The Face of Compassion – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 25, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxA woman, who with her husband and two children, coming out of poverty once said, “Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.” I was able to experience firsthand extreme poverty both in the Dominican Republic and volunteering at the Milwaukee Guest House, serving the homeless. Those whom I met have taught me a great deal about myself and my life style. They have taught me to realize my own poverty and how to have a dependence upon God. Oftentimes what we have obscures our own poverty, which for many of us is an internal one. Oftentimes we hide it behind our possessions, or power, or addictions, but in doing so we miss the call to repent.

The rich man in the Gospel of Luke pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so they would not end up in the place of torment. The rich man in his own lifetime ignored the call to repentance, both coming from Sacred Scripture, and also in Lazarus who was lying at his door. Lazarus was a nobody to the rich man and for all practical purposes was dead to him. All that the rich man had to do in order to also rest in the bosom of Abraham was to take care of poor Lazarus. Was the rich man afraid that in opening his door to Lazarus there would be others who would follow? Or was the rich man simply blinded by his wealth? Or did his own complacency numb to the world around him? What he lived is what he believed.

The Word of God today is calling us to be what the rich man wasn’t—the face of compassion. The marginalized of our society, like the Scriptures, are calling us to a conversion. The Bible and the poor teach us a powerful message that when we care for the them we are caring for ourselves—namely our acceptance of God’s gift of salvation. God through His Word and through His poor is always calling us to embrace our own poverty because this is the door to dependence upon Him. How we live is how we believe.

The Prophet Amos warns us of our own complacency and the psalmist reminds us of God’s continuous actions among his marginalized. Paul’s admonition to live a life of righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness is never devoid of our relationship with the least of our sisters and brothers. In the end we are called by God to move beyond “ours” and embrace God’s “mine,” mine are the hungry and the captives, mine are the blind and the lowly, and mine are the fatherless and the widow. When we move into what is God’s, we come home to ourselves and to all our sisters and brothers.

Yours in Christ,
Father Dennis

True Wealth – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 18, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI have never been poor, nor has my family been poor. We did suffer through times when we had to watch our pennies. I am sure that most of us can say this about ourselves—we have never been poor. This being a given, we can honestly say that none of us really knows what it means to be poor. There is a difference between knowledge about poverty and living in poverty.

A core theme of the Bible, both in the Hebrew Testament and in the Christian Testament, is a call to re-evaluate ourselves in relationship to the marginalized of our society. The call of the prophets, as we heard in our first reading from the Prophet Amos, is one of repenting what the rich have done to the poor. From the time of Amos until our day not much has changed regarding the plight of the poor. What can you buy for $2.50?–a cup of coffee? A bottle of water? Three billion people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day. Those living in extreme poverty live on $1.90 a day. Milwaukee’s poverty rate remains at 29%, and this is double the national rate. Milwaukee is the fifth most impoverished big city in the country. This is surely not a number that will give us a claim to fame.

Our theme for this week is “True Wealth,” of which Jesus speaks in the gospel (Luke 16: 1-13). True wealth is what God offers us and it comes from serving God and God alone. False wealth can pull us away from what God offers us—namely the gift of our true selves in Him for all eternity. Who we serve dictates where we will live in eternity. Jesus puts it as clearly as one can, “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16: 13).” The face of this true wealth is the Eucharist.

We cannot speak of the true wealth that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist apart from global poverty. We need to hold in balance the gift of the Eucharist and the plight of the poor. John Martin, SJ wrote, “If we truly believe that God is on watch for the poor, the widow and the orphan, then now is the time to align ourselves with God’s reign for the sake of the poor and if nothing else, for our own sakes (America, Vol. 215, No. 7, Whole No. 5139, September 19, 2016).” The connection between the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, and the poor is in the identification Jesus makes with them: “As long as you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me (Matthew 25: 40a).” When we come forward to receive His Body and Blood we align ourselves with God and also the poor because of the One we receive.

World poverty and even our local poverty are greater than what any one of us can alleviate. St. Augustine helps us to hold in balance the great gift of the Eucharist and the gift of the poor—yes; I said the gift of the poor, for in reaching out to them we touch the face of Him who died and rose for our sakes. St. Augustine wrote, “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time or place, or circumstances are brought into closer connection with you.” To whom are you called to pay special attention? This is the narrow path to the gift of true wealth.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Found by God – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 11, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxDid the older son ever go into the celebration? We don’t know because the story ends with the father pleading, “We must celebrate and rejoice because your brother…has come to life again…and has been found (Luke 15:32).” I have often wondered about the older son.

The interesting point about both sons is that they were focused upon themselves and not upon the father’s all-embracing love. Even in the younger son’s conversion, he is still looking out for number “one”—himself. “Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger (Luke 15:17).’” The motivation of his conversion was his stomach and not his heart. I am sure he was thinking, “If I go back to my father, at least I will have three square meals a day.” Does that sound like a true conversion to you? He hid behind his need.

The older son was no better than his younger brother. Everything the father had belonged to the older son. The father divided up his property and gave each son his share. The older son never saw that what the father had, was as his own. In his mind it still belonged to the father. Talk about missing the gift—this guy takes the cake. He is the jealous one. He hid behind his righteousness.

Both sons failed to understand the depth and passion of their father’s love that brought them into life. Both refused to be at home in his love; and the father never stopped inviting them into his circle of love. This is the real focus of the parable—the father. Can you imagine this father who daily went to the crest of the road to see if his younger son was coming home? Each day feeling the loss of the one he loved. Can you imagine the pain this father experienced when his older son refused to come in and welcome his brother home? The father looked beyond what each son did or didn’t do. He looked at the object of his love.

In the gospel, Jesus offers us three stories about seeking out the lost. Each story grows in intensity; from the lost sheep to the lost coin to the lost sons. The lost coin is about the loss of what the woman and her family had to live on. It is more serious than losing a sheep. He is stressing the point about a God who is seeking out the lost—who is looking for us. If a shepherd can look for his lost sheep and if a woman can look for her lost coin, how much more will God the Father look for us?

St. Augustine, the son of St. Monica, was lost. St. Monica prayed for years that her son would come to his senses and accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. God pursued him and never gave up on him. Finally, when St. Augustine said “yes” to God, he wrote these most famous words; “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. I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you (from The Confessions of Saint Augustine).”

God is always pursuing us, not only when we are lost, but also when we have turned to him, because He wants a deeper relationship with us—a relationship that is beyond our imagination. I invite you to look within yourself within the next few days. Look beyond your sinfulness, beyond your unworthiness, beyond the self you have never revealed to others; it is there where you will find Him. Begin to realize what St. Augustine discovered: that He has been within you all this time and you have searched for Him in all the wrong places. Like the father of the prodigal son, He has gone to the crest of your heart to see if you were coming home. This journey within may prompt you to see the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation. This will help you to find Him within.

As we move toward Him the question becomes, “How do we live in the presence of continuous, unconditional love directed at us?” The only way we human beings can live with the intensity of His love is to simply let Him love us; and in our feeble way we love Him in return. This is what a Sunday morning is all about. Don’t be like the older son who refused to go into the celebration, or like the younger son who could not see beyond his survival.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis


Keepers of the Story – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 4, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxAs summer was winding down on the farm, it was time for canning the produce from the garden. This was always a special time for my family because we all became involved in the process. My grandfather, who was the gardener in the family, and my Dad, were in charge of harvesting the produce from the garden. The rhubarb had to be de-leafed, the peas had to be shelled, and beans had to snapped. This part of the canning process was a family affair that took place sitting in the shade of the elm tree just outside the kitchen door. It was a time when my parents and grandfather would share with us the family stories. Little on, I learned that Uncle John would borrow Dad’s tools and not return them. It was in these gatherings we heard the complaints about Mrs. Verberst, who was always on the party line. It was a time when we, the children, learned about what it was like for our parents when they first came to this country. In the stories we learned about our aunts and uncles. My parents and grandfather were the keeper of the stories and in sharing them with us they were teaching us how to be keepers of the story.

Disciples are also keepers of the story, not in the sense of holding it from others, but in the sense of making sure that the story is passed to the next generation. The story is that of Jesus Christ and what he taught and underwent for our salvation. In order to be a keeper of the story one must be willing to become the living story. Blessed John Henry Newman described such a person in these words, “If we have accepted the truth of Christ and committed our lives to him there can be no separation between what we believe and the way we live our lives.”   Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was canonized a saint, is such a person—a keeper of the story—a disciple of Jesus Christ. Her personal encounters with Jesus Christ were through those that she served—the poorest of the poor.

There is a cost to being a keeper of the story, and Jesus spells it out in today’s gospel (Luke 14: 25-33). He describes three requirements for discipleship. Disciples share the story of Jesus Christ from a personal experience with him and in this way becomes the keepers of the story. In their sharing of the story they invite others to become keepers of the story.

These are three conditions for a disciple. The first is, if we want to share the story with others Jesus has to be number one in our lives because what we say and what we do must be the same message. This is what Blessed John Henry Newman said is central to Christian discipleship. The growth of early Christianity was due to what others saw and heard from those who committed themselves to accepting Jesus. They saw the Lord working in the lives of people like themselves. If Jesus is not first, and above everything in our lives, we cannot be his disciples—we cannot tell the story. The second condition is, in making this commitment there is a cross we must be willing to carry. The cross is the willingness to say, because we have chosen to put him first, that there are some things we do not choose because it is not consistent with our primary commitment. Truth always has its opposition. If we are willing to carry the cross we can tell the story and invite others into it. The third condition Jesus speaks of in the gospel is, if we want to tell the story, we can’t do it with a lot of baggage. Stuff has a way of dominating our lives. Stuff doesn’t always mean the things we own, but can refer to the stuff we hold in our hearts. If we see ourselves better than others, how can we tell the story about Jesus who loved the poor and marginalized of society?

Implied in all of these conditions Jesus places before us is the key question that stresses how critical it is that we pass on the story. If we don’t tell the story, and if our children do not see us living the story, who will tell them the story so they can share it with their children?

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis