Wedding Homily for Home Beer Brewers Sara & Erich

On Labor day weekend I had the privilege of presiding at the wedding of my cousin’s daughter and her fiancé in another parish. Afterwards, I received many compliments on the homily and how appropriate it was to the couple. You see, they are both beer enthusiasts who brew beer and meet at a group for home brewers in Washington D.C. The groom proposed at a favorite craft brewery in southern Illinois, Scratch Brewery. After getting positive feedback from an editor of a national publication, who was a friend of the couple, about my use of an extended metaphor (I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing), I admit I got a little “big-headed” for a while and asked the couple for permission to publish the homily on my blog, which they have graciously given. Perhaps a few home brewers will find their way to this corner of the internet if they search beer and brewing and wedding. It’s published here for those friends and relatives who wanted to revisit the homily, too.

frjoeerichsaraCongratulations and Best Wishes to Erich and Sara! May you have many happy years together as husband and wife.

Wedding Homily for
Erich & Sara
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Herrin IL
September 3, 2016 – 2:30 PM
Rev. Joseph C. Rascher, homilist and presider

Readings:
Tobit 8:4b-8
Colossians 3:12-17
Matthew 5:1-12a

Most of us know that Sara and Erich first meet at a club for home beer brewers in Washington D.C. Both our bride and groom brewed beer at home then meet attending a club of home brewing enthusiasts. So how could I not make at least some reference to beer in my homily this afternoon? I promise I won’t belabor an analogy about the process of brewing to making a successful marriage but I couldn’t resist looking up a quote attributed to one of our nation’s founding fathers. It’s popularly believed Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” As I looked for the quote on the internet I came to find out Mr. Franklin never spoke such a thing! Well, if you can’t believe that a founding father of the country said such a great truth, what can you believe?

Here’s the actual quote.”Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” That actual quote is a bit more poetic. This quote about vineyards watered by God’s rain actually points us toward a truth we can believe in that we are witnessing this afternoon. Here’s something to believe in — God wants us to be happy. God showers down upon humanity his grace, his love where it enters the hearts a man a woman and brings them together in marriage. Their marriage then produces a new reality, a fruit of oneness that is sweet and complex and joyful and yes, sometimes a bit bitter like hops, but a wonderful coming together of individuals that can witness in the flesh to the presence of God’s love in the world. God is at work this afternoon in this liturgy making two baptized people into the sign of his unity. We are witnessing the revelation of the Love of Jesus in human flesh so that the world will get the message, God is Love and Jesus still dwells with his people. Bride and groom become something more than a legally bound partnership. They are changed into a visible sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Sara and Erich, those who are married many years (like some that are gathered here with you to celebrate your wedding) will tell you the process of becoming this sign of “God Love” takes time. Saint Paul, one of the founding fathers of the church wrote the recipe of how you’ll become more and more this sign of “God Love” revealed in his Son Jesus who you will now enflesh in your becoming one as husband and wife. In our conversation on Thursday about the readings you said as much.

In generous portions you both will need to show each other compassion, humility and forgiveness. There is one more essential ingredient to make this marriage a sign of “God Love” in a union that is bound together for ever — The Love of God revealed in the life of Christ. Not just welcoming that love in praying together. Not just acknowledging you need God, like Tobiah and Sara did on their wedding night as we heard in the first reading. Together, you must love like Jesus. That means sacrificing the self on the cross of your life that so the life of your spouse (and one day, children) may be richer, more alive, full of a joy that can not be taken from you. As Pope Francis has written in his Apostolic Exhortation On Married Love, “The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Ten Commandments – capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”

Erich, you also reminded Sara and yourself in our conversation that this task you embark on, today (and have been on for a few years), will take the ingredient of patience. The second reading is Paul’s recipe for the faithful disciple, and yes, the successful marriage. Paul stresses patience with each other; patience with yourselves for not being perfect. Patience, like the compassion Christ showed us sinners on the way to the goal of God’s kingdom will be the “yeast” that takes time to do it’s work. The yeast of patience will ferment the perfect brew that satisfies the pallet of your marriage over time. Then the rest of us, including your children and your children’s children, as the nuptial blessing says, will share in drinking of the love of God in our midst that you have revealed over a lifetime.

All of us should be aware of something, though, about biblical times and the symbolism of yeast. Yeast was not a thing you wanted around in your house during the high holy days of Passover. It was a symbol of corruption, something that destroyed the purity of the unleavened bread needed for the feast. And as our couple know, too much yeast and the beer is destroyed. (Didn’t Sara have a batch blow up in her apartment closet once?)

In a way, marriage truly lived according to the vision of the church and of the Beatitudes we have heard in the Gospel can corrupt the world. Married Christians should be a kind of “corrupting” influence mixed into our world where selfishness seems to be the motivation of so many. We live in a society where violent aggression is seen as necessary to establish the superiority of a political or religious system. The culture we live in is an environment of toxic individualism. Married Christians by their example of selfless love for each other and their children are to be the corrupting yeast that breaks down the selfishness of society, reveals cooperation is the antidote to violence and helps others see that we are responsible for the well-being of one another. It was wonderful to hear Sara tell me in our conversation how “We both feel strongly about social justice. We both want to try to help the less fortunate. As a couple we need to be people for others and not just focused on ourselves.” You get the Beatitudes. You both are “Blessed” for you recognize that you must live in the Kingdom of God here and now in a culture that needs the yeast of corruption, married love. You’ll just be a small influence, but small is always powerful in the Kingdom. As Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who will declared a saint tomorrow once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This is your task. Love greatly! Be Gospel, be Good News! The world needs your witness to the power of God who wants us to be happy.

Sara and Erich, you are entering into a great mystery not to be solved or even understood. You are embarking on a journey of discovery where you’ll come to know more and more how deeply you are capable of loving. That journey will take you to new places where you’ll discover how profound is the mercy, the love of Christ for us.

Erich told me of a quote from Kaiser Wilhelm: “Give me a woman who truly loves beer and I shall conquer the world!” (And then he lost WWI!) Another quote not to believed as true. But believe this… “God’s love given you in baptism has given you each other to love without measure. His love revealed in you will advance God’s Kingdom in this world, enabling others to know God loves us and loves to see us happy. Remember this truth, God’s love has conquered this world of death!”

May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion!

 


Transfiguration Day Thoughts from a Hill

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Gospel reading for the Feast of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36)

For about 4 weeks I have been residing and taking part in a mini-sabbatical at St. Meinrad Archabbey and School of Theology in southern Indiana. The program I attended is called Stoking the Fire. As the web site describes the program, “For priests at midlife, Saint Meinrad’s Institute for Priests and Presbyterates has an integrated four-week sabbatical program to help you relax, recreate and recharge your spiritual life, update and expand your theological intellect, and renew your fire for pastoral ministry.” It accomplished this to a degree for me but the fire could still be hotter, too. You see, I enjoyed my time back at my seminary alma mater relaxing, recharging, praying often with the Benedictine monks whose community sponsors the seminary and School of Theology located here, and in general just being away from the responsibilities of the parish for a while. But, I find myself in an emotional place, today, the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is a day after the program ended and two days before I return home and I’m not feeling quite ready to return to my parish.

Don’t get me wrong. I have missed being with my parishioners who I love. I have been moved to deeper prayer by the chanting of the various liturgies of the monks. Yet some days I  wanted to celebrate a more parish like liturgy. The sabbatical sessions were informative and lead me to some good insights about my priestly ministry, spiritual life and human experience. This lead me to understand a bit better my life situation and see where I need to go. But, like the Peter, James and John who experienced the transfiguration of Jesus upon the hill/mountain that today’s feast commemorates I’d like to erect my tent and stay here for a while more and not go back down into the villages and towns of the Diocese of Belleville and St. Mary, Trenton. Here’s what makes the analogy even more real for me. Saint Meinrad is built on a tall hill! I’ve been reflecting on the mature, fully realized vision of priest and pastor, enjoying the conversation with elders of the tradition akin to Moses and Elijah. It’s kind of nice to get away, to see what is possible in my life like the apostles were able to see what Jesus would become after his journey to Jerusalem was fulfilled. Who honestly wants to leave a comfortable, non-stressful place when he or she knows that some hard work, perhaps some difficult times and stressful days are going to happen very soon. It’s very natural to want to live in the world of the ideal now and always while avoiding the struggle of the journey that will eventually get us to the goal. We can’t avoid the cross! Sometimes death, sacrifice and conversion of heart must take place in our life’s journey. Jesus invites us to walk with him the journey of discipleship in good times and bad. Hill top visions are given to sustain us as we walk in the valley of death, the everyday stuff of parish pastoring.  transfiguration

The reason Jesus allowed some apostles to see his post-resurrection self before the crucifixion, in a narrative sense, was to give them the courage to face his crucifixion, to give meaning to what would seem to be meaningless death. The truth is the apostles didn’t get the full meaning of their hill-top experience until later after they had gone back to following Jesus in the “real world” of ministering to people’s needs eventually ending up in Jerusalem and getting unjustly murdered.

I know I will better understand what I have experienced for four weeks on the “holy hill” of St. Meinrad at some point in the future. The experience of sabbatical doesn’t end when I drive off the hill on Monday morning. It was given me to sustain me as I begin another chapter of my Gospel story doing the work of growing spiritually, humanly, intellectually and pastorally.

I’m grateful for my time on “The Hill.” Don’t hold it against me that I sometimes think about staying. The voice of the father said “This is my beloved son. Listen to him!” and he’s saying it’s time to get back to the journey of being more a authentic human, disciple and priest in my parish. The fire has been stoked a bit. I’ve realized some things I’ll need to do to keep it warm and bright so that it may warm me when the day-to-day life of this pastor gets a little difficult until the next time I can visit on a hill with those who can help stir up the flame another time.  Life is a continual series of hills and valleys. Eventually, those who persist in the journey will see themselves not having to leave but forever in the presence of the light who is the fire of  desire in our heart, Love incarnate, Jesus the Lord.


Orlando and a God of Life

Homily for the 12th Week of Ordinary Time — Cycle C 2016

Readings for the 12th week of Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Zechariah 12:19-11; 13:1
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Perhaps you have heard of the terrible event that happened in Orlando early last Sunday morning. Most of us are aware of the murder of 49 people in a nightclub and dozen others who were wounded by a single gunman. And, perhaps, you came here today hoping to get a reprieve from the news of such violence.  After all this is church, not the news. You might say to me, “People come to church to hear comforting words about Jesus’ love for them, not to hear commentary on the news, Father!”

Yet, the event of last Sunday kept coming to my mind as I read the words of our first reading. “They shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son or firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem (or Orlando) will be as great as the mourning that followed a previous tragedy in the plain of Megiddo (or Sandy Hook).” The Scriptures insist we apply the Word of God to our present situation.

Evil is very present in our world. The seductive voice of the devil still influences people with the promise that God will be served or the world will be a better place if violence is used to impose your will on others. Violence, killing, seeing human beings created in the image of God as somehow inferior to yourself, a “true believer” is the work of the devil still rebelling against the Rule of God and His kingdom of love. Therefore gay folk must be killed. People who worship Christ as God must be eliminated. It’s o.k. to use violence to silence those who disagree with my political point of view. Our world still experiences the seductive voice of the Evil One.

417px-JesusTeachingAs Catholics, our Holy Father, Our Bishops, our Scriptures would have us be clear about how God operates. Today’s Gospel reading has us recall how Jesus Christ taught his disciples to respond to evil. And it’s not with more violence.

First, God is a God of life. God never causes death or condones violence that brings death to any of his children created in his image. Those who claim to kill in the name of God are not hearing our God’s voice but the voice of the evil one who tells the lie that violence against human beings pleases God or will make the world a better place. Instead, God uses his son’s non-violent acceptance of death as the means of destroying evil.

Secondly, this God of life is the one God worshiped by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, the sacred scriptures of all three faiths descended from Abraham have been perverted by people seduced by evil throughout human history. The same God of all three faiths wishes to establish a way for humans to live in reconciled peace. This God worshiped by Jew, Muslim and Christian does not cause or condone evil. There is no room in the Christian heart for judgement of another person because of their religion rightly practiced. God is all good. God is great. God is life. God, by his very nature is incapable of causing death. But, in Jesus Christ, we believe, God has taken on death and destroyed the power of death to deny humans life. This is what Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel. God will destroy the power of evil that causes human suffering through His own death. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed by evil men and on the third day be raised.” Because Jesus became human, every human who loves others and who sacrifices his or her self for others (like some of the people in the Orlando club did) is Jesus enabling every human life to reveal the presence of the divine image in this world. And those who love unselfishly, Paul reminded us in the second reading no matter what their ethnic origin, (Jew or Gentile), economic status (slave or free), sex or sexuality (male or female), there is the potentiality of that person being Christ in the midst of the present day world.

Therefore, in a sense, an evil man once again killed Christ. Once again, in our own day, Jesus is persecuted, denied, and tortured. And once again, we are asked to believe with eager expectation that Jesus has THE WAY to defeat hate. He has THE WAY to destroy the power of death seemingly so powerful in our midst.

In the Gospel Jesus predicts death will not defeat Him. “The Son of Man will suffer greatly, but on the third day He will rise, again.” Those who are killed because of hate remind us to trust that the love of Jesus that did not resort to violence to win the victory over evil is the only way to live. Sacrificing of the self for the good of others, in union with Jesus, is the only way to peace, that is the ultimate reconciliation of humanity. Unfortunately, so many people on our planet and even in our country have closed the “ears of their heart” to this truth revealed by Jesus to the whole of humanity. So, evil seems to prevail, but only for now.

The events of Orlando bring us face to face with evil in our own backyard. The question of Jesus should be ringing in our minds. “Who do you say that I am?” A nice man with some nice thoughts to share? A fool? By our presence in this church memorializing him, thereby recognizing he lives in our midst, we are hopefully saying, “You are the one who can save humanity from its self and its violence. Not just at your return at the end of time, Jesus, but even now. We will not give into the voice of evil that says violence is the answer. We’ll even risk our lives for others, for we claim Jesus is the Christ, the God who reveals sacrificial love is stronger even than hate and death. Thoughts and prayers or hashtag “we are Orlando” is not a bold enough statement of our faith. Action that says we’re willing to follow Jesus promoting the dignity of every human, even to the death of our self at the hands of evil persons, is the only correct answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” You, Jesus, are the love of God for all humanity. You are mercy that definitively fixes the human condition so influenced by evil. You alone, Jesus, are our savior. May your church strive to more perfectly be your presence in a world that still knows the effects of evil so that we may share in your victory over the power of death.

©2016 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

(May I suggest you check out a statement by Sean Cardinal O’Mally, Archbishop of Boston who, I think, says more eloquently what I tried to preach
http://www.cardinalseansblog.org/2016/06/17/reflecting-on-the-orlando-tragedy/)

 


A God of Life Not Death

I know it’s been a least 6 months since I’ve posted…more about why in another post I’m preparing. For now, I invite you to read my homily from the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C in the Roman Catholic Lectionary.

Homily for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Readings for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C
1 Kings 17:17-24
PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Galatians 1:11-14A, 15AC, 16A, 17, 19
LK 7:11-17

Funeral homes are not comfortable places to visit. Anyone who visits the family of the deceased finds it awkward, an uncomfortable duty to go to the funeral home and stand in front of a casket. What do you say? How can I make the wife, the husband, the parent of the person whose body lies in the casket feel better like people naturally want to do?

God, in the person of Jesus has empathy for the funeral home experience. Jesus encounters a funeral in today’s Gospel. Surely, God’s emotional heart revealed in Jesus feels the pain of the mother following her son’s casket to the graveyard. Like any decent human, Jesus most likely was wondering, what do I say, what do I do?

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Nain Widow’s Son is Resurrected by Christ – mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

This story and others like it in the Gospels show us the death of people is not an unknown experience to God. In Jesus, God knows first hand, in an emotional way the pain and grief of death. Jesus encounters human grief and  human death not just in the young man of today’s story but many times Christ comes face to face with death in the Gospels. There is the time he visits the home of a dead little girl and says “Teletha kum” that is, “Little girl, get up!” Another time he cures from a distance the servant of a Roman official who claims he is not worthy to have the Christ enter his house. Of course, the experience of death got very personal when Jesus takes  four days to get to the home of Lazarus only to find out he’s too late and his friend is  already in a grave.

The death of people pulls at the heart of Jesus. Maybe that’s why he was willing to suffer death hoping somehow his own death would destroy death for he had seen how he was able to bring people back to life on numerous occasions. Each of these encounters with death stirs up God’s mercy and is sign of power of Jesus to control death. In Jesus, our God reveals his empathy, God grieves over the human condition that leads to death.

Here is the point of the Gospel. God desires life for his creation. God is a God of life! Death is not something The Lord sends humans, but rescues humans from. Death is not something God does to people (like the prophet Elijah of the first reading seems to imply). Death is something God controls. The Almighty has the final word over death.

Yes, the Lord knows the time of our deaths, but God doesn’t make death happen for death is the consequence of humanity refusing to live in God’s realm from the beginning. Death resulted because humanity refused to submit to God’s authority from day one. (“Hey let’s eat those apples God said not to eat! What’s the worst that could happen?”) You might say humanity brought it upon itself and God had to rescue humanity by becoming human so that he could die and restore order to creation. The Good News revealed in Jesus is that death isn’t as powerful as we think it is. Life is God’s desire for us. By having faith in Jesus Christ, by being a member of his Body we can have some control over our destiny, eternal life or eternal suffering. With Jesus we participate in the restoration of the human person created from the beginning to be alive able to know, love and serve God, without fear of life ending.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Resurrection_of_the_Widow's_Son_at_Nain_(La_résurrection_du_fils_de_la_veuve_de_Naïm)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Brooklyn Museum – The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain (La résurrection du fils de la veuve de Naïm) – James Tissot – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Because we are the Body of Christ, we also have the power to give life to those who are in the grip of the power of death. Yes, we won’t resuscitate a body like Elijah or Jesus in today’s readings. You and I will never be able to go to the death bed of a loved and make a dead body live, again.

But…
When Jesus resorted life to the young man, the mother was also given her life back. It the culture of Jesus’ day, she would have had to beg to continue to eat, to live. Women didn’t work. The culture of the day dictated that women rely on the men in their family to provide them a home, food and safety. The woman of Nain has no other men to give her life. Her only son is dead and she’s a widow. Jesus gives life to two people in the story.

Everyday we encounter the cultural forces of death that attempt to deny people life till they are born away in their caskets, too.
Hunger…
Illness…
The violence of war remotely revealed on our media screens…

What do we do? Ignore the grief, the suffering in front of us? Or be the Christ who is en-bodied in the church and reach out and touch those affected by death’s influence?

We need to listen to the voice of empathy tugging at the heart of Jesus beating in us that made him stop and touch the casket. We raise up to life those we feed through food banks and Rice bowl collections.We make life more comfortable for the sick person we visit or bring to the doctor or run the errands of a senior citizen who can no longer drive. In voting, in letter writing, being politically involved we have a chance to move our leaders and representatives to build a more just world were peace can take hold instead of resorting to violence. As members of Christ by baptism, we too, like him, can face death declaring God is a God of life.

Once we say we belong to Christ, we have a decision to make. We must choose to extend the power of Christ over death or we can just walk on by, ignoring the grief of humanity facing a grim future because it seems like we can do nothing. The spirit of Jesus lives in his church, us. Let our hearts beat with the empathy of Jesus, stopping to touch the lives of those under the power of death and bring them life.

© 2016 Joseph C. Rascher

O God, from whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on you in our need,
may at your prompting discern what is right,
and by your guidance do it.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Opening Collect for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Roman Missal, 3rd Edition


Greetings of the Season: Christmas Homily 2015

The Readings referenced in this homily are The Gospels from the Mass during the Night (Luke 2) and Mass during the Day (John 1) of Christmas

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Close up of the Creche at St. Mary, Trenton, where I am pastor

This time of the year, it’s become custom for people to send friends and family cards with short messages wishing the recipient some greeting of the season. Greeting cards with their short messages enclosed sent through the mail or by e-mail are part of the season. Merry Christmas or Seasons Greetings! Short, simple sayings that express what the meaning of the season is to the sender. The Scriptures proclaimed at the various Christmas Masses has some short sayings that express the meaning of the season, too, Sayings, that in short simple ways, express why we celebrate this festival day.

And the Word became Flesh 

And the Word became Flesh! This is the heart of our celebration. The Word became flesh. God who spoke everything there is into existence becomes a baby. The all-powerful, all-mighty infinite one is born in a manger in the body of helpless infant that grew in the confinement of Mary’s womb. How can this be? Why can this be? God became one of us to express his love for us. God takes on flesh in the child Jesus to show us mercy.

When people see someone in trouble, something in their heart says “I wish I could help that person!” It’s part of human nature to desire to reach out to another in need. Humans are made in the likeness of God. So, this human inclination to feel compassion, to desire to help those in need is a way that we express in a limited way how we are in the image of God.

The Father is compassion. The almighty God is mercy. His heart goes out to the humanity he created who discovered that like God they can make choices, a humanity that in Adam and Eve choose death over life in the Garden at the beginning of time. Men and Women are exiled in a land of death. God in his mercy can not stand by. The Father in mercy didn’t just desire to help, the Father became flesh, became human, so that a human could choose to break the bonds death in which humanity is trapped. Jesus eternal in the Father becomes man so that humanity can become, again, the creature that shares the nature of God, eternally alive, the prison of the grave broken open.

The Word, the Son of God that made humanity, becomes human. A baby of flesh and blood in a manger is God. the Word became flesh.

Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you

The angels send another greeting of the season. Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you! Don’t be afraid! God sends a message of hope that will sustain you even in the darkest moments of life. You need not fear.

Fear is a powerful motivator of action. Politicians use fear to convince voters that their lives are going to be worse if they vote for the opponent. People, fearful their land, their wealth, their resources are going to be taken away by an enemy arm themselves with weapons and go to war. Fear is so much a part of modern life. It keeps us from being the humans we were created to be by the Word of God; A community of men and women who support each other, who help each other experience love, who enable each other to live in harmony sharing all the resources they need to thrive.

A savior who will remove all threats to your life is born to you. A Savior who will show you the way out of the mess people have made of this world is among you. The reign of fear can be over if you accept this Jesus, the baby laid on the wood of the manger who will become the man hung on the wood of the cross. He will show you death to self in service of others is way to live. The God who empties himself of divinity for a while, shows humanity that they might be like God if men and women would empty themselves of fear of the other and serve them instead. Do not be afraid, a savior of the human race is born to you!

Glory to God, and on earth peace

Glory to God, and on earth peace! Peace be to you who give God the glory. Glory to God and on earth peace is God’s is the ultimate greeting of the feast.  But, as a traditional Christmas carol sings, “

And in despair I bowed my head
There is no peace on earth I said
For hate is strong that mocks the song
Of peace on earth goodwill to men” 

We daily hear about religious zealots waging war against those who do not believe as they do, claiming to be fighting for God. We know about refugees fleeing war and like Mary and Joseph finding no place to live because of fear. Our land knows the disruption of peace from protests or politicians stirring up crowds with talk of using military might to destroy an enemy. Yet the carol goes on to proclaim:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep
God is not dead nor doubt He sleeps
The wrong shall fail the right prevail
With peace on earth goodwill to men

Jesus has come in the flesh, to become the God-Man who brings not just the absence of war to humanity, but the harmony, the reconciliation of all people. The savior Jesus, God-with-us, reveals by his life, death and resurrection, that violence accomplishes only death. Peace comes to people of Good Will, any person who welcome the refugee, who shares their food, who recognize the dignity and right of every human person to have what they need to live and work towards that goal, like a man once born in a stable proclaimed Good News by his life, death and resurrection. Jesus will not be defeated. He will reconcile the human race and give it life now and forever. Glory to God, and on earth peace to those accept that Jesus lives in the flesh.

As we wish each other merry Christmas, as we gather around our trees and tables this night/day, let us remember the original greetings of the day.

  • The Word became Flesh!
  • Do not be afraid, a savior is born to us who will make humanity like God!
  • Glory to God and peace will come to all the citizens of earth!

For God will not be denied. The greetings of Christmas are his Christmas gift of mercy to us.


Keep Celebrating! Christmas is not over

May I suggest reading an article by the Rev. Christopher Keating of Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church in St. Louis that appeared on the Saturday edition Religion page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Rev. Keating writes about how the Christmas Season continues through January 10th (the Baptism of the Lord) and how many in our culture have a difficult time pondering over time the mystery of what we begin to celebrate on Christmas day. We need to time to contemplate with Mary the mystery of God become man.

After Christmas It’s Vital to Keep Hope

http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/civil-religion/faith-perspectives-after-christmas-it-s-vital-to-keep-hope/article_3f02a67e-9dfb-5f83-9637-3e78280a2fea.html


Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent – Surprise! God’s Way of Operating

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle C
Micha 5:1-4a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

UntitledOver the next week or so a similar scene will be played out in the homes of people celebrating Christmas with the exchange of gifts. Wherever gifts are given between family members usually there is the moment when the beautiful wrapping is torn away to be followed by a squeal of delight. The noise is a sign of delight, of surprise! Maybe it’s a expensive piece of jewelry. Perhaps the gift is more expensive than expected. Words follow. “You shouldn’t have! I didn’t expect you’d remember! This is wonderful!” Most people like being surprised by those who love them. The unexpected gesture or gift can be a sign revealing how much a person is loved.

Our God is the God of surprises. Our God loves to surprise humanity with  his generosity of mercy. Scripture constantly reminds us our God is a God who does the unexpected on a regular basis.

For example, there’s the pregnancy of Mary. She’s a virgin. Unless you do what men and women have always done in order to have a baby, you don’t. You can’t get pregnant. Yet, the virgin finds herself pregnant after it is revealed to her God needs her to cooperate in His plan and she agrees to let her body be used as the vessel of incarnation, the becoming flesh of God. You want to talk about surprises and a God who delights in giving gifts to the human race he loves? No one in Mary’s village would have suspected that a girl would be pregnant with out another man being involved. Mary was probably the most surprised.

And what about Elizabeth who we know was too old to have a baby. Yet, when Mary shows up to visit her Elizabeth is six months pregnant, the normal way, but still I’m sure Elizabeth was surprised one day to realize she’d was “with child.”

But this is how God likes to work. God prefers to do the unexpected, something out of the ordinary. Our God is the God of surprises.

As people of faith, as disciples of Jesus who reveals the God of the unexpected, we must be prepared for God to surprise us with the gift of his love, too. To follow Jesus is to expect to be surprised by God. Jesus revealed the God who doesn’t just do the same old, same old. After all, no one expected that Jesus, after being killed on the cross, would show up a few days later, alive, opening up the possibility of eternal life for the human race. We should expect God to surprise us, too!

But too often we people of faith forget God likes surprises and so go through our days thinking nothing can or will change. There will always be wars. There’s a good chance people will disappoint me or hurt me. I’ll get sick. The sun will come up, I’ll go to work, come home, have a little time with the family and do it all over, again, tomorrow. This attitude is a temptation of the evil one to forget the surprises  of love God has in mind for us.

We must remember that God wants to visit his people with the gift of his love and signs of his mercy. We must be willing to let go of our low expectations of the routin-ness of life and pay attention when God visits us so that we can marvel at God’s love, like when Mary, pregnant with the Lord visits his people in the person of Elizabeth and the yet un-born John the Baptist.

God surprises us with his love in many ways if we would be pay attention to his advent in our everyday life. The source of love reveals Himself in the hug and voice of a child in our family who spontaneously expresses her love for her mom out of the blue. “Mom, I love you!” We can be surprised by God’s mercy when a spouse says I’m sorry before the offended partner asks for an apology.  The lonely senior citizen, surprised by a neighbor who not only brings dinner but eats with the recipient of the meal; the call out of the blue from a friend who just wants to say you’re thought of. Little surprises, little visitations by the Lord of Mercy to shake us out of our routine of low expectations.

As people of faith we shouldn’t be surprised that God likes to show up at unexpected times with a gift of his love. We have to unwrap the bearer of the gift with eyes of faith that recognize in the guise of someone we know is actually the gift of the love of God.

The proper response when visited by Jesus’ mercy is to marvel we’ve been deemed worthy to receive the visit and to Thank God. What were the word’s out of Elizabeth’s mouth when Mary, pregnant with Jesus appeared at her door? “Who am I to be so blessed?” What did John the Baptist do? He started kicking up a storm in the belly of Elizabeth out of joy.

When we receive a surprise visit from Jesus, reminding us of how loved we are by God, we, too, need to express joy. We need to give thanks and marvel at his love. Maybe a whispered “Thank you God” when our children unexpectantly show their love. A prayer of gratitude lifted up in this Mass is good. Or, expressing charity in corporal acts of mercy towards others is appropriate.

The proper response when visited by Jesus’ mercy is marvel and thanks.

Since the church is a people who expect surprises to come forth from the mercy of God we need to look to Mary to be our model. Mary, experiencing the surprise of God’s blessing in her pregnancy goes to share Good News with another person. She takes a chance making the journey to Elizabeth. It was a risky trip. So should the church take risks to bring hope of surprising Good News into the world. Love triumphs, not hate, not violence. Life is precious and not to be wasted in killing or hoarding the resources of our planet for a select few. The church processes the Good News of Jesus, the powerless God, crucified by hate yet living for ever. By our works of charity, by corporal works and spiritual works of mercy, we become the body in which the surprising God will love the world now and until He comes, again, at the end of time.

In these days of Advent and the coming feast of Christmas we celebrate that God, wrapped up in the beauty of human flesh is inviting us to unwrap the human potential to change, to visit the world with peace and justice.  God has surprised us with his love in the incarnation of Jesus. Surely we should make a joyful noise to the Lord in liturgy and in our witness to his kingdom among us, for he has visited his people hope!


3rd Sunday of Advent Homily: Open the Door!

Readings for the Third Sunday of Advent
Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:10-18

churchdoorstmaryThe main interior doors of our church were “sealed” before Mass with a rope across them and a sign posted asking people to use the side aisle doors for this weekend. After the homily, the hymn “Theres a Wideness in God’s Mercy” was sung and a prayer blessing God for the symbol of church doors was prayed at the doors asking that parishioners who walk through them would always remember they were crossing over a threshold from the world of death into a place where the mercy of God is encountered in the sacraments. This was done to help people understand the significance of the opening of the “Holy Door” at St. Peter’s in Rome that inaugurated the beginning of the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis the previous Tuesday, and the “holy doors” that have been designated by Bishop Braxton throughout the Diocese of Belleville where a plenary indulgence may be gained without traveling to Rome.


Usually, people don’t pay too much attention to doors. In everyday life, people don’t usually notice the doors they walk in and out of. What’s the big deal about a door? A door is a necessary part of our buildings; a way to get in and out. Folks don’t pay a lot of attention to doors until they can’t get through the doorway! When the key to the house is locked inside and the owner is locked out, then doors are noticed! Or when people arrive at church to find that the door they usually go through to get to their pew is blocked by rope and a sign is posted “Please, use side aisle entrance.” Then a doorway gets noticed. So you’re probably asking what’s going on, Father? Why couldn’t we get into church like usual, today/tonight? 

Let’s just say I wanted you to notice the doors of our church. I wanted at least some of our congregation tonight/today to be shaken out of routine so that we all might reflect on the symbolism of a church door, in particular the “Holy Door” that Pope Francis opened at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome last Tuesday to begin the Holy Year of Mercy. Throughout the world, and here in our own diocese, doors in certain churches are being designated “Holy Doors” as part of the Holy Year of Mercy so that members of the church that can not travel in pilgrimage to Rome can still journey to a special place to walk through a “Holy Door.” Making pilgrimage to church with a Holy Door is a way to encounter God’s mercy that Pope Francis is asking all Catholics to focus on throughout the Holy Year. (By the way, our doors are not one of these designated sites for pilgrimage, but I wanted them to be symbolically “sealed” to make a visual point with my teaching today. A list of “holy door” sites was given you in the bulletin last week and will be posted on our parish web-site.)

So let’s ponder the symbolism of doorways for a moment! Doors are something we pass through many times a day. They don’t seem that important. Yet on a deeper level a doorway is a threshold to another reality. Thresholds like a door demarcate a division of space. Before we go through a door we are in one space or room and then on the other side of the door, we’re in another room. Or, on one side of a building’s exterior door you’re “inside” and on the other side you’re “outside” (yet, you could say going out a door of a building you enter the great outdoors!) A door threshold is a kind of boundary between two places, or even two kinds of existence.

Do you remember? Maybe not so much now-a-days, but it used to be a custom for a groom to carry his new bride across the threshold of the front door of their new home. People understood the gesture of carrying the woman through the doorway to mean this couple had left their single lives of being someone’s children in their parent’s home to enter a new reality where as bride and groom they set up a new home. Crossing the threshold was the beginning of their reality as husband and wife, in a new home where children would call them by new names, mom and dad.

The doors of this “House of the church” can carry the same weight of meaning. On one side of the door is an old way of life. Inside the door a new way of existing is celebrated. That’s why certain rituals of the church are done “at the door.”  When a child is brought to be baptized, the priest greets the infant at the door of the church. By baptism the baby will passover from the world of death and enter the halls of heaven in baptism. Greeting the child at the door we visually say you’re crossing over from the world of death “out there” to the life of Heaven we experience “in here” around the banquet table of life. This profound truth of our being united to the Body of Christ is repeated at funerals. The bodies of the dead are met at the door. Before the body passes through the door it is clothed in a white garment that reminds the living our deceased were clothed with life in Christ in baptism and now they will pass through the gates of heaven. In here the Mass anticipates the banquet of life of the new room the deceased has entered, heaven. Perhaps, not everyone can see a ritual done at the doors of our church, but those who are the primary participants are invited to experience the mystery being enacted, the baptized are able to pass from one kind of life “out there” to a new kind of life celebrated and made real just across the threshold of dying with Christ. On a deeper level a doorway is a threshold to another reality.

In the Gospel of John Jesus refers to himself as the Sheep-gate. The Sheep must go past him to get out of the sheep-pen to eat in the pasture. A gate is another kind of door. Jesus is the door through which we must pass to get to eternal life. Jesus is the way into a life of peace among humanity. Jesus is the door that opens to reveal God’s mercy-full love for men and women that redeems us from sin, the door that opens up to the possibility of the banquet hall where death is not invited.

This is why Pope Francis opening a door in Rome, to inaugurate a Year of Mercy is such a big deal. The Holy door at St. Peter’s in Rome and the doors of all churches throughout the world remind us that God wants us to come into God’s heart and know how much we are loved. By walking through the door of a church we say we accept Jesus as our redeemer, that he is the door into God’s new home is prepared for us where nothing we’ve done can destroy us or separate us from God. This is the purpose of the Holy Year and Holy Doors in the mind of our Holy Father, that we might discover anew that we loved by a merciful God.

But, here’s the deal. Listen to the words of John the Baptist in today’s Gospel. John was leading people through a symbolic ritual, too. He didn’t open a door. John’s symbolic gesture was to give people a bath in river water. The bath was like a door though. The baptism of John was a sign that those washed in the Jordan River were stepping out of one kind of life and entering a new relationship with God. The subjects of John’s baptism were saying I choose to live in a new reality, where God’s law comes first. People, wanting practical suggestions for how to live on this side of the threshold they had passed through in the Jordan asked John, “What shall we do now that we’re living in a new identity, new way of life dedicated to God, rejecting the past?”  And John said, “Put into practical action what you say you want, to live God’s rule! Be people of peace, not violence.” Those who walk through any church’s door are expected to repent, too,  to walk out the door changed by the Love of God experienced in the church’s sacraments. As Pope Francis is encouraging those who seek the release of temporal punishment for our sins (a plenary indulgence) by walking through a door called “Holy,” go and practice corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Help people cross over, in this world, the threshold from an existence of woe and suffering to a life where peace and comfort are possible. Then will God’s mercy be Good News to the world.

This is the cause of our joy this “rejoice Sunday” of the season of Advent! Jesus is the presence of God who has come into our midst with Good News and has opened the door of salvation! God doesn’t punish those who open their hearts to his mercy, he rejoices (c.f. first reading) we had the courage to admit our wrong and welcomes us with love, a love that will open the doors of the perfect life of heaven. He loves with a mercy that enables us to live even now on this side of the threshold of eternity in his presence in this building and as his presence in the world beyond our church doors.


 

A RITE OF RECALLING THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE DOORS OF A CHURCH prepared by the author

At the end of the homily Father Joe will ask the assembly to face the doors of the church and sing;

There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy – Verse 1

(During the first verse, priest (& deacon) process to the main interior padded doors of the church.)
At the door (Adapted from Liturgical Gestures, Words, Objects by E. Bernstein and used in the Diocese of Belleville training of Lay presiders for Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest)

Deacon / Reader:
I am the door.

Fr. Joe:
Front doors, back doors,
sliding doors, revolving doors,
barn doors, garage doors,
glass doors, wooden doors, screen doors,
yes, and more.

But person-door?

Deacon/Reader:
I am the door.  All who enter through me will be saved.

Fr. Joe:
Salvation door.
Kingdom door.
Porta coeli – Jesus door.

Deacon/Reader:
I am the door;
all who enter through me will be saved
and will go in and out and find pasture.
Enter by the narrow door.

Fr. Joe:
Enter by the Jesus door,
Through the heaven-earthly door.

Prayer Blessing God
Adapted from the Book of Blessings, Blessing of church doors and the prayer said by Pope Francis before opening the Holy Door of St. Peter. 

Let us pray.

Blessed are you, Lord, holy Father,
who sent your Son into the world
to reveal your omnipotence above all in mercy and forgiveness,
by the shedding of his blood,
grant that we might live a year of grace,
a fitting time to love you and our brothers and sisters
in the joy of the Gospel.

Continue to pour out on us your Holy Spirit,
that we might never tire of turning with trust
to the gaze of him who we have pierced,
your Son made man,
the shining face of your endless mercy,
the safe refuge for all of us sinners in need of pardon and peace,
of the truth that frees and saves.

He is the Door,
through which we come to you,
the inexhaustible source of consolation for all,
beauty that never sets,
the perfect joy of life without end.

Grant that your faithful may pass through the doors of our church,
and be welcomed into your presence,
so that they may experience, O Father, your abundant mercy
whenever we gather to for the Eucharist,
the Sacrament of Reconciliation
and all the sacraments we celebrate in this house of the church.

Through Christ our Lord.

As the doors are opened and deacon and priest return to sanctuary the assembly sings

There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy – Verse 2 & 3


Jubilee of Mercy

Jubilee Mercy Logo

Today Tuesday, December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis begins. I recommend checking out the official website to learn about what this Holy Year is about. I’ve put the link over to the left under “Sites I Visit” but you can go to it here, also

JUBILEE OF MERCY – HOME

Learn about the official logo, displayed to the left at Description of the Logo page.

The year continues to the Feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016.

Jubilee Prayer written by Pope Francis

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew
from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us,
the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after,
loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm,
may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus,
through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy;
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit
for ever and ever.
Amen.


Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent: Mercy comes!

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle C
Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

2nd Suday AdventIn our modern world, people might hang calendars on their walls to keep track of what day it is. Folks keep track of appoints and birthdays on their smart phones with applications called iCalendar or Outlook. In school, students study a subject called History and have to learn dates on which important events happened, like December 7, “a day that will live in infamy!” In this day and age we have a thing called the Gregorian calendar, commonly used throughout the world, to tell us what moment in history it is. Back in the day of the Gospel writer, a unified calendar the world agreed upon as we know now didn’t quite exist. Instead, you’d situate an event with telling people who was in charge, maybe a reference to your particular cultures calendar might be thrown it. If I were to talk about an event that was announced last March 13th in the way Luke dates the appearance of John the Baptist I might say.

In the seventh year of the presidency of Barack Obama; in the first year of Bruce Rauner as Governor of Illinois; on the 22nd day of Adar, 5775 in the Jewish calendar and in the tenth year of Bishop Braxton’s ministry as Bishop of Belleville: The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis, declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy!

Luke’s announcement dates the appearance of John the Baptist proclaiming God was establishing a new era. It was in a time, Luke says, when there was a need for people to experience something other than the oppression of civil and religious leaders making life miserable for them. It was in a time when human cultures, Roman and Jewish and various sub—groups of Jewish observance, made knowing God as a loving God difficult. Politics, religious differences, governments all made it hard to believe God was in control and that peace among people was even possible. A new day, a time of favor was needed.

Things are not much different, today, are they?

People motivated by misdirected religious fervor take the lives of innocent civilians in foreign lands and in our own country. Politicians stir up fear among citizens of people who are “not like us” all the while vilifying one another as something almost evil, follow them and doom will descend. Violence, power and manipulating the fears of a population become the so-called solution to our problems.

Into this mess has come a voice, Like John the Baptist, who proclaims “Change your hearts, change your way of life! God loves humanity and forgives men and women. God can heal the hurt we cause one another. He desires reconciliation, he shows us mercy!” Pope Francis, in giving us a Holy Year (Jubilee of Mercy – official Vatican website), is reminding members of the church that violence and fear and manipulation are not God’s way of fixing the problems of the world, the church or our own individual lives. MERCY, forgiving wrongs and seeking to heal the hurts of the past are the way of true peaceful living. MERCY is God’s gift to humanity that will enable every person to know they are loved and need not see others as a threat to their existence, but a brother or sister seeking what all people want, a chance to live, to live in peace, now and forever.

Jubilee Mercy LogoThis year will be a time to remember where we need not fear God but long for his coming into our  hearts. The fact that God’s love can cure what’s wrong with humanity is revealed in Jesus who is “Merciful like the Father.” The Holy Father’s hope is that if we encounter how much we are loved by God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in the celebration of the Mass we will extend that love through Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy towards others. We’ll cooperate with God’s mercy in building a more peaceful world. Recall that “corporal” has to do with taking care of the needs of the body, “Spiritual” with the needs of the soul and relationships between people. Corporal mercy is shown in feeding the poor or clothing the naked or caring for the sick. Spiritual mercy is shown when we help people turn away from sin or teach another something they were not aware of that will help them have a better life. These works of mercy are how God knocks down, how God will level the mountains of injustice that are the seemingly impossible boarders to cross between races. Valleys of fear of people who are different from us can be filled with spiritual and corporal works of mercy! As Pope Francis said in his homily at a Celebration of Reconciliation for Several Penitents with individual confession and absolution on the eve of the 4th Sunday of Lent last spring:

“Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion. Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (cf. Lk 6:36). And this especially applies to confessors! So much mercy!
I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.”

On this 6th day of December of the year of our Lord 2015, let us rejoice that God is coming with MERCY in this moment of time, this era of History to help us, to show us how to change our lives so that we are ready to welcome him when he comes at the end of time, the conclusion of historical time.


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