Be Watchful – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for December 3, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxAdvents come and go, but there is one I will never forget.  It was the first Advent I spent in the Dominican Republic.  The only hint that Christmas was just around the corner was the string of color lights Rosa Parks put up on her store.  There was an absence of Christmas sales, Black Friday sales and the constant barrage of Christmas advertising.  No one in Sabana Yequa decorated the outside of their house; mainly because they were too poor to waste their money on non-essentials.  It was an Advent spent without all the hustle and bustle that is so much a part of our experience.  I found a stillness in that uncluttered time—a time to look within myself—a time to care for the inner home.

The Prophet Isaiah announced, “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:3).”  God is always at work within us and around us.  He is like a potter and we are the clay.  He is forming and shaping us into thAe person He is creating.  In God’s eye we still are unfinished creatures.  St. John in his first letter states, “What we shall be has not yet been revealed…when it is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).”  We think because we cannot see Him that He is far from us and that He resting.  We cannot see love.  We only see the effects of love, and so it is with God.  In the stillness of the soul we will find God creating and loving us.

We are the gatekeepers of our souls.  Jesus asks us to be watchful because we do not know when the Master will return.  The question is, “What have we let into our souls?”  Surely we do not want to welcome the following guests into our souls:  anger, pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony and sloth?  These will muddle the voice of God and we will not hear the soft whispering of our Lord.  We can overcome those unwelcome guests because we have the power to do so.  St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians states, “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift, (1 Cor. 1:3a).”  We have the grace to clean the inner home of our souls so as to ready it for the Master’s return.  We wait in joyful expectation for His coming home to us.

Advent is a time in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the season when we need to return to the stillness that lies within each of us.  It is a time to embark on a journey in which every moment, every step is a new revelation of God’s presence in our midst.  The interesting fact of this journey is that God is both the road by which we must travel and the destination of our journey.  It is a journey of waiting for God to reveal Himself in our waiting to be healed, in our waiting to forgive, in our waiting to let go.  Waiting is a responsibility of being a gatekeeper and we are the gatekeepers of our souls.  It is in the stillness of the soul that we come to know what the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed, “O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay and you are the potter: we are all the work of your hands.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

The Preferred Side – Fr. Dennis’ Homily For November 26, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxRemember your mother telling you when you were a child, “Clean your plate!  There are poor children in China that would love to eat what is left on your plate.”  There was a lesson in what she was saying.  She was asking us to be grateful for what we have and not waste it, but she made us aware of the poor.  If you have worked among the less fortunate either in serving a meal at St. Ben’s, or volunteering at the Guest House, or the House of Peace, or the Open Door Café, or one of the food pantries in the Milwaukee area, or the Adult Learning Center, those whom you served taught you to see the world through their eyes.  Their view of reality is far different from ours.  This is what the poor of the Dominican Republic taught me—viewing the world through their eyes.  They are the only ones who can teach us this lesson.  It is a lesson that has stayed with me all this time.  I consider it to be their gift to me.

The gospel we have just heard is the culmination of Jesus’ teaching.  Following this parable, we move into the Passion and Resurrection Narrative in Matthew’s Gospel.  All of what Jesus was teaching prior to this is summed up in the parable of the Judgment of the Nations.  Great attention has to be paid to this parable because of its placement in Matthew’s Gospel.  The parable of The Judgment of the Nations is an application of the two great commandments:  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39).”

What we have here is not an economic policy.  It is not a leftist agenda or even a liberal one.  Jesus put forth the basis of how we are going to be judged at the end time.  Jesus, who is the King of the Universe, is in all people and within us.  Both this gospel and our first reading from the Prophet Ezekiel remind us about others who need our help and care.  We honor Jesus, the King of the Universe by feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the ill and those in prison.  This is the greatest honor we can give to Jesus, the King of the Universe.  As we focus on one another we focus on Jesus Christ.  We do so because every person has a dignity and a value given to them by God.  Do we not pray, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”?  It’s God’s statement about us.  He is pleased to dwell among us and within us.

In truth this parable of the judgment scene is calling us to active love.  It is an invitation from God for our salvation.  “As often as you have done this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you have done it to me.”  John Kavanaugh, SJ stated, “These words that challenge us are the very words that save us.”  We are given only one lifetime to accept our salvation and that is this life we are now living.  Doing to the least of our brothers and sisters we are accepting the salvation Christ won for us on the cross.  If you were to die today, what side of the throne would Jesus put you—on the right or on the left?

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

P.S.  Advent is a great time to get on the right side of the throne.  Don’t miss this opportunity!

 

The Solemnity of Christ the King – Fr. Peter Patrick’s Homily for November 26, 2017

Photograph of Father Peter PatrickToday we are celebrating the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe. The Solemnity was instituted by Pope Pius XI in response to the rise of secularization, atheism, and communism in 1925. While the world was increasingly telling Christians that they must compartmentalize their religion and give their highest allegiance to the government, Pope Pius XI responded with the feast.

We may ask ourselves if Jesus deserved to be called a King as we understand the term. Christ’s kingdom is not political, but a spiritual rule of love established in human hearts through service and sacrifice; it belongs to those who hear His voice and bear witness to the truth revealed by Him.

Amidst of all what is happening in the world, we may ask ourselves what should we do? Yes! It’s a valid question. To carry on the mission of Jesus, we are called to be his witness in all circumstances. By the virtue of our baptism, we are Christ-like. In the Rites of Baptism we hear these words as we are anointed with Chrism: “As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so may you live always as a member of his body sharing everlasting life.”

Back at home (Kenya), we Catholics have a common phrase we use to greet each other: “Christ thy kingdom comes, in our hearts through Mother Mary.” When we talk of a kingdom, then it means there is a king and that is Jesus Christ! The last Sunday of the liturgical calendar of the Church, we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King before the beginning of Advent and the start of a new liturgical year. In Advent, we prepare for the two comings of Christ: as a baby in Bethlehem, and his return as a king in glory. This celebration of Jesus’ kingship prepares us for both comings of Christ.

The gospel today is telling us: “Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did unto me.” Feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the ill and those in prisons is easy, but we should go beyond that. Mother Teresa of Calcutta puts it in a way that points to how we can become more caring and loving: “God has identified himself with the hungry, the sick, the naked, the homeless; hunger not only for bread, but for love, for care, to be somebody to someone; nakedness, not for clothing only, but nakedness of that compassion that very few people give to the unknown; homelessness, not only just for a shelter made from stone but for that homelessness that comes from having no one to call your own” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta).

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Peter Patrick

 

 

Listen to Mama – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for November 12, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis DirkxFr. Maurice Nutt, C.Ss.R at the recent archdiocesan conference on the “Spirituality of Stewardship” told the following story:  His father died when he was three years old, leaving his mother as a single parent on a fixed income.  Those of you who live on a fixed income can understand her struggles.  Although on a limited income, she made sure to give her weekly contribution to the church.  Often she would tell Maurice, “The Church is a blessing for us, therefore, we don’t take from the Church we give to the Church.”  At the age of thirteen he wanted to go to the Redemptorist seminary near East Troy.  (He mentioned it was the pictures of the swimming pool and tennis courts that caught his eye!)  His mother took him to the seminary, and as the bursar was explaining the cost to his mom he thought, “This is not going to happen.”  After the bursar delineated the cost, his mother told him, “I live on a fixed income and after paying the rent, buying food, and giving my weekly contribution to the church there is $55 left.”  She told the brother that every month she would send $55 toward her son’s education.  When Maurice was a few years away from ordination, his mother had a severe stroke.  He decided that being the only child he would leave the seminary and take care of his mother.  His mother explained to him, “I gave you to the Church to become a priest.  You don’t take from the Church you give to the Church.”

She models for us not only what stewardship is about, but what it means to be a disciple.  She embodies six qualities of stewardship.  First, she, who is on a fixed income, was generous.  Generosity is the starting point of stewardship.  This is the grace we need to ask God to give us.  Second, her mindset is one of being hospitable—the willingness to welcome the Lord into her life.  Third, she lived on a level beyond selfishness.  She had every reason in the world to hoard the little life dealt her.  Fourth, she was just.  Being just is living in right relationships with God, others, and self.  One could tell God was first in her life and it spilled over into her relationships with others.  Fifth, she gave of her resources, not comparing her gift with others.  Sixth, she was present to others.  Her stewardship gave witness to what God had blessed her with.

Stewardship is about responding to Jesus Christ.  It’s not about us.  God has blessed us in so many ways and we are to use these gifts to further the divine plan.  When filling out your commitment card, I ask that you take time in prayer asking for the grace of generosity.  Imagine Jesus Christ standing before you gazing into your eyes as you are about to fill out the commitment form.  You are giving to Him.  Give of your resources like Father Maurice’s mother gave.  Let it be a gift from your heart.  This is how God has gifted us.  Disciples are awesome people.  This Thanksgiving, as you gather around the table with your loved ones, thank God for the many gifts He has given you.  When you share your gifts, keep one eye on your blessings and the other on Jesus.

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

Practice What You Believe! – Fr. Dennis’ Homily for November 5, 2017

Portrait of Father Dennis Dirkx“Practice what you preach!”  “Not only talk the talk, but walk the talk!”  “Actions speak louder than words!”  “Preach the gospel but use words only when needed.”  “By their fruits you will know them.”  No matter how one puts it, faith by its very nature has to be a lived reality in our relationship with God and with one another.  Parents, you know this because your children learn by your actions more than by your words.

Matthew’s Gospel, more than the other three gospels, emphasizes the need to put faith into action.  We will find the culmination of Jesus’ teaching in the gospel for the Feast of Christ the King—the parable of the last judgment.  What is at stake is the integrity of faith, the integrity of how we live out our faith in daily life.  In order to be faithful to God, it means responding to the human needs around us.  If we are blind to the human needs around us, we are blind to seeing God.  Last Sunday Jesus gave us the two great commandments:  “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”  Jesus, in putting these two together, taught we cannot separate them.  If we do not love our neighbor, we do not love God.  He not only taught this, but it was His lifestyle and thus it is the lifestyle for us, His disciples.  Faith involves words and actions, body and soul.

It comes down to living in right relationships with God, with others, and with ourselves.  The “other” list we like to short-list.  It is easy to love those we love, those we like and those whom we can tolerate.  Jesus is talking about all our brothers and sisters.  We live in an interconnected global society.  This past week on the national news, scientists said that global warming may be reversible.  How we use energy, what we do to the environment, and what candidates we support affects not only all of us, but all of our sisters and brothers on this planet, even those who are not born.

God made our hearts expandable.  We have the capacity to love all our sisters and brothers.  St. James in his letter makes it totally clear.  He wrote, “Be doers of the words and not hearers only, deluding yourselves (James 1:22).”  Let’s live in right relationships and as St. Francis instructed his brothers, “Preach the gospel, but use words only when needed.”

Sincerely yours in Christ,
Fr. Dennis

 

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

 

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