Making A Difference – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 26, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThe word “evangelization” is probably most misunderstood by us Catholics. We think of the street corner preachers calling passerby to turn from their sinfulness and embrace the Lord. Still others of us think it means going knocking on doors and inviting people to come to church; something like the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Whatever way we try to imagine what this word means, it conjures up fear within us that somehow we have to move beyond our comfort zones. We hear this in the gospel today. When Jesus is told by a potential follower, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus spoke about not having a permanent home. “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” It’s a nice way of telling the potential follower that one has to get out of one’s comfort zone.

Have you ever read a spiritual book that really touched you and you shared it with a friend? You have evangelized. Have you been moved by a CD of inspirational songs and brought a few copies for your friends? You have evangelized. Have you been in a small group which made you feel comfortable talking about your faith, and you invited a fellow parishioner to sign up with you for the Lenten series? You have evangelized. When preparing a meal for the St. Vincent de Paul Meal Program have you asked your non-churched neighbors if they would help make the desserts? You have evangelized. In a discussion at work, have you expressed your concern about the negative impact that campaign rhetoric is having upon our children? You have evangelized. I bet when you have done some of these things you have felt good about yourself. Evangelization is all about being true to who you are and inviting others into that truth. This is what Jesus did when he asked Peter and Andrew to become fishers of men. He was being true to who he was and invited them into this truth.

I share with you a true story about a seventh-grader who evangelized his family and neighbors as both a conclusion to these thoughts of mine, and as an application of these words. At the last School Mass on June 10th I challenged the students to do three things this summer. First, I encouraged them to read this summer. I told them that I have three books lined up that I want to read. Second, I invited them to pray each day during the summer. I suggested a few ideas they could latch onto. Third, I challenged them together with their families to do one thing this summer for the poor.

A seventh-grader by the name of Jack asked his family for his thirteenth birthday not to give him gifts, but to help him collect food for the poor. He not only asked his family, but his friends and neighbors also to help him. He collected so much food his Mom informed the parish office that they were amazed. All of this is going to the food pantry at St. Martin de Porres Parish.

His family lives in one of the more violent neighborhoods in our community. Where there is violence, a young man of thirteen has brought his neighborhood together to help those less fortunate. Where there is fear, he has opened a door to peace and unity. The world needs more people like Jack and the family that has nurtured him. Thank Jack for making a difference.

 Yours in Christ,

 Fr. Dennis

 

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The Jesus Question – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 19, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis Dirkx“Who do you say that I am?” Jesus, the Risen Lord, asks us this weekend in which we celebrate Father’s Day, Juneteenth, and Polish Fest. The question has to be answered by every person who claims to be a Christian. If one has not answered the question, one has answered the question. The question is not being asked by the historical Jesus, but by Jesus, the Risen Lord, whom we encounter both in the Word and in the celebration of the Eucharist. If the question is only asked by the historical Jesus, we would not need to answer it, but the question is being asked of us by the Living Christ, the Risen Lord. Answering the question is an evolving process, because as one grows in a relationship with the Lord the answer will become clearer and more firm. We are asked today by Jesus, the Risen Lord, “Who do you say that I am?”

The question we are asked today ultimately needs to be answered with the heart. Peter in the gospel answered by saying, “The Christ of God.” This is before the Last Supper when Peter is told by the Lord, “If I do not wash you, you will have no share in my heritage.” The question is answered before Peter denied Jesus three times. It is answered before Jesus asked him three times, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Given the implications of his response, Peter at the Last Supper probably would have answered, “You are the Christ in whom I want to share.” After the denial Peter would have answered the question, “You are the Christ whom I have denied and now beg for forgiveness.” On the shore of the Sea of Tiberias Peter answered the Lord, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” As Peter grew close to the Lord in a loving relationship so too his response to the question “Who do you say that I am?” deepened. Peter over time came to realize the implications of his response to the Lord.

We, too, over time come to a deeper realization of the implications involved in our response to the Lord’s question. The question Jesus raised to his disciples involved not only their identity, but involves our identity today. “You are the Christ,” is the Son of God who, as proclaimed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, is the one who emptied himself and took the form of a slave and became obedient to death on the cross. Our identity is to be found in this Christ—the one who poured himself out for our sakes. The path to finding our identity is this: to deny ourselves, to take up our cross daily and to follow Him—the one to whom we say, “You are the Christ.”

Paul in his letter to the Galatians explores further the implications of our identity in Christ. He simply states, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free person, there is not male and female—for…all are one Christ.” Paul understood that once we were baptized we entered in Jesus Christ. “In-Christ,” there are no longer any distinctions that separate us from one another because we are one. Today St. Paul would probably say, “There is neither black nor white, there is neither rich nor poor, there is neither straight nor gay, there is neither Republican nor Democrat, nor independent, there is neither immigrant nor Native American, there is not male and female—for…all are one in Jesus Christ.” The distinctions we use to label and divide ourselves disappear in Jesus Christ.

The question is, “What is St. Paul talking about?” Look around you will see most of the distinctions that I mention right here this morning. As long as we look at reality through our own eyes we will always see the labels, the differences and the divisions. But look around with the eyes of Jesus Christ. When we do so, we see that which holds the diversity of who-we-are together—Jesus. We live between our perception of reality and the world within Jesus Christ where there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither free person nor slave, there is not male or female.

In today’s gospel Jesus asked us, “Who do you say that I am?” Paul refines Peter’s answer, “The Christ of God,” and helps us to see with different eyes—to see as Jesus Christ sees. In light of St. Paul the question becomes, “Who am I in Jesus Christ and do I see what He sees?”

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Dennis

 

God Is Never Done With Us – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 12, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxGod is like a potter.  The image is ancient one, dating back to the time of the Prophet Jeremiah (18: 1-6).  Like the clay in the potter’s hands, God is shaping us and forming us into a work of art.  The closer we come to the Lord the more aware we become of our sinfulness and how God has been shaping us not in spite of our sinfulness, but with it.  Let me say this again.  God the Father in the death of his Son on the cross has kissed that which is most unloveable in the darkness of our humanity—our sinfulness.  The awareness of our sinfulness is the door for God’s mercy to enter into our lives.  It is not a natural thing for us to acknowledge our sinfulness.  It sometimes takes a prophet like Nathan, who helped David encounter his sinfulness.  In this confrontation with his own sinfulness, David becomes aware of God’s forgiveness.  Nathan said to David, “The Lord on his part has forgiven your sin, you shall not die (2 Sam. 12:13).”

Awareness of our sins leads us to repentance, and this is the beginning of the process of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  If the process of discipleship were a baseball diamond, this awareness of which I speak would be home plate.  It is mercy that leads us to first base.  There was a couple, very much in love with each other, walking along the RiverWalk in downtown Milwaukee, discussing the future of their lives together.  She turned to him at one point and said, “Could you forgive me if I was unfaithful?”  She was shocked when he said, “Of course, I would.  I love you too much not to!”  It was at that moment she sensed the depth of his love for her.  It is only in God’s forgiveness of our unfaithfulness that we come to sense the depth of God’s love for us.  I use the word “sense” because we can never fully understand the depth of God’s love.

Sensing the depth of God’s love for us leads us to second base, and on the way there we find ourselves making a commitment to following Jesus Christ.  God never gives up on us!  The Prophet Nathan recalled to David all that God had done for him and revealed to David his unfaithfulness.  David came to realize the most enduring quality of God—He never gives up on humanity.  This powerful message is repeated in the death of Jesus on the cross.  We read in the gospel of St. John, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him my not die, but may have eternal life (3:16).”  Once again we will encounter this enduring quality of God’s love for us in the Eucharist.  This is repeated over and over again in both the sacrament of reconciliation and the Eucharist.  With this knowledge we find ourselves on third base.

The realization St. Paul spoke about in our second reading gets us to home plate—“I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me (Gal. 2: 19-20).”  Let us allow Christ to live in us!

Yours In Christ,

Father Dennis

The Victims’ Cry – Father Dennis’ Homily for June 5, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxIn a recent First World Humanitarian Summit sponsored by the UN in Istanbul, a representative delivered Pope Francis’ message in which he said the following: “Let us hear the cry of the victims and those suffering. Let us allow them to teach us a lesson in humanity.” We don’t think of the victims of poverty, hunger, and violence as having something to teach us. We look out from a different level of societal structure and we never look down. In our failure to heed their voices we miss the most valuable lesson they can teach us about becoming more human. If you want to judge the integrity of a candidate’s worthiness or a political party that wishes to serve, simply look at their effects upon the most vulnerable of our society. It is here where you will see the fruits of their compassion or the lack of it. Greatness as a nation is measured by our care of the homeless, victims of racism, what we do for families living below the poverty level striving to feed four children, providing free health clinics for the poor, protecting the rights and dignity of all people; it is seen in how we care for the marginalized of our society. All of these are gospel values and a part of Jesus’ agenda.

The readings we have just heard are framed by compassion (1 Kgs. 17: 17-24, Gal. 1: 11-19, and Luke7: 11-17). We need to understand the status of a widow in Jesus’ world and Elijah’s world. To be a widow without a family or relatives to care for her meant death. The boy whom Elijah restored to life would eventually become the caregiver. The same is true for the widow whose only son died; she was facing an uncertain future—one that would be filled with difficulties and possibly even death itself. It was the compassion of Elijah and the compassion of Jesus that not only gave their sons back to them, but security for their own lives.

I worked in our sister parish in the Dominican Republic. I will always remember the faith community of El Rosario, which took care of a widow whose only son went to the capitol to find work to support his mom. The commitment of that faith community kept her alive. We think of the two incidents in our readings as happening only in the ancient world, but it occurs more often in our time.

In the former English version of the New Testament (RSV) Jesus told his disciples, “Be compassionate as your heavenly Father is compassionate (Luke 6:36).” Compassion simply means to suffer with someone; or as our Native American brothers and sisters would say, “Walk a mile in your brother’s shoes in order to understand his pain.” Compassion opens the eyes of the heart to recognize in the marginalized one’s sister or brother. In the Eucharistic Prayer entitled, “Jesus, the Way to the Father,” we ask God the Father to make of us compassionate people. “Keep us attentive to the needs of all that sharing their grief and pain, their joy and hope, we may faithfully bring them the good news of salvation and go forward with them along the way of your Kingdom.” No matter how great our sin may be, it is forgiven when we reveal the compassionate face of God.

Yours In Christ,

Fr. Dennis