The Question – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for August 27, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWho do you say that I am?  It was the question Archbishop Listecki used to begin the Archdiocesan Synod a few years ago.  Jesus asked this question of His disciples, but He is also asking us this question through the proclamation of the Word.  The question is not to be answered once, but it is to be answered continuously throughout life.  It is a key question.  It is an essential one to discipleship.  It is not an intellectual one.  It is a question of the heart.  So many Catholics haven’t answered this question because they consider it to be an intellectual one.  This is probably why they are not with us now.  Your presence here is testimony of your willingness to see it as a question of the heart.  “But who do you say that I am?”

I recently received an email from a former parishioner who at the time was a high school senior suffering from anxiety and depression.  While watching an episode of Nashville I popped into his mind when one of the characters asked another to take a break from life’s hectic schedule and spend an hour alone in nature.  I guess I must have said something similar to him back then.  Thirty years later he emailed me to thank me for what I did for him.  He said the following: “I have come to know our Lord and Savior, Jesus, since then, and not only do I appreciate God’s creation and its beauty, but I am also thankful for what Jesus did for me when He died to save me from my sins.”  He is answering Jesus’ question not from his intellect, but from his heart.

Our ability to answer the question with our hearts is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  The young man who emailed me is able to know Jesus as Lord and Savior because of the Holy Spirit.  We are told by the Lord, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (Matthew 16:17).  We have come to know Him in our faithfulness, in the sacraments He has given us, through our conviction about His identity, and through belonging to a community that gathers in His name.  He is the Christ who binds us together as His living Body.  He is the Christ in whom we are and are becoming.  He is the Christ whom we make present in the world.  He is the Christ whose saving mission we are carrying forth in our world.  He is the Christ who heals our wounds, who forgives our sins, who walks with us on the journey of life.

In standing firm in Him we have become a rock upon which He continues to build His Church.  The rock of faith is the foundation and we have become a part of that foundation, upon which He is building His Church.  Most of us have become believers because of the faith of our parents and grandparents.  This is how the Father revealed to us that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.  We owe our
faithfulness to them and the Holy Spirit who is at work with them, through them and by them.  “But who do you say that I am?”  It is a question of the heart and to be answered only with the heart.  In doing so, we have a challenge.  We are not to talk about the Christ, we are to be the Presence of Christ, living as He did.  This is more powerful than words, because if flows from the heart.  You are going to touch many people’s lives this week.  Be the presence of Christ to them and maybe thirty years later they will email you to say THANK YOU.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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Who is Jesus? – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for August 27, 2017

This is a question we need to answer every day all the days of our life. It’s a personal commitment to Jesus. Christian faith does not consist in only knowing about Jesus, but knowing Jesus personally, and living out that faith in the Church founded on the authority given by Christ to Peter.

In today’s gospel, Jesus is asking his disciples two questions, “Who do people say I am? And who do you say I am?” Most of us are Christians today because we were born of Christian parents who brought us up in their faith. It was their choice, rather than ours. But the question is: today, why do we want to be Christians? Jesus asks each one of us, “Why are you following me? Who am I for you personally?”

How then do we personally answer this question? Here catechism or theological answers will not do. Today’s gospel text challenges us to examine whether as adults today we are Christians purely because of our parents or birth in a Christian family, or because of our personal conviction and resolve to commit ourselves to the cause of Christ. The question is not what our parents taught us, what preachers preach to us, not what catechism teachers taught us, not what theology tells us about Jesus Christ, but what I personally say about him. Can each one of us say that today I am a Christian because of my own personal conviction that Jesus is my only Lord and Savior? Can I say that Christ’s message as well as example of love, peace and compassion, liberation from sin or evil and change to a new way of life (here and hereafter), has touched and influenced me in such a way that I cannot but say: “To whom shall I go? Lord, in you alone are words that sustain love and divine life” (cf. Jn 6:68-69).

Following Jesus is not a matter of having a check-list for following rules and commandments, but of asking ourselves, how much love do we put in doing all what we do? It’s a personal commitment or decision to live Christ’s values every day. We are called to show to all those we encounter every day that Jesus is alive even today. Our life should answer the question, “Who is Jesus for me?” Every day we need to make that personal decision to live by his values and meet him through our active concern for the needy, compassion for those who suffer, forgiving the offender, and particularly those close to us, without any conditions.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Patrick

Trusting the Tapestry

mariamore

I’d not given the story of Abram much thought until recently.  God instructed Abram to look up to the sky, and as many stars as he saw would be his descendants.  Easy enough.  There in the desert sky, with no light pollution, would be hundreds of stars, thousands maybe. How comforting to Abram.  How easy for him to believe.  God Almighty is talking to him directly and it seems this is a regular occurrence.  This conversation is not the first.  I feel like I am listening to two good friends discussing meaningful things over coffee at the table next to me.

I’m a little jealous.  Why isn’t it that easy for me?  I pray to know God’s will and for the courage to do it.  I remind him that I’m not very quick about it and ask him to be very clear.  Talk to me like I’m four, I say. …

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Boundaries – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for August 20, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI suppose boundaries are important, but I do say that with tongue and cheek. Oftentimes boundaries are used to keep people out, and sometimes to keep people in. When I was director of the seminary college program I established a program called “Seminary Without Walls.” It was designed to allow a young man to discern a vocation to priesthood without actually entering the seminary. Shortly after this Archbishop Weakland wrote a document called “Eucharist Without Walls.” It focused upon the reality that Eucharist takes us beyond our walls or boundaries. As much as we like boundaries there is something within our human nature that wishes to cross them.

In the gospel Jesus crossed the boundary into the pagan territory of Tyre and Sidon. It was something a faithful Jew of His day would not have done. Remember Jews had nothing to do with pagans. In fact the term “dog” was a derogatory term often
applied to Gentiles or pagans. The Canaanite woman asked Jesus to cross another boundary, namely associate with Gentiles, especially Canaanites, the ancient enemy of the Jewish people. Some scholars see this event as a turning point in Jesus’ own understanding of His mission. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Maybe for the first time Jesus began to see His mission to all people—the inclusivity of God. This is spelled out in the first reading from the Book of Isaiah, “For my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people” (Isaiah 56:6-7).

Let us reflect for a moment upon the Canaanite woman. She is unnamed, but remembered forever in the gospel. When I enter the kingdom of heaven, she is one of the people I want to meet. I am probably being a little presumptuous here, but she has guts. “No” was not an acceptable answer for her. She didn’t become discouraged when Jesus ignored her. She made her way to Jesus over the objections of the disciples. Even when Jesus objected, she played on His words, “Please Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.”

She is our model this weekend. She is woman of faith who is both courageous and persistent. This woman models for us the kind of faith we need and the determination to be evangelizers in order to live in the post-Christian society of our day. When I reflect upon the Canaanite woman, Mary Ella Woods comes to mind.  She would ride the transit buses in Milwaukee, giving out holy cards to her fellow passengers. I am sure she experienced rejection and maybe endured some ridicule, but this didn’t stop Mary from riding the buses and giving out holy cards to those who were willing to accept her gift. These two women are good models for us.

Mary Ella Woods wrote poetry. I would like to close with her poem entitled “Compromise.”

COMPROMISE

Dear, please listen to me.
This may be a big surprise.
But, if you are sure you love and adore me,
You will make this “Compromise.”

I feel content to trust this.
It may be oh so smart.
By accepting his decision,
We may never have to part.

He mentioned it only lightly,
But his eyes were so full of stars—
That I’d not only wed a farmer,
I’d commute each day to Mars.

Give up all city conveniences:
Bright lights, movies, and stores galore—
For I have found a love ever faithful
And I would not let it go!

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Encounters – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for August 20, 2017

How well do we use any opportunity we get or are given? I don’t mean, are we “opportunistic!” Jesus took every opportunity to teach his disciples and those who followed him.

To describe both Jesus and the woman coming forth from the place each had been:

  • Jesus, from faith-filled, faithful Israel, observers of the Law, children of the covenant, God’s Chosen People, the sheep of the Lord’s flock.
  • The Canaanite Woman, whose only “name” is the ethnic identification of Israel’s worst enemies, outside and opposite everything Israel considered sacred.

A couple of weeks ago, we had unrest in Charlottesville in Virginia. We were taken back to the 1960’s, when we had the civil rights movement, where a minority people were defending their rights. It’s so sad to see how much focus we put on what divides us rather than what unites us as human, Christian, nation, and world. It’s not different from Jesus’ time, with its Jews and Gentiles (Canaanites).

Coming from different places, Jesus and the woman encounter one another in a new place, “finding common ground” as we say. Common ground, indeed, is the place they meet, well-known, sooner or later, in one way or another, to every member of the human race, no matter how different we may be from each other: Jesus and this Gospel woman long ago, her daughter tormented by devastating inner forces. At some point life’s journey takes us all through the Land of Suffering.

In today’s gospel, Jesus and the Canaanite woman illustrate what Pope Francis calls the Culture of Encounter: “We cannot live apart, closed in on ourselves. We need to love and to be loved: We need tenderness” (Pope Francis, World Communications Day Message; June 1, 2014). When Misery meets Mercy, person-to-person, face-to-face, heart-to-heart, as in today’s Gospel, the Land of Suffering is transformed into the Land of Compassion, the Culture of Isolation into the Culture of Encounter, where the lost and lonely can be brought back from the brink of despair into an embrace of belonging, where all of us can move beyond surviving to thriving. Pope Francis continued on to say; “Quite a few years of my life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others, life is not merely passing by, life is about interactions” ~ Pope Francis.

  • Little vs. Great Faith. But Jesus’ good news is realistic too; building a Culture of Encounter is hard work; or, scripturally speaking, helping Isaiah’s vision to become reality: “my salvation is about to come, my justice about to be revealed, for I will bring (all) to my holy mountain and make (them) joyful in my house of prayer; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Thus, Jesus teaches the difficult lesson of perseverance at this saving work, and shows us, personally, how beautiful the breakthrough of changing our minds, broadening our vision, and opening our hearts can be. That’s our call as Christians.

We focus much on what divides us, rather than what unites us. Looking through the new eyes of faith, we are called to be children of God, no matter how different we are. Let us try to see one another with the eyes of faith – with the eyes of Jesus.

The way to grow in our faith is to exercise it, especially by reaching out to others in love.

 

Angels In Our Lives – A Parishioner Reflection

God communicates with us in many ways.  We are not always listening, but when we listen we are overwhelmed by His loving generosity.  Throughout the Bible there are recurring stories of the messages He provided to our forefathers.  The Bible records the appearances to Moses of an angel believed to be Uriah, as Moses struggled to lead his unruly followers to the promised land.  The Bible also recounts the visit of three strangers to Abraham and Sarah.  They invited them in and shared their hospitality. As the three strangers departed, they promised that a child would be born to the elderly, childless Sarah, before the passage of a year’s time.  Both Abraham and Sarah laughed, unbelieving!  The child, Isaac, was born as promised and became the father of countless descendents.  The book of Daniel tells of the visit of an angel to Daniel and how it changed Daniel’s life.

The Book of Tobit, living at the time in Nineveh, relates the story of his accidental blindness, the desolation it caused him, and his desire for death.  In far off Media, Sarah was also in despair.  Seven husbands had perished before a marriage could be consummated.  Tobit, expecting death, wanted to send his son, Tobias, to Media to retrieve funds left for safe keeping with a trusted relative, but was fearful for his son’s safety.  The angel Raphael appeared and journeyed with the young man.  The funds were retrieved, Sarah and Tobias were brought together, and traveled to Nineveh.  The parents were overjoyed.  Through the use of a compound miraculously provided by Raphael, Tobias was able to heal his father’s eyes, and Tobit’s eye sight was restored.

The angel Gabriel appeared to Mary as she knelt in prayer.  He promised she would be the Mother of a Miraculous Child.  Mary responded, puzzled, “How can this be as I do not know Man”, and then “Be it done unto me according to His Word.”  God also sends angels to us.  A number of years ago, when all my children were still home, I was working full time at my profession, trying the balancing act of a middle aged parent – the “sandwich generation,” – caught between  needs of my husband and children, my ill mother, a handicapped sibling, and my work  My angel came to my house to assist with the mountains of wash that were part of every day, but she brought me so much more.  She had a simple way of pointing out the importance of balance, recognition of our own limitations, and trust in the God of the universe.  Her faith and trust in God in her own difficult life, gave me the courage and the insight to work through those rocky times.  MMD.

Experiencing Jesus – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for August 13, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhere did you experience Jesus this past week? Was it at home or was it at work? He promised to be with us and His words are not empty ones. He tells us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age (28:20).” This is the like promise God made to Elijah that God would meet Elijah on the mountain of Horeb. Elijah took shelter in a cave because he was down and out. When asked by the Lord why he was in the cave, Elijah replied, “They put your prophets to the sword. I alone am left, and they seek to take my life (1 Kings 19:18).” He was hiding in a cave of fear.  It is only after the Lord invited Elijah to leave his shelter that the prophet was able to encounter the Lord. God came to Elijah not in the strong and heavy wind, nor in the earthquake, and not in the fire, but God came to him in a tiny whispering sound. Elijah was invited into the silence of God—a silence not of an empty void, but one filled with the presence of God. Silence is the language of God.

Peter and his companions are afraid because they concluded that they were seeing a ghost. Even after Jesus assured them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid (Matthew 14:27), they still doubted. Peter, to test Him, said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water (Matthew 14:28).” I am sure Peter was not expecting Jesus’ next word, “Come!” Leonard Cohen in his song, Suzanne, captures perfectly what came next, “Only drowning men could see him.” Peter recognized the Lord.

In life’s journey there are stormy times and we wonder if God has left us to battle its head winds alone. In this journey we call life there are times like an earthquake that shatter our foundations and we are left picking up the pieces wondering if God has noticed us. There are times like fire that are all-consuming and we hope there will be a tomorrow, and we ask ourselves, “God, where are you?”

When the storms are over, the pieces are picked up, and the fires are quenched, there comes a tiny whispering sound. In this moment we come to realize we have been invited into the silence of God. There we realize He was with us in the storms of life, in its shattering moments and in life’s all-consuming fires. We often consider these times as god-forsakenness, but in reality they are calls to anchor ourselves more deeply in God. It is what I would call an “Elijah-moment.” It is then we come to know only drowning men and women can see Him.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis