Most Effective Ways to Pray with our Family During the Coronavirus Crisis

I never thought this day would come—the day that I would be unable to celebrate the Eucharist for weeks.  I can relate more literally with Jesus who felt great sadness at the amount of people looking to be fed, with no one to feed them, at the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36).

I am sure some have felt very troubled and maybe even abandoned regarding the recent directives from the diocese to limit gatherings over 50 people, and consequently, cancelling all liturgies for the foreseeable future to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.  Here’s what I believe:

  1. I believe that the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life.
  2. I believe that gathering as God’s people to give God thanks and praise is paramount in the Christian life.
  3. I know that these beliefs are shared by Bishop Walkowiak.
  4. Thus, I believe that the only reason we are cancelling Mass for the next few weeks is because this is what our Bishop, and in an indirect way our Governor and President, truly believe is best for the safety of others by slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

That leaves us with at least four weekends where we will not gather as a Church to pray.  This begs the question, “How can my family pray, worship, and give thanks to God?” over these next few weeks. Here are a few suggestions.

  1.  Keep Holy the Sabbath: This seems so simple but it so important for us while our routine is broken.  It is very important for families to continue to treat Sunday as day we give to God.  So, the number one thing we can do in our family life, is remember: this day is God’s day. The following list can be all together or split up through-out the day.  The key: do what works for you and your family.
    1. Pray with the Scriptures: as a family sit down and read the readings together.  Take some time reflecting together about each reading.  What did we learn?  What surprised you?  What was confusing?  Where is God giving me hope through these words?
    1. Watch and Listen: to Bishop Walkowiak’s homily on the diocesan Facebook page.  And/Or, watch and listen to Fr. Len’s homily on the St. Robert’s Facebook page. Of course, Bishop Barron too posts his weekly homilies and these are a good option as well to learn. Reading a reflection from “Give us this Day”, “the little Black Lenten Books”, or from “Word Among Us” also work well.  All these options allow our shepherds to continue to spiritually feed us and keep us connected with the Church.
    1. Petition: After reflecting on the Word, as a family discuss people that we want to pray for.  Who is struggling?  Who is sick? Pray especially for our health professional who are working around the clock during this crisis. Who has an important event coming up?  Pray for world leaders.  Pray for church leaders.  Pray for those who might lose their jobs during these uncertain economic times.  Spend time as a family to pray for others that we are connected to in our lives.
    1. Ask for Prayers:  This is simple but has the potential to be an intimate experience of prayer for your family. Ask each other in your family for prayers.  Answer the question: “how can you pray for me?” and “I need God’s help with…”
    1. Seek Forgiveness and Reconciliation: At every mass we seek a new beginning.  We remember that we are sinner’s in need of God’s mercy. It would be good to participate in an examination of conscience as a family. Is there any family member that I hurt this week with my words or actions?  Have I said sorry?  Have I forgiven someone for the words or actions done to me?  Am I willing to forgive? Then Peter approaching asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times (Mt 18: 21-22). Conclude by praying the Act of Contrition together.
    1. Give Thanks: During family dinner on Sunday, take some time during the meal to go around the table and share things that we want to give thanks to God.
    1. Spiritual Communion: After family dinner conclude prayer by making a spiritual communion with anticipation for the next time we can gather at Mass:

Lord Jesus, 
We believe that You
are present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. 
As a family, we love You above all things, 
Since we cannot at this moment
receive You sacramentally, 
come at least spiritually into our hearts. We embrace You as if You were already there and unite ourselves wholly to You. And never permit us to be separated from You. Amen.

  • During the Week: Consider how praying for others and giving thanks to God can be a daily part of our family’s pattern of life. For example, as we prepare for bed at night.
  • On Fridays: Pray the stations of the cross or pray the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary together as a family.

This time away from sacraments is not ideal. But God can make a something great out of a negative experience.  Without Jesus’ crucifixion there is no resurrection.  Without the original sin of Adam and Eve, there is no savior.   Maybe this time that we are unable to come together as a community to pray, can be a time to strengthen the intimate bonds of the family in personal and intentional prayer together.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

What makes your heart sing?

Passion!

I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!  Jesus is asking us, are you on fire? or, what are you passionate about? Another way to ask that question is, what makes your heart sing?

Last year, I was celebrating the 4pm Christmas Eve mass at my previous parish.  We were filled to the brim.  Probably almost 1500 people were there for that one Mass.  And I was emotional at the start of that Mass.  I was overwhelmed by how many people came to celebrate Christ’s birth. I am passionate about people coming to know Jesus Christ.

I have been thinking about that question a lot lately. I have been reading a book about TED talks and the author proposes that question to the reader.  What makes your heart sing?  His advice: find what you passionate, on fire… find what makes your heart sing and talk about it.

So, what makes my heart sing?

As I think about this question, what comes to mind are the types of shows and movies I like to watch. They all share an important quality.  They show the goodness of humanity.  For example, I’ve been watching America’s Got Talent this summer.  One great moment on this show came a couple of years ago. A woman came on the show to sing a song. But, as Simon quickly noticed, the young woman had an interpreter… because she can’t hear. She lost her hearing when she was 18. She even gave up on singing until she was about 25 and decided to try.  Now on the show, she was 29 and she had learn how to sing even with her inability to hear. She wrote and sang a song about trying. It was one of the most inspirational things I had seen about someone who has persevered and continues to bless the world with the gifts God has given her. I am inspired by her story.

One of my favorite moments was when an 11-year-old boy wowed the judges with his violin talent.  But it was even more amazing because he had cancer when he was 4 and now is in remission.  The song he chose was Stronger by Kelly Clarkson.  Simon gave him the golden buzzer.  This young man’s talent, his passion, his love for music, and his joy made this a beautiful moment.

When I was younger, the priest I grew up with made my heart sing.  I was at a funeral for the grandfather of one of my closest friends.  My friend was the lector for the second reading and he was overcome with emotion.  The priest walked over put his hand on his shoulder and helped my friend finish, in his moment of grief, to finish the reading.  I think this was a major moment for me in considering the priesthood. 

What makes my heart sing?  My heart sings when I see people encounter something beautiful and good, because I believe it is in encountering the beautiful and good that we experience the divine—that we experience God!  People experiencing God’s beauty, His goodness, and his love.  It’s why I became a priest. It’s what I’m passionate about.  It’s what makes my heart sing.

It is what I am passionate about.  I have come to set the earth on fire, Jesus says, and how I wish it were already blazing!

Brothers and Sisters, we must become fire!  This is Christ’s message for us.  Imagine how the earth could be on fire if our hearts were all inflamed with the love of Christ. How true and needed this is in our world today!? What makes our hearts sing?  Jesus wants our answer to be him.  He makes our heart sing, so that we Go out to all the world and tell the Good News!

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Faith – Jesus Christ Loves You

Pope Francis wrote faith is dependent on the first proclamation; that first time we realized God’s love in our lives. “Jesus Christ loves you;” he tells us, “he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you” (EG, 164). Faith doesn’t just depend on this, it lives on this.

This is the secret to having Faith. Let God love you and let yourself love him in return.

This is why this parish exists.  The church is the place where people of Faith belong.  Where all of God’s children; those whom he loves, belong. Faith recognizes that we belong.  I belong, you belong with God and each other for all eternity.  Faith presupposes, or rather comes out of our conviction, our belief that each of us has been saved by Christ, and loved by him totally and completely.

In our second reading, in the letter to the Hebrews, we heard that Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.

Faith is the realization of what is hoped for. What is that thing that we are hoping for?  It is to live, with all of the angels and saints, in God’s life and love for all eternity in the kingdom of heaven. What we hope for is an end to all violence, suffering, and division.  We long for a world of peace, unity, and love.  And so active faith is convinced of God’s love and promises that it perseveres through the difficulties of this world.

Second, it is the evidence of things not seen. Faith is the evidence of the things not seen… Faith is belonging with God because of our belief that God desires so much that   This is about works of charity.  That the way we act, the way we treat each other is evidence for what is unseen.  That is, our personal relationship with God.  By personal— I mean that it is intimate— not that it is private.  One’s faith is never for himself alone, but to be shared with others.  Faith is that interior, personal, experience of the God who loves me.  It is made evident by our behavior. Because I live in the reality that I am a beloved, I will treat you as a beloved as well. Active faith is a vigilant faith. One that responds daily to the demands of charity owed to each other and to our Father in heaven.

These are the three marks of active faith.  Faith convinces us that we belong because we have a God who loves us, Faith encourages us to trust and hope in God’s providence, and Faith inspires us to act as God does—to love as he loves…. why?  Because he loved us first.   

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

What are you living for?

“I love this life.” She told them. “I wish you all could just live it for a little while just to see. It’s so peaceful. I just feel like I’m not under-living life. I’m living it to the full” (Article ESPN, “Whatever happens to Villanova basketball star Shelly Pennefather? ‘So I made this deal with God.’, Elizabeth Merrill). These words were said by Shelly Pennefather. She holds the record for most points scored in Villanova basketball history. Her words spark a question for us all to pray about this weekend: what are we living for?

So, I’m a big sports fan. The people of my parish know this (visiting IHM this weekend). Admittedly, I read sports news every day; multiple times a day. Recently, Yahoo Sports released an article entitled, “The Most Tortured NFL Fan Bases”… Immediately my heart fell because I expected to see the Lions at the top of the list… And here were the top 5: 1. Giants, 2. Jets, 3. Redskins, 4. Falcons, and our beloved 5. Detroit Lions…

You would think that the Lions being number 5 on the list would make me happy. But it didn’t. I couldn’t believe it. I read this list and I thought, those fan bases are not more tortured than us. And the very fact that I was jealous is indicative just how miserable of an experience it can be to be a Lions fan. Then I thought about it, the Giants have two super bowls, the Jets have playoff victories, the redskins have a division title, and the falcons have been to the Super Bowl… All in the past 15 years. And our lions have none of those things. But here’s what they do have, an 0-16 season!

I do love the Lions, and I promise I have a point… I don’t think I can express adequately enough the great joy I would have if they ever won a Super Bowl in my lifetime. But… Here is the sobering thought. What would my life be like the next day, week, or year after that great moment? Would I look back at the Detroit Lions Super Bowl win and say, “that moment is what made life worth living?” It sounds silly doesn’t it? To find meaning in the Detroit Lions really is a silly goal in life… The point of this weekend is simple, nothing worldly… nothing worldly makes life worth living. There is only the one necessary thing, and remember we were told what that one necessary thing is. Jesus, a few weeks back spoke to Martha and Mary, the one necessary thing is a loving relationship with God — that truly makes life worth living.

And Jesus challenges us this weekend, brothers and sisters, take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions. One’s life does not consist of possessions. The man in our Gospel wanted to hoard his wealth and build a bigger barn. What is the bigger barn for us? For some of us it might be our love for sports… and yes even the Detroit Lions. For others of us that bigger barn could be our money, or our homes. And for others of us, that bigger barn could be the newest and best technology. The point is this, Jesus wants us to let go of our “bigger barn.” Our worldly signs of success and security. He desires for us to leg go of our disordered need for worldly things, and instead hold on to the one necessary thing— our loving God.

“I love this life.” She says. “I wish you all could just live it for a little while just see.” I started my homily with these words. I told you they were said by Shelly Pennefather. A young woman who holds the record for the most points in Villanova women’s basketball. But she goes by another name, Sr. Rose Marie. She left a promising career in professional basketball where she was making good money. She found that her life was fulfilled by the one necessary thing, and that she was called to pray for the world. Her college coach Harry Peretta said in his appreciation for her vocation, “‘I didn’t understand it at first,’ Peretta said. ‘But if you believe in the power of prayers, then [cloistered nuns] are doing more for humanity than anybody’”, he continues, “‘I want people to understand that they’re not weird or different or strange,’ [perretta] said. ‘They’re normal people who decided to take on this calling for humanity.’”

We are called to love the life we are living. And we do this in two ways: 1) by holding on to the one necessary thing—our relationship with God. 2) Rather than living for the things of this world, we live for God just like Sr. Rose Marie lives for God. And, since I am visiting Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish this weekend, I want to take this moment to encourage vocations a to the priesthood and religious life. Following the lord and living a life for God is a not a burden. It’s a happy one. Sr. Rose Marie loves her life and that she is not under-living. She lives a very fulfilled life. Priesthood is the same. Being a priest for the Lord is an incredible joy. To the world, it looks like we give up everything good, everything that seemingly makes us happy. But I promise, I life lived for God is one worth living. May we pray for young men and women to respond to God’s call. And may we too, live our lives for God, I life worth living!

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

August 4 – Fr. Stephen: What are you living for?

God Listens

God listens.

As we begin to reflect on this weekend’s readings, it is important to remember that Jesus is responding to the scholar of the law that approached him a few weeks ago and asked, What must I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus replied you shall love the Lord with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.  And Jesus used the story of the Good Samaritan to teach us that our duty to love neighbor has no limits.  We are called to love everyone, period.  Today, he continues to teach us how to love God by teaching us how to pray.   

When we pray do we believe that someone is listening?  It seems obvious doesn’t it?  But if we really think about it, this is something we all have doubted at some point.  Or maybe some of us, right now, are doubting this weekend. Is God really listening to me?  Does God really care? Why aren’t my prayers being answered?  

Prayer is mysterious.  And it also challenges our faith. But its vital for our faith.  It’s where we strengthen our relationship with God, receive from Him what we need, and pray for ourselves and others.  

Abraham, in our first reading, is not afraid to ask God for something hard.  Not only is he not afraid, but he asks God again and again and again… He is persistent.  But notice, God listens to Abraham each time.  Our God is listening. 

Prayer may be mysterious.  But it is vital to our spiritual lives.  A spiritual life without prayer will die.  And we won’t pray, if we do not believe that our God is listening.  

Jesus teaches us to pray the most perfect prayer.  A prayer that God listens to.  We begin by addressing God as “Our Father”. Prayer is where we learn that God really cares.  Jesus invited us into this beautiful relationship he shares with the Father.  He made it possible for us “ordinary individuals” to “regularly address God as ‘Father’” (CCSC, 219).  It is important for us to receive God’s love for each of us as his sons and daughters.  But just as important, we need to go to Him as a Father,  to know that he is listening to us, that he wants to know us, and that he wants to love us.  God listens. 

Our God wants to give us what we need.  That is why Jesus teaches us to pray, Give us our daily bread… Father, give us what we need! But he can only give us what we need if we tell him.  As a boy, I struggled mightily with perfectionism. And I loved math.  I remember in middle school I was really struggling with my math homework.  And my parents wanted to help me.  But when they offered I freaked out.  I was so mad that I couldn’t do it myself, that I couldn’t ask for help.  And so, my parents were unable to help me.  Not because they didn’t want to, but because I wouldn’t let them give me what I needed.  God wants to help us.  But we have to tell him, what we need. Yes, he already knows what we need, just as my parents did, but He can only help us if we too confess our need for him. God listens. 

As the Our Father concludes, we pray that we may be safe from evil.  Do we trust that God is listening to our prayers of petitions for others?  Just the other day, I was praying with someone from Saint Roberts, and she asked me to pray for specific intention for her grandson.  And so we did.  The next day, she came to me and said, that right after we prayed, our prayers were answered.  God listens. 

Jesus reminds us, Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  Let us be persistent in prayer, because Our God listens.

In Christ’s love and friendship,

Fr. Stephen

July 28 – Fr. Stephen: God Listens

Our Christian Baseline

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

What is our baseline? 

A couple of years ago, I had an internship at St. Mary’s hospital.  I was able to participate in rounds on the floor that I was seeing patients on.  One of the phrases I learned right away was patient is at baseline, or patient’s numbers are returning to baseline.  Basically, this means there numbers are returning to the norm, and to where they should be at.

Moses wants to return the Israelites to their baseline in our first reading.  They received the Law years ago, but now it has become familiar.  It no longer means much to them anymore, so Moses is calling them back to the Law and to God. Return to the lord your God with all your heart and all your soul.  Return to your baseline. 

Our readings this weekend give us the baseline for a Christians.  They tell us what needs to be present at minimum in every Christian.  The baseline for all Christians is this: 1) confess there is a God and that we are not him, 2) to be known and loved by God and to know and love God in return, and 3) to love our neighbor as God loves us.  This is baseline Christianity. 

Everything starts with confessing that there is a God and we are not him.  This is what Moses is reminding the Israelites.  This is so important for us today. If we recognize that there is a God who created us and this world, then we also will recognize that God created this world with order and purpose.  If we do not, then we think we are our own masters or our own gods… this is fundamental to know that we are not god.

After confessing that there is a God and we are not Him, we are called to experience a loving relationship with God.  This is the greatest gift.  All of us have a desire to know and to be known by someone.  What greater gift is there in this life than to be known and to know our God? We do this through prayer, Mass, the Scriptures and the Sacraments; where we experience the love of God in our lives.

Finally, as we heard in our Gospel this morning, love of neighbor is a non-negotiable in the Christian life.

After WWII, Stanley Milgram wanted to understand why so many nazi soldiers claimed, “we were just following orders.” Could this really be the case?

So he developed an experiment that remains controversial to this day.  He found volunteers help with what they called a science experiment.  The volunteers came in and played the teacher.  They were instructed to deliver an electric shock to the student when the student answered a question wrongly. There were different levels of shock, mild, somewhat severe, to severe.  The greater the severity the greater the chance for health risks.

There were variations to the experiment.  In one variation of the experiment, the teacher was in the room, but merely pressed the button that delivered the shock. In the other variation of the experiment the teacher was in a different room where he could neither see/hear the student.  He was merely told when the student got a question wrong, and to press the button to give the shock.

What Milgram found out was that the proximity to the student mattered.  For the teacher that was in the same room with the student sixty five-percent of the teacher-volunteers refused to continue delivering shocks once they were asked to deliver more severe shocks.  Here’s the terrifying part, for the volunteers that were in a different room, and could not hear the or see the pain of the student, only 35% refused to continue. 

What Milgram really found out is separation or abstraction, when we cannot see the person we are inflicting pain on, we are more likely to consent in negative behaviors.

For example, why is it so easy for us to gossip?  To bring it home, how often do we gossip with the person right in front of us?  Rarely, because if that person was around us, we would see the pain we are causing.  But when we talk about a person with others while that person is not with us, it is so much easier to gossip about that person. Because in that moment, that person remains an idea, and we cannot see the pain we are inflicting…

Jesus gives us a non-negotiable to Christian life.  He confirms for us that love of neighbor is a part of baseline Christianity.  One-hundred percent of the time, he says, we are called to meet the needs of the person who is right in front of us. Not just when they are in front of us but even when they are not in front of us.  Whether people are there in our midst concretely or in the abstract, we are always called to love our neighbor.

Moses encouraged the Israelites to return to the Lord with all their heart and soul.  May we too return to the Lord by returning to our baseline as Christians; as a people who believe in God, love him and love our neighbor.

In Christ’s love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen

Listen to the Homily: https://www.strobertchurch.org/sermons/july-14-fr-stephen-our-christian-baseline/

Do we bring peace and joy?

The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so, ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. How appropriate are these words for us today?  In the past, associates would have had 6-10 years as an associate before leading a parish.  Here, at Saint Robert’s, you had to say goodbye to Fr. Mulhall after only three years…  The Lord needed Fr. Mulhall and sent him to Holy Redeemer to minister to the people of Jenison.  Goodbyes are hard, but I think I am not alone in my belief that Fr. Colin is going to thrive as a shepherd of God’s people.  Some of you know that Fr. Colin and I are childhood friends.  It is a humbling and a great joy to follow him here at Saint Robert’s.  I can assure all of you, that Fr. Colin has had the same experience as the 72 disciples who in our Gospel returned rejoicing.  Fr. Colin experienced many blessings here at St. Roberts.

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves… We are reminded by these words, that Christ is sending all of us here out on mission.  Notice, this mission was not just the 12, it was to 72.  The fact that he sent out 72 shows us that Christ intends to send many out on mission.  The mission is not just for the 72 in our Gospel.  This mission is for each of us now.  Each of us has been chosen and has also been sent.  We too are disciples who are sent by Christ to bring the peace and joy that comes from God into the world.  That is the purpose of our mission.  

Behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves…  This statement from Christ explains how we are to act on our mission.  When we go, we are to go not as warriors, or wolves, who bring violence, death, and division.  No, we are to go as lambs in order to have the personality of a lamb where we will bring peace, joy, and life.  

But we are sent like lambs among wolves partly because we are not guaranteed that it will be easy or free from anxiety.  Sometimes, the mission will be hard.  But Jesus asks us to go anyway. Why? Because just like Fr. Colin, Christ needs us to help Him carry out his mission.  And sometimes, it might be hard to leave where we are comfortable to go and serve the Lord.  And sometimes, it might be hard because the people do not want to hear the Good News. But we are called to go anyway…  The reason we go is this:  we are so convinced by Christ’s love, joy, and peace in our lives, that we want to give that same love, joy, and peace to others.

Here’s the best part, Jesus tells us how to do it.  He equips us with everything that we need for this mission. So, your mission, our mission, should you choose to accept it, (see what I did there?), is to be like these 72. In the movie, Mission Impossible, there were times when Ethan Hunt, went ill-equipped for a mission and his safety was far from a guarantee. Hence the name, Mission Impossible. This mission that Christ gives us may not seem possible, easy, or appealing. But, listen to these words from our savior again, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals. In other word, don’t bring what you think you need, Jesus says, instead have a radical trust in me.  Christ promises us that all we need for this mission is our friendship with him. With His help, the help that comes from the Holy Spirit, do we have the hope to carry out this mission.  And we do have it!  We have been equipped by Christ by our baptism and confirmation!  Our mission is not impossible, but it requires relying on God’s help and grace!

This is “[our] mission … to announce his coming, to present him to the [others], to open their hearts to faith, and to arouse in them a desire for his coming.” (TLY, 316)

The words of our Gospel this morning I find very moving.  They are a great encouragement for me also as I begin my time here at Saint Robert’s. I have been sent here by Bishop Walkowiak, to live in residence.  I have received lots of questions about what that means. I’ll be honest, I really don’t know.  But we will learn together. The main thing that it means is that my full-time job is with the diocese.  Bishop’s mission for me right now, is to help Christ find laborers for the harvest as the Vocations Director for the diocese.  With that said, I do not intend for this role to preclude me from loving and ministering to all of you.  My hope is that, I, along with Fr. Len and the pastoral staff here at St. Robert’s, are all able to bring each of you into a deeper relationship with God.  It is a hope, most likely, shared by each of you.  And so, these words for me have been an encouragement and a challenge: How will I enable God to bring his peace and joy to each of you? And that same encouragement and challenge is for each of us this weekend: How are we allowing God to bring his peace and joy to others through our ministry.  We have been chosen and sent.  My we too experience the great joy of bringing peace and joy to others as the 72 did in our Gospel. We’ll pray for one another as we begin our time together at Saint Robert’s.  I’m excited to be here, and God bless you all.

In Christ’s Love and Friendship,

Fr. Stephen