Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks

Take a moment today to remember all the blessings of the year. Thank God for all the good things that have happened, and all of the gifts that you have received.

Why Give Thanks Just Once a Year?

St. Ignatius said that above all prayer, the most important prayer that we do is the Examen Prayer and he said that if we were to ever drop any prayer time from our day, this should be the last one to be dropped.

St Ignatius initially developed the Examen Prayer with five points. The first of which is Gratitude. This is very simple and can be done in just a moment each day. Take some time, perhaps before bed, to call to mind all the blessings of the day. Thank God for all the good things that have happened and all the gifts that you have received.

I have found gratitude for myself to be salvific. St. Ignatius says that if you spent the whole time simply in the step of gratitude, it would be worthwhile. And, if our hearts spent the entire time in this gratitude, that would be enough. You wouldn’t even need to go further in the Examen prayer.

The Eucharist, which means Thanksgiving, is the source and summit of our spiritual lives, and therefore, it ought to be the source and summit of our personal prayer as well. All is Grace. All is Gift. Everything is Holy. Everything’s a Miracle. And, it’s important that our gratitude be very specific and from our actual experience of the day. This will help us to genuinely realize God’s gifting us in a very personal way, and it will make it real for us.

So, try to remember that moment vividly. See it. Touch it. Taste it. Feel it. That’s God’s gift to you, and there’s nothing better than a gift that is accepted, appreciated, and delighted in.

We hear in the Gospel of John, “I am in You and You are in Me and without Me, You can do nothing.” We are nothing without God, and we have nothing without him. Everything that we have is his gift to us. Gratitude fosters a profound sense of humility and receptivity. It puts us in a position of realizing that we are ultimately poor, powerless, weak, and we can do nothing on our own.

We are completely dependent on God to provide for us. Gratitude helps us to realize that God gives us so much, and this will put us in a wonderful state of receiving the fruit of the Examen prayer. When we are grateful and humble, it sets us up to receive God’s grace. And, realizing that he provides for us, can shift us from being demanding and despairing to delighting in God’s goodness and the joy that will follow.

So, as you begin this point, think about your day with God, and thank him for the gifts that you have received. No gift is too great or too small, and be as specific as you can as you look at how he has provided for you from the very first moment of your day until the present moment. And, more and more, we will realize that all is Gift. Gratitude sets the foundation for trusting God, and once we have this trust, we can begin to look at our lives and allow ourselves to let him in.

Why Give Thanks Just Once a Year?


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The REAL Kingdom Of God

A judge was interviewing a woman regarding her pending divorce. He asked her this question: "What are the grounds for your divorce?" She replied, "Well, about four acres and a nice little home in the middle of the property with a stream running by it." "No," said the judge, "I mean, what is the foundation in this case?" She said, "I don't know. I guess it is made of concrete, brick, and mortar." 

The judge said, "No. What are your relations like?" And she says, "Well, I have an aunt and an uncle living here in town and so does my husband and his parents." The judge began to get frustrated and he asked, "Do you have any real grudge?" And she said, "No, sir. We do not have a garage.  We have never really needed one." The judge again asked, "Please, is there any infidelity in your marriage?" And she said, "Yes. Both my sons and daughters have stereo sets. We do not necessarily like the music they play. But the answer is yes. There is infidelity." "Ma'am, has your husband ever beaten you up?” She said, "Yes, about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do." Finally, in frustration, the judge asks, "Lady, why do you want a divorce?" And she said, "I do not want a divorce. I have never wanted a divorce. But my husband does. He says he cannot communicate with me."

Audio Version Available - Click To Listen

Sometimes it all does come down to that. A lack of communication, right? When we are talking about the same thing, but we are clearly on two different pages. We have that breakdown in communication in today's Gospel. 

Jesus and Pilate are both talking about kingship, but they are completely miscommunicating. They are on different pages. Pilate's idea of a king is completely different than what Jesus' idea is of what makes a king. What Pilate thinks makes a kingdom is a completely different view than what Jesus views as a kingdom and what makes up a kingship.

We hear this almost comic scene laid out before us. Both comedy and tragedy. When Pilate says to Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews?" He is asking Jesus, "Are you the King?" In Pilate's mind, a king is somebody that has power and control over the Jewish people. Pilate is asking Jesus, "Are you the King of the Jews? Do you have control of this group of people?" And Jesus answered, "Do you say this on your own, or have others told you about me?" Jesus says it because He knows people are talking about Him. Jesus knows that people are talking about these great things that He is doing. Pilate answered, "I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and chief priest has handed You over to me. What have You done? What have You done that they want You to be killed?" Jesus knows that all He has done is reveal the truth. All He has done is revealed who God is and who He is.

Jesus realizes they are not talking about the same kind of kingdom or the same kind of king. He says, "My kingdom does not belong to this world. If it did, My servants would be fighting to save Me. As it is, My kingdom is not here." Pilate thinks he has Him. He says, "Well, then You are a king. You are saying You are a king." Again, they are miscommunicating. Then Jesus says, "You say I am a king, but My kingdom does not belong of this world. It is a completely different kind of kingdom." Pilate is thinking of a king who rules with power, who rules with control, who rules with domination, and who rules with wealth. It is a different kind of kingdom that Jesus is talking about.

As we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, we are living in this world where we have terrorist attacks. We are living in this world where we want somebody to protect us. It has even been said we want someone that is going to wipe out ISIS. We want someone that is going to take care of all of the evils in this world. We do want that. The reality is, that protection, that kingdom of God, does not come about through violence. It does not come about through control. It does not come about through manipulation or wealth. It does not come about through Earthly power. It comes about, ultimately, only through love.

Evil is a great force in the world. It is a powerful force. The only force more powerful than evil is love.

In the Gospel, we hear this miscommunication. Pilate is trying to find out if Jesus is a king. And by that he means, do you have power? Do you have control? Do you have wealth and authority over these people? And Jesus is saying that is not what it is about. His kingship is a kingship of love and a kingship of mercy. Ultimately, His throne was the cross. This was the throne where he ultimately became King.

When Jesus died on the cross, He took on all of evil. In that moment, evil was conquered. Evil was destroyed. And He did it with love. He did it, ultimately, not by power or by control or by violence. He did it by laying down His own life and by being crucified. In that moment, evil was conquered.

So often we miscommunicate with God. For thousands and thousands of years, God has been trying to tell us His Kingdom is a kingdom of love and mercy. We take that message, and somehow or another, we distort it. We think it has to do with control, power, authority, and wealth. It does not. Ultimately, for us, the only way evil can be conquered is with love.

The Kingdom of God is so far different than the kingdom of Earth. On Earth, we rule and power by control. Heaven is ruled by power by mercy and love.

Last Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ the King. and next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent. We begin the Year of Mercy. The Holy Father has declared that this whole year is to be focused on the Year of Mercy. We will discover that during this Year of Mercy, real authority, real power, the real Kingdom of God is brought about, not by violence, not by control, not by paying back somebody else, but by mercy. I just want all of us to think about that for one moment. Think about mercy in our lives. Is there anything that you are wanting to control? Anybody you are wanting to overpower? Anybody you are wanting to kill or smite out? Ultimately, that is not the way of God. That is not the building of the kingdom. It is only built with mercy and love.

Think about that right now. Is there anybody that is oppressing you? Is there anybody that you have been oppressed by, or are you oppressing anybody? Right now, maybe for you, that is the fear of terrorism. Right now, maybe that is oppressing you. Maybe right now that fear is oppressing your heart. The only thing that can conquer fear is love. Maybe it is somebody in your own family. Maybe it is your own spouse. Maybe there is manipulation and domination. Again, marriage is supposed to be loving. It is not supposed to be dominating and one party holding power. It is supposed to be love. Ultimately, we do confuse the two. There is a miscommunication. Just like the joke at the beginning of the Homily. Sometimes we misunderstand God and sometimes we miscommunicate with each other. That is where violence and sin comes from. But ultimately, He wants to build a kingdom of love.

May we truly enter into this Year of Mercy with hearts that are open to love. With hearts that are open to this kingdom, which is a totally different kingdom than we can imagine on Earth. It is not built on power. It is not built on wealth. It is not built on anything but love and mercy.

I was watching the television show “20/20” the other day. They were interviewing Donald Trump. Trump is the epitome of success, right? He is the one percent. They were showing his penthouse. It is a $100,000,000 space in New York City. From all around, you can see all of New York City. Everything is laced in gold. It was designed after Versailles to look like a beautiful palace. During the interview, Mr. Trump was asked this question: "If you were made President of the United States, what would it be like for you to ‘downsize’ to the White House?" For most people, moving into the White House is like a dream come true. You are moving into this palace, this wonderful mansion. But what would it be like to downsize? Donald Trump was asked the question, "Do you think you would be successful? Are you successful?" As he looked around, he had the camera man look around. He said, "I think I would consider myself pretty successful.”

Look at all of the gold and all of the opulence. However, that is not what the kingdom of God is about. The kingdom of God is not built on wealth, power, or control. It is built on love and mercy. It is so different from what our world sees as successful. As we come to the end of this liturgical year and enter into this Year of Mercy, may we truly allow God to rein in our hearts. May we allow the communication to be true communication where His truth, the truth that He came into the world, is that He desires to build a kingdom of love and a kingdom of mercy.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Billiards and the End of Time

CNN Reported that Parisians woke up Saturday to a full realization of the horror brought by the terrorist attacks of the previous evening — a violence deadlier than anything Paris has experienced since World War II.

And no place, it seemed was safe.  Coordinated attacks took place in six locations throughout Paris late Friday, including a theater, the State de France, and at least two restaurants. 

Reporters say that we do not know if other attackers are at large and police are searching for any possible attackers or accomplices. 

The "scale and complexity" of the Paris attacks "surprised everyone.".

Terrorism experts expected some kind of attack, but did not think ISIS would be able to carry off something on this scale. 

This might give us a glimpse of what the "End Times" may be like.

Audio Version Available - Click To Listen

In those days, I Daniel, 
heard this word of the Lord:
"At that time there shall arise
Michael, the great prince,
guardian of your people;

it shall be a time unsurpassed in distress
since nations began until that time.

The violence and terrorism experienced in Paris is a great distress, much like that experienced here in the United States on 9/11, but the end of times we hear will be a time of violence "unsurpassed in distress"!
Pope Francis condemned Friday night’s Paris massacre, calling the attacks a part of a disorganized World War III.

I am close to the people of France, to the families of the victims, and I am praying for all of them,” the Pontiff said Saturday, according to the Vatican Radio.I am moved and I am saddened. I do not understand — these things are hard to understand.”  

That is the reality of the time of great distress, we cannot fathom or understand when or what will happen.

Mark, in his Gospel gives us this paradox:

In the same way, when you see these things happening,
know that he is near, at the gates. 

But of that day or hour, no one knows,
neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

So what do we do in the meantime?  Are we supposed to be people paralyzed by fear, evil and terrorism?

The answer is "NO"!

In fact, at every mass we pray these words in what's called the "Embolism" which is the short prayer after the Our Father... It's a prayer of deliverance from all of this.  

Deliver us, Lord, we pray, from every evil, graciously grant peace in our days, that, by the help of your mercy, we may be always free from sin and safe from all distress, as we await the blessed hope and the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

These readings both in scripture and in the newspaper should challenge us with the reality that our lives on this earth will have an end.  As we come to the end Ordinary Time and our Church year, with Advent coming in the next few weeks, we are challenged to take a look at our lives and see if there is anything we need to do to prepare for the coming of the Lord.

Hopefully we are living in such a way that we could die today and be at peace.  

Ultimately we are all called to be so converted in this life that everything we do glorifies the Lord and we in no way fear His coming.  

There's a rather playful story of this reality in the life of St. Charles.  

In the 1500s St. Charles Borromeo was the Archbishop of Milan.  He and couple of other priests were playing a game of Billiards.  While the game was going on, one of the priests said:  "What should we do if we knew that the last judgment would take place in an hour?"

One said:  "I would kneel down immediately and pray for the next hour, until the end of time came."

The next one said:  "I would go to one of you for confession and confess everything I did wrong in my entire life to have a clear conscience."

They waited to see what the Archbishop would say... after a moment of silence he bent over and stuck the ball with his stick and said:  "I should quietly continue to play the game, because I began it with the intention of honoring God."*†

This reply was of course totally unexpected and left a great impression that has been retold all these years later.  

"I should quietly continue the game... "

That is really the hope and the reality of living, -that we are all free and called to live.  

The truth is we can choose not to live in fear of terrorism, and instead with the grace of God live in union with His will for us... and we can quietly continue the game.

Now might be a good time to ask yourself, what would you do if you knew the end of time was coming in the next hour?  What would you do if you knew that your life could come to an end at any moment?  Is there anything you would change?

Regardless of your answer, we all should make a point to continue the game with the intention of honoring God

Here is a quick checklist to ensure we are doing just that. All of us should routinely make a point of asking ourselves these questions:
  • Do I have a deep intimate prayer life with God and feel his protection?
  • Is there anything that I do need to confess so that I don't have to live in fear, shame, guilt or anxiety?
  • Is there someone in my life that I need to make amends with?
  • If I were to die in the next hour would I be at peace?
  • Am I doing what God wants me to be doing with my life?
If the answer is 'no', you still have time left... only God knows how much.  

If the answer is 'yes', you are at peace... free from distress... living a life of prayer in union with God. Then "quietly continue to play the game" enjoying every moment of this life, and letting all of your actions be a praise to God.

*Adapted from: Anecdotes and Examples Illustrating the Catholic Catechism. Francis Spirag Benziger brothers, 1904 - Catechetics - 594 pages

†Special thanks to Fr. Kevin Estabrook for his homilies far enough in advance that they helped inspire this one!  Check out his blog here.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Advent Poustinia Retreat with Fr. Michael

December 18 & 19, 2015

This Advent season prepare for Christmas and make time for the quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud.

Cost: $70 

This overnight Retreat begins with dinner and a session on how to spend your time, and ends with dinner and sharing with the evening ending around 8pm.

24 Hours of Silence and Solitude. Prayer with Scripture. Fasting on Bread and Water... that's it! You and God!

A poustinia is a small sparsely furnished cabin or room where one goes to pray and fast alone in the presence of God.

Poustinia, a Russian word, means 'desert', a place to meet Christ in silence, solitude and prayer.

You will experience a very personal encounter with Christ.

Men and women who desire to grow closer with God can discover how the poustinia powerfully fulfills their yearning. Retreatents are invited to leave the noise and harried pace of daily life to enter a place of silence and solitude.

This is a wonderful retreat to help you grow closer to the Lord during the Season of Advent. 

 It will include prayer, fasting, scripture, and spiritual direction.

To Register or find out more contact:
Bob Glatz - 440-988-2231
Kathy Flynn - 440-988-2848 -
Tony Melendez- 440-653-0200

Beulah Beach
6101 West Lake Rd.
Vermilion, Ohio

Monday, November 9, 2015

Praying with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries

Recently Father Michael Denk sat down with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries. "Bishop Roger" (as he is affectionately known to many) is a former Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland. Having been 'retired' for the past two years, Bishop Roger remains very active within the Diocese and was gracious to let Father Michael spend some time with him while he was recovering from surgery not too long ago. The topic of discussion: prayer. Specifically Bishop Roger's prayer life; how does he pray and to whom (God the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit)? There is no right or wrong way to pray, and everyone prays differently -priests are no exception. So Father Michael thought it would be interesting to see how some of his brother priests pray as well as what advice they've given to others over the years looking to grow in their own prayer life. The resulting discussion has been compiled into a new and regular segment that will be posted to Father's blog, called "Praying with Priests". 

Join us for a conversation on prayer with Bishop Roger as he & Fr. Michael discuss his prayer life. Together they sit in his chapel, where Bishop Roger is in his favorite chair - a rocking chair which he call's his "prayer chair". And one could gather from its distinct creaky noise, the chair has gotten alot of use over the years - but that quickly dissolves as part of the ambiance of an intimate conversation on how a Bishop's life has been molded and formed around what the Benedictines consider the most important part of one's day, prayer.

Bishop Roger begins the conversation with his childhood. He is a product of what he calls "unusual parenting". His dad had studied in the seminary for 3 years, while his mother had spent 6 months with the Sisters of Charity at Saint Augustine. From his birth, their example was one of much importance and impact. In fact, it was the influence of his parents, that stemmed his desire for priesthood at an early age. 

Good formation was reinforced at home as child. As a young boy, Bishop Roger attended Catholic school and still remembers coming home having to memorize The Ten Commandments. He loved Mass so much that he would 'play Mass' as a child in the basement with his brother. He couldn’t wait until he was old enough to serve Mass, and as an altar server he began learning Latin. "It was a thrill for me", he recalls.

Bishop Roger says that he first felt the presence of God at his First Communion. He recalls it to be the “most thrilling moment" of his life, and to this day, the Mass remains the most integral part of his life. 

Bishop Roger went on to attend Benedictine High School, and it was through the encouragement of his varsity high school football coach that Mass and the Eucharist became part of his daily life. "Everyone shares in the priesthood of Jesus Christ through the Mass", says Bishop Roger.

After graduating, he became a member of the Benedictine Order at Saint Andrew’s Abbey, and was ordained on May 18, 1963. 

Bishop Roger looks at the Trinity as the three roles that God has – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. His favorite prayer is one of gratitude – for the gifts that he has been given in his capacity as Father, then Abbot, and later Bishop, to bring others closer to Heaven. 

The Sacraments Are A Sacred Moment of Prayer

Even to a Bishop, the concept of the afterlife is still mesmerizing, yet in a true sign of his faith – Bishop Roger says that "everything is possible with God and that evokes more joy than fear". One shouldn't be afraid of death, it is such a sacred time. In fact, Bishop Roger looks at every experience from Baptism to the Anointing of the Sick as a sacred moment of prayer. It is through the sacraments that God touches our life. One of his favorite and most performed sacraments is that of Confirmation, as it is a time for the evangelization of our youth.

Bishop Roger also loves the symbolism found in the sacraments that is much too often easily overlooked because "that's just the way it's always been done." His response is "Well, why has it always been done that way?" Much of it goes back to the Old Testament, such as the 'laying on of hands' -which is a symbol of sacrifice. In the Sacrament of Confirmation, through the 'laying on of hands', one is giving themselves over to God. That in itself is a sacrificial gift and it is in Confirmation that one becomes a full member of the Body of Christ. The 'anointing of oil' is more than just a symbol, it’s a fact that Jesus has claimed you as His own, and through that it is your obligation to speak God’s word by how you live your life.

As a Father, then an Abbot, and now Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Roger has been in Church administration his whole life. A humble man, he has taken the opportunity on many occasions throughout his life to give thanks to God for giving him the gifts to serve within these roles. Bishop Roger admits that no one is perfect, and yes "even Bishops sin", but that is why the Sacrament of Reconciliation is so important. "Confession is like a trip to the doctor for a check-up", he says. It's essential for everyone to go routinely, no matter if we are healthy or not. And if we aren't healthy, it's an opportunity for healing.

Bishop Roger and Father Michael prior to celebrating one of the most frequent 
sacraments administered by a bishop, the Sacrament of Confirmation

Prayer Comes First

Now, just two years into his 'retirement' as Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus, Bishop Roger says that what he misses most is the opportunity for community prayer. He loves offering Mass each day devotedly in his chapel and does so for the Sisters of Notre Dame, but would prefer offering Mass for God's people. He says, "It's just not the same when you say 'The Lord Be With You', and you don't get a response, because there is no congregation."

Community prayer has been an inspiration to Bishop Roger since his days back at the monastery. He recalls, of his fellow brothers that "no matter what their job was, or where they've been, or how hard they worked, everyone was there for prayer."

In the monastery,  particularly within the Benedictine Order, prayer always comes first and they stop 7 times a day to pray -everything else is scheduled around their prayer time. This comes from the Benedictine motto, 'Tora et labora' which literally translates to 'pray and work' . Notice 'pray' comes before 'work'.

The Benedictine way is to put prayer first then do what needs to be done. Lay people too can and should put prayer first in life. If we make it a priority to set aside time every day –just for 5 minutes– it takes discipline, but you will soon come to find it less of a burden and more of a source of energy, enthusiasm and grace in carrying on the work of the rest of your day.

Another life altering routine that Bishop Roger recommends everyone get into is a quick examination of conscious before bed every night. It's as simple as reflecting on your day and asking God, "How am I doing?" and "Am I living up to what He is asking me to do?"

There is no right or wrong way to pray, we all pray differently. Priests are required to pray the Diving Office, which is the official prayer of the Church (lay people can pray it too). The Diving Office consists of readings throughout the day, along with hymns, psalms, a canticle, and other vocal prayer such as 'The Lord’s Prayer'.

However, there are many less 'organized' ways to prayer. Mediation is great for lowering your blood pressure and it is the method of prayer that Bishop Roger prefers. People get caught up in trying to overdue mediation sometimes, then they get frustrated because they are trying too hard - all you need is some quiet time, then begin by initiating a dialogue with Jesus. Talk to Him about your life as you would a friend – tell Him what you are doing and how you are living your life. Before you know it, you will develop an inner dialogue with Him.

This can be much easier said that done, especially with the constant interruption of modern technology. Life today is full of distractions, it's easy to loose concentration and harder for busy people to be able to relax. Bishop Roger's advice for people struggling to pray or grow in their prayer life is to set aside just a few minutes each day to unplug. If you can free your mind from all distraction, even just for a few minutes each day, making a priority to put yourself in the presence of Jesus, than eventually (after some discipline) once you put yourself into it, you can begin to feel it.

A good place to do this is in Adoration in front of the Blessed Sacrament, because you are putting yourself in the presence of the Lord in the Eucharist. Whether you're a beginner, or have been away from the Church for awhile, or are grieving the death of a loved one, where better to go than directly to Jesus in the form of the Eucharist?

To listen to the entire interview with Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Roger Gries, please click on the button below.