Category Archives: Parish

Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 4th Sunday Easter

“Evangelization – In-Deed!”

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

You’ve probably heard the saying attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. “Preach the Good News. When necessary use words.” This approach of preaching the Gospel in deeds that serve those in need is probably the easiest way to let people know about Jesus. During the Easter season we’ve been examining in our message series “What now?” after celebrating the resurrection, encountering the risen Jesus.

The “What now?” after experiencing the risen Christ on Easter is summed up in the phrase, “Go tell others he’s alive and everything about our life can be new. Go tell others we need not fear death. Go tell others there’s another way to live in this world and forever so don’t fear death.” What now? Evangelize!

But when we start talking about evangelization, Catholics get nervous. Do you mean I have to go knocking on doors like those Mormon guys in their white shirts and black ties? That’s called cold evangelization, like making a cold sales call, with no previous relationship. But that’s not the only way to evangelize.

The first way, the easier way to evangelize could be called warm evangelization. Or call it evangelization through serving those in need, through action. The Good Shepherd is a model. Sheep learn to trust the shepherd who takes care of them. Sheep will follow a guy who leads them consistently to what they need, be it water and food or any other human need.

I’ve been saying in this series that our parish needs to change. Besides changing the attitudes of parishioners we need to be more involved in this leading people to encounter Jesus in our people who are involved in service. The literature that I’ve been reading also says that young people, the people we’d like to see more of in our pews, tend to attend churches where service opportunities are frequently offered with a variety of kinds of service to get involved in.

There are Service Opportunities  I would like to mention in our community of Trenton. The various denominations of churches in town are working together to spread Good News that you may want to get involved in participating.

First there is the “Snack Pack Program.” This service has been organized by a member of the United Methodist Church. She has organized church members to put together lunches for children who participate in the free school lunch program who might go without a good meal during the summer. She is also organizing a Summer Mission Weekend to help out some citizens of Trenton with home repairs.

Our ecumenical Green Bean Pantry is looking for volunteers to help receive food from the Postal Workers Food Drive next Saturday and transport it to the pantry. You can also work at the pantry in stocking shelves, unloading a periodic delivery of food and helping clients on Wednesday distribution evenings. Our bulletin also is advertising this weekend that there is a pregnant woman on bed rest in our c community that needs meals delivered for her family. If you are interested there are flyers at the doors of the church with contact information. (You can also find them here at this link)

Evangelical service can also be people doing stuff on their own that the parish hasn’t organized or we don’t even know about. Moms and dads lead their children to Christ by doing the everyday task of providing for the children. They make the Good Shepherd’s compassion visible. Helping a neighbor, bringing food to the family of a deceased person at funeral time. Any service done in the name of Christ can evangelize.

I’d like to see someone volunteer in our parish, though, to be a volunteer service coordinator…a person who would seek out service opportunities and help our parishioners connect with those opportunities. Contact me if interested.

At the end of the Gospel, today, Jesus said, I am the gate for the sheep. He is the doorway to the love of God he revealed in feeding us the food of eternal life, his body and blood. Let us be the gate that opens up the way to Jesus for others by our willingness to serve others. Preach the spread Good news in-deed!

Buen Pastor (ha. 325 d.C:), alegoría de Cristo (Sevilla). Procedente de la colección de Per Afán de Ribera y Portocarrero.

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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.


Easter Season Message Series “What Now” – 2nd Sunday Easter

This is the introductory message for my Message Series for the 2017 Easter Season. I’ll be focusing on the reason the church and parish exists, to make Disciples. In the message for this Sunday I set up the premise. And, I issue a challenge to my parishioners to get out of their “safe” mode of operating.

Poster what now

“Call to Action: Time to Get Busy”

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter

The honeymoon is over and the newlyweds come back home to begin their everyday life. They may be saying to themselves, “The wedding and honeymoon were so romantic! But, what now?” The Chicago Cubs won the world series last fall, and long deprived Cub fans are probably wondering, “What now? Can the team do it again or do we wait another 108 years?” After any big event, there’s usually a period of let down. Or there is a period of wondering what the future holds for those who were so high in the clouds with emotion.

It was the same for the apostles after the resurrection, an event even more emotional than a wedding or the Cubs World Series championship. Imagine the apostles after the resurrection. Their friend, their teacher they saw die on the cross is alive, again! The sheer joy and excitement they must have experienced seeing Jesus in the flesh after they thought he was gone forever has them bursting with joy. They must have been wondering “What now? If it’s true death can be defeated, how do we live? This is new territory.”

But it’s scary territory. The authorities might come after us. The religious leaders may try to shut down the news. The Romans might think we are trying to pull a fast one and put us on a cross, too, for sedition. So, according to the Gospel the first inclination of  the disciples of Jesus is to hole up in a safe house! The disciples seem to want to play it safe. Keep the Good News to ourselves. Don’t make any waves. Don’t draw attention to ourselves.

Jesus will have nothing to do with such a reaction to his defeat of death. He didn’t go through the crucifixion to have a handful of people benefit and the rest of the world not even hear about the event of Resurrection. Jesus shows up in the safe house. He essentially says, “You want to know ‘What now?’ Get busy!” He tells the disciples He didn’t die to form a secret club, with rituals and secret handshakes. The world needs salvation! The way the world will be saved is if others hear that God loves them, God desires that the divisions of humanity and it’s separation from the life of God be ended.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Notice the verb…Send! In other words, Tell Good News! Evangelize!

Over the past six years as your pastor I’ve begun to realize that our parish, it seems to me, is very much like the disciples in the safe room. We spend a lot of time fretting about the fewer numbers of people in our pews. We are anxious about the future of our parish and if partnering with St. George means the Bishop has closing us down on his mind (HE DOESN”T). But the response to our questions about “What does the future hold for this parish? What now?” is not to go into safe mode, worrying about self preservation. The message given to the disciples huddled together worried about their future on that Easter evening is the message given to us at St. Mary, Trenton. GO! I’m sending you! Tell other people about the Jesus we believe is alive.

Something has got to change in our parish. I am convinced there needs to be some sort of change. The change that needs to happen is in our attitude. We need to stop worrying so much about finances. While roofs and ceilings that need repair are important, there’s a bigger fix needed, our outlook, our attitude about what is important. We can have a full church every Sunday like we did last week on Easter if we begin to see our primary reason for existing is to invite people to encounter Jesus and follow him like we attempt to. Then other things will fall into place.

We live in a world that finds it difficult to believe in the truth of Jesus. Many people like his ideas or his teaching. But believing in Jesus, experiencing him is not a matter of doctrines. As Pope Francis keeps reminding us, It’s a business of encounter. If the people of Trenton, much less the world, are going to be saved, then people in our area are going to have to encounter Jesus. Like Thomas who wanted to have proof by touching the wounds of Jesus, they’ll touch him, they’ll hear him in the witness we give to Trenton. We are the Body of Christ by baptism. Yes, we the people of St. Mary are imperfect witnesses. We’ve got our imperfections like a body with wounds. But Jesus didn’t get rid of his wounds to remind disciples of the necessity of embracing the cross to get to a new way of living.  In our wounded-ness, we who are convinced Jesus lives and loves us will be more effective witnesses of the power of God at work saving people from death.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I propose to explore with you in our message series “What now?” how to invite people to encounter Jesus. I’m going to attempt to give some practical examples of how we are all called to evangelize, that is, invite others to come to our church and experience the real presence of Jesus alive in our midst. Eventually the disciples got over their fear of talking about Jesus, left the safe house and wouldn’t stop witnessing. Because they decided to not let fear of authorities keep them holed up in their comfort zone we heard in the Acts of the Apostles And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved. 

Hopefully, by the end of this Easter season all of us in this building will be a bit more willing to take witnessing to our faith out of this safe room and into the streets. Let’s address our anxiety about what will people think or respond to me with practical plans of action. Then next Easter, we’ll be able to say the Lord has added to our number.

“What now?” The reason for a church that has celebrated Easter to continue to exist is to grow, to make more disciples. Everything else is there to support the mission of making more disciples of Jesus. Everything! Ritual, buildings, catechetical programs should serve the mission of bringing people to an encounter with Jesus Christ so they, too, can become his disciples.  It’s time to get out of this room and get busy.

©2017 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

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Greetings of the Season: Christmas Homily 2015

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

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

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

And the Word became Flesh 

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

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

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

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

Do not be afraid, a savior is born to you

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

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

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

Glory to God, and on earth peace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 2

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“It’s boring! Why Ritual?”

Readings for the 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
Exodus 16:2-4
John 6:24-35

Parents who take family car trips on vacation are familiar with the voice of children coming from the back sea,t, repeatedly complaining, “Are we there yet? Are we there, yet!” That’s a bit what Moses must have felt leading the Israelites on their trek through the desert. The folks loved to complain. Today in the first reading it’s “We’re hungry! At least in Egypt we had something to eat while they beat us!”  Then after Moses and God have a conference about the complaint, the solution is “mana” and “quail” everyday. I wonder if after a few weeks if the People of Israel began saying “We’re tired of eating Manna every day! The routine, the ritual of gathering quail and mana is boring!” (Yet this food provided by God, kept them alive!)

I’m giving a “Sermon Series” on getting more out of Mass by understanding better certain aspects of the Mass during August, since the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel we’re proclaiming for 5 Sundays may be a bit repetitious. Every Sunday we hear “I am the Bread of Life” and like dealing with the people of Israel and the children in the back seat of the car I am attempting to provide thoughts that are not repetitious each week that will not elicit “we’re bored!” The sixth Chapter of St. John’s Gospel is his “theology” of the Eucharist.

As I said in my first post in this series, I sought questions I could answer during my sermon series from parishioners through the bulletin but not many folks replied. Yet, the experience of the Israelites leads me to reflect on one of those questions. It’s something I often hear from some of our parents when I ask them to make sure their children get to Mass regularly.

“The Mass is repetitious, it seems like the same prayers are said over and over every week. The ritual get’s boring because it doesn’t change.” To a casual observer the order of the elements are always the same; gather, say I’m sorry of sins, a prayer, three readings, a too long (boring) talk, collection, a long prayer while we kneel, Our Father, shake hands, shuffle up to get communion, blessing and go home. But, why? That’s what I want to look at in my reflection, here.

Human beings need ritual. They always have. Ritual helps people navigate the unpredictability of the world, it gives a sense of predictability about life. In some ways it’s an attempt to order the chaos we experience. Ritual is also a way to get into the realm of deeper meaning, to make contact with that which is beyond the routine-ness of life.

We live in a culture that craves the “new experience.” People, nowadays think we need something new to excite us, stimulate us, to get us to notice something important. People spend hours in front of screens, where the images change every few seconds. Children are getting to a point where they get bored in classrooms or with books because it’s not stimulating enough. Attention spans are shrinking even in adults. So at first glance ritual seems “boring.”

But ritual is so much a part of other events in our life and we don’t object. Every culture has it’s rituals…It’s the way we identify having a connection with others, that we share an interest, we share meaning and purpose. How do most of us celebrate birthdays. It’s almost mandatory that family and friends sing “Happy Birthday.” Some sweet confection with burning candles signifying the number of years of life is presented, candles blown out and food consumed. Presents are given. If this doesn’t take place a person might feel “cheated” or like I didn’t really have a birthday. Maybe even the person might wonder if they were loved!

Or consider the “national pastime” the professional baseball game. It has it’s rubrics (rules) and no one stays away. The game must start with the opening hymn, The National Anthem. The 7th inning stretch is always observed and there’s the singing of another traditional hymn, almost always the same, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” There are “rules” (In church language rubrics) and a prescribed ritual form of 9 innings, 3 outs per half inning on a field that has proscribed dimensions. All this “ritual” enables teams to play together.

Family Christmas traditions are rituals, unique to family, and one invites criticism if the rituals are changed. How often do people feel like it wasn’t really Christmas if the family doesn’t gather, doing things “like we always” do. There’s a disorientation, a sense of loosing our connection with past family members and present relations.

Our secular rituals help human beings to “play together” and sense their commonality in a common purpose. So too, our sacred Catholic rituals actually help us experience our communion with one another as the Body of Christ. Ritual makes it possible for people to get below the surface and not have to worry about what’s going to happen next. It opens up a space, so to speak, where we can contemplate and encounter the mystery of God in our midst and what God does in our lives. It enables us to experience God’s love.

I am glad that I am a Catholic with a predictable liturgy! Please, understand I am not “putting down” or being critical about our brother and sister Christians of other denominations. But, to be honest, I always feel disoriented, almost on edge, at Protestant services…what’s going to take place next? Yet, when you go to enough non-Catholic liturgies I’ve learned even protestant services follow a ritual pattern most of the time. I just don’t know what the pattern is going to be, because it is somewhat flexible from denomination to denomination. The other thing that’s happening in many protestant churches is the appeal to the “surface need” (as opposed to a basic need, essential need) for stimulation and entertainment with the big screens flashing images during worship and music leaders “performing.” This isn’t a comfortable fit with the Catholic liturgy, by the way.

The beauty of Catholic ritual (or any ritual for that matter) is that a group or pastor doesn’t have to recreate the wheel each week. Ritual helps us experience being part of a long tradition, connected with our ancestors and our descendants. We’re family across the ages, brothers and sisters in Christ! (Sort of like that Christmas, Birthday experience I mentioned, earlier.)

And Mass isn’t always “the same” In each celebration: the words change, various options for certain prayers can be used. The music selections change (but a common set of familiar music is needed so the congregation is comfortable singing together, not feeling like they don’t know the songs). Yes, the “pattern” is the same, the music is familiar, but there are differences from Mass to Mass.

Even there, though, the words used are prescribed by the whole church, not the individual pastor. A ritual book approved by “the Church” (The Roman Missal) is used to pray from. That is so the congregation is assured that they are being asked to pray in an orthodox way, expressing the one truth the church holds to and not the opinion of an individual pastor. The ritual is your and my assurance we are not veering into heresy or something we don’t believe in common. The books the priest prays from, the scriptures we read are agreed upon by the whole church and therefore a sign of our unity now and across the ages in our belief.

The ritual pattern, since we’re not worrying about what’s going to happen next or what to say or do, this gift of ritual, enables us to listen more deeply to the words, to listen to what God is saying through the familiar actions, to speak to him in the silence and hear God’s reply. If we let the ritual carry us along, we’ll find ourselves transported to a place where we are guaranteed to meet Jesus Christ! It’s worked for 2000 years, so why throw it out?

The people in the Gospel, John 6:24-25, were like modern people whose attention span is shrinking and who want to be constantly stimulated by something new, are looking for the fast fix, the quick solution to a problem, getting food to fill their stomachs another day. Jesus offers them something more, to fill a deeper need. When we stop wanting to be entertained, when we cease looking for a new way to be stimulated, then we’re beginning to be ready to hear and receive what God wants us to experience gathered at the Altar-Table; that God loves us and wants to satisfy our deepest need. That need is to know God loves us ,that Jesus wants us to live in a new way, a way that is without the distractions of suffering and death, forever!


Then: Dedicating Sandstones; Now:Rededicating Living Stones

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On December 8, 1953, the building that serves as the “House of the Church” for my parish of St. Mary in Trenton, Illinois was dedicated by The Most Reverend Albert R. Zuroweste, D.D. This past Sunday, December 8, 2013 we commemorated the 60th anniversary of that important day in the life of our parish family during the regularly scheduled Sunday Eucharist. This anniversary has served as the inspiration for a few events this year and as the theme for our observance of the “Year of Faith” observed by the Roman Catholic Church. Our theme has been “Then; Dedicating Sandstones: Now, Re-dedicating Living Stones.” What follows is my homily from the Mass. The readings were those of the second Sunday of Advent, Cycle A in the Roman Catholic Lectionary.

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle A
Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 3:1-12

Homily

Remember the day you moved into your new house as a newly married couple? After moving or buying or renting a new home remember the visions you had of the future that would unfold in that house. Someday, there would be children around the dinner table. Perhaps there would be Christmas mornings opening gifts bought with love. One day children raised under that house’s roof would be going out into the world to begin their own new lives.

This is the 60th anniversary of our church building – our house of the parish family. The people who built this building in the early 1950’s moved into this “house of the church” sixty years ago this very day with hopes and dreams, too. They dreamed that for many generations to come the children of God would gather at the table of the Eucharist. Here the family of God would gather to celebrate significant days in the life of the church family; weddings and baptisms. At each of those events God’s gift of Jesus’ love would be revealed in the human love that was so powerfully evident in those who would gather to celebrate. Here, the family of the parish has sent the children of God off into that new world, that next stage of life promised by Jesus, eternal life.

It’s nice to look back and celebrate anniversaries. Married couples do it all the time. The celebration of anniversary is a time to remember the joys and struggles of a relationship and of a family. Wedding anniversaries are a time to marvel at the family that has grown from the coming together of two people. Anniversary parties gather friends for a time to celebrate what has been accomplished. In marriages, sixty years is considered quite an accomplishment. Often the husband will be asked, “How did you make it so many years?” Many the husband who has replied, “By always doing what whatever she said!”

In a way, for a church building, sixty years is just a beginning. Built solidly and with good maintenance this building could last for another 60, 80, or hundred years more. In fact our building is the youngest Catholic church building in Clinton County. In comparison, it’s still a young adult so to speak.

Like any anniversary celebration we could spend our time looking back, marveling at all ritual moments that have taken place in this house of the church. I was tempted to ask our parish secretary to count up so many weddings, baptisms and funerals! That probably would have been interesting but that’s not the point of the celebration this weekend. While it’s good to give thanks to God for what God has done in our midst in this house of the church the scriptures of today remind us that we are not about recalling the rituals celebrated in here or even re-dedicating a building for the glory of God. The readings point us toward a different kind of rededication; a rededication of the people who gather here regularly Sunday after Sunday.

John the Baptist, in the Gospel, gets upset with the Pharisees and Sadducees who show up at his baptism ritual in the desert. Some might say he should just be glad these people show up. John is upset because he believes the Pharisees and Sadducees are participating in the ritual without the corresponding change of life the washing in the Jordan symbolizes. For John and his disciples, their baptism is washing away an old life where God wasn’t at the center of daily life. The people John baptized were expected to embrace a new way of living where they committed themselves to living a different way. In this “new way” God is charge instead of the rules and dictates of a corrupted religious leadership. The religious folks are going through the motions without committing themselves to living what the ritual bath says is happening, change of life. So John calls them out and compares them to a brood of snakes! Remember how Satan appeared to Adam and Eve and lead them astray? As a snake!

John’s message is the same to us. Don’t just do ritual in your building. Let your ritual, every time you celebrate it, set you anew on the path of Jesus who saves! Let your celebrating Mass and baptism and confessions and weddings and funerals in this room be a turning back to the way of Jesus and a commitment to being Jesus in the world, his Body of Christ. Our anniversary is an occasion to remember that sandstones were dedicated sixty years ago to God’s glory, but now God will be given the glory if the living stones that are the church, you and me, live lives of daily conversion of heart. We are to live in the reign of God while in the midst of the world. Let this anniversary be the time we rededicate ourselves to living every day proclaiming the love of Jesus in our deeds and words lest we hear the words of John rebuking us for doing ritual without corresponding actions.

Apparently John didn’t blend into the his time’s culture. He stood out in his camel-hair clothes with his odd diet. But people were attracted to him. People sought out John because there was something different about him. That’s what the church made of living people stones should be; a group of people different that stand out from the culture, that proclaims the truth that is different but appealing. A church of living stones, as Pope Francis reminded us in his recent apostolic exhortation to the church, The Joy of the Gospel, the church (including its parishes), must be a people excited about the mercy of God offered in Jesus where people are welcomed to encounter the joy of this “Good News.” It’s like the first reading from Isaiah said, the mountain of the Lord, His “dwelling,” would be sought out by all sorts of people tired of a human existence without meaning, full of war and sadness. There are people looking for something more than empty rituals. People in our world, in our midst are looking for something that will sustain them on their journey through life. As your pastor I must cry out with John. I believe Jesus’ word to us on this sixtieth anniversary is a challenge to you and me to be a church of living stones, a people who stand out from the crowd and draw people to Jesus. May Jesus not just be someone we worship in this building. Let our hearts be daily converted to his kingdom. Let him be worshiped by our being a church that stands out in the midst of our community and world drawing all people to himself who offers a life richer than can be imaged by any human built building or imagined by any human wisdom.

As we have been praying in our parish mission prayer and through out this year of faith preparing for this day, “Then we dedicated stones. Now, today, we must rededicate ourselves as living stones.”

This is the prayer our parish has been using for our parish mission week in November and occasionally throughout our 10 month observance (which began on our parish patronal feast day, The Presentation of Jesus and Purification of Mary in the Temple, February 2, 2013)

Prayer in honor of
the 60th Anniversary of the
Dedication of St. Mary Church, Trenton

Sixty years ago, O Lord,
our parish dedicated to your glory
a building of stone
to be our house in which to
offer you fitting worship.

Now, as we rededicate ourselves
to being the living stones of
the household of Christ,
make us stones that shout
His Good News
with words and deeds
beyond the walls of our building
to Trenton and all people.

May your Holy Spirit to make us
increasingly more faithful to our
mission of fire with the
love of Christ, your Son,
 Through whom we pray,
who lives and reigns forever.

 


R&R&R part 1

Steven Covey in the Woods

Summer is coming to a close in my neck of the woods. Of course if you’re reading this in the southern hemisphere (as I’ve discovered sometimes happens when I look at the statistics page for my blog) you’re looking forward to spring. Anyway, I really haven’t taken a summer vacation. In fact summer seems to have gone by quicker than ever. Call it poor planning on my part. I let the days slip by, and didn’t make plans. Perhaps I should take that 7 Habits for Highly Effective People course or read the book by Stephen Covey. Oh, wait a minute. I took the 7 Habits course adapted for Catholic priests, several years ago when it was offered by the  National Federation of Priests’ Councils in our Diocese. I remember thinking at the time that it was an awful lot of work to be that organized, bought the Franklin Covey planner, and proceeded to not put into practice most of what I learned. I was and am just not that disciplined. So, my professional life is still disorganized and I could be more effective than I am.

So why do I bring up the 7 Habits? I did take a couple of “mini-vacations” where I wasn’t absent from the parish over a weekend, for 3 or 4 days mid-week. In August I took a short trip to New Harmony, Indiana and St. Meinrad Archabbey and St. Meinrad Seminary, in Southern Indiana. I am an alumnus of the seminary.

My goal on this trip was for a little R & R & R. That’s Rest and Relaxation and Renewal. Rest and relaxation are important. The first two R’s can lead to renewal of spirit, renewal of energy, renewal of purpose and mission. I can use a bit of the third R. Besides a quick trip to southern Indiana, I do need to schedule a retreat. Again, the lack of organization of my life and procrastination.

New Harmony, Indiana was founded in the 19th century, with two groups trying to establish at different times a utopian community. They were the Rappits and the Harmonists. (You can read more at the town’s website linked to in the previous paragraph.) Those early residents didn’t achieve their goal, but the current residents have used this history to cultivate a town where there is an openness to “spirituality” and a peacefulness. At the heart of this spirit of the town is the New Harmony Inn. It’s a wonderfully relaxing, peaceful place that draws its inspiration from the early settlers and provides visitors a sort of spiritual retreat atmosphere without being a religious institution. I spent two days and nights there, using a gift card that I’d been presented three years ago by my parish of St. Stephen, Caseyville, IL during the “Year of the Priest.” The priests of the Diocese of Belleville used to hold their convocation there for a few years. I had mentioned how much I liked town and New Harmony Inn, so I was presented the gift card. I finally used the gift this past week because other plans for a longer vacation didn’t materialize and I had at least reserved the week on the calendar for vacation.

On the morning of my first day, I decided to use one of the bicycles the Inn loans out for guests. I found myself riding a gravel trail in the woods between the Inn and the Wabash River that the town is next to. I had walked one of the trails, earlier and found myself praying and reflecting in God’s cathedral, never meeting another person. This time on the bicycle, I noticed some men were sitting on benches or fallen trees. In their hands were the unmistakable Franklin Covey & 7 Habits of Highly Effective Planner books!

Putting two and two together, I figured the group I had seen the night before at the Inn’s Red Geranium Restaurant was some sort of corporate retreat taking the 7 Habits course. So, I asked one of the men and had my conclusion confirmed.

What struck me as ironic is that here these men were, out in nature’s beauty where productivity and efficiency are not exactly the goal. Noses buried in their planners, planning what ever they’d need to do to get organized and highly effective at work they were missing the point of enjoying God’s handiwork. Perhaps I’m being a bit too harsh, I’m sure they were noticing the beauty around them, but still, it just seemed incongruous. I did remind the man I spoke with to remember to check out the scenery and not miss what was right in front of him.

Sometimes, that’s a problem for me and other professional church ministers. We professional ecclesial ministers are called to have vision, to lead and program our congregations so that people grow in living the mission. But I wonder if sometimes we get too focused on where we want to be and don’t notice the person in need right in front of us, or take the time to rejoice with our people over what God is doing in that moment in our parish.

The encounter with Stephen Covey in the woods on a river bank left me with a desire to spend my three days away in more of a prayerful attitude of being attentive to what God was inviting me to hear in order that I might be not just rested and relaxed but also renewed. The parish will still be there when I get back, I reminded myself. Perhaps it was part of God’s plan that the wi-fi signal in my part of the Inn complex wasn’t working. I wasn’t going to be tempted to deal with e-mails and parish planning on my computer I brought along.

Later that evening, while I was finishing my dinner at the Red Geranium restaurant, a group of five men and a woman were seated on the patio where I was dinning. We struck up a conversation (I do have a habit of doing that with strangers when I’m traveling alone) and they invited me to join them for a drink. They did get me to reveal I was a priest taking a little R & R which always opens up a host of topics and questions, which I’m glad to answer. There’s No Vacation from Telling Good News as I’ve written before. During our conversation I discovered they were part of the same workshop learning the 7 Habits. Apparently, it was proving to be a valuable experience for them.

That’s good, I thought. Yet, I couldn’t resist adding my two-cents of “pastoral advice.” I told the group about my experience with the 7 Habits course. Then I reminded the group that while I’m sure it’s valuable in both the business and ecclesiastical world, my experience has taught me that when servicing our “clients” (when viewed through the lens of the business realm, members of parishes are “consumers” of a service that we provide) relationship always trumps efficiency. These young business people will do better in their business if they concentrate on building a relationship with their clients. Ultimately, the business of church ministers is always building up the relationship of the people they serve with Jesus Christ. The way to experiencing a relationship with Christ, in the Catholic realm, is to build up relationships among parishioners, to form community. In encountering the poor, we encounter Christ who invites us into relationship through serving the least of my brothers and sisters.


Third Sunday of Advent – REJOICE!

Readings for the Day

Zephaniah 3:14-18A
Isaiah 12:2-3, 4, 5-6
Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:10-18

When a person receives good news, they usually show it by facial and bodily expressions. They can’t wait to tell someone about their good fortune. A person wins the lottery and wants to tell others. A young couple discovers that they are going to have their first baby. It’s difficult to keep the news to themselves. Smiles break across the face. Shouts of excitement escape the lips!

Yet, when we’re in church for Mass and hear “the Gospel (Good News in Greek) of the Lord” there’s little of the signs of excitement usually associated with the reception of good news. Generally, the people in the congregation just mumble “Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ,” sit down and with faces bordering on boredom almost challenge the homilist to “get on with it priest, let’s get the homily over with so we can get on to more exciting things back home.”

The recurring image, the word repeated many times in the readings of the Third Sunday of Advent is REJOICE! Be glad, show excitement, even dance for joy is the directive the Word of God gives us.

Joy is part of faith in Jesus Christ. But sometimes you’d have a hard time telling that by the solemn faces and “reverent” liturgies we Catholics supposedly “celebrate” Sunday morning with in our Eucharistic gathering. But, Listen to what is prayed in the opening prayer of the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent. “Enable us, we pray, to attain the joys of so great a salvation and to celebrate them always with solemn worship and glad rejoicing.” (Roman Missal Third Edition, English translation) Liturgy should be “solemn,” true. It should also reveal our joy!

Joy is part of Christian faith because we’ve been let in on good news. Evil does not triumph. Death is not the end of relationships with those we love. There’s more to life than violence, sickness and human misery. Christ who took on our human nature has redeemed that nature and made it possible for humans to live like God.

And, if you pay attention to the last sentence of the first reading of the day, God “rejoices in his people.” He’s happy we’re around. God delights in the humans he’s called into being like a parent can’t help but smile at their children when they do something cute or sleeping in their bed.
Joy is essential to being a Christian. Humor can be a part of that joy, of the Christian life, too. It can be a way we delight in the truth. It reminds us that while faith and liturgy are serious business, we’re delighted that God is among us, saving us from that which is evil through Jesus Christ.

One of the reasons it’s important for people of faith to be seen with a sense of humor and who express joy is so that we can attract others to faith in Jesus Christ. In my current parish, pastoral council members and other members of the parish often say we’ve got to invite back, get re-involved, the members who have left our church or become non-active. Parishioners say they want to welcome new members to our church and parish who don’t belong to another church. Well, would you want to join a group of people who are always serious, whose worship is always solemn, where no one smiles or expresses delight that you are in the pew with them? A joyful disposition attracts people to have a relationship with Jesus! Even Jesus wasn’t above making a joke or pointing out the absurdity of a situation.

I’ve been reading a book by a Jesuit priest, the Rev. James Martin, S.J. that explores the relationship of joy and humor to faith in Jesus Christ. In his book he gives many examples of how humor and joy were part of the spiritual life of the saints.

The author tells a couple of stories about Blessed Pope John XXIII. Once, before he was the Pope, he was at a diplomatic dinner in France. A woman is there whose dress is very low-cut revealing much of her breasts. A government official mentions to the future pope how scandalous her attire is and how everyone is looking at her! The future John XXIII replies, “No, everyone is not looking at her, but at me to see if I’m looking at her!” Another time, after becoming pope, John XXIII is asked during an official visit by an important dignitary, “Holy Father, how many people work at the Vatican?” Blessed John replied, “About half of them.” Such humor and what must have been a sense of joy that infused the Holy Father’s spiritual life made him a very attractive figure. People loved “Good Pope John” and felt closer to Christ who he was the vicar of to the world.

If we Catholics want to attract people to our message we need a bit of the spirituality of saints like Blessed John XXIII. Humor attracts. Poking fun at ourselves can speak of humility and a realization that the one we serve is a savior that’s good to know and spend time (and eternity) with. The Christ came to bring joy, not fear.

I am not speaking of a type of frivolity or silliness that is off-putting. I’m not suggesting that we never be serious and act immature. The Gospel is much too important to present ourselves in such a way that we are written off as to not be taken seriously. Yet, joy helps gets the point across, sometimes.

There are serious things in this world that must be addressed with a serious, sincere message. We are all aware of the suffering in this world that brings sadness. Evil exists and shows its might, trying to suck the joy out of life in Christ. We need only look at the events in Newtown, Connecticut this past Friday. It seems that evil has gotten the upper hand. There is so much sadness in the effects of one person’s actions. We grieve with those whose lives have been torn apart so violently.

Yet, we can face such evil, unafraid and undefeated because our lives, our faith, are grounded in Good News, joyful news that we are not afraid to let show in our expressions of faith that at times include humor and laughter and smiling faces that invite others to share the joy in our heart knowing Christ. He came among us in the flesh in order to defeat evil on the cross. He comes among us in this liturgy to lighten our fears about death and help us rejoice in God’s love. He will come again to finish the work begun in his incarnation when he will make right all that is wrong with human existence by joining it to his divine nature.

Our vocation is to witness to others, even with lightheartedness the joy that underpins our ability to not be afraid of evil. There was a deacon of the early church, St. Lawrence, who was put to death for his belief in Christ by being put on a spit over a fire to be burnt alive. At one point in his execution he taunted his executioners by saying, “Turn me over, I’m done on this side!” Such playful joy even in the midst of dying mocks death and proclaims, as another saint said, “I do not fear death, I believe in God!”

As it is proclaimed in the Communion Antiphon for the Mass of the Third Sunday of Advent;

Say to the faint of heart: be strong and do not fear. behold, our god will come, and he will save us.

A joyful attitude will take us a long way to getting the message out to those who are “faint of heart.”

 

 


P.F. Revealers

HOLY THURSDAY HOMILY 2012 –

Given at ST. MARY, TRENTON IL

Scripture:  John 13:1-15

When I was a youngster, there was a brand of athletic shoes that went by the name of “P.F. Flyers.” If you were going to be good athlete back in those days of my youth a kid had to have a pair of P.F. Flyers on his feet. Only today I discovered that the P and F were the abbreviation for Posture Foundation. P F was a patented insoles technology developed in 1933. Perhaps you’ll recall the shoes advertising slogan. Sport styles by PF, which were very popular in the 1950s, were advertised as helping you “run faster and jump higher” courtesy of the “action wedge” that was part of the insoles. P F technology enhanced your game. The P and F of the shoes was what made you better.

Tonight, I’d like to use the abbreviation “P. F. Revealers” to help us enhance our understanding of the mystery we celebrate over the next three days. In this liturgy instead of a pair of shoes there are a pair of  “P.F. Revealers” that deepen our participation in the Paschal Mystery. What we do tonight is not play, but sacramental activity that is our participation in the mystery of our ability to share in the divine life of God revealed in Christ. Every baptized person is a sharer in the life of Christ and there are a pair of “P.F. Revealers,” sacramental signs at work in this liturgy that enhance our understanding of how to share in eternal life.

Let’s say the pair of P.F.s in P.F. Revealers stands for these things:

  • Priest and Feet
  • Poor and Food

The mystery of unbounded, perfect, fuller life is revealed tonight
is a pair of P. F.’s…
Priest and Feet
Poor and Food

This is what I mean…

Jesus is said to have instituted the Priesthood, the Sacrament of Holy Orders, this night at the last meal with friends. Let’s go with that, though some theologians have problems with the thought. The Apostles become the forerunners of what we now call ordained Priesthood. The twelve are given this office of leadership not by being crowned or anointed as priests of the Old Testament but become priests when Jesus tells them to wash feet! “As I have done for you, so must you do for others!”

The authority to lead a community and to preside at what we now call sacraments comes when a man is willing to humble himself like Jesus. Jesus is doing the work of the household slave, not a master of the house. Priests are the sacramental presence of Jesus most when a we put ourselves at the service of a community of believers, when we forgo our ego, when we sacrifice our need to see our wills fulfilled in favor of the needs of the people we are sent to serve. That sacrifice takes form in all sorts of things from baptizing children to burying the dead; teaching the young to administering the life of a parish while forgoing the good of a life long spouse. The best priest is one who in humility says I’m here to serve not to be served, like the servant of old who bowed down to the floor to wash the feet of the important guests. You are the guests, I better not forget it, or I am not the sacramental presence of Jesus in this place.

And so each year on the day we recall the gift of Christ present in the very human person of a priest, the church asks that her priests, from simple parish priest all the way up the hierarchical ladder to Pope, get down on the floor and be an example to their people to remember their position in the Kingdom of God, that of servant. Brothers and sisters, by the willingness of 12 people to bear their feet before us all, tonight, you help me remember who I am, the representative of the servant of humanity, Jesus Christ and whose I am, that I belong to Christ with you. I am so thankful that I am a priest. It has made my life richer, fuller than I could imagine living any other way. In this dying to self, in serving you I am to be an example to you that sacrifice of self does lead to fuller life.

But the washing of feet is not just for my benefit. A priest washing feet is to be a sign to all present that you too are called to wash the feet. “As I have done for you, you must do for others” was not just addressed to the apostles, but to the whole church who the twelve represent in the upper room. (Surely there were some women present who helped with the meal! Those guys didn’t do all the cooking!). Every time one of you changes a diaper, it’s dying to self so the child has a better life. Every time one of you cooks for the family, it’s taking on the role of a slave (and mom sometimes thinks her kids look at her that way!) revealing the one who serves the church the meal of his body and blood. Taking care of the elderly parent, volunteering at the parish, visiting the grieving at the funeral home…all forms of service by a member of the Body of Christ, makes the servant Christ who washes the feet of his disciples present.

Priest and Feet leads us to Poor and Food.

Our experiencing the sacramental sign of Jesus present through “Priest and Feet” leads this assembly to a response of “Poor and Food,” our second “P.F. Revealer.” Who must we serve? Those in need. The poor are members of our family who need us. The poor are people beyond our family in need. We do as Jesus did. We become servants to the poor this night in a symbolic way washing their feet by bringing food to the table. Hopefully, everyone has brought a gift for the poor, tonight, be it food for the Green Bean Pantry or the money from your Rice Bowl. We become a sign of the Love of Christ by serving those in need, sharing our treasure of food and money.

Only when we are willing to sacrifice our time, talent and treasure, only when we are willing to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of others, can the Eucharistic presence of Jesus become a reality on our altar. The earthy food of bread and wine changing into his body and blood must be accompanied by our sacrificing of self that imitates the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Food becomes a symbol of the dying and rising of Jesus, because the food is a symbol of the Body of Christ in the pews sacrificing itself like Jesus for the sake of the world. The Eucharist is not magic words transforming food into something else. Our lives of thanksgiving revealed in humble service to others for what Christ has revealed in his passion, which we re-present at the altar, makes the Eucharist possible. In the Gospel of St. John the institution of the Eucharist is not the words “This is my body, This is my Blood, do this in memory of me” but the words that follow the foot washing, “as I have done for you, so must you do for others.” Humble food of bread and wine represent the humble lives of service we lead, baptized into union with Christ’s Body. The servant food, becomes the servant Christ, because the servant church gives thanks under the leadership of its servant priest.

What a marvelous interconnected web of strings of meaning our liturgy weaves for us, tonight! Our pair of “P.F. Revealers” helps us delve more deeply into the mystery of life coming from death, richer living revealed in self-sacrificial service of others.
Priest and Feet
Poor and Food
show us the way to life in Christ, now and beyond death, forever,

Priest and Feet
Poor and Food
be the revelation of the “must have” truth that will make our life complete.

©2012 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher
May not be copied without permission  and  attribution of authorship


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