Category Archives: Homily

Deacon Harold Down Under for the Year of Faith! Full Tour Schedule

Leaving today for Australia. Here is the preview video for my Year of Faith Australian Tour (October 11-23, 2012):

The Tour Dates (click on the event for details):

October 11-12: Perth (National Catholic Conference)

October 13: Perth (Catholic Men’s Retreat)

October 14: Perth (Homily at 5:00pm Mass)

October 15: Perth (Catholic Youth Rally)

October 16: Melbourne

October 17-21: Sydney

October 22: Brisbane

October 23: Sydney

Please pray for me and for all who will attend the events!

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In the World But Not of the World

The Church speaks clearly and unambiguously about the dignity of human life, yet we live in a secular world that exposes us to a variety of ideas that are incompatible with the truth of faith.  “We live in a world where objective moral norms are treated as mere rules and regulations that can be dismissed when they become too demanding: that regard, for example, sexual differences as merely anatomical, biological and functional leading to the acceptance of contraception, pornography, abortion and sex outside of marriage between one man and one woman.  We live in a world that regards incurable illness as an indication that the body and the person have outlived their usefulness, thus promoting [euthanasia and] physician-assisted suicide” (Bishop Samuel Aquila, 2004 Pastoral Letter on Truth, nos. 9, 11, 10).

We are deafened by the raucous discord of the culture of political correctness that will, if left unchallenged by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, erode the spiritual foundation upon which our faith is built, all in the name of “tolerance” and “diversity,” and at the expense of authentic truth and freedom.  We often “reject the principle that we must accept the beauty and truth of what the Church believes and teaches, thinking instead that we can pick and choose what to believe.  Instead of trying to internalize the faith and treat it as the standard for judging the values of the unbelieving culture that surrounds us, we all too often judge which Church teachings to accept on the basis of whether the teaching conforms to the values of the surrounding culture” (Bishop Samuel Aquila, 2004 Pastoral Letter on Truth, no.6).  Jesus did not die so that His truth could be changed by the culture; Jesus gave His life and died so that He could transform the culture with His truth!

Jesus says that if your hand or foot or eye causes you to sin, cut them off: it is better to enter life in the Kingdom of God than go to Hell (see Mark 9:47).  We must cut off and separate ourselves from all sinful acts that weaken the culture of life.  We must never forget that certain Church teachings in the area of faith and morals can never change, regardless of whether or not people accept them or are faithful to them (Bishop Samuel Aquila, 2004 Pastoral Letter on Truth, no.7). We as Christians are in the world but not of the world, and we cannot accept the Jiminy Cricket philosophy of “let your conscience be your guide” that “suggests that we are responsibly following our conscience when we knowingly replace Christ’s teaching with the world’s opinions” (Bishop Samuel Aquila, 2004 Pastoral Letter on Truth, no.21). If we are to free ourselves from the slavery of this culture of death, we must remove ourselves from the darkness and confusion of sin so that the light of God’s life and truth may shine brightly upon us.

©2012 Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Discovering God’s Mercy and Will

Earlier this week, I received an email from a woman who recently broke-up with her fiancé.  She wrote, “I was accepting it as God’s will.  However, a friend told me that God doesn’t micromanage the world … He just wants me to be happy with whatever that may be.  That confused me so much … it’s almost easier for me to think that my breakup was God’s will.  Can you give me any insight to what it means to do God’s will? What is God’s will?”

I replied, “Ultimately, God’s will is not about a single person or a moment in time but our entire life.  God seeks intimate, personal, loving and life-giving communion with us, and the fulfillment of His will comes when we unreservedly seek the same kind of relationship with Him.  This is not about emotion or feelings but the mysterious encounter with the Living God in everyday life, even in the midst of pain and suffering.  When you pray, ask God that His holy will be done in your life always and at all times, and let His will unfold.  Don’t try to find God’s will under every rock.  If you are patient, His Will will become clear.”

Sometimes it’s not easy to know and to do God’s will.  We know that we need to pray but so often struggle to maintain an active and fruitful prayer life amidst the busyness and chaos of the world around us.  We know that God calls us to live according to His law and His truth, yet we struggle every day to say “yes” to God: to end bad habits and vices, to break the cycle of physical and emotional abuse, to control addiction and sinful desires.  Sometimes our weakness overwhelms us and the Cross feels so heavy that we buckle under its weight.  Yet, it is when we are down that the Lord lifts us up, it is when we’re not looking that the Lord seeks and finds us, it is when we are weak that Christ is strong!

This joyous season of Easter, when we celebrate Christ’s triumph over death and the outpouring of the Heavenly Father’s limitless mercy, is a time to seek forgiveness, a time for strengthening our relationship with Christ, a time to be open to the Holy Spirit, a time to reflect on the meaning and purpose of our lives.  Prayer—particularly the Rosary and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy—as well as fasting opens our eyes and urges us to peer into the darkness of our spiritual poverty and pain—to come face-to-face with those desires within us that seek to separate us from Christ and His Church.  This is the time when we build up the courage to kick Satan to the curb and turn toward the voice of the Lord who calls us to life!

In order to hear the Lord calling us, we must do what the devil does not want us to do: acknowledge that we have turned away from God, then turn ourselves toward Him once more—to experience a deep conversion and a profound transformation of our hearts.  The Lord God—speaking His Word through the prophet Joel—shows us exactly how to do this: “Return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God.  For gracious and merciful is He, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment” (Joel 2:13).

The psalms give us the example of David who sought God’s mercy and forgiveness through his own conversion after his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, “My offenses, truly I know them.  My sin is always before me.  Against you, you alone have I sinned.  What is evil in your sight I have done” (Psalm 51:5-6).  Armed with the weapons of prayer and the sacraments, we “rend our hearts” turning back to our gracious and merciful God.  Yet we do not repent in order to be rewarded by God but to show our love and dedication to His Son; to show the world that our faith is a gift to be given and shared.

sign posts

Our Lord told Saint Faustina of the mercy He wants to give to the world, if only we will believe in His love.  If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that we are often lukewarm at best.  Sunday after Sunday we hear the Word of God and receive our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist and yet we walk away, for the most part, unchanged knowing full well that Christ is calling us to change our lives, to become one with Him, which means we must reject popular opinion and the ways of the world.  We allow ourselves just enough faith to be comfortable until that faith calls us to stand-up for the truth that makes us uncomfortable.  Then, like the Apostles, we lock the doors of our minds and hearts, cowering in the fear of being rejected and unpopular.

This is the depth of the love and mercy that God the Father has for us: His Son endured the cross, carrying the weight of our sins on his shoulders.  In His tremendous suffering, He was allowed to experience alienation from God and endured death, the ultimate consequence of sin.  But by His resurrection, Christ has conquered sin; He has triumphed over death and has shattered the gates of Hell.  To be one with Him, we must be willing to enter into and share in the sufferings of Christ, to become living witnesses of the Eucharistic Lord; to truly become what we receive.

Here is the bottom line: God’s love is so immense, its power so limitless, and its embrace so tender and intimate, that Love Himself brings forth life.  God has created us in His image and likeness, has written His law of love and life into our very being, and has allowed us to share in His very life.  God invites us through His Only Son, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, to draw deeply from the wellspring of salvation.  He invites us in the sacraments, most especially in Reconciliation and the Eucharist, to unite ourselves to Him in the deepest and greatest possible way.  He calls us to works of mercy to show that we love Him as much as He loves us.

Living in the heart of God’s divine mercy and will unites us with the Cross of Christ where we offer everything we have and everything we are in loving sacrifice to our heavenly Father in fulfillment of His Will.  As we carry our Cross along the way—as our shoulders bear the burdens of this life—let us cry out to God without fear and say, “Save me, O God, for the waters have risen to my neck.  I have entered the waters of the deep and the waves overwhelm me” (Psalm 69:1-2).  Yet we know that God, in His great love, will turn toward us with compassion—that He will open His heart and redeem us.  And when the day of rejoicing comes, let us praise God with the angels and saints, and sing with joy: “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good; for His love endures forever” (Psalm 118:29).

©2012 Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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New Year’s Resolutions … From a Mother’s Perspective

On this first day of the New Year, at a time when we remember the past with a sense of thankfulness (or relief!) and look forward to the future with renewed joy and hope, the Church, in her wisdom, draws our attention to Mary, the Blessed Mother of God and the perfect symbol of our relationship with Christ—past, present, and future.

When you love someone with all your heart, with the depths of your soul and with all your being, when you love someone with a love that is selfless and pure, you are willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of the other.  This is what the Father has done for us through the Blessed Virgin Mary: God has given us the gift of Himself in and through His Word, Jesus Christ, someone who would give his life so that we may have life in Him.

God has shown both the depth of his love and his abiding respect for the dignity of our human nature by becoming one of us.  By becoming enfleshed in the womb of Mary, God wants us to know that He understands what it’s like to live in the depths of poverty.  God wants us know that He understands what it’s like to experience great sadness and humiliation, unbelievable pain and suffering, and even the darkness of death itself.  God wants us to know we are not alone and shows us through the Blessed Mother that when we humble ourselves before our Loving God, open our hearts to His holy will, and devote ourselves completely to discipleship in Christ, then we too, by Mary’s perfect example of what it means to be fully human, can share in the divine life of the Trinity and participate in God’s saving plan for the destiny of all humanity.

Both men and women are made in God’s image and likeness (see Genesis 1:26-27) but, as Pope John Paul the Great stated so beautifully, women are more capable than men of paying attention to another person and that the man—even though he shares in the parenting relationship—always remains “outside” the process of pregnancy and the baby’s birth and in many ways he has to learn his own fatherhood from the mother (see Mulieris Dignitatem, 18).  It is in Mary’s fiat, in her “Yes” to the gift of motherhood—to the gift of life in cooperation with the Holy Spirit—that makes possible the sincere gift of fatherhood in Christ (see Ephesians 5:22-32).

A man, in his way of imaging God, points to God’s “otherness” and transcendence, whereas a woman, in her way of imaging God, points to God’s immanence and “withinness” since motherhood involves a special communion with the mystery of life as it develops in a woman’s womb.  In general, a woman’s sexual and personal identity are more interior, intimately linked to her being and “bodiliness,” whereas a man’s sexual and personal identity are more exterior, more closely associated with his actions and how he understands himself in relation to the external world.

The relationship, then, of “motherhood” in God is analogously related to the interior “withinness” of the Divine Persons, the intimate relationship and exchange of love and life between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The Blessed Virgin Mary participated in an intimate, life-giving relationship with God in an interior, bodily way that only a woman could.  In becoming one with the child in her womb, she became one with God Himself.  Like the Mother of God, the Church herself becomes “pregnant” with the Word Made Flesh each time we receive Jesus Christ Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.

“And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Having received the Eucharist, how do we give birth to God’s love and truth through this great gift of His Son?  How well do we bear the labor pains of ridicule from a society that mocks us because of our Catholic faith?  How do we give life and meaning to our faith amidst a culture of sin and death?  Mary shows us the way.  The Blessed Mother not only gave birth to God in her body but also through her example of quiet prayerfulness, deep humility, patient obedience, unwavering trust and enduring love.  She is, in a real sense, Mother of the Church and epitomizes for her sons and daughters the virtues we must make part of our own lives if we are to become the persons who God created us to be.

Therefore, it is with the heart and mind of the Virgin Mary, in completed obedience to the Father’s will, that we make resolutions for the New Year.  This way of thinking and being goes beyond resolving to lose weight, getting a new job, or going back to school (which are all very good things!)  The deeper question is: How is my life going to be a blessing to Christ this year?  Here are six suggestions:

1. Get to know Jesus more intimately: Read the Gospels for 15 minutes a day every day this year.

2. Spend personal time with Jesus: Spend one hour per week in the classroom of silence, that is, in Eucharistic Adoration.

3. Help Jesus with His work in the Church: Increase tithing by 5%.

4. Overcome the power of sin in your life: Monthly Reconciliation; daily Rosary; prayer and fasting!

5. Promote and foster vocations: Are we encouraging our children to consider vocations to the priesthood and religious life?  The most important question we can ask is not, “What do you want to be when you grow-up?” but rather “How did God speak to you today?” or “How did God use you today?”  By creating a prayerful atmosphere at home where we display holy objects and pictures, and actually pray with our children, we encourage them to cooperate with the grace of the Holy Spirit they have received in Baptism, Confirmation and the Eucharist.

6. Understand the teachings of Christ more deeply: Take time to learn what the Church teaches and why.  To assist you in making a deeper connection between the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and your every day life, I have written an e-book (along with a brand new CD and DVD) entitled, The Mass in Sacred Scripture.

The Mass in Sacred Scripture was inspired by the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy and its desire that “the treasures of the bible be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, no. 51).  The Mass in Sacred Scripture walks the reader through a brief history of the liturgical changes at Vatican II that led to the 2010 Roman Missal revision in English, provides the approved English text of the Roman Missal alongside the Scripture passages from which the Mass texts were derived, and shows the intimate connection between the Mass and the Bible.  The book ends with a short question and answer section designed to root what happens at Mass within the fertile soil of our every day lived experience.  The Mass in Sacred Scripture clearly shows that, without a doubt, the Catholic Church fosters great reverence and respect for the Word of God, and recognizes the vital role Sacred Scripture plays in the lives of the Church and her children.

How is my life going to be a blessing to Christ this year?  In short, by becoming more like Mary, “the woman through whom was born the Son and who acquired divine sonship for us by His suffering.  But because we are God’s sons and daughters, ‘God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls Abba! (Father!)’  If we did not have the Spirit and the attitude of the Son, we would not be children of the Father.  It is this Spirit who permits us to shout to the Father gratefully and enthusiastically: ‘Yes, you really are our Father.’

“But let us not forget that this Spirit was first sent to the Mother and overshadowed her.  […]  Her rejoicing at this event, a joy that never ceases throughout the history of the Church, rings forth in Mary’s Magnificat: ‘My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior’” (Light of the Word, 32).

Mary’s prayer of praise is exactly how we can be a blessing to the Lord this year.

©2012 Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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Wisdom, Be Attentive!

On a flight from Minneapolis to Portland earlier this year, I sat next to an airline pilot who was making his way home to Alaska.  We struck-up a conversation and, after the usual pleasantries and small talk, began talking about our families.  We spent a lot of time discussing the joys and tribulations of marriage and family life.  Since my wife Colleen and I are entering the teenage years with our oldest daughter, I was particularly interested in hearing about any challenges he and his wife faced with their daughter when she was in high school.

My new friend smiled and related the following story.  “Thankfully, we only had one incident during her freshman year in high school.  She called us after school one Friday and asked permission to stay at a friend’s house for the night.  We trusted our daughter and we knew the girl she would be staying with and her parents, so my wife and I consented to her request.

“Later that evening, we realized that we never made arrangements to pick her up, so I called the parents of the friend she was staying with.  The dad on the other line sounded surprised and said that my daughter wasn’t there and, in fact, that his daughter asked permission to stay at our house for the night!  I was very disappointed and knew exactly what was going on: there was a party somewhere and both girls were at it.

“Taking advantage of social networking, it didn’t take me long to find the party house.  I drove there and waited on the sidewalk near the walkway leading to the front door.  I stopped someone going into the party and asked them to tell my daughter to come outside.  Less than a minute later, she poked her head out the door and saw me standing there.  With a look of shock, surprise and fear on her face, she slowly came over to me.  I said to her, ‘You have two minutes to say goodbye to your friends, get your coat, and come back outside.  If you are not here in two minutes, I’m coming in after you.’

“Two minutes later, my daughter was out of the house and in the car.  I didn’t say a word to her the entire drive home.  When we arrived at the house, I told her to go to her room and that I would be there in a minute.  After debriefing my wife, I went to speak with my daughter.  I spoke to her in a calm and measured tone, not in anger, but with all seriousness.  I told her how much I loved her and what upset me more than anything was not my worrying about her doing drugs or having sex or drinking alcohol (which I knew she wouldn’t do), but that she violated my trust in her by lying to me and her mother.  It felt like she stabbed me in the heart.  When I told her that, she cried and hugged me, said she was sorry and told me that she would never do anything to destroy my trust in her again.  And you know what … she kept her promise!”

This man’s daughter was at an age where teenagers think they know more than their parents, and some teens may even think that their parents are stupid.  Needless to say, these years can be a very anxious and stressful time in the family.  But this father was not stupid at all!  He showed true wisdom in dealing with his daughter’s situation—a spiritual wisdom that came from a lifetime of love, experience and maturity rooted within an ever-deepening relationship with the living God in union with the Father’s will for his life.

He showed wisdom by not going directly into the party house and embarrassing his daughter in front of her friends.  He showed wisdom by not speaking to his daughter on the ride home so she could have time to process the seriousness of the situation.  He showed wisdom by not yelling and screaming at his daughter in anger but reinforcing his love for her and emphasizing the hurt that she caused to their relationship.

When the Lord God appeared to Solomon—the teenage son of the great King David—in a dream by night, God said, “Ask what I shall give you” (1 Kings 3:5).  By baptism we are adopted sons and daughters of Our Heavenly Father and, therefore, brothers and sisters of Jesus, the Son of David.  Now imagine if the Lord visited you and said that He would grant your heart’s desire … what would you ask for?  My guess is that many of us—if we are honest—would respond like the airline pilot’s daughter; our thoughts would turn inward toward the self, towards the gratification of some passing desire or material possession that we think will bring us happiness.  We convince ourselves that the possessions we are asking for from the Lord are the result of an intelligent decision and not concupiscence, which is the sinful inclination toward sin and evil that fulfill the desires of the flesh over the spirit.

We should learn from the example of Solomon, who was mature enough to admit that he didn’t know all the answers (cf. 1 Kings 3:7) and humble enough to ask the Lord to help him distinguish right from wrong (“Give thy servant therefore an understanding heart to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil …” 1 Kings 3:9).  In this context, the “heart” is not to be understood as the organ in your chest but the center of the human person where the conscience, intellect and emotions are found.  It is the seat of the will: the “heart” is the place where the desire for God resides.  Solomon knew that he should ask for wisdom because of the example of his father, David, who prayed to God, saying, “Teach me discernment and knowledge, for I trust in your commands […] The law from your mouth means more to me than silver and gold […] I take delight in your promise like one who finds a treasure.  The lovers of your law have great peace; they never stumble” (cf. Psalm 119:66, 72, 162, 165).

In Matthew’s gospel (see Matthew 13:44-52), our Lord Jesus, a descendent of Solomon and David, shows the people of Israel that genuine wisdom and knowledge, true happiness, and lasting peace comes when we seek God first above all else!  David taught Solomon the same lesson that the pilot tried to teach his daughter and that Christ is trying to teach us every day of our lives: (1) that eternal life forever in heaven is the fruit of faithfulness to God and not to the world, (2) that wisdom is a gift of God and He bestows it on those who pray for it, (3) that the Lord God of Israel protects those who are faithful to Him, and (4) that the Lord alone is God and that we must “go and sell all that we have” and “throw away what is bad”—we must rid ourselves of everything that is not of and for God so that, at the end of our life, we may be counted among the righteous who possess the treasure, the pearl of great price and not among the wicked who worship of idols of this world, where we children of God act like recalcitrant teenagers who think our Father in heaven is foolish and stupid. When we act in this way, we violate God’s trust in us and stab Him in the heart with our sins.  If we persist in our sinful arrogance, without discerning the Spirit of Wisdom, we will end up exactly where we deserve: in the “fiery furnace, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth” (cf. Matthew 13:42).

My brothers and sisters in Christ, because Solomon sought Wisdom above all else, God not only granted his desire but also bestowed riches and honor upon him (cf. 1 Kings 3:11-13).  God will always give us more than what we ask for if we live in communion with His life and holy will.  Satan will try to destroy our relationship with God and we must use Wisdom to discern the devil’s tactics, to recognize his presence and to ignore his temptations to be hateful, unforgiving, jealous, greedy, ambitious for worldly things, hard-hearted, and proud.  It is the gift of Wisdom that strengthens our faith, fortifies hope, perfects love, and promotes the practice of virtue to the highest degree.  We must stay very close to the Holy Spirit, in order to have both light and strength to discern good from evil, right from wrong, the human spirit from the Holy Spirit.  We need to be detached from our old way of thinking in order to be open to the quiet inspirations of the Holy Spirit.  Only then will we, like Solomon, be able to recognize what God is saying to us and what He desires of us so that we can keep our promises to Him.  “He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:43).

©2011 Aurem Cordis and Deacon Harold Burke-Sivers

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