Saturday, January 27, 2018

Praise the Lord, who heals those who sing the blues!


Deacon's Corner for February 2, 2018 

In Sunday’s scripture readings we see how Job “sings the blues” (JB 7: 1-4,6-7). The great lament on the drudgery of life. My mind wanders to early mornings on the Babylon LIRR platform as commuters face another cold Winter’s trek into the “city” and what could be just another day of toil. The hope of an eventless train ride is dashed, as the announcement crackles over the platform speakers and cries out yet another train delay.

Job speaks to our lament of today, “Is this as good as it gets”? We often feel the longing for something more!

Parish life can be the center of activity for us, whether in our Sunday worship, bringing the kids to religious education or tending to our prayer life and spiritual well-being.  For others, particularly the millennials, being drawn to have the Parish of St. Joseph as a central place in their lives can be chalked up to wishful thinking.

Bishop John Barres calls us all toward Dramatic Missionary Growth and as a Deacon on the altar I see the missing faces in the pews. The path to engagement seems to be less clear. I long to understand God’s plan for us as a missionaries in our own community.  I pray for those disenfranchised, the missing, who can teach me a thing or two about their needs, and their spiritual longing. 

The new “Great Lament” is the diminishing attendance in the pews and the hope of a future as a vibrant parish is held in the balance. Diminishing participation and church attendance is shared by other faith traditions, as we grapple to engage all the faithful.  We are invited to encounter Jesus. We are called to spread the Gospel of Christ, first by our actions and then through intimate conversations.
I have a desire to move beyond our parish campus and into the community. If our young adults don’t see a parish centered existence, then maybe God is calling us as missionaries to reach out to them and our local community!  We need to be open to change and be emboldened with a broader understanding of what it means to encounter Jesus.

One definition of insanity, is to continue to do the same thing and expect different outcomes. If we focus on the same tactics without a deeper understanding of the needs of the community, we risk diminishing returns and the return to a vibrant parish.

We need a new playbook, a new spirit, one which is unafraid and life-giving. We need to follow Jesus’ example by reaching out, by engaging through community service and purposeful ecumenical partnerships.

In Ezekiel, as the Lord commission’s him, it is written: “Son of man, eat what you find here: eat this scroll, then go, speak ...feed your stomach and fill your belly with this scroll I am giving you. I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth.  

What was on the scroll...?  A song of lament, “The Blues”, in a word.

When all seems to fail us, we should swallow the words of our lament and our Lord Jesus will commission us, and then redirect our paths. The Divine Source of Love dwells in us, He who provides all that we need to rise into action. Take the first step and the Lord will multiply all that is good.

When hope seems to be stolen away, when action is displaced by silence, when lines of division are draw, we need to draw ourselves closer to Jesus. Closer to Him in prayer, closer to Him in charity, closer to Him in finding ways to bridge the divide we find with each other, and the separation of those we need to welcome back.

My mind muses on musical snippets and lyrics which seem to play as an ongoing loop during my moments of contemplation and prayer. We recently sang a new song at the twelve noon Sunday Mass, “All My Hope” by Crowder. (https://youtu.be/7tElvdnId4Q)
 The line, “All my hope is in Jesus, thank God, my yesterday’s gone”, seems to tie in well with our struggles.

We are called to be missionaries, with the very gifts our Lord has given us, and we need to begin right here and right now.

Sometimes it feels good to sing the blues, but now its time to rock and roll!

Monday, January 8, 2018

“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…”

In the scripture readings for the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time we see how John the Baptist directs his disciples to “Behold the Lamb of God”, and wonder what kind of Messiah were his disciples looking for?
Looking back, I realized that the best teachers and spiritual directors were humble faithful people who were able to help me on a spiritual path. I have been blessed with men and woman in my life that appreciated my personal journey and always pointed me toward Jesus.
We are instructed to deepen our prayer life and to contemplate God’s rescue mission to restore us to right relationship with the Divine Source of Love.
In John’s Gospel (JN 1 35-43), the Baptist points his disciples to Jesus and declares: “Behold the Lamb of God”, the savior who would also be the sacrifice, the Lamb, the “scapegoat” if you will for our sins.
 
We see a progression of understanding as John’s disciples follow Jesus.
Jesus asks the disciples, “What are you looking for?”  And the disciples don’t answer directly but call Jesus Rabbi (Teacher) and ask where He is staying.  Rabbinical followers looked to emulate their teacher by seeing how exactly they lived to master spiritual direction and scriptural understanding.  As the story of Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection unfolds we should also see the spiritual development of the disciples and understand that we must continue our study of the faith, our active participation in the sacraments, especially the Mass and allow prayer to interrupt our day.

The song from the band U2, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” has been resonating in my mind lately.  And in this New Year, I have come to appreciate new perspectives in music that I admire.
On one hand, the spiritual quest to find God in all things, and on the other, our Lord and Savior, is searching for us, calling us back in to communion with the God who loved us into existence.

In a world which seems to be clouded by so much injustice, violence and disregard for the powerless, I often wonder, “What exactly am I looking for?”  Sometimes it is just simple relief of suffering, and at other times I long to see the hand of justice at work, restoring those who have been victims of injustice.
Like Andrew and Peter, do we search for a radical Messiah, to right the wrongs of oppression, or do allow Christ to work within us, as we become disciples of change?
Each day I see that I have so much to learn as I recognize that I am in a lifetime of formation.  Each day I pray for patience, as I become aware of the things within my control and things out of reach. 

Lord I pray that as a parish we together grow stronger in relationship with You, and each other, as we recognize Your Saving hand at work in our lives.     

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Christmas Holiday - 10:15 am Church of St. Joseph

Christmas Homily – Deacon Steve Yusko – 2017
Through it all, the business of the season, the shopping, the parties, the hustle and bustle of life, God calls us to a moment, a quiet moment to spend some time to listen and be attentive to His Word, to live in this present moment, as He is present here and now.
There was a moment, not so long ago for me, when I thought, “I’ve got this Christmas thing down, pat. Try to be better Christian at Christmas, get a few gifts for the wife and daughter, try not to do the last-minute shopping, spend time with friends and family, then after New Year’s back to the grind. 
I absolutely hate shopping so, it’s easy for me to rail against the commercialization of Christmas as I struggled with the not so well thought out gift for my wife…anxiety grew as Christmas approached…but to be honest…I just didn’t get it.  
The beginning of John’s gospel struck a chord with me.  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  What came through Him was Life!”
The most mind-boggling miracle is the incarnation. We believe that the Creator of the Universe, the Divine Source of Love, the one who existed before time and before anything else, became one of us. If you accept that, then there are a lot of other things that don’t seem to be quite as unbelievable.
“And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us!”
There is a great amount of visual imagery in John’s Gospel, Light / Dark. Life and humanity and the “WORD” We see the WORD as the person of Jesus, through whom all things were created, This True Light -which enlightens everyone… came into this world as one of us.
To reveal God to us and bring us to the fullness of life, life eternal here and now.
This little baby Jesus, Emmanuel, (God with us), conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, born into poverty, into the hillbilly town of his day, Bethlehem, and as He grew He was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon Him.
When I was a child, I’d ask my dad what he wanted for Christmas, and I believe, to let me off the hook, he’d say… I just want some peace… peace and quiet.
So, let me ask you this, “What do you want for Christmas”? What do you really want?
For some, it may just be as simple as a day without pain.  Many of us wish for time in the presence of a loved one who has passed, others pray for the restoration of relationships that have crumbled, all of us need some restoration!
Our Restorer has been with us before the beginning of time. What came through Him was life, and this life was the light of humanity.
I don’t know what you want, but I want a life fulfilled, and eternal life. I pray for wisdom and God’s grace.  I know I sin, I separate myself from the Divine Source of Love. I become blind as I rationalize away my sins as I make the same mistakes and often wonder where are you God? The Psalm says: “All the ends of the earth have seen the saving power of God” Lord, remove these cataracts from eyes and help me see!  Help me see Your light.
Jesus came and continues to be with us, Jesus came to shake things up!  The prophets predicted his arrival, the nation of Israel prepared for our Savior, and then the Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us....and made His dwelling among us! This little innocent child would pay the price for your sins and my sins; to restore us to right relationship to God, vertically and horizontally to each other, through His Passion, Death and Resurrection.
For those of you who are new to our church, we have a Mission Statement,
We Welcome, We Worship, and We Witness” I’d like to focus on the Welcome part…When I first heard the Mission statement years ago, my internal reaction was not very charitable, okay here we go…. Corporate mission statements made manifest in a pseudo, cotton-candy Catholicism in my church. But then as I got know parishioners, I realized I had to work on my welcome.
Let me apologize. On behalf of the Church, if you feel unwelcomed, if our community of Catholics, have been less than Christian, if we as Church have offended you, if we have been poor stewards, if we have excluded you or any family member,
I ask for your forgiveness and for an opportunity to rebuild the divide, to build a bridge, our door is open.
Catholic is defined as “Universal”. So, we welcome you. Practicing or non-practicing, gay or straight, divorced, married, living together or single, blue collar or white. Skeptical, cynical, devout or derided.  We welcome you.  Not easily self-defined, we welcome you.  
We have ALL been given the dignity to be called Children of God and to be welcomed.
We collectively are the Body of Christ. Today we celebrate, the Divine Source of Love’s breaking into history and becoming one of us. God, who humbled himself to take on flesh, the Incarnation!
We are called to be Christ-like, to allow the Word, to become incarnate in us, we are to be Christ in the flesh to each other. We are nourished by Christ, as God speaks to us through the scriptures. We are fed the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ in the Eucharist at this table.
I heard a song on the radio (I Will Possess Your Heart – Death Cab for Cutie) the other day & imagined Jesus singing this:
How I wish you could see the potential, the potential of you and me
It's like a book elegantly bound, but in a language, that you can't read, just yet
You gotta spend some time, love, you gotta spend some time with me
And I know that you'll find love …Find life in me!
Jesus comes to us, to shake us up, to spend time with us. To mend a broken world, to mend our broken hearts.  As we begin this Christmas season, take a moment, and let joy of a child who receives a gift take hold of your heart. Be present to each other, in the present moment.  Let Christ into your life once again, pray for a fulfilled life, and life eternal.

And on behalf of our pastor, priests, deacons and lay ministers of St. Joseph, may God continue to bless you, your family and friends this Christmas day! May the Almighty God bless you, in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Christmas Gift

Betty was born on Christmas Day, her grandfather’s premonition would become so clear to a newly ordained Deacon the day of her wake some ninety-one years later. 

As we journeyed through Advent and the busy pre-Christmas season, we were called to travel through the spiritual desert, a place to empty ourselves and let Christ in. These days it’s not so easy to get beyond the busyness of life and look to reach the inner place where God dwells in us. 

Christmas has taken-on so many different meanings, and has reached a point where we forget the joy of our salvation. To some it’s just the celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but that is too simple for the gift of the Incarnation. 

God’s rescue plan to conquer sin and restore us to right relationship began at the dawn of creation and was realized as His Son entered history, born of the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual understanding of Christmas may have begun with the image of Santa Claus, or the Nativity scene or has grown to a better understanding of how the Person of Jesus conquered sin and death. Jesus brought us the gift of life eternal through his Passion, Death and Resurrection.

Betty’s passing on November 30th helped me dig just a little bit deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation. In preparation for her funeral I had the blessing to meet with Betty’s siblings, family and friends to get better acquainted with a woman, I knew simply as my friend’s Mom. Each person spoke of that special light with which she conducted her life; not an unkind word was spoken. She always looked to the good of the other which exemplified the Spirit within. 

Betty saw a better life for her brothers and sisters and sacrificed to deliver them from poverty.
A true servant, she stepped up to support her five siblings. You see, her Dad died at a young age as her mom struggled to support six children at the height of the Depression. Stories surfaced of her self-sacrifice to establish a better life for her brothers and sisters. Whether it was turning over the few dimes she earned for twelve hours of babysitting so her siblings could go to the movies or her ability to scrape up money so they could buy stale day-old scraps from the grocer to feed the family. They said Betty was a faith-filled woman who wasn’t “preachy”, but her example as “Christ in action” made her the best preacher in my eyes. 

Faith in action, coupled with a humble presence would set in motion a foundation to build a loving family. As her brother Bill exclaimed, “We had nothin, but we had everything.” Grandfather’s foresight into her holiness became more evident with each testimony. Born into humble circumstances and suffering, Betty followed God’s Will and relied on His Grace.

In her last years, Betty would find solace at Dominican Village as she shared in Christ’s suffering as she battled the onset of dementia. No one has an answer to suffering, as it is a part of everyone’s life journey. Betty knew how to empathize with the poor and suffering, because she lived It.  I believe she now knows the joy of Christ’s presence as she experienced the presence of Christ with each visit and prayer from family and friends. You see they brought Jesus to Betty, especially as they shared the suffering of a mind less clear and forgetful.

Jesus calls each of us his brother and sister. He looks to deliver us out of our poverty of spirit, and to have a life fulfilled, and life eternal. He became poor, came to serve, became the sacrifice for our sins and showed us the way.

This Christmas as we exchange gifts, let us not lose sight of God’s greatest gift.  May we decrease and may He increase. For when we “have nothing, we can have everything”!

May the gift of Christ’s light grow within us as we recognize the Light of Christ in others, and set the world on fire!


Deacon Steve

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Statues with Limitations

One Sunday morning this October, I entered through the sacristy door and was quickly greeted with: “have you seen what happened to St. Joseph?” 
To my surprise the statue of St. Joseph had been knocked over and his head decapitated. My thoughts rushed to the suspicion of vandalism, until I heard about the car accident, the injured pedestrians and the intoxicated driver.

Statues can be replaced, or even repaired, but what about people at the center of the situation? How were they doing? As Church, did we reach out to them? Did our prayers go toward the victim, what about the driver?Catholics are often accused of worshiping statues, which is a misnomer. Centuries ago the veneration of statues, even pictures of Jesus, Mary and the saints has helped us keep their presence and example foremost in our minds. The veneration of relics, icons and statues should not be confused with idol worship.  There is the potential for us to loose sight of the person behind these images, the flesh and blood that walked this earth faced with the many challenges we experience, yet through the grace of God, whose lives have become a model for us to emulate as a pilgrim Church.
Behind the old convent building near the chapel, stands a statue of Jesus whose hands have been broken off. One might see this as a statue which should be repaired. I see it as a reminder of the prayer of St. Theresa of Avlia:
“Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.” 
-Prayer of Saint Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

With all the controversies in today’s society about removing statues in the public square, and erasing the past, we might view statues as an aid to prayer and to be mindful of our own path and the corrections we need to make to follow “The Way” .
Reflecting upon a statue, may our stony hearts be called to change, as we continue to become new creations in the Spirit to improve our world.

Through God’s grace may we answer the call to be the body, hands, feet of Christ here and now.  – Deacon Steve
Homily November 5, 2017 -  Deacon Stephen Yusko

The corruption of the best is the worst.

Today’s Scriptures both in the book of The Prophet Malachi and by Jesus in the Gospel is a strong biting message to those of us in the clergy.

“And now all priests, this commandment is for you; if you do not listen if you do not lead to your heart, I will send a curse upon you and of your blessing I will make a curse.

The name Malachi means my messenger, God‘s messenger. As the last book in the old testament written sometime between 600 BC and 350 BC just after the Israelites returned from the Babylon exile.

Malachi rails against the priests who have lost their way and have not served the people in proper worship and sacrifice. They have become corrupt and halfhearted.

What I find so fascinating how throughout the Bible the Prophets took the hierarchy to task when things were just not right. They called for repenting and correction.

The corruption of the best is the worst.

From politicians caught up in sexual criminal behavior, to men in power who coerce abuse and rape their victims with impunity.

The Harvey Weinstein‘s of the world, who have no fear of God, or of judgment. And worse yet, those complicit with these actions with an enabling silence.

Where are the Malachi‘s of today, my messengers who will speak up?

Our own Church is not immune from the corruption of the best.

The church has suffered greatly with the priest sexual abuse scandal, with those entrusted to the care and guidance of the faithful and those least able to defend themselves.

As Bishop Robert Barron states:  “a terrible curse still is with us today”.

As the body of Christ we ought to be fully fed by our spiritual leaders, and we are to feed others.

Jesus in speaking to the disciples calls out the Pharisees and scribes who use their status to aggrandize their egos.

They display a narcissistic tendency to become the showboat, dishonoring God, and thus breaking the Levitical covenant and their ministry to guide the faithful in righteousness worship.

Jesus tells us to listen to what they say, yet steer away from their for example.

Our Lord speaks of the heavy burdens of the law as heavy bundles which they do not lift a
 finger to carry.

The intention is not to lighten the law but that as clergy, as a Sheppard, we are to walk beside you and help you shoulder the burden.

So the question I have for you is how are we doing? Are you being fed? Are you being well served, are we serving the Lord with our whole heart and whole mind and our whole soul?

Are you receiving the “fast food“of the feel-good prosperity gospel and a show, or do you Receive the five course meal of the gospel by our words and actions?

Truly, it is difficult for anyone to fully practice with they preach. As Christians we are called by my name to offer our sacrifices from the heart, wholeheartedly.

At times, I have been a milquetoast Catholic, going through the motions, lacking passion in my prayer and practice.

Don’t be milquetoast. Bring passion to your prayer, and make it personal. Cry out your petitions, sing from the heart and feed your fellow man with the joy of the gospel!

To quote Pope Francis from the Joy of the Gospel: “with God‘s love, which blossoms into an enriching friendship, we are liberated from our narrowness and self-absorption. We become fully human when we become more than human; we let God bring us beyond ourselves in order to attain the fullest truth of our being. Here we find the source of inspiration of all our efforts and evangelization. For if we have received a love which restores meaning to our lives, how can we fail to share that love with others?“

I encourage you to find the joy from a renewed encounter with Jesus. Find it in heartfelt worship, find it in the service of others, find it in wounds that are healing, find it despite a lousy Homily.

Always work to deepen your prayer life, let pray interrupt your day, and examine your conscious at night. Pray for our pastors, priests and deacons.

Help us to be God’s good messengers and be at our best!



Homily - Mass, Millennials & the Welcome Mat - October 8, 2017

It has been a real difficult few weeks for everyone with the hurricanes, floods and now the recent massacre in Las Vegas; it can put one’s faith to the test. (Pause)  I get angry when I hear the platitude as: “Our thoughts & prayers are with the victims”, and I surely do not negate the power of prayer, but these platitudes seem to excuse away any action on the part of the speaker, or even worse, may  provide an excuse for our own inaction.

Of course you know in any homily, I first preach to myself. The unanswered question of why these things happen, what motivated this man to do the unspeakable, seems to bring on paralyzing despair. However, I am heartened when I hear the stories of so many strangers coming to the aid of each other in the face of this attack. I see the hand of God working through these people, in the face of danger and sacrifice helping strangers, helping their neighbor.

And today our scriptures paint a seemingly dark picture.

One of my pet peeve‘s with religions today is that preachers often focus only on the joyful or the prosperity gospel and tend to shy away from those darker stories we find like the one today. But we need to delve into this parable and let the gospel cut us a bit.

Today's readings pose a question: how are we tending the vineyard? We have received so much from God, but are we making the world fruitful? Are we bringing about the Kingdom?

In Isaiah, the prophet speaks of the Vineyard and refers to the owner as a friend, the Lord our God. The Vineyard is the people of Israel, the chosen people. The chosen people are those who are set apart by God and set up as an example to all the nations. God provides Israel with the law, the Prophets and his messengers so that they have everything in order to bring a just harvest which will produce the finest wine.

And yet even with a cursory reading of the Bible, we see time and time again the ebb and tide of the people of Israel, breaking God‘s covenant. Even with all that God has done; the Israelites produce wild grapes. The wild grapes represent the breaking of the covenant and the collective sin of the people. They move away from communion toward idolatry.

You might say well, that’s a tough break for the Israelites. But Saint Paul tells us that we are the new Israel. And we should pay close attention to God’s word on this.

In the Gospel Jesus through his parable calls out the religious leaders of his time and in their reply, they condemn their own inaction for rejecting God’s messengers and what they are about to do in casting out Jesus and putting him to death on the cross.
Their wickedness will be their destruction, but the landowner will continue to look for new tenants. God is always reaching out to us his lost sheep.

Okay, get ready to be challenged!  Speaking of looking for tenants, I was intrigued by an article my daughter posted by Jackie Semmens (https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/09/25/yes-millennials-brunch-thats-not-why-theyre-skipping-mass)  who provides great insight and on how we can be fruitful stewards in our own parish.

Jackie, a Millennial herself, (the group 20-30 year olds) laments the fact that the millennial’s of our time, are disconnected from parish life, the Church and have not experienced the social and spiritual fulfillment that previous generations have experienced.

Look around, right now, the dwindling numbers of 17 - 37 year olds right in our very pews is staggering.

About 2/3’s of them attend Mass but a few times a year. And I feel for them, and the families who long to see them grow in the faith. To experience the joy that can be found here, and how God’s Word and sacraments nourish us.

I conducted a survey of my own, by having a frank, non-judgmental conversation with some of the millennial’s I know, which sadly validated how an unwelcoming experience, however unintentional can drive them away.

We all have busy lives, and some time we are just tired, how a mom and dad can pull it together on a Sunday morning with a couple of preschoolers in tow, really amazes me.

We need to welcome them, support their “Mission to Mass” with joyful greetings and supportive postures. I don’t have all the answers, but Jackie’s quote may help our understanding.

“Millennials, many with a passion for social justice rooted in their Catholic values and upbringing, are dissatisfied with an institution that preaches community and compassion and often practices the opposite. Taught to reach out to the marginalized, young Catholics are typically protective of their L.G.B.T. friends—or feel unwelcome themselves. They do not want to be a part of an organization that has too often been a deep source of pain for the people they love.”

Our Bishop John Barres calls us to dramatic missionary growth, and to accomplish this we must explore outside our comfort zones and engage our community in conversation and with invitations, We need to plan to invite millennial’s on local projects of social justice, and make them aware of our outreach efforts for the poor. As St. Francis says it is by our actions that we preach the gospel.

In my family, we are known for having unintentional stern facial expressions. One day a friend asked me if I was happy.  He said, “Then why don’t you tell your face!” (Pause)

 We should examine our conscience and ask ourselves and others, are we being true to our parish mission statement of welcome, worship and witness?

Are we responding to the Lord’s invitation with the works of justice, love, peace, chastity, and respect for others? Or are we stuck in the status quo?

Are we the servants of the vineyard, killing the messenger inside of us?

If we are to set our world on fire with the Holy Spirit, we must recognize that God will provide us the grace to bear good fruit for the kingdom here and now!

Christ is calling us to reach out into parish, and our local community.
May our prayers, may our thoughts lead us to Action!