All That You Need Is Love – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for October 29, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThe Beatles opened our ears and hearts to the following words:

All you need is love, all you need is love,
All you need is love, love.  Love is all you need
.

There are in America 892 active hate groups; of which nine are here in Wisconsin.  There are only two states in our country where there are no known active hate groups, Alaska and Hawaii.  We have witnessed their faces leading up to the past election and following the election.  It seems these voices have been given permission to be more vocal.  Freedom of speech has to be based upon a fundamental agreement that is reflected upon the two great commandments God has given us.  What is happening to our country?  I do not know, but I am very concerned about our country.

“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself, (Matthew 22:37-39).”  Jesus in answering the Pharisee’s question goes beyond the extent of the question in joining the two commandments together.  Love of God and love of one’s neighbor cannot be separated.  They are one law.  This is how Jesus lived his life while here on earth.  His words and His actions were one.  Who can argue with this?  Not even a Pharisee.

This combination probably existed before Jesus, but His voice and His actions have brought them together for us, His disciples.  St. John in his first letter stated, “Whoever says, ‘I know Him, (Jesus),’ but does not keep His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:4).  The combination of these two commandments is at the heart of the early church’s understanding of Jesus’ teaching.  St. James in his letter boldly states, “Faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead (James 2:17).”  The combination of these two commandments is our starting point.  Let me repeat this fundamental principle of discipleship:  the two great commandments and our adhering to them is where discipleship begins.

Living these two commandments we give testimony that we are truly His disciples.  At the conclusion of this liturgical year, on the Feast of Christ the King, we will hear Jesus will judge us according to these two commandments.  Today, our first reading from the Book of Exodus answers the question, “Who is our neighbor?”  The immigrant, the widow, single moms, children without parents, the poor are our neighbors, in whom God recognizes as His own.  St. Paul in our second reading affirmed the Thessalonians for the manner their faith had become a part of living life.  He told them their lives had become the Word of the Lord that was sent forth.  When we treat others with compassion, we do so because God is merciful and compassionate toward us, especially when we are most in need.  Like the Thessalonians, our lives become the Word of the Lord that is sent forth.  If Jesus were to test us by asking, “What is the greatest commandment?” our verbal answer might pass with flying colors.  But would the way we live pass the test?  This is what the Word of God is calling us to examine.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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Unlocking the Mystery of a Child – A Parishioner Reflection

As we greet the members of the latest generation of our family, (four this year and counting) I ponder what their future will be.  I know the awesome responsibility of parents to each small babe placed in their arms.  For so many new parents today, easy access to extended family is not as available as it was when I was a child growing up.  I grew up in a small Illinois town, close to other small towns where many of my parents’ extended families lived and were available to help.  Aunts, uncles and cousins had time for us and they exercised it.  We saw them frequently, and they played an active role in molding our lives in more ways than we appreciated at the time.

Even when my husband and I were raising our big family, we both worked in a demanding profession, relied less upon the help of grandparents and other relatives to assist us.  We attended all the school, sports and recreational events ourselves.  We hired people to help with household chores, child care, etc.  But for the most part, we were a “nuclear” family (though a large one) before the term was coined.  That is even more true today when many young parents live thousands of miles away from grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, across the country and around the globe.  We and they keep in touch by phone, email, social media, Skype, Snapchat and so on.  They do not experience the day to day life of the village.

The young Jewish teenager who became the Mother of Jesus, and grew to be the Mother of us all, grew up in a small village, surrounded by family.  Her sainted parents, Joachim and Anna prepared her well for her courageous “yes”…the Yes that changed the world.  There will never be another Virgin Mary.  There will never be another Mother of God, and of the Universe.  But all babies come into the world with potential for goodness and even greatness.  How parents, grandparents, and extended family can contribute to their future is a mystery.  The babes, themselves, are mysteries.  None of us were trained to be parents, none of us know the future, nor do we have keys to unlock the potential of these new little ones.  But we can provide unconditional love.  We can pray endlessly for them throughout our earthly lives, and in the world to come.  We can teach them in words and actions Who God is.  We can help them discern their special talents and skills.  God, has, and has always had, a unique plan for each child born into the world.  Let us prayerfully, humbly, lovingly ask the God of the Universe to show us how we can help them to be who He has designed them to be.  MMD

Do You Have The Right Balance? – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for October 22, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThe key to achieving the right balance in our lives is to reduce the amount of stress we are under.  When was the last time you took “be-time” for yourself?  “Be-time” is when one carves out time during the day simply to be.  I admire you, parents, in how you have to balance work-time with children-time, especially you fathers.  Fathers spend seven times more with their children than in the 1970’s.  A study conducted by the University of Michigan found that on average fathers spend 2.5 hours with their children on weekdays and 6.2 hours with their children on the weekends.  According to the study, moms spend more time with their children than fathers do.  The time parents spend with their children is so important for their wellbeing.  The challenge is striving to maintain a balance so children can have dad-time and mom-time.

The average time a Christian spends in prayer is 3-7 minutes a day.  This includes meal prayer.  There are 1,440 minutes in a day.  What part of your day do you take to be with God?  In the gospel Jesus teaches, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God (Matthew 22:21).”  What belongs to Caesar is external to the heart, but what belongs to God is what flows from the heart and is in the heart.  In reality we are God’s.  St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians reminds us, “You have been bought at a price (1 Cor. 7:23).”

We always have to remember that on the coin was Caesar’s image, but we are made in the image of our God.  It is as if God has stamped his image upon us.  This is again made clear in our baptism when we have become the sons and daughters of the Living God sharing in the dying and rising of Jesus Christ.  What belongs to God is our undivided hearts devoid of malice, hypocrisy and self-importance.  Again St. Paul stated, “Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you (1 Cor.16)?”  If we are God’s temple, than truly we are God’s.

We live in a world where this truth is challenged daily.  It is important than that we maintain the balance of who we are.  This requires of us “be-time” in which we take time to be with God each day.  My challenge to you is this:  spend five minutes each day alone with God this week.  The following week increase it to ten minutes each day.  In that time talk to God, ask Him for guidance and above all listen to God.  Remember the language of God is silence, not a silence devoid of words, but a silence of His presence.  When this becomes a routine for you, you will discover your soul thirsting for God.  What a powerful realization to discover about yourself!  This is the right balance; living life from this perspective.  You will sing with the Psalmist, “You are my God, for you I long, for you my soul is thirsting.  My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water (Psalm 63:2ff).” This is balance.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Do You Have the Right Balance? – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for October 22, 2017

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickHave you ever found yourself in a tight position like Jesus in today’s gospel?  A young man went to test an old wise man who was blind. He was holding a butterfly on his palm, he said to him; “Is the butterfly I am holding dead or alive?” The wise man with his wisdom said; “If I tell you it is dead, you will set it free, if I tell you it is alive, you will crush it.” In today’s gospel we hear Jesus being asked the same kind of question by the Herodians and the Pharisees: “Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor, or not?” For Jesus, the question was like a dead end!

Jesus hints at the answer when he says to them, “You hypocrites! Why are you trying to trap me?” Herodians were members of Herod’s party. They were staunch supporters of Rome’s right to tax the Jewish population. Pharisees, on the other hand, opposed the tax but paid it anyway to avoid political confrontation with Rome.

No matter how Jesus answered the question, he would end up alienating one of the groups. Or so the Herodians and the Pharisees thought. Jesus does not give either of the answers. As it turned out, the silver coin bearing Caesar’s image gave Jesus an ideal way to answer their question. For to possess a Roman coin, was to admit a Roman obligation.

When they produced the coin, Jesus said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what belongs to God.” Then the question which arises is; “Do we have a balance in our life?” It’s not like paying taxes, where, if we are caught by time, we can request an extension to avoid a fine.

What is God’s anyway? Everything! We owe God everything. The coin bears Caesar’s image, but we bear God’s own image. From God we receive all that we are and have. If paying to God what is God’s means anything, it must mean putting God first in our lives. Jesus understood, and taught that we must give God the first fruits, out of gratitude. This grateful giving of the first fruits was based on the truth that everything comes from God, and hence everything belongs to God.

Going back to “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s,” we need to ask ourselves if we give fully as a wife or husband; your time for each other and continued “dating” each other. Or, as children, do we do what we are expected to do and respect our parents even in their old age when they are ailing and need us most? As an employee, do I work the hours I am paid for? As a student, do I do all my school work, not making excuses of having other activities like sports? For us to live in peace and harmony, we need to have the right balance; serving God, others and our nation.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Patrick

The Journey of the 72 and What It Has To Tell Us Today – A Parishioner Reflection

As a part of the formation process, prior to ordination, young Jesuits are sent on a journey similar to the biblical journey of the 72 disciples sent by Jesus.  They are given a small stipend, about $30-35, and a ticket to a place of their own choosing.  They are directed to carry with them only the barest necessities, and to find their own way for a period of 30 to 60 days.  They must find a way to support themselves, by part-time work, begging, or by whatever honest means, to find shelter, and to encounter people wherever they are at. The purpose of the journey is to prepare themselves for the challenges they will meet after ordination, when they are sent to any mission chosen by the provincial. Jesuits do travel the world. They take a vow of obedience, and go wherever they are sent. The idea for this journey is based upon the vision of Ignatius when he founded the Jesuit Order more than 500 years ago, when he chose with his fellow Jesuits the missionary charism of the Order, “service to the whole world.”

Differences in talents, personality, character, and ingenuity of each individual dictate the nature of each journey. Each calls forth from the traveler a testing of self-reliance, survival skills, and ability to encounter and communicate successfully with people the individual might never otherwise meet. It calls for simplification of his own personal needs.

Diocesan seminaries now are providing their young seminarians with experiences which differ greatly from those of previous years. I have two cousins, each ordained a long time ago.  One is deceased: the other is living in a parish in Chicago. Both spent most, if not all, of their formation  away from the outside world in a more or less cloistered existence. They had limited time with their families, and during their college and post college training they lived on seminary grounds and socialized mainly with their fellows in the seminary.  The younger one actually entered during his high school years and spent time in a preparatory seminary as well.  Their education was superb. They both were successful and respected priests, but their practical experiences of parish life were learned “on the job.”

A young cousin of mine recently entered the seminary after completion of his college and post college education, and a successful career in business.  His experience as a seminarian will be very different than those of his two uncles.  He will study hard in the seminary but he will live in a parish through the entire years of his formation seeing and participating in the everyday workings of  parish life.  His encounters with family and friends, when and if there is time, will be less limited, and he will be prepared in a more practical way for issues he will encounter as a parish priest, and for his position in the society in which he must live and work. He will still be expected to perform  demanding, and hopefully fruitful, services. The work of a parish priest is as varied as the work of any father of a very large family, an executive in a medium size business, and as a psychologist/spiritual director for his flock, all rolled into one. He is expected to have business skills to oversee management of  parish funds, parish employees, provide spiritual services and counseling to parishioners from the cradle to the grave.  He is responsible for the management of the parish school and education of the parish children. And we need so many more of them. Today very few parish priests have assistant priests and none of them have housekeepers as they once did. Thankfully, leaders in the church are realizing that providing all priests with preparation for daily parish life in the day to day world is a necessity.  Ignatius Loyola, in his long journey from womanizer and soldier of fortune, to Saint and Founder of the Jesuit order can offer all of us much to learn about formation for parish life.   MMD

The People of Joy! – A Parishioner Reflection

I was rushing to Mass this morning and I looked up to see a couple coming toward me. The woman greeted me smilingly, wished me a great day, and it was! We all encounter people in our lives who seem to ooze joy!  No matter the weather . . . whatever the circumstance, the day is good. They are young and old, well and sick, rich and poor. They look you in the eye, greet you with a kind word and a smile. Seeing one of them makes the day a little better.  Some are disabled, coping with illness or financial reverses, or personal losses, yet they are serene. Some, like the lady of this morning, are total strangers.

I have been lucky enough to encounter many . . . One, now deceased, fought macular degeneration, and eventually total blindness along with other health problems . . . her sense of humor and her joy never wavered. No complaints, always concerned for someone else. A fine musician who can no longer play the piano or use a once-beautiful voice,  still lights up the room wherever she goes. Another has lived the last 25 years in a wheel chair, and participates enthusiastically in every new adventure! Another friend, a nurse, brings to her patients a joyful laugh and encouraging words.  I have never seen her without a smile and a lilt in her voice.

A law school classmate comes to mind. In the mornings he stood outside the school door laughing, joking, cheering us on day after day. He, with his wife reared a large family, shared with them adventure and travel. He managed a successful career into old age. Now, after a near death experience, he lives a different life. The humor is still there, the welcoming smile and words of encouragement for everyone he encounters. A professor who never lost the stutter he suffered as a child, who brought to the classroom a philosophy of life that still, after all these years, stays with his many former students. I know a young man just embarking on an amazing career. When he was in grade school, his parents wondered what would ever become of him, what he might do with his life. He completed his college career, obtained a graduate degree and remains the happy smiling child he was.  None of these people have had easy lives. They know the same fears, sell-doubts, losses we all do. I think that they hear the ‘still small voice” even on the darkest days, and they trust.  MMD 

 

 

Do You Have The Right Garment On? – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for October 15, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxRemember leisure suits? I was visiting a friend in New York City. We had agreed to meet for lunch in lower Manhattan. The restaurant he had chosen required that the men wear ties. One does not wear a tie with a leisure suit, because that’s why they are called “leisure” suits. Obviously the restaurant experienced this many times; they had a number of ties to choose from so one could have the proper garment on. I remembered selecting a dark blue tie to somehow correspond to the dark blue and dusty gold leisure suit I was wearing. I don’t remember what I had for lunch and I can’t even tell you if I liked it. The parable of the king who gave a feast for his son’s wedding always brings to mind this embarrassing event both for me and my friend.

What’s the heavenly garment that is required for entrance into the kingdom? The answer is found in who was responding to Jesus. The public sinners, the tax collectors, the prostitutes and all the rest who were marginalized by “society” were responding to Jesus. They heard the call and believe in the good news. When one is excluded from the mainstream of society, where all the action and abundance is, it is welcoming to hear a preacher tell of a kingdom where one has a place at the banquet table. All they had to do was put on the garment—the kingdom garment. Yes! This is right; all they had to do was put on the garment and they did.

The chief priests and the elders of the people thought they had the right garment on, so why heed what Jesus was preaching? It is so easy to fall into this kind of thinking. It got worse when they started judging people. “They are outside the law.” “God hears the voice of the righteous and not the sinners.” “They are unclean.” The list goes on and on. It got so bad that when one saw a man stripped, beaten and robbed lying on the road one would walk on the other side so as not to become unclean. They presumed they had the right garment on. They failed to look into the face of sinners, tax collectors and prostitutes and see the image of God. It was there, written in the Torah: “God created man in his image; in the divine image He created him; male and female He created them.” Once a person sees this image he begins to love him in spite of everything, because one sees the image. It is so easy for us today to fall into this kind of thinking: that we are the righteous ones.

Yes, the question, “What’s the heavenly garment?” Before I tell you, there are a few things I want to say about this garment. First of all, and this is obvious, you are not going to find it at Kohl’s or Boston Store or any other clothing store. You are going to find the garment very near you. Second, it is pretty much one size fits all, but for some it might take trying a little longer than others to get into the garment. but this is okay. Third, you have to put the garment on in this life, on this earth and sooner rather than later. You never know when you will be called home. Fourth, you always have to check to see if you have the garment on because it is so easy to forget to put it on. Fifth, you have to learn how to walk in this garment now, so you know how to wear it in the kingdom. Sixth, never, never, never presume that the other person isn’t wearing the heavenly garment. When you start thinking like this, it means you haven’t put the garment on.

The garment goes by several names: conversion, change of heart, and repentance. The Greeks called it Metanoia. In the African American community it is referred to as ordering-one’s-steps. This garment is a requirement for entering into the kingdom. My question to you is, “Do you have the right garment on, because you are approaching the heavenly table?”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis