Be Watchful – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 29, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThe First Sunday of Advent, Ma’s famous behavior list went up on the kitchen wall in the Dirkx house. It was hung high on the wall. I don’t know if it was so we could not reach it, or because visitors could see, or both, but definitely we were told that Santa Claus would be checking it on Christmas Eve. Three names appeared at the top of the list, mine and that of my two sisters Mary and Pat. Every time we did something wrong an “X” would appear under our name. Any good deed would not remove an “X.” It was permanent. This is probably why my mother used ink—it was indeed permanent. My mother was into behavioral psychology long before it became popular. As I reflect back upon the experience, my mother was teaching us to internalize good behavior out of love. To this day, the three of us have remained very close to each other.

The largest section of books in any bookstore is on romance. Love is very important to us human beings. Without love, we could never come to the fullness of our potential. The love Jesus reveals to us is not found in romance novels, but in the holy love that comes from God, the Father. We have seen this love in the past, anticipate its fullness in the future, and are immersed in it in the present moment. It is in this love that Jesus found His identity as a human person. Let me repeat this: Jesus found his identity as a person in the love of God the Father. In fact, the first temptation of Jesus is all about where He was going to find His identity—in how He could misuse His power or live in the love of God the Father. Jesus told the devil, “Scripture has it, ‘Not on bread alone is man to live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).” If Jesus found His human identity in God’s love, how much more must we find our identity in God’s love? The truth of who we are is only found in God the Father’s love for us.

Our Advent theme for this Sunday is “Be Watchful.” I would like to propose to you a different kind of watchfulness—an inner watchfulness. There is a place within each one of us where only God can dwell. Call it the inner room, or the inner self, or the soul, it is the part of who we are where we can find both God and our true selves. Jesus invites us, this Advent Season, to go to our inner room. We will find it by following our heart. Where our heart is, there we will find our identity as a human person. The inner watchfulness will reveal to us the most profound truth of who we are—the Beloved of God. You will know if your identity is rooted in God’s love, because you will hear the silent voice of God say, “This is my Beloved Son or this is my Beloved Daughter in whom I am well pleased.” The truth of who we are is rooted in God’s love for us. This inner attentiveness is vital to Christian living, to discipleship. It is this inner watchfulness that keeps us focused—keeps us on the right path. It is the standard by which we decide what is truly beneficial to living.  It is the Lord who beckons us to our inner self and to discover ourselves in God’s love. If every human being could live with this awareness, imagine how different the world would be. If we can live in this awareness, then others can too.

May the following question be a guide this Advent. Do I find myself living on the surface of life? Surface-living means we are far from the inner place where God dwells. Go to that place where only you can go and there find God’s love. Be always watchful that nothing but God’s love defines who you are as a human person. Happy Advent!

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Dennis

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Be Watchful – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for November 29, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickWe as Roman Catholic faithful, today mark the beginning of a new liturgical year, “Year C,” with the season of Advent. The meaning of Advent is “Coming.” In the season of Advent, the Church celebrates Christ’s coming in historymystery and majesty – his coming into the world in the past (history) as a human person (which is commemorated at Christmas); his coming to us at present in the Word, in the sacraments (in mystery) and in the semblance of the needy; and his future coming in glory and majesty at the end of time.

With today’s gospel reading the Church wants us to focus our attention on the Second or Final Coming of Christ at the end of time to judge and save us. Personally, for us this “end of time” refers either to the end of our life on earth or the end of the world, whichever comes first. Today the Church invites us to wait eagerly with readiness and preparedness to meet the Lord whenever he comes.

Nowadays what we hear, read and watch is only bad news. Terrorist attacks, shootings, killings, natural disasters and many other evils, which make us ask if these are last days. In the midst of all these, Jesus is telling us not to put our heads down in panic, but to raise our heads in hope. At the end of all these tribulations we are going to meet the Lord who will come with great power and glory to complete our salvation. His coming brings us the hope of total liberation from all the tribulations of this life. When we feel sad and downcast in the midst of present tribulations, it is a matter of tremendous consolation to wait eagerly for the joyful and ‘blessed hope’ of our total liberation.

As we read from the history of our salvation, the Israelites were faced with so many tribulations for many years and they never gave up with God. It is being said that every morning when they woke up, they looked outside to see if things have changed; in others words if there is peace. They were waiting for the messiah; some believed Jesus when he came, and others are still waiting for the messiah. Today’s first reading from Prophet Jeremiah God is giving hope to the house of Israel and Judah that things are going to change. My brothers and sisters, God is also talking to us, giving us hope. He is telling us to be watchful and pray no matter what we are going through. The house of Israel and Judah waited for the messiah for over 2000 years. What about us?

Besides watchfulness and hope, another factor which gives us the strength to prepare ourselves to meet the Lord, is prayer. To be watchful and alert also implies becoming aware of what is happening to us each day. Though prayer and spiritual reflections have a number of objectives, one of them is awareness. Prayer makes us conscious (aware), alert and watchful so that we do not deviate from the aim of our life, or from God’s will. It makes us aware of not only God’s presence but also of our own weaknesses and inadequacies. It also makes us aware of what God wants to reveal to us through various events in our lives and others lives as well as through various events taking place in our world.

Let this Advent be a special one to each and every one of us gathered here by putting on Christ, his virtues, his grace, and his strength. At this Mass, we will not only be clothed with Christ, we will receive Him (Body and Blood) so that he can transform us to become more like him. Be watchful!  Be prepared!

Be A Life Giver, Not A Life Taker – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 22, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhen I was assigned to work in our sister parish in the Dominican Republic, Parroquia Sagrada Familia or Holy Family Parish, I saw the face of poverty as I have never seen it before. I saw it in the faces of children, the elderly, the young adults, married couples trying to provide for their families. I never expected to encounter in such poverty a generosity that overwhelmed me. I learned quickly when I was invited to a meal to take only a little bit because the rest of the family would eat after a guest would leave, beginning with the parents and followed by the children. People who had next to nothing were always ready to share something with me even though it was only a few bananas or a coconut to take back to the rectory. I will never forget the base community of El Rosario and their commitment of faith to an elderly woman. To be a woman without a husband or a son or some means of livelihood meant certain death. It was true in Jesus’ day and is still true in our day. Fifty percent of the world’s population is women and for many of them, women’s equality is only a fleeting dream.
A widowed woman had one son who went to Santo Domingo, the capitol of the Dominican Republic, to find work so he could take care of his mother. He was able to do this because the Christian community of El Rosario was willing to take care of his mother while he was gone. The community made sure that she had food and water each day. They would take her to the doctor and get her medications. If it were not for the commitment of that community, she would have died. They truly were life-givers.

A few weeks ago in the gospel we encountered another poor widow who put two small coins into the temple treasury. Jesus held her up to us as a model of discipleship. In her generosity she gave from the little she had to live on. She gave with a joyful heart and gave freely. In Mark’s gospel it is the little people like this woman who model discipleship for us. This widow gave all she had—she gave of herself. This is what discipleship is all about–giving ourselves totally to the Lord. It is a free, personal commitment each one of us is invited to do, as did the widow in the gospel and the faith community of
El Rosario in the Dominican Republic.

What we put into the envelope or the amount we say we are going to do in the long run is not important. Caring for others, fulfilling our responsibilities in the community, and embracing the unlimited possibilities of a deeper relationship with the Lord are what are important. The widow in Mark’s gospel did not calculate the cost to herself. Disciples do the same. Disciples recognize all that they have is God’s gift. From what has been given to them they give in return. Discipleship is about good stewardship of who we are. Let me repeat this—discipleship is about good stewardship of who we are and not what we have.

God never overlooks a generous heart because in being generous to others we open ourselves to God’s unbounded generosity toward us.

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Dennis

The Solemnity of Christ the King – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for November 22, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickToday we are celebrating the Feast of Christ King. We may ask ourselves if Jesus deserved to be called a king as we literally understand the term. Christ’s kingdom is not political but a spiritual rule of love established in human hearts through service and sacrifice; it belongs to those who hear his voice and bear witness to the truth revealed by him. Amidst all that is happening in the world, we may ask ourselves what should we do? To carry on the mission of Jesus, we are called to be his witness in all circumstances.

Yes! It’s a valid question. By the virtue of our baptism, we are Christ-like. In the Rites of Baptism we hear these words as we are anointed with Chrism: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.”

Jesus is priest because: a) he offered the sacrifice of himself to God in forgiveness for our sins, and b) he is the bridge between man and God; Jesus is prophet because of the holiness of his words and teachings and his predictions of the future; finally; Jesus is king, because as God he has the fullness of power to carry out the duties of his kingly office: legislator, executor, and judge. And on his cross he was labeled the “King of the Jews;” as we have heard from the gospel when interrogated by Pilate he clearly admitted “Yes, I am a king.”

Today’s feast of Christ the King invites us to personally accept Jesus as the only king of our hearts and put ourselves under his loving rule (dominion). Yes, Christ is truly a king with a kingdom, but not political. His kingdom is in human hearts by love, service and sacrifice; though it is in the world, it is not of this world (= not political) but spiritual – a kingdom of love, justice and fellowship within us or established in our hearts and communities (Lk 17:21), a kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17); it neither has its origins in the world nor derives its authority from the world, but from God; it is opposed to the spirit of the world (1 Co. 2:12); it does not require weapons, arms or military force to protect/ maintain itself or to advance its cause; its weapons are spiritual such as self-sacrificing love; it is not adorned with  power but with humble service done even to the least ones; and finally; its citizens or subjects are not of the world, that is they do not belong to the world though they are in the world. In fact, they are meant to be citizens of another world (= heavenly kingdom).

Just for today, let us reflect on the Lord’s Prayer on that part which says; “Your kingdom come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Remember, the kingdom of God is of love, sacrifice and forgiveness! Christ thy kingdom comes, in our hearts through Mother Mary.

Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for November 15, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickAs we come towards the end of our liturgical year, the readings we hear today are about the end of the world. Thoughts about the end of the world and the end of our own lives on earth must fill us with thoughts of hope and consolation instead of fear and despair.  On the one hand the words are scary to listen to, but on the other they are a reminder that we are pilgrims here on earth.

As St. John Paul II puts it; “Hope is not that things will be better than the past, but knowing that you are not alone, but surrounded by the love of God.” Today’s gospel reading contains a mixed message of desolation and consolation, doom and hope. This should not scare us, but invites us to reexamine our lives to see if we are faithful to our baptismal calling, because Jesus promised to come in glory as we progress in our faith.

Jesus’ return in glory to gather his chosen ones (13:26-27) is going to be an event of great consolation and hope for believers; like the tender leaves on the fig tree that signal hope of the summer season’s arrival (13:28-29). Those who remain faithful to his teachings in the midst of trials and tribulations shall be among the elect when he comes with “great power and glory” (13:26-27).

In life, everything has a beginning and an end. In school, we have due dates for the assignments given; likewise in the workplace. If the due date is approaching and you are not yet done, you start panicking, but when the due date is extended, you feel relieved. That is how I feel everyday when I wake up. I feel relieved that I have been given another chance to live; a “second chance.” I try to live the present moment by being faithful to God and those I meet in my life. Most of the time in life we dwell too much on the past, and take a lot of time planning for the future, and never get to enjoy the present moment. This is what the gospel is pointing at, that our whole life should not be focused on the time and day when Jesus should come again, but rather we should always be prepared.

If we live in the present moment and recognizing that every new day is a second chance we have been given, it will be in order to ask ourselves; “How is my relationship with God, spouse, children, parents, co-workers and all those I meet today?” We should deepen our faith in the promise of eternal life which allows us to do that.

Stewardship – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for November 8, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickAt the end of every year, every adult is busy filing taxes. We all need to account for every single dollar we have earned. We are all very sincere and careful to account for everything, to avoid being penalized. What comes to your mind when you hear stewardship mentioned here in church and receive a letter from the parish about stewardship? It should not be confused because stewardship does not only mean money; it is about everything that God has given us.

As we come towards the end of our liturgical year, in a couple of weekends, we are going to hear from the readings about stewardship. How have I lived the whole year in service to God and His Church? Did I fulfill my baptismal promises? The true message of stewardship, however, is not about how much the church expects of its members. It is about the expectations of our God, and our answer to His question, “What have you done with all that I have given to you?”

Today’s first reading and the gospel are good examples of giving without expecting returns and hoping and trusting in the Lord. Do we ever give either money or services without expecting returns? True wealth consists not in what we keep but in what we give away. Possessions are a great responsibility. The Lord expects us to use them honestly and responsibly, and to put them at His service and the service of others. We belong to God and all that we have is His as well. He expects us to make a good return on what He gives us. Have you ever reflected on the prayer/grace before meals?

“Bless us, O Lord, and these your gifts,
which we are about to receive from your bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen!”

This means it is all from God, not from our hard work. We might argue it is from our hard work, but who has given us good health to work hard? Everything leads back to the source.

There are three kinds of givers: grudge givers say, “I hate to give”; duty givers say, “I ought to give” and thanks givers say, “I want to give.” Today’s readings are calling us to give without any reservation, to give freely and from the heart. Here we are not just talking about giving money. It is also giving of ourselves and of our time to God, our family and our neighbors. We need to do all this with a generous and full heart as did the widows in the first reading and gospel.

If our giving is less than it should be, then Jesus is speaking to us in a special way. It’s that we can give ourselves in different ways to different people. We might put it this way: “The best gift to an enemy is forgiveness; to a friend is loyalty; to a child is a good example; to a father is honor; to a mother is our heart; and to neighbor is our hand; and to God everything.”  (Francis Balfour)

Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Peter Patrick

All Saint’s Day – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for November 1, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickToday we celebrate the Feast of All Saints Day – all those people we have known that have lived a virtuous life. Their names are not on the lists of the universal Church, but according to us, they lived a holy life. A saint is a member of the faithful committed to seeking holiness; which is a call to all of us.

I like revisiting the God’s purpose in creating us: To know Him, to love Him, to serve Him and to be with Him when we are done with life here on earth. Which was the case with Jesus, when He was done with his mission here on earth:  He wanted to be with the Father. On the cross He said; “I thirst.” According to Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Jesus thirsted to return to his Father. The result of thirsting to return to his Father, is loving God. It is a spiritual thirst for holiness. We may ask ourselves, “What is holiness?” It is first, Christ living in a person’s mind, will, and body; and second, his loving presence being evident to others.

Today’s gospel is pointing to us how the saints lived and our calling to attain holiness.

1) They lived a life of detachment from material possessions and relied totally on God, and now they enjoy the reward of the Kingdom.

2)   They mourned over evil in their personal lives as well as in the world, and now they enjoy the comfort of heavenly glory.

3)  They were meek in admitting their sins and failures, and now they have inherited the Promised Land.

4)   They were hungry for God’s values, and now he feeds them with the heavenly banquet.

5)   They were merciful towards the needy and the erring, and now they enjoy God’s infinite mercy on them.

6)    They were pure in their intentions and dealings, and now they see God face-to-face.

7)  They were peace-lovers and peacemakers, not peace-breakers; now they enjoy the full dignity of God’s children.

8)  They went through rejection, persecution, trials and abuse for Christ’s sake, and now they have received the reward of the Kingdom.

“Holiness does not consist in doing extraordinary things. It consists in accepting, with a smile, what Jesus sends us. It consists in accepting and following the will of God” (Mother Theresa of Calcutta.) By virtue of our baptism we are all called to lead a holy life. It’s not just meant for certain people. All those who we are celebrating today lived like us, and we believe they were saints among us.

According to Lumen Gentium, what is the universal call to holiness? It is the vocation of every Christian to hold onto and complete in his or her life the holiness received in Baptism. The nature of holiness we received at baptism; “They truly become sons and daughters of God and sharers in the divine nature” (LG. 40).