Deacon Mark Dillon's Blog

A Holy Hour For Religious Freedom

Good evening and thank you for coming here tonight as we pray for the grace to live in the fullness of the freedom given to us by God. Our religious freedom isn’t a privilege granted by the state. It’s our birthright as children of God.

The ability to worship God without interference or fear of persecution has been contested almost forever. Throughout the centuries Christians have died for the right to openly live their faith. Even today, that right comes at a cost. It cannot be taken for granted. It imposes on us a duty as Christians to live in the light of Christ’s teachings. Doing that means we must also defend that right when it’s challenged.

St. Paul says it all so beautifully and so simply in this evening’s first reading. These are the duties of Christians: “Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good.” Every Good in life depends on us understanding the difference between good and evil. To truly live Our Lord’s commandment to love one another, we must recognize the inherent difference between good and evil in our society. Then we must act according to the wisdom we receive from God. Our faith requires us to be vigilant in keeping watch over our hearts to discern and reject definitions of good and evil that come from the world and not from God.

As Catholics, we are called to live our faith each day. We do that through the establishment and support of charities that comfort the sick, feed the hungry, care for the poor, and protect the dignity and sanctity of life. In the marketplace, our Catholic values guide our actions toward fundamental goodness. And as we know with certainty what is good, we strive to practice it in the way we live.

But today in America, the right to live our faith is being threatened by our federal and state governments. Regulations exist that try to force Catholic institutions to provide services that contradict our beliefs. The insistence of our government that Catholics turn away from what we believe will have the result of prohibiting our charities from serving the most vulnerable and needy in our society. And around the world, it’s even worse – Catholics face persecution and even death for their witness to the truth of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

Religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience and is fundamental to our society and our way of life. This was so obvious that many years ago, no one needed to say it. But the times have changed! It’s worth recalling that our founding fathers saw the need for the vibrant practice of faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow out of virtue: And virtue is grounded in understanding God’s truth and practicing the beliefs that flow from the truth.

Freedom of Religion is more than just freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary part of our religious liberty, but it’s not the only part. It involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday–though they are vitally important. Living our Christian faith also requires us to preach it in the example of our life and teach it to others in their search for the truth.

Real faith bears the most fruit by the actions we take to put our beliefs into practice. We would all do well to listen to the words of St. James when he says:

“What good is it if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day and you say to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? Someone may say: ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.”

We must have the freedom to put our faith into the practice of good works …otherwise our faith is just empty words.

The threats against our religious freedom are not imaginary. They’re serious and happening right now. We are witnessing a pattern of not-so-subtle government coercion that interferes with the conscience rights of medical providers, private employers, and individual citizens. Many of these government mandates directly oppose Catholic teaching on the dignity of life and human sexuality.

God revealed to us through his son Jesus, the universal and permanent truths about life. Those truths form our Catholic moral convictions about issues such as abortion, contraception, sexuality, and the true nature of marriage. These moral convictions are rooted in reason and natural law that reflect God’s truth. And, unless we work hard to keep our religious liberty, our society will lose sight of those truths.

Our Constitution is a magnificent document. It’s unique in that it preserves high ideals balanced by the realism of human nature. But in the end, unless we live up to those ideals, it’s just a fancy piece of parchment paper. In practice, nothing guarantees our freedoms except our willingness to stand up and fight for them. That means fighting without tiring and without apologies.
St. Paul tells us: “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction and persevere in prayer.” He continues: “Do not conform yourself to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the Will of God.”

We should never lose sight of the truth we received from Jesus, and what he asks of us as his disciples. If we value our religious freedom and want to keep it, we need to be worthy of it. Knowing God’s will, it’s up to us to honestly live it. The right of religious liberty has no value if we don’t live what we believe.

During this Holy Hour for Religious Freedom we pray for what we know is right…seeking the kingdom of God above all else. We pray that God will open our hearts to His Will instead of our own. We pray for the grace and strength to pursue the truth with zeal. For when we do that, true freedom and the joy it brings, can never be taken from us.

We all know the duties we are called to shoulder as Christians. How we respond to that call is up to each of us.

God bless you.

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by Deacon Mark Dillon

The Meaning of Love

Today’s readings speak of something that we all search for: love. More specifically of God’s love for us. The word “love” is often overused in our conversations today. So much so that it’s lost its true meaning. How often do we hear phrases such as: “I absolutely love that new restaurant” OR “I love what you did with this place.” And then there’s the goodbye wish – “Love ya!”

We casually associate the word love with so many things that it becomes difficult to understand what it truly means to love someone. Fortunately, God helps us appreciate of the meaning of love through His Word and in the many living examples He has given to the world.

Have you ever attended a sporting event, or watched one on TV, and saw some guy in the crowd holding a big blue and yellow sign that read: John 3:16? Ever wonder about that Scripture passage? It refers to the depth of God’s love that He freely gives to us. We just heard that passage a few minutes ago in the acclamation before the Gospel. Listen to it again: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” Continue reading

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by Deacon Mark Dillon

Club Box Seats

People will come from the East and the West, the North and the South to enjoy the wonders of the Kingdom of God.  The question is: Will we be among of them?

Last week the Philadelphia Eagles played a preseason game at Lincoln Financial Field. The stadium was filled with fans, most of them wearing a green Eagles jersey identifying them as part of “the team.” As the television cameras panned the crowd you couldn’t help but notice a sea of green flowing through each section of the stadium. And it was noisy as every person tried to cheer the loudest for their team.

At one point in the game, during a timeout, the camera zoomed-in on one of the Eagles VIP club boxes located high above the field. From what I could see there is a noticeable difference between the club box seats and the ordinary seats surrounding the field.

The club box has extra-large padded seats, all angled toward the sideline to offer the best view of the game. It’s climate controlled so that it’s not too hot in the summer and not too cold in the fall and winter months. The food looked to be upscale as well.  And there is a private entrance to the box that sort of said “not everyone can enter here-you have to be invited.”

I thought the most intriguing aspect of the club box, however, was the people inside. You’d expect them to be well-dressed, dignified, wealthy or part of the local social scene. But they were just normal people like you and me. That got me to thinking: what did they do to get inside and, how do I get in? Now I know some Eagles fans think that a club box seat is almost heaven. So I just can’t pass up the chance to make an analogy with today’s readings.

In each reading we are told to be watchful. Just because you wear the jersey of “team-Catholic” and profess to be its number-one fan, doesn’t get you an automatic invite to the best seats in the house. Many people will be called to heaven’s club box but only a few will be admitted. The chosen few will not necessarily be the people you think should be there. Those people entering heaven will include people of different religions and cultures and others who hold political views different from your own. God will gather them to himself as a sign of His universal glory as they come from every nation and walk of life.

At Lincoln Financial Field there’s a pretty steep price to enter the club box through the VIP door. Most people scrimp and save for years just for the opportunity to be “on the inside.” They know getting there will be difficult yet they realize the effort it takes will be worth the sacrifice they are required to make.

Getting a seat in heaven’s club box also comes with a steep price tag.  Jesus wants each of us to be a VIP in heaven. So in today’s Gospel he turns his focus to the price of entering heaven’s most exclusive gate (also known as “the narrow gate.”)

The narrow gate is not a secret passageway with directions that are given to just a few privileged people. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Directions to the narrow gate are available to anyone who wants them. They’re right here in Sacred Scripture. But there’s a catch. To find the entrance to the narrow gate that leads to the VIP club box you have to follow the directions!

  • First you have to be honest with yourself and come to terms with who you are, what you believe and what you hear God asking of you. Do you belong with the team or are you just cheerleading?
  • Next you need to get to know Jesus, really know our Lord and Savior. It’s not good enough to say that he’s an acquaintance or friend of yours. Be honest, how many friends do you have on Facebook or LinkedIn whom you barely know? If Jesus is in that group of “friends” then it’s time for a change.

Ask yourself this question: How many times each day is the name of Jesus on your lips? (And be careful, swearing doesn’t count). Get to know our Lord by sharing in his life. He invites you to do so every day at Mass and looks forward to speaking with you in prayer. He wants you to know that you are a VIP; that he loves you; and looks for you to love Him in return.

  • Another direction to finding the “narrow gate” is to be strongspiritually strong. Our Lord asks us to love each other unconditionally, forgive each other
    willingly, and be humble as we leave our egos and arrogance at home before heading out to the game each day.
  • There are a few other directions you’ll need to follow in order to find and enter through the narrow gate. I’ll let you read them for yourself. But keep this in mind: Jesus makes it very clear that anyone who does not make the necessary effort to follow His directions will be left outside heaven’s club box. Our Lord warns us that many who consider them self to be “part of the team” will be locked out of the box for the final game of the season.

    Who will be inside heaven’s club box? Only those who are disciplined enough to follow His directions to and through the narrow gate will be admitted.  As we heard in the Letter to the Hebrews, all discipline seems to be a cause of pain, yet it brings the peaceful fruit of Heaven to those who practice it.

    People will come from the East and the West, the North and the South to enjoy the wonders of heaven.

    Will you be one of them?

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    by Deacon Mark Dillon

    Faith

    Wow!  There’s an awful lot going on in today’s  scripture readings.  Collectively they touch on faith, trust, alms giving, spiritual vigilance, stewardship, penance and the burdens of responsibility.  I had to re-read those passages three times just to sort out where to start.

    As I read-through the Letter to the Hebrews I was reminded of a comment once made by Mark Twain. He was listening to a wealthy industrialist who was speaking to his friends about faith.  At one point the man said: “Before I die I want to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, climb to the top of Mount Sinai and read the Ten Commandments out loud.” Upon hearing this statement Twain openly replied, “Why don’t you just stay home and keep them?” Continue reading

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    by Deacon Mark Dillon

    Just Do It!

    Twenty-five years ago this month a small but growing shoe manufacturer decided it needed help in selling more shoes.  So it did what every aspiring company does in that situation. It hired a Madison Avenue advertising agency to develop a marketing campaign. The focus of the campaign featured well known people using the company’s shoes with a simple, short slogan as its tag line.

    It was the perfect pitch: not too specific to exclude either the older or younger generations, yet catchy enough so that shoe buyers would associate themselves with the successful personalities featured in the ad. As the campaign rolled out something totally unexpected happened.  The simple slogan used in the ad was adopted by people of every age, gender, nationality and race and became an anthem for action. Continue reading

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    It’s All About Life

    What a treasure God gives us in the gift of life.  By the power of the Holy Spirit in Baptism, we are recreated in God’s love and one day will share eternal life with him in paradise. Doesn’t knowing that make you appreciate this life all the more?

    ———————————–

    In a little farming village in China, about 200 miles south of Shanghai, lives an 88 year old woman named Lou Zow Ying. Everyone just calls her Grandma Lou. Since 1972, Grandma Lou has helped her family by collecting and recycling items found in trash cans and dumpsters. Now that, in itself, really isn’t anything special. But Grandma Lou is known throughout the region: As the woman who has rescued more than 30 babies abandoned in the trash. Continue reading

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    by Deacon Mark Dillon

    “God Has a Plan for Us”

    Are you ready yet?  It’s almost here!  In two short days from right now we begin an incredible  celebration! This is a time like none other.  For on Christmas day we rejoice in the birth of our savior and marvel at the glorious gift God has given us:  His plan for our salvation. Continue reading

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    by Deacon Mark Dillon

    “Make Straight the Paths of the Lord”

    The night of November 14th was bone-chilling cold! So cold infact, that even wearing two pairs of wool socks and heavy combat boots didn’t keep Officer Larry DePrimo warm as he walked his beat through Times Square.  It was around 8 o’clock  that night when Officer DePrimo encountered a shoeless, barefooted elderly man hobbling down 7th Avenue.  Many people passed by, either not noticing the man or not caring to help; but not Officer DePrimo. Continue reading

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    by Deacon Mark Dillon

    “This Saying is Hard, Who Can Accept it?”

    Living the truth God revealed to us through his Son Jesus Christ requires not only the gift of faith, but also the courage to profess it.

    Several years ago in the jungle along the Columbia / Venezuela border, a priest was getting ready to celebrate Sunday morning Mass. Just before it began several armed insurgents burst into the chapel demanding to know who in the congregation believed that Jesus Christ was his savior.  Petrified about what might happen next, no one said a word. After a long silence a man came forward and said “I believe.” He was seized by the soldiers and dragged outside along with five others who professed their belief in Our Lord.  A minute later the sound of machine gun fire broke the quiet of the morning air. Continue reading

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    by Deacon Mark Dillon

    Yes You!

     

    “Me?  You can’t possibly mean me?” You can just imagine the expression of bewilderment that came over Amos when God told him: “Go, prophesy to my people.”  He must have been dumbfounded.  NOT ME, he surely thought! After all, I’m just a simple shepherd content with herding my sheep.  What do I know about being a prophet?

    If God asked you today to go out and “prophesy to my people,” to bring your God to the world, what would you say to him?  Think about that for a second.  What would you say to him?  I bet most of us would respond just like Amos did. “What, me a prophet?  You’ve got to be kidding me God!?” I have a family and a job!  The kids have soccer practice and baseball games.  I have no time to be a prophet.  Besides, I have no idea what that even means and I’m not all that “religious.” Continue reading

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