The Feast of the Holy Family – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for December 27, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickHappy Feast Day to all of us, because we belong to a family, and also Happy Feast Day to all parishioners of Holy Family Parish! Today we celebrate the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, which is a model for all families, and also as a community of faithful here in our parish. Today, I would say, is a day all married couples should renew their wedding promises and give thanks for all the gifts God has granted you, and especially children. We all belong to a family, and therefore we should be thankful for that gift, although sometimes we take it for granted.

Today as we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Family, the gospel passage gives us a glimpse of the family values and attitudes Christian parents and children should imitate, through the Holy Family of Nazareth. What we observe in today’s text is Joseph and Mary’s parental love, concern and care for their child, and the surprise of Jesus at their concern. Any of parents who have lost a child and have not found them will understand the inner trauma of Joseph and Mary when the young Jesus was lost. They searched for him with great distress and mental agony, because they thought they had failed in the responsibility and duty entrusted to them by God to care for their child. In other words, they were troubled not only because they were afraid that they lost him, but also because of the thought they did not take care of him. Sometimes, parents might ‘lose’ their children in a literal sense; as through drugs or criminal activities. Or, in a symbolic sense, as when parents observe their children losing character or moral/spiritual values. 

Today’s gospel-message motivates parents to go on searching for their lost children until they are found. They are to imitate the intensity of love and anxiety with which Joseph and Mary went in search of their lost child, hoping to find their child even against all odds. The finding of Jesus in the temple after an anxious search is an example of hope for Christian parents for finding their lost children, and not losing them forever. If they do not find them, they are not to despair; instead, surrender their hopeless situation to God in faith and offer the ‘lost child’ into His hands.

I would like to quote Pope Francis in his address to the family: “There is no perfect family. We do not have perfect parents, we are not perfect, we do not marry a perfect person nor have perfect children. We have complaints about each other. We have deceived each other. Therefore, there is no healthy marriage and healthy family without the exercise of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital to our emotional health and spiritual survival. Without forgiveness the family becomes a theater of conflict and a bastion of grievances. Without forgiveness the family gets sick. Forgiveness sterilizes the soul, cleansing the mind and freeing the heart. He who doesn’t forgive has no peace of mind or communion with God. Pain is a poison that intoxicates and kills. To keep a wound in one’s heart is a self-devouring gesture. It is autophagy. He or she, who doesn’t forgive, becomes physically, emotionally and spiritually ill. That’s why the family must be a place of life and not of death; territory of healing, not disease; stage of forgiveness and no guilt. Forgiveness brings joy where there was sorrow; and healing, where the disease has caused pain.”

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Proclaiming What We Have Seen and Heard – Father Peter Patrick’s Christmas Day Homily, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickCelebrating Christmas means – like the shepherds – hearing or accepting God’s message, seeing or experiencing its truth, and proclaiming to others what we have heard and seen.

In today’s gospel passage we notice three categories of people responding to the event of Christ’s birth in three different ways. First, there are shepherds, to whom the breaking news of the Messiah’s birth is announced by the angels. The shepherds were poor, illiterate, ignorant (as they were not allowed study the Law), impure (as they could not participate in the temple liturgy), dirty (as they could not afford to take regular baths) and outcasts. It is a wonder that the good news of salvation is given first to the poor, ignorant and despised people.

The faith-response of the shepherds is highlighted by their: (1) eagerness (“haste”, 2:16) to go to Bethlehem to see “the thing” (event) that has taken place (2:15); (2) making known to others what had been told to them about this child (2:17); (3) glorifying and praising God for all they have heard and seen (2:20). They go to verify what they have heard from the angel that a Savior is born for all people in the city of David (Bethlehem, 2:10-11). What do they see? They see a helpless child born to a poor and homeless family lying in a manger (2:12). In this fragile child they recognize the glory of God. Their haste indicates their eagerness to receive the good news of salvation. They become a model for Christian disciples’ missionary call – to witness to what they have heard and seen.

Secondly, we notice a group of hearers who are amazed at what the shepherds tell them (2:18). But nothing is mentioned about their faith-response. They are like the ones who hear the Word but do not respond with faith because of lack of roots (Lk 8:13).

Then there is a third category of people represented by Mary who treasures the Word and ponders its significance in her heart (2:19).  She is like those who after hearing the Word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and produce a hundredfold fruit (Lk 8:8, 15). She becomes a model believer for her efforts to discover the meaning of life-events (especially God’s incarnation) in the light of faith.

Finally, the feast of Christmas invites us to imitate the faith-response of Mary. We need to discover the meaning and significance of various events in our lives in the light of faith. Like Mary, we are invited to ponder the implications of what Christmas means for us today. Surely, it does not mean only new clothes, decorations, cakes and parties. It also means a deeper reflection on the meaning and purpose of our lives or the mission for which he has called us.

The Purpose of Christmas – Father Peter Patrick’s Christmas Eve Homily, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickChristmas is a time to rejoice because our Savior Jesus Christ has been born. If we can recall the history of our salvation, we would understand how long it had taken before he came. God’s promised Messiah comes to us not as a powerful king but as a powerless, poor and weak baby. God identifies himself with the human predicament of insecurity, rejection, deprivation and misery. Joseph and Mary had to face the same predicament due to an arbitrary order of a worldly ruler.

They are examples of so many people in our own times who have to face the same ordeal due to harsh and unjust decisions of those in power, especially of repressive regimes. The poor are powerless to change these decisions. Joseph and Mary were rejected by their own people, who refused to give them a place in the inn. Jesus Himself was rejected by his people in his native place, Nazareth (Lk 4:24).

As we celebrate Christmas today, we need to ask ourselves if we really have a room for Jesus. For us today, it is not like when he was born 2000 years ago – giving him a room –  but rather taking care of the needy.  Even today the poor find no place in our society. Many of them have to struggle for survival. Do we give them a place in any of our communities and relationships? Do we create a little time or room for them in our own ‘inns’ (places or spaces)? As Mother Teresa used to say, even the rich are poor for love, for being cared for, for being wanted. What can we do to remove this type of deprivation?

Now the birth of Jesus does not take place in a manger. Our broken hearts are mangers where he wants to take birth. He takes birth in order to remove hatred from our hearts and fill us with love, to wash away our sins and make us holy, to drive away darkness and give us his light, to rake away unrest and give us peace, to liberate us from all bondage, and to remove hopelessness and fill us with hope.

If today we open up for Jesus to be born in our hearts, then we will be able to open up for those who are suffering and see them as our brothers and sisters. This is the purpose of Christmas. He has come to satisfy our hearts that are poor and hungry for love. Nowadays, we can notice a sense of hunger for love and affection in our families, community and the world. It’s our calling as Christians to renew the face of the world by loving even the unlovable. It’s not easy but is something we can try to work on with the help of Jesus. Let us be the source of Christmas Joy! Merry Christmas!

Believe! – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for December 20, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickHow do we respond to news or a message when we are not sure of the meaning, in other words, when we are in doubt or confused? When Mary received the message about bearing the Savior Jesus Christ, she was so troubled and confused. We need to understand that she was too young to bear the message. She was only thirteen years of age. She was comforted when she heard her relative Elizabeth at her old age was expecting a child.

In today’s gospel we have heard Mary went in haste to visit Elizabeth to share her joy and at the same time she needed someone to lean on because she was troubled by the news. Although Mary was troubled, she still trusted in the Word of the God and was eager to go and serve Elizabeth. In order to prepare for Christmas, we need to imitate the unshakable faith of Mary in the fulfillment of God’s Word and her eagerness to serve needy neighbors promptly and joyfully.

What comes to our mind when we hear today’s gospel about Mary and Elizabeth? When Mary received the Good News of bearing Christ, she did not keep it to herself. She went to share with someone, and that’s why she went in haste to visit Elizabeth. What about us when God has done something we have been longing for, or answered our prayers? Do we share our testimonies, our joys? Our testimonies remove doubts from people who have stopped trusting in God. We are called to be the bearer of Jesus and take him to those who doubt and have lost hope in this life. Their hope will be ignited again.

In other parts of the Scripture we hear how Jesus gave hope to those who had given up. A good example is when Simon Peter and Andrew, his brother, returned from a night of fishing in which they caught nothing. When Jesus stepped in their boat and told them to cast their nets in the deep, Simon Peter still doubted after a long night without any catch. Despite his doubt, Peter said a good thing: “..but at your command I will lower the nets.” He humbled himself. They caught a great number of fish.  When Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said, ‘Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man’” (Lk 5:5-6, 8). We are being called to humble ourselves and confess our sins if we want Christ to be born in our hearts and work in us.

In that brief moment, Peter sensed the holiness of Jesus in a way that he had never experienced before; so also for Mary and Elizabeth in today’s gospel. An experience of the presence of Jesus can happen only of its own accord. It’s a gift from God. All we can do is to dispose ourselves to receive the gift. That’s what Advent is for. It’s a time when we dispose ourselves for Jesus coming into our lives.

Mary is our model in faith, but God would love for more of us to be like Elizabeth, too – to recognize Christ in others and treat them as holy and blessed. Let us be bearers of Jesus and take him to all we meet in our lives, and also, let him use us.

(Mica 5:1-4A: Psalm 80:2-3, 15-16, 18-19: Hebrews 10:5-10: Luke 1:39-45)

What Should We Do? – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for December 13, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickThe third Sunday of Advent is called “Rejoice Sunday”—Gaudete Sunday. The Church rejoices that our Savior has come and will come again. These also are words we have heard from the second reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Philippians: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I shall say it again: rejoice!” (Phil 4:4). Again we should rejoice as we begin the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy which was officially opened by Pope Francis on December 8th on the Solemnity of Immaculate Conception of Mary.

In the Catholic Church, a jubilee — or a holy year — is a religious event that involves the forgiveness of sins, as well as reconciliation. But the idea of a jubilee dates back to the Bible: “And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and proclaim freedom throughout the land for all who live on it, it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his clan (Leviticus 25:10-11).” For the ancient Israelites, the jubilee was a time properties were returned to their original owners or legal heirs, slaves were set free and creditors were barred from collecting debts. With contrite heart, we are also called to return to God.

In today’s gospel reading, John the Baptist calls the people to right living as they prepared the way for their Messiah; “The crowds asked John the Baptist, ‘What should we do?’” Which also should be our question, what should we do today, and during this Year of Mercy? John’s message was more than an invitation. It was a response that a person should undergo a complete, total transformation. In demonstrating the importance of right living, John points out the need for repentance and interior change. During this Advent season and Year of Mercy, we are called to reflect more upon the importance of repentance and how this can apply to our lives. The greatest tragedy of our time is losing the sense of sin and not recognizing the mercy of God! Let us take advantage of this Advent season and Year of Mercy by receiving the sacrament of reconciliation.

During this Year of Mercy as we answer the question; “What should we do,”  the shepherd of the entire Church, our Holy Father Pope Francis challenges us to live the Gospel message in our responses to the needs of our brothers and sisters. The Corporal Works of Mercy (feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, bury the dead) and Spiritual Works of Mercy (instruct the ignorant, counsel the doubtful, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offenses willingly, comfort the afflicted, pray for the living and the dead) presents an opportunity. We can perform these works of mercy and love as intentional Disciples of Christ.

Each one of us is invited to ask ourself, “What should I do,” to prepare for Christ’s coming in the context of one’s own state of life or profession, and humbly admit – like John the Baptist – one’s unworthiness to welcome Christ into one’s heart: “He must increase; I must decrease (John the Baptist, in John 3:30).”

Let Us Become the Change We Want to See – Father Peter Patrick’s Homily for December 6, 2015

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickFrom what we hear, read and watch, it appears that we have become a culture that does not value life any more. Last month we had a mass killing in France, a shooting at Planned Parenthood, and now a shooting in California; and everyday, we have shooting in the city of Milwaukee. Have we despaired? Has life lost meaning? These are some of the questions I ask myself every day, which I believe you are also asking yourselves.

But as people of hope and faith, today’s first reading is encouraging us to take off our robe of mourning and misery; and put on the splendor of glory from God forever. These are words of God through Baruch to the city of Jerusalem. Baruch served as a scribe to the prophet Jeremiah. Baruch saw firsthand the sad decline of the kingdom of Judah. Years of sin and ignorance led to exile for the people and the destruction of Jerusalem. We are not different; we have become a nation that doesn’t care about God any more. But the kingdom of Judah changed, as we read in the first chapters of Baruch. A repentant nation offers a sincere prayer, asking God for mercy (Bar 1:15-3:8).

Today as we enter the second Sunday of Advent, we are being called to prepare our ways; to change as the kingdom of Judah changed. Then the question arises, how do we prepare the way? Today’s gospel is calling us to “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths.…” John the Baptist proclaimed a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. For us to change and to change the face of the world, we need to repent our sins and to forgive those who trespass against us, as we always recite in the Lord’s Prayer. Let us become the change we want to see.

We as Christians are not going to fight evil with evil, but with forgiveness and charity. Advent is the season to prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ in glory. The meaning of Advent is “Coming.” In the season of Advent, the Church celebrates Christ’s coming in history, mystery and majesty – his coming into the world in the past (history) as a human person (which is commemorated at Christmas); his coming to us at present in the Word, in the sacraments (in mystery) and in the semblance of the needy; and his future coming in glory and majesty at the end of time. For us to receive him well, we need to prepare our hearts through repentance. We are called to confess our sins through the sacrament of reconciliation.

Repentance means an attitude that brings a change of direction. It involves a contrite heart that submits to God and begs for forgiveness of sins. It is a complete turning away from sin, and turning back to God. If one is walking down the road of life in the direction of sin and rebellion against God, one makes a 180 degree turn after realizing one’s sinfulness and starts walking the opposite direction toward God and obedience to his ways. I would compare this with GPS – if you realize that you are driving in the wrong direction after putting in the wrong address, what do you do? For sure you are going to pull aside and input the correct address and turn in the right direction. Pulling aside and putting on the right address is going for the sacrament of reconciliation and amending one’s life.

John’s message to the people was that they needed to repair their lives and prepare for Christ’s coming through a baptism of repentance. It means making a firm decision to change the direction of our life – a direction contrary to the one we have taken now. We need to reflect and see which attitudes, conduct or life-style we need to change. As we prepare to welcome Jesus so that he can be born in a new way at Christmas in our hearts, we need to examine whether our main focus is only on new clothes, fabulous parties, glittering decoration, merry-making, or on changing at least one of our mental attitudes that will lead to change of our behavior. Let us prepare well!

 

Be Watchful – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 29, 2015

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThe First Sunday of Advent, Ma’s famous behavior list went up on the kitchen wall in the Dirkx house. It was hung high on the wall. I don’t know if it was so we could not reach it, or because visitors could see, or both, but definitely we were told that Santa Claus would be checking it on Christmas Eve. Three names appeared at the top of the list, mine and that of my two sisters Mary and Pat. Every time we did something wrong an “X” would appear under our name. Any good deed would not remove an “X.” It was permanent. This is probably why my mother used ink—it was indeed permanent. My mother was into behavioral psychology long before it became popular. As I reflect back upon the experience, my mother was teaching us to internalize good behavior out of love. To this day, the three of us have remained very close to each other.

The largest section of books in any bookstore is on romance. Love is very important to us human beings. Without love, we could never come to the fullness of our potential. The love Jesus reveals to us is not found in romance novels, but in the holy love that comes from God, the Father. We have seen this love in the past, anticipate its fullness in the future, and are immersed in it in the present moment. It is in this love that Jesus found His identity as a human person. Let me repeat this: Jesus found his identity as a person in the love of God the Father. In fact, the first temptation of Jesus is all about where He was going to find His identity—in how He could misuse His power or live in the love of God the Father. Jesus told the devil, “Scripture has it, ‘Not on bread alone is man to live but on every utterance that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4).” If Jesus found His human identity in God’s love, how much more must we find our identity in God’s love? The truth of who we are is only found in God the Father’s love for us.

Our Advent theme for this Sunday is “Be Watchful.” I would like to propose to you a different kind of watchfulness—an inner watchfulness. There is a place within each one of us where only God can dwell. Call it the inner room, or the inner self, or the soul, it is the part of who we are where we can find both God and our true selves. Jesus invites us, this Advent Season, to go to our inner room. We will find it by following our heart. Where our heart is, there we will find our identity as a human person. The inner watchfulness will reveal to us the most profound truth of who we are—the Beloved of God. You will know if your identity is rooted in God’s love, because you will hear the silent voice of God say, “This is my Beloved Son or this is my Beloved Daughter in whom I am well pleased.” The truth of who we are is rooted in God’s love for us. This inner attentiveness is vital to Christian living, to discipleship. It is this inner watchfulness that keeps us focused—keeps us on the right path. It is the standard by which we decide what is truly beneficial to living.  It is the Lord who beckons us to our inner self and to discover ourselves in God’s love. If every human being could live with this awareness, imagine how different the world would be. If we can live in this awareness, then others can too.

May the following question be a guide this Advent. Do I find myself living on the surface of life? Surface-living means we are far from the inner place where God dwells. Go to that place where only you can go and there find God’s love. Be always watchful that nothing but God’s love defines who you are as a human person. Happy Advent!

Sincerely in Christ,

Fr. Dennis