A Christmas Story – Father Dennis’ Homily for December 25, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThere is a special place in heaven for star makers. It is to the right as you enter through those pearly gates. There you will find the star makers; Joe’s Stars, Giuseppe’s Stars and Hugo’s Stars. Now of the three star makers, Hugo’s stars are the best, the brightest, and they last the longest. You ask, “Why aren’t there star makers on earth?” These stars are hung from the heavens and when you look up at the sky on a clear night you will see all their wonder; so they have to be made in heaven.

One day God came to Hugo’s shop because God wanted to place an order for a very large star that would guide some very important people to a very special baby. Hugo and God agreed upon a price; well let’s say Hugo accepted what God was willing to pay. There’s no arguing with God—He always seems to have the final word. Hugo told God that the star would be ready within the week. “Excellent,” God said, “I will need it in a few days.”

A few days later Hugo approached God to say that the star was finished. It was huge and did it ever shine. God asked Hugo, “Please place it in the far eastern sky and let it move slowly to the small town of Bethlehem.” Hugo inquired who the special child was. God replied, “It is for my Son, who this very night is born in Bethlehem. He is going to teach my people that I really love them and I want to be with them.”

Hugo saw the star moving toward Bethlehem, and lo and behold there were three men following the star. They were the Magi coming to bring gifts to God’s Son.   It came to settle over the place where the child was.

Hugo got this idea that if one star could lead people to God’s Son, he could make other stars that would lead people to God’s Son. Now of course Hugo was a businessman and he knew there would be a nice bundle for him. One day God was walking past Hugo’s shop and Hugo ran out to meet Him. He said, “God, I can make you more stars that will lead more people to your Son. How about it?” God took Hugo to heaven’s edge and said, “Look down and what do you see?” Hugo saw that there were people, a lot of people, leading others to God’s Son. He was amazed; never in heaven would he ever think this would be possible—people leading people to God’s Son. It was almost unbelievable.

Make sure your light shines all year long so people who don’t know Jesus will find their way to Him.

Have a Blessed Christmas
and
Rejoice! For a Child has been given to us.

Fr. Dennis

 

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Creating Room In Our Church – Father Dennis’ Homily for December 18, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxA community I worked with in the Dominican Republic by the name of El Rosario was an ordinary one, but it did an extra-ordinary ministry.  In the village was a widow with her son who cared for his mother.  It became evident that in order to accomplish this, he had to seek employment in the capitol.  The base community took upon itself the responsibility for his mother while he was in the capitol.  This meant bringing water and food daily along with taking her to the doctor for her appointments.  The Community of El Rosario was Christ to this widow.

This is the best example I can think of when it comes to creating room in our Church for Christ.   In reality, we are the Body of Christ—the Church.  St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians describes the Church as the Body of Christ.  Using his famous analogy of the body he instructs the Corinthians that they are the Body of Christ.  He writes, “You, then, are the Body of Christ.  Every one of you is a member of it (1 Cor. 12:27).”  Being the Body of Christ is not on the front burner of our lives and yet, the Church is judged on its ability to illuminate Christ’s presence in the world.  Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”  The challenge for us as Church is always to reflect Christ in our actions.

The themes of this Advent Season make sense.  Creating room for Christ has to begin with our hearts.  A long time ago, I asked you, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, could they collect enough evidence to convict you?”  It starts here—in our hearts.  It’s about getting to know Him in our hearts—taking time to be with Him, or taking Him in as Joseph took Mary and Jesus into his heart and his home.  If we have created room in our hearts for Jesus, He will have a place in our lives.  Robert Meagher in his book Beckonings: Moments of Faith wrote the following: “Every moment of one’s life becomes a loaf, which one is invited to break and share in the wilderness with one’s brothers and sisters so as to welcome the presence of the Lord.”  When He has a place in our lives, we can bring his presence into the world community.  This becomes the challenge of creating room for Christ in our Church—a Christ who has compassion, who walks with the marginalized, who shelters the homeless, who sees everyone as a brother and a sister.

You are a Christian.  What you do or do not do, will reflect on us all as Christians.

Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Creating Room In the Community – Father Dennis’ Homily for December 11, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI have three stories of ordinary people who made a difference in our world.  The first story is about a young man, Austin Shirley.   When he returned from duty, he experienced a sudden lack of purpose in his life as many veterans today do.  He set out to find it in a way that was not just about himself, but was focused on wounded veterans around the country.  He mapped a 2,500-mile walking route that began in Jacksonville, Florida, and ended in San Diego, California. He followed it with his dog Archer and best friend John for nine and a half months raising money for his fellow servicemen along the way.  He traded in all of his possessions for hiking gear, camping equipment and food.  He raised more than $62,500 for Wounded Wear, and found the part of himself that was missing.  (Story from Ordinary People Whose Lives Can Inspire Us, 2015.)

The second story is about a young man with learning disabilities, who for his thirteenth birthday asked his family not to give him presents, but food for St. Martin de Porres Food Pantry.  He asked his extended family and neighbors to contribute food items to his special project.  He not only collected a car load of food, but he said this was his best birthday ever.

The third story is about you the parishioners.  I received a Christmas greeting from Habitat for Humanity with a personal note that read, “Dear Father Dirkx and St. Robert Parish, thanks so much for your support of Habitat this year.  We appreciate your services to families in the city.  Blessings to all this joyous Advent Season,” signed Brian Samla.

Creating room in the community means looking beyond our personal success and prioritizing giving, compassion and being a part of something larger than oneself as important.  It is a concrete reality that can be seen, heard and felt.  Jesus in the gospel when asked by the disciples of John the Baptist, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another,” simply replied, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.”  In his answer Jesus invited John and his disciples to discover his identity.

In our deeds of making a difference we give the world an opportunity to discover the identity of Jesus, the one whom we follow.  Our good deeds are not about ourselves, but opportunities for others to come to know the Lord.  The family that moved into the house we helped build this past year, they don’t know us, but they know there are people out there that care, and in our caring have come to know the Lord.  Creating room in the world is not about what we say, but is all about what we do for others.  St. Therese of Avila often said we are the eyes, the hands, the feet, and the heart of Jesus in our world, because he depends upon us to convey his presence into the world.

Getting to know Jesus is in direct proportion to our to our selfless action in the world.  The more our knowledge of Him grows, so too, our willingness to do good in the world we touch.  Others see us acting as he acted, speaking as he spoke, caring as he cared, loving as he loved, giving self as he gave, and knowing that he walks with them.  This is the greatest gift we can give to another human being.

Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis 

Creating Room In Our Lives Part II – Father Dennis’ Homily for December 4, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxAt this past Saturday’s celebrated First Reconciliation for our second graders from Religious Education and our parish school there was a powerful example put forth by a few parents.  They went to confession after their child received his/her First Reconciliation.  These parents’ spoke loudly to our children.  Parents, I want to affirm you in your role as the first teachers of the faith for your children.  Faith is not only taught by what you say, but also by what you do.  Remember this as you guide your children in their relationship with Jesus.  When you bring your child to First Reconciliation, and you too receive the sacrament of mercy, you make a powerful statement to your child.  By your action you have shown them the importance of mercy.  Through this action, you are reflecting the love and mercy of God himself.  I cannot stress too much the importance of this action of faith, as this sacrament is the foundation of moving forward with God.

Our gospel today opens with the words of John the Baptist, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Repentance is a pre-requisite to discipleship and for recognizing the nearness of the kingdom of heaven.  Creating room in our lives is all about removing the sinfulness in our lives.  The Lord loves a humble, contrite heart (Psalm 51:19).  Just as we cannot add water to a bucket filled with soil, similarly, we must clean our hearts to allow the Lord to have space to enter and fill us.  What keeps you away from one of the most powerful sacraments that Jesus gave us?

We need God’s forgiveness in the same way the apostles needed Jesus’ mercy.  We are no different than the apostles were in Jesus’ time.  When they should have understood what He was saying, they didn’t get it.  Read the gospels and you will see their sinfulness.  When they should have been courageous, they were afraid.  When Jesus was telling them the importance of being a servant, they were arguing about who was the greatest.  When they ought to have stood by Him, they fled in fear.  When Peter had the opportunity to say he knew Jesus, he denied Him.  Their weaknesses did not hamper the work the Lord accomplished through them.  What keeps people away from this sacrament?—fear.  Is it a fear to be honest with yourself about your failures or a fear to admit them?  The Lord said often to the apostles, “It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  He says to you, who are afraid to come to the sacrament, “It is I.  Do not be afraid.”  He knows that you will leave after receiving his forgiveness with a burden lifted from your shoulders.

Repentance brings about the “good fruit” the Prophet Isaiah spoke about in our first reading:  wisdom and understanding, counsel and strength, knowledge and fear of the Lord, and delight in the Lord.  When our pride gives way to humility, compassion is born.  When our jealousy gives way to appreciation, the other can be seen as gift.  When our lust gives way to purity of heart, one can see the Lord in the other.  When our anger gives way to understanding, justice and peace can blossom. When our greed gives way to sharing, others can share in God’s gifts of the earth.  When our envy gives way to openness, we can build bridges of understanding.  When our laziness gives way to righteousness, we have created a room for Him in our lives.  I invite you during this Advent to embrace the ½% Challenge—that is to seek the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  The ½% Challenge is seven minutes of your time to go to confession.  It will be the best seven minutes of your Advent.

Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Creating Room In Our Lives – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 27, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxLast week we explored the idea of creating room in our hearts as the starting point, because if it doesn’t begin in the heart it will not happen anywhere else. Hopefully you have picked up the 1% Challenge and begun to get to know Jesus through Scripture. I personally am doing the 1% Challenge and I must admit that I am discovering new insights into who Jesus is. I am amazed that at 70 plus there is so much of Jesus that I don’t know.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus describes his family of disciples in this way when told that his mother and his brothers wanted to see him: “He said in reply, ’Who are my mother and my bothers?’ And gazing around him at those seated in the circle he continued, ‘These are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me.’” We who are His disciples are family to the Risen Lord. In the gospel of St. John intimate knowledge of Jesus is a prerequisite for discipleship. For the past few years we have been talking about discipleship both in the homilies and in small faith sharing groups. Each of us has intimate knowledge of our family members simply because we are a part of the family. This intimate knowledge of Jesus comes about in getting to know Him. This is the purpose of the 1% Challenge.

The commitment to becoming a disciple of Jesus is a dynamic, evolving process. There is no one point at which we can say that we intimately know Jesus Christ, because the more we begin to know, the more we realize how much about Him we do not know. Creating room in our lives implies that as our knowledge of Him increases that He becomes an intimate companion who walks with us through our day. I always like to use the image that He is in the driving seat and we are in the passenger seat. This takes a little shifting of how we live out our day and how we are in relationship with other people. The Bible calls this righteousness or justice, which is to say, we strive to live in right-relationship with God and others, especially the poor and the marginalized.

Creating room in our hearts is just the beginning. It also means creating room in our lives, creating room in our community, and finally creating room in our Church. There is a lot being said about making America great again, and there is no better way than putting Jesus back into the big picture.

Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Creating Room – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 20, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhen Jesus invited Zacchaeus to come down from the sycamore tree to tell him he was going to stay with him, the crowd complained that Jesus went to a sinner’s house. Today, when I held the host up after consecration I looked at the Lord intently and said, “Not much has changed over these past two thousand years, you are still hanging out with sinners.” In his earthly ministry and after his resurrection Jesus still prefers to befriend sinners. He wants to hang out with you this Advent.

Advent is a busy time for most of us as we prepare for Christmas. The tradition of making Christmas cookies, buying gifts for family and friends, the children’s Christmas program that you don’t want to miss, wrapping gifts, and planning the Christmas dinner fill the season. This is on top of all the ordinary things one has to do. It would be nice if somehow they could tack on two extra days for each of the weeks of Advent in order to have an enough time to accomplish all that needs to be done without losing your mind, but in reality there are 28 days before Christmas.

I offer you the 1% Challenge so you can create room for the Lord who loves to hang out with sinners. It is simple. 1% of your day is fifteen minutes in which I ask you to pray with scripture in order to get to know Jesus. Beside the fifteen minutes you will need a Bible and a space where you and the Lord can be alone. Follow the directions on the 1% Challenge card that divides the time into ask, seek, and knock. If you faithfully take fifteen minutes each day during Advent, you will come to know Jesus, but you will also have created room for him.

Somebody once asked me, “What’s the number one thing you would want your parishioners to have?”   I want to have you come to know the Lord Jesus. All that I do as a priest is directed to fulfilling this lofty, but not impossible, goal. This is also the goal our staff here at St. Robert of Newminster Parish wants to accomplish. We are all about helping you to get to know the Lord Jesus—of creating room for him.

I pray that you have the experience of gazing upon the consecrated host and telling him, “Not much has changed over these past two thousand years, you are still hanging out with sinners.”

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Gratitude, the Core of Our Journey – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 13, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThis week we celebrate Thanksgiving and it is good to pause and give thanks for all that has been given to us. The greatest gift is the gift of life. Living with a sense of gratitude for this gift is to respect life not only in ourselves, but in all people including the unborn. I was shocked to read in last Saturday’s Journal Sentinel that school leaders had to quell inflammatory post-election comments between students at our two best known Catholic High Schools. Knowing both of these high schools and the high moral standard that they teach, one cannot place any blame on the schools. Children reflect the attitudes of their parents. What shocks me the most is that “good Catholic” parents would teach their children a lack of respect for human beings created in the image and likeness of God.

Protecting the life of the unborn was a criterion in one’s voting and indeed the Catholic Church teaches us the sanctity of human life from the unborn to life’s natural end.   What happened in our two outstanding Catholic high schools last week is a disregard for human life. The late Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago often spoke and taught us about the “seamless garment of life,” that is to respect life is to respect all of life.

As Catholics and as disciples of Jesus Christ we always have to keep our hearts focused upon him whom we follow.   In the fourth Eucharistic Prayer: “Jesus, Who Went about Doing Good,” we proclaim in the preface, “He, (Jesus), always showed compassion for children and for the poor, for the sick and for sinners, and he became a neighbor to the oppressed and the afflicted. By word and deed he announced to the world that you are our Father and that you care for all your sons and daughters.” This is the standard by which we are called to live in our daily lives. This is the attitude that Catholic parents ought to be imparting to their children.

In the same Eucharistic Prayer we pray, “Open our eyes to the needs of our brothers and sisters; inspire in us words and actions to comfort those who labor and are burdened. Make us serve them truly, after the example of Christ and at his command.” In this post-election time we Catholic disciples of Jesus Christ ought to make the front page of the newspaper because we have defended the life-given rights of all of our brothers and sisters and not because we have made inflammatory comments that are both inappropriate and hurtful.

The article in last Saturday’s Journal Sentinel is a call for all of us to examine our attitudes about justice and respect for all our brothers and sisters. Grateful for the gift of life is a seamless garment for all of life.

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis