Stewardship: The Choice to Live – Father Dennis’ Homily for November 6, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxThese are some overheard comments my hearing aids have picked up over the years regarding stewardship: “Stewardship Sunday means he is going to ask us for money.” That comment is probably the most common of all. The following comment is a classic: “They always seem to want money.” A pastor may talk about money once a year, but it is the standard comment some make. The one I find interesting, since I very seldom talk about money, is: “You would think that there is more to talk about in a homily than money.” What is stewardship? Obviously these do not define stewardship.

First of all stewardship is not about you nor is it about me. It is all about Jesus Christ and responding to His great commission. At the end of Matthew’s gospel Jesus handed over his mission to the Church: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teach them to carry out everything I have commanded you (Matthew 28: 19-20).” This is the mission given to the Church, and since we are a part of the Church this mission is given to St. Robert of Newminster Parish. It is a mission that we shall be held accountable for on Judgement Day. If one could take Jesus out of the picture, stewardship would make no sense because it has to be understood in terms of our relationship with Him.

In order for stewardship on both a parish level and a personal level to have meaning, we need to see ourselves as co-redeemers with Jesus. Yes, we have to see ourselves as co-redeemers. I mean this in the sense that Jesus is the Redeemer, and when we allow ourselves to be channels of his redemption we become co-redeemers. St. Ignatius of Loyola defined co-redeemers by doing God’s will. He said: “To give, and not to count the cost; to fight, and not to heed the wounds, to toil, and not to seek for rest, to labor, and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do thy will.” For St. Ignatius and also for St. Francis, doing the will of God was of greater value than any possession. Both of these men came from wealthy families. It can be no different for us today as it was for them. If doing God’s will is more valuable than what we have, we have put our feet firmly on the road to stewardship. Another way of saying this is: if fulfilling the mission of Jesus Christ is top priority in our lives and if we ordered all that we are and have to this goal, than stewardship is meaningful and life-giving.

As co-redeemers with Jesus Christ, we are to reflect Christ in the world around us in our prayer, in our actions, and in our giving. This is stewardship. These also become the places where we encounter Jesus in a personal way. The very act of reflecting Christ is also for us a place of encounter, that we may reflect more of who He is and less of who we are. This is stewardship. St. Augustine after his conversion said this about stewardship: “Find out how much God has given you and from it take what you need; the remainder is needed by others.” He would not have said this before his conversion. Stewardship is a way of being in relationship with the Lord in which I place everything I am and have at the service to Him. This is the life-goal that we ought to strive toward because this is the path of discipleship.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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Choice of Repentance – Father Dennis’ Homily for October 30, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWe have all heard the statement; “I am really up a tree!” It usually indicates that one is experiencing a great difficulty. They only way down is to find a solution to the problem so life can move forward. The experience of being up a tree also implies a shift in one’s life—it won’t be the same once a solution has been worked out.

Our friend Zacchaeus had to go up the tree in order to solve his problem. He had to overcome his limitation in order to see Jesus. His limitation was a barrier. When taking a group picture they never put short people in the back row because you would not see them. From the story we get the impression that all he wanted to do is to see Jesus. I am sure he had heard a lot about this miracle worker and teacher. His curiosity is what drove him up a tree. Little did he know that this would lead to repentance and his conversion. There was one other person in the gospels who was curious about seeing Jesus, and his name was King Herod. His curiosity did not lead him to repentance. The difference between the two is that Zacchaeus wanted to “see” Jesus. The Greek word for “see” doesn’t imply physical seeing as much as it implies seeing with one’s mind or heart—a spiritual seeing. Herod, on the other hand, simply wanted to physically see Jesus.

Zacchaeus is our teacher this Sunday, regarding: “How to form a personal relationship with Jesus?” First of all, He teaches us that we have to have a desire to “see” Jesus and this desire is rooted in the heart. What needs to awaken our hearts in order to have a desire to “see” Jesus? Maybe it is a sense of feeling incomplete, or the feeling that something or someone is missing in our lives. Second, Zacchaeus teaches us that we have to overcome our own limitations in order to see Jesus. Here I speak not so much about physical limitations, but about our spiritual limitations. It may mean coming to grips with our own sinfulness, or confronting our desire for more stuff in our lives so that we can feel good about who we are. In our culture, what we have oftentimes defines who we are. We must always remember that things, or status, or power do not define who we are. Zacchaeus had to confront what made him wealthy. Tax collectors made their money by overcharging people—we call it extortion; and this was in addition to being short of stature. Third, Zacchaeus teaches us that we need repentance or change of heart that alters our lifestyle. Listen to Zacchaeus’ change of heart implied: “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over (Luke 19:8).” The next day when he went back to his tax collecting booth, he took only what was coming to him and nothing more. Zacchaeus was probably a Jewish man who worked as a tax collector for the Roman government. This meant that he was ostracized from the community and no good Jewish person would have anything to do with him. Jesus’ words to Zacchaeus healed the wounds of being ostracize from his people: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham (Luke 19:9).” His conversion must have been significant, because he is remembered in the gospels.

If we follow the lesson Zacchaeus is teaching us, we too may hear Jesus say to us, “Today salvation has come to this house.” I speak not about your house—the place where you live, but your heart—the place from which you live.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Choice of Humility – Father Dennis’ Homily for October 23, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWhat does it mean to be humble before God? It would be interesting if this question was a part of the presidential debates. This kind of a question would never be a part of these debates. It would have been interesting if the candidates were asked the question before a live audience. This is a core question and these types almost never are asked in any political debate. The more important question is: “What does it mean for you to be humble before God?” “Humble before God” is a stance in which one acknowledges who he/she is before God and this is done in prayer. Jesus in the gospel presents us with two individuals who went up to the temple to pray. They will give us an insight into being humble before God and what Jesus considers to be authentic prayer.

The prayer of the Pharisee was not one of being humble before God. We gather this from the beginning of the parable. His prayer was about himself, about what he was doing and how his lifestyle made him better than others—especially tax collectors. He justified himself before God. His prayer was self-serving—he was patting himself on the back. His attitude regarded others with contempt. Contempt is simply to say: “You don’t belong in my world nor do you have anything to say to me.” His prayer brought division into the world. We have to be careful that our prayer doesn’t do the same.

The prayer of the tax collector acknowledged who he was before God—a sinner. Unlike the Pharisee his prayer was open to God. He was humble. The tax collector’s prayer allowed God to be God and gave God the opportunity to be merciful. His prayer, “O God, be merciful to me a sinner,” revealed an understanding of God and a desire to be in a right relationship with God. What’s interesting about his prayer—and I never saw this before—he stood off at a distance, but his prayer brought him close to God. While on the other hand, the Pharisee stood front and center in the temple area, but his prayer did not bring God close to him. The tax collector stood off at a distance, in other words, he was feeling alienated from God by his sinfulness, but his prayer brought him close to God because he experienced God’s mercy. He went home justified. On the other hand, the Pharisee, although up front in the temple, was far away from God.

In this parable Jesus teaches us four points about authentic prayer. First, we must acknowledge who we are before God, and keep this in mind while relating to others—we are sinners. The priest always stands as a sinner among sinners at the altar of God. Second, we have to know ourselves as God knows us. On our part this shows honesty about who we are. Third, our prayer must allow God to be God in our lives, so God can accomplish in us what God wants to do. Fourth, authentic prayer puts us in a right-relationship with God and others. If it does not, then we have to examine our prayer. Most of us hover between the prayer of the Pharisee and the prayer of the tax collector when we pray. The goal is to pray like the tax collector: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.”

Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Choice of Perseverance – Father Dennis’ Homily for October 16, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxWho in your life has taught you about perseverance, faith and hope? I link faith and hope with perseverance because without them it is almost impossible to persevere. For me, it was Agatha. In K5 her doctors discovered that she had cancer. She is for me a symbol of perseverance, faith and hope. With the chemo treatment it meant that she lost her hair, but that was not the worst thing. When she was able to, she came to class. The cycle for the next few years was chemo treatment, home, school, when possible, and sometimes a stay in the hospital. Through all of this she drew strength from within to give her perseverance, faith that God was with her, and hope that someday she would be okay. By the time the cancer was in remission, Agatha made her First Communion with her class and moved on to third grade. I will always remember her for the lesson she taught me.

The message of God’s Word is about perseverance, faith and hope. One cannot persevere without faith and hope. This is the lesson Agatha taught me. In the gospel, Jesus exhorts us to be persistent in our prayer like the widow in the parable of the unjust judge. St. Paul in his letter to Timothy encourages us to remain faithful to what we were taught and believed. The Israelites were able to be persistent in battle as long as Moses held up his arms with the staff of God.

These virtues are critical to one’s relationship with the Lord, and one can say the relationship requires the three virtues of Agatha—perseverance, faith and hope. When one looks at reality from this perspective, which is to say from these virtues, one is able to see them alive and well in our world. I saw them in the Olympic athletes. I see it over and over again in single moms who raise their families and at the same time are the breadwinners. I see it in someone who is recovering from an addiction to alcohol, or someone putting life back together while living with depression. The signs of Agatha’s virtues are all around us. It is as if God is telling us the importance of these in our relationship with Him. We are to persevere with faith and hope in our prayer and in our personal relationship with Him.

Relationships that have depth and meaning require perseverance, faith and hope on the part of both parties involved. It is never a one-way street. Let us take a look at our relationship with God from His perspective. He never stops pursuing us. This is perseverance. With persistence God is always seeking us out. He is continuously trying to communicate with us and we have to take time to listen. He has so much to say to us and He simply needs few minutes of our time. He approaches us with a profound faith. Yes, that is right! God who knows our fullest potential believes that we can always become more than who we are at this moment. He can see that when we obtain this fullness we reflect back to Him the image of the creator. God consistently is filled with hope about our becoming like His Son, Jesus.

He waits for us in the sacrament of reconciliation, to show us His mercy and forgiveness. He longs to speak to us in the quiet moments before the Blessed Sacrament in adoration. He wonders when we will pick up and read the letter He has sent us. Yes, the letter He sent us; we call it the Bible. He waits for us in the moments of our day to tell us that He is with us. He feeds us with the heavenly food of His Son’s Body and Blood. As we contemplate God’s side of our relationship, it’s time that we cultivate Agatha’s virtues of perseverance, faith and hope in our relationship with Him.

Sincerely Yours In Christ,
Fr. Dennis

The Face of Compassion – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 25, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxA woman, who with her husband and two children, coming out of poverty once said, “Poor people don’t plan long-term. We’ll just get our hearts broken.” I was able to experience firsthand extreme poverty both in the Dominican Republic and volunteering at the Milwaukee Guest House, serving the homeless. Those whom I met have taught me a great deal about myself and my life style. They have taught me to realize my own poverty and how to have a dependence upon God. Oftentimes what we have obscures our own poverty, which for many of us is an internal one. Oftentimes we hide it behind our possessions, or power, or addictions, but in doing so we miss the call to repent.

The rich man in the Gospel of Luke pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so they would not end up in the place of torment. The rich man in his own lifetime ignored the call to repentance, both coming from Sacred Scripture, and also in Lazarus who was lying at his door. Lazarus was a nobody to the rich man and for all practical purposes was dead to him. All that the rich man had to do in order to also rest in the bosom of Abraham was to take care of poor Lazarus. Was the rich man afraid that in opening his door to Lazarus there would be others who would follow? Or was the rich man simply blinded by his wealth? Or did his own complacency numb to the world around him? What he lived is what he believed.

The Word of God today is calling us to be what the rich man wasn’t—the face of compassion. The marginalized of our society, like the Scriptures, are calling us to a conversion. The Bible and the poor teach us a powerful message that when we care for the them we are caring for ourselves—namely our acceptance of God’s gift of salvation. God through His Word and through His poor is always calling us to embrace our own poverty because this is the door to dependence upon Him. How we live is how we believe.

The Prophet Amos warns us of our own complacency and the psalmist reminds us of God’s continuous actions among his marginalized. Paul’s admonition to live a life of righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness is never devoid of our relationship with the least of our sisters and brothers. In the end we are called by God to move beyond “ours” and embrace God’s “mine,” mine are the hungry and the captives, mine are the blind and the lowly, and mine are the fatherless and the widow. When we move into what is God’s, we come home to ourselves and to all our sisters and brothers.

Yours in Christ,
Father Dennis

True Wealth – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 18, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxI have never been poor, nor has my family been poor. We did suffer through times when we had to watch our pennies. I am sure that most of us can say this about ourselves—we have never been poor. This being a given, we can honestly say that none of us really knows what it means to be poor. There is a difference between knowledge about poverty and living in poverty.

A core theme of the Bible, both in the Hebrew Testament and in the Christian Testament, is a call to re-evaluate ourselves in relationship to the marginalized of our society. The call of the prophets, as we heard in our first reading from the Prophet Amos, is one of repenting what the rich have done to the poor. From the time of Amos until our day not much has changed regarding the plight of the poor. What can you buy for $2.50?–a cup of coffee? A bottle of water? Three billion people in the world live on less than $2.50 a day. Those living in extreme poverty live on $1.90 a day. Milwaukee’s poverty rate remains at 29%, and this is double the national rate. Milwaukee is the fifth most impoverished big city in the country. This is surely not a number that will give us a claim to fame.

Our theme for this week is “True Wealth,” of which Jesus speaks in the gospel (Luke 16: 1-13). True wealth is what God offers us and it comes from serving God and God alone. False wealth can pull us away from what God offers us—namely the gift of our true selves in Him for all eternity. Who we serve dictates where we will live in eternity. Jesus puts it as clearly as one can, “No servant can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16: 13).” The face of this true wealth is the Eucharist.

We cannot speak of the true wealth that Jesus offers us in the Eucharist apart from global poverty. We need to hold in balance the gift of the Eucharist and the plight of the poor. John Martin, SJ wrote, “If we truly believe that God is on watch for the poor, the widow and the orphan, then now is the time to align ourselves with God’s reign for the sake of the poor and if nothing else, for our own sakes (America, Vol. 215, No. 7, Whole No. 5139, September 19, 2016).” The connection between the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Jesus, and the poor is in the identification Jesus makes with them: “As long as you have done it to the least of my brethren, you have done it to me (Matthew 25: 40a).” When we come forward to receive His Body and Blood we align ourselves with God and also the poor because of the One we receive.

World poverty and even our local poverty are greater than what any one of us can alleviate. St. Augustine helps us to hold in balance the great gift of the Eucharist and the gift of the poor—yes; I said the gift of the poor, for in reaching out to them we touch the face of Him who died and rose for our sakes. St. Augustine wrote, “Since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time or place, or circumstances are brought into closer connection with you.” To whom are you called to pay special attention? This is the narrow path to the gift of true wealth.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

Found by God – Father Dennis’ Homily for September 11, 2016

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxDid the older son ever go into the celebration? We don’t know because the story ends with the father pleading, “We must celebrate and rejoice because your brother…has come to life again…and has been found (Luke 15:32).” I have often wondered about the older son.

The interesting point about both sons is that they were focused upon themselves and not upon the father’s all-embracing love. Even in the younger son’s conversion, he is still looking out for number “one”—himself. “Coming to his senses he thought, ‘How many of my father’s hired workers have more than enough food to eat, but here am I, dying from hunger (Luke 15:17).’” The motivation of his conversion was his stomach and not his heart. I am sure he was thinking, “If I go back to my father, at least I will have three square meals a day.” Does that sound like a true conversion to you? He hid behind his need.

The older son was no better than his younger brother. Everything the father had belonged to the older son. The father divided up his property and gave each son his share. The older son never saw that what the father had, was as his own. In his mind it still belonged to the father. Talk about missing the gift—this guy takes the cake. He is the jealous one. He hid behind his righteousness.

Both sons failed to understand the depth and passion of their father’s love that brought them into life. Both refused to be at home in his love; and the father never stopped inviting them into his circle of love. This is the real focus of the parable—the father. Can you imagine this father who daily went to the crest of the road to see if his younger son was coming home? Each day feeling the loss of the one he loved. Can you imagine the pain this father experienced when his older son refused to come in and welcome his brother home? The father looked beyond what each son did or didn’t do. He looked at the object of his love.

In the gospel, Jesus offers us three stories about seeking out the lost. Each story grows in intensity; from the lost sheep to the lost coin to the lost sons. The lost coin is about the loss of what the woman and her family had to live on. It is more serious than losing a sheep. He is stressing the point about a God who is seeking out the lost—who is looking for us. If a shepherd can look for his lost sheep and if a woman can look for her lost coin, how much more will God the Father look for us?

St. Augustine, the son of St. Monica, was lost. St. Monica prayed for years that her son would come to his senses and accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior. God pursued him and never gave up on him. Finally, when St. Augustine said “yes” to God, he wrote these most famous words; “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you (from The Confessions of Saint Augustine).”

God is always pursuing us, not only when we are lost, but also when we have turned to him, because He wants a deeper relationship with us—a relationship that is beyond our imagination. I invite you to look within yourself within the next few days. Look beyond your sinfulness, beyond your unworthiness, beyond the self you have never revealed to others; it is there where you will find Him. Begin to realize what St. Augustine discovered: that He has been within you all this time and you have searched for Him in all the wrong places. Like the father of the prodigal son, He has gone to the crest of your heart to see if you were coming home. This journey within may prompt you to see the grace of the sacrament of reconciliation. This will help you to find Him within.

As we move toward Him the question becomes, “How do we live in the presence of continuous, unconditional love directed at us?” The only way we human beings can live with the intensity of His love is to simply let Him love us; and in our feeble way we love Him in return. This is what a Sunday morning is all about. Don’t be like the older son who refused to go into the celebration, or like the younger son who could not see beyond his survival.

Yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis