Advent Turns into Christmas

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They say that if you want to hear God laugh, tell Him your long-range plans.  This week has certainly proven that to be true.  Last week at this time I had all kinds of things that  I was going to post for the fourth week of  Advent.  It would have been awesome!  Then, last Saturday I went out with some of my adult kids and some of my grandchildren.  We were watching a Christmas parade and waiting to cross the street to go to lunch.  The next thing I knew, I was laying flat on my back on the sidewalk.  My legs just gave out on me.

As I lay there on the sidewalk I realized that all these people I didn’t know were helping me to get back on my feet (with a lot of help from a light pole that kept me from falling right back where I had been).  Lesson number 1 was that there are a lot of good people in the world.  Total strangers had stopped their celebration to help me.  People are basically good.  And God is great!

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, my adult kids and daughter-in-law insisted (demanded) that I go to the hospital.  All I wanted to do was go to lunch, but it wasn’t to be.  My lovely and talented wife poured me into the car and delivered me to the emergency room.  It would turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

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Let me say here that I have a lot of respect for doctors and the work they do.  Over the last few years, I’ve had to opportunity to meet a lot of them.  See the thing is, specialists specialize.  They each try to frame your illness in terms of their specialty.  That’s what they know and that’s the way it is.  On the other hand, ER docs are more inclined to look at the big picture.  The first thing they did to me in the Emergency Room was order a CAT scan, something none of my “team” of specialists had never done.  It turns out the trouble has been mostly in my head, literally.

Lesson number 2, what looks like a problem may turn out to be a blessing.  I’ll be going in for surgery in January which may solve a lot of my health issues.  I have something called hydrocephalus I never did get lunch.

To make a short story long, I spent three days in the hospital and my week of clever Advent posts went right out the window. Thank God for my daughter who finished my Christmas shopping for me and even wrapped everything.  And thank God for family members who are smarter than I am.  If I’d had my way I would have gone to lunch and gone home not knowing what was going on in my head.  Lesson number 3, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

So, I’ll sum up with this one Advent/Christmas offering.  The weeks of waiting are over.  Tonight our Savior comes.  What an awesome occasion.  I’ve returned to my home parish and I can’t wait for Christmas mass.  This year will be extra special, not that every Christmas isn’t extra special.  We have a God who’s so wonderful, so loving, that He sent His only Son to become one of us!  Thanks to this great gift we can look forward to an eternity in paradise!

We buried a friend of mine yesterday.  Who could ask for a better Christmas gift than to be free from pain and earthly worries and be on our way to heaven?   Prayers go out to his family, but I believe that they understand that death is just a beginning.  Yesterday’s funeral was truly a celebration of life!  We have no idea what God has in store for us.

I’m going to close this with the wish that you and your families have a peaceful and blessed Christmas.  Thank you for reading Deaconcast and I hope you’ll continue to check in.  I have some exciting plans for 2018, but you can see what sometimes happens to plans.  God’s plan is the only one that counts and we have no idea what that may be.  Our job is to continually pray for knowledge of His plan for us and for the power to make it happen.

Joy to the World, the Lord is Come!

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Pope Francis: Think ‘being good’ is enough? It’s not. Go to Mass

I’m pretty sure that the followers of this blof don’t NEED this post, but it couldn’t hurt.  Possibly you have adult family and friends who spout the old argument, “I’m good.  I don’t need to go to mass.”  Maybe you can subtly share this with them.

Well, last week our Holy Father attacked that argument head-on and gave all of us something to say to those people in reply.  No, being good isn’t enough.  Yes God is everywhere, but there’s a reason why we all go to a specific building to worship him.

I can’t add anything to the Pope’s words, but I am going to tell you a short story because it’s real and because it just happened a few hours ago.

I conduct a communion service on Thursday and Friday mornings.  Today I woke up with laryngitis.  I couldn’t talk at all.  I prayed to Saint John Chrystosom, patron saint of preachers, when I got to church,  asking him to pray that I could deliver some kind of  short homily.

When it came time for the homily, I started with a very weak voice, but as I continued to speak, my voice got stronger and stronger, and the brief comments I had planned turned into a full-blown homily.  God had restored my voice!  There’s power in all prayer, but the power of prayer said in church is special.

Here are the Holy Father’s remarks, not in English, but with subtitles.  Enjoy!

Bishop Barron on the iGens

On this Tuesday of the first week of Advent, I want to share a video with you by

Bishop Robert Barron on the iGens..  iGens are the generation born since 1995.  The Bishop points out that this is the first generation who has no experience with life without iPhones, and iPads and all the other “i” electronics.

They are in no hurry to grow up, often waiting until their late teens to get their first driver’s license and being perfectly happy to live at home with Mom and Dad.  Where I live, in Church world, our biggest concern with these folks is that they don’t go to church, and often don’t believe in God.

We all know it, but frankly, we don’t know what to do about it.  If you have kids or grandkids. or if you’re concerned about the future of the Church, watching this will be ten minutes and twenty-three seconds well spent.  Enjoy

Thanksgiving

As I sat on the altar this morning I couldn’t help but be impressed by the number of people attending Mass on a Thursday morning that’s not a Holy Day of Obligation, especially with everything else that’s going on in most people’s lives.  For most of us it’s a busy day.

But, obviously, for many of us it’s a special day to give thanks to God for all He’s done for us.  After all, without God we are nothing; We have nothing.  It’s good for us to take a few moments to acknowledge our many gifts.

As Father pointed out in his homily, the word “Eucharist” is from the Greek for “Thanksgiving”.  We give thanks every time we go to mass.

I don’t want to make this long, because, like I said, I know you’re busy.  But I would like to thank you for taking time to read this blog.  I also want to thank my family who put up with me without complaint.  I especially want to thank my wife, Jan, as we begin our 50th year of married life.  We broke all the rules back then.  We were too young.  We hadn’t known each other long enough.  She was Catholic.  I wasn’t.  But somehow we managed to stay together for one year short of half a century.

 

God is good!

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

This was the second to last homily at my current assignment.  I will preach one more time before I move on to my new post.  There were a few references to my move, but the main point of the homily was a reflection on the Gospel.  I hope you enjoy it.

We’ve heard this Gospel many times.  “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.”  We’re also to love our neighbors as ourselves.

 

Loving God sounds like a good idea.  After all, God gives us everything.  He created a perfect world for us in the Garden of Eden.  But then He created Adam, and everything got messed up.  Imagine being in Adam’s place.  Everything around him was perfect.  God said to him, “I’ve created all of this just for you.  You have perfect surroundings and perfect knowledge of all of it.  I love you and want you to be happy.  Oh, there’s just one thing.  See that tree over there; the one with the red fruit?  You can’t have that.  Stay away from it.  You don’t need it because you have everything else.”

 

Well, guess what?  Adam, being human like the rest of us, couldn’t resist.  He had to taste the red fruit.  So he did.  And here we are.  See, Adam didn’t trust God, and love and trust are the same thing.  We can’t love someone we don’t trust.  Just like you and me, Adam had free will and he chose to not trust God.  “The creator must be holding back something from me if He says I have to leave that one tree alone.”

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In the twelve step programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, and others, Step 3 says “We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God.” That’s a statement of trust and millions of people have been healed of their addictions by taking this step. But we’re independent creatures. The idea of completely turning our will and our lives over to someone else, even God, is hard for us to take. We like to think we can do anything we put our minds to. Down through history, our greatest heroes have been men and women who took the bull by the horns; who made something happen. “The meek shall inherit the earth sounds good, but do we really believe it?

 

Yesterday (Friday) Jan and I were taking care of our grandson, Finnegan. I had just fed him and he fell asleep in my arms. I was watching him sleep and I couldn’t help thinking how small and helpless he is. He has to rely on someone else to do everything for him. How can you not love someone so small and innocent?

 

It occurred to me that God must look at us the same way. Compared to His Majesty, we must seem as small and helpless as Finn does to me. Our problem is that we don’t recognize how helpless we are. We’re not babies anymore (at least most of us aren’t). In our own minds, we’re invincible. We can do anything on our own. But can we really? I don’t think so. We have to depend on God for the things we really need. And we have to depend on one another.

 

I’ve always been one of those people who thinks he can do anything. I’ve always prided myself (and remember what the Bible says about pride) on being self-sufficient. Then a year ago I was in the hospital twice in two months. All of a sudden there were a lot of things I couldn’t do for myself anymore. Having to ask someone to help you go to the bathroom, or just to turn over in bed, is a real wake up call. I HAD to ask for help. Poor Jan has been a saint when it comes to taking care of me. I still can’t put on my own socks and shoes. I’ve gotten so weak and have so little energy that I’ve had to retire from my job at Saint John Nepomuk.

 

In the process, I’ve learned a valuable lesson. People want to help! They love to help! It validates them and makes them feel good about themselves. When someone says to you, “can I help you with that” and you say, “no thanks. I’ve got it.” or something like that, you’re denying that person the satisfaction of being helpful. Your ego is denying them the opportunity to be Jesus for you.

 

One of my two trips to the hospital last year was the first week of November. I wasn’t here for the Goulash Festival. What would happen if I wasn’t here? Well, what happened was everyone worked together and it was the most successful Goulash Festival ever. It turns out I’m not indispensable at all. It’s a community event and the community made it happen. My job is really about staying out of your way. That’s when I seriously started thinking about retirement. I prayed long and hard and I believe my work here is done. God needs me somewhere else now.

 

“Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” That also means to trust Him with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Turn your life and your will over to Him. When you pray ask for knowledge of His will for you and the power to make it happen. He will take care of you if you just give Him a chance and don’t let your ego get in the way.

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on a Funeral

I assisted at a funeral today.  The word “assisted” is probably generous in describing what I did.  There were two priests and two deacons in attendance.  One, or even zero, deacons would have been sufficient.  A former deacon director used to speak of us as “liturgical furniture” or “liturgical flower pots”.  That would have been appropriate today.

My most important part of the proceedings was going to lunch.  A funeral lunch is when the clergy get to mingle with the family and friends and share memories of the deceased.  Today’s “guest of honor” was indeed a lovely lady.  Everyone knows it, but I think it brings comfort to most people to hear it from someone in a Roman collar.

I’m an Irish deacon who was sent by the Archbishop to administer a Czech chapel.  The chapel was once a parish but lost that status some years back.  The last pastor stayed on until his retirement so I think the place still felt like a parish until I showed up.  I was about as popular as a cockroach in the goulash.

The lady we buried today (and you’ll notice that I’m dancing all around using her name because I don’t have permission) was the first member of the Czech community who actually welcomed me and made me feel at home.  I’ll never forget her for that.  She was taking a big risk with her fellow Czechs and I really appreciate it.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve been on retreat and attended something called “Deacon Day.”  The retreat was very inspirational and educational.  Deacon Day was a day where everyone said nice things about deacons.  It happens every year and is in lieu of any financial recompense.  Both of these things were nice.

But it occurred to me today that the people at the funeral, the people who really matter, couldn’t care less  how much I know, how many retreats I’ve been on, how many books I’ve read, or what the Auxiliary Bishop of Saint Paul/Minneapolis thinks of me and my brother deacons.  They want to know that I care about them.  And that’s a real revelation to me because frankly, it’s easy to get caught up in those other things and forget what’s really important.

In just a few weeks I’ll be leaving this community and returning whence I came because, to be honest, I’m just not physically able to be an administrator anymore.  I need to go back to just being an ordinary deacon, assisting the pastor at mass and with whatever else he wants me to do, including funerals.

I’m going to miss my Czech flock, even the ones who still wish I were a priest and that I wasn’t Irish.  But at ordination, a deacon promises to go wherever his Bishop sends him.  I believe right now the Holy Spirit is telling me to move on.  What happens in the future only He and the Father and the Son know.

22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have recently been advised of a change in my assignment.  I wasn’t really prepared to announce it so soon, but the information has leaked out so I felt like it was prudent to talk about it today.  Have a happy and safe holiday weekend and please pray for the people of Texas and Louisiana….also the folks in the Pacific Northwest who could use some of that water to put out the wildfires.

In spite of what you may have heard from Three Dog Night, Jeremiah was not a bullfrog.  Jeremiah was a prophet who lived around 650 BC and this isn’t one of his best days.  He’s ticked off at the Lord and he tells Him so.  “You duped me, O Lord, and I let myself be duped.”  Strong words, especially when they’re directed at the Almighty.  But things aren’t going well for him.

 

He’s accepted the position of prophet, but when he speaks, people make fun of him.  Believe me, that’s no fun. Jeremiah is fed up and says he’ll never speak of the Lord again.  But “it becomes like a fire burning in (his) heart….(He) grows weary holding it in.  (He) cannot endure it. So he continues to speak and he’s persecuted, sent into exile in Egypt, and eventually killed by his own countrymen.

 

700 years later, we find Paul writing a letter to the Romans.  He’s giving them a warning.  “Do not conform yourselves to this age.”  He tells them that if they do conform to the age they won’t be able to discern the will of God.  Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?  The world of the Romans in the years after Jesus death and resurrection isn’t really Christian-friendly.  Paul’s telling them that they must be in the world, but not of the world. The situation that you and I face today as Catholic Christians isn’t all that different from Paul’s world over 2,000 years ago.

 

We Christians have always been kind of a counter-cultural bunch.  Living the words of Christ has never been easy, which is exactly as He told us it would be.

 

“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.”  There’s really nothing ambiguous about that.  It’s all right there.  There are no loopholes, no exceptions.  So why doesn’t everyone do what He says.  Remember, in John’s Gospel Jesus tells us that we’re His friends if we do what He tells us.

 

Here’s what we know:

  1. Jesus is the Son of God.
  2. He gave us some very simple rules to live by; basically love one another, keep the 10 Commandments, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, take up our cross and follow Him.
  3. If we do what He says, we’ll go to heaven and, inversely, if we don’t do what He says, we’ll go to hell.
  4. He created a Church and gave the Apostles and their successors the power to speak for Him.  Remember, “whoever hears you hears me”.  He put Peter and his successors in charge of His Church and promised that “the gates of hell” wouldn’t prevail against it.

 

That’s it!  That’s all we really need to know.  Frankly I don’t understand why so many people don’t get it.  Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah.  Preaching the Gospel isn’t always popular.  Some people just don’t want to face facts.  But I can’t not do this!  Like the man said, “I grow weary holding it in.”  I hope you feel the same way.  As we leave here today, let’s remember what Jeremiah, Saint Paul, and Jesus are saying to us.

 

Don’t hold in the fire.  Let it out. Share the good news in spite of the personal consequences.  There are a lot of people who don’t want to hear about Jesus, and they sure don’t want to hear that they might be going to hell. They want to maintain this fantasy that they can do whatever they want and there won’t be any consequences.  But are we doing them a favor by not correcting them?  If you saw someone about to step off the edge of a cliff, wouldn’t you yell “stop”?

 

Don’t conform yourself to this age.  There are powerful forces surrounding us every day that want to push us down the wrong path.  Don’t let them win.  Like they used to say in the ‘60s, “keep the faith, baby”.  Truth doesn’t change.  What was true 2,000 years ago is true today.

 

And, finally, think as God thinks, not as humans think.  Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Him.  He will come back.  There will be a judgment.  He will repay each of us according to our conduct.  That’s a promise from the Son of God Himself.

[pause]

 

Twenty years ago, in 1997, God called me to become a deacon in His Church. I didn’t understand it (still don’t) and I fought it for a while. But God put me in a position where I was able to spend a couple of hours with a deacon who I knew and trusted. He told me to go for it. So, I enrolled in deaconate formation.

 

After five years of study I was ordained in 2002, fifteen years ago, still not completely sure I was doing the right thing. But like Jeramaih, I couldn’t not do this. The path was very clear, I was assigned to Saint Bernadette parish, my home parish since 1975. It was a very natural progression but the Gospel is very true when it says “the prophet is not without honor except in his own town.”

 

 

Fortunately I was blessed to have a great pastor who helped me make the transition from lay parishioner to ordained minister. I was very blessed. During that time I was also a pastoral care volunteer at first Saint Joseph Hospital then at Saint Clare. I was also working a full-time secular job until I retired in 2009

 

Then in 2010 things got a little more complicated. The Archbishop called me to a new assignment, Director of Saint John Nepomuk Chapel. I would be the first deacon in Saint Louis to take over a church without a pastor. My retirement didn’t last long.

 

I’d be lying if I said that this wasn’t a boost to my ego. Something new. I’d be a pioneer. No one had ever had this job before. I said I’d give it a try for three years. That was seven years ago.

 

I kept my ties with Saint Bernadette doing weekly communion services and assisting with funerals.

 

Now the pastor at Bernadette is having some serious health issues. He’s very limited in what he can do. It’s especially hard for him to say mass. He needs help. So, I’ve decided to give up this assignment and go back to Saint Bernadette. My health isn’t that great either and frankly I’m ready to go back to just being a regular deacon with no administrative responsibilities.

 

Fortunately there’s another deacon in the Archdiocese who is looking for more to do. Deacon Joe Iovanna will be joining us here at Saint John’s on September 18. He will serve as Assistant Director, learning the job. When his training is complete he will take over as Director, some time before the end of the year.

 

I will gradually transition back to Saint Bernadette during that time. I hope you will welcome Deacon Joe into the community and be patient with both of us as we make this change. I’ve known Joe for a long time and I’m sure you will like him.