It has been a long time since I’ve posted something to my blog. Sorry about that, loyal readers…particularly you relatives who have been asking when I’d post, again.
The last couple of weeks have been very emotional for me. As I write this I’m taking a couple of days of personal time back at my seminary alma mater, St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary to pray, grieve and prepare to get back into the pastor’s saddle. You see, my father Aloysius died on January 24, 2015 after a short stay in a nursing home he had moved to on January 10. He had been living in assisted living for a month more than 6 years but declining health, physical abilities and worsening dementia made it necessary to move to a facility with more skilled care. The move to the nursing home was difficult for me because it was a sign of his growing mortality. When he needed to be admitted to the hospital a week after moving, the reality of his possible final days hit me hard in the heart. Making decisions about treatment options and hospice care left me realizing how much the roles had reversed in our relationship as father and son over the last few years. Keeping watch with him in the final hours (with the presence of my sister) telling him about my love for him and that it was o.k. to go be with mom (+November 3, 2008) tore my heart apart as his heart was failing from congestive heart failure. As I told my parish in a homily about the living out our baptismal vocation in particular vocations a couple of weeks ago that the last few weeks had deepened my understanding of the vocation of “son.” I was only to get more schooled in the vocation in next couple of weeks about dying to self for the sake of receiving life.
Dad, a man of faith who was proud to have a son who was ordained, also taught me much about the vocation of priesthood, too. For example, the last three years I have been able to celebrate Mass standing at his place at a table in his assisted living community’s dinning room. It was just coincidence, really, since that was the most logical place and table to stand at to preside at Eucharist in assisted living apartment community’s dining room. But, I began to see my standing at his place at table as some sort of spiritual parallel. Dad led our family in meal prayer at our family table. These last three years, for a while, I got to switch places and make that connection between domestic church and father of a parish family in a unique way.
One of the most difficult things to do as a priest is to celebrate the funeral of your parent. In our diocese this seems to be custom. I know of no other profession, vocation or family where the children of the deceased are then expected to lead and preach the funeral, to speak words of comfort to the church gathered with relatives, family and friends. Yet, by the grace of God and lots of love being sent my way from living and deceased members of the Body of Christ I’ve done it now for both parents. Tears were shed, of course. I asked the pastor of dad’s parish to preside at the final rite of farewell at the Mass and at the cemetery so I could stand with my sister and support her and she support me. Because many relatives told me how much they appreciated the homily I preached at the funeral and who wanted to read it I promised I would post it on my blog. Maybe, at another time I’ll share a bit more of how dad influenced me.
Thank you to my sister for helping take care of dad and me. Thanks, too, to all my relatives, brother priests, former parishioners, parishioners and friends who visited with my sister and me at the funeral home, sent cards or flowers, who expressed their condolences in so many ways. Your support and love are a sign of Jesus who wishes to comfort my sister and I at this time and strengthen our hope in the resurrection.
Love you, always, dad!
Funeral Homily for Al Rascher
Given by his son, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher, January 28, 2015
Job 19:1, 23-27a
I Corinthians 15:51-57
In late August 1973 a middle age man drove his son to college for the son’s freshman year. After the son checks in at the dorm the man helps his son move boxes to a dorm room (which happen to be 4 floors up with no elevator). Before departing to return home and leave his son behind to begin the adventure of college life this man gives his son some words of wisdom in the parking lot. “I never went to college. It may be difficult,” he says. “When things get hard pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She’s never failed me and has always come through with help when I needed it.” The son, anxious to get on with his newly waiting independence and too proud to admit he’s also a bit scared about college probably didn’t appreciate the wisdom and didn’t think much about it. That young man was not big on praying to Mary, anyway, being a child of a more contemporary style of worship in the wake of Vatican II.
Now, this same man drops off his daughter at college four years later. When the older brother asked his sister years later if she got the same advice about praying to Mary in the parking lot she says the advice given her was very different, but we won’t go into that, here. She was a bit more adventuresome young woman. Not a prodigal but she was more “social and found making friends easier,” so I guess the dad, very concerned about the freedom the 70s had ushered in, made a prodigal father offer. But nothing about praying to Mary.
Over the years the older son has come to appreciate the dad’s advice and has relied on it often as he’s matured. And so now he says “Mary, come through, again and assist the son to give this homily at such a difficult time! And, as some of my parishioners and relatives would say, don’t make it too long!”
The story shows how my Dad was a “Man of faith.” Faith was woven into his whole life. He could be described as that “man of faith” we priests often encourage our parishioners to be. His living faith in action is where my sister and I caught our faith that helps us face this day. I’m sure he’d protest he was a sinner like anyone else but for us he was an example of the blessing parents receive at baptism of their children in the current ritual, “May you be the first and best teachers of faith.”
It was not unusual to see him praying, daily. The rosary was a daily prayer. The prayer books he used till his vision failed him that sat by his chair at home and in his assisted living apartment had well-worn pages stained with the oils of his fingers. One of the joys of his retirement was to attend daily Mass here in this house of the church of St. Dominic for several years.
Not only was dad an example of faith in prayer, he also showed his faith in works of charity. He would, not in a showy way, talk about God’s goodness with us children and extended family and friends. He was able to show his faith in grief filled times. When my sister, her friend Diane and I gathered at Mom’s casket for the first time I suggested maybe we should say a prayer thinking it was the priest son’s duty. Even before I could open my funeral ritual book to the appointed prayers for gathering at the casket, Dad had decided he should lead our prayer and started the Our Father. So much for the idea that only priests know how to lead prayer. Dad reminded me all ministry comes first from baptism.
And his belief would slip out in unexpected ways even these last days when a mind foggy with dementia and confusion would make what he was saying seem like nonsense. A couple of times I heard him singing the refrain of the Battle Hymn of the Republic “Glory, glory alleluia!” to nurses taking care him. With a bit of hindsight perhaps we could see this as him praising God for what was beginning to happen there in the hospital and nursing home that would show God’s victory, death leading to life. ¿Was this his reminder to us not to grieve too much? God wins in the un-civil war of life and death. Christ is risen! Those who have faith in him and share membership in his Body will rise. This surely is reason to sing “Glory, Alleluia!”
Today, this faith that sustained dad is what we remember in our prayer for Dad and our grieving selves. Here was a “Man of Faith.” Faith was woven throughout his life.
The meaning of the passage from Matthew we’ve heard proclaimed “Come to me all you who are weary and I’ll give your rest” is not at all “Jesus will make it better so don’t worry, be happy.” We need to remember the yoke Jesus refers to is his cross beam he carried on his shoulders like a beast of burden accomplishing some work. The yoke is the cross of Christ that turns suffering and death into life. With the cross Jesus performs a work giving us a key that unlocks the door that all who are united to his Body pass through to eternity’s perfect full life. Each of us is invited to carry the cross of Christ when we are signed with that cross at baptism. Dad carried the cross with Jesus in many ways.
Perhaps for dad one of his greatest ways of sharing in the yoke of Christ was macular degeneration. It was an increasing burden that challenged him to trust Jesus would fix his sight one day in this final way, but painful for us who will no longer see him in this realm. Job said “With his own eyes he would see his redeemer, the one who puts all things right.” I suspect the greatest gift of the new resurrected body we pray he’ll enjoy is clear vision enabling him to see Christ and all those he loved. Human eyes failed him yet dad kept his vision of faith.
The corruptible body St. Paul writes about, so evident in Dad’s body, will, by God’s grace revealed in Jesus, give way to the incorruptible body of eternity. Mom, his sisters, parents and all of us will never be separated again by death.
In his living we see that dad saw the vindication, the truth of the paschal mystery, too. The paschal mystery is that truth of Jesus that fuller life comes from death to self.
For instance, young Al left his life in Salisbury MO behind in the early 1950’s and discovered a new life in his marriage to my mom thanks to his buddy Joe Kressig and mom’s friend Florence who got them together.
There were two open heart surgeries. (You know doctors pretty much kill you on that operating table, stopping the heart in order to work on it.) Yet, he came back more full of energy each time able to live more richly.
Dad gave of himself working long hours, getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 am, at an hour my sister and I would find extremely difficult to rise and shine, making what must have been a boring daily trip to a repetitious job on an assembly line building cars in a factory. Mom, Mary and I benefited with better life. And,hopefully, our sacrifices made his life fuller. The vindication of the paschal mystery was often revealed in dad’s life. Little deaths in this realm lead to better life. Surely, now God’s mercy will reveal eternal life to dad in this final death.
When asked “how are you feeling?” by doctors and nurses these last years and days of his life dad would often reply “Half left, half right!” Dad had a corny sense of humor he kept to the end.
Now, by God’s mercy, he can say he’s whole, no longer part redeemed sinner in this world separated from the fullness of life in the next. We who remain will for a time feel part of our lives has been separated from us, our lives divided into before and after the day of his death. But death doesn’t get the last word or forever divide us. One day his body and soul, all our bodies and souls, will be whole, again, because the death and resurrection of Christ justifies those who belong to his body. He makes us “all right,” forever! This is God’s merciful work. Remember in our grief dad showed he was able to receive Jesus’ gift of wholeness in eternity through his displays of faith.
Thomas Merton once wrote our task as Christians is to become what we already are (by baptism), one in the divine. Today, we can sing “Glory, Glory Alleluia!” because the savior Christ’s truth will lead us on in our human brokenness till he makes us “all right,” incorruptible, whole and alive one in the Body of Christ at the eternal banquet of life.