Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C, 2016

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless all!

3rd Sunday of Ordinary Time-Cycle C
Neh 8: 2-4a. 5-6, 8-10; 1Cor 12: 12-30; Lk 1: 1-4; 4: 14-21
January 23/24, 2016

Can you imagine what it would be like if we all knew God existed, but we had no way of knowing what to do with him, how to live with him, how to connect with him, or what he wanted of us? This was in many ways what had happened to the Israelites in our first reading today. It is, in many ways, the way it is for those in today’s world who have turned their hearts from the Church and God’s Law.

We have to understand the context of what had happened to the Israelites. They had had a lot of really difficult things happen to them, including having lost all copies of the law of Moses (or so they thought). None of them had ever seen or heard it for over a generation. They knew it had existed, because their ancestors had told them. They knew God existed because they had passed down by word of mouth all that God had done for the Hebrew people, how he had freed them from slavery, parted the water in the Red Sea, how God had fed their forefathers with manna and quail, how God had provided water from a rock, and how God had revealed himself to Moses on Mt. Sinai. They knew God existed because of all that, but they didn’t know anymore how to be in a good relationship with God because the law of Moses was lost to them. They didn’t know how to live with God and each other in the way God wanted them to live. But, one day a priest, Ezra, found a copy of the law of Moses behind a wall in the temple building that was being remodeled. This was the scroll that we hear of today in the reading. The people, all of them from the greatest to the least, were called together to hear aloud this law so they would know once more how God wanted them to live with him and with each other. And the people, we are told, rejoiced.

Then in our Gospel today, we hear how Jesus breaks open the Scriptures and reveals to the people what they had not understood about God’s law, about how they were to live with God and each other. Jesus declared that the law was fulfilled in him. He was the way we were to live with God and each other. Jesus was the guidebook, you might say, the new law revealed to us that shows us how to live.
Finally, in our second reading, we hear that beautiful reading from St. Paul describing the Body of Christ, the Church. We hear that the Church is the mystical presence of Jesus living and true through which we learn how to live and love God and each other, and how inseparable Jesus is from his Church, and how important all of us are in God’s plan.

My friends, we are not just individuals in search of meaning. We are a people on a pilgrimage as a community, as a Church, toward the Truth who is God, and our destination is heaven. We are Jesus’ mystical Body, the Church, and the Church shows us the way to live with God and each other. This is so important for us to remember as Catholics: We are the Church, and the community of the Church, the Body of Christ, shows us the way to heaven because Jesus teaches us in the Church.

Some people say that the Church has too many laws. Actually, she has very few hard and fast ones. She does have a lot of two things though: Mercy and Freedom! The Church is all about the Truth that sets us free from sin and death, and keeps us close to God who is a God of mercy. We see this throughout the Scriptures, how God frees his people from slavery to sin and Satan, from bondage and tyranny of all sorts. The Church is on the front lines in the battle for social justice and human dignity because Jesus lives in his Church, and Jesus is the Way,the Truth and the Life.

Jesus promised us he would be present in his Church until the end of time. He promised also that he would send the Holy Spirit into the Church, into our hearts, and he would write his law in our hearts. He promised that we would never be in the same situation that the Israelites were in in our first reading. He promised that everyone, from the greatest to the least, would be a member of this Church, his Body, that everyone was important, that no one was to be left out, that all could be included, if they would only be willing to listen to his law living in his Church and follow that law of love and freedom in their hearts as a member of his Body. He also promised that he would send out his followers to bring back all who wander away. Jesus showed us that in the Old Law God seemed distant, but in the New Law God is near, very near, within us, even in those who seem insignificant.

That is why the Church is so pro-life, because God loves the addict, the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and so must we. We must not ignore them. Jesus lives in the person next to you today. He lives in me, and you, and you. He lives in the person in the pew ahead and behind you. He lives in the unborn, in the elderly, the terminally ill, the immigrant, the disabled, the mentally ill, the addicted. Jesus lives in his Church, in the People of God, in each one of us, and that is why we are pro-life and we preach the dignity of every human person, without exception! We must walk with God and each other; we must value all human life! Last Friday, I and many of you traveled to St. Paul for the March for Life to express our belief in the sanctity of all human life, and I thank all of you who came, especially those who organized it and funded it!

Let us this day renew our dedication to respecting each other as brothers and sisters of Jesus, sons and daughters of the Father. Let us renew our love and commitment to Jesus Christ present in his Church. Let us never forget that God lives in each of us, and in serving each other, we praise Him!

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Beware! From the Experience of an Exorcist

I read with interest over at Catholic News Agency an interview with a Spanish exorcist during which he spoke of the Satan’s favorite sin (pride) and the danger of  “New Age” practices, such as Reiki and Yoga.

I have often said the same thing to well meaning Catholics who get into Reiki and Yoga. They always tell me the same thing, i.e, it is good for their health, their ability to relax, and their overall well-being. I always respond with the same response, i.e., “Do you know there are healthy and holy practices that come from the saints (and our Lord himself) that have those same benefits? Have you studied and tried them?”

A nearby spirituality center, sponsored by a Catholic order, regularly offers classes very similar to, if not in reality, New Age philosophies and practices. I always cringe.

I agree with the priest interviewed in the article. To engage in New Age practices are invitations to the devil to enter you life in some way. He is always studying us, and looking for ways. His temptations always look good at first, for he knows we are incapable of choosing anything that doesn’t look good at first sight.

Log on to the article and read. Here is the link:  The Devil’s Favorite Sin

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Here is my homily for this year’s Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. May each of you be abundantly blessed in 2016.

Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God
December 31, 2015/January 1, 2016

Humble and bold. Two words we typically do not associate in our minds. Humble and bold…. we find them both in the person of Mary, the Mother of God.

The humble virgin Mary, docile to God’s will, to God’s Word, yet the most bold of all the witnesses to the Word made flesh, to her Son and Lord, Jesus! Mary, the Mother of God, Theotokos.

No, it was not Peter. No, it was not James or John or Paul who was the boldest yet most humble of all the witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. No, it was Mary, theotokos, for it was from her heart that came these words: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord! My spirit rejoices in God my Savior for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. The Almighty has done great things for me and holy is his name.

It was Mary who bore the most humble yet bold witness to her Son. It was Mary who bore the Word of God in her heart and then conceived that Word in her womb. To quote Pope Francis, “The flesh of Christ was knit together in the womb of Mary… The Blessed Virgin is the woman of faith who made room for God in her heart and in her plans.” (Francis, 1-1-15)

Only because of her faith in that Word that had come to her, a Word she nurtured and pondered in her immaculate heart, was she then able to conceive that Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, and bear the Son of God, her creator and savior, Jesus. Yes, she is “God-bearer”, Theotokos in Greek, as the Church Fathers proclaimed in the Council of Ephesus in 431.

We, God’s people, cannot understand Jesus without his Mother, Mary. (Ibid) Mary is so closely united to Jesus because she kept close to her heart the Word made flesh. She spent her life contemplating and pondering the World of God that was and is her son, Jesus. Mary in contemplating her son, Jesus, becomes a model for the Church who also
reflects on the Incarnation, on the mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Our Holy Father, Pope Francis said, “… inseparable are Christ and the Church; the salvation accomplished by Jesus cannot be understood without appreciating the motherhood of the Church…Mary [is] the first and most perfect disciple of Jesus, the model of the pilgrim Church, is the one who opens the way to the Church’s motherhood… She, the Mother of God, is also the mother of the Church, and through the Church, the mother of all men and women…” (Ibid)

Yes, Mary kept close to her heart the Word made flesh. She said, “Yes!” She said “Fiat!” St. Augustine would write that Mary was more blessed for hearing God’s word and keeping custody of it in her heart than because of the flesh she gave to her divine Son. Since this was true, Mary was able to follow her Son every step of the way. She

was able to stand by her Son as he died on the cross, stand by him without staining her immaculate heart. She knew it was by virtue of her faith in the Word of God that she had been able to conceive that Word in her womb, and it was by faith in that Word that she was able to give bold witness to her Son when he gave up his life on the Cross.

Mary, who surpasses all of us in her sanctity and her fidelity, Mary, the Mother of God, remaims like us, a member of the Church, and a member of the Body of Christ, her Son, and a witness to her Son’s life, death, and resurrection.

You too are members of the Body of Christ, the Church. You also carry God’s Word in your hearts and you are to be witnesses to that Word, to Jesus Christ. Just as St. Augustine spoke of Mary, St. Ambrose spoke of us when he wrote: Blessed are you who have heard and believed; every soul that believes, conceives and begets the Word of God. May Mary’s soul be in each of us to glorify the Lord. May the spirit of Mary be within each of us to exult in God. (Commentary on Luke, CCL 14, 39-42)

You will be more blessed and find greater dignity in the Word you nourish in your hearts and profess with your lips than in any office you may bear. You are first, and most importantly, members of the Body of Christ. Never separate yourselves from this Body, from the Church! Never!

You cannot become witnesses to Jesus unless you have first welcomed the Word in your hearts, treasured it, nurtured it, pondered it, obeyed it, followed it, and trusted it. Mary would not have become the Mother of God, Theotokos, had she not first accepted and kept the Word of God in her immaculate heart. You cannot become witnesses to Jesus if you do not first hold in the purity of your hearts the Word entrusted to you. Mary could not have endured the passion and death of her Son had she not first cradled in her heart the Word that had come to her. You will not be able to endure the trials and difficulties of life without first knowing, nurturing, and loving the Word entrusted to you.

Yes, our lives, both individually and together as the Church, are to be modeled after Mary. Ours is a vocation of humble service to God and humanity.. We are to give humble yet bold witness to Jesus Christ.

May our lives magnify the Lord, as did Mary’s!

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Pope Francis’ Christmas Homily

A belated Merry Christmas to all my readers! Blessings for 2016 also!

Here is the homily Pope Francis delivered for Christmas night Mass this year. As usual, I let it speak for itself.

HOMILY OF POPE FRANCIS
THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD – MASS IN THE HOLY NIGHT
ST PETER’S BASILICA
24 DECEMBER 2015

Tonight “a great light” shines forth (Is 9:1); the light of Jesus’ birth shines all about us. How true and timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: “You have brought abundant joy and great rejoicing” (9:2)! Our heart was already joyful in awaiting this moment; now that joy abounds and overflows, for the promise has been at last fulfilled. Joy and gladness are a sure sign that the message contained in the mystery of this night is truly from God. There is no room for doubt; let us leave that to the skeptics who, by looking to reason alone, never find the truth. There is no room for the indifference which reigns in the hearts of those unable to love for fear of losing something. All sadness has been banished, for the Child Jesus brings true comfort to every heart.

Today, the Son of God is born, and everything changes. The Saviour of the world comes to partake of our human nature; no longer are we alone and forsaken. The Virgin offers us her Son as the beginning of a new life. The true light has come to illumine our lives so often beset by the darkness of sin. Today we once more discover who we are! Tonight we have been shown the way to reach the journey’s end. Now must we put away all fear and dread, for the light shows us the path to Bethlehem. We must not be laggards; we are not permitted to stand idle. We must set out to see our Saviour lying in a manger. This is the reason for our joy and gladness: this Child has been “born to us”; he was “given to us”, as Isaiah proclaims (cf. 9:5). The people who for for two thousand years has traversed all the pathways of the world in order to allow every man and woman to share in this joy is now given the mission of making known “the Prince of peace” and becoming his effective servant in the midst of the nations.

So when we hear the story of the birth of Christ, let us be silent and let the Child speak. Let us take his words to heart in rapt contemplation of his face. If we take him in our arms and let ourselves be embraced by him, he will bring us unending peace of heart. This Child teaches us what is truly essential in our lives. He was born into the poverty of this world; there was no room in the inn for him and his family. He found shelter and support in a stable and was laid in a manger for animals. And yet, from this nothingness, the light of God’s glory shines forth. From now on, the way of authentic freedom and perennial redemption is open to every man and woman who is simple of heart. This Child, whose face radiates the goodness, mercy and love of God the Father, trains us, his disciples, as Saint Paul says, “to reject godless ways” and the richness of the world, in order to live “temperately, justly and devoutly” (Tit 2:12).

In a society so often intoxicated by consumerism and hedonism, wealth and extravagance, appearances and narcissism, this Child calls us to act soberly, in other words, in a way that is simple, balanced, consistent, capable of seeing and doing what is essential. In a world which all too often is merciless to the sinner and lenient to the sin, we need to cultivate a strong sense of justice, to discern and to do God’s will. Amid a culture of indifference which not infrequently turns ruthless, our style of life should instead be devout, filled with empathy, compassion and mercy, drawn daily from the wellspring of prayer.

Like the shepherds of Bethlehem, may we too, with eyes full of amazement and wonder, gaze upon the Child Jesus, the Son of God. And in his presence may our hearts burst forth in prayer: “Show us, Lord, your mercy, and grant us your salvation” (Ps 85:8).

 

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent, Cycle C, 2015

Here is my homily for this weekend. God’s blessings on each of you!

4th Sunday of Advent – Cycle C
December 19/20 , 2015
Micah 5:1-4; Heb 10: 5-10; Luke 1: 39-45

He is almost here! Jesus,the Son of God coming in the flesh, in a manger, the child Jesus. We have been awaiting him, throughout Advent we have been waiting, praying, and singing of his coming in many ways here at the parish:

Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel – God is with us!
On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry: Make straight the way of the Lord!
Level the mountains of sin!
Fill the valleys of darkness and loneliness!
Let all mankind see the salvation of our God!

Yes, we have waited for, we have prayed for, and we have sung of his coming!
Yes, soon, Jesus is coming!

We remember his coming during Advent and Christmas each liturgical year, but really we are to experienc and remember, every day throughout the year the coming of Jesus, because he continually comes into the world and into our lives.

Yes, so long ago, 2015 years ago, he came in the flesh, as the child of Bethlehem, born the son of Mary and the Son of God, conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. True God and true man. This was his first coming, and there was no room for him in the inn, no place for him in the hearts of most men that night, except for the shepherds, the poor, so he was born in a nearby stable with the poor.

Yes, someday in the future, he will come again, in glory with salvation for his people, and on that day we will see his glory, the dead will rise, and the just will be united with God forever.

But today and every day he comes, he never ceases to come, at every moment in our lives he wants to come to us if we are open to him. He knocks on the doors of our hearts, asking to be let in, asking to enter our lives asking if there is room for him in our inn, asking if he can make his home among us, asking to live within us, asking us if we have a room prepared, cleaned up for him, whether our lives are in good order to welcome him.

Yes, Jesus has come, he comes today, he will come again!

That is our faith. It is the faith of the Church. The three comings of Jesus.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we await, in a holy waiting, his first coming, the day in which God, Emmanuel, took on our human nature and entered our world as a man, to bring humanity back to God, to grasp us firmly and lift us up, with him, to share in his divinity, yes, to make us like him, to make us sons and daughters of God. God will reach down into the deepest of the deep to raise us up to the highest of all heights and take us back to the Father, to our heavenly home.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we look for his glorious coming someday in the future, at a time only God the Father knows. We long for that day, if we examine our hearts, this final coming of Jesus, when all of humanity, yes, all of creation, will see Jesus again, he who has created, and loved, and cared for us all this time even if we didn’t recognize him or accept him,we will see him in all his splendor and glory.

On this last Sunday of Advent, we open ourselves to his coming into our lives now. We have a final chance to get ready, to seek forgiveness of our sins, to try to open our hearts and our minds to the presence of God who is all around us, a God who wants at every moment to become one with us, to become intimate with us, who wants to share our every joy, our every sorrow, our every triumph, and to soften every defeat. A God who continuously knocks at the doors of our hearts and asks: “May I enter? May I be not only your God and Lord, but your brother and your father? Is there room for me in the inn?”

One of my good memories of my time in Rome in 1977 and 1978 was attending St. John Paul II’s initial Mass as pope. Maybe you remember it from watching the TV. In his homily he repeated several times, “Non avete paura! Aprite le porte a Cristo!” “Do not be afraid!Open wide your doors to Christ!”

Open wide your doors to Christ! For he comes!

Open wide your hearts! Do not fear! Look at Mary, the Mother of God. She opened wide her heart. She kept close to her heart the God who came to her. She said, “Yes” to God. She said, “Fiat.” She said, “Let it be done to me.” Mary would not have become the Mother of God had she not first had an open heart that waited for her Savior, and trusted in him. She welcomed and treasured, she nurtured, obeyed, followed and trusted the God who became her son. She opened her heart to the coming of the Lord.

Open wide the doors of your life to Jesus! Do not fear to let him come, to let him enter, to let him carry you when you have no place to stay, when you have no room in the inn, when you are lonely and frightened, alone and afraid.

Do not fear, but rejoice that Jesus has come into our world to redeem us, to forgive us our sins, to fill in the valleys in our lives, to knock down the mountains that block our path to heaven.

Let us not fear, but with hope, open our hearts to Jesus and look for him to come again,we who have waited for him, desired him, prepared for him a place in our hearts.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily at the Advent Clergy Day 2015

Here is the homily I was asked to give at the Advent Clergy Day for the Diocese of Winona.

God bless each of you!

Advent Day of Reflection for Clergy of Winona Diocese
December 17, 2015
Owatonna, Minnesota

Scripture: Isaiah 30: 19-21, 23-26
I asked you to listen carefully to this Scripture taken from the prophet Isaiah. I now ask you, “Is this the kind of Lord and God we want to come into our lives and rule over us? Is this the kind of God who we will take into our lives and into the world? Is this the God that we in our flesh will make present to the people of God to whom we are sent, a people who ache for his presence, even though they may not recognize him?

He is beautiful, is he not? He promises so many beautiful things, does he not? It is easy for us to say, “Yes! Come Lord Jesus into my life and into the world! Maranatha!” but are we really prepared to say this? We need to be careful and honest lest we speak these words without preparation and prayer. As all the saints attest, to welcome the coming of the Lord into our lives and into the world requires a spiritual suffering and purification. We too must suffer his coming!

So the question is, are we willing to suffer the coming of Christ into our lives and into our world? Are we willing to be sufficiently purified and emptied of all that would place an obstacle in his way? Are we willing to be continually attentive to the Father uttering his eternal Word into our souls and into the world in the power of the Spirit? Are we willing to undergo that kind of spiritual martyrdom that is required if we are to remain both present to the Father uttering his Word Jesus into our lives and simultaneously attentive to the people to whom we are sent? Or will we fall back into a lives of distraction, isolation, and loneliness, which are the breeding grounds of sin and keep us from the God who comes to save, from each other, and from the People of God?

We must remain attentive, alert, and receptive. We must be purified of our distractions, our sin, our isolation from God, each other, and the Church. We must be purified of our loneliness and our worldly attachments if we are to welcome the coming of the Lord.

I have become convinced, brothers in Holy Orders, that central to all of us who are ordered to the Holy by our sharing in this sacrament, is a spiritual martyrdom through a complete consecration to the Gospel and to the human condition. We must be radically configured to the incarnate Jesus as obedient sons of the Father empowered by the Holy Spirit and sent in service to the Church. But we cannot be so configured or sent without first having being purified from sin, from all that would distract us, from inner isolation and loneliness, i.e., those things that give rise to sin. We cannot be who we are called to be in Holy Orders, icons of Jesus Christ, if we remain in our sin, our loneliness, separation from God and from his people, from ourselves and from each other. We must be purified! We must suffer the martyrdom of the coming of Jesus in this way. We must be willing to let go, to shed all that hinders us from this purification and keeps us isolated and lonely. We must be purified, emptied, forgiven and vulnerable to his coming in the diaconal and/or priestly character impressed on our beings at our ordinations. The touch of the Father must remain in our lives. This is and will be a suffering, a spiritual martyrdom, for us all.

Advent, then, is not only a time of anticipation of the coming of the Lord and a remembrance of his coming as the Child of Bethlehem. It is also a time of suffering the emptiness that must be ours if we are to filled with him, the Word, who comes. We must prepare a place for him in our hearts and in our world.

Let us strip ourselves of all that would distract us from his coming. Most importantly let go of the loneliness which we have allowed to take root in our lives, especially our spiritual lives. We need to be with him. We must allow for a relationship with the Lord who comes. We must pray. We must seek forgiveness. We must also allow for relationship with each other and we must take the risk of relationship with those in need of God’s presence. This is the continual message of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, is it not?

We cannot lapse into a lonely self-concern or a clerical separation from the very people to whom we are sent, a people who are hurting far too much for us to be lonely and separated from them.

My brothers, we are to be the coming of the Lord in today’s world! We are the ones who are ordered to the Holy, i.e., configured to Jesus Christ, first as deacon in his diakonia, and then for some of you as priest or bishop, as victim and high priest. We must remain in relationship with the Lord who comes so we may bear him, suffer him, and present him to the world which desperately longs for him even though they may not know it.

We are sons of the Father! We must be attentive to the Father uttering his eternal Word, Jesus Christ, and filled with the Gospel and always available to being sent forth from the Father, as Jesus was sent. We must be filled with the coming of Christ into our lives, filled by emptying ourselves of distractions, isolation, and loneliness which give rise to sin in our lives. We must be filled with the Word of God, the Gospel, and then be available to the Father’s will for us in service to his people.

I repeat, we are sons of the Father! We as deacons bear the Gospel of which we are heralds and the servant mysteries of Christ in the Church; you as priests and bishop bear the sacraments and Eucharistic sacrifice into the world. We all suffer his coming. We all bear Jesus! Let us now be purified of our sin so we can be sent forth into the peripheries of the world to be a purifying presence to others.

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Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

To all my readers, I wish to extend to you my blessing on this obligatory solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, Mother of God.

The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception Photo source: The Unites States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Since this solemnity is often misunderstood as a celebration of Mary conceiving Jesus in her womb through the Holy Spirit (this is not what we are recalling this day), I want to simply state what I am sure all of you know: Today is the day we recall the conception of Mary, who was conceived without sin, who was spared, by a singular grace of God won for her by her Son Jesus’ merits, the stain of original sin. We also believe that Mary kept her sinlessness throughout her life, free from both original and actual, personal sin. All of this by God’s grace and her cooperation with the grace given her, so that she would be a worthy mother of God himself in his Son, Jesus Christ.

This is a sign from God of how important and dignified we are meant to be, all of us. Mary is a model for us, both in life and in death. What she is, we too will be if we are responsive to the grace given us in our lives, and faithfully do what is asked of us by the Lord. Mary’s highest dignity and honor was in following her Lord, her son, Jesus, by being not only his mother, but his follower. She followed him everywhere, and led all to him by her intercession, example, and acceding to grace. Yes, she was given a special, singular grace not offered to us, but like us she had a role to play in the history of salvation, and she fulfilled it perfectly. Our role, our mission, our vocation, is also equally important in some ways. Will we accept it?

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Martyrdom, Spiritual and Physical

I came across this icon painted by Nicola Savic, a Serbian artist (click here for source). It depicts the 20 Libyan Coptic Christian martyrs who were beheaded by ISIS this February after refusing to renounce the faith in Jesus. The Coptic Orthodox Church has recognized them as martyrs.

Icon of the Libyan Martyrs By Nicola Savic

Icon of the Libyan Martyrs By Nicola Savic; Photo source:  https://stream.org/serbian-artist-paints-austere-icon-holy-martyrs-libya\

The icon, and the men who died and are represented in it, are consistent with what I have been thinking and writing about the past several months, i.e., martyrdom as experienced by deacons. The martyrdom of which I have been thinking is not so much the blood martyrdom undergone by men such as the Libyan martyrs, but rather the spiritual martyrdom that seems so central to the spiritual life of a deacon who is living his vocation fully, for indeed, a fully diaconal life seems to lead one to a reality unlike what a man has previously experienced before ordination, a reality that can be described as an attentiveness to the Word uttered by the Father that leads the deacon into a purifying presence to suffering humanity. This attentiveness is a death to self and a suffering of the coming of the Word into the life of the deacon, a suffering that impels him to a purifying presence to the suffering of humanity. It seems to be all about presence, to me, and purification, i.e., presence to the Father uttered Word in the power of the Spirit, presence to the Trinity, and presence to Jesus’ suffering in the flesh of humanity in today’s world with all its loneliness and distractions and sin. The emptiness that one must allow in oneself, as deacon, so as to be able to be present to Trinitarian life and human life, this emptiness is a real spiritual martyrdom.

I could go on, but I am only beginning to develop these ideas. I will need to refer you to my next article I hope to have published in the Josephinum Diaconate Review in the near future.

Until then, let us never forget the blood martyrdom experienced by so many in today’s world. Let us pray to them to intercede for us as we face our own call to die for the faith in whatever way necessary, and for us deacons to never fear emptying ourselves so we may remain attentive to the Father and radically available to being sent by him to those most in need of his presence and his purifying love.

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Pope Francis’ Words to the Poor in Nairobi

Here is the Pope’s address to the poor of Nairobi, Kenya. As you most probably are aware, he is visiting that country in recent days.

His words speak for themselves.

APOSTOLIC JOURNEY OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
TO KENYA, UGANDA AND THE CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
(25-30 NOVEMBER 2015)

VISIT TO KANGEMI SLUM

ADDRESS OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS

Nairobi (Kenya)
Friday, 27 November 2015

 

Thank you for welcoming me to your neighbourhood. I thank Archbishop Kivuva and Father Pascal for their kind words. I feel very much at home sharing these moments with brothers and sisters who, and I am not ashamed to say this, have a special place in my life and my decisions. I am here because I want you to know that your joys and hopes, your troubles and your sorrows, are not indifferent to me. I realize the difficulties which you experience daily! How can I not denounce the injustices which you suffer?

First of all, though, I would like to speak about something which the language of exclusion often disregards or seems to ignore. It is the wisdom found in poor neighbourhoods. A wisdom which is born of the “stubborn resistance” of that which is authentic” (cf. Laudato Si’, 112), from Gospel values which an opulent society, anaesthetized by unbridled consumption, would seem to have forgotten. You are able “to weave bonds of belonging and togetherness which convert overcrowding into an experience of community in which the walls of the ego are torn down and the barriers of selfishness overcome” (ibid., 149).

The culture of poor neighbourhoods, steeped in this particular wisdom, “has very positive traits, which can offer something to these times in which we live; it is expressed in values such as solidarity, giving one’s life for others, preferring birth to death, providing Christian burial to one’s dead; finding a place for the sick in one’s home, sharing bread with the hungry (for ‘there is always room for one more seat at the table’), showing patience and strength when faced with great adversity, and so on” (Equipo de Sacerdotes para las Villas de Emergencia, Argentina, Reflexiones sobre urbanización y la cultura villera, 2010). Values grounded in the fact each human being is more important than the god of money. Thank you for reminding us that another type of culture is possible.

I want in first place to uphold these values which you practice, values which are not quoted in the stock exchange, are not subject to speculation, and have no market price. I congratulate you, I accompany you and I want you to know that the Lord never forgets you. The path of Jesus began on the peripheries, it goes from the poor and with the poor, towards others.

To see these signs of good living that increase daily in your midst in no way entails a disregard for the dreadful injustice of urban exclusion. These are wounds inflicted by minorities who cling to power and wealth, who selfishly squander while a growing majority is forced to flee to abandoned, filthy and run-down peripheries.

This becomes even worse when we see the unjust distribution of land (if not in this neighbourhood, certainly in others) which leads in many cases to entire families having to pay excessive and unfair rents for utterly unfit housing. I am also aware of the serious problem posed by faceless “private developers” who hoard areas of land and even attempt to appropriate the playgrounds of your children’s schools. This is what happens when we forget that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members, without excluding or favouring anyone” (Centesimus Annus, 31).

One very serious problem in this regard is the lack of access to infrastructures and basic services. By this I mean toilets, sewers, drains, refuse collection, electricity, roads, as well as schools, hospitals, recreational and sport centres, studios and workshops for artists and craftsmen. I refer in particular to access to drinking water. “Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (Laudato Si’, 30). To deny a family water, under any bureaucratic pretext whatsoever, is a great injustice, especially when one profits from this need.

This situation of indifference and hostility experienced by poor neighbourhoods is aggravated when violence spreads and criminal organizations, serving economic or political interests, use children and young people as “canon fodder” for their ruthless business affairs. I also appreciate the struggles of those women who fight heroically to protect their sons and daughters from these dangers. I ask God that that the authorities may embark, together with you, upon the path of social inclusion, education, sport, community action, and the protection of families, for this is the only guarantee of a peace that is just, authentic and enduring.

These realities which I have just mentioned are not a random combination of unrelated problems. They are a consequence of new forms of colonialism which would make African countries “parts of a machine, cogs on a gigantic wheel” (Ecclesia in Africa, 52). Indeed, countries are frequently pressured to adopt policies typical of the culture of waste, like those aimed at lowering the birth rate, which seek “to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized” (Laudato Si’, 50).

In this regard, I would propose a renewed attention to the idea of a respectful urban integration, as opposed to elimination, paternalism, indifference or mere containment. We need integrated cities which belong to everyone. We need to go beyond the mere proclamation of rights which are not respected in practice, to implementing concrete and systematic initiatives capable of improving the overall living situation, and planning new urban developments of good quality for housing future generations. The social and environmental debt owed to the poor of cities can be paid by respecting their sacred right of the “three Ls”: Land, Lodging, Labour. This is not philanthropy; it is a moral duty upon all of us.

I wish to call all Christians, and their pastors in particular, to renew their missionary zeal, to take initiative in the face of so many situations of injustice, to be involved in their neighbours’ problems, to accompany them in their struggles, to protect the fruits of their communitarian labour and to celebrate together each victory, large or small. I realize that you are already doing much, but I ask to remember this is not just another task; it may instead be the most important task of all, because “the Gospel is addressed in a special way to the poor” (Benedict XVI, Address to the Bishops of Brazil, 11 May 2007, 3).

Dear neighbours, dear brothers and sisters, let us together pray, work and commit ourselves to ensuring that every family has dignified housing, access to drinking water, a toilet, reliable sources of energy for lighting, cooking and improving their homes; that every neighbourhood has streets, squares, schools, hospitals, areas for sport, recreation and art; that basic services are provided to each of you; that your appeals and your pleas for greater opportunity can be heard; that all can enjoy the peace and security which they rightfully deserve on the basis of their infinite human dignity.

Mungu awabariki! God bless you!

And I ask you, please, do not forget to pray for me.

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Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for Thanksgiving Day, 2015

Thanksgiving Homily, 2015
Sir 50: 20-24; 1 Cor 1: 3-9; Lk 21: 20-28

For what am I most grateful? Health? Life itself? Good fortune? My wife and family? The gift of Holy Orders into which I have been ordained? The Eucharist? My parents and siblings? My country? I could go on.

 

Yes, I am deeply grateful for all those things. I am the luckiest of all men, for I have been given much. Yet, I am most grateful for something else. I am grateful for the gift of faith which allows me to see God’s presence even in the darkest of times. With faith, I will get to heaven. Without it, I will be tormented. As we heard in the Gospel today, gratitude linked with faith brings salvation.

My health will someday leave me. My life on earth will someday end. My good fortune may take a turn for the worse. Without faith, my ministry will dry up, my reverence for the Eucharist will vanish, my pride in my country will erode, my family relationships will suffer without faith.

On a natural level, we want to be thankful for the good things of life. We know it’s only fair to be grateful for those things and people. St. Thomas Aquinas said that the virtue of gratitude is an extension of the cardinal virtue of justice and it is part of the natural law in every human being born into the world. It is part of our human nature to show such gratitude because it keeps us in harmony with others. Gratitude is an expression of basic human justice and it is an antidote to conflict and division among us. To be grateful is simply doing the right thing, the moral thing.

It is almost instinctual for humans to be grateful for the good things of life and to those who provide these good things to us. A grateful person, generally speaking, is a healthy person. A grateful person is usually at greater peace with himself and others than someone who is ungrateful. It is easy to like someone who is grateful for life and for the good things he enjoys. It is easy to give thanks for the good things of life, the pleasant and the beautiful things that are given to us, the things that give us comfort and security in life. It is natural to be grateful for these things.

So, if you want to be a better human being, practice gratitude. If you want a happier family life, practice gratitude. If you want peace in your relationships with neighbors and friends, practice gratitude because it will make you a more just person and others will respond favorably to you.

 

I know there are many people who seem to have little for which to be grateful, whose lives are truly painful, challenging, filled with problems and difficulties. It is their reality and they didn’t choose it. Thanksgiving day may be one more difficulty you face, not having family to be with, or peace in your life, or good things to enjoy. So I address you also.

 

Have faith! Yes, I know that is easy to say, and difficult to live. But have faith! It is difficult is to be grateful for the unpleasant, the difficult, the pain, the problems. It takes real faith to be grateful for the struggles, the challenges, the setbacks, the illnesses, and other naturally unpleasant and difficult things of life. It takes faith to see the presence of God working a miracle in you, desiring to make something beautiful out of it.

 

Remember, God doesn’t created bad things or desire your pain in life, but he allows it to be so he can transform it into a time of grace. God wants to give you life and love when you are distressed. Nothing is impossible for God, so he allows those difficult times in life, those setbacks, problems, illnesses into your life so he can take and transform them into something very beautiful, very grace-filled, something that will make you more life him — in other words — holy. In this way, if you have faith, faith which illuminates the hand of God at work in our lives, you can truly say you are grateful for those difficult times and events in our lives. I know I am asking something that seems unnatural and very difficult, but we have Jesus himself to show us how to do it, and many saints also.

 

No problem, no difficulty, no darkness that may come upon you can overcome the light of faith and the love of God for you. No matter how dark or bleak things may be, as long there is the light of faith, that faith will be a light that will mark the presence of God and allow him to take that darkness and turn it into light. For this kind of faith, I am most grateful.

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Pope Francis Greets Deacons on the Occasion of their 50th Year Jubilee in Rome

Pope Francis was to have given an audience to deacons from around the world who were gathering in Rome last month for a Jubilee celebrating 50 years since the Vatican Council restored the diaconate as a permanent rank in the Church. A fellow diaconate director from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Deacon Roger Heidt, attended and gave a report recently to the Region VIII deacon directors about his time there. From what he has said, it was memorable, to say the least.

Unfortunately, the Holy Father had to cancel his audience with the deacons and their wives because of the Synod on the family that was occurring at the same time. He did send his greetings though. I was able to locate his letter on the International Diaconate Centre’s (IDC) website, and I copy it below for your review. It is, I believe, the first time the Holy Father directly addressed the diaconate during his pontificate.

Here it is, as provided by the IDC:

Dear Brothers in the Diaconate,
dear Brothers in the Presbyterate and Episcopate,
dear wives of deacons,
dear participants in the Jubilee of the International Diaconate Centre,

I send you warm greetings and congratulate you on the 50th anniversary that you are celebrating these days on the occasion of the restoration of the Permanent Diaconate by the Second Vatican Council together with 600 people from 35 countries.

When Cardinal Oswald Gracias told me on behalf of your President Klaus Kießling that you were interested in meeting me, I agreed right away – full of anticipation to receive you. However now I have to dedicate my full attention to the Synodal processes, so a direct meeting will not be possible during your Jubilee celebration. I regret this very much and look forward to another opportunity.

In view of the first International Study Conference on the Permanent Diaconate, Paul VI stated on 25 October 1965: “Surely the Council acted in accordance with a providential inspiration of the Holy Spirit when it decided to renew the original ministry of diaconate at the service of the People of God.” It is in this conviction that I ask you not to relent in your commitment to a diaconal Universal Church and a world of solidarity. You are ambassadors of Jesus Christ who rejects anything related to authority and puts human hierarchies upside down like anyone who serves. You are ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death. You are called to accompany other people on their way to incarnation, in solidarity, everywhere in the world.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this commitment. At the same time I ask you to accompany me and my ministry with prayer. I also promise to take your concerns to the Lord and cordially impart to you my Apostolic Blessing.

From the Vatican, on 20 October 2015

FRANCIS

I especially will be meditating on that one sentence, “You are ambassadors of our incarnate God who shows solidarity up until death and beyond death.” This is a confirmation, for me, of a core piece of diaconal spirituality about which I have written, i.e., the diaconal call to a spiritual martyrdom whose source is in maintaing a contemplative gaze on the uttered Word of the Father and then being available to being sent by the Father to be present to suffering humanity.

As always, I welcome your comments.

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Deacon Bob’s Homily for the Solemnity of Christ the King, Cycle B, 2015

Here is my homily for this weekend. God bless each of you!

The Solemnity of Christ the King

Dn 7: 13-14; Rv 1: 5-8; Jn 18: 33b-37

November 21/22,2015

We are not comfortable with the word, king, nowadays. We would prefer to say President, or representative, or some other American government title. We grate at the thought of a king, and this goes deep into our American experience, all the way back to the Revolutionary War against the King of England.

Jesus, though, is our king. He has more authority over us than any president has ever had; more authority than any king has ever had in the history of the world. Jesus has made us into a kingdom, a kingdom, we are told, of truth.

Jesus gave witness to the truth. Jesus died for the truth. Jesus is the truth and his kingdom is one of eternal truth. Jesus is a king unlike the world has ever known before.

His kingdom of truth is present and evident in the world today. It is not of this world, even though it is present in the world, Jesus tells us. Jesus’ kingdom is the kingdom of heaven. It is the kingdom of the Blessed Trinity, of holiness and relationship and giving and receiving divine life and love. It is the kingdom of God.

Jesus is the king of this mysterious kingdom. As we heard in the readings today, Jesus’ kingdom shall not be taken away or destroyed. “All peoples, nations, and languages serve him.” All people give to and receive from Jesus the king and from his kingdom.

In this kingdom, nothing is ever taken from us by our king, because it is the kingdom of God, the Blessed Trinity, where God only gives and receives life and love. It is a kingdom where we will never take from anyone, or be taken by anyone, but rather we will give and receive God’s presence, his life, his love. It is no wonder Pilate could not understand such a kingdom, or such a king like Jesus.

Think for a moment. God is all. He is complete in himself. He is perfect in every way. Jesus is God incarnate. Jesus is complete and perfect. He needs nothing. He only desires to give and receive love. He is the “Alpha” and the “Omega,” the beginning and the end. We cannot take anything from him because he has no need for anything we possess; rather, Jesus only gives and receives. He is God, and he lives in the great mystery of the Trinity where the Father continually gives and receives love from the Son, and the Son gives and receives love from the Father so much so that the Holy Spirit is present. Father, Son, and Spirit, one God. The Father never takes anything from the Son or the Spirit, nor the Son and Spirit take anything from the Father. The life of the Trinity is a constant giving and receiving love and life and relationship and presence, never taking, always glorifying, sustaining, and magnifying each other as distinct persons but one God.

The amazing thing is Jesus, our king, wants us to be with him in this mysterious kingdom of the Trinity!

The world demands and takes from us. Worldly kingdoms tax us and take what they need from us, but God lacks nothing for he is complete. He has no need to take from us. He wants only to receive our freely given love. He wants us to be in a relationship with him in his kingdom. He wants to give us life, love, encouragement, direction, yes even correction and discipline, and he wants us to know the truth. God only wants to receive us into his very life, the life of the Trinity.

Jesus our king wants to take us to sit with him in heaven at the right hand of the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit!

Remember, Jesus told Pilate that he was a king because he came into the world to witness to the truth, in the power of the Spirit. Jesus is our king, and we have no need to fear him for his kingdom is life in the Trinity. It is a kingdom we all will hopefully one day fully enjoy in heaven where we will behold the beauty of God’s self-giving and receiving, and be caught up in it ourselves.

Is Jesus your king? Is this the kind of kingdom you want to live in for all eternity?

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May It Be So

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Random Thoughts: Loneliness, Complexity, and Relationship in Christian Life

It has been a number of weeks since my last posting, and for good reason. My responsibilities for the diaconal community in our diocese has increased including coordinating the annual retreat last week. It was a wonderful experience for us as a community. Deacon James Keating was our retreat director, and he inspired, healed, prayed, and challenged us all. We were blessed.

Seeking God in the ordinary has been the focus of so much of what has been going on. To take an idea offered by Keating, it  is not breadth which is important in our Catholic lives, but depth, i.e., seeking to plummet the depths of the ordinary in daily life. No doubt, this  is so much in keeping with diaconal spirituality, but not only we deacons, but Christians of whatever vocation. The complexity of  life can both be the work of Satan and his fertile field. Complexity leads to loneliness and loneliness is a source of all that is not holy. I was impressed with the idea that if we wish to do something to end sin in this world, we can simply relate to others, break out of our loneliness and break into the loneliness of others.

This whole idea relating to others as a remedy for sin makes the case for search for depth in the ordinary. How else can we truly be in relationship unless we enter into the silence of what is ordinary and avoid  the cacophony of complexity, the cultural norm of distraction from ourselves and each other? What we are talking about here is echoed in a talk I hear a professor give this  past year on the Catholic understanding of rest, a rest in which we truly encounter ourselves and each other, rather than enter into a world of distraction.

Breaking out of loneliness and into the quiet relatedness of the ordinary is another way of describing what the theologians among call kenosis or a  self-emptying so as to be taken up into what is of God. Here is where it becomes particularly pertinent to the deacon’s spirituality. As I have written in an article entitled, “The Diaconal Call to a Spiritual Martyrdom” published in the Josephinum Diaconate Review (JDR), a deacon’s glory lies in, and his vocation is lived out in, the encounter with the exigencies of the human condition, in the ordinariness of life where the pain of life  is experienced. The deacon cannot know glory unless he is  willing to relate to, become starkly aware of, the suffering of others and suffer himself in his presence to the pain of others. He must relate, break into the loneliness of contemporary complexity, and in his impotency to do much, be present to and give witness to the brokenness of life, living a simple life.

Much more can be said. Watch for my next article in the JDR.

 

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