Places of Honor – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 28, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI have a friend who, when getting together with him, lets me know who he knows, how he got to know the person, and the circumstances surrounding the encounter. I am always amazed by the number of people he knows, or how he has had the opportunity to meet famous people. I guess I must be in the wrong place at the wrong time. One feels a little bit like Ziggy, who knows only a few “unknowns” of society.

The readings today (Luke 14: 1, 7-14; Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24a) focus upon our relationship with God and our relationship with the most vulnerable of society. The parable of the wedding banquet warns us about making the presumption that when we are invited, it means we will occupy the place of honor. The second parable is about inviting those who have no means of repaying one in return. It is very easy for us to dismiss the point that Jesus is talking about, but he is addressing our relationship with God. Both in the Hebrew Testament (OT), and the Christian Testament (NT), great emphasis has been placed upon what we do or don’t do for the marginalized. Our first reading from the book of Sirach concludes with a powerful admonition, “Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sin (Sirach 3:29).”

Embedded in Jesus’ parables, and echoed in the first reading and proclaimed in the Psalm response is an invitation to conversion, or as the Greeks would say a “metanoia”—a change of heart. The Word of God is helping us think differently about our relationship with Him. What do we have to think about differently in our relationship with God, and how do the poor fit into this relationship? “God in your goodness, you have made a home for the poor” we proclaimed in response to our first reading. Our God who loves unconditionally, who always seeks us out, is also the God of orphans, but we too were orphans before Jesus reconciled us to the Father. Our God is a defender of widows and a God who gives a home to the forsaken, but we too were forsaken because of our sin.

This Word of God—what is it challenging you to rethink in your relationship with Him? When I was working among the poor in our sister parish in the Dominican Republic, I began to realize that we get to heaven on the coat stings of the poor. Closeness to the marginalized opens the door to closeness with God who has made a home for them. I am sure that you who are involved in our outreach ministries and support the poor have felt this closeness to God. St. John Paul II when declaring Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Blessed, said, “’As you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me (Matthew 25:40).’ This Gospel passage, so crucial in understanding Mother Teresa’s service to the poor, was the basis of her faith-filled conviction that in touching the broken bodies of the poor she was touching the body of Christ.”

In God’s heavenly banquet all the places are places of honor not just for us, but for the dying homeless man held in the arms of Blessed Mother Teresa or for the beggar who stands at the intersection with a sign that reads, “Homeless! Can you please help?” Recall the story of Lazarus and the rich man who ate sumptuously each day. All that the rich man had to do in order to get to heaven was give Lazarus some food. Why was that so challenging for the rich man?

Walter was a homeless man who lived on the streets of Milwaukee. He taught me one of the most important lessons of my life. He came to the shelter on one of those below zero nights carrying a small bucket of food that he collected from dumpsters. I asked if I could take his bucket of food scraps and get him some fresh sandwiches. Clutching the bucket tightly he said, “You can get me some clean underwear.” I learned that night one of the great lessons of life. Let the poor tell you what they need and don’t presume what they need. “Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins, (Sirach 3:29).”

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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Walk the Talk – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 21, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxIt is hard to believe that God is with us when we hear of the tragedy in Nice, or in Paris, or in Orlando, and now in our own community, but God is here with us. The alternative Eucharistic Prayers proclaim in reference to God, “You, who love the human race and who always walk with us on the journey of life.” Let me assure you of this because I believe this with my whole heart and soul that God is with us in the worst of times and the best of times. I know that God is here because I hear him in the voices of residents in the Sherman Park neighborhood, saying that they are going to rebuild this neighborhood where children can play on the sidewalk in front of their homes. We must join their efforts, because as St. Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it (1 Corinthians 12:26).” We have to see ourselves as being a part of the solution

Our God has given us a road map for building a world where there is no more violence, or no more killing, where people can walk together to the Lord’s city on that holy mountain as the Prophet Isaiah described in our first reading (Isaiah 66:18-21). In the gospel today Jesus tells us, “Strive to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24).” If there is a narrow door, there must also be a narrow path that leads to this door that Jesus speaks about. It takes courage and perseverance to walk this way. Jesus is the door and it is in the light of his truth that we must walk together.

The first step on this narrow path is to see ourselves as a part of the solution. This city and this world need healing, and we must see ourselves as healers. Jesus gave to the Church the power to expel darkness and to heal brokenness; we are a part of this Church. John Martin, in his reflection on the readings of this Sunday said, “The reality of God’s goodness and salvation must be stressed especially in times of chaos, when violence seems the true coin of the realm (America, August 15-22, 2016).” The narrow path of truth asks us to look beneath the violence and the wound of our city to seek the causes of such chaos. It is there that we must bring to light what we have found and there where we must bring healing. For too long, too many people have been locked out of the world that God intended for all.

The parable in today’s gospel can be seen as a prediction of reality when we choose to do nothing. The words of the master of the house are haunting—“I do not know where you are from (Luke 13:26).” Pope Paul VI once said, “If you want peace, work for justice!” The narrow path of justice takes courage, endurance, self-giving, and perseverance. We all can do something, no matter how small the effort maybe, to bring about what lies at the heart of Jesus’ mission. The work of justice is more than a mere acquaintance with Jesus Christ, but it is walking with Jesus amid the human condition. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, soon to be canonized, is our guide for today. “Small of stature, rocklike in faith she was entrusted with the mission of proclaiming God’s thirsting love for humanity, especially for the poorest of the poor (taking from a homily by St. John Paul II, December 2002).”

Robert Frost captured the importance of the narrow road in his poem “The Road Not Taken.” It is with his words that I draw this to a conclusion:

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

It’s Not Easy Waiting for God – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 14, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis Dirkx“I have waited and waited and waited for God. At last he looked. Finally he listened. He lifted me out of the ditch. He pulled me from deep mud, stood me up on a solid rock to make sure that I wouldn’t slip. He taught me how to sing the latest God-song (The Message, Bible translation by Eugene Peterson).” There’s a lot of mud that God has to pull us out of, before we can sing the latest God-song.

In Luke’s gospel Jesus spoke about division. He said a household of five would we divided—three against two and two against three. He talked about the division between father and son, mother and daughter, and mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. This is all because of the word he spoke—the word of the Father, and they hung him from a tree. Jeremiah spoke the word of God and they threw him into the pit and he sank into the mud. You may ask yourself, “Why is it when somebody speaks the word that Jesus spoke, one ends up in the pit?” History is dotted with stories of brave women and men who spoke his word and ended up in the grave. You know them. You know their names and you probably know the date they threw them into the pit. The ones they threw into the pit, they’re singing the latest God-song now because God raised them up. Just close your eyes and open your ears and you will hear them singing the latest God-song.

Let us take a close look at the word Jesus spoke. He talked about love and peace, justice and mercy. He told us, “You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:38-39).” He said if you have two coats, give one to the person who has none. He talked about sharing your food with someone who is hungry and not to be like the rich man who gave poor Lazarus nothing. He talked about welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison. He said that if we would do all these things we will be blessed and mercy will be shown to us. He said that if we are humble and peacemakers we will inherit the land and the kingdom. You tell me why his words divided people and when you speak them they are going to throw you into the pit.

My brothers and sisters, the source of the division is not in his words, but in the people he created. Let me repeat this: the source of the division in not in the word, but it is in us. God’s word always speaks the truth—the truth about how we are to live with one another and how we are to share what we have with those who have nothing. The division comes when the truth touches our hearts and invites us to change—to become more like him. It is our resistance that is the source of division, but when our hearts are changed we can sing the latest God-song and only then can we sing it loud and clear.

The resistance in our hearts is the pit that he has to lift us out of and set us on solid rook so our feet don’t slip. God gave us two hands. We have to raise our two hands so God can pull us out of the mud we have been living in. Two hands reaching up to God is a sign that the heart wants to hear the truth and the soul wants to sing the latest God-song. You know the mud you are stuck in and I don’t have to name it. We all are stuck in some mud that God has to pull us out of so we can sing the latest God-song.

You need to know this: when we are free and singing the latest God-song and we speak his words there is a world out there that doesn’t want to hear the truth, but rather build a wall and keep us out. If they keep us out, don’t worry because God’s arms are strong and he can lift us over the tallest wall.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

This Is Our Watch – Father Dennis’ Homily for August 7, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxHow often have you said to yourself, “I can’t believe how much like my father I have become?” or, “I can’t believe how much like my mother I have become?” This could be said of any person one has strived to emulate in life. It is a true human trait that we appropriate the way of life of those whom we love and admire. Children do it of their parents. Students appropriate the values and ideals of a trusted teacher. Those who are aspiring to religious life might appropriate the founder of the order, as Franciscans strive to inmate St. Francis. We, the disciples-in-training are to assume the values and ideals of the One we are following—Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.

Jesus used the image of a servant awaiting the master’s return in order to help us understand the importance of adopting his lifestyle. A servant who spent sufficient time with his/her master was able to assimilate the rhythm and way of life of the one whom he/she served. This would be the way in which a servant could be attentive to the master even when the master was absent.

We are the ones, who in this time, in this moment of history and in this part of the world, Jesus has left in charge of the Kingdom. This is our watch. It is important that we take to heart the message of this gospel, for we are the servants who are to appropriate the values and ideals of Our Master, Jesus Christ, as we await his return. Therefore, we are asked to be faithful, vigilant and prepared. We do so by again and again returning back to Jesus and allowing his words to call us to this faithfulness.

Faithful servants know where their treasure is. The core of the gospel passage we have just heard, is, “For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be (Luke 12:34).” If our treasure is the Kingdom of God, our hearts will be faithful to this treasure and to the One who has put us in charge. If our treasure is money, or power, or status, or in our accomplishments, then our hearts are not with Jesus and he will come at an hour that we least expect. We come today to once again put God and his Kingdom first so that our hearts can be aligned with the Master. We ask for the grace to be faithful, vigilant and prepared servants, that we may realize that we can’t do everything, but we can do something and do it very well, (words by Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw, Michigan).

In conclusion I share with you a prayer that I often come back to in order to gain the right perspective on life—a prayer by St Teresa of Avila.

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis