Friday, December 25, 2015

A Very "Mercy" Christmas

Inside the Actors Studio is a TV series that has interviewed over Famous actors, directors and writers reminisce about their careers and the philosophy behind their careers.

James Lipton interviews some of today's most talented actors, directors, and writers. In the audience are students and famous alumni of the Actors Studio's master of fine arts program. The interviewees talk about their childhood, how they got started in show business, their early career, and behind-the-scenes trivia. The interview concludes with a standardized questionnaire

One of the most famous interviews was one that went on for over four hours with Steven Spielberg. He too was asked the standardized questions at the end.

  1. What's your favorite word? Yes
  2. What's your least favorite word? No 
  3. What turns you on or excites you? A good story. 
  4. What turns you off? People who don't listen. 
  5. What sound or noise do you love: All my kids when they laugh. I have seven kids when they're all laughing it's a great sound. 
  6. What sound do you hate? When they're all crying at the same time. 
  7. What is your favorite curse word? (Thankfully he said...) Rats 
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? A film composer
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Government
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
  11. He thinks turns his head and gets the most sincere look on his face: "Thanks for listening."

The crowd kind of groaned, some oohed and ahhed and Mr. Spielberg realizing this chuckles and puts his hands next to his face like he's just realized he's given them a boring answer possibly putting them to sleep.

But it's not a boring answer.  It's a very profound and beautiful answer.

Imagine God so happy that we actually Listen to what he has to say to us... that we will listen to this savior that is born for us today... that you may even listen to what he wants to speak to your heart right now in this Liturgy... Imagine the Father saying to you... Thanks for listening.


"Do you hear what I hear?"


The nativity was only possible because of chosen people who listened.


The Angel spoke to Zechariah: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John.

Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”  And the angel said to him in reply, “I am Gabriel, who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news.  But now you will be speechless and unable to talk from that point on all he could do was... Listen.


In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.  And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”  But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.  Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.

Mary listened...  and said: Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


Joseph her husband, since he was a righteous man, yet unwilling to expose her to shame, decided to divorce her quietly.  Such was his intention when, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the holy Spirit that this child has been conceived in her.  She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”...When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took his wife into his home.

Joseph listened...


When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth.

Elizabeth was listening...
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.  And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment, the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

Elizabeth listened.

The whole world was to be enrolled... and Joseph listened... taking his pregnant wife on the long journey to the small town of Bethlehem.

Joseph listened even to the rejections of no room for them in the inn and so they ended up in that manger which would become the birthplace of our savior.  

The Shepherds 

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock.  The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.  The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.  For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.  And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

The Shepherds listened.

The Magi

Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained from them the time of the star’s appearance.  He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search diligently for the child. When you have found him, bring me word, that I too may go and do him homage.”

The Magi listened.

They all listened and got to hear the newborn baby's sounds. The Son of God heard in a way he had never been heard before.


When Jesus was born what's the first sound Mary and Joseph heard? Was it a cry from their newborn king? Can you imagine the Son of God after waiting for all these millennia, and carried in the womb for nine months can probably make a sound? He cried out and God's voice was heard from the mouth of a child... he cried out...

What was he crying for? I believe it was mercy.

2000 years later Christ now speaks through his Church... through the body of Christ... through you and me.

This year our Holy Father has spoken and named this the Year of Mercy. Listen...

Through the 2,000 years, God has been raising up saints to help us realize his mercy.

The Saint who God has most revealed his mercy to is Faustina.

Listen to the wonder and joy of St. Faustina as she encountered the Christ Child on Christmas Eve in 1937:

When I arrived at Midnight Mass, from the very beginning I steeped myself in deep recollection, during which time I saw the stable of Bethlehem filled with great radiance. The Blessed Virgin, all lost in the deepest of love, was wrapping Jesus in swaddling clothes, but Saint Joseph was still asleep. Only after the Mother of God put Jesus in the manger did the light of God awaken Joseph, who also prayed. But after a while, I was left alone with the Infant Jesus who stretched out His little hands to me, and I understood that I was to take Him in my arms. Jesus pressed His head against my heart and gave me to know, by His profound gaze, how good He found it to be next to my heart (Diary, 1442).

Jesus would say to her from the beginning over and over again: "Today, I am sending you with My mercy to the people of the whole world. I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My merciful Heart." (Diary 1588)

"You are the secretary of My mercy; I have chosen you for that office in this and the next life" ... to make known to souls the great mercy that I have for them, and to exhort them to trust in the bottomless depth of My mercy".

Right now in our age... what does God want us to hear loud and clear? MERCY

"The God who is beyond all understanding stoops to me under the appearance of a little Child." (151 vision of infant at Eucharist 156)

God sent his only son into this world because he saw how much we were suffering. He saw that we had turned our backs on him and gone astray. He heard our cries for a savior.

And what does he give us when Christ is born? Mercy

God came to us as an infant so that you don't ever have to be afraid to approach him.

If you have been away from the Church for a while... Listen.... Do you hear him calling you back?

Has it been years since you've been to confession, and you've made every excuse and even denied the need for it, but you have yet to hear His words... "I absolve you." Come back to him in the sacrament of Confession and LISTEN... Listen to his mercy.

Listen too for those crying out in need. The church also calls us to BE merciful.

When the holy father opened the holy doors... did you hear the words that he spoke... Listen... no one can be excluded from God's mercy.

Is there anyone that you have hardened your heart to?  Is there anyone that you know you need to forgive but haven't.  Jesus commands us: "Unless you forgive you cannot be forgiven."  This Christmas find it in your heart to show mercy and forgive that person.

We are also called to show mercy through the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy.  These are actions we can perform that extend God’s compassion and mercy to those in need.

Corporal Works of Mercy

The Corporal Works of Mercy are these kind acts by which we help our neighbors with their material and physical needs.

  1. feed the hungry
  2. give drink to the thirsty
  3. clothe the naked
  4. shelter the homeless
  5. visit the sick
  6. visit the imprisoned
  7. bury the dead

Spiritual Works of Mercy

The Spiritual Works of Mercy are acts of compassion, as listed below, by which we help our neighbors with their emotional and spiritual needs.

  1. counsel the doubtful
  2. instruct the ignorant
  3. admonish sinners
  4. comfort the afflicted
  5. forgive offenses
  6. bear wrongs patiently
  7. pray for the living and the dead

Christ is calling all of us to mercy... Listen

The church is speaking loud and clear.... Listen.

God is calling you right now to his mercy... Listen.

The savior of the world cries out for you as an infant... Listen

Listen to what God is saying right now in your heart... Listen

And if we do, maybe one day we might hear God say, in gratitude and in joy:
“Thanks for listening.”

Have a very "Mercy" Christmas....  and thank YOU for Listening.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Praying with Fr. John G. Vrana

On this edition of Praying with Priests, Father Michael Denk sits down with Father John G. Vrana, S.T.D. (which stands for 'Doctor of Sacred Theology'). Over the years Fr. Vrana has helped many others grow in their prayer life - both as a Spiritual Director for the Seminary as well as the Diaconate Formation Program, and continues to give spiritual direction to many priests, deacons and seminarians. Having spent a life time helping others to pray, today Fr. Michael interviews Fr. Vrana on the formation of his own prayer life.

As a child, the atmosphere of prayer encompassed Fr. John Vrana as far back as he can remember. Predominately it took root in the home, where his parents lived a very devout life of prayer and demonstrated this to their children through icons around the house. Fr. John recalls certain things that stood out. For example, his parents are the only ones that he knew of who kept a 16 inch tall statue of the Sacred Heart with a vigil light in front of it in their home. It didn't take Fr. John long to discover that when the candle was lit, it meant that his parents were praying for something very special. Fr. John also recalls a large painting in their living room that depicted Jesus gazing upon the city of Jerusalem from over a mountain top, an image that has always stuck with him because of the emotion on Jesus' face. The family also kept a large crucifix on the wall next to the kitchen table, which became a constant presence at a regular gathering area for family and guests. Thinking back on his home life, Fr. John recalls that this atmosphere of prayer, "spoke the presence of God."

Outside of the house, the family would always attend Sunday Mass together - it became a "family occasion", through which Fr. John recognized the importance and reverence of the Mass.

Aside from his home life, the atmosphere of prayer was reinforced at school as well. Having attended Catholic elementary school as a child, he recalls having "learned to pray" beginning with his First Holy Communion. During this time, as he learned to pray the rosary, Fr. John developed a special devotion to the Blessed Mother, so much that he recreated the school's May Altar in his room at home. Embracing this new-found devotion, his parents would often take him on trips to the local shrines.

It was around this time, at the age of 5 or 6 that Fr. John was really drawn into the Mass through prayer. Not long after, Fr. John recalls having received his first calling to the priesthood, which he describes as a "gentle invitation". He noticed that once the priest emerged, the entire congregation suddenly would quiet down, "they became focused and paid attention, hanging on to every word". From that experience an awe settled in him. After that moment every time he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, he would spontaneously (and at a very young age reply), “a priest”. He says, "Other friends wanted to be cowboys, and here I wanted to be a priest." The realization of his calling was there and it never left.

Later on in the 5th grade, Fr. John would experience the Mass from a whole other perspective after becoming an altar server.  Serving gave him a new-found joy of experiencing the Mass and he felt an honor to serve. Then in the 8th grade, Fr. John received a very special invitation to visit the new Borromeo Seminary, which had just opened in Cleveland. "After that experience, the rest is history", he says.

Fr. John entered the seminary in his freshman year of high school, and in that very first year learned that "being a priest is being a man of prayer". In his second year at Borromeo, the seminarians were assigned “field work”, so Fr. John taught theology to the deaf – a challenge but heart warming experience that along with The Second Vatican Council in his last year at the seminary, led to his pursuit of a Doctorate in Theology.

After his ordination, two particular instances stand out to Fr. John which aided in the formation of his prayer life. The first happened when he attended a Cursillo retreat for the first time, which is an evangelization of Catholics to come together and know Jesus and the Church in a personal and less theological way. The intent is for one to grow in their relationship with Jesus through prayer, scripture study, and group discussion during the Cursillo and ongoing support after to keep their experience alive and support one another in their continued development of a life of prayer. For Fr. John the experience was a major factor in his life as it began to open him up to sharing his relationship with Jesus to others.

The second experience which would leave a lasting impression on Fr. John occurred during his first encounter with the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. While studying oversees to complete his Doctorate, the seminary he was staying at had what began as a Charismatic Prayer Group, but quickly grew with an outpouring of interest by seminarians and others within the community. From this encounter, seminaries would share experiences with one another about their prayer life and relationship with God that would stay with Fr. John well into his career as Spiritual Director for the Seminary here in Cleveland.

As Spiritual Director for the Seminary and later the Diaconate Formation Program, Fr. John has helped many priests, deacons, and seminarians grow in their prayer lives throughout the years. So for those who may be reading this and are looking for formation in their own prayer life and might not know how to go about it, Fr. John has some advice.

First he says, "Remember as much as you want to pray, God wants you to pray even more. He realizes it's difficult, so don't think too much about it - you don't have to entertain Him, try to make Him feel good, or impress Him. Instead go before Him just as you are; get acquainted with one another. Most importantly, be spontaneous and talk from the heart. Don’t worry too much about the words – sometimes you don’t need words – just know that you are with God and He with you, and your relationship will begin to slowly develop.

Now as Senior Parochial Vicar at St. Michael in Independence, Ohio, Fr. John has a bit more time for prayer. He prefers a quiet meditative prayer before the Trinity, and very often his prayer will center around a mantra from the psalms in the Daily Office. He says, that often a word or phrase from the psalm will elicit an emotion (good, bad, and ugly) which he may be currently experiencing. So he will stop for a moment and reflect on that word or phrase in the presence of God. Fr. John has discovered that through this process of reflection, the product is coming to know the unique love the Trinity has for him, who he is as a person, and where he is at this point in his life.

Above: Fr. John Vrana vesting Fr. Michael Denk on the day of his ordination.

To listen to the entire interview with Fr. John Vrana, please click on the button below.

For More Praying with Priests, visit the archives!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rejoice - This Ending is a Happy One!

A drama teacher was instructing his students about acting. He was trying to get them to realize the idea that they convey the message in their faces. When they are doing different scenes in a play, they have to project whatever that scene is on their face. He used the example of Heaven and Hell. Their faces should look very different if they are talking about Heaven or if they are talking about Hell.

He said to the students, "When you are talking about Heaven, your faces should light up. Your smiles should radiate and your eyes should look to the skies. People should be able to see Heaven on your faces." He said, "When you are talking about Hell, well, your normal faces will do."

The reality is that sometimes we walk around as if we are not living with this joyful anticipation. As we celebrate Gaudete Sunday, the Third Sunday of Advent when the rose candle is lit, we are celebrating this wonderful rejoicing.

The first word that we heard at Mass today and the Latin Mass, is always Gaudete, which means 'Rejoice'. That is how the Mass always begins on Gaudete Sunday. We rejoice. Why we are rejoicing is so near. What we have been longing for and wanting. Heaven – it is so near. It is so close that on this Sunday, we rejoice!

Aristotle lived a few hundred years before Christ. He was the one who made a framework for what it is to tell a story. He said in a story there are three parts: a beginning, a middle, and an end. Think about that. The three parts are: a beginning, a middle, and an end. In Aristotle's time, a beginning was called a protasis. This basically meant an introduction. The epenthesis was the middle -the main action of the story; the third and final part, was the catastrophe. That was the end. The word explains itself.

All stories in that time ended with a catastrophe. Think about somebody dying or some terrible thing happening. That is the final big wow. That is the conclusion. However. that is not our story. That is not the Catholic story or the Christian story. Our story is very different than that. This kind of storytelling prevailed until the First Coming of Christ. During the Renaissance Period, the kind of storytelling that we are a little bit more used to be the new norm.

In the 19th Century, the definitive pyramid came about, which is the rising of action after the catastrophe. All of a sudden the story begins to rise. The rising action for us is the Birth of Christ, the first Advent, that happened two thousand years ago. 

The third part, as you may know, is the climax. That is the epicenter of the story. The pinnacle of the story. The climax for us is The Crucifixion. The passion, death, and Resurrection of our Lord. That is the climax. Christ on the cross, suffering, dying and rising is the third part. You have the beginning, the exposition; the rising of the action, which is the birth; the climax, which is the passion, death and Resurrection; and then the following action. That is the fourth part.

After you have had this climax, you have some time of just getting to enjoy all that has happened. The following action is the part of Salvation history that we are living in now. We have already experienced the climax. Christ has already come, suffered, died and risen. We are now experiencing the effect of that.

The truth is, in Advent, there are three Advents: the Birth of Christ, which they waited for thousands of years; the Second Advent is Christ coming into our hearts now; and the third Advent is the Second Coming. We are in that part now. We are in the following action, the waiting for the Second Coming, the waiting for Christ to come into our hearts.

The following action is very interesting because during that time, if you are a good storyteller, there will be some kind of final suspense. There will be something in which the final outcome is in conflict. There is some kind of doubt about the final outcome. We are living in that final suspense, where there is some conflict in our lives.

Advent is a time for Confession, too. So if you have not been to Confession in awhile, I encourage you to do that. I was hearing confessions the other day. I will not tell you what I heard. But one of the ladies had been away from the church for 20 years, and had not gone to confession. She came back. Usually when people are gone for a long time, I'll say, "Well, what brought you back?" If you think about this following action, this whole conflict or this tension near the end, she said to me - after she thought about it for a second, "I think what brought me back was probably watching too much Fox News." I said, "What do you mean?" And she said, "I've been watching too much Fox News, Father. It is all about ISIS and terrorism. I am afraid to get on a plane. I am afraid to go to big events." She said, "I think the fear of mortality is what brought me back." She is experiencing this reality of this final conflict before the end.

That is where we all are right now. We are in this stage of the following action. We have experienced the pinnacle. We have experienced The Resurrection of Christ. Now we are experiencing the after effects. But the end hasn't happened yet. For Christians, the end does not end in catastrophe. That is not the end of the story. The end for us, as we heard in the Gospel today, is good news. The end is the Good News. The climax, the final coming to an end is actually a French word called “Denouement.” It means an untying of the knot. The tension comes to an end. There is an untying of the knot. That, for us, is the Second Coming. The final end to our story is Christ coming back into this world.

The reality is, for Christians, we already know that happy ending. That is why we celebrate Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice. We are rejoicing that the end is almost here. We know it does not end in catastrophe. It ends in joy. It ends in Heaven. As we heard in the beginning, (that joke about the drama students) we should be people who walk around and our faces should not show doom and gloom. We should not look like we have been living in Hell. Our faces should radiate this joy and this reality that we await the Good News. This Gaudete Sunday we can rejoice because we know the end of the story IS good news.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Praying with Fr. Jim O'Donnell

Today Fr. Michael sits down with lifelong Clevelander, Fr. Jim O'Donnell as they share an intimate conversation about prayer, and in particular the many different ways in which we all pray - including priests!

Ever since Fr. Jim O'Donnell can remember, every day his mother would gather the family together to pray the rosary, it was his her way of instilling a strong prayer life within her children. Although, Fr. Jim's father, a builder who immigrated to the United States from Ireland, would once tell him as he looked proudly upon Cleveland's iconic Terminal Tower (which he had a hand in building), "Jimmy this building is my prayer, I don't do this work to please some foreman, I do this because of my love for God and that's why I work so hard." From that memory, Fr. Jim recalls having learned that everything we do, we do out of gratitude for God and for all of the blessings we've received from Him. Perhaps this simple example from Fr. Jim's childhood illustrates more than anything the many and diverse ways that we pray, and that we aren't limited to simply one form of prayer.

An early riser, Fr. Jim would attend daily morning mass as a child - not because he had to, "it wasn't a chore he recalls", but because he wanted to. He realizes not all people find it as easy, but thinks one of the reasons why he did is because for him (in a house full of siblings), it was a time of peacefulness and contemplation to get away from the stresses of something that may have been bothering him at the time, like worrying about taking an exam. For Fr. Jim, being in the presence of the Eucharist at Mass made him feel closer to God, and to Jesus -and he says, "I enjoyed that feeling and that experience. Probably more than just a feeling; just something I literally enjoyed doing."

Perhaps then it's no surprise that, Fr. Jim knew he wanted to become a priest at the moment he received the calling during his First Communion. He recalls,  "I thought about being a priest from the time I made my First Communion. I felt a call at that time. I was very imbued early on with this love for Christ and love for the priesthood that it never left me. You know sometimes some people go through that, but by the time they get through high school, that is not something they want to do anymore. But that seed was planted in me May 8, 1937, and it never left me."

Fr. Jim will often refer fondly to "his children", which is usually and understandably a surprise to people that don't know him - but as the years have gone by, Fr. Jim often forgets this and casually speaks of the foster children he has helped raise as if they were his own blood. The idea for a foster program started about 40 years ago. At the time there was a big problem in the inner-city Cleveland neighborhood with children being abused and hurt. It got to a point where the violence and crime in the area began leading the youth down a very dangerous and often irreversible path earlier and earlier into their adolescence. So one day Sister Maggie, a consecrated virgin, asked Fr. Jim if he would be open to taking in some foster children. He recalls, "there were too many of these kids being hurt, and perhaps we can help them in some way. So that’s how it began." Through the years and his work at Little Brothers and Sisters of the Eucharist (formed by Sister Maggie and himself) and the Central City Ministry with the Poor, Fr. Jim and Sister Maggie have helped raise 14 children into adulthood.

Above: Fr. Jim O'Donnell makes his acceptance speech after being inducted into the 2012 Class of the Cleveland International Hall of Fame by Jack Kahl.

To listen to the entire interview with Fr. Jim O'Donnell, please click on the button below.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In Total Darkness, Rescue Is On Its Way!

Five years ago, on August 5, 2010, there was a collapse in a mine in Chili. From that point forward, 33 miners remained in darkness, not knowing if they would ever be saved or if their rescuers would even find them. Five years later, there was a book and a movie written about the event. I do not know if you remember what happened five years ago. All we could see was what was happening from above the mine. As we watched the news, we did not know if they were alive or even if they could be saved.  Rescuers were drilling. The miners were down in the mine for 69 days in darkness until they were rescued. 

Audio Version Available - Click To Listen

I will never forget watching the day they were rescued. The first miner was brought up in a cage. We saw a glimpse of one of the 33 who had been down there for all those days. Five years later, a movie has been made about the event. "The 33" is a movie about the 33 miners. For me, what I think is so profound, is that we get to see a glimpse of what it was like from their perspective. What it was like to be in darkness for 69 days! How it was to wait to see if they would even be rescued.

They only had enough water and food to survive for 3 days with provisions for only 30 of the 33 men. So they began to ration food and water. Days and days passed. After three days, they were out of food. They began to question: “Would anyone come to save them?” Then one of the miners, pessimistically said, "Listen, mines have collapsed before. We have a corrupt government. We have a corrupt business that put us down here in the mine in the first place. We are not going to get rescued." To that another piped up, "Our family members are up there. They are not going to give up on us." What the miners didn't know was that their families had created Camp Hope, an effort to instill hope in the government and the entire world to continue efforts to rescue the miners. 

Down there days in the darkness, not knowing -doubt started to creep in. They were not sure if they would be rescued in time, but they believed and trusted that their families would not give up on them.  

Then one night, as they are sleeping, they heard a rumbling and some of the ceiling began to fall. The ground began to shake. They heard the drill coming closer and closer and closer. They were listening with great anticipation, and then the noise passed them, going deeper and deeper, farther and farther away. They realized the drill missed them. Another 3 days passed by, but they realized that people had not given up on finding them alive and were still looking for them! 

30 days passed. They heard from above the drilling. Again, the ground is shaking. It was similar to the Gospel because they were all laying down and sleeping. As the drill got closer and closer, they started to stand up. They stood erect, like we heard in the Gospel. You could see their headlamps all coming together. They were just looking up at the ceiling. All of a sudden, after all of the rumbling, they saw the drill finally break through! There was a spotlight on the drill. As it broke through, the light shattered the darkness. The drill bit came through and stopped once it hit the "protected area" that the miners were in, and they looked back at it with disbelief, the realization setting in that they had been found. The miners spray painted the drill bit red so that the people above would know they were alive, and taped a message on it that read "33 men, well and alive!" I do not know if you remember, but that is the first sign the world had that the miners were down there and they were alive. 

For the miners, once they saw the initial drill bit, once they saw light break through, they knew there were people who were going to rescue them. For me, that is a wonderful image of Christ. That Christ has already broken into our world. He has already brought the light into our world. We know that God will rescue us. 

The reality is, for every Advent, there are actually three Advents that we are remembering and celebrating. The first Advent happened 2,000 years ago. When Jesus came into the world, they had been waiting for millennia, for the Savior to come into the world. That was the First Advent and the First Coming into the world. 

The Second Advent is right now. This Advent Season of the four weeks of Advent, we are waiting for Christ to come into our hearts -- right now -- in a new way. 

The third and final Advent is the Second Coming. That is what we heard about in all the Readings today. These Apocryphal Readings are about the Second Coming when Christ will come into our world with power and glory. At that time, the Heavens and the Earth will shake and those who believe will stand erect because they know their Savior is at hand. That is what we are all awaiting. We have already been given that initial sign. The drill has already come through. Christ has already entered into our world. We know that we are going to be rescued by God. That makes the waiting so much easier because we know we have not been forgotten. The reality is we are still in that “mine”. We are in the “protected area” which is the Church. We still need to be rescued. For each of us, we probably struggle with some darkness, sin, and oppression. Something from which we need to be saved. Christ has already entered into our lives. The promise is that Salvation is on its way. The promise for those of us that believe, waiting and standing erect this Advent season, and looking for Christ in His Second Coming, Redemption is at hand. Our Savior is coming for us. Rescue is on its way.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks

Take a moment today to remember all the blessings of the year. Thank God for all the good things that have happened, and all of the gifts that you have received.

Why Give Thanks Just Once a Year?

St. Ignatius said that above all prayer, the most important prayer that we do is the Examen Prayer and he said that if we were to ever drop any prayer time from our day, this should be the last one to be dropped.

St Ignatius initially developed the Examen Prayer with five points. The first of which is Gratitude. This is very simple and can be done in just a moment each day. Take some time, perhaps before bed, to call to mind all the blessings of the day. Thank God for all the good things that have happened and all the gifts that you have received.

I have found gratitude for myself to be salvific. St. Ignatius says that if you spent the whole time simply in the step of gratitude, it would be worthwhile. And, if our hearts spent the entire time in this gratitude, that would be enough. You wouldn’t even need to go further in the Examen prayer.

The Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving, is the source and summit of our spiritual lives, and therefore, it ought to be the source and summit of our personal prayer as well. All is Grace. All is Gift. Everything is Holy. Everything’s a Miracle. And, it’s important that our gratitude be very specific and from our actual experience of the day. This will help us to genuinely realize God’s gifting us in a very personal way, and it will make it real for us.

So, try to remember that moment vividly. See it. Touch it. Taste it. Feel it. That’s God’s gift to you, and there’s nothing better than a gift that is accepted, appreciated, and delighted in.

We hear in the Gospel of John, “I am in You and You are in Me and without Me, You can do nothing.” We are nothing without God, and we have nothing without him. Everything that we have is his gift to us. Gratitude fosters a profound sense of humility and receptivity. It puts us in a position of realizing that we are ultimately poor, powerless, weak, and we can do nothing on our own.

We are completely dependent on God to provide for us. Gratitude helps us to realize that God gives us so much, and this will put us in a wonderful state of receiving the fruit of the Examen prayer. When we are grateful and humble, it sets us up to receive God’s grace. And, realizing that he provides for us, can shift us from being demanding and despairing to delighting in God’s goodness and the joy that will follow.

So, as you begin this point, think about your day with God, and thank him for the gifts that you have received. No gift is too great or too small, and be as specific as you can as you look at how he has provided for you from the very first moment of your day until the present moment. And, more and more, we will realize that all is Gift. Gratitude sets the foundation for trusting God, and once we have this trust, we can begin to look at our lives and allow ourselves to let him in.

Why Give Thanks Just Once a Year?


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The REAL Kingdom Of God

A judge was interviewing a woman regarding her pending divorce. He asked her this question: "What are the grounds for your divorce?" She replied, "Well, about four acres and a nice little home in the middle of the property with a stream running by it." "No," said the judge, "I mean, what is the foundation in this case?" She said, "I don't know. I guess it is made of concrete, brick, and mortar." 

The judge said, "No. What are your relations like?" And she says, "Well, I have an aunt and an uncle living here in town and so does my husband and his parents." The judge began to get frustrated and he asked, "Do you have any real grudge?" And she said, "No, sir. We do not have a garage.  We have never really needed one." The judge again asked, "Please, is there any infidelity in your marriage?" And she said, "Yes. Both my sons and daughters have stereo sets. We do not necessarily like the music they play. But the answer is yes. There is infidelity." "Ma'am, has your husband ever beaten you up?” She said, "Yes, about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do." Finally, in frustration, the judge asks, "Lady, why do you want a divorce?" And she said, "I do not want a divorce. I have never wanted a divorce. But my husband does. He says he cannot communicate with me."

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Sometimes it all does come down to that. A lack of communication, right? When we are talking about the same thing, but we are clearly on two different pages. We have that breakdown in communication in today's Gospel. 

Jesus and Pilate are both talking about kingship, but they are completely miscommunicating. They are on different pages. Pilate's idea of a king is completely different than what Jesus' idea is of what makes a king. What Pilate thinks makes a kingdom is a completely different view than what Jesus views as a kingdom and what makes up a kingship.

We hear this almost comic scene laid out before us. Both comedy and tragedy. When Pilate says to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He is asking Jesus, "Are you the King?" In Pilate's mind, a king is somebody that has power and control over the Jewish people. Pilate is asking Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews? Do you have control of this group of people?" And Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?" Jesus says it because He knows people are talking about Him. Jesus knows that people are talking about these great things that He is doing. Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and chief priest has handed You over to me. What have You done? What have You done that they want You to be killed?" Jesus knows that all He has done is reveal the truth. All He has done is revealed who God is and who He is.

Jesus realizes they are not talking about the same kind of kingdom or the same kind of king. He says, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If it did, My servants would be fighting to save Me. As it is, My kingdom is not here." Pilate thinks he has Him. He says, "Well, then You are a king. You are saying You are a king." Again, they are miscommunicating. Then Jesus says, "You say I am a king, but My kingdom does not belong of this world. It is a completely different kind of kingdom." Pilate is thinking of a king who rules with power, who rules with control, who rules with domination, and who rules with wealth. It is a different kind of kingdom that Jesus is talking about.

As we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, we are living in this world where we have terrorist attacks. We are living in this world where we want somebody to protect us. It has even been said we want someone that is going to wipe out ISIS. We want someone that is going to take care of all of the evils in this world. We do want that. The reality is, that protection, that kingdom of God, does not come about through violence. It does not come about through control. It does not come about through manipulation or wealth. It does not come about through Earthly power. It comes about, ultimately, only through love.

Evil is a great force in the world. It is a powerful force. The only force more powerful than evil is love.

In the Gospel, we hear this miscommunication. Pilate is trying to find out if Jesus is a king. And by that he means, do you have power? Do you have control? Do you have wealth and authority over these people? And Jesus is saying that is not what it is about. His kingship is a kingship of love and a kingship of mercy. Ultimately, His throne was the cross. This was the throne where he ultimately became King.

When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all of evil. In that moment, evil was conquered. Evil was destroyed. And He did it with love. He did it, ultimately, not by power or by control or by violence. He did it by laying down His own life and by being crucified. In that moment, evil was conquered.

So often we miscommunicate with God. For thousands and thousands of years, God has been trying to tell us His Kingdom is a kingdom of love and mercy. We take that message, and somehow or another, we distort it. We think it has to do with control, power, authority, and wealth. It does not. Ultimately, for us, the only way evil can be conquered is with love.

The Kingdom of God is so far different than the kingdom of Earth. On Earth, we rule and power by control. Heaven is ruled by power by mercy and love.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. and next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. We begin the Year of Mercy. The Holy Father has declared that this whole year is to be focused on the Year of Mercy. We will discover that during this Year of Mercy, real authority, real power, the real Kingdom of God is brought about, not by violence, not by control, not by paying back somebody else, but by mercy. I just want all of us to think about that for one moment. Think about mercy in our lives. Is there anything that you are wanting to control? Anybody you are wanting to overpower? Anybody you are wanting to kill or smite out? Ultimately, that is not the way of God. That is not the building of the kingdom. It is only built with mercy and love.

Think about that right now. Is there anybody that is oppressing you? Is there anybody that you have been oppressed by, or are you oppressing anybody? Right now, maybe for you, that is the fear of terrorism. Right now, maybe that is oppressing you. Maybe right now that fear is oppressing your heart. The only thing that can conquer fear is love. Maybe it is somebody in your own family. Maybe it is your own spouse. Maybe there is manipulation and domination. Again, marriage is supposed to be loving. It is not supposed to be dominating and one party holding power. It is supposed to be love. Ultimately, we do confuse the two. There is a miscommunication. Just like the joke at the beginning of the Homily. Sometimes we misunderstand God and sometimes we miscommunicate with each other. That is where violence and sin comes from. But ultimately, He wants to build a kingdom of love.

May we truly enter into this Year of Mercy with hearts that are open to love. With hearts that are open to this kingdom, which is a totally different kingdom than we can imagine on Earth. It is not built on power. It is not built on wealth. It is not built on anything but love and mercy.

I was watching the television show “20/20” the other day. They were interviewing Donald Trump. Trump is the epitome of success, right? He is the one percent. They were showing his penthouse. It is a $100,000,000 space in New York City. From all around, you can see all of New York City. Everything is laced in gold. It was designed after Versailles to look like a beautiful palace. During the interview, Mr. Trump was asked this question: "If you were made President of the United States, what would it be like for you to ‘downsize’ to the White House?" For most people, moving into the White House is like a dream come true. You are moving into this palace, this wonderful mansion. But what would it be like to downsize? Donald Trump was asked the question, "Do you think you would be successful? Are you successful?" As he looked around, he had the camera man look around. He said, "I think I would consider myself pretty successful.”

Look at all of the gold and all of the opulence. However, that is not what the kingdom of God is about. The kingdom of God is not built on wealth, power, or control. It is built on love and mercy. It is so different from what our world sees as successful. As we come to the end of this liturgical year and enter into this Year of Mercy, may we truly allow God to rein in our hearts. May we allow the communication to be true communication where His truth, the truth that He came into the world, is that He desires to build a kingdom of love and a kingdom of mercy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Billiards and the End of Time

CNN Reported that Parisians woke up Saturday to a full realization of the horror brought by the terrorist attacks of the previous evening — a violence deadlier than anything Paris has experienced since World War II.

And no place, it seemed was safe.  Coordinated attacks took place in six locations throughout Paris late Friday, including a theater, the State de France, and at least two restaurants. 

Reporters say that we do not know if other attackers are at large and police are searching for any possible attackers or accomplices. 

The "scale and complexity" of the Paris attacks "surprised everyone.".

Terrorism experts expected some kind of attack, but did not think ISIS would be able to carry off something on this scale. 

This might give us a glimpse of what the "End Times" may be like.

Audio Version Available - Click To Listen

In those days, I Daniel, 
heard this word of the Lord:
"At that time there shall arise
Michael, the great prince,
guardian of your people;

it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress
since nations began until that time.

The violence and terrorism experienced in Paris is a great distress, much like that experienced here in the United States on 9/11, but the end of times we hear will be a time of violence "unsurpassed in distress"!
Pope Francis condemned Friday night’s Paris massacre, calling the attacks a part of a disorganized World War III.

I am close to the people of France, to the families of the victims, and I am praying for all of them,” the Pontiff said Saturday, according to the Vatican Radio.I am moved and I am saddened. I do not understand — these things are hard to understand.”  

That is the reality of the time of great distress, we cannot fathom or understand when or what will happen.

Mark, in his Gospel gives us this paradox:

In the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that he is near, at the gates. 

But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

So what do we do in the meantime?  Are we supposed to be people paralyzed by fear, evil and terrorism?

The answer is "NO"!

In fact, at every mass we pray these words in what's called the "Embolism" which is the short prayer after the Our Father... It's a prayer of deliverance from all of this.  

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

These readings both in scripture and in the newspaper should challenge us with the reality that our lives on this earth will have an end.  As we come to the end Ordinary Time and our Church year, with Advent coming in the next few weeks, we are challenged to take a look at our lives and see if there is anything we need to do to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Hopefully we are living in such a way that we could die today and be at peace.  

Ultimately we are all called to be so converted in this life that everything we do glorifies the Lord and we in no way fear His coming.  

There's a rather playful story of this reality in the life of St. Charles.  

In the 1500s St. Charles Borromeo was the Archbishop of Milan.  He and couple of other priests were playing a game of Billiards.  While the game was going on, one of the priests said:  "What should we do if we knew that the last judgment would take place in an hour?"

One said:  "I would kneel down immediately and pray for the next hour, until the end of time came."

The next one said:  "I would go to one of you for confession and confess everything I did wrong in my entire life to have a clear conscience."

They waited to see what the Archbishop would say... after a moment of silence he bent over and stuck the ball with his stick and said:  "I should quietly continue to play the game, because I began it with the intention of honoring God."*†

This reply was of course totally unexpected and left a great impression that has been retold all these years later.  

"I should quietly continue the game... "

That is really the hope and the reality of living, -that we are all free and called to live.  

The truth is we can choose not to live in fear of terrorism, and instead with the grace of God live in union with His will for us... and we can quietly continue the game.

Now might be a good time to ask yourself, what would you do if you knew the end of time was coming in the next hour?  What would you do if you knew that your life could come to an end at any moment?  Is there anything you would change?

Regardless of your answer, we all should make a point to continue the game with the intention of honoring God

Here is a quick checklist to ensure we are doing just that. All of us should routinely make a point of asking ourselves these questions:
  • Do I have a deep intimate prayer life with God and feel his protection?
  • Is there anything that I do need to confess so that I don't have to live in fear, shame, guilt or anxiety?
  • Is there someone in my life that I need to make amends with?
  • If I were to die in the next hour would I be at peace?
  • Am I doing what God wants me to be doing with my life?
If the answer is 'no', you still have time left... only God knows how much.  

If the answer is 'yes', you are at peace... free from distress... living a life of prayer in union with God. Then "quietly continue to play the game" enjoying every moment of this life, and letting all of your actions be a praise to God.

*Adapted from: Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating the Catholic Catechism. Francis Spirag Benziger brothers, 1904 - Catechetics - 594 pages

†Special thanks to Fr. Kevin Estabrook for his homilies far enough in advance that they helped inspire this one!  Check out his blog here.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Advent Poustinia Retreat with Fr. Michael

December 18 & 19, 2015

This Advent season prepare for Christmas and make time for the quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud.

Cost: $70 

This overnight Retreat begins with dinner and a session on how to spend your time, and ends with dinner and sharing with the evening ending around 8pm.

24 Hours of Silence and Solitude. Prayer with Scripture. Fasting on Bread and Water... that's it! You and God!

A poustinia is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where one goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God.

Poustinia, a Russian word, means 'desert', a place to meet Christ in silence, solitude and prayer.

You will experience a very personal encounter with Christ.

Men and women who desire to grow closer with God can discover how the poustinia powerfully fulfills their yearning. Retreatents are invited to leave the noise and harried pace of daily life to enter a place of silence and solitude.

This is a wonderful retreat to help you grow closer to the Lord during the Season of Advent. 

 It will include prayer, fasting, scripture, and spiritual direction.

To Register or find out more contact:
Bob Glatz - 440-988-2231
Kathy Flynn - 440-988-2848 -
Tony Melendez- 440-653-0200

Beulah Beach
6101 West Lake Rd.
Vermilion, Ohio

Monday, November 9, 2015

Praying with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries

Recently Father Michael Denk sat down with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries. "Bishop Roger" (as he is affectionately known to many) is a former Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. Having been 'retired' for the past two years, Bishop Roger remains very active within the Diocese and was gracious to let Father Michael spend some time with him while he was recovering from surgery not too long ago. The topic of discussion: prayer. Specifically Bishop Roger's prayer life; how does he pray and to whom (God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit)? There is no right or wrong way to pray, and everyone prays differently -priests are no exception. So Father Michael thought it would be interesting to see how some of his brother priests pray as well as what advice they've given to others over the years looking to grow in their own prayer life. The resulting discussion has been compiled into a new and regular segment that will be posted to Father's blog, called "Praying with Priests". 

Join us for a conversation on prayer with Bishop Roger as he & Fr. Michael discuss his prayer life. Together they sit in his chapel, where Bishop Roger is in his favorite chair - a rocking chair which he call's his "prayer chair". And one could gather from its distinct creaky noise, the chair has gotten alot of use over the years - but that quickly dissolves as part of the ambiance of an intimate conversation on how a Bishop's life has been molded and formed around what the Benedictines consider the most important part of one's day, prayer.

Bishop Roger begins the conversation with his childhood. He is a product of what he calls "unusual parenting". His dad had studied in the seminary for 3 years, while his mother had spent 6 months with the Sisters of Charity at Saint Augustine. From his birth, their example was one of much importance and impact. In fact, it was the influence of his parents, that stemmed his desire for priesthood at an early age. 

Good formation was reinforced at home as child. As a young boy, Bishop Roger attended Catholic school and still remembers coming home having to memorize The Ten Commandments. He loved Mass so much that he would 'play Mass' as a child in the basement with his brother. He couldn’t wait until he was old enough to serve Mass, and as an altar server he began learning Latin. "It was a thrill for me", he recalls.

Bishop Roger says that he first felt the presence of God at his First Communion. He recalls it to be the “most thrilling moment" of his life, and to this day, the Mass remains the most integral part of his life. 

Bishop Roger went on to attend Benedictine High School, and it was through the encouragement of his varsity high school football coach that Mass and the Eucharist became part of his daily life. "Everyone shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ through the Mass", says Bishop Roger.

After graduating, he became a member of the Benedictine Order at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, and was ordained on May 18, 1963. 

Bishop Roger looks at the Trinity as the three roles that God has – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. His favorite prayer is one of gratitude – for the gifts that he has been given in his capacity as Father, then Abbot, and later Bishop, to bring others closer to Heaven. 

The Sacraments Are A Sacred Moment of Prayer

Even to a Bishop, the concept of the afterlife is still mesmerizing, yet in a true sign of his faith – Bishop Roger says that "everything is possible with God and that evokes more joy than fear". One shouldn't be afraid of death, it is such a sacred time. In fact, Bishop Roger looks at every experience from Baptism to the Anointing of the Sick as a sacred moment of prayer. It is through the sacraments that God touches our life. One of his favorite and most performed sacraments is that of Confirmation, as it is a time for the evangelization of our youth.

Bishop Roger also loves the symbolism found in the sacraments that is much too often easily overlooked because "that's just the way it's always been done." His response is "Well, why has it always been done that way?" Much of it goes back to the Old Testament, such as the 'laying on of hands' -which is a symbol of sacrifice. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, through the 'laying on of hands', one is giving themselves over to God. That in itself is a sacrificial gift and it is in Confirmation that one becomes a full member of the Body of Christ. The 'anointing of oil' is more than just a symbol, it’s a fact that Jesus has claimed you as His own, and through that it is your obligation to speak God’s word by how you live your life.

As a Father, then an Abbot, and now Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Roger has been in Church administration his whole life. A humble man, he has taken the opportunity on many occasions throughout his life to give thanks to God for giving him the gifts to serve within these roles. Bishop Roger admits that no one is perfect, and yes "even Bishops sin", but that is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important. "Confession is like a trip to the doctor for a check-up", he says. It's essential for everyone to go routinely, no matter if we are healthy or not. And if we aren't healthy, it's an opportunity for healing.

Bishop Roger and Father Michael prior to celebrating one of the most frequent 
sacraments administered by a bishop, the Sacrament of Confirmation

Prayer Comes First

Now, just two years into his 'retirement' as Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Roger says that what he misses most is the opportunity for community prayer. He loves offering Mass each day devotedly in his chapel and does so for the Sisters of Notre Dame, but would prefer offering Mass for God's people. He says, "It's just not the same when you say 'The Lord Be With You', and you don't get a response, because there is no congregation."

Community prayer has been an inspiration to Bishop Roger since his days back at the monastery. He recalls, of his fellow brothers that "no matter what their job was, or where they've been, or how hard they worked, everyone was there for prayer."

In the monastery,  particularly within the Benedictine Order, prayer always comes first and they stop 7 times a day to pray -everything else is scheduled around their prayer time. This comes from the Benedictine motto, 'Tora et labora' which literally translates to 'pray and work' . Notice 'pray' comes before 'work'.

The Benedictine way is to put prayer first then do what needs to be done. Lay people too can and should put prayer first in life. If we make it a priority to set aside time every day –just for 5 minutes– it takes discipline, but you will soon come to find it less of a burden and more of a source of energy, enthusiasm and grace in carrying on the work of the rest of your day.

Another life altering routine that Bishop Roger recommends everyone get into is a quick examination of conscious before bed every night. It's as simple as reflecting on your day and asking God, "How am I doing?" and "Am I living up to what He is asking me to do?"

There is no right or wrong way to pray, we all pray differently. Priests are required to pray the Diving Office, which is the official prayer of the Church (lay people can pray it too). The Diving Office consists of readings throughout the day, along with hymns, psalms, a canticle, and other vocal prayer such as 'The Lord’s Prayer'.

However, there are many less 'organized' ways to prayer. Mediation is great for lowering your blood pressure and it is the method of prayer that Bishop Roger prefers. People get caught up in trying to overdue mediation sometimes, then they get frustrated because they are trying too hard - all you need is some quiet time, then begin by initiating a dialogue with Jesus. Talk to Him about your life as you would a friend – tell Him what you are doing and how you are living your life. Before you know it, you will develop an inner dialogue with Him.

This can be much easier said that done, especially with the constant interruption of modern technology. Life today is full of distractions, it's easy to loose concentration and harder for busy people to be able to relax. Bishop Roger's advice for people struggling to pray or grow in their prayer life is to set aside just a few minutes each day to unplug. If you can free your mind from all distraction, even just for a few minutes each day, making a priority to put yourself in the presence of Jesus, than eventually (after some discipline) once you put yourself into it, you can begin to feel it.

A good place to do this is in Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, because you are putting yourself in the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. Whether you're a beginner, or have been away from the Church for awhile, or are grieving the death of a loved one, where better to go than directly to Jesus in the form of the Eucharist?

To listen to the entire interview with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries, please click on the button below.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Saints Are Sinners Too

"Salvation comes from our God." 

This is from the Book of Revelations. It is used on the Feast of All Saints Day to remind us of where salvation truly comes from. It comes from our God. On All Saints Day, we venerate our Saints. We remember our Saints for all the good and amazing things they have done. In every Catholic Church, you see Saints either lifted high on the wall or on a pedestal. Sometimes, I think this gives us a false notion of what saintliness means. 

"Salvation comes from our God." All the Saints really are Saints, not because of their own strengths, their own merits, or because of their own natural abilities. They are Saints because of their weaknesses. They are Saints who really allowed God to transform their weaknesses and use their weakness to make them strong. 

We are blessed to have this wonderful tradition of Sainthood. 

Audio Version Available - Click To Listen

Over all these years, many of the Saints kept journals, which of course have been left behind. So we can actually read into their thoughts and see their dialogue with God, to better understand them.     

On the outside, sometimes we look at saintly people or Saints, and we think that they have got it all together. We think these are people that are just so perfect and just so good. However, as you read the journals of the Saints, we realize that they were not perfect, and always so good. They were actually sinful like we are. They were people too, and had the same weaknesses as many of us.   Ultimately God transformed them. We are reminded that "Salvation comes from our God." 

I went through a few of the journals of some of my favorite Saints. People who truly became Saints, not because of their strengths, but because of their weaknesses. And I would like to share with you some of my favorite passages about the weaknesses they've experienced. 

The first one that came to mind is Saint Therese of Lisieux. Saint Therese was known as the "Little Flower" because she was such a weak soul. She suffered a lot. She was sick often and never left the convent, and yet she would become the Patron Saint of Missionaries through her weakness. She said in her journal, "How happy I am to realize that I am little and weak. How happy I am to see myself so imperfect." 

Can you imagine this Saint saying that? She is happy to see herself little, weak, and imperfect. Why? 

She says, "I know well that it is not my great desires that please God in my little soul. What He likes to see is the way I love my littleness and my poverty. Blessed are those who are poor in spirit; they will inherit the Kingdom of God." 

Saint Therese goes on to say, "It is my blind hope in His mercy. This is my only treasure. The weaker one is, without desires or virtues, the more ready one is for the operations of this consuming and transforming love. God rejoices more in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens." 

So what can He can do for a soul that is so weak? He takes more delight in the creation of the entire universe. 

Another saint, Saint Teresa of Avila, who was a doctor of the Church (and one of the few women to have been one), writes, "I write this for the consolation of the weak souls, like myself, that they may never despair of fail to trust in the greatness of God." She is writing all of this for the weak souls like herself, so that they too may realize the power and the greatness of God. 

Pope St. Pius the X said: "My hope is in Christ, who strengthens the weakest by His Divine help. I can do all in Him who strengthens me. His Power is infinite, and if I lean on him, it will be mine." We have one of our great Popes telling us that it is through weakness and through leaning on Christ that we gain power. 

Saint Francis de Sales wrote in The Introduction to the Devout Life, a way for lay people to grow in one's prayer and spiritual life, using a prayer that he himself prayed every single day. He encouraged those that were wanting to enter into the spiritual life to pray this: 

"Lord, I lay before Thee my weak heart, which Thou dost fill with good desires. You know that I am unable to bring the same to good effects, unless you bless and prosper them. Therefore, O Loving Father, I entreat to you to help me by the Merits and Passions of Thy Dear Son, to Whose Honor I would devote this day and my whole life.

Every day Saint Francis de Sales would devote his weak heart to God. He would offer his weak heart. Can't we do that too, just offer our weak heart to God? 

He goes on to say that "All these acts should be made briefly and heartily before you leave your room, if possible, so that all the coming works of the day may be prospered with God's blessing." 

By this he is saying that every day, every morning, before we even leave our bedroom, we offer to God our weak heart and ask Him to use us. 

Saint John of the Cross, also a doctor of the church and mystic, wrote, "Other souls, which are weaker, God Himself accompanies, now appearing to them, now moving farther away, that He may exercise them in His love; for without such turnings away they would not learn and to reach God." He is saying that when souls are weak, God Himself accompanies them, comes to them, and appears to them. 

Have you ever had a time in your life where you are trying to work on a virtue, like patience or gentleness, or whatever? 

Saint Faustina said, "One day I resolve to work on this virtue, and I lapsed into the vice opposed to the virtue ten times more frequently than any other day. In the evening, I was reflecting on why. I asked God, 'Why does this happen? Why did I lapse so extraordinarily?' And I heard the words, 'You are counting too much on yourself and too little on me.' And then I understood the cause of my lapses. When I see a burden that is beyond my strength, I do not consider or analyze or probe it, but I run like a child to the heart of Jesus and say only one word to Him: 'You can do all things.' And then I keep silent because I know Jesus Himself will intervene in the matter. And as for me, instead of tormenting myself, I use that time to love Him." 

She talks about this proud realization that God will do these things, and she has nothing to worry about if she offers herself to Him. 

Saint Faustina goes on to say, "Do whatever you can in the matters of your life." And Jesus says to her, "I will accomplish everything that is lacking in you, but fear nothing, for I am with you. Know that of yourself, you can do nothing." Again, weakness, by herself she can do nothing without God."

Finally, I want to end with Pope John Paul II because he's a Saint that I knew. I actually heard him say this at the 2002 World Youth Day in Toronto as he was speaking to the young. "You are young and the Pope is old, 82 or 83." He could not remember his age. "82 or 83 years of life is not the same as 22 or 23, but the Pope still fully identifies with your hopes and your aspirations. Although I have lived through so much darkness, under harsh totalitarian regimes, I have seen enough evidence to be unshakably convinced that no difficulty, no fear is so great that it can completely suffocate the hope that springs in the eternal and the hearts of the young. You are our hope. The young are our hope. Do not let that hope die. Stake your lives on it. We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures. We are the sum of the Father's love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son." 

Two years later, the Holy Father would show us what it means to be weak, as he suffered with Parkinson's disease. He would continue to hold the Wednesday audiences. Sometimes they would bring him up to the window to speak to the crowds. And because he was so weak, because the Parkinson's had taken such a toll on him, he would try to speak, but at times he could not speak. I remember one time, he was so frustrated because he was trying to speak and all he could do was drool. Even though the Holy Father, the Pope, was so weak, he showed us through his weakness how God is glorified. 

We have a tendency to want to put Saints on pedestals and try to become perfect like they were, but the reality is that none of the Saints were perfect. Their greatest perfection was the weakness they overcame. When we are weak, we are made strong. When we offer our weaknesses to God, He can transform them. We are reminded that salvation does not come from ourselves or the good things that we do or the perfection that we try to obtain in this life. Salvation comes from our God.