The Beloved – Father Dennis’ Homily for July 31, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxBy the time the gospels were written Jesus was referred to as “the Beloved.” God the Father revealed Jesus as His Beloved at the baptism by John in the Jordan River (Matt. 3:17, Mk. 1:11, Luke 3:22). God the Father reaffirmed this revelation during the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matt. 17:22, Mk. 9:7, Luke 9:35). Jesus experienced himself as the Beloved of God. He knew this in his whole being and from this knowledge He lived, preached, and died. It was central to His identity as the Son of Man.

In John’s Gospel the evangelist spoke about the “Beloved Disciple” (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 20:8, 21:20, and 21:7). The question raised by many scholars and readers of the gospel is, “Who is the Beloved Disciple?” Traditionally many have concluded that the Beloved Disciple” was John, the brother of James whose father was Zebedee. The Beloved Disciple in the Gospel of John remains unnamed. Modern scholarship has proposed that the Beloved Disciple is all the followers of Jesus of all time. It is a tool by which the listener or the reader can insert himself or herself into the gospel story. I encourage you to read his gospel from this point of view. It opens for you a reality that is so profound and so true. If we are the Beloved Disciple, we are the Beloved of God the Father.

Following the logic that I have proposed we can conclude that, “I am, you are, the Beloved of God the Father.” This is the fundamental truth of our faith. One of the Eucharistic Prayers used at Mass references this by stating, “You see and love in us what you see and love in Him (Jesus).” If God the Father sees Jesus as His Beloved, He must also see us as His Beloved. St. Augustine came to realize this love God had for him. He wrote the following in The Confessions of St. Augustine, “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you.” This knowledge as the Beloved of God is found in the heart and not in the mind because love’s origin is in the heart. In the heart of God is found the simple truth—we are the Beloved.

The challenge is to live our whole lives from this reality. Imagine how the world would look if everyone could live from this simple, profound truth? We hold within ourselves the very solution to all the world’s problems. This is looking at it from God’s point of view and not ours, but it is the only point of view that really counts. I guess I would call this “God’s Political Platform.” The details of this platform are found in the Bible. Moving this platform forward begins with one person at a time—it begins with me! It begins with seeing ourselves as God’s Beloved. Most of humanity has yet to come to this realization and I, I struggle with its embrace, but I am trying. My sinfulness blinds me from time to time, but even in one’s sinfulness one can strive to look within and discover “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new!”

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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The Gift – Father Dennis’ Homily for July 24, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI first felt called to priesthood at the end of my sophomore year in high school.  After confessing my sins and receiving absolution I told my pastor that I wanted to become a priest.  Right then and there I blew my anonymity as a penitent.  He knew the sinner, but the sinner wanted to answer an urging in his soul.  That Saturday afternoon began my journey to priesthood.  It was only as I got closer to priesthood that I fully committed myself.  Looking back forty-four years later I have come to understand the call was the gift.  It was never my gift, but it is your gift.  When God calls someone to priesthood or any vocation in life, it is because God wants to gift others through the one whom He called.  God’s call originates outside of the person.

In examining some of the call stories in scripture we will see this reality.  On my list of who I want to meet in heaven is Jeremiah, the Prophet.  I have always identified with how he expressed his reluctance to answering the call.  “’Ah, Lord God!’ Jeremiah said.  ‘I know not how to speak; I am too young (Jeremiah 1:6).’”  God doesn’t take “no” for an answer.  God replied to Jeremiah, “Say not, ‘I am too young.’  To whomever I send you, you shall go; whatever I command you, you shall speak (Jeremiah 1:7).”  The call to become a prophet did not originate within Jeremiah.  Being a prophet was not on his radar!  The call was God’s gift to the Israelites.

Examining the call of the first disciples we encounter the same phenomenon; the call originates outside of the fishermen.  They would have been very happy to remain fishermen; in fact, Peter even told Jesus, “Leave me Lord. I am a sinful man (Luke 5:8).”  Jesus doesn’t take “no” for an answer: “Do not be afraid.  From now on you will be catching people (Luke 5:10).”  Peter and the other apostles became His gift to humanity and we are a part of this giftedness.  It is also true of the call Matthew, the tax collector, experienced.  The call was a simple one, “Follow me (Luke 5:27).”  Its origin was in Jesus, not Matthew.

This leads me to the point I would like you to consider.  Our discipleship begins with a call from the Jesus, the Risen Lord.  This call is the gift of the Risen Lord not to you, but to those to whom you are sent.  We live, move, and have our being in the dynamic, unfolding action of our God.  This is the eternal truth from the beginning of creation, when God’s Word created the earth and the universe and God saw what He created as good.  God’s Word intimately shapes the call we have experienced.  The Prophet Isaiah reminded Israel of this and we too need to be reminded by He who said, “So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me void, but shall do my will achieving the end for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11).”  Our call to discipleship is a part of God’s design to save humanity, and we are privileged to be included in His work.

Our task as parishioners is to help our brothers and sister to form a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, because most often this is where many experience the call to become a disciple of the Lord.  It is only after one has been called by the Lord that we can make disciples.  Helping others to form a personal relationship with Jesus, we are opening them to receive the call and we know that He is calling—we are living witnesses of His action.  Psalm 127 begins with this thought, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it.  Unless the Lord guards the city, in vain does the guard keep vigil (verse 1).”  The Lord is building and we are the construction workers.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Dennis

Martha! Take Time Out – Father Dennis’ Homily for July 17, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxA pastor at a recent First Communion Mass challenged the parents not to deprive their children of receiving the Eucharist by not going to church on Sunday.  It is definitely a message that ought to be said at every First Communion Mass these days because “first-communion” for many of our children is the “last-communion.”  In the week following, the pastor received an email from one of the mothers that read: “Father, you made me sound like a failure as a parent because I am not at church on the weekends.  You don’t understand what goes on during a Sunday.  Between the soccer games I have to take my children to on a Sunday morning, I have to get the shopping done for the coming week otherwise there won’t be food in the house.”  It was signed, “A busy mom.”

This is a modern day Martha story in which many families find themselves on a Sunday morning.  Granted, this typical mother is busy about many things, seeking to be recognized for making the effort to have her child make First Communion, and trying to do her best, but missed the central point of the Eucharist.  The central point of Sunday Mass is Jesus wants to nourish us with his Body and Blood.  Jesus wants to spend a few “Mary” moments with us.

We truly are a “Martha” society.  We place a high value upon productivity.  Oftentimes we place our self-worth upon what we can accomplish.  Fr. John Martin SJ sees underneath all of our busyness our yearning for a deep relationship with Jesus, like Mary had.  I am always amazed when I go out to eat to see a couple sitting across from me on their cell phones not speaking with each other until the food comes or to see a family engaged in the same behavior, and when they are done eating to go back on their cell phones.  A recent TV ad pictures a family who is experiencing an interruption with their internet service and they don’t know what to do with themselves.  Our advertising reinforces our behavior.  We rob ourselves of the opportunity to form deep relationships that have the ability to feed our souls.

The readings for this weekend, (Gen. 18:1-10a, Col. 1:24-28, Luke 10:38-42), have a powerful message for us and how we live our lives in a Martha society.  The message is about being present to others in a nurturing way.  In our first reading Abraham, following the ancient custom, offered hospitality to the strangers who were passing through.  The reading outlined the details of the hospitality Abraham and Sarah offered the strangers, who in reality were God.  When we take quality time with others we can begin to recognize Christ in the person.  In the second reading, St. Paul in his suffering relationship with the Colossian community realized that he was filling up what was lacking in Christ’s suffering so that they could experience the fullness of Christ.  This is the ultimate challenge for a disciple in training: to be Christ for another so that person can become Christ.  He was being Christ for others that they could be Christ to each other.  In the gospel story we hear of Mary who sat at the feet of Jesus listening to him while Martha, distracted by the details of hospitality, complained that she was left all alone.  Martha was following the same ancient custom that Abraham and Sarah were in our first reading.  When she focused upon her busyness and not for whom she was preparing for, it became burdensome.

Our readings offer us three examples of a deep relationship with God, Abraham/Sarah’s relationship with God, Paul’s relationship with Christ, and Mary’s relationship with Jesus.  In all the busyness of our lives, what is the one thing we can do this week to be at the feet of Jesus?

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Dennis

Needed Now: A Few Good Samaritans – Father Dennis’ Homily for July 10, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThis summer for us as a nation has been a violent one and we are not even at the halfway point of summer.  Etched into our minds is the Orlando massacre, the killing of two young black men, one in Louisiana and one in suburban St. Paul, the massacre of five Dallas police officers plus those who were injured, to be followed by the ambushing of police officers in Georgia and Tennessee the following day.  In our own community an African American father is shot to death because he had a gun lying on the front seat of his car.  Not to mention the almost daily shootings in our streets.  We live in a culture of fear, not knowing what violent action is just around the corner.  Such a culture is not a healthy one to raise one’s children, to walk the streets with one’s friend, or to have our children play at the playground in the neighborhood.  The popular song of 1965 by Hal David and music composed by Burt Bacharach, “What the World Needs Now is Love, Sweet Love,” is still the need in our nation and world today.  The world needs a lot more Good Samaritans.  This is the greater context in which the Word of God comes to us this weekend.  The more immanent context for the Word of God is our hearts.  Any sufficient change in the culture of fear we live in begins right within us.

Keeping this context in mind, the words of Moses to the Israelites are where we have to begin.  “It is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.”  What is it that God has placed within us that is an answer to the challenges we face today?  Moses is referring to the capacity the Israelites possess for internalizing God’s law.  We too are created with this same capacity to not only to internalize the commandment of the Lord, but to have the energy to live it because we have received the Holy Spirit.  It begins with a recognition that this “something” of which Moses spoke about is near us.  Recognizing this inner disposition God has placed within us, allows us to realize we have the power to embody the commandment of the Lord:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  We have the God-given power to live the command we have been given.

We have to begin with our hearts and thus, to be able to encourage others to look into their hearts to see a vision of a world with love and peace.  If we do not find it in our own hearts, we cannot help others to find it in theirs.  The power of the parable Jesus told the scholar of the law is the outsider—the Samaritan who looked into his heart and was moved to care for the one who fell victim to the robbers.  The Samaritan could see in his heart what the priest and the Levite could not see, but if they chose, they also would have been able to be compassionate.

It is not what’s in your wallet that counts, but what’s in your heart.   One of the most pointed photos from the anti-war movement of the 60’s is the one that pictures a young woman placing a flower down a gun barrel of a national guardsman who aimed it at her.  Her message was a powerful statement about the war.  It rippled through the consciousness of America.  Compassionate acts always do ripple out into life, calling others to look within and see they have the same power to do likewise.  What’s in your heart?  There is a world that awaits an answer.

A final thought.  I believe we ought to hang the photo of the young woman putting a flower in the barrel of a guardsman’s gun in the Halls of Congress, in every gun shop in America, in every airport, train and bus station, in every prison in our country and every police station in this land.  Maybe then, we will begin to understand gun barrels are really vases for flowers.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Dennis

What Does It Take?  Discipleship – Father Dennis’ Homily for July 3, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxMy favorite vacation is to take a road trip.  I am amazed at how much of the country I can see from a car.  There is much that goes into planning a road trip.  First, settling upon a destination is key to planning a road trip.  I usually like to take time reaching the destination in order to explore the points of interest on the way.  This means making hotel or motel arrangements in advance thus saving the hassle of finding a place along the route or encountering the ancient statement, “There is no room at the inn.”   It also requires coming up with a road map of the journey.  Depending upon the distance and number of days, it involves saving up money to cover the cost of the trip; this may require some long-range planning.  I sure would not like to be the guy in the gospel who started to build a tower, but did not have the resources to finish it.  Shortly before the start of vacation I always take the car in for a tune-up.  The immediate preparation involves packing the items needed for the trip.

Discipleship is like a road trip.  It involves a destination.  The goal of discipleship is two-fold.  The ultimate goal of discipleship is to enter the Kingdom of God.  The immediate goal of discipleship is to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ; this goal prepares one for entering into the Kingdom of God.  This allows the Lord Jesus to recognize the disciple as His own.  Like every road trip there is a cost that one must accept.  In Luke’s gospel Jesus defines the cost of discipleship.  The disciple is required to place Jesus as the first priority in his or her life.  He states, “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”  These words are harsh, but they convey the single-mindedness a disciple needs in order to carry on the mission of Jesus.  Therefore, who is the most important person in my life?  If the answer is not Jesus, there is some prioritizing that needs to happen.

The second requirement is the willingness to accept the consequences of being a disciple.  This is the cross Jesus is speaking about in the gospel.  A world turned in on itself doesn’t want to hear the words of Jesus Christ coming from the lips of His disciples, words like, “Woe to you rich, for your consolation is now.  Woe to you who are full; you shall go hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now; you shall weep in your grief (Luke 6: 24-25).”  His words spoken by the disciple reveals the truth of how far the world is out of step with Jesus.  The third requirement of discipleship is to renounce all one’s possessions, for this is baggage that gets in the way of fulfilling Jesus’ mission.  He tells us in Luke’s gospel, “Take nothing for the journey, neither walking staff nor traveling bag; no bread, no money (Luke 9: 3).”

Discipleship is constantly about renunciation and calculation.  Following Jesus is an ongoing choice with ongoing demands; therefore, it is of the utmost importance to keep one’s focus upon Jesus.  If one would clearly calculate the costs and assess one’s resources before beginning the journey of discipleship, one would never begin.  If one is completely honest, one doesn’t have what is needed to be a faithful disciple.  What one is lacking in oneself, the power of Jesus and His grace helps to finish the work.  St. Peter denied Jesus three times, but look at what the power and grace of Jesus accomplished through Peter.  St. Paul persecuted the early church, but consider what the power and grace of Jesus accomplished through Paul.  In our own day Mother Teresa of Calcutta was plagued with constant doubts about her faith, but see what the power and grace of Jesus accomplished through her.  This same power and grace of Jesus is there for us who take seriously our discipleship.  It is all about Him and not about me.

Yours in Christ,

Fr. Dennis