Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pope Francis - A Man of His Word

Pope Francis - A Man of His Word

Full disclosure, I’m a fan of Pope Francis. Last night I had the opportunity to see the premiere of his movie.  I had seen the 60 Minutes interview this past, Sunday and excitement grew as we awaited the release of the movie today. Little did I know that my daughter, Faith would score some free tickets to the event from the Catholic Volunteer Network. As luck would have it the director, Wim Wenders, a renowned German filmmaker, would make an appearance at the end of the movie and answer questions from the audience. 

Often times I become suspect of any institutional directed media which could potentially become a public relations puff-piece on an intended promotion. My suspicions melted away as I understood the free reign Wenders was given from concept to delivery. There were no scripts, no assistant on a cell phone prompting Pope Francis. What I came to enjoy was exactly what the title of the movie delivered, a man of his word. 

Just like a 60 minutes interview where the camera draws slowly and ever closer to its subject. I was drawn in on the Pope’s words and facial gestures. Each of us at the theater were drawn into his eyes.  We were treated to the Holy Father’s joy and humanity. A fearless man, grounded in his faith, who challenges the status quo, and calls the hierarchy to task and reminds us all of our mission, to love one another as brothers and sisters. 

No spoiler alerts here, as I encourage people of good will to see this documentary opening in theaters today.  There is an atmosphere of ecumenism, which reflects Pope Francis’ universal appeal.  The essence of this movie is the opportunity to see directly into the man’s eyes and begin to comprehend this Shepherds’s capacity to lead and love. 


Tuesday, May 15, 2018


Of the many annoyances I inflict on others, the one that stands out is my lack of patience and intolerance of being interrupted.

Rationalizing my inability to focus, I give myself misguided permission to be perturbed when someone interrupts my locution, as I wax poetic on some point in a conversation. 

Maybe that’s why I like preaching; very few interruptions, except for my wife who promptly gives me the cut-off sign across her throat when the homily exceeds the allotted time of endurance.

I pray for patience and I’m reminded of the glances from my fellow school mates in the seminary, when psalm 141:3 was recited during morning prayer:

Set a guard, LORD, before my mouth,
keep watch over the door of my lips!

I rested assured that they were all praying this prayer for me. After reading my blogs, I’m sure their prayer intensified.

Receiving spiritual direction has helped me get back on track for my spiritual well-being and continues to be an excellent pit-stop on my faith journey. Keen spiritual directors are always good listeners. If you find a spiritual director who is doing more talking than listening, find another rest-stop. 

In time of trial and struggle they ask us about our prayer life.  One of the most influential statements came from our rector at the time, Fr. Gregg who advised that we allow prayer to interrupt our day.

Let prayer interrupt you day!

Often in the New Testament we read about Jesus going off alone and engaging in prayer.  In the go-go pace of our world, taking or finding a “rest-stop” to gather ourselves up in a quiet, set-aside place can be challenging.  Although it may be challenging, it should not be complicated. 

The discipline of prayer interrupting our day helps us center on the Divine Source of Love, the Lord God who calls us to change things up, by allowing ourselves to hear the whisper of His voice in those quiet inner peaceful moments we steal away from our day.

I had a special moment several years ago. I had been bringing the Eucharist to an elderly man named Joe. Joe had dementia as well as other infirmities that come along with old age. 

I had taken a call from Joe’s daughter, who happened to be a pastor in South Dakota. Linda, called to thank me for ministering to her father, and asked how I was doing. At that time, I was looking for employment and I asked for her prayers.  

Unlike many instances either in conversation or via social media, she did not respond, “okay I’ll keep you in my prayers”. She asked me if it would be okay if we prayed together, right then and there over the phone.

In a moment, Linda’s pastoral mindfulness made her present for me immediately, in fact, a peaceful calm chased away my anxieties, and the Lord was present with us that very moment. 

Linda took the time to let prayer interrupt her day as she ministered to me two thousand miles away.

As we approach Pentecost Sunday, where we recall Jesus sending down His Spirit to all those present with the Apostles in the locked upper room.  May we invite the Holy Spirit to perfect our prayer and our laments to the Lord.

“The Spirit helps us in our weakness, for we do not know how to pray as we ought; but the Spirit himself makes intercession for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in speech. He who searches hearts knows what the Spirit means, for the Spirit intercedes for the saints as God himself wills.” (Romans 8:26-27)

Holy Spirit guide us to allow prayer to interrupt our day, help us to be present and actively pray with people the moment we recognize the need for prayer and with other's requests for prayer.

I’m sure I’ll get annoyed again. With God’s good grace I pray for patience.

I know He’s never annoyed about hearing from us!

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Homily – Family Mass – Fifth Sunday of Easter – Deacon Stephen Yusko 4/29/18

Today I would like to focus on three spiritual truths* we can get out of today’s first reading in the Acts of the Apostles.  St. Paul is the most important figure in the life of the Church besides Jesus.
Saul (now St. Paul) Had just had a fantastic conversion experience on the way to Damascus.
Looking at Saul’s life prior to his conversion we see him as “a bully” a terrorist, hunting down early Christians. Breeding murderous threats… totally opposite of Jesus Christ.

#1 Never, ever give up! Never think that you are permanently beyond the pale and cannot be forgiven and sent on mission. (I’ve done things that I can never be forgiven for.)
Yet look what God did for Saul, never ever give up!  Christ can change you. Don’t doubt it.
Saul was “On Fire” to destroy the followers of Christ…. Saul the Bounty Hunter – He’s a Spy!
Barnabas – “Son of Encouragement” - took charge of him and brought him to the Apostles…

#2. We are Never in this thing alone!  Paul’s experience is intensely personal – but lived it out in community. Without Barnabas, the mission would have never got off the ground.  He needed Barnabas to get him integrated into the community.  Encourage him to “Get on the move”.
Be on the look-out in the mystery of divine providence for the people who help you along.  We have lots of Barnabas’ around to encourage… who are they in your life? People sent to take charge of you and guide you.

Paul knew his life in Christ meant life in community. This powerful individual of God knew that his great need was to be with other followers of Christ, often.
The power of actively working within the parish community will help you recognize the divine providence at work in your life, and the lives of your children.

Paul Spoke out boldly – Debating / Challenging 
I’d like to tell you a story of My best friend Bob. Bob was not always my best friend. He was more of an acquaintance of mine in High School. To be honest, Bob irritated me. He was obnoxious, argumentative and a knucklehead… in my humble opinion at the time.  And only over time, did things change and evolve, and in hindsight, it was through our most personal sufferings and over time, our relationship evolved into something deeper. Maybe we both had an epiphany of sorts about each other.

We shared each other’s trials and tribulations, joys and good times. We grew in a community of tight-knit friends.  Today I appreciate his forthright manner at which he could get to the heart of the matter and envied his ability to challenge and encourage.   You see, Bob is my Barnabas, my “Son of Encouragement”.  Bob is the richest guy I know, who’s wealth is not measured by a bank account, but the gift of empathy, a gift God provided him through suffering.  Bob has the uncanny ability to sense when someone is hurting, and most importantly, acts on the moment with Christ-like charity.  I am very blessed by Bob.

This brings us full circle back to Paul.  This radical bounty hunter, experiences the Risen Christ, then is under Barnabas’ charge, brought to the Apostles, speaks boldly … and then is sent on a cruise…to Tarsus, where he would be formed on sabbatical for ten years, and become the greatest missionary in the Church.

Many times, when we are tried and tested, and suffering. We call out. “Hey, God, I didn’t sign up for this”.  And here’s the mistake we make. We demand to always understand. “OK God, I’ll do the suffering, if you are willing to explain!”
God first calls us to Himself and then to a task, a mission. We are called to drawn closer to Him in our suffering. To become his instruments and recognize the significance of what he is doing in us as well as though us.

#3. Speak Out Boldly   when Saul received Christ, he understood one thing clearly – he could not / would not keep Him to himself! Saul, this remarkably strong, vibrant disciple of Jesus, shared his faith wherever he was, however he could.
Many of us are forged in the fire of suffering. We are all in formation and need to look to deepen our faith and act according to it.   Let Prayer interrupt you day. Take time to read the scriptures, if not the daily readings, prepare tonight for next Sunday’s scripture.  Most of all, prepare yourself to receive the Eucharist, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ. Do a daily examine of conscious each evening and frequent the sacrament of penance / confession.

Never give up, ask for God’s mercy forgiveness and his mission for you. Remember we are not alone is this and be Bold and Set the world on fire with the Love Christ.

*The framework of this homily was influenced by a podcast from Bishop Robert Barron on the readings for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2018.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Fourth Sunday of Easter Homily –  April 22, 2018

Why follow Jesus? Why follow Him? Will our lives be easier, will there be less trials and tribulations? Many seem to think that faith in God, and following Jesus comes with a guaranteed freedom from adversity. Not so. If as followers of Christ, we believe that our pastures will always be green and paths smooth, and suddenly turmoil strikes, our faith can be severely shaken.
As an old man, and yet still an infant Deacon, I have been blessed by the encouragement of good clergy, like Fr. Francis and I have also confronted wolves in sheep’s clothing.
John 10:12-13: “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, see the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep”.
Jesus is contrasting His own sacrificial love and care for His sheep with the false shepherds of Israel, whom He here calls “hired hands,” who only cared for themselves.
So ask yourselves: “Who do we follow?”  Do we allow ourselves to be caught up with charming characters who entertain, or should we tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepard?
As our psalm says: “It is better to take refuge in the LORD, than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the LORD, than to trust in princes.
“God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
And when I doubt, when I am tested, when institutions fail those they are meant to serve, when I am let down, the good people of St. Joseph’s remind me of whom I follow… I follow Jesus.
There is a very powerful word in the New Testament: AGAPE
AGAPE...the Greek word for love. It is sacrificial seeking to serve. It appears 320 times in the New Testament.
Agape is sacrificial. It says, I love you when you are not very lovable. Agape is represented by Christ on the cross, extending His arms to embrace all humanity.
"I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Agape loves when it is not always convenient and when it is not reciprocated.
 It extends to both the deserving and the undeserving.
Agape in practical terms is welcoming the stranger, feeding the poor, restoring dignity which is stolen, taking a step-in sacrifice to benefit the other.
Agape is wonderfully illustrated throughout Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.
Many know the story, Jean Valjean spent 19 years in prison for the crime of stealing a loaf of bread. By the time he was released, all that he had and knew in life beyond prison was gone.
Desperate and alone with no place to go, Jean Valjean, knocked on Bishop Bienvenue’s door.
The Bishop welcomes this stranger, feeds this poor soul, restores his dignity, calls him brother. He provides sacrificial care for him.
Jean Valjean spent a night at the Bishop’s house., But in his fear and desperation, Valjean stole some silver place settings and fled.
Apprehended by police, Jean Valjean was returned to the Bishop’s house to answer for his new crime.
However, the Bishop sensed his crime was minuscule next to the real crime – the years stolen from Jean Valjean’s life.
To the astonishment of the police and Jean Valjean, the Bishop declared the silver to be a gift freely given, and then threw in two silver candlesticks that the Bishop claimed Valjean had left behind in error.
It was an act of altruism and kindness, this Agape Love, that in the developing years set in motion Valjean’s transformation into a man of heroic virtue who in turn would transform others. New Life – Resurrection
Today we are faced with all sorts of strange teachings, self-centered help, and an unhealthy desire for mystical experiences and pious-like entertainment.
We can fall into the trap where ritual replaces self-sacrificial care for the stranger, the poor and the outcast. 
At each Mass, He leads us to the scriptures where we recognize His voice. On this altar of sacrifice we are invited to participate in Jesus’ gift freely given in the Eucharist.
Recently I tuned into a “Super Soul Conversations” interview conducted by Opra Winfrey and the Late-Night Show host, Stephen Colbert.
I was struck by his bold proclamation as a practicing Catholic and the common-sense advice he cherished from his late mother:
” When faced with hardships in this life, try to look at this moment in the light of eternity.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus invites us to everlasting life. “This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.”
Why follow the Good Shepherd? Follow Jesus because he cares for you more than His own life. Follow Him because He saves us from our sins, follow Him because He transforms your life, here and now.
As one of His sheep. He promises (10:28), “I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish, an no one will snatch them out of My hand.”

Monday, April 2, 2018

April 2, 2018 - Apostle of Christ

Around Easter and Passover many are drawn to religious themed movies, The “Ten Commandments” with Charleston Heston, Mel Gibson’s the “Passion of the Christ” or last night’s live performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” with John Legend.

A few days ago, my wife and I went to see “Paul, Apostle of Christ” in the movie theater. The movie depicts the early Church and St. Luke’s visits with St. Paul in prison.  An excellent movie which I highly recommend.

I often find inspiration in new places, in music, in the scriptures and in prayer. Seeing Paul in prison facing death and yet still inspiring the infant Church to the spirit of Christ and the mystery of the “Way” helps me look to a perspective from eternity, or God’s view compared with my own myopic view of any situation today. I am sure Paul struggled with his imprisonment and wondered how his circumstances could fit in with Will of God.

We have the benefit of the look-back in history to see how Paul’s prison time, led to the many epistles which speak to us today, as well as the birth of Luke’s Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.

Having a new vocation as a deacon has brought many challenges as well as blessings, as I approach the one-year anniversary of my ordination to the Permanent Diaconate. I love the people of St. Joseph’s in Babylon, as I am hopeful that our good works and ministries will find healing as we look to Jesus to direct our course.

I love to write and explore the many facets of life and the struggle to find deeper meaning and truth. However, recent demands in my “day job” has had me reassess the balancing of work, marriage, family and the Church. Recent decisions outside of my control, closed the window of one public forum. When opportunities to express what is in your heart are stifled at one window, another portal opens up. The Holy Spirit will not be bound up.  

I trust that God will help me find the right platform to continue to express the inspiration I find in the Good News, in the conversations I have with new friends, with fellow parishioners and the good priests and deacons who give me encouragement and strength.

Having lived in my parish for over twenty-five years now. I have seen both the miraculous and the misguided.  I have worked with incredible people, humble people who don’t look for accolades, but who answer the call to action to feed the poor, visit the sick and dying and who testify to the Gospel with their actions
I have seen both devotion and division. Even when it seems most dark before the dawn, I trust always the God will calm the storm and steady the waters. 

Don’t let the last snow of Winter get you down, because we should all hope in the warmth of Spring and the God of all creation who is the Divine Source of Love.

May all of us, receive the grace that sustained St. Paul in his times of trial. May we follow God’s Will and run the race well.

With the knowledge that we have Jesus’ promise of the Resurrection, may we look to this new life, right here and now, and into life eternal.

Easter Homily – Family Mass – April 1, 2018 

On behalf of the clergy, I welcome all, visitors and parishioners alike to the Family Mass and I wish you a most Blessed Happy Easter.

Each Sunday at this Mass we usually invite the children up around the altar, and the priest or deacon would dialog with them on the scriptures and the gospel.  In order not to create more chaos, of which I seem pretty good at I’m going to have children remain seated.
Each Sunday, we look to God’s Word and grapple with meaning and message God has for our lives. I am amazed each time I preach at this Mass on how the Holy Spirit speaks to us though our children.

Today is a Most Special Holy Day, the most important day in the Church, especially with all who believe In Jesus Christ, our Savior, the Son of God who, takes on our sins, and brings us back to right relationship with the Divine Source of Love, the Way back to God and to a life fulfilled.

Today begins the New Season of Easter, did you know Easter is a “Season” in the Church?  From this Easter Sunday we count 50 days, which brings us to Pentecost in June.
And it all can be summed up in two words. Really two words – NEW LIFE

We see signs and symbols of new life all around us, we just need some insight to recognize them.

How many of you colored Easter Eggs? Colored Easter Eggs were given as gifts by the early Christians. They represent the Tomb of Christ and Rebirth –Two Words – NEW LIFE

Now that the snow has melted, and the temperature is warming up what signs to we see on the trees and bushes?  New buds beginning to form, which will become flowers and leaves, what do they represent? – NEW LIFE

Without a Winter there can be no Spring. Without the Crucifixion, (The Passion & Death) there can be no Resurrection. 

We need to awaken hearts and our memory of God’s presence and power in our lives, to look more closely at all the beauty and diverse goodness of God’s creation.

Not only in nature, but Jesus’ presence in our brothers and sisters, in our neighbors, in the stranger, the poor, the immigrant  and the outcast.

The world we live in seems so much a mess. As parents we worry about safety of our children. Places of protection have become vulnerable to attack. People in authority let us down, and so often seem incapable of action; to bring about justice and peace.

There has got to be a better Way. (Pause) And there is. There is Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life. John 11:25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies, shall live.

Jesus’ gift is His presence in the Scriptures, His presence in you, the Body of Christ, and his Presence in Holy Eucharist. When we have Christ within us, we become transformed, resurrected

St. Peter speaks to us as a friend testifying to the risen Jesus. Anointed by God, with Spirit and power, healing. God raised him on the third day… all the prophets witnessed to Him.
What does the Resurrection mean to you, what does it mean to your loved ones, these children?
There is the Resurrection when we pass from this life to the next…but what about a Resurrection, here and now?

God’s joy is for us to live a life fulfilled, today here and now and into life eternal.
Let us be intent on the Life Christ offers us.

We should not surrender to the notion that “This is as good as it’s going to be.  I want a life fulfilled. I know there will be hardships, but I also trust in the Truth of Jesus’ promise to each one of us at our Baptism. As we die to sin, we also rise in Christ.

Christ conquers death and gives us the hope of a new life. 
The children who are here are our hope. Our parents and God-parents at our baptism, promised to instruct us on the mysteries of our Faith and to encourage our participation in the sacraments.

When we look to the Resurrection, when we fully participate in the Holy Mass, when we accept Christ’s invitation, our hearts will be transformed.

Despair becomes hope. Sorrow becomes joy. Struggles transform into opportunities for holiness. Two Words – NEW LIFE  

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Saturday Reflection – Morning Prayer – March 31, 2018

Hosea 5:15b-6:2  

As we reflect on today’s morning prayer and the reading from Hosea, we hear of a lament and anguish over suffering. 

One line jumped out at me. “Hear my voice Lord, as I complain.”
We all complain to one degree or another. I believe I have it down to artform… one of which I am not proud.

Our complaints and laments can seem like “Singing the Blues” – Lord are you out there, do you hear me? Why am I going through this pain, what have I done to deserve this?
We never know how long our life will be here on earth, “my life is like a tent, you have folded up, like a weaver who severs the last thread.”

Lent is a time, for prayer, fasting and alms-giving.  A season for us to change our posture of heart, with a course correction to follow the Way… His Way … the Way of the Cross.
“In their affliction, they shall look for me.”

Last night I had a wonderful blessing to hold the cross during the Veneration of the Cross as last night’s liturgy.

At first, I held the cross out for many of you to venerate in your own way. Some embraced the cross, knelt before the cross, kissed the wood of the cross, others simply held the cross or blessed themselves before the cross.

I continue to grapple with Christ’s words in Luke 9:23 Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”

Jesus who had no sin, takes on our sin’s and suffers for us on the Cross. During his road to Calvary Jesus embraces His cross and asks us to do the same.

Knowing Jesus’ promise to us through Baptism that he has prepared a place for us in Eternal life, we need to look beyond our moments of suffering and anguish and embrace the perspective of Life Eternal. Our sufferings here and now are but a moment, but how we embrace our cross today places us on the road to salvation.

The question of personal suffering or suffering in this world cannot be answered. At times of testing and pain, we should know Christ draws ever closer to us.  We lament, we complain, we are called to pick up our cross and follow the Way.

There’s a great scene in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, where Jesus falls on the way to Calvary and Simon of Cyrene is begrudgingly called into service to help Jesus carry His cross.

As good disciples, we are called to do the same. As we continue to pray our prayers of lament, we are also called to recognize the pain and suffering of our brother’s and sisters, in our family with our neighbors right here in Babylon.

Like Simon of Cyrene, Christ is calling us to service. As His good graces strengthen us to bear our cross, we too, are called to bear one another’s cross.

A practical way to help others is in the “ministry of presence” – it’s time to go to the Assisted Living Facility to be with the lonely, the sick and infirmed” Not only to visit the people we know, but to reach out to those who don’t get visits.

The inertia to pick up this cross, may seem overwhelming…”Well that’s not my thing!” "What do I say, I’m not comfortable with that."

Cast your worries away… have trust that God will guide your actions and provide the healing words you need to say in his name.

We all may very well be the eyes, the ears, the hands and voice of Christ for those who suffer.

Before the weaver severs the last thread.