It’s 100% or Nothing – Father Dennis’ Homily for February 26, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWe live in a society that no longer connects the dots.  The focus is placed upon “me” and what I want.  There is little regard for the effect this will have upon others.  It is sad to see that now our government reflects this societal attitude.  This past Friday’s Journal Sentinel contained an article, “Immigrant patient moved to detention.”  It is the story of a woman from El Salvador who is critically ill, waiting for emergency surgery for a brain tumor.  She was forcibly moved from a Texas hospital to a detention center by federal agents, where she has been held since November 2015.  Her legal and medical teams are working diligently to get the medical treatment she needs.  I wonder if those who bound her hand and foot and removed her from the hospital were Christians.  I wonder if they go to church every Sunday and give praise to the God above.  I wonder if the driver was a Catholic who is a leader in his/her parish.  She is a mother of two young children.  If this is all true, then they are the clearest examples of people who don’t connect the dots.

Did not Jesus say, “I was ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited (Matthew 25:36)?”  What are we becoming as an American society?  The very people Jesus speaks about in the Last Judgment Parable are the objects of our wrath.  Who are we becoming?  We are Americans and thus we share in the guilt of what is happening to this El Salvadoran woman.  Go to El Salvador and you are no longer Dennis or Larry or Jane or Elizabeth but you are the American who did this to her.  In their eyes this is how we are viewed.  Our individual identity is lost in the action of our government.  When we invaded Panama to capture Noriega, I was a priest working in our sister parish in the Dominican Republic.  When Dominican anger was splashed upon our parish sign, I was no longer Fr. Dennis but the ugly American who invades Latin American countries.  I will never forget the black letters written on our parish sign—“Yankee, Go Home!”

The action of federal agents forcing this ill woman from the hospital is God calling us, as Americans, to a conversion.  It is the same call we hear in the gospel today, Matthew 6: 24-34.  Jesus is asking us to consider how we look at life.  When it is all about “me” and my life—what I am going to eat, drink, wear, and are you looking at “me” favorably, I am blind.  I cannot see what is happening to my sisters and brothers but I am also not free. Jesus is asking us to break the cycle of selfishness, because it is the root of the cycle of violence.  We break this cycle when we serve God and only God.  We cannot do a fifty/fifty approach because God is looking for a 100% commitment on our part.

When we give 100% of who we are to the Lord, it is then we are free.  When we think of surrendering to God, we always think that it is giving up our freedom.  In reality what we are doing is freeing ourselves from all that keeps us unfree.  It is in the freedom of God we come to comprehend that God will never forsake us.  Even if a mother forgets her child, God will never forget us.  The Salvadoran woman the federal agents took into custody knows far better than them that God will never forget her.  When I was in the Dominican Republic a young, rich man from Fond du Lac spent some time working in the parish.  One day he asked me, “Why aren’t these people angry with God.  They have nothing.”  I replied, “God is all that they have.”  In this reality we are the stewards of God’s mysteries and servants of Christ.

One of the characters in the film “Oh, God!” asks God why he permits starvation and all the many forms of injustice.  God answers, “I don’t permit it.  You do.”  We are called to alleviate the pain, the suffering and the injustice that imprison our sisters and brothers.  It’s not just God’s job.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis


Spreading the Word – Father Dennis’ Homily for February 19, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxMy family owned and operated a dairy farm in northern Wisconsin.  All the activities of our family were directed to the production and sale of milk.  It was our livelihood.  By third grade I was feeding the cows while my dad was milking the cows.  I remember in the fall of the year tilling the fields for the spring planting while my dad was milking the cows.  The fields would produce the crops that would feed the cows.  All worked together as a cohesive unit.

Life in the early Christian community was like a family farm. All of its activities were directed to the proclamation of the Word.  “The Word of the Lord continued to spread through the whole region (Acts 13:49).”  If the growth of Christianity was solely in the hands of Paul and Barnabas, in fact, any of the apostles it mostly would have died out.  The reason why it did not was because every member of the community went forth to tell their story; each in his or her own way.  The growth of the community was a felt responsibility of every member and through word of mouth the community grew.  When the community grew and the apostles could no longer continue the corporal works of caring for the members deacons were appointed to assume this task so that the Word could continue to be proclaimed.  The designating the responsibility of caring for the weaker members came about so that the task of proclaiming the Word would be foremost.

The primary task of the Church today is to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ and at the center of this is the proclamation of the Word.  This is a two-fold task, one of proclaiming the Word and the other of giving witness to it.  This has not changed over the past two thousand years.  By what we say and do we are either inviting others to accept the Word of God or not.  If we are a vibrant, loving, caring, faith community, others will be moved by the Word we give witness to.  It will make a difference in their lives, but also in the life of our community.  This involves the sharing of time and talent of our members.

Fifty-six years ago St. Robert had twenty-four Dominican Sisters teaching in our school and five priests handling the sacramental ministries that included home visits and bringing communion to the home bound.  The younger priests were responsible for youth ministry, religious education and a few other ministries.  This doesn’t exist anymore, but the ministries and responsibilities do.  Today’s parish needs the involvement of parishioners not only for carrying out the mission entrusted to them, but also for ministries and responsibilities covered by sisters and priests.  The vibrancy of our community depends directly upon the involvement of parishioners.

To those of you who are in the various ministries I want to thank you for your gift of time and talent.  These are very precious gifts that you share with the parish.  I pray that you will continue your involvement.  To those of you, who have yet to commit yourselves to sharing your time and talents, please seriously consider becoming involved.  Together the spirit of St. Robert will flow out in the greater community and there move others to come join us on the journey.

Sincerely, Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis



The Extra Step – Father Dennis’ Homily for February 12, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis Dirkx“You can reach it if you keep alert,
Learnin’ every line and every last commandment,
May not help you but it couldn’t hurt,
First ya gotta read ‘em then ya gotta heed ‘em,
Ya never know when you’re gonna need ‘em,
You better start to learn your lessons well.”

The words are from Godspell song “Learn Your Lessons Well.”  This song came to mind when I was reflecting upon this gospel.  Today’s gospel is a challenging teaching of Jesus.  Our holiness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.  We cannot be angry with our sisters and brothers but this must give way to forgiveness.  If we have not sought the forgiveness, we must leave our gift at the altar and become one again with our sister or brother.  We are to work it out between ourselves and our opponent before we get to court.  We cannot look at another with lust in our hearts.  If our eye or hand is the cause of our sin, we are to pluck it out or cut it off.  What is Jesus trying to tell us?  He definitely has got our attention with this teaching.

It is important for us to discover God’s intention behind the law.  The starting point always has to be that God is not restricting our freedom but enabling us to be free in order that we become the people God intended from the beginning.  The golden thread running through Jesus’ teaching in this gospel is living in right relationships.  If our religious practice is for show, we are not in a right relationship with God or our sisters and brothers.  If we haven’t sought the forgiveness of the one we hurt, the gift we place on the altar is not a true gift; because it is not a gift coming from living in right relationship with the one we sinned against.  If we let the court settle the difference we have with our opponent, we have failed to live in a right relationship.  In right relationship there are no winners and losers.  If we look with lust for another, we have reduced that person to an object of our pleasure.  Right relationships do not objectify another person, but respect the dignity of the other—sees the other as the human face of God.  If our eye or hand is the cause of sin in our lives, than we are not whole because right relationships are about wholeness.  Jesus’ challenge in this gospel passage (Matthew 5: 17-37), is to free us so we can live in right relationship with God and others.  Living in right relationship is the fulfillment of the law and this is what Jesus models for us.  He is the righteous One who calls us to be righteous.

You can reach this righteousness if you keep alert, but first you have learn the commandments.  You gotta read them then you gotta heed them because you never know when you are gonna need them.  There is no law that tells us we have to feed the hungry, but if we do we will possess a wisdom this world cannot hold.  It is a wisdom that fulfills the law and makes it right.

Sincerely yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis


Stewardship: A Universal Call – Father Dennis’ Homily for February 5, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI believe that stewardship is more than just supporting the parish. When I was first appointed as pastor, I decided that at every parish I would be appointed as pastor,I would become a parish member. I could not see myself asking parishioners to contribute to the parish if I was not also a contributing member. When I was appointed a shared pastor I became a member of St. Robert of Newminster Parish and Holy Family Parish. But we are a Church that is much greater than the local parish. Our stewardship must extend beyond our support of the parish.

We are a part of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, that through its ministries supports and sustains both St. Robert of Newminster Parish and Holy Family Parish. Our parish schools benefit from the Archdiocese providing direct support of our principals and teachers, it provides for the professional development of our teachers, and it is the support structure for our Catholic schools. On the parish level the Archdiocese has provided lay leadership formation sessions, liturgical ministry formation for lectors and Eucharistic ministers, stewardship formation for our stewardship committees, small faith sharing groups, and pastoral council formation. The diocese has been in the foreground in helping our two parishes with Synod implementation. As pastor I have often relied on the guidance of our archdiocesan offices.

This past Sunday Archbishop Listecki asked us to support the Catholic Stewardship Appeal. The dollars we give to CSA go directly to support the ministries of the Archdiocese, and we are some of its recipients.  The goal for St. Robert of Newminster Parish is $80,000. The goal for Holy Family Parish is $60,000. You will be receiving a commitment letter asking for your support. Please be generous in your response to Archbishop Listecki. Remember I never ask you to do something that I am not willing to support myself.

Our stewardship doesn’t stop at this level. It must extend to the millions and millions of people who are poor. There is a story told of a young boy while walking along on a beach. When he came upon a starfish, he would pick it up and throw it back into the sea. An old fisherman was watching the lad picking up starfish and throwing them back into the sea. He approached the lad and asked what he was doing. The young boy responded that he was saving starfish. The old man told the boy that there are thousands of starfish that get washed up on shore. He asked, “How are you going to save them?” “I know,” the young lad replied as he picked up another starfish and threw it back into the sea, “it made a difference for this one.” Please join Holy Family Parish and St. Robert of Newminster Parish in the Lenten project, Helping Hands. The two parishes have to raise $5,000 to make over ten thousand meals to feed the poor of Burkina Faso in western Africa. If we raise more than this amount, we can make more meals. Mark your calendar, April 2nd, 1:00 p.m. in McCormick Hall at Holy Family, when we will assemble these meals for shipment to Burkina Faso.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis