Category Archives: Priesthood

Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Holy Thursday

Putting It Together: Know Your Role

Homily for Holy Thursday 2017

Readings for Holy Thursday

Last Sunday I began a message series called “Dress Rehearsal” that will continue through our Triduum liturgies. I’m calling the theme of the message series “Dress Rehearsal” to help us explore how the liturgies are a kind of symbolic “rehearsal” of the Christian’s life of Discipleship. What we do in this room is learn, through ritual, what the death of Jesus means for us and how we bring this truth onto the stage of the world.

Palm Sunday’s liturgy was a kind of initial “table reading” where those who gather for the Dress Rehearsal get familiar with the who, what and meaning of the drama that will unfold during the rest of Holy Week. We learned the drama we enact these days is  a rehearsal of the journey we disciples make following the crucified Jesus through our everyday life sacrifices eventually reaching the banquet of eternal life foreshadowed by the Eucharist. The overall story line played out in each of the liturgies of Holy Week we learned on Palm Sunday was “Paschal Mystery.” That short two word phrase contains the whole meaning of the drama we rehearse these days. The Pascal Mystery is what Jesus was all about, revealing by his life, death and resurrection that those who sacrifice themselves for the sake of others, those who die will discover a richer, fuller life. That life even has the potential of being unending because of the Paschal Mystery for those who give themselves over to Jesus. Death leads to life. Any death.

Tonight is the part of rehearsals when we learn what our roles are in the drama of discipleship that brings our life meaning. Who gets to be the lead? Who is a supporting actor? The liturgy of Holy Thursday is about what role the disciples of Jesus to play in the drama of everyday living of the Paschal Mystery.

You would think the Jesus get’s to the be lead actor, his name on the marque. In a way, Jesus is the star of the drama. But, he is a very different kind of star. He shuns the spotlight. Jesus doesn’t expect privilege. This lead actor in the drama of Pascal Mystery says all the characters in the drama will be servants. That’s the role of the disciple enacting the pascal mystery on the stage of everyday life. Disciples are servants. Disciples of Jesus die with the Lord in every act of self-sacrifice to make another person’s life better, more comfortable, more alive. Servant is the role assigned by the director Christ to everyone. No stars, no lead actors. Just a servant’s role for every person baptized into Christ.

To be sure, there are different kinds of servant roles. The Church points out that this is the day Christ gave us the role of priest as a way to manifest the servant Christ. Men are chosen to offer their life as priests, without the companionship of a spouse in imitation of Christ to serve their Christian family in daily offering themselves as a companion on the road to the new day of eternity.

There are other servant roles, too. Deacons to image the Christ who tends to the physical needs of those who need comfort. Bishops to lead like shepherds. There are Moms and Dads who sacrifice their own desires to ensure that their spouse and children have what they need to live life. Changing diapers, cooking, going to work are living the mystery death of self leads to life. There are the young Christians who help out at home cleaning their room or taking care of siblings, then who show compassion to friends. Servant roles come in all sorts of vocations! The oils that we received from the Bishop remind us that we are anointed to share in the mystery of Christ through servant who rejects the evil one’s siren call to think of self first. The Chrism oil made us servants who proclaim Christ, leading other to him. And when the servant suffers illness, Christ strengthens him or her to continue playing the role in union with His cross that served the world redemption.

Bishop Braxton announced this past Tuesday at a Mass in the Cathedral when the holy oils were blessed an opportunity for members of the laity to respond to the call to be servant to their parishes. Beginning this year there will be a training program for some of you to become a lay minister assisting your parish live out it’s mission to be a community that proclaims Christ. Called Into My Vineyard: Formation for Lay Ecclesial Ministry in our Parishes, this training of people from the parishes throughout the Diocese is meant to equip select parishioners to help keep our parishes vital and growing. Perhaps, tonight you might begin to hear Christ the director of our rehearsal saying to you, “You, my friend, would be good for the role of Lay Parish Minister servant.” If you hear that call and want more information ASAP, I’ve got a pamphlet for you with your name on it.

In a few moments I, the representative in your midst of Christ the servant priest will symbolically wash the feet of some of you.  Washing feet may seem very archaic, maybe even strange or too personal in our culture. We do it because Jesus said do this in my memory, like breaking bread and sharing wine. Washing feet is meant to be a rehearsal of my role as your servant caring for your spiritual (and sometimes emotional and physical needs). But the washing of feet for those who come to the sanctuary and those who observe the rite is a reminded  that every one of us has a servant role to play. Everyone of us has to let our pride die. All of us must stop thinking of ourselves as someone who deserves something and figuratively kill off our ego, letting the identity of Jesus take over. Only when we spend a life time rehearsing, practicing our role of servant will we be confidently unafraid to let go of life at our physical death and discover the fullness of life as we are invited to dine at the banquet of eternal life served us by Jesus Christ.

Let us continue our “Dress Rehearsal” in humble gratitude for being called a member of the cast of disciples. We’re putting it all together, glad to have the role of servant sharing in making the Paschal Mystery a reality in this world following the lead of Jesus on the way to the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

Transfiguration Day Thoughts from a Hill


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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanksgiving Eve Thought

Watching a crew of plumbers and large equipment operators replace a sewer line from our office building to the city line, today, I realized I’m grateful that there are people who are skilled at such manual labor. Also, watching these men in the trench I was reminded I’m definitely not cut out for such jobs and thankful for my own vocation. Each person has his and her role to play in society for the common good of all. On this Thanksgiving eve I give thanks for all who are able to share their skill and hope many more who are unemployed, homeless and hungry will have their human dignity respected by those who can help them. Blessed Thanksgiving, everyone!


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 5

St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, 'Eucharist, the Bread of Life' via

St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption (Covington, Kentucky), interior, Blessed Sacrament Chapel, Frank Duveneck mural, ‘Eucharist, the Bread of Life’ via

“What’s Really Going On, here!”

Readings for the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B
JOS 24:1-2A, 15-17, 18B
JN 6:60-69

People often leave a club they belong to because the direction the organization is taking just doesn’t appeal to them anymore. Or, the leader of the organization will say something that rubs a member the wrong way and the member says, “I’m out of here, I don’t have to put up with this nonsense!” People pull their children out of sports teams because the coach isn’t seeing things my way, that my child is talented and should have more time on the field! People make choices all the time about how committed they are to an organization, a team or even a church. Often, if something challenges the thinking of an individual, he or she says “Forget it! I just can’t accept that way of thinking. I’m out of here!”

That kind of rejection of a leader’s direction for the group is what is going on in the Gospel, today. Some of Jesus’ disciples think he’s gone too far. Did he just say we’ve got to eat his flesh and drink his blood to live in the presence of God? That’s crazy talk! It’s repulsive, even. Who does this Jesus think he is? God?

Some people just couldn’t wrap their heads around the idea that they were in the presence of God in the flesh and that Jesus could make bread his body and wine his blood. They chose to leave his company.

Some people today, still can’t accept what we believe as Catholics. We believe that when we eat communion, the bread is not just a symbol of his body, it IS His body. The wine, some will argue is just wine that “represents” his blood, but isn’t really blood. Yet, we Catholics believe the bread stops being bread, the wine stops being wine and they are the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in our hands, mouth and assembly. Many have left the church over the years unable to accept this truth.

Continuing for this last Sunday my “sermon series” on the teaching of the sixth chapter of John’s gospel about the Eucharist, let’s look at how, as one of those  people who did send in questions I asked for about what members of the congregation would like to learn about the Eucharist, how does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. (I need to acknowledge where I’m getting most of my material for this teaching, by the way. There’s an excellent video on the internet by Bishop-elect Robert Barron on the real presence. (Click this link to be taken to the video and see if I represent his teaching accurately THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST AS REAL PRESENCE at the web site Word on Fire.)

Spoken words have tremendous power. When you, I or anyone says something the words we use can change reality. Words have tremendous power to affect reality. A lot of times we use words to describe something. I am wearing a green chasuble, today. The weather is rainy. These are descriptive words. But words can also change reality. An umpire has the authority to say to a player who breaks the rules, “You’re out of here!” and the ball player cannot continue to play the game. He ceases, for a day, to be a ballplayer.  A policeman says “Your under arrest,” and a person’s life is changed, sometimes forever carrying the identity of criminal where that wasn’t reality before. You and I can hurt the feelings of a spouse with harsh verbal criticism or make someone our spouse by saying “I take you to be my wife, to have and hold, forever.” Words have power to change reality. Saying something out loud can make reality change.

In the scriptures we proclaim every Mass, the word of God we claim guides our lives and tells the truth about what’s real, God is the ultimate changer of reality by the words he speaks. “And God said, let their be creation” and everything came into being. Not only did God change or describe reality by speaking a word. He made reality as we know it! That’s power.

We also say that Jesus is God’s Word in the flesh. The beginning of the Gospel of John that we’ve been reading for several weeks states in the first chapter “And the Word of God became flesh, one of us!” (John 1:1-5, 14)Therefore we can believe that when Jesus, THE WORD, says something His words are God speaking. God who made and can change what is real. Think about what words Jesus would say in the Gospels. “Be healed” he’d say to lepers, the blind, the lame and the sick and they would be restored to health. Jesus’ words affect reality, sometimes at the very core of a person’s existence. Things change because Jesus speaks.

At the Last Supper, Jesus said of the bread and wine he and his friends were sharing, “This IS my body. This IS my blood.” He didn’t say “this is a symbol to stand in for my body and blood.” Jesus’ word meant what he said. By his power as the divine in human flesh he could use words to change bread and wine into something else, at the deepest level of their existence.

At Mass, I as the priest, have been given authority by you, the church, the Body of Christ still in our world, to speak His words. I do not speak my own words. I say the words of Jesus Christ. I make audible what Jesus continues to say, as he did at the last supper, his words echoing down through the centuries. “This is my body and blood.” You “order” me, in Holy Orders, so to speak, to speak “in the person of Christ.” And so when I say His words, His words change reality of bread and wine at their deepest existence. Christ effects a change in reality. Bread and wine change at the level of substance.

There is a difference between appearances and what is real often in our lives. Usually, how something appears is what is reality. I appear to be a man. I am a man. But sometimes what something seems isn’t what’s really going on. Someone seems like a jerk, but when you get to know the guy, he’s really a stand up person who has a bad habit or two. You look at stars and it seems like you’re seeing them as they are now, this night, but what you’re really seeing is light that was generated maybe millions of years ago, as the star appeared a long time ago, not as it is now, which may be a dead black hole. The appearance remains, but at another deeper level, the reality has changed.

This is a way that St. Thomas Aquinas taught we can understand the Eucharist. Accidents (a word for appearances) and substance (a word for reality) is still how the church teaches about the real presence of Jesus in our gathering for Mass. The accident of bread-ness remains but the substance of Jesus is really there, his body, his love, his eternal God nature really, truly and substantially. Through the power of the Word of God the deepest reality of bread and wine change. We call this transubstantiation, a word if you break it down that means “trans” (to go from one thing to another, to cross over, to change) in substance, it’s realness.

One more thing, someone once said that you are what you eat. It’s true. The hamburgers and vegetables and fruits we put in our stomachs are changed into the muscle fiber and cells of our body. Because we eat of the real body and blood of Christ, we become what we eat. We become the real presence of Christ in the world, here and now. We are drawn into his person, our words as a church and individual members of the church able to change reality. We can speak words of mercy and love, reconciliation and peace. We have to make a choice. Do we reject the truth Jesus speaks and leave the church where we are assured of His truth? Or do we stay. If we stay we know his body speaking through us can speak a word that will change the world to be closer to the reality of the Kingdom of God that Christ came to bring.

Sometimes I complain to friends about one thing or another the church wants us to teach or believe. Friends will say, “Why don’t you just leave and go become a minister in another church, then?” But all I can say in response is that I choose the Catholic Church, where else can I go? I need the Eucharist, the real presence of Christ. I have come to believe I need Christ’s real presence. I may not be worthy to have Jesus come under my roof (to become part of my being) but I choose to believe! AMEN!


Patron Saint of Pastors St. John Vianney

Today (August 4) is the feast of St. John Vianney, the patron saint for parish priests. He was given this role in the church because of his dedication to being a pastor of the people of Ars, France. He is often called the Curé of Ars (which means priest of Ars). Parish priests are encouraged to imitate his pastoral concern for their parishioners. Part of his pastoral concern was expressed in the many hours he spent in the confessional, spiritually advising people and absolving them. Apparently, he was pretty good at it and brought great comfort to people! It is said that he spent 11 hours in the winter each day and 16 hours in the summer hearing confessions. If I spent that much time in the Reconciliation Room I’d probably be pretty lonely, nowadays. I also wonder how St. John Vianney had that much time for hearing confessions. Didn’t he have to visit the sick, prepare couples for marriage, manage the finances of his parish and make sure the physical property was o.k.? I am pretty sure he didn’t have to attend meetings as often as a modern day pastor! (I sort of envy him on that.) But, there is much I could learn about being a pastor from him, too.


St. John Vianney, pray for us and for priests!

A biography of St. Jean-Baptiste-Marie Vianney may be found at this link Biography of St. John Vianney at New Advent

Funeral Homily for my Dad

Photograph of my dad

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

It has been a long time since I’ve posted something to my blog. Sorry about that, loyal readers…particularly you relatives who have been asking when I’d post, again.

The last couple of weeks have been very emotional for me. As I write this I’m taking a couple of days of personal time back at my seminary alma mater, St. Meinrad Archabbey and Seminary to pray, grieve and prepare to get back into the pastor’s saddle. You see, my father Aloysius died on January 24, 2015 after a short stay in a nursing home he had moved to on January 10. He had been living in assisted living for a month more than 6 years but declining health, physical abilities and worsening dementia made it necessary to move to a facility with more skilled care. The move to the nursing home was difficult for me because it was a sign of his growing mortality. When he needed to be admitted to the hospital a week after moving, the reality of his possible final days hit me hard in the heart. Making decisions about treatment options and hospice care left me realizing how much the roles had reversed in our relationship as father and son over the last few years. Keeping watch with him in the final hours (with the presence of my sister) telling him about my love for him and that it was o.k. to go be with mom (+November 3, 2008) tore my heart apart as his heart was failing from congestive heart failure. As I told my parish in a homily about the living out our baptismal vocation in particular vocations a couple of weeks ago that the last few weeks had deepened my understanding of the vocation of “son.” I was only to get more schooled in the vocation in next couple of weeks about dying to self for the sake of receiving life.

Dad, a man of faith who was proud to have a son who was ordained, also taught me much about the vocation of priesthood, too. For example, the last three years I have been able to celebrate Mass standing at his place at a table in his assisted living community’s dinning room. It was just coincidence, really, since that was the most logical place and table to stand at to preside at Eucharist in assisted living apartment community’s dining room. But, I began to see my standing at his place at table as some sort of spiritual parallel. Dad led our family in meal prayer at our family table. These last three years, for a while, I got to switch places and make that connection between domestic church and father of a parish family in a unique way.

One of the most difficult things to do as a priest is to celebrate the funeral of your parent. In our diocese this seems to be custom. I know of no other profession, vocation or family where the children of the deceased are then expected to lead and preach the funeral, to speak words of comfort to the church gathered with relatives, family and friends. Yet, by the grace of God and lots of love being sent my way from living and deceased members of the Body of Christ I’ve done it now for both parents. Tears were shed, of course. I asked the pastor of dad’s parish to preside at the final rite of farewell at the Mass and at the cemetery so I could stand with my sister and support her and she support me. Because many relatives told me how much they appreciated the homily I preached at the funeral and who wanted to read it I promised I would post it on my blog. Maybe, at another time I’ll share a bit more of how dad influenced me.

Thank you to my sister for helping take care of dad and me. Thanks, too, to all my relatives, brother priests, former parishioners, parishioners and friends who visited with my sister and me at the funeral home, sent cards or flowers, who expressed their condolences in so many ways. Your support and love are a sign of Jesus who wishes to comfort my sister and I at this time and strengthen our hope in the resurrection.

Love you, always, dad! 

Funeral Homily for Al Rascher 

Given by his son, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher, January 28, 2015

Job 19:1, 23-27a
I Corinthians 15:51-57
Matthew 11:25-30

In late August 1973 a middle age man drove his son to college for the son’s freshman year. After the son checks in at the dorm the man helps his son move boxes to a dorm room (which happen to be 4 floors up with no elevator). Before departing to return home and leave his son behind to begin the adventure of college life this man gives his son some words of wisdom in the parking lot. “I never went to college. It may be difficult,” he says. “When things get hard pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary. She’s never failed me and has always come through with help when I needed it.” The son, anxious to get on with his newly waiting independence and too proud to admit he’s also a bit scared about college probably didn’t appreciate the wisdom and didn’t think much about it. That young man was not big on praying to Mary, anyway, being a child of a more contemporary style of worship in the wake of Vatican II.

Now, this same man drops off his daughter at college four years later. When the older brother asked his sister years later if she got the same advice about praying to Mary in the parking lot she says the advice given her was very different, but we won’t go into that, here. She was a bit more adventuresome young woman. Not a prodigal but she was more “social and found making friends easier,” so I guess the dad, very concerned about the freedom the 70s had ushered in, made a prodigal father offer. But nothing about praying to Mary.

photo of icon of Mary

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

Over the years the older son has come to appreciate the dad’s advice and has relied on it often as he’s matured. And so now he says “Mary, come through, again and assist the son to give this homily at such a difficult time! And, as some of my parishioners and relatives would say, don’t make it too long!”

The story shows how my Dad was a “Man of faith.” Faith was woven into his whole life. He could be described as that “man of faith” we priests often encourage our parishioners to be. His living faith in action is where my sister and I caught our faith that helps us face this day. I’m sure he’d protest he was a sinner like anyone else but for us he was an example of the blessing parents receive at baptism of their children in the current ritual, “May you be the first and best teachers of faith.”

It was not unusual to see him praying, daily. The rosary was a daily prayer. The prayer books he used till his vision failed him that sat by his chair at home and in his assisted living apartment had well-worn pages stained with the oils of his fingers. One of the joys of his retirement was to attend daily Mass here in this house of the church of St. Dominic for several years.

Not only was dad an example of faith in prayer, he also showed his faith in works of charity. He would, not in a showy way, talk about God’s goodness with us children and extended family and friends. He was able to show his faith in grief filled times. When my sister, her friend Diane and I gathered at Mom’s casket for the first time I suggested maybe we should say a prayer thinking it was the priest son’s duty. Even before I could open my funeral ritual book to the appointed prayers for gathering at the casket, Dad had decided he should lead our prayer and started the Our Father. So much for the idea that only priests know how to lead prayer. Dad reminded me all ministry comes first from baptism.

And his belief would slip out in unexpected ways even these last days when a mind foggy with dementia and confusion would make what he was saying seem like nonsense. A couple of times I heard him singing the refrain of the Battle Hymn of the Republic “Glory, glory alleluia!” to nurses taking care him. With a bit of hindsight perhaps we could see this as him praising God for what was beginning to happen there in the hospital and nursing home that would show God’s victory, death leading to life. ¿Was this his reminder to us not to grieve too much? God wins in the un-civil war of life and death. Christ is risen! Those who have faith in him and share membership in his Body will rise. This surely is reason to sing “Glory, Alleluia!”

Today, this faith that sustained dad is what we remember in our prayer for Dad and our grieving selves. Here was a “Man of Faith.” Faith was woven throughout his life.

The meaning of the passage from Matthew we’ve heard proclaimed “Come to me all you who are weary and I’ll give your rest” is not at all “Jesus will make it better so don’t worry, be happy.” We need to remember the yoke Jesus refers to is his cross beam he carried on his shoulders like a beast of burden accomplishing some work. The yoke is the cross of Christ that turns suffering and death into life. With the cross Jesus performs a work giving us a key that unlocks the door that all who are united to his Body pass through to eternity’s perfect full life. Each of us is invited to carry the cross of Christ when we are signed with that cross at baptism. Dad carried the cross with Jesus in many ways.

Perhaps for dad one of his greatest ways of sharing in the yoke of Christ was macular degeneration. It was an increasing burden that challenged him to trust Jesus would fix his sight one day in this final way, but painful for us who will no longer see him in this realm. Job said “With his own eyes he would see his redeemer, the one who puts all things right.” I suspect the greatest gift of the new resurrected body we pray he’ll enjoy is clear vision enabling him to see Christ and all those he loved. Human eyes failed him yet dad kept his vision of faith.

The corruptible body St. Paul writes about, so evident in Dad’s body, will, by God’s grace revealed in Jesus, give way to the incorruptible body of eternity. Mom, his sisters, parents and all of us will never be separated again by death.

In his living we see that dad saw the vindication, the truth of the paschal mystery, too. The paschal mystery is that truth of Jesus that fuller life comes from death to self.
For instance, young Al left his life in Salisbury MO behind in the early 1950’s and discovered a new life in his marriage to my mom thanks to his buddy Joe Kressig and mom’s friend Florence who got them together.

There were two open heart surgeries. (You know doctors pretty much kill you on that operating table, stopping the heart in order to work on it.) Yet, he came back more full of energy each time able to live more richly.

Dad gave of himself working long hours, getting up at 3:30 or 4:00 am, at an hour my sister and I would find extremely difficult to rise and shine, making what must have been a boring daily trip to a repetitious job on an assembly line building cars in a factory. Mom, Mary and I benefited with better life. And,hopefully, our sacrifices made his life fuller. The vindication of the paschal mystery was often revealed in dad’s life. Little deaths in this realm lead to better life. Surely, now God’s mercy will reveal eternal life to dad in this final death.

When asked “how are you feeling?” by doctors and nurses these last years and days of his life dad would often reply “Half left, half right!” Dad had a corny sense of humor he kept to the end.

Now, by God’s mercy, he can say he’s whole, no longer part redeemed sinner in this world separated from the fullness of life in the next. We who remain will for a time feel part of our lives has been separated from us, our lives divided into before and after the day of his death. But death doesn’t get the last word or forever divide us. One day his body and soul, all our bodies and souls, will be whole, again, because the death and resurrection of Christ justifies those who belong to his body. He makes us “all right,” forever! This is God’s merciful work. Remember in our grief dad showed he was able to receive Jesus’ gift of wholeness in eternity through his displays of faith.

Thomas Merton once wrote our task as Christians is to become what we already are (by baptism), one in the divine. Today, we can sing “Glory, Glory Alleluia!” because the savior Christ’s truth will lead us on in our human brokenness till he makes us “all right,” incorruptible, whole and alive one in the Body of Christ at the eternal banquet of life.

Retreat Thoughts – Part 2: Where’s Jesus?

In my previous entry I shared some thoughts that occurred to me on my annual retreat that were inspired by something I saw on a window outside my room at the retreat center. There was another window scene that sparked my imagination and reflection, too. Maybe the theme of the retreat for me was noticing the windows of insight God sends our way to grow in our spiritual life.

snow crib wheres jesus

There was an nativity scene positioned just outside the windows that lined one side of the hallway that lead to the dormitory, main conference room, and dinning room. It had snowed about 12 inches the day before retreat began, so as you can see in the picture, the statue of Jesus had been totally covered. A lot of the priests on the retreat, including me, made some jokes about it. “Where’s Jesus?” or “It looks like Mary is saying, ‘Where’s the baby? He was just here!’” Someone suggested we should take bets to see if the snow melted enough to see the infant before retreat was finished. We priests aren’t always serious, you know, and have a sense of humor that can keep us humble in the face of the mysteries we’re permuted by God to mediate to humanity.

The “missing” Jesus in the crib got me to thinking, though. People often want me as a priest to help them “find” Jesus in the midst of the circumstances of their life. So often the hurtful circumstances of life prevent people from seeing the presence of God in their life. God seems hidden or distant or even not to exist. I tend to believe that a lot of folks are looking in the wrong place or for supernatural in your face kind of signs. Where’s the big booming voice or the bolt of lightning? It would be so much easier to believe if Jesus appeared in front of us looking like the pictures we had hanging in our homes of a guy with long hair and wearing a robe.

Jesus still chooses to appear in the flesh, as we celebrate in the Christmas nativity scene. The flesh he uses is the members of his Body, the Church. He appears in the love, compassion and selfless service of people in our lives that he has given us to interact with in good times and bad. St. Paul said in one of his letters, “Now I see dimly, then (in the resurrection) we shall see him face to face, as he is.”

When we are grieving and mourning the death of a family member, Jesus is there in the people who keep vigil with us, telling us they morn with us and will support us to carry on with hope in the promise of resurrection.
When we’re sick, Jesus is there in the health care workers that treat the illness and family and friends who take care of us, prepare meals that we aren’t up to fixing for ourselves.
When someone can’t afford to buy enough groceries to feed the family, the people at the food bank and the folks who donated the food are the human face of Jesus who feed the multitudes with fish and bread.
Jesus is there in our midst because spouses in the Sacrament of Marriage sacrifice for each other and love each other no matter what, forgiving each other when they hurt one another.
Jesus is there in the young son or daughter who says “I love you mommy” even when mom has been crabby with the child earlier in the day.

Sometimes the snow cover of our self-pity or insufficient understanding of the incarnation and the teaching that the church is the Body of Christ hides the presence of Jesus to our human senses. It is then we must ask for the grace to see with the eyes of faith. “I will be with you, always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20b)

On the last day of the retreat, one of the retreat house employees went to the crib and dug out Jesus from the snow and “revealed” the Christ to us priests, employees and visitors at the facility. Such is the mission of the Church. This is the vocation not just of priests but of all the baptized. Show in your words and deeds the presence of the Word made flesh at Christmas, who suffered, died and was buried and is now risen from the dead and will come, again.

snow crib theres jesus

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.

My alternative name day (not)

Traditional image of St. Joseph the Worker teaching Jesus carpentry

Traditional image of St. Joseph the Worker teaching Jesus carpentry

Today, May 1, in the Roman Catholic Church we celebrate the feast day of “St. Joseph, the Worker.” Pope Pius XII gave us this day back in the early 1950’s as a response to the “May Day” celebrations of Communist and Socialist governed countries. In those societies founded on the ideology of Marxism the worker was seen as contributing to the good of the state, essentially a cog in a vast equalitarian economic system. The dignity of the human person was subordinated to the good of the state. A person was important and valuable only in the sense they contributed to the collective.

Pius XII wanted to stress that there is a basic human dignity given by God to the individual as created in God’s image. Further, he was advocating the Church’s teaching that all human activity is a sharing in the creative nature of God and is directed toward building up the human community, not the state, awaiting the day completes the work begun in Christ of creating the new heavens and new earth.

I’ve discovered a couple of nice summaries about the feast and it’s meaning at these sites:
The Feast of St. Joseph the Worker and the Catholic View of Human Work at Catholic Online
St. Joseph the Worker, Saint of the Day at American Catholic . org (St. Anthony Messenger Press, the Franciscans)
St. Joseph Reminds Us that Workers Deserve Justice, an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that reminds us of the Catholic teaching that workers have a right to organize. (cf United States Catholic Conference of Bishops at Catholic Social Teaching).

The meaning of the feast day took on particular significance for me today, because I have been “supervising” (also known as watching) a new concrete drive being constructed next to our parish church and my rectory. For the couple of weeks, weather permitting since we’ve been having a lot of rain in Trenton, work has been progressing on the project. As I watched the crew doing what to me seems like back-breaking work of pouring, shaping and finishing concrete I realized a couple of things. One: I was watching the teaching of the church in action; men sharing in the work of creation of something new that will enhance the lives of others since there will be new handicapped parking spaces and safer access to the church. Two: I am definitely not the manual labor type and that I’m privileged to be called to the “work” of building up the community of faith into the City of God in the midst of the city of humanity. That’s why I’ve never claimed this day to be my patronal name day; I’m just not into manual labor and work that much!

God bless those who work with their hands, who teach, those who protect us as first responders and in the military, moms and dads who do the work of  raising children and all the laity who are the majority of the church whose work is to bring the Kingdom of God into the world. I pray that my work as pastor and preacher helps them do their work as members of the Body of Christ and affirms their dignity as partners with Jesus in the work of salvation.

The workers constructing our new driveway that inspired this blog entry. Perhaps here is the 21st century incarnation of St. Joseph, the Worker

The workers constructing our new driveway that inspired this blog entry. Perhaps here is the 21st century incarnation of St. Joseph, the Worker

O God, Creator of all things,
who laid down for the human race the law of work,
graciously grant that by the example of Saint Joseph
and under his patronage we may complete the works you set us to do
and attain the rewards you promise.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the holy spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Taken from the Roman Missal, Third Edition
Prayer for May 1, Feast of St. Joseph the Worker

Why Go to Confession – Getting Back on Track

During Lent this year I am giving a series of talks after our parish celebration of the Stations of the Cross on Wednesday evenings. They’re called “Getting off the track trainBack on Track: Reconciliation as Rededication.” The talks are part of our parish’s almost year-long celebration of the 60th anniversary of the dedication of our church building. We’re using the commemoration as a time to remember, according to the theme of the year, “Then: Dedicating Sandstones – Now: Rededicating Living Stones.” (The church is constructed of St. Meinrad sandstone, by the way.)

This week’s talk was entitled:

Why go to confession?

Can’t I just go to God directly? Doesn’t the Penitential Act at Mass forgive sin? Couldn’t we just have General Absolution?

One of the objections I hear the most about the Sacrament of Reconciliation is that you have to confess your sins to a priest. Can’t I just go to God directly? Can’t I  just make a good act of contrition?

I suspect this reluctance to confess to a priest has a lot to do with embarrassment about sharing personal failings to someone who is not a daily confidant like a spouse or best friend. I also suspect that there is a fear that the priest will judge the penitent and think less positively about him or her.

Let me address a couple of those fears…

            Each priest, including me, knows that he is a sinner, too, and has to share with another priest embarrassing parts of his life. That humbles a priest. He sits in the chair behind the screen with a desire to be as compassionate and as understanding as he has been dealt with. The priest does not desire to embarrass because he knows that he wouldn’t want to be if he were in the penitent’s chair.

            The priest, me included, knows we all fail in living up to the idea of the Gospel. He has failed, repeatedly. So the priest has no business judging…that is not his job. God judges. God is also merciful. The priest is to speak the Good News that God forgives and will make the damaged relationship with him right through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

            So if you ever experience a priest judging you in the confessional or adding to your embarrassment, go find another priest! Before you go, though, tell the offending priest what he has done, in charity, so that he can become a better confessor.

So, why not just go directly to God?

Sin is never just between you and God. It may seem like it. A sin done in private may seem to be private. But, all sin has a public side, even sins done in private. They weaken the believability of the Christian message and witness. They also affect our ability to have a sense of self-confidence that we’re able to do the right thing which may make us harder on others.

            It’s like this…a husband and wife have an argument, out of sight of the children, but the resentment carries over through the day. In frustration over the spat, the parent yells at the kids for something minor and the kids’ feelings are hurt.  The effects of sin, like a stone thrown in water, ripples out and disturbs the surface of the water far beyond the initial impact point.

            Any sin affects the church community family, even though sins may be committed in private or a small setting. It betrays Christ, present in every person. Sin betrays the Body of Christ, his church, and makes our witness less believable that Love dwells in our community.

            So, I doubt anyone wants to stand in front of the community on Sunday and say they’ve sinned. Talk about embarrassment!

            The priest is, by ordination, a representative of the community of the Church. He’s not just an individual Christian. He is representative of Christ. He is representative of the whole church who has been offended by the sin which has strained the relationship, the bonds between the members of the Body of Christ. Instead of going before the community, penitents go to the representative of the community, who is bound to keep everything said secret, but also empowered to speak in the name of the community. The priest speaks not just in the name of God, but, by the Holy Order that the priest was given by the community at his ordination he has authority to speak in the name of church, the “body of Christ” on earth.

            Thus the two parties that have seen their close relationship, their communion, torn apart by sin, are represented in the person of the priest. Going to God in private prayer only takes care of one part of the problem.

            Also, I don’t know about you, but I don’t often hear God speaking directly to me in an unmistakable vocal way, like an audible voice heard by my ears. God uses signs and symbols that we are invited to discern in the words and actions of others, like the life of the church. The priest is empowered to say with certainty that God has forgiven. Like two spouses forgiving each other and verbally saying to each other, instead of just presuming, the offense that strained the relationship has been forgiven. The bridegroom Jesus and his spouse the church (and the members of it) hear with certainty in the words of absolution pronounced audibly by the priest representing both parties that they are reconciled and the offense of the bride (you and me) will not lead to a separation.

But what about that thing the priest says near the beginning of Mass during the Penitential Act? “May almighty God forgive us our sins and lead us to everlasting life.” Isn’t that a pronouncement of absolution of sin, the forgiveness of sin?

            Notice the wording… “May.” It’s  a conditional, anticipatory word. The ritual statement is not what a priest says in the absolution of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, “I absolve!”  That is an active, present tense verb naming an action taking place in the present moment. Not the future implied and hoped for in “may.” The penitential act at the beginning of Mass is not a communal confession or a sort of general absolution. That’s not it’s purpose.

            The penitential act is designed to get the congregation at Mass ready, to get the assembly in the right state of mind to give thanks in the Eucharistic Prayer for the saving deed of Christ that is re-presented in the symbols of bread and wine. It sets the stage, it pre-disposes the mind to be open to the grace of the Mass that results in a sign of reconciliation and communion with Christ in receiving communion. But it is not absolution.

            Think of how a movie or a story begins. The back story, the situation is laid out in the first few minutes or pages of the novel. Why the reason the events of this story will unfold is established. Who are the characters involved? The penitential act sets the stage so the story of the relationship of God and his people, Christ and his bride, can be told and make sense.

            The characters in the story of the Mass are God who desires to repair the relationship he has with his creation. Humanity is his creation and men and women have alienated themselves from his life and love. God sends a savior to save his creatures from death which is everlasting separation from him. We need to get the dynamics of the situation in right order…God is God and we are the creatures who need him to live…then we are ready to hear the story of how God acts on our behalf in scripture and re-presentation of the crucifixion of Jesus which leads to our giving thanks and receiving  the sign in the symbols of Bread now his body and blood now his blood that we are forgiven, that our alienation from eternal life is reconciled. We are one with each other in communion and one with God, forgiven, reconciled.

            The whole of the Eucharist is about celebrating the reconciliation of the Church with God and how we individually benefit, but not absolution for serious (mortal) sin… If you’ve seriously, mortally sinned…another remedy is needed before approaching the altar to receive communion or the person risks making a lie of the act of receiving communion. Maybe even a farce. That remedy is the Sacrament of Reconciliation that specifically restores the relationship that was abandoned by choice of the sinner, a member of the Body of Christ. In such a case the Sacrament of Reconciliation is needed to be assured that we are reconciled before celebrating the symbol of our being a member of the spouse of Christ.

            Please realize you don’t have to go to confession before every Mass or reception of Communion. What I am describing is only if  mortal sin, grievous separation from God, a destruction of the relationship (a sort of divorce) has taken place. The Eucharist is the way we realize that our minor, venial sins haven’t destroyed the relationship with God. Jesus uses the Eucharist as a way to remind us we are loved even in our imperfections, our humanness. Eucharist is the food that keeps us from going too far away from him and giving up on the relationship.

            The Penitential Act isn’t absolution, but it’s our communal preparation to be in the right mind to celebrate the Eucharist that reveals God’s forgiveness.

            Well, wouldn’t General Absolution be a good thing for the church to embrace? (By the way, communal celebrations of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or penance services like we do during Lent and Advent in parish do not give general absolution – the communal liturgy prepares people to celebrate private absolution and to highlight how sin is never a private matter requiring reconciliation with the family of faith). General absolution is reserved for extraordinary circumstances in church teaching. For instance there are way too many people to absolve everyone privately in a reasonable time, or in cases of  emergencies. And, for the record, if someone has committed  mortal sin, he or she must still confess the mortal sin the next opportunity they have for private confession. I guess there is a hesitation “in the church” approving wide-spread use of general absolution for the fear that the faithful will miss out on the benefits of private confession. Every sacrament has a moment of private encounter with the minister of the sacrament. 
Baptism – water is poured on or the person is immersed by the minister, individually.
Confirmation – there is an individual anointing by the minister of person being given the gift of the Holy Spirit
 Eucharist – each person is individually presented the Body and Blood of Christ and asked to affirm their belief. 
Anointing of sick – there is an individual anointing and laying on of hands upon the sick person.
Holy Orders – there is an individual laying on of hands on the man to be ordained.
Marriage – two individuals speak directly to each other and exchange rings.
Reconciliation in the normal form – there is an individual “laying on of hands” and absolution.

That individual encounter is missing in general absolution and “cheats,” so to speak, the recipient of that personal encounter with Christ who is present in the Sacramental action.

Do not be afraid of confessing to a priest. He’s like you and not there to judge.
Do not deprive yourself of the individual intimate encounter with Christ who loves  you like a spouse. That would be like never having someone who loves you show that love in a hug, a kiss, or the intimate embrace of lovers.

Rededicate yourself to the life of being a member of the Body of Christ and hear that you are forgiven by your brothers and sisters, too, so that together we can be a sign of his love in the world.

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