The Disciples’ Way Begins in the Heart – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 30, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThis week is a time of new beginnings.  We embark upon a new school year, volleyball season begins, football and track have started and of course the Green Bay Packers are entering a new season with the hope of going all the way to the Super Bowl.  We begin a new year of small faith sharing groups with the Arise Mission as our kickoff on September 26th and 27th.   New beginnings are always filled with hopes and dreams.  The willingness to grow, with all the excitement this entails, and the commitment to obtain this goal dominate a new beginning.  In the new beginnings that characterize this time of the year we can look at our commitment to discipleship with a renewed sense of a new beginning.

The readings today, (Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8; James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27: Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), challenge us in our discipleship to consider the role of God’s law and its impact on our commitment.  In the mid-1960s American Catholics were asked in a poll, “Which is the more important law: love of neighbor or not eating meat on Friday?”  Eating meat on Fridays out weighed the law of loving one’s neighbor.  This is a good example of Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel today when He quotes the Prophet Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;  in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts (Isaiah 29:13).”  Jesus is not negating the law of fasting before receiving communion, but He is challenging where we put it on the list of important laws.  Intentional discipleship is doing what God wants us to do.

At the heart of Moses’ admonition to the Israelites is the seriousness of not diluting God’s Law.  The law is a matter of following it or not in the eyes of God.  His law is not about imposing rigidity upon our behavior, but about promoting living in right relationships with God and others.  The first three of the Ten Commandments focus on keeping God at the center of our lives.  The heart of the fifth commandment, “Thou shall not kill,” is the respect for all of human life.  The heart of the sixth commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery,” is respecting and honoring the marital commitment one has made or that of the other.  The heart of the seventh commandment, “Thou shall not steal,” is the respect for what belongs to others.  God’s Law always takes us beyond the letter of the law to the “epikaia” of the law, that is the spirit of the law.  Living the “spirit” of the law is surrendering one’s heart to God and others.  This surrender of living in a right relationship with God and others is an invitation to be fully alive.  Let me repeat this.  God’s law, which calls us to be fully alive, is the path of discipleship—it is the path to becoming our true selves.  The words of God’s law are a lamp for our steps and a light for our path.

At the core of God’s law is living in right relationships with God and others—it’s a life style.  St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians makes the following statement regarding their faith, “We have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and the love you bear toward one another.”  Would St. Paul use the same words to describe our faith?

Sincerely yours in Christ,

 Fr. Dennis

Be Doers of the Word – Father Peter Patricks’s Homily for August 30, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickAn Evangelical pastor was to be introduced to his new church. He transformed himself into a homeless person at that morning. He arrived 30 minutes early while the church was filling with people for the service. Only 3 people said hello to him, most looked the other way. He asked people for change to buy food because he was hungry. Not one gave him anything.

He went into the sanctuary and was told by the ushers that he would need to get up and go sit at the back of the church. He said hello to people as they walked in but was greeted with cold stares and people looking down on him and judging him.

The church announcements for the week which are done before the service were done and new visitors were welcomed. But no one acknowledged that he was new. He watched people around him who continued to look at him with stares that said you are not welcome here.

Then the elders of the church went to the podium to make the announcement. They said they were excited to introduce the new pastor of the church to the congregation. “We would like to introduce you to our new Pastor.” The congregation stood up and looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting at the back stood up and started walking down the aisle.

That’s when all the clapping stopped and the church was silent. With all eyes on him….he walked up the altar and reached for the microphone. He stood there for a moment and then recited so elegantly, a verse from the Bible: “I was hungry….”

Is the story of the pastor talking to us? How does all of this apply to us? Following Christ is not a matter of fulfilling the law. For example, coming to church, praying, reading the Bible, and giving to charity do not in themselves guarantee holiness. We can do all of these, but for the wrong reason, without love. What counts is not what we do. What counts is the love in our hearts that motivates us to do what we do.

If our hearts are filled with bitterness, resentment and pride, then all the external practices in the world won’t make us holy before God. Today’s gospel invites us to look into our hearts and ask ourselves; “To what extent do the words in today’s second reading from St. James apply to us?” “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” In the gospel, Jesus quotes Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me.”

In short, what counts in religion is not what we do, but why we do it. What counts is the love in our heart: love of God and neighbor. “I may have the gift of inspired preaching. I may have all the faith needed to move mountains, but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have. but if I have no love, this does me no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill mannered or selfish or irritable; love does not keep a record of wrongs. love never gives up, love is eternal. It is love, then that you should strive for” 1 Cor 13:2-8; 14:1.

Eucharist: To Whom Shall We Go? – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 23, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxFr. Nicholas Amato recounts the story of the Red Cross who made blood available to all who needed it, ally or enemy, during WWII.  If a Nazi needed blood, they would find a Jewish donor.  The medic would tell the Nazi officer, “The bad news is this: If left to your own strength and resources, you will die.  The good news: We have blood that will save your life—blood from a Jewish donor.”  The choice was one of life or death.  It was a choice in which the officer had to rethink his anti-Semitic belief.

This is the kind of choice Jesus is asking of us in today’s Gospel  (John 6:60-69).  “Do you also want to leave  (John 6:67)?”  It is a question that is as real today as it was in the Johannine Community, especially given the statistics of those who have left the Catholic Church.  We are not here today to talk about them, but about why we have chosen to remain—to say with Simon Peter, “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life (John 6:68).”  Each one of us here today must answer the question Jesus puts before us.  “Do you also want to leave?” Although the question appears to be a simple, straightforward one its consequences are far reaching.

First, the question is asking a conviction from us—a conviction to stay “with” Jesus and “in” Jesus.  It is a question that is asking what is in our heart because convictions flow from the heart and not the mind.  In choosing to eat His Body and drink His Blood we give witness to our choice to stay with Jesus and to believe in Him.  We are able to do so because in the Eucharist Jesus has chosen to stay with us, believe in us and give Himself to us.  Second, when we answer the question as Simon Peter did it is invoking a life-style that is consistent with our answer—a life style that may not always be easy to live out in life.  We know Peter struggled with his answer especially as he had to confront the fact that he denied that he was Jesus’ follower—that in Jesus’ hour of need he walked away.  This is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so powerful.  When we have denied Jesus, we can seek forgiveness and be restored to living out our commitment to Him.  I believe it is in our ability to keep on being faithful in the face of failure that God knows we are sincere.  In the struggle to be faithful in the face of failure God has revealed to me that sincerity is seen by Him.  This grace is very humbling and in this grace I have felt the immensity of His love.  Third, the question is really asking of us to allow God to be in charge—of allowing God to be God for us.

Most of the Nazi officers accepted the blood from Jewish donors. Some did not and died.  We stand with Peter in responding to Jesus’ question.  “Master, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God  (John 6:68-69).”

Choices – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for August 23, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickEvery time I am preaching at a wedding, I tell the couple:  I know you both had many choices of people to marry, but you ended up choosing each other, and it’s also also not something that you have just thought about for a couple of months. Marriage is not about perfect people coming together; it’s about two people perfecting each other.

In life, we love to have choices between two goods – that we cannot lose. The disciples in the gospel are faced with a choice. This choice, however, is not between two goods. It is a choice between life and death. In today’s first reading we hear Joshua telling the Israelites: “If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve….” Likewise in the gospel Jesus tells the twelve disciples: “Do you also want to leave?” What about us when we are faced with uncertainties in life?

Christian faith is a decision to be made every day out of free choice either for or against Christ, especially when faith is tested severely, and when there is a temptation to part company with Jesus. Today’s gospel reading draws our attention to the decision made by the Twelve disciples in the face of God’s revelation in Jesus. When most of the others decided to part company with Him, Jesus challenged the Twelve to decide whether they too wished to go away, like so many others, or would stay with Him with total commitment (6:67). Those who left said those demands were too difficult or hard for them – not hard to understand, but hard to accept (6:60).

Our Christian faith is tested and challenged every day. At those moments, there is a temptation to part company with Jesus. In times of crisis, we wonder why our illness is not healed; why such a tragic accident should have happened to me; why my only child died suddenly; why I lost my job or am unemployed…? The why questions are endless. When everything seems to be dark, can we still turn to Jesus and say: “Lord, to whom can I go? I firmly believe that in you alone is the meaning of life!” If our faith is deep enough, there is less chance of wavering in our commitment to Jesus in such circumstances. The same test can come when there is a conflict of values. The question before the disciples of Christ is how to behave in such cases and whether they remain faithful to His teachings. Jesus asks us every time we are confronted with conflicting values: “Will you follow my standards or the world’s?” At that time we need to decide either to accept Christ and his values or to reject Him and His values. He does not force. We need to choose freely; we are free to remain with him or go away, or make compromises.

Again and again, I do say that I am proud to be Catholic. Not because I am a priest, but because of the sacrament of Reconciliation. I became a Catholic before I became a priest. Every time I fall short of the glory of God because of my sins, I return through the sacrament of Reconciliation/confession. Every time we make wrong choices in life, we are graced to have the Sacrament of Reconciliation which brings us back to God. Remember we are not far from St. Peter who professed to follow Jesus. He denied Him, but that did not stop Jesus from loving him and giving him the responsibility of leading His Church. Let us never get tired of asking for the forgiveness of those moments we don’t fulfill our baptismal promises, marriage promises, Ten Commandments or other promises.

Why Should I Praise the Lord?

At Evangelical Training Camp (ETC) this summer I learned a lot of things.  One of the important things is how amazing it is to praise Jesus.  It’s something I’ve not been good at.  It seemed contrived and insincere when I tried.  “Oh Jesus, you are so great, so good.’ I felt like I was brown nosing the Lord to stay in his good graces.  It just didn’t work for me and I figured Jesus already knows how great he is.  Why does he need a lowly sinner like me telling him?  He doesn’t need that affirmation.

Well, as with many things, I was wrong with a capital W.  Wrong.  Jesus doesn’t need us to praise him.  Jesus wants us to praise him.  What the Lord has done is beyond explanation.  Just look at our beautiful planet, your beautiful children, your beautiful self.   God is BIG.  Huge, beyond our comprehension and he loves us like crazy.  Imagine how much you love your child and multiply it by a gazillion.  Then maybe it will be close to Jesus’ love for us.

So I learned about praise that week.  I learned that praise music is good.  Very, very good.  As in getting chills and crying good.  Singing about how great God is at the top of one’s lungs in a room full of other people singing at the top of their lungs is a wonderous experience.  (In fact, you can have that experience at our parish Arise Mission September 26 & 27 – shameless plug).

I also learned that there are seven words in the Hebrew language for our one English word of praise.  A gentleman named George Burnash wrote about them and a speaker at ETC talked about them. Click here to read his original notes.

The first word Mr. Burnash talks of is Halal which is where “hallelujah” comes from.  It means “to be clear, to shine, to be clamorously foolish.”  A speaker at ETC told a story of going to see Pope Benedict and being so excited that he climbed on some chairs and, as the Pope drove by, yelled “Holy Father, I love you!”  Clamorously foolish.  So beautiful.   Praising Jesus comes from our hearts not our minds.  It’s ok to look silly.  Close those eyes, rock and sway, hold up your hands to Jesus and sing your brains out.  Jesus gets a kick out of that.

The second word is Yadah.  This means to worship with extended hand.  When I arrived at the camp and we were singing our praise, I noticed people holding up one or both hands as they sang.  I asked what that means.  It’s a way to reach to Jesus, to lift up our hands to his name.  Then I summoned up my courage, closed my eyes, reached to Jesus and oh my gosh is that a powerful way to pray.  I get it now and I’m learning to be more comfortable with it.

Towdah is similar to Yadah.  I think of it as not so much reaching but offering.  My hands and arms are open.  I am giving thanks for “things not yet received as well as things already at hand.”

Shabach is to “shout or address in a loud tone.”  Consider Psalm 47:2  “All you peoples clap your hands; shout to God with joyful cries.”  How fun!  It’s praying in capital letters.  It’s enthusiasm, joy, and exuberance.

There’s even a word for bowing down, kneeling to God in adoration: barak.  There are times when all we can do is drop to our knees in praise.  And for those of us who aren’t prone to loud exultation, this is our way to praise quietly in our hearts.

The sixth word Mr. Burnash shares is Zamar meaning to “pluck the strings of an instrument, to sing, to praise.”  This is where those awesome pianos and guitars and violins and trumpets come in creating the accompaniment for our voices.

Finally, there is Tehillah derived from Halal and meaning “to sing or to laud” (I know, you have All Glory, Laud and Honor running through your head now.)  Many of us think we can’t sing.  But here’s what I realized: it doesn’t matter.  Every voice is beautiful when praising Jesus.  He loves the sound of our voices and since he’s the one we are praising that’s all that matters.  When we truly lift our voices in praise, we all sound good.  Listen sometime.  Or better yet, attend Arise and listen.  The voices are glorious.

So I’ve learned that praising Jesus isn’t contrived or insincere or unnecessary.  It’s beautiful and there are many ways to do it.  Currently I’m fond of tehillah in my car with praise music blasting from my radio while I sing along in a halal sort of way and sometimes I may put out a hand in yadah.  I’m sure I look foolish but boy does it feel good to sing my praise to the Lord.

And if you’re looking to sing, sing, sing here are four suggestions:

Sing Your Praise to the Lord by Amy Grant

Lay Me Down by Chris Tomlin

10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) by Jonas Myrin & Matt Redman

Agnus Dei by Michael W. Smith

 

When you come to the Arise Mission, I’ll be happy to look foolish with you

Merridith Frediani

Parish Life Coordinator

Eating: The Necessity of Life – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for August 16, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter Patrick“Eating” -the necessity of life. Of course yes, we need food for us to live. What about when we receive the Eucharist, does it give us the spiritual nourishment that we need? Every time we attend Mass are we eager to receive the Eucharist? We have a priest’s prayer before Mass: “O priest of God, celebrate this Mass as if it were your First Mass, as if it were your Last Mass, as if it were your Only Mass.” This means we should be present in everything we are doing while celebrating Mass.

What about us when we come to receive the Eucharist? Do we receive it as if is the First time? Do you remember how eager you were waiting for that moment to receive? We are called every time we are receiving the Eucharist to be like our first experience.

I would like to give an example which might help us to understand today’s Gospel. A college student named Marie wrote an article called “I bring Jesus to John.” Marie was a Eucharistic minister in her parish. Every Sunday she attended ten o’clock Mass and after Mass took the Eucharist to John, who lived alone.

John had a hearing problem and he could not see well and a heart attack had slowed his movements. But John’s 88 year old faith was strong and vibrant. Every Sunday John waited eagerly for someone. That “someone,” says Marie, was “Jesus and Marie.” Marie said she was privileged to bring Jesus to John.

While Marie attends the ten o’clock Mass, John watches the same Mass on TV. Thus when Marie arrives with the Eucharist, John feels a part of it, too. After rereading the gospel and sharing a few thoughts on the homily, next comes the moment John has waited for the whole week. Although John is physically sick, he is spiritually strong, made so by the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

The story of John and Marie is truly beautiful. It illustrates the kind of faith Jesus invites us to have when he says in today’s Gospel: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven… My flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in him.”

Both Marie and John witness to their faith in these words of Jesus. Marie does it by bringing the Body of Jesus to John. John does it by receiving the Body of Jesus. What about us gathered here today? We are called to receive Jesus and take him out to all those who need him and don’t know him.

Eating: The Necessity of Life – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 16, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxA young man from a wealthy Fond du Lac family came to our sister parish in the Dominican Republic as a participant in Global Youth Mission, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.  It was during my second year of ministering in the DR.  He was overwhelmed by the rampant poverty he encountered during his experience.  I don’t remember his name, but I do remember the conversation we had.  He asked me, “Why are these people not angry with God?  They have nothing!  If I was living in such poverty, I would be angry with God.”  I waited in silence before responding to him and then said, “God is all they have.”  The young man was speaking about my parishioners who would come Sunday after Sunday to be fed with the living bread that has come down from heaven.  They probably knew more about what Jesus was saying in the gospel today, (John 6: 51-58), than the two of us.

This story has always put flesh on the words Jesus spoke to the Jewish people when he said, “Whoever eats this bread will live forever (John 6:58b).”  Their poverty allowed them to hear clearly Jesus’ saying, “I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me (John 6:57b).”  When they heard the first reading from the Book of Proverbs their “nothingness” was a doorway for Lady Wisdom’s invitation, “Let whoever is simple turn in here.  Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed (Proverbs 9: 4-5)!”  I often sensed among the Dominicans I served that they knew more about the richness of God’s life than I did.  In their poverty they could hear clearly what I only heard whispered in the clutter of my life.  It was years later when encountering a different kind of poverty in myself that I began to understand the words of today’s readings.  I share this with you because it underlies comprehending the message of God’s word today.  Oftentimes, understanding Jesus’ message is directly in proportion to how in touch we are with ourselves.  We hear only what we are ready to hear and understand.

Here are three examples of this insight.  The Jewish people in the Gospel could not comprehend what Jesus was saying because they were unaware of what was not alive within them.  They probably thought, “We are alive.  We have life, so what is He talking about when He says, ‘will have life because of me?’”  One has to embrace what is lifeless within one’s self in order to understand the words of Jesus’ message.  The listeners of our first reading from the Book of Proverbs would have understood Lady Wisdom’s invitation if they were comfortable with what they didn’t know being greater than what they knew.  The young man from Fond du Lac, if he were in touch with his own poverty, would have understood why, in their poverty, the Dominicans had a strong faith in a God who nourished them.

Jesus gives Himself to us today as living bread—the totality of His risen body and spirit—as food to nourish us now and on the journey to the kingdom.  Six times in this short Gospel Jesus repeats the message that whoever eats His body and drinks His blood will have life.  Discipleship is becoming aware of our need to be fed with this sacred food so that we may have life and have it in abundance.  Understanding the depth of this gift is in proportion to understanding the depth of our need to be fed with the living bread that came down from heaven.  Eucharist is essential to discipleship as air is essential to living.