Wider Than the Universe – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for September 24, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxJudging is not a good thing, especially when it comes to people with whom we disagree.  It narrows the perception we have of the other person and blinds us to recognizing the good in the other.  It surely doesn’t help when we are striving to see Christ in the other.  Judgment also closes the door within us from receiving the gift of the other.  Judgment is an unhealthy attitude in building relationships.  Being judgmental is something I confess regularly in confession as I am sure most of you do the same.

When I was growing up in the rural community of Harrison, Wisconsin there was a woman by the name of Mrs. Magnus who never went to church.  All the rest of us folks went faithfully every Sunday.  My Dad would seek permission from the pastor if he could make hay on a Sunday because the forecast was calling for three days of rain.  Keep in mind back in those days one did no work on Sunday unless it was necessary.  The other farmers did the same if they wanted to make hay on a Sunday.  Mrs. Magnus became very ill and sent for the pastor to receive the last rites.  The pastor kept it to himself, probably because she went to confession when she received the last rites.  She died and was buried from the church.  Parishioners were complaining among themselves about the fact this woman did not go to Mass on Sunday and was given a Catholic funeral.  Word got back to the pastor and the following Sunday we were told the parable of a landowner who went out to hire workers for his vineyard.  Like the workers who labored the whole day and were expecting more pay because the last ones received a full day’s wage, the folks in Harrison were doing the same thing.  Instead of rejoicing that Mrs. Magnus made it into heaven, the folks were complaining.

The inclusivity of God and the depth of His mercy are beyond our comprehension.  God told the Prophet Isaiah in the first reading, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways my ways (Isaiah 55:8).”  I asked a fourth grade student once, “How wide is God’s love?”  She answered, “Wider than the universe.”  I am sure most of us are going to be surprised to find out who will be sitting next to us in the kingdom of heaven.  When we make a judgment we presume that God sees it the way we do, but we always have to remember God has the ability to look into the heart of a person.  God is the landowner who keeps going out into the market place calling people to come and work in his vineyard.  The market place is society and the vineyard is the mission.  Some labor a whole lifetime to carry out the mission and others labor only for a few hours, but the reward is the same—eternal life with God.

Maybe God used Mrs. Magnus to reveal something to our pastor about God’s inclusivity and mercy.  I don’t know.  I just thought it was unfair.  Little did I know what God was doing, along with most of us in Harrison on the day Mrs. Magnus died.  St. Paul in his letter to the Romans wrote, “For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor (Romans 11:34)?”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Advertisements

Forgiveness – Corrie ten Boom

We thought some blog followers might be interested to learn more about Corrie ten Boom, the woman referenced in Fr. Peter Patrick’s September 17 homily. Here is a reflection submitted by one of our parishioners:

In his homily last Sunday on forgiveness, Father Peter Patrick spoke about the Dutch author and holocaust survivor, Corrie ten Boom, known for her incredible faith and her inspiring example to all of us of the meaning of forgiveness.

Corrie ten Boom was born on April 15, 1892, in Holland.  She died in 1983 at the age of 91, on that same date. She and her family sheltered many Jewish friends and neighbors in their home during the Nazi holocaust during World War II.  Eventually an informant contacted the Nazi police and the entire family were carried off to concentration camps.  All of them died, except for Corrie.  She and her sister were sent to a particularly notorious camp, and shortly after her sister died, Corrie was miraculously released from the camp.  Some years later she was speaking before an audience regarding one of her books.  Suddenly she saw in the audience, a former guard from the camp.  Boiling over with rage she could scarcely contain, she prayerd to Jesus. “Forgive me, and help me to forgive him. . .Jesus I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness”.  At the end of her talk, the guard appeared in front of her and asked for her forgiveness. She put out her hand and took his.  As they stood there together an amazing peace came over her and a joy she could not have imagined.  How small the little humiliations and offenses all of us experience from people we meet and how hard we find it to forgive.  Jesus, give me your forgiveness.  MMD

If you would like to learn even more about Corrie ten Boom, check out these links:
https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10006914 
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/561909.The_Hiding_Place

What the World Needs Now Is Mercy – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for September 17, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxHow often have we prayed the following words, “Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors (Matt. 6:12)?”  We say these words so often that they seem to roll off our lips.  It takes a Sunday like this, when the gospel challenges us to be like the master of the unforgiving servant (Matt. 18:21-35), to make us think about them.  When I was an associate pastor at St. Joseph Parish in Grafton, first confession was in fourth grade.  I will always remember one fourth grader in particular, Christie.  I used Matthew’s passage on the Lord’s Prayer with the following verse:  “If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions (Matt. 6:14-15).”  Christie objected.  She was surprised that God the Father would do something like this.  Christie heard what Jesus was saying.  If we do not forgive others, our heavenly Father will not forgive us.  Our forgiveness of those who wrong us must reflect the Father’s forgiveness of our transgressions.  This is a core value of discipleship.

Peter was beginning to understand what Jesus was preaching when he asked the Lord how often he must forgive his brother—seven times.  Peter knew how difficult it is to forgive an offender once, thus, he thought seven times was being very generous.  The answer comes back to Peter, “seventy-seven times.”  It is a way of expressing “as often as it is necessary,” that is, an infinite number of times.  I wish I could have seen the expression on Peter’s face when he heard these words.

Forgiveness is not always easy.  Peter knew this as we all know it.  The deeper the hurt, the more difficult it is to forgive.  The challenge is, if we want to seek God’s forgiveness, we have to be willing to forgive the offender.  Forgiveness is not an isolated, one-time event; it is a process by which we come to the willingness to forgive.  Sometimes we have to pray our way to forgiveness.  In my priesthood there have been two times where forgiveness seemed almost impossible.  I begged the Lord for the grace to forgive and with the guidance of my spiritual director I eventually was able to forgive.  Those two times were the most freeing moments I have ever known.  It allows one to move on, and it allows one to be totally open to receiving God’s forgiveness.  The author of the Book of Sirach puts it clearly:  “Forgive your neighbor’s injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven (Sirach 28:2).”

The very nature of God is to forgive.  If we are of God, and indeed we are, than it is also our nature to forgive.  We can never overestimate the power of God’s grace.  God forgives us countless times and this ought to be the motivation for our forgiving.  Forgiveness flows not from the head, but from the heart because this is how God forgives us.  “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive?  As many as seven times?”  Jesus will tell us what He told Peter, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Jesus Calls Us to Forgive – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for September 17, 2017

What Jesus is asking of us in today’s gospel, is “easier said than done.” When we find it hard to forgive others, we should turn to Jesus for the help we need to do it. During World War II, a lady who lived in the Netherlands was the only survivor of Nazi imprisonment in her family. After the war she traveled Europe, lecturing on forgiveness and reconciliation.

After one talk in Munich, Germany, a man came forward to thank her for the talk. She couldn’t believe her eyes. He was one of the Nazi guards who used to guard the women’s shower room. He reached to her, but she was unable to take his hand. The horror of the concentration camp and the death of her sister leaped back into her memory. She was filled with resentment and anger.

She could not believe her response. She had just given a moving talk on forgiveness, now she herself couldn’t forgive someone. She was emotionally blocked, unable to shake the guard’s hand. What this lady experienced is something we all experience from time to time in life. We find ourselves unable to forgive someone. We experience an emotional block toward a certain person who has wounded us.

Remember a betrayal by your spouse or friend, abuse by those who could protect you, painful divorce and separation, or children punished for sins they did not commit? Then the question arises; “How then do we handle the problem of not being able to forgive?” How then do we respond to today’s readings? One thing I know, forgiving doesn’t do good to the person who has wronged us, but it does good for us when we forgive:  we free ourselves. If we don’t forgive, it is just like locking ourselves in a prison and expecting someone to set us free; and yet we have the keys with us. Think about that!

Back to the story of the lady in Munich:  she stood there frozen, and began to pray silently, “Jesus, I cannot forgive this man. Give me your grace to forgive.” At that moment, she said, she felt as if empowered by another source, and took the guard’s hand in true forgiveness. At that moment she discovered a great truth. Forgiveness is not an event, but rather a process, it takes time, and it is said time heals. Forgiving is not forgetting. Therefore, let us try to reach out those who have wronged, hurt and wounded us. A long journey starts with a single step. We alone are not able to do it, let us ask Jesus to give us the grace to forgive.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Patrick

The Road to Reconciliation – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for September 10, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWe consider ourselves to be the source of our identity.  Why not?  We live in a society that promotes this thinking.  Our deepest identity is to be found not in ourselves, but in community with God and others.  It takes a hurricane like Harvey to call us to the realization that we are connected together and the bond that holds us is God.  I am sure hurricane Irma will call us to this deeper sense of who we are in God.  The tragic event of Charlottesville, Virginia called us to this deeper identity that we are brothers and sisters, adopted sons and daughters of the living God.  There is no room for hatred, or bigotry, or discrimination—not in the deepest source of our identity.  Even on the local level there are situations that have the ability to call us to the deepest source of our identity with God and others.  The yard signs we saw on the way to church are appealing to this deeper sense of our identity.

Our readings today (Matt. 18:15-20; Romans 13:8-10; Ezekiel 33:7-9), refer to the place beyond ourselves where we will find this identity.  In Matthew’s gospel the core of this identity is found in gathering together as a community in His name knowing He is
present in our midst.  The oneness of God as revealed in Jesus and our being gathered in His Name is the heart of our identity.  You can’t go any deeper than this.  Our unity as brothers and sisters united in one mind and heart is the clearest sign of Jesus’ presence among us.  We are who we are because of this.  Look around on any given Sunday morning!  This is the source of our deepest identity.  St. Paul in our second reading from his letter to the Romans is explaining how we are to preserve our identity.  The commandments and the law can be summed up in our loving our neighbor as ourselves.  He is straightforward:  “Love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:10b).  The Prophet Ezekiel reminds us that we are responsible for each other’s salvation.  If we do not dissuade our brother or sister from doing evil, God will hold us responsible.  Those are “hard words.”

We pray in the second Eucharistic Prayer, God Guides His Church along the Way of Salvation, the following:  “Having called us to your table, Lord, confirm us in unity, so that, together with Francis, our Pope and Jerome, our Archbishop, with all Bishops, Priests and Deacons, and your entire people, as we walk your ways with faith and hope, we may strive to bring joy and trust into the world.”  Every Eucharistic Prayer contains a prayer for preserving the source of our identity—our community with God and others—our unity, the work of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus realized the difficulty we human beings have about safeguarding our deepest identity in community with God and others.  He gives us a road to reconciliation, a path bringing together what has been broken or severed.   What is at stake in reconciliation is the presence of Jesus in the church.  Today’s gospel ends with this important reality:  “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matt. 13:20).  The presence of Christ is diminished in the fragmentation of the Christian community.  Ultimately what is at stake is whether we care enough about having Jesus Christ in our midst.  If we do desire His presence among us, then we must become reconcilers.  This is best summed up in the following saying:  “I sought my soul, but my soul I could not see.  I sought my God, but my God eluded me.  I sought my brother and I found all three.”  Let us commit ourselves to an on-going conversion that will lead us to a deeper reconciliation among all people so we can see clearly the God who dwells among us.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Helping Our Brothers and Sisters Do What Is Right – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for September 10, 2017

When I was growing up, I knew all women and men of my parent’s age are like parents, not only in terms of respecting them, but if I did wrong, they could punish me. In Africa we have a saying; “I am because we are.” Ubuntu! I am who I am because of the community I belong to. The children are brought up by the community.

In our present society parents are not able to discipline their own children, let alone someone else’s. In today’s first reading we hear God saying through prophet Ezekiel: “You, son of man, I have appointed watchman for the house of Israel.” We as Christian shall be held responsible if one of our brother or sister dies with sins or wrong doing we knew and never told them. We are our brother’s and sister’s keeper.

If you were involved, how would you have responded to the following scenarios?

  1. A ticket seller for an airport limousine service said to dad, “Sir, your son looks young for his age. Take a half-fare ticket. If questioned by the driver, just say the boy is under twelve. Save yourself a few bucks!”
  2. A mother caught her five years old daughter with a stolen candy bar just after they returned from the store.
  3. Suppose you heard your son’s or daughter’s best friend saying to your son or daughter, “If you need an answer in the math test, just give me a signal.”

I don’t know what you would do in these cases, but I do know what Jesus would do. Today’s three scenarios focus on the mutual obligation that Christians have toward on one another, not only to do what is right, but also to help others do what is right.

The response for the three cases:

We notice in our modern world there is a tendency to emphasize more individual rights and freedom than collective responsibility for human society or community. Whenever there are personal or group conflicts, people prefer to walk away or break off from relationships and mutual bonds quickly, rather than trying for reconciliation through dialogue. In contrast to this mentality, in today’s gospel Jesus advocates the principle of our collective responsibility to bring back the erring members of our community. If one of our brothers or sisters goes astray, it is our duty to bring him/her back into the fold. Today’s gospel implies that in our Christian community each one of us is responsible for the reform and spiritual welfare of our ‘fallen’ brothers and sisters through fraternal corrections.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Patrick

 

The Cistern – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for September 3, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxAt the lowest point in my priesthood, my psychologist asked me, “What image would you use to describe where you are at this time?”  It didn’t take long for me to come up with an image.  I told him that I was in a deep, dark cistern lying face down in its muddy floor.  I said that there is no more energy in my body and soul to scale the walls of the cistern.  I remember telling him that there was no energy even to lift my little finger.  He asked me, “How are you going to get out of it?”  I told him only the Lord will get me out of this one.  He did.  From time to time I revisit that image not to dwell on the gloominess of the experience, but how the Lord breathed into me–Life.  In the second creation story we read, “The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7).”  This is exactly what the Lord did.  He blew into me the breath of life.

Each of us has to face our own woundedness if we want to be saved.  We must do so very gently because in our woundedness we are most tender.  Jeremiah in our first reading (Jer. 20:7-9) is at the low point of his ministry.  He uses what I call “cistern language.”  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped, you were too strong for me, and you triumphed (Jer. 20:7a).”  Speaking God’s message brought him to this point.  Even when he tried to keep the Word in, it became like a fire burning in his heart and bones.  In the darkness of this time, Jeremiah discovered that the Lord was with him like a mighty champion.

We cover up our woundedness.  We build walls around it so no one can make it worse, and in the meantime, it is like a fire burning in our hearts.  This fire has the ability to consume us.  Jesus in the gospel (Matt. 16:21-27), embraced the woundedness that awaited Him in Jerusalem.  Three times He announced to the disciples what was awaiting Him in Jerusalem.  It culminates with His cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me (Matt. 27:46b)?”  Jesus is quoting the opening verse of Psalm 22, but this Psalm ends with the realization that God has not turned away, that God has heard the cry.  Like Jeremiah Jesus realized in the depth of His woundedness the Father was there.  This is what I learned at the bottom of the cistern.  This is what you can learn in the depths of your
woundedness.

Peter didn’t get it.  “God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you (Matt 16:22).”  The question is: Do we get it?  It is in the depths of our woundedness that we encounter the rawness of our need for God.  In the darkness of our wounds, we discover that God is there and has always been there.

Jesus said to His disciples, and says to us, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me (Matt. 16:24).”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis