A Faith that Moves Mountains – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 28

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI don’t know about you, but I have a list of people I want to meet when I get to heaven. This is probably being a bit presumptuous by saying when I get to heaven, but this is why I want to meet the woman whose story we in the gospel of Mark, (5:21-43). Some people may call this woman’s faith presumptuous. Another person I want to encounter is Jairus, the synagogue official whose story we also heard in the gospel. A story within a story is a technique Mark uses often in his gospel. Biblical scholars call this a “sandwich technique” used in such a way that one story helps to interpret the other. Mark’s use of this technique helps us understand both the intensity and the depth of faith these two individuals had when they approached Jesus.

The woman with the hemorrhages said to herself, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” She did not put a qualifier to describe what would happen once she touched His clothes. She knew beyond a doubt that healing would come to her once she touched His garment. This is a powerful faith and Jesus acknowledged it. “Daughter, your faith has saved you.” Her faith stills touches people. We don’t know her name, but her story has inspired countless individuals over the centuries to move beyond fear and approach the Lord. Wouldn’t you Love to have a faith like her? I know I would, and this is the reason I want to meet her and have a conversation about her faith. I have so many questions I want to ask her.

What strikes me the most is her understanding of God upon which her faith is established. Her God was not unapproachable. Her God didn’t inflict suffering upon people. Her God was a God of life. Her God was a God of love and healing. Her God was a forgiving God who she could turn to in time of need. This was true for Jairus. He knew that Jesus was approachable and he could come to Jesus with his request. “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live.” In his words you hear the depth and strength of his faith. Like the woman with the hemorrhages, his faith inspired many over the centuries to move beyond fear and approach God with their request. They are memorialized in Mark’s Gospel, but their faith is still actively influencing others to come to the Lord Jesus.

There are three recommendations these two individuals would make to us today: First, they would encourage us to approach the healing and forgiving love of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This requires, on our part, a faith that Jesus can heal and forgive us. They would tell us that He is there waiting for us to come to Him. Second, they would encourage us to have faith and they would give us the simple recipe of faith. It is one-fifth determination on our part mixed with four-fifths working of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit prepared both of them to approach Jesus. Third, they would underscore the need for hope. Over the twelve years before being healed by Jesus, the woman’s hope never died. Even though his daughter was at the point of death, Jairus’ hope was strong. Neither one of these individuals had in mind that their faith would continue to be effective down through the centuries. Neither do we have in mind that our faith in Jesus’ healing and forgiving power would ever influence others, but it does. Once we say “yes”, our discipleship is in the hands of the Holy Spirit and the Spirit will use its influence to touch the lives of those the Spirit has readied to approach the Lord. This is the circle of discipleship.

We Are Called – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 21, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxAncient wisdom states that a person reveals more about themselves in a confrontation than they accomplish by attacking your self-worth. This same wisdom encourages one not to allow the anger of another into one’s sacred space. While I was working on my Master’s in Applied Spirituality there was a woman in the class that had been sexually abused. In the practicum, she aggressively confronted the three of us who were priests in the group. It seemed to come out of nowhere and each of us wondered what we had said that would have provoked her. The professor immediately removed the woman from the group and sat down with the three of us. On that day I learned two powerful insights about myself. First, I had allowed her anger into my sacred space and thus could not recognize she was hurting. The simple truth of human behavior is that underlying anger is the feeling of hurt. Second, I failed to remember she was revealing a lot about herself that I missed in the confrontation.

This is what is going on in the gospel (Mark 4: 35-41) we have just heard. When the disciples approached Jesus with the question, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” they are revealing their own fear that they are projecting onto Jesus, plus they were accusing Jesus of lack of concern for them. This is a pretty bold statement to make to the Son of God who has power over nature.

In His response, Jesus takes them from fear to the doorway of believing in Him. In His response to the disciples three things have occurred. First, in identifying their fear, Jesus is taking the disciples where they are at—fearful men. This is how God always approaches us. He takes us where we are at and doesn’t demand more of us in the encounter. This is the starting point of discipleship. It sure makes it easy that we don’t have to measure up to a higher standard when we embark on the road of discipleship. Second, Jesus identified the underlying cause of the disciples’ fear—their lack of faith in His person. There is always an underlying cause to our fear and sometimes we are unaware of the reason we are afraid. In allowing Jesus to approach our fear, He would be willing to help us to identify the underlying cause of it. There are several underlying causes of our fear. A lack of faith is only one of them. Taking time before the Blessed Sacrament in Adoration is a good place to allow Jesus to help us identify the underlying causes. In the silence before the Lord He can gently bring to our consciousness the reality we need to confront. Third, Jesus used the disciples’ fear to bring them to believing that He is the Son of God (Mark 1:11), and the Son of Man (Mark 10:45). If Jesus could turn the fear of the disciples into a doorway to faith, just think what He can do in our lives!

We always tend to compare ourselves to others and in the process we put ourselves down. The basic starting point of discipleship is that Jesus takes us where we are at. This is the simple starting point of answering the call to be a disciple. Peter was overwhelmed by his sinfulness after the large catch of fish on the day Jesus called Him. He asked the Lord to depart from him because of his sinfulness, but Jesus looked beyond his sinfulness and saw the “rock” upon which He was going to build His Church. Do we not sing, “Come back to me with all your heart. Don’t let fear keep us apart?” When we allow the Lord to look beyond our fear and sinfulness He will always see a disciple who can make a difference. This is what discipleship is about—making a difference.

We Are Called Just As We Are – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for June 21, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickCalled just as we are, like the disciples of Jesus! Today’s readings are calling us to move from our fears and anxieties to faith and trust. Jesus invites us to move from anxiety and fear when we face trials to a deeper faith and trust in his power over the evil forces and storms of life.

To make us understand that we are called just as we are, I would like to share the story of John Newton. John Newton was the son of an English sea captain whose mother died when he was ten. As might be expected, he then went to the sea with his father. He learned the sea backward and forward. At 17, however, he rebelled against his father, left the ship and began living a wild life.

Eventually John took a job on cargo ship that carried slaves from Africa to America. He later became a captain. Newton never worried whether the slave trade was right or wrong. He just did it. It was a way to make money. Then something happened to change all that.

One night a violent storm blew up at sea. The storm picked up Newton’s ship and threw it around like a toy. Everyone on board was filled with panic. Then Newton did something he hadn’t done since leaving his father’s ship. He prayed shouting at the top of his voice, he said, “God, if you will only save us, I promise to be your slave forever.” God heard his prayer and the ship survived.

When Newton reached land, he kept his promise and quit the slave trade. He studied for ministry and was ordained a pastor. He became a good preacher and composer of hymns. He is well known for this song:

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

T’was Grace that taught my heart to fear.
And Grace, my fears relieved.
How precious did that Grace appear
The hour I first believed.”

The story of Newton bears a striking resemblance to today’s gospel. When the Apostles got caught in a violent storm, they cried out to Jesus to save them. They too were changed forever after their prayer was answered. Before that, they were terribly afraid. This experience is meant to teach them a lesson on the necessity of a deeper faith in Jesus.  It teaches them that they need to constantly struggle against some great ‘windstorms’ that blow against their faith in God, such as trials, fears and the negative influence of evil forces in the world (4:37, 39). These are the tempests or waves of storms that beat into the ‘boat’ of life during the faith-journey of disciples and threaten to sink it (4:37).

Then the arises: What are the trials, fears and evil forces that blow against our faith and threaten to sink it? Do we allow these forces to take control of us and rule over our minds or enslave us?  When we do not understand God’s ways and do not find solution to our problems, do we surrender our life into the hands of the Lord, trusting in his power? Do we make efforts to deepen our faith by going beyond ritual practices to an act of total surrender?

“I plead with you…never ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Do not be afraid.” -St. John Paul II

Discipleship Is Beginning – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for June 14, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickThe kingdom of God is within. Do we agree with this statement? The kingdom of God is not a place, but rather is a way of life; how we live it every day of our lives. Every time I am preparing a couple for their wedding, I ask them if they expect to get happiness in their marriage. And the answer of course is ‘yes.’ I do tell them they are wrong; don’t expect happiness in your marriage. It may sound as if I contradict the purpose of marriage, but I do not.

It is said, “Happiness is an inside job.” Meaning it’s within us, not without. You might travel the whole world looking for happiness, but I bet you, you will never find it. I do tell the couple each to bring happiness in their marriage and at the end they will have a happy marriage. When you expect to get happiness in marriage, you will be a disappointed person the whole of your life because you will be always having a checklist of what you expect from your spouse.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus is giving parables of the kingdom of God, in the parable of a man who scatters seed on the land, and the parable of the mustard seed. Though the parables don’t give us a good view of the kingdom, they are good enough to give us an idea of what the kingdom is like. The “kingdom of God” is visible when we, like the land and mustard seed, actualize our own potential and do what we are called to do as Jesus’ disciples.

Then the question arises, “What are we to do?” Hear God’s word, nurture it in the fertile soil of our hearts, and let it sprout good works. In other words, God’s kingdom is visible in us when we surrender ourselves to God’s ways, when we hear God’s will for us, when we live in a way consistent with who God created us to be and what God intends us to do.

As I said the kingdom of God is not a place, rather it is a way of life. Therefore, these parables invite us to be who we are and allow God’s kingdom to conquer us. These parables call us to surrender to God’s word and action within us, to cooperate with God in bringing about a world filled with abundance and promise. These parables challenge us to make the kingdom of God a visible reality shaping our daily living.

Blessings,

Fr. Peter Patrick

The Kingdom is Within (Discipleship: Its Beginnings) – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 14, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis Dirkx“I have more peace—my prayer life is better. I have more confidence and it has given me strength to keep moving forward even though things keep coming up. I have a better understanding that Jesus is always with us, (Maryangela Layman Roman, “Inspired & Inspiring,” Catholic Herald, Vol. 147/Edition 22, June 11, 2015).” Michelle Kasper said this as she reflected upon her newly found faith in the Catholic Church. As a homeless person she was surrounded by drugs, violence, prostitution, poverty, evils that her own life revolved around. Nine years ago while sitting on a crate looking at the steeple of the church she had an overwhelming experience of God’s presence and felt such inner peace that things were going to be okay. She discovered what we all need to discover—the God within.

Today we begin our summer theme preaching “Discipleship: Its Beginnings. This Sunday our focus is on discovering the kingdom within us. These past two weeks our cluster has begun training leaders for small faith sharing groups that will specifically deal with helping participants to commit themselves to becoming disciples. These groups will begin in the fall and run for twelve weeks. A disciple is a kingdom seeker, a kingdom seer and a kingdom builder. It begins with recognizing the kingdom within oneself—like Michelle Kasper. When one finds God within oneself that person has found the kingdom because where God is there is the kingdom.

At our baptism the kingdom seed was planted and it grows within and we are not aware of it—“through it all the seed would sprout and grow and (we) know not how, Matt 4:27).” We know not how until one day like Michelle Kasper we have an overwhelming experience of God within ourselves. The growth of the seed is dependent upon weather patterns, soil conditions and human labor. This is also true of the kingdom seed planted at baptism; it depends upon the patterns of our lives, our receptivity to its growth, and spiritual and corporal works of mercy.

Long before Michelle had her overwhelming experience of God, the seed started growing. People of faith who volunteered at the Franciscan Peacemakers reached out to her. People like Deacon Steve, Carmen and Bishop Hying. The Spirit works through others to awaken within us the kingdom. Right now the Spirit is working through you to awaken in someone else the presence of God. You are not even aware that this is happening because this is the way it is with a seed that begins to grow and sprout in the darkness of a rich soil. A few years ago I had the wedding of a bride who had been away from the church because of a family member who was sexually abused by a priest. Normally these types of ceremonies are not allowed in the church, but I thought this was a moment the church could reach out and so I had the wedding. This couple and their four children are actively involved in their parish. When they lost their home and almost their lives, they discovered a faith community reaching out to help. They in turn have been reaching out to others in need. Little did I know that a simple yes would open such a door. This is the way it is with a seed that is planted in rich soil.

I offer you three things to help you discover the God within—the kingdom. First, pray daily and use the Scriptures. Second, make the sacraments of Eucharist and Reconciliation a regular part of life. Third, become involved with service to the poor like volunteering with Franciscan Peacemakers, St. Martin de Porres food pantry or helping with a meal program. You will have an overwhelming experience of the God within. The question is, “Within whom?”

Corpus Christi – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for June 7, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickWhen we talk of the Body and Blood of Christ, we refer to the Holy Eucharist; which means thanksgiving; communion; sharing. Christ unites people of different walks of life: the poor, rich, educated, uneducated, sick, healthy, separated, united, masters, slaves, different color, name them, the list is endless. And so we are.

People gather together for a meal because there is commonality in them. It’s very hard for enemies to sit together for a meal. What about us gathered here? Are we perfect strangers at the table of the Lord? Do we know each other well? Every time we have meals together as family with relatives and friends, we share our joys and sorrows, our successes and failures. As family of Christ, we also need to extend that hospitality to our brothers and sisters, with whom we share the same Body and Blood of Christ.

I would like to quote the words of Pope Francis on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi: “We are torn from Him when we are not obedient to the Word of the Lord, when we do not live brotherhood between us, when we race to occupy the first places, when we [lack] the courage to witness to charity, when we are unable to offer hope. The Eucharist allows us to be not torn from Him, for it is the bond of communion, is the fulfillment of the Covenant, a living sign of the love of Christ who humbled and annihilated Himself for us, that we might remain united. By participating in the Eucharist and by feeding on it, we are inserted into a way that does not admit divisions. The Christ present in our midst, in the signs of bread and wine, requires that the power of love exceed every laceration, and at the same time that it become communion with the poor, support for the weak, fraternal attention to those who are struggling to carry the weight of everyday life.”

My brothers and sisters, let us focus more on what unites us other than what separates us. Have a blessed solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ.