A Stranger On the Road – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for April 30, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxFrom time to time we human beings get discouraged, and sometimes we even give up. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were discouraged. With heavy hearts and shattered dreams they were heading home. Their hopes of Israel’s redemption began to fade away in the death of Jesus the Nazarene. Jesus inspired hope in them. His teaching made sense. Israel could be saved. I wonder if their sense of “salvation” meant that Jesus would liberate Israel from Roman hands. We can only surmise this was the source of their despair. If that was the case, I can understand how deep their despair must have been. Life was not easy under Roman occupation. Thus, they were shocked when the stranger asked them, “What sort of things?”

His explanation was preparing them for an experience they would never forget. Drawn into his words, they began to feel an awakening. It was like something was beginning to dawn upon them. When the invited guest took bread into his hands, and said the blessing, their eyes were opened. It was Him—the Risen Lord. What the women told them was true: He is risen!

Their experience of coming to Jesus in the breaking of the bread and our experience of the breaking of the bread is the same. This is the only resurrection story that helps us to understand how we can come to know Him in the breaking of the bread. You are probably asking yourself, “When does the priest break the bread?” Right after the sign of peace and as the Agnus Dei begins, the priest takes the large host, and breaks it into two. Taking a small piece from one of the halves he drops it into the chalice saying, “May this mingling of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ bring eternal life to us who receive it.” As the body of Jesus was broken on the cross, the Body of Jesus is broken upon our altar. In the breaking of the bread the disciples of Emmaus came to know Jesus, and so too we come to know Him in bread that is broken.

“Their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” When we come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, are the eyes of our heart prevented from recognizing him? It is with these eyes that we recognize him. Our seeing eyes only see bread and wine, but the eyes of our hearts see much more—they see Jesus. The things that are really most important in life are seen with the eyes of the heart.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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My Lord and My God – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for April 23, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxFear can be a powerful experience. It has the ability to isolate one from another, but it also has the power to render someone unable to respond to the world around him or her. It robs people of their freedom to be who they are created to become. The disciples in the gospel hid themselves behind locked doors because of fear. Rightfully so—the one whom they have drawn close to was put to death simply because He called God His Father. This is something we do every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer—“Our Father, who are in heaven.” Out of fear that they might be next to be condemned and put to death, they locked themselves behind closed doors.

Jesus came and stood in their midst, and said, “Peace be with you.” His risen presence broke the cycle of fear. They could begin to see what fear did not allow them to see. They could begin to experience what fear did not allow them to experience. Once Jesus broke their cycle of fear He could say to them, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Then He breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” This is John’s Pentecost; for the passion, death, resurrection, the giving of the Spirit, and the ascension is the hour of why Jesus came. The disciples in the Acts of the Apostles no longer are afraid; but, filled with the Holy Spirit, they went forth to tell the good news and break the cycle of fear that imprisoned them.

Like the disciples, we too are empowered by the Holy Spirit and are sent into the world to break the cycles of fear we encounter and to tell the Good News of Salvation. We live in a society where there are many cycles of fear holding people back from experiencing the freedom of the Holy Spirit. The experience of this freedom comes only after the cycle of fear has been broken, because fear and the Holy Spirit do not mix.

Our world and the very city we live in are bound by cycles of fear. It waits for a new Easter and for people who, through the working of the Holy Spirit, will bring this about. The Holy Spirit needs you and also your brothers and sisters who are bound by fear: “If not you, who then?”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Do We Believe? – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for April 16, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhere are you and God at in this moment? St. Augustine would have answered the question with these words that he wrote in his Confessions: “Late have I Ioved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside…You were with me, but I was not with you.” In these words one can hear the pain of his searching and the joy of finding God. He wrote this after his conversion to the Catholic Church. The great awakening for Augustine was threefold. First, he realized that he searched for God in all the wrong places. He forgot to look within himself to find the God for whom he was searching. Second, he realized that he could have a personal relationship with God—“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” Third, he shared his story with others.

St. Peter in our second reading invites us to come to Jesus like living stones and let ourselves be built into a spiritual house. This takes a leap of faith. It is not much different from the other leaps of faith in our lives. We take a leap of faith when we accept a
marriage proposal believing that this love will last. We take a leap of faith when we send our children off to school or college confident that they will be safe. We don’t do the building—Jesus does the building in us and among us with the power of the Holy Spirit. Not only that, but He is the cornerstone of this spiritual house.

In the gospel of John, Jesus invites the apostles to make a leap of faith. He was leaving and they were staying. They were worried and confused about what life is going to be like when Jesus left. They did not know the way nor did they understand that the Father and Jesus are one, nor have they experienced the resurrection. To go from the Jesus of the Last Supper to Jesus after the resurrection was a giant leap of faith. They failed to realize that Jesus was not abandoning them, but that He had to die and rise again so He could be with them in a new way. These frightened men who fled when Jesus was arrested made that leap of faith.

Because these men who hid behind locked doors made a leap of faith, St. Augustine came to know the God who was within him, whom he fell in love with and had a personal relationship with: “O Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” Because of the apostles, St. Augustine and the countless others between them and us who made that leap of faith, we are here today as believers who are willing to enter into a personal relationship with Jesus and become His disciples. He has commanded us, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age, (Matthew 28: 19-20).”

A hundred years from now others will be sitting in these pews because we made the leap of faith and became His disciples. Where are you and God right now? Share this story with one other person this week. The person can be your spouse or a co-worker, or a neighbor, or a classmate, or a friend. Share your story of where you and God are and then let me know what happened to you.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

He Is Risen! – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for April 9, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhen was the last time you had a resurrection experience? When was the last time you were a witness of the resurrection? These are two very different questions, but essential questions to help us wrap our minds around the resurrection. The resurrection event is so singular, so unique, so unexpected, so glorious that it cannot be grasped in one encounter. The disciples of Jesus were not expecting the resurrection. Cleopas, walking to Emmaus, tells the stranger who walked with them, “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel (Luke 24:21).” He is expressing a sense of loss. Mary Magdalene, at the empty tomb said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him (John 20:2).” Resurrection was like an earthquake for them. The first disciples, in order to experience the resurrection of Jesus, had to be open to God acting in history and bringing about humanity’s salvation through the brokenness of the Crucified One raised to new and eternal life.

This is our starting point—being open to God who is acting in human history and bringing about our salvation. Openness to God first requires that we are believers not of the mind, but of the heart. When a belief comes from the heart it is a conviction—convictions are always a matter of the heart. Openness to God requires a personal relationship with him. Jesus created an openness to God acting in history through the personal relationships the disciples had with him. In this sense he prepared them to embrace his resurrection. It is no different for us.

For us, Jesus’ risen Presence is mediated through disciples who witness that he is alive and with us by the way in which they live their lives. Through the witness of faithful disciples, Scripture, prayer and the sacraments we gradually learn to encounter Jesus alive and with us in our journey. These personal encounters solidify our faith in the Risen Lord. Permit me to say this again because the personal encounters with Jesus in the ordinariness of life strengthen our faith in Jesus, the Risen Lord. These
encounters tell us over and over again that we even now share in his resurrection. When was the last time you experienced the resurrection? When was the last time you encountered a person who by his or her living the Gospel has led you to deepen your own faith in Jesus Christ? That is the last time you experienced the resurrection.

As others have led you to encounter Jesus alive and with us, you by faithfully living the Gospel are to be the cause of another person to deepen his or her faith in the resurrection. We become believers of Jesus, Son of the Living God, and his disciples, through the witness of others. Through our daily living of the teachings of Jesus Christ we help others to grow and deepen their faith. Like the disciples, we cannot contain ourselves: we run to meet the Risen Christ in others, and empty ourselves so others can meet the Risen Christ within us. I have met the Risen Christ in you over and over again. I pray I have emptied myself enough that you can meet the Risen Christ within me.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

It’s a Matter of Life – Father Dennis’ Homily for April 2, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThe early Christians knew they were different from their neighbors because of their belief and experience of the Risen Lord, who was present in their midst. They gave his presence different names: Holy Spirit, fire, grace, salt, light, Paraclete, Spirit of Truth, new life. What distinguished them was not simply their belief in the Risen Lord, but their experience of the Risen Lord. They witnessed firsthand how it transformed the life of the community. Wherever people experience the presence of the Risen Lord, it is transforming.

I had two such experiences of the Risen Lord this past week. First, I anointed a woman who is 106. In our visit we could sense someone drawing us together. Maery shared with me her story and her faith. I was having a rough day until I met Maery. That evening I had my second wedding prep session with a couple, in which we talk about their relationship with God and the Church. It is a session where they have to draw a picture of their relationship, first with God and secondly with the Church. The young man drew a picture of several tables with people gathered around them. He said, “When I do volunteer work at St. Ben’s Meal Program and I visit with the guests, I have experienced God.” This guy is not far from becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ. I encountered the presence of the Risen Lord in this couple. Both of these experiences transformed a rough day—and me. It’s true! Whenever people experience the presence of the Lord, it is always transforming.

John recounts the story of the raising of Lazarus, not simply to tell us there was a man named Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, but rather for our sake. It has two challenges for us as we consider being a disciple. First, Jesus invites us to go with him to places that are dark and lifeless in our lives. If we walk in his light, we have nothing to fear because we walk with him. His second challenge is answering the question he asked of us. He tells us, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” Then he turns around and asks us, “Do you believe this?” It is the rough times, the dark times and a loss of a loved one that provoke this question.

The early Christian communities not only believed in the resurrection of the Lord, but they experienced the presence of the Risen Lord. We have to allow our belief in the Risen Lord to move us toward the experience of the Risen Lord. If a Christian community is alive and knows the presence of the Lord, what an evangelizing event this would be. Allow yourself to experience the presence of the Risen Lord.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis