Choice of Repentance – Father Dennis’ Homily for October 30, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWe have all heard the statement; “I am really up a tree!” It usually indicates that one is experiencing a great difficulty. They only way down is to find a solution to the problem so life can move forward. The experience of being up a tree also implies a shift in one’s life—it won’t be the same once a solution has been worked out.

Our friend Zacchaeus had to go up the tree in order to solve his problem. He had to overcome his limitation in order to see Jesus. His limitation was a barrier. When taking a group picture they never put short people in the back row because you would not see them. From the story we get the impression that all he wanted to do is to see Jesus. I am sure he had heard a lot about this miracle worker and teacher. His curiosity is what drove him up a tree. Little did he know that this would lead to repentance and his conversion. There was one other person in the gospels who was curious about seeing Jesus, and his name was King Herod. His curiosity did not lead him to repentance. The difference between the two is that Zacchaeus wanted to “see” Jesus. The Greek word for “see” doesn’t imply physical seeing as much as it implies seeing with one’s mind or heart—a spiritual seeing. Herod, on the other hand, simply wanted to physically see Jesus.

Zacchaeus is our teacher this Sunday, regarding: “How to form a personal relationship with Jesus?” First of all, He teaches us that we have to have a desire to “see” Jesus and this desire is rooted in the heart. What needs to awaken our hearts in order to have a desire to “see” Jesus? Maybe it is a sense of feeling incomplete, or the feeling that something or someone is missing in our lives. Second, Zacchaeus teaches us that we have to overcome our own limitations in order to see Jesus. Here I speak not so much about physical limitations, but about our spiritual limitations. It may mean coming to grips with our own sinfulness, or confronting our desire for more stuff in our lives so that we can feel good about who we are. In our culture, what we have oftentimes defines who we are. We must always remember that things, or status, or power do not define who we are. Zacchaeus had to confront what made him wealthy. Tax collectors made their money by overcharging people—we call it extortion; and this was in addition to being short of stature. Third, Zacchaeus teaches us that we need repentance or change of heart that alters our lifestyle. Listen to Zacchaeus’ change of heart implied: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over (Luke 19:8).” The next day when he went back to his tax collecting booth, he took only what was coming to him and nothing more. Zacchaeus was probably a Jewish man who worked as a tax collector for the Roman government. This meant that he was ostracized from the community and no good Jewish person would have anything to do with him. Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus healed the wounds of being ostracize from his people: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham (Luke 19:9).” His conversion must have been significant, because he is remembered in the gospels.

If we follow the lesson Zacchaeus is teaching us, we too may hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house.” I speak not about your house—the place where you live, but your heart—the place from which you live.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis


Choice of Humility – Father Dennis’ Homily for October 23, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhat does it mean to be humble before God? It would be interesting if this question was a part of the presidential debates. This kind of a question would never be a part of these debates. It would have been interesting if the candidates were asked the question before a live audience. This is a core question and these types almost never are asked in any political debate. The more important question is: “What does it mean for you to be humble before God?” “Humble before God” is a stance in which one acknowledges who he/she is before God and this is done in prayer. Jesus in the gospel presents us with two individuals who went up to the temple to pray. They will give us an insight into being humble before God and what Jesus considers to be authentic prayer.

The prayer of the Pharisee was not one of being humble before God. We gather this from the beginning of the parable. His prayer was about himself, about what he was doing and how his lifestyle made him better than others—especially tax collectors. He justified himself before God. His prayer was self-serving—he was patting himself on the back. His attitude regarded others with contempt. Contempt is simply to say: “You don’t belong in my world nor do you have anything to say to me.” His prayer brought division into the world. We have to be careful that our prayer doesn’t do the same.

The prayer of the tax collector acknowledged who he was before God—a sinner. Unlike the Pharisee his prayer was open to God. He was humble. The tax collector’s prayer allowed God to be God and gave God the opportunity to be merciful. His prayer, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” revealed an understanding of God and a desire to be in a right relationship with God. What’s interesting about his prayer—and I never saw this before—he stood off at a distance, but his prayer brought him close to God. While on the other hand, the Pharisee stood front and center in the temple area, but his prayer did not bring God close to him. The tax collector stood off at a distance, in other words, he was feeling alienated from God by his sinfulness, but his prayer brought him close to God because he experienced God’s mercy. He went home justified. On the other hand, the Pharisee, although up front in the temple, was far away from God.

In this parable Jesus teaches us four points about authentic prayer. First, we must acknowledge who we are before God, and keep this in mind while relating to others—we are sinners. The priest always stands as a sinner among sinners at the altar of God. Second, we have to know ourselves as God knows us. On our part this shows honesty about who we are. Third, our prayer must allow God to be God in our lives, so God can accomplish in us what God wants to do. Fourth, authentic prayer puts us in a right-relationship with God and others. If it does not, then we have to examine our prayer. Most of us hover between the prayer of the Pharisee and the prayer of the tax collector when we pray. The goal is to pray like the tax collector: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Choice of Perseverance – Father Dennis’ Homily for October 16, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWho in your life has taught you about perseverance, faith and hope? I link faith and hope with perseverance because without them it is almost impossible to persevere. For me, it was Agatha. In K5 her doctors discovered that she had cancer. She is for me a symbol of perseverance, faith and hope. With the chemo treatment it meant that she lost her hair, but that was not the worst thing. When she was able to, she came to class. The cycle for the next few years was chemo treatment, home, school, when possible, and sometimes a stay in the hospital. Through all of this she drew strength from within to give her perseverance, faith that God was with her, and hope that someday she would be okay. By the time the cancer was in remission, Agatha made her First Communion with her class and moved on to third grade. I will always remember her for the lesson she taught me.

The message of God’s Word is about perseverance, faith and hope. One cannot persevere without faith and hope. This is the lesson Agatha taught me. In the gospel, Jesus exhorts us to be persistent in our prayer like the widow in the parable of the unjust judge. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy encourages us to remain faithful to what we were taught and believed. The Israelites were able to be persistent in battle as long as Moses held up his arms with the staff of God.

These virtues are critical to one’s relationship with the Lord, and one can say the relationship requires the three virtues of Agatha—perseverance, faith and hope. When one looks at reality from this perspective, which is to say from these virtues, one is able to see them alive and well in our world. I saw them in the Olympic athletes. I see it over and over again in single moms who raise their families and at the same time are the breadwinners. I see it in someone who is recovering from an addiction to alcohol, or someone putting life back together while living with depression. The signs of Agatha’s virtues are all around us. It is as if God is telling us the importance of these in our relationship with Him. We are to persevere with faith and hope in our prayer and in our personal relationship with Him.

Relationships that have depth and meaning require perseverance, faith and hope on the part of both parties involved. It is never a one-way street. Let us take a look at our relationship with God from His perspective. He never stops pursuing us. This is perseverance. With persistence God is always seeking us out. He is continuously trying to communicate with us and we have to take time to listen. He has so much to say to us and He simply needs few minutes of our time. He approaches us with a profound faith. Yes, that is right! God who knows our fullest potential believes that we can always become more than who we are at this moment. He can see that when we obtain this fullness we reflect back to Him the image of the creator. God consistently is filled with hope about our becoming like His Son, Jesus.

He waits for us in the sacrament of reconciliation, to show us His mercy and forgiveness. He longs to speak to us in the quiet moments before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. He wonders when we will pick up and read the letter He has sent us. Yes, the letter He sent us; we call it the Bible. He waits for us in the moments of our day to tell us that He is with us. He feeds us with the heavenly food of His Son’s Body and Blood. As we contemplate God’s side of our relationship, it’s time that we cultivate Agatha’s virtues of perseverance, faith and hope in our relationship with Him.

Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis