Category Archives: Family

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!

Wedding Homily for Alex and Lacy

Marriage clipartI have posted many homilies that I have preached on Sundays and other solemnities or for a couple of funerals on this blog. This time, I thought readers might like to see how I approach preaching at a wedding. What follows is the homily I gave at a wedding celebrated August 29 at my parish. Alex and Lacy are a couple I’ve been privileged to know as pastor the past four years.

Readings for the Nuptial Mass were
Genesis 2:18-24
Romans 12:1-2, 9-13
John 17:20-23

The word “transform” means to change. When something is “transformed,” it is changed to something else. For instance, when you use an electrical transformer when traveling in Europe the gadget changes 220 voltage to the 120 voltage used by our U.S. electronics. Otherwise, the electronic divide we want to use will burn up! To transform is to be changed. A group of individual athletes can be transformed into a team, functioning as one to achieve a goal. To do that they’ve got to think as a team, as one unit subordinating their individual wills for the goal of winning.

Catholics believe that the substance of things and the very core identity of people can be changed, too. Baptism transforms us into beings that can eternally live like God. Bread and wine are transformed in the Eucharist into the Body and Blood of Christ. Two individuals, a man and a woman can be transformed into one identity, one reality, one in body, soul and mind. In a few moments we’ll witness a transformation, not just a change in legal status, but a change in how Alex and Lacey exist!

In the Eucharist we’ll celebrate this afternoon our church believes bread and wine are changed, they are transformed into the sacrifice of Jesus recalled in a few simple words. Words have the power to change reality especially if they’re words spoken by Jesus. We know that bread sustains life. Now, Jesus sacrificed his body out of love for humanity. With the words “this is my body” he transforms food and gives us his sacrificial love in the form food that is changed to make real his presence in us and sustain the divine life given us in baptism.

Lacy and Alex will speak a few simple words this afternoon that will transform them into something different, too. The words “I take you to be my husband, my wife, all the days of my life!” changes this man and women’s reality forever. They are able to do this because Jesus wants it to happen, he wants to use their lives, their bodies, their love to make himself present in the world in another way but in a way similar to what happens to the food placed on our altar. Lacy and Alex will, in a sense, declare that they will be imitating the sacrificial love of Jesus that makes life possible even in the face of death. This couple will be changed into a sacrament of God’s presence in our midst by the sacrifice of their wills, of their bodies, forgoing of any other partner acting always for the sake of the other’s richer life. Their love will remind us of the love of Christ for the church. The world needs such Good News. Sacrificial love triumphs over death. Love is what enables us to live something like God, fully alive, forever.

In the reading from Saint Paul we heard Paul say “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind…” Paul is saying change your way of thinking. Don’t think like so many people do, today, that what’s important is MY happiness or I have a right to what makes me feel good as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. Alex and Lacy have chosen to reject this thinking and chosen to do “what is good and pleasing and perfect” in harmony with the “mind of God” by a change in their thinking that focusing on my individual single good life is the way to fulfillment to having another, the beloved, always on his or her mind and honoring them with a sacrificial love like Jesus did for his beloved bride, us, the church.

Alex and Lacy know how to make this sacrificial love of Jesus really present in their relationship so we can see Him in our midst. In our conversation about the readings they shared some insights. Reflecting on the first reading about the creation of humanity Alex said the verse about “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” meant for him that he and Lacy must “Constantly be thinking about the other person. Their pain is your pain, their joy is your joy.” Lacy shared in our conversation that the change of mind needed to be sacrament of Jesus means that “you’re making decisions together, doing things together instead of separately when your married. Things will work out no matter what if your love is on where, as St. Paul said, you show compassion towards each other, caring for each other.” Yes, Lacy and Alex are well on their way to making the love of Jesus present to others in this world. As Alex said of the Gospel God set the example for us to follow by sending his Son who would sacrifice his life in love for his spouse the church. We should love each the same way.

That love, to be like the Love of God revealed in Jesus, must give birth to new life-like the love of the Trinity gave birth to creation, too. Someday, we hope Alex and Lacy will be blessed with children. Then They’ll discover new depths of sacrificing the self out of love. The new domestic church we see created today will proclaim the Gospel (Good News) of Jesus in even more profound ways. Then  Alex and Lacy will see that emotional love may have led you here, today, but God has used this human love as a way to continue to reveal his divine love present in their lives and our lives. He’s brought them together so they can help each other to heaven and help us believe sacrificing yourself out of love for others triumphs over all forms of death, making life more abundant.

I have a little confession to make. I’ve already told it to Alex who said I could share this story. When I first came to this parish I watched Alex read and distribute communion. I saw some spirit in him that lead me to think that maybe he had a vocation to be a priest. Apparently, others did too, he tells me, like a legendary person in the history of this parish did, Sister Mary Richard. But my thinking had to change, to be transformed. Soon I found out there was this women in his life named Lacy! A beautiful woman and their love for each other was evident. Alex still has a vocation, to proclaim the Gospel as husband and dad and Lacy is his partner in this vocation. Together they will make the real presence of Jesus happen not at an altar table in the midst of the church gathered in a large building, but around the kitchen table surrounded by children and family and friends. The love of Jesus will go forth from their house church into the world. You see, each person transformed by baptism into a disciple of Jesus has the same vocation expressed in different forms, to spread Jesus’ Good News in some way. Today, we your family and friends, the church, rejoice that you have responded to his call to serve as husband and wife. May God bring to perfection the transformational good work he has begun in you, today, so that the world may know the Christ whom the Father has sent! Amen! So be it!



Bonheoffer Quote

Here’s a quote I often use when sending sympathy notes to others. Now that I’m the one receiving the sympathy cards, notes and wishes it makes an even deeper impression on my grieving heart.

Nothing can make up for the absence of someone whom we love, and it would be wrong to try to find a substitute; we must simply hold out and see it through. That sounds very hard at first, but at the same time it is a great consolation, for the gap, as long as it remains unfilled, preserves the bonds between us. It is nonsense to say that God fills the gap; God doesn’t fill it, but on the contrary, keeps it empty and so helps us to keep alive our former communion with each other, even at the cost of pain.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

How true!

He is not here! He goes before you.

He is not here! He goes before you.

Funeral Homily for my Dad

Photograph of my dad

Aloysius “Al” E. Rascher
b. 12/28/20 – d. 1/24/2015
94 years old

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
Matthew 11:25-30

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.

photo of icon of Mary

Photo of icon I gave to dad for Christmas many years ago with a note explaining how he taught my to pray to Mary when things get difficult. It was placed in his casket and buried with him.

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.

Post Surgery Reflections

I know it’s been a while since I’ve made a blog entry. It’s been a bit of an unusual summer, as readers probably have figured out. To add to the fun of moving this summer, I was scheduled for two surgeries. The first took place June 7 when I had my gall bladder removed. Then in July it was time to pack, move and unpack just in time for more surgery on August 4. Last Thursday, I had two hernias repaired with mesh. Ouch! I am happy to report the surgery went well. The first two days afterwards were a bit rough. The amount of swelling and soreness somewhat surprised me.

Since Monday, I’ve been doing pretty well and have been up and moving around. I’ve even made it across the street to the office each day for a while to check voice mail (I haven’t figured out how to retrieve it remotely). Probably should be taking more easy than I am, though. Tuesday afternoon a technician came by to install cable and devices so I could get internet and another T.V. hooked up in the rectory. I couldn’t stop myself from helping pull cable and was up and about more than I should have been. I’ve been feeling some pain.

I didn’t preside at Eucharist last weekend. Two of my brother priests filled in for me and I thank them. One was able to bring me communion in the rectory and anoint me Sunday morning . It seemed odd not to preside or at least participate in Mass on Sunday. I guess that’s because Sunday Eucharist is such an important part of my life. I wish it was for more of the members of the Church. How can they just decide not to attend? So, I thought about sitting in the sacristy during Mass while the visiting priest presided but then the mattress of my bed seemed to exert a magnetic force I could not resist while a fresh dose of pain medicine kicked in.

I am very thankful to my sister, Mary, who was able to take a few days off of work to be with me post-surgery for a couple of days. She’s sacrificed a bit of income, I’m sure, to be able to be here for me. I realize not every one has such a supportive family member. Her willingness to sacrifice some of her own time and treasure is a sign to me of the presence of Christ in my moment of suffering. She’s part of the healing ministry of Christ at work through his Body, the Church. So too is the skill of the surgeon and anesthesiologist and nurses who took care of me at the hospital. St. Mary’s Hospital in Clayton has been a very good experience for both surgeries.

I also have to thank a friend, Tony, who spent the day at the hospital, again, to keep my sister and I company. He helped back in June, also. I asked why he’d be willing to spend a boring day in a hospital to which he replied, “That’s what friends do.” Seems Jesus said something similar “There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend.” Now Jesus was talking about death for us and my friend certainly wasn’t offering to die for me. But, he did lay aside his life, his interests, his obligations for a day to focus on my well-being. That, too, is part of the Paschal Mystery that is always present in our lives even when we don’t particularly notice it’s there.

People in the parish have been very understanding. Unfortunately, I had to have another priest preside at the first funeral to occur in the parish since my arrival. I felt a bit guilty. Here I am, pastor and I can’t care for my parishioner in their grief. I managed to walk over to church an sit in a back pew of the transept during the “final farewell” rite determined to at least give a small visible sign of my desire to “be there” for the folks of St. Mary in their need, to “lay down my life for a friend.” Yet, I guess I still need to learn that letting go of life means letting go of the need to be in control and determine timing of all of the events in my life. I’m not in charge; God is and God will work on his time-table, not Joe’s. Others, not just me, will be able to show God’s compassion to this parish revealed in the ministry of Christ. In fact, it is necessary for the priest to learn to let others minister to him lest he miss the opportunity to encounter Christ and not just be the alter Christus our ordination makes us. Thanks to Fr. Jim Buerster for filling in for me.

Finally, thanks to those who have inquired about my recovery from surgery, how things are going in the new parish and for your prayers and well wishes.


The 4th Commandment

It happened, again, today while I was visiting my dad. For a few years now I’ve been noticing how many people around my age are with their parents at the doctor’s office or out shopping at the grocery store. Perhaps that is because I have been one of those adult children bringing his own father and mother who no longer drive to the doctor or grocery store or other errands. In my 40’s, before my parents began to be less independent, I don’t recall noticing middle-aged adults out in public with their parents. Now, having out of necessity been chauffer, health care advocate and overseer of the parent’s financial affairs (along with my sister) for 7 or 8 years, I have become sensitized, I guess, to notice how many others are in the same situation. Mom passed away about 2 and a half years ago at age 88. Dad moved into assisted living a few weeks after her death and continues to have reasonably decent health considering how many things are wearing out in his body. He’s 90 years old.  

            Often, when I see an adult child helping their parent in public or helping their homebound parent when I visit to bring communion to the house or when I’m in the midst of a trip to take dad to one of his many doctor appointments I am reminded of something a friend of mine said. This friend is a former priest and now is pastor of a protestant church. “Joe, this is why the fourth commandment was given us by God.” In so many words he helped me understand that “You shall honor your father and mother” was not given us as law to get little children to obey their parents. As important as that is and as often as I have heard the sin of disobedience confessed by children, that understanding doesn’t get at the depth of the meaning of the command. It only scratches the surface.

            Think about it. The Law was given the Israelites on Sinai so that they might live, and live better lives. The Law made them different from other societies they found themselves among. The commandments helped them get their lives in right order so that they could exist in a hostile world and have reason to remember who made their standard of living possible, the God who called himself I AM (that is, “Life” with the capital L). Then remember there was no such thing as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Pensions, IRAs to provide a source of income for elderly who could no longer work to feed themselves. There were no nursing homes, assisted living communities and hospice providers to attend to the physical needs of an old person. The only people who were available to take care of the elderly were the children! As I once told my mom who fretted about how much of my personal time she thought she was impinging on “the reason you have children, mom, is so they take care of you when you can no longer do that yourself. It’s payback willing given for moms taking care of helpless children in their first years of life.” That comment didn’t exactly put her mind at ease, I realized, because I knew she was trying to imagine who would be taking care of me using that line of logic, since I don’t have children! And moms, no matter how old the parent, moms will always worry about the son or daughter.

            The point is, the Israelites were given the Law of the 4th commandment to ensure the elders of the tribe could live and have a life of dignity to the end of their days!

            Jesus, the new Moses and law giver, put it another way, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Caring for elderly parents is our way of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of the life of others. Parent care is our privilege and entrée into the Paschal Mystery. I recall preaching one year on Holy Thursday that I realized I was obeying the Lord’s command to wash feet by being there for my mom and dad. Or as our retired bishop in residence in the diocese, Bishop Stan Schlarman, has told me, “Taking care of Mom and Dad is priestly ministry, too.” (He also told me that therefore I should take another day off instead of using my day off to attend to their needs, but I haven’t figured out how to time budget the extra day, yet. And an occasional parishioner will make a statement like “What do you need another day off for, I don’t get one. That’s another whole blog entry!)

            So when I get a little resentful that most of my day off is spent “ministering” to dad, I remind myself I have an opportunity that will eventually cease to exist in my life to enter more deeply into the Paschal Mystery. This is a time of grace and a gift from God that makes life fuller. Like the Israelites of old I need to be saying, “What god is there like our God that gives us this wonderful gift of Law that we might live? Thanks be to God!” May God forgive me my selfishness and failure to keep the fourth commandment. May the Father make this “father” a better son so the Son will say “Well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Master. Be reunited with your Mom and Dad forever in the fullness of life I, New Law, made possible.”

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