we hear about the wonderful wife. Charm is deceptive and beauty, fleeting. The woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a reward for her labor and let her works praise her at the city gates. So notice, the woman who fears the Lord is to be something that's praised and sought after, and her fear of the Lord throughout her life brings about a reward for her labors. Her labor is done out of fear of the Lord, bring about reward, and her works actually will praise her at the city gates. When she goes to heaven, she is going to be praised for all the good works that she did, all of it motivated by this fear of the Lord.

In the Psalm we hear, "Blessed are you who fear the Lord, who walk in his ways. For you shall eat the fruit of your handiwork; blessed shall you be, and favored."

So again, we hear the psalmist saying, "Blessed are those who fear the Lord," and then right after that we hear some of the fruit of fear of the Lord. "Those who fear the Lord will walk in his ways." So that's one of the graces. When we have this fear of the Lord, this holy fear of God, we walk in his ways throughout our life.

"You shall eat the fruit of your handiwork." When our work is done and motivated out of this fear of the Lord and not motivated by anything else, there will be fruit from it.

"Blessed shall you be and favored." So God is going to bless you if you do all of your work and live your life under this fear of the Lord.

Now, here is where we hear about a different kind of fear. This is the fear we normally associate with fear. "Then the one servant, who had received the one talent, came forward and said, 'Master, I knew you were a demanding person, harvesting where you did not plant and gathering where you did not scatter; so out of fear I went off and buried your talent in the ground.'" Notice he did nothing. He buried histalent. "Here it is back. His master said to him in reply, 'You wicked and lazy servant.'" The master is not agreeing with him. He is not saying you didn't do this because you really feared me. The truth is you are a wicked and lazy servant. That's why you buried your gift.

And then Jesus says, "For everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away." So this seems like, I don't know, this seems kind of crazy to me. Doesn't it to you, like a little bit unfair of God?

But what we have to remember, whenever Jesus uses a parable, he uses real-life situations. It kind of works with us today. For any of you that invested heavily in the market and lost a few years back, you can probably relate to this and say, "This is crazy. You don't want to invest your money like that." And Jesus is not talking about money. He's not talking about anything worldly. He's talking about the gift of the spiritual life. All of his parables are talking about the Kingdom of Heaven. And what he is saying is he has given each of us -- he's given each of you the Kingdom of God. He's given you this spiritual life. He's given you in baptism this life of grace. He's given you this gift of the Holy Spirit; one of them being the fear of the Lord. All of these gifts are given to you.

Now, here is the reality of the spiritual life.
Any gift that we try to keep to ourselves, any gift that we bury in the ground is going to die. It's going to bear no fruit. However, if we are willing to risk and willing to give our gifts and spend our lives in service to others, it is not only going to bear fruit, it's going to multiply and double anything that we are given.
That's kind of the mystery of the Gospel today.

You have to remember, he's talking about the spiritual life. Now, I want you to think about your spiritual life right now. So when you think about fear of the Lord as being a gift to the Holy Spirit, so true fear of God is supposed to be this tremendous awe, this tremendous wonder, this tremendous almost disbelief that he's given us, the spiritual life, that he's given us this access to the Kingdom of Heaven, that right now in a few moments, that you can receive the body and blood of Christ. You're going to experience Heaven on Earth right here. Fear of the Lord should evoke some sense of wonder and awe before that.

Now, the opposite of that fear is a fear that is, like he says in the Gospel, lazy and wicked. The opposite of that fear is a fear that says it's just all about me and what I do.

Let me give you a couple of examples. So people will say to me all the time -- you know, actually, I was just with somebody and I was asking him if he's going to church because he's been away for a long time. He's Catholic. And he goes, this is a classic line, right? "Father --" now, he's from New Jersey. "Father, I don't really go to mass. Me and God, God and I, we got our own thing going on right here. So I don't need the church. You know, you got all that, but we got our own thing going on." He's got his own thing going on with God. Where do you think his talents are buried? It's in the ground, right? He's not sharing it. It's not a part of anyone else. It's not a part of community. It's, me and God, we got our own thing going on, and I'm burying my gift right here. I'm not doing anything with it. The truth is he's burying his gift. And the other truth is we're either growing in our faith or we're dying in our faith. There's no remaining stagnance.

I'll give you another example. It's the heresy that I call the good-guy heresy. So there's a heresy going on in our modern-day culture called the good-guy heresy, and this is basically what it's sounding like. Father, I'm a good guy. I don't really have to go to mass, or I don't go to church or anything like that, but I'm a good guy. I haven't killed anyone. I haven't done anything really bad in my life, so I'm a pretty good guy. Is that someone that's growing in their prayer life and increasing their gifts, or have they buried their gifts? They have buried their gifts, right? The good-guy theory. The good-guy heresy.

So think about yourself. Think about your own life, you know, the gifts you have been given, your faith. Do you tend to see your faith as just something between you and God and something you don't need to grow in, something that you are fine with?

The third example that I will leave you with is I have these three older Catholics who are running a marketing business. And you may or may not know, but I started a nonprofit, and I'm trying to -- the whole vision and mission is to help people grow in their prayer life. So I'm trying to present this vision to these three marketers, and they're awesome guys. They're Catholics. They're very faithful Catholics. But the whole vision is to have this deeper prayer life. And all three of them told me about their prayer life.

And one of them said, well, you know, I only pray to God when I need something. So if I'm going to work, I'll talk to God and I'll tell him what I need. And I said to him, "Is that your whole prayer life? Is that all you do?" He's like, "Yeah."

I said, "How about the next guy? Tell me about your prayer life." He goes, "Well, Father, I'm more thankful. So I just thank God. You know, if something good happens, I feel grateful and I thank God, and you know, that's kind of how I pray." I said, "Well, is there any other time you pray during the day, or is that kind of it?" "No," he says, "No, that's good. That's it."

These are all good prayers, by the way.

And the third guy goes, I said, "How do you pray every day?" He says, "Well, Father, I always pray. I've always done this my whole life. Before I go to bed, I say the 'Our Father,' the 'Hail Mary' and the 'Glory Be,' and I go to bed. I pray every night like that, Father, before I go to bed."

I tell them all, "That's wonderful. You're all praying. Those are vocal prayers. It's kind of a beginner prayer. Hopefully, at some point, we do meditative prayer and we even enter into contemplative prayer. Are you guys happy with your prayer life, or would you like to grow in your prayer life?"

You know what all three of them said? Take a guess. What do you think they said? "We're happy with it. We're good. I'm good, Father. 'Our Father,' 'Hail Mary,' 'Glory Be,' I'm good." And I looked at them and I said, "Really? You learned to pray those prayers in second grade and you're not growing any more. You're good." Hopefully the response should be, "Yeah, Father, I want to grow in prayer. Can you teach me?"

I just want you to think about that. What's your disposition? Do you have this notion of, like, I'm good, you know, God and I are good. We got our thing going on. You know, I kind of got it under control. Or do you have a desire to actually grow in your spiritual life? Do you take every opportunity to come to a mission or to join a prayer group or to join a renewal?

You know, this weekend we had 50 women making the Women's Renewal. And I know a number of them were on the fence. You know what I mean? They just weren't sure about it, weren't sure if they wanted to do it, weren't sure if it was their time or they needed it. I got to say, they're having an amazing experience. It's changing their life. But they were willing to take that risk. They were willing to kind of get out of their comfort zone and take a risk and draw on their faith. And now it's coming back to them multiplied of what they ever could have imagined.

So think about it for a moment. Are you growing in your faith or is it stagnant? And if it's stagnant, you're dying in your faith. There can't be any stagnation. We're either growing or we're dying.

You know, Jesus has given you this great gift. He's given you talent, and some of you he's given you more talent than I can even express.

Are you using them to build up his Kingdom? And if you are, you are going to experience all of his goodness and all of the joy.

He says to his servants, "Come, share your Master's joy. Well done, good and faithful servant." Or do you kind of have that mentality of, nah, we're doing fine. You know, I've got everything I need. Prayer is pretty good. Go to mass. I'm a good guy. I got it buried here. I'm just going to kind of hang on to this until I get to eternal life. If that's more of your mentality, then you're dying, and Jesus would say you're wicked and you're lazy. Just to kind of shake you up a little bit.

Ultimately, hopefully, we are willing to take that risk. You know, so if you are like an investment person today, a banker, you would always look at risk versus reward, and risk versus reward versus how much you could actually profit from it. We're talking about eternal life. We're talking about the ultimate reward. And so it is risk. It does mean taking a risk and growing in your faith. It does the mean taking a risk and getting to know God more. It does mean taking a risk and letting yourself be vulnerable to others and letting others know you have more, and growing in this faith. It does take a great risk, but the reward is beyond anything you can imagine.

When we come to the end of the life, of our life, hopefully when we meet our maker he will say to us, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Since you are faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come and share your Master's joy."

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Souls Day - Life is Changed not Ended

I love my German Shepherd Ratzinger

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, while he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger was known by some as "The German Shepherd" or "God's Rottweiler," because he was the defender of the doctrine of the faith.

If you've ever actually read his works though, he is a beautiful soul and reveals in a very eloquent way the goodness of God.  Some of his greatest treasures are his series on Jesus of Nazareth as well as his final encyclicals on Faith, Hope, and Love.  

In Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict deals with the notion of purgatory as being one of God's last and wonderful gifts to us.  

Pope benedict xvi happy

The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.

While he was still Cardinal he was interviewed about some of the highly debated doctrines of the faith and one of them was of course the Church's teaching on Purgatory.

He explains:

"My view is that if Purgatory did not exist, we should have to invent it. Why? Because few things are as immediate, as human and as widespread - at all times and in all cultures - as prayer for one's own departed dear ones... Praying for one's departed loved ones is a far too immediate urge to be suppressed; it is a most beautiful manifestation of solidarity, love and assistance, reaching beyond the barrier of death. The happiness or unhappiness of a person dear to me, who has now crossed the other shore, depends in part on wether I remember or forget him; he does not stop needing my love." -Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report 1985

"He does not stop needing my love."  Isn't that beautiful?

I would add... "We do not stop needing their love."

We are a faith of scripture and tradition and one of the ancient beliefs of our faith is Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi. "The Law of Prayer is the Law of Faith."  Meaning what we pray is what we believe.

Notice the prayers used during the Funeral Rites (And Mass for All Souls) are based in hope.

Prayers at the Vigil

My brothers and sisters, we believe that all the ties of friendship and affection which knit us as one throughout our lives do not unravel with death. Confident that God always remembers the good we have done and forgives our sins, let us pray, asking God to gather N. to himself.

Pause for silent prayer.

Take a moment now to remember someone you love who has died.  Bring to mind one of your favorite memories with them.  Try to see them and hear them and feel them.  Hold them in your heart as you read the rest of this.  

Notice this is exactly what Pope Benedict was describing - "Our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death."  

The opening prayer continues with this truth that death does not destroy the bond of our love:


Lord our God,
the death of our brother/sister N.
recalls our human condition
and the brevity of our lives on earth.
But for those who believe in your love,
death is not the end,
nor does it destroy the bonds that you forge in our lives.
We share the faith of your Son’s disciples
and the hope of the children of God.
Bring the light of Christ’s resurrection
to this time of testing and pain
as we pray for N. and for those who love him/her,
through Christ our Lord.

R. Amen.

In the Preface for Funeral Masses we hear this echoed so beautifully.

In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned,
that those saddened by the certainty of dying
might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come.
Indeed for your faithful, Lord,
life is changed not ended,
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust,
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven.

This means that the reality is for those of us who believe, life is changed not ended, we can be consoled by this promise of eternal life.  We can also be consoled that we are not separated by our loved ones.  The truth they are with us now in an even deeper, more intimate, and constant way than they ever could have been on earth!  They are with you always.  

Every time you receive the Eucharist you receive the Body of Christ, and if they are with Christ and He is in you, then they are in you and you are in them.  You can't get more close or intimate than that.
So what does the Catechism say about Purgatory?  

The Final Purification, or Purgatory (This is a summary: Read more here)

1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.606 

1032 This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”609 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.610
Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.611

The message of All Souls Day, and of Purgatory, is really a beautiful one.  

We are assured by the readings of the mass so often used at funerals: 

The Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls)

Wisdom 3:1-9

The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.  

Psalm 23

The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.
Romans 5:5-11 

Hope does not disappoint,
because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts
through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
For Christ, while we were still helpless,
died at the appointed time for the ungodly...
But God proves his love for us
in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.
How much more then... will we be saved through him from the wrath...
how much more, once reconciled,
will we be saved by his life.

John 6:37-40 

This is the will of the one who sent me,
that I should not lose anything of what he gave me,

Over and over we are assured by the prayers, by the Word of God and by the Sacraments that we celebrate that those whom we love are in the hands of God, and at the same time we are not separated from them, for those of us who believe life is changed not ended.

So how do we make sense of purgatory and why is there a sense of dread when there should be a sense of hope?

Purgatory is a lot like confession and it seems that those who don't believe in one don't believe in the need for the other. The reason for this is our reluctance to admit our sin, our fault, our imperfection... and the reason for this is probably because we don't realize or believe God's unconditional love for us.

Think about it, Purgatory is a lot like confession. We can not forgive our sins but must go before Christ. It is difficult to go to confession especially if it is a sin that we are embarrassed by, ashamed of, or powerless to overcome, but when we can confess it, when we can bring it to Christ, though it is painful and difficult, we experience not His condemnation or judgement, rather we experience His forgiveness, mercy and unconditional love. We go into confession with the weight of the world on us and we may even dread it, but when we purge our sins before the Lord and experience His acceptance, absolution, and unconditional love, we walk away feeling better than we've ever felt before - it's a glimpse of purgatory and heaven really.

So we don't have to fear death, we don't have to fear purgatory, it is God's last and greatest act of loving us and forgiving us. We also know that we don't have to fear losing the ones we love because for those of us believe life is changed not ended. The ones you love, who have died, are with you now in a deeper way than they ever could have been on earth.

To end, a friend of mine had a brother who died suddenly 15 years ago.  He was a priest and was very devoted to praying and offering sacrifices for the holy souls in purgatory.  The prayer cards distributed at his funeral offered this quote from St. Thomas More which beautifully brings this to a conclusion:

“Pray for me, as I will for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.”

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I love...


I absolutely love....  CHIPOTLE!  Once I knew there was a Chipotle in Amherst, I knew I was going to be OK.

I love... Amazon Prime!  I love that I can order things and days later they appear in the office.  I get everything from there.

I love... my nieces and nephew and my family.

I love... being a priest.

I love... Jennifer Lawrence, Sandra Bullock, and Julia Roberts.

I love... my pastor, Fr. Martello.

I love... dark chocolate covered almonds.

I love... going to the movies.

I love... the people at my parish and all the friends I have made over the years.

I love.... God.

Love can be used in a lot of different ways and mean a lot of different ways.

In the English Language we only have one word for love.  So it's used in a lot of different ways.

The Greeks, which the Gospels were written in, had many different words for love with very specific meanings.

Here are the four most common:

Storge (στοργή storgē) means "love, affection" and "especially of parents and children" It is natural affection, like that felt by parents for offspring. Almost exclusively as a descriptor of relationships within the family. It is also known to express mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in "loving" the tyrant.

Philia (φιλία philía) means "affectionate regard, friendship," usually "between equals."  It is a dispassionate virtuous love.  Philia is expressed variously as loyalty to friends, family, and community, and requires virtue, equality, and familiarity. Philos denotes a general type of love, used for love between family, between friends, a desire or enjoyment of an activity, as well as between lovers.

Éros (ἔρως érōs) means "love, mostly of the sexual passion."The Modern Greek word "erotas" means "intimate love." It can also apply to dating relationships as well as marriage. Plato refined his own definition: Although eros is initially felt for a person, with contemplation it becomes an appreciation of the beauty within that person, or even becomes appreciation of beauty itself. Eros helps the soul recall knowledge of beauty, and contributes to an understanding of spiritual truth, the ideal "Form" of youthful beauty that leads us humans to feel erotic desire – thus suggesting that even that sensually based love aspires to the non-corporeal, spiritual plane of existence; that is, finding its truth, just like finding any truth, leads to transcendence.  Lovers and philosophers are all inspired to seek truth through the means of eros.

Agápe (ἀγάπη agápē means "love: esp. brotherly love, charity; the love of God for man and of man for God."  Agape is used in the biblical passage known as the "love chapter," 1 Corinthians 13, and is described there and throughout the New Testament as brotherly love, affection, good will, love, and benevolence.  Whether the love given is returned or not, the person continues to love (even without any self-benefit). It can also be described as the feeling of being content or holding one in high regard. Agape is used by Christians to express the unconditional love of God for his children. This type of love was further explained by Thomas Aquinas as "to will the good of another."

So when Jesus is asked:  

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" He said to him,
"You shall love the Lord, your God,

What kind of love is he referring to?  What is the original greek that was used?  

Ἀγαπήσεις  "You will love (the)..." 

It is the love of Agape that he means.  It is the unconditional love that "wills the good of another."  It means loving God in the way that God loves us.  Agapic love for God is loving God without expecting anything in return.  It means loving God even if don't feel His presence or receive His gifts.  It means loving God so much so that we want God's will to be done even more than our own.  This is the first and the greatest of all the commandments.  

But I love that he follows up this Agapic love "You shall love the Lord, your God..." with 

with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.  

What this means is that we are not only supposed to love God but BE IN LOVE with God!  

We are supposed to have all of these loves: Storge, Philia, Eros, and Agape for God.  

With all of our heart... 
When we think of the heart we think of falling in love.  This is the erotic love for God.  Just a as couple falls in love with each other, gets engaged, married, and enjoys their honeymoon.  We are to love God with all of our heart - to fall in love with Him.  To want to do everything that He does, to go anywhere just because we are with him, to do anything for him.  

with all of our soul, 
this begins with the Storge, the natural love, but goes beyond to the supernatural.  We are called to have this natural love for God, this inborn love of our Creator, but it should expand to all of our soul.  That we truly love him as we would "a soul mate".  This is the Philia love, the brotherly love, the love of just being together with your best friend and doing things with the one you love.  

We are also to love God with all of our mind.  If you think about the places our minds go especially with erotic love (think Fifty Shades of Grey).  All of our mind should be in love with God.  That means that every thought at every moment we should be completely preoccupied with God.  Our thoughts wholly directed to him... this is what the saints mean when they say pray always.

The question is: "Do you love God?"

Do you love God with all of your heart?  Are you in love with God?

Do you love God with all of your soul?  Is Jesus your "soul-mate"?  Do you want to share every adventure with Him?

Do you love God with all of your mind?  Do you think about God with all of your mind?  Is your mind consumed with God?  Does God direct everything that you think and do?

This is the FIRST and GREATEST commandment.   To love God and be in love with God.  

Pedro Arrupe was serving as the Superior of the Jesuits’ Japanese Province when he was elected Superior General of the Society of Jesus in 1965. He held the position until 1983.

His prayer is a wonderful expression of the first and greatest commandment.  

Fall in Love

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907–1991)

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.