Category Archives: Holy Father

Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 3rd Sunday Easter

Poster what now

“Builds Stronger Bodies”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

If your around my age, maybe you remember an advertising campaign for Wonder brand bread from the 1960’s. The commercials would claim that “Wonder Bread helps build strong bodies 12 ways.” The ads implied a good mom would feed her children Wonder Bread so her children would have the benefit of enriched bread that would make her children strong in bone and muscle helping the grow with a strong, healthy body.

Mother Church has a wonder bread, too, necessary for the strength of her children. Christ gave us this miraculous body strengthening bread at the last supper, the Eucharist. The bread and wine that is His Body and Blood helps the Church, the Body of Christ grow into a strong, vibrant witness of the risen Jesus. This Sunday, Mother Church invites her children born from the baptismal font womb of rebirth to reflect upon the need of every Catholic to eat the wonder bread of the Eucharist, on a regular basis, to sustain and strengthen their life of faith.

The sacraments that initiated us into the spiritual life, one of sharing the life of God that overcomes death, are similar to the events that humans experience at the beginning of natural life. Babies are born when they come out of a womb filled with a kind of watery fluid. Then the child must breathe air. Only if the child is feed, and feed regularly does the human person continue to live and thrive.

So it is with the spiritual life, the life of faith. Only once are we baptized in the water of the womb of mother church. There is only one taking of the life-giving first breath of God, given by the Holy Spirit that we are given in Confirmation. But to continue to live the life of the divine, Catholics must eat regularly the food of the Eucharist. The Eucharist strengthens the identity of the Body of Christ. WE CANNOT TRUELY SUSTAIN OUR SHARING OF THE DIVINE LIFE WE WERE GIVEN IN BAPTISM WITHOUT RECEIVING COMMUNION ON A REGULAR BASIS.

Recalling the theme of our Easter season message series, The Eucharist is the “Now What?” that comes after we encounter the risen Christ. The Eucharist is where we continue to encounter the risen Jesus, taking as our cue the story of two disciples disappointed by the seeming futility of hoping life can be different for those who encounter Jesus on the journey of life. The story of the two disciples (who are depicted on our sanctuary wall) and their encounter with the risen Jesus is the template of what we do here each Sunday. Listen to the voice of God strengthening hope for a new life then encounter the risen Christ in sharing bread and wine. Because Christ is alive, now what? Read Scripture for insight, eat to strengthen the experience of Him who lives, go tell others what you’ve encountered.

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The Icon of the Supper at Emmaus in the sanctuary of St. Mary, Trenton by Br. Martin Erspamer, O.S.B. monk of St. Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, Indiana

Do you ever spend time remembering your deceased parents? Do you, on a wedding anniversary, remember how you fell in love? Remembering someone, remembering an event can powerfully make the person present, again. Recalling an event brings the what you felt then into the present. Pope Francis has said (I’m loosely quoting something the Pope wrote in his Encyclical “The Joy of the Gospel” here) “the [Christian] is essentially one who remembers. Jesus leaves us the Eucharist as the Church’s…remembrance of and deeper sharing in, the event of his [defeat of death by his death and resurrection].” This remembering brings grateful joy that leads to sharing the presence of Christ, sharing the Good News of Christ with others.

In my own words, I am convinced our celebration of Sunday Eucharist is absolutely essential to our lives as Catholics so that we are renewed in our encounter with risen Christ. Catholics need to live our life as disciples who invite others to encounter Christ. Receiving the Body of Christ strengthens our identity as the Body of Christ risen in the present time so that we will carry on His mission. Eucharist strengthens us to witness. Communion with Him enable us to feed those not in the pews each week with life-giving hope, good news, with the grace to walk through the life in this world that ends in physical death without fear.

Now what? The story of the Emmaus encounter that is always before us on the sanctuary wall is model of the mission of our parish, to be disciples who evangelize. Don’t let that word scare you. Evangelize means to share the story of Jesus with others. Just as Jesus accompanied those two seekers with questions about the “meaning” of their life’s events, we are called, in the words of Pope Francis, to accompany those who seek to understand how to make sense of life; to walk with those who need to see how encountering Jesus can make life joy-filled instead of full of anxiety or fear. We gather to strengthen our memory, our experience of Jesus alive so that we can witness. That in turn will build up the Body of Christ with new and returning members.

Remember, last week I said something had to change in our parish. That something is each one of us. Fr. Michael White, a priest who’s parish has experienced phenomenal growth in numbers, has written, “The church is not a clubhouse for the convinced, but a place that is relevant and welcoming to the unchurched.” The parish needs to be a community that is excited to share the Gospel and make it relevant to people by it’s members sharing how Jesus makes a difference in their life. Reading what Fr. White has written has left me wondering if you and I at St. Mary need to be more like the disciples who risked traveling a road back to Jerusalem in the dark so they might tell how they encountered Jesus. Might we not need to follow their example. They could have said, “Wasn’t that great seeing Jesus, again, at the dining table” and played it safe and gone up to their room in the hotel for a good’s night’s sleep.” We’ve got to stop playing it safe. We encounter Jesus at this dining table and go back to the comfort of our homes all the while waiting for those who are not here to miraculously show up without us bringing them an encounter with the Good News.

Today, we’ve been exploring Step one of “What now?” after celebrating the resurrection. Build a stronger body of Christ. Renew our experience of the resurrected Jesus in Eucharist. Then we’ll be ready to share what we encounter with others who walk the journey of life with their questions about what difference Jesus makes to their life situation.

In the next two parts of this “What now?” series I will try to suggest a couple of practical ways our parish and each of us might get up from this table that strengthens our belief in the presence of the risen Jesus walking with us in this world and bring good news to those in need of sustaining their life with the Eucharist who may be starving themselves to spiritual death. We’re all familiar with the commercials on T.V. showing starving African children begging us to help them with our contribution. A worthy cause. The situation is somewhat similar in Trenton. We have people in our parish, in our town who are in danger of spiritual starvation. Don’t let that happen. I can’t talk to all of them, but together we can reach out to many of them, offering them the chance to encounter Jesus walking with them, feeding them the bread of salvation.

Don’t forget the words proclaimed from the Acts of the Apostles, “God raised this Jesus;of this we are all witnesses.” Let our hearts burn within us as we hear the scriptures and break the bread of the Eucharist so that we will be strengthened to grow into the Body of Christ we encounter in this Emmaus experience.


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/)

 


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.


Trust-full Thanks, Thanks-Full Trust and Around We Go

On Sunday, November 22 I was the “preacher” for the Trenton Council of Churches’ ecumenical Thanksgiving service. This is the homily I gave. (I confess, like many preachers, I recycled material. The homily was originally given on the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary time, Cycle B, but it seemed to fit for a Thanksgiving service too.) Since Protestants like to give their sermons titles, I was asked to come up with one and chose the title of this blog entry. The homily was given at St. John United Church of Christ in Trenton, IL.

Scripture references for the homily are
1 KGS 17:10-16, MK 12:38-44

Trust-full Thanks, Thanks-Full Trust and Around We Go

thanksgiving bulletinWe’ve all probably are familiar with a form of something called a trust exercise. There’s a activity often used in building up a sense of teamwork in the corporate world called a trust experience. A trust exercise goes like this…six people line up in two rows of three with arms extended and interlocked. Then another person is asked to fall backwards into their arms, trusting that their co-workers will catch them and not let them drop on floor. The whole experience is meant to build up trust between the co-workers.

There is an example of a negative trust exercise, too. Remember in the comic strip Peanuts. There’s a recurring story line between Lucy and Charlie Brown. Each fall, Charlie Brown is always fooled into trying to kick a football which Lucy yanks away at the last second leaving good ole’ Charlie Brown flying in the air and landing on his back…you can depend on Lucy to yank the ball away.

The scripture of the widow of Zarephath and the prophet Elijah in today’s reading and the story of the widow offering two small coins in the Gospel are examples of taking the trust challenge with God. The question is laid out for those who listen to these stories about widows is this, “Can we trust God to provide?” “Will Christ catch us if we put our trust in Him?”

You know, we human beings are wired to not trust people. Other people are viewed with suspicion so we don’t trust them. Are they out to take my stuff? People tend to doubt others can be depended upon. Such mistrust spills over into people’s relationship with Jesus, too.

There was a phrase made popular by Ronald Reagan during the cold war…
“trust but verify” — That’s not really trust! That’s suspicion that the other party to the agreement is going to cheat. It’s common sense say the politicians, trust but get proof first.

That’s what we’re wired to do as humans. We’re conditioned to believe we’ve got to make it on our own, and everyone else is out to take everything we have. Such mistrust of other people can make for a very isolated existence. There’s a bit of this lack of recognizing our interdependence in our American ethos. The myth citizens of this land tell themselves is that the successful folks are the ones who took responsibility for themselves and make their own way in life. These are the folks we praise in our national story. The individual who trusts himself above all others. Such a lonely existence when we do not trust.

But for us who claim to live in the Kingdom of God even now in this realm of Caesar is to break out of that isolation. Citizens of the Kingdom brought into this world by Christ reject that self-imposed prison of selfishness which imprisons others in a life of poverty.

Giovanni_Lanfranco_(Italian_-_Elijah_Receiving_Bread_from_the_Widow_of_Zarephath_-_Google_Art_Project

Giovanni Lanfranco (Italian – Elijah Receiving Bread from the Widow of Zarephath by Giovanni Lanfranco, Italian, 1621-1624, oil on canvas (accessed at Wiki Commons)

The widow in the old testament is trapped in her world view that she can only rely on what she sees in her kitchen pantry. Her future and therefore her son’s future, too, is bleak. Widow Zarephath and her son probably will become beggars on the street left to die on the street.  There was no social security, there was no Green Bean Pantry offering a safety net. Elijah challenges her to trust that God will not let that happen. Just go and make some bread. He opens up a little crack in her world view that says she must go it on her own.

As a result, God provides abundance. The message – God is the source of our livelihood, not just our own efforts. God does not want people to starve but will give them life – Trust God! We have a God who wants us to trust Him and he returns our trust. He WILL provide. Sure, we have to do our part, we must use our talents, but even when things look bleakest the Trustworthy One show us mercy and sustains us in life, even in death.

João_Zeferino_da_Costa_-_O_óbolo_da_viúva,_1876

The Widow’s Mite by João Zeferino da Costa, 1876, Oil on Canvas Retrieved from Wiki Commons

The message of the Gospel of the widow who offers to the poor two coins seems to suggest that the widow who gives “all she had” has the same trust in God……But there’s no indication the God filled up her kitchen cabinet. The story is silent on what happens after she puts her coins clinking in the coffer. She goes off into a future that Jesus doesn’t describe.

What’s the message? It could be that Jesus is still saying TRUST God, but remember you people who are familiar with the scriptures, God expects you to let go of your “stuff,” all you have, too, so that people like the widow don’t have to worry about their future. Use all you have, a little flour in a jar, a couple of coins, risking not having enough for yourself so that others don’t have to worry about where their next meal comes from. Jesus doesn’t let his disciples off the hook. By saying “she gave all she had” He’s saying to the disciples (us) don’t just give away a few coins you can spare, but challenge yourself to give what you don’t think you can to make sure the poor can eat, have a place to live free from violent wars or get health care. Use ALL your gifts from God to build a more equitable world so that no one need fear for their future.

In the words of Pope Francis in his visit to the U.S. in his address to congress, leaders (and by extension all citizens of this land since the “represent” us) are to help all of a society blessed by God with bounty to work for the “common good” of all citizens. If you listened closely to what the Holy Father was saying, he may even be suggesting citizens of this land should not just consider but get busy redistributing our treasure. We have an obligation to ensure all citizens, even non-citizen residents have what they need to live according to their God-given human dignity dictates. Here’s a biblical truth, an indication we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God: As we proclaim our thankfulness for what we have we will grow in our willingness to trust God will provide what we and others need to live grateful to the one who is the source of all blessings.

Can society’s poor count on us? We’re invited, no, commanded as disciples of Jesus to be the arms interlaced behind those who are in need that they can trust to catch them when they fall through the cracks of life that open up leaving them in need. So blessed by Jesus, the church must be the interlaced arms catching the hungry. The church must advocate for the Syrian refugee longing to be free from fear of violence. A nation that pauses to give thanks and acknowledge our blessings as we say “In God we trust” must, in obedience to that God, must look out for the sick, the homeless, the immigrant, the jobless. For sure we should reject the urge to offer a way out of trouble only to yank the ball out from those who don’t have what they need to live lives free from fear, free from hunger. We are to be the agents of Good News of God’s faithful love, not folks who take delight in being blessed but who refuse to play by God’s rules. As disciples of Jesus we must not be like the fictional character who can only be trusted to yank the ball of hope for a better life away from those in need. Such lack of obedience to God’s rule denies an opportunity to those who in need to know they can trust God because we were the messenger of that mercy.

There was a Little banner stitched by a nun that hung under a crucifix in my bedroom from the time I was in Grade School to the day we sold my parents house…”let go, let God!” Let go of fear for our future, God is already there and will provide us life, a life that can not end, a life that is abundant. Let go of our stuff. Let God use it to provide a better life to others. Let go of our hearts so that God’s love will grow in them leading us to trust God ever more deeply.

Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, Let our thanksgiving remind us we can trust God to provide for ourselves and others. Let our hearts full of trust in God’s promises lead us to give thanks for his faithfulness that will never disappoint us.

(c) 2015 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher


A Child’s Condolence Message

At Dad’s funeral (see also post of funeral homily from Jan. 30, 2015) we displayed condolence cards made by the children from my parish’s Parish School of Religion formation classes. There was one card that everyone seemed to comment on, including my Bishop, The Most Rev. Edward K. Braxton, who graciously came to visit that evening. Children have another way of looking at things and expressing the hope of eternal life. In the midst of sadness, this card brought the “Joy of the Gospel” to my family and friends.

Sympathy Card big screen tv frontSympathy Card big screen tv text For those who might not be able to read the handwriting;

Dear Mr. Father
Joe, I hope your Father makes it to heavin [sic] safely.
He will probably be able to watch the [St. Louis Baseball] Cardinal games
in heavin [sic], I’m sure God has a flat screen t.v. I
think he will be happy in heavin, he can fly! God will
take care of him. At dinner I bet he has an all you can eat buffet! Any
-way he will be fine,
Take care!
Sincerely, Megan
of the 4th grade P.S.R.

Note: Dad was a St. Louis Cardinals Baseball team super fan, which I guess I told the children about at some time. And whether my friend Megan knows it or not she has made some scriptural references: Flying in heaven might be related to Isaiah 40:25-31 where it is said “They that hope in the LORD will renew their strength,
they will soar as with eagles’ wings.” and eating at a buffet can refer to the parables of Jesus where he compares the Kingdom of God to a banquet (e.g.  Luke 14:15-24).
Megan is able to express our hope in the reality of the resurrected body in her own beautiful child’s way. Bless her!

Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.”
Gospel of Mark 10:15

Sympathy Card big screen tv inside art


Two Popes. One Church. One (Beautiful) Game

I’m not a big soccer (or as the rest of the world calls it, football) fan, but I have been aware of the excitement surrounding the World Cup. I just checked and it appears Germany won in the final match against Argentina. Perhaps my readers know that Pope Francis, the current Holy Father is a big soccer fan and from Argentina. Recall, too, that the Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is from Germany. I wonder if the two Popes got together at one of their residences this evening to watch the World Cup final match, cheer on their national teams and place a friendly wager. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Someone else must have had similar thoughts because I found this link to a cartoon posted on Twitter, courtesy of Roco Palmo over at Whispers in the Loggia, so go check out the cute picture at
https://twitter.com/roccopalmo/status/488093143863001089/photo/1

 


Thoughts for the Solemnity of Peter and Paul

O.K. loyal readers, if I have any left after my long period of silence, I’m back. Sorry for not posting more often.

Today, when I am posting this, on the Catholic liturgical calendar, is the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul. This is a slightly expanded and adapted version of my notes for the homily I gave this weekend. As usual, when I preach, a few more thoughts, comments and words slip into the vocal presentation, but here is the core of what I proclaimed.

yinyangIn Chinese Philosophy, the Yin-Yang symbol, seen to the left, represents harmony. That is the harmony between heaven and earth, the bodily and spiritual side of human. Sometimes it is  a way of expressing a balance between what might at first look like opposing forces. To be whole, the symbol suggests one must embrace the opposing, seemingly competing forces in the person and hold them in balance.

Today’s feast of Saints Peter and Paul gives us the chance to celebrate the yin and yang of the Catholic Church. The church, in a sense, has a split personality. It might be said that there’s a Peter side of this family we call Catholic and that there is a Paul side of the Catholic community. The church needs both personalities to be who we are called to be by Jesus, that is to be his image, his body in this world.

The Peter side is expressed is found in the person or role of the Holy Father and the centralized authority most often identified as “Rome.” The Pope’s job, in a sense, is to hold everything together; his role is to be the authority that makes sure we’re all proclaiming the same thing, believing the same thing, even in our diversity of cultures, languages, and customs. In this unity of faith, overseen by the central authority we can see the church is ONE, unified in Jesus Christ.
YET…
The church, to be true to it’s identity must be Paul like. To be who we are baptized to be, sharers in the mission of Christ the church must go out to the ends of the earth, like Paul did, to proclaim Good News. If Paul lived today, he’d probably be a member of the million miles club in his airline’s loyalty program, going to every point of the known world, not just the ends of the world as known in his day. The church, as Paul, must ever seek out new ways to express the one eternal faith, not being satisfied to use the same techniques and language that sufficed in previous centuries. The church is to be all things to all people, as Paul claimed to be so that the church’s “missionary” identity is faithfully lived.

Now consider this fact. Where did Paul end up at, at the end of his life? In ROME! Under house arrest, yes, but at the center, that place that represents the core, the oneness of our belief. All our efforts to go out to the world to proclaim Jesus must always lead us back to unity in the Christ, the foundation of our faith.

Our identity as Church must have Yin – Yang, it must have the front and back of a coin. We must always push the boundaries while always being pulled to the center, Jesus Christ.

We give thanks, on the feast of Peter and Paul for these models of church life

Peter, the glue that holds us together.
Paul, the fire in our soul that propels us out to explore new ways to bring all people to Christ.

Peter, the support beams of the household of the church.
Paul, who is the dreamer architect that imagines new designs for that household to be always a welcoming dwelling place for all who live in Christ.

In this case, its good to have two identities, both of them in perfect balance, both necessary to truly be who we are as church: Peter and Paul, gifts of God to the church to help us be the one Body of Christ.

Picture from Wiki Commons.  Ss. Peter and Paul, oil on canvas, c. 1620 anonymous, Roman School.

Picture from Wiki Commons.
Ss. Peter and Paul, oil on canvas, c. 1620 anonymous, Roman School.

 

 


Dishing Faith Topics

Sometime ago, I discovered blogger Andrew Sullivan’s site The Dish. His blog is probably not for everyone who might read my efforts at blogging, since he’s what many would call liberal in his politics and his religious beliefs. Mr. Sullivan could be described as a liberal Catholic, who struggles with what some would call his “faithfulness” to teach teaching. He is very positive about Pope Francis, by the way. Despite his struggles with some of the teachings of the church, or maybe because he is honest in grappling with them, I find him very readable and thought provoking, especially on Sunday. Each Sunday a series of “faith related” entries are posted which I often find myself agreeing with or pondering for a bit or questioning. It’s always good to be challenged about faith, for grappling with the challenge presented can refine and deepen faith.

Here are two articles from last Sunday (January 26, 2014) that I found myself agreeing with for the most part.

Being There During Bad Times (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/01/26/being-there-when-things-go-bad/ echoes what I have learned through experience and training about “pastoral counseling” and especially giving care to those who grieve. The article gives good advice to anyone who visits a funeral home or has friends who are dealing with death or tragedy. Like I said in my previous entry “Retreat Thoughts – Part 2: Where’s Jesus?” sometimes people look in the wrong places for Jesus, instead of the compassionate people who stand with them in times of trouble.  I agree with what is written, but wouldn’t be as strong in stating religious faith shouldn’t be brought up too quickly. Sometimes, while being “present” to a grieving person it’s o.k. to say “Remember, Jesus didn’t cause your loved one to die. Remember the resurrection is our hope.”

The second article from this past Sunday Religion’s Degree of Difficulty (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/01/26/should-religion-be-hard/) addresses a tendency I often run into when people think that the church should be “accepting” or “non-judgmental,” or “I should feel comforted when I leave Mass.” True, enough, but the church is also mandated by Jesus to preach conversion of heart, as he did when he said, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Sometimes, to be a faithful disciple those who claim to represent Jesus have to point out where a change in a person’s life would lead to being more conformed to the heart of Jesus. For example, in working with catechumens my RCIA team and I would end every catechumen formation session with the question “How is the Word of God for this Sunday challenging me to change my life in a real and practical way?” Sometimes being disciple will be a challenge, but Jesus will help us meet the challenge. That’s not being judgmental and non-accepting of a person where he or she is at. It’s an act of love offering them salvation. Then it’s up to the person being challenged to accept the challenge. Of course, we who offer the Word of God’s challenges must also be willing to be challenged by others, too.

Well, that last part sounds like I’m getting ready for Lent. Its coming quickly!


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