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Feast of the Transfiguration Homily 2017

The Transfiguration Lodovico Carracci 1594
[In the public domain in the U.S. and source country]

Grownups have a habit of asking children, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Adults often attempt to get youth to imagine their future by inviting the child to share with the adult a vision of what they will be when the child is grown up. Maybe the child will share she wants to be a doctor. A boy might reveal his dream is to be a chef. This vision in the mind of a possible future profession can inspire a desire in the child to embark on a course of preparation.

Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration is mother Church asking it’s children to imagine their future. Through the story of Jesus appearing transfigured, that is, appearing to his friends as he will be after his death and resurrection the children of Mother Church are being invited to envision what they’re future will be. As members of the Body of Christ our future is revealed in the transfigured body of Jesus. Our future is to be one with him transfigured with our bodies changed into a new way of living that reflects the eternal light of God’s love.

Like any child who aspires to be a fireman, or doctor or an athlete on a professional sports team, there is a lot of learning to be done, first. Training takes place in school. Practice must be done on the court or an internship undertaken in the work place. The same is true of reaching our goal of becoming like Jesus, perfectly alive sharing in the existence of God. Anyone would like to skip the work and not experience the pain of being human and having to eventually die. Sometimes it’s easy to have faith. The apostles are given that moment of easy faith in the story when they see the outcome of the death of Jesus before it happens. But, sometimes the randomness of life makes us wonder if God is really in control. It is in those experiences of doubt, when life hurts, that we must call to mind the vision of what we want to be, fully alive with Christ with the pain of life’s cross is behind us. The apostles didn’t get to stay in the midst of the vision. They had to return to the difficult, sometimes frightening experience of life after the faith high of the transfiguration. Like Jesus touching them when they were “afraid” Jesus walks with us, too, encouraging us to not be afraid through our being involved in the church. Walking the paths of time with our brothers and sisters, the church becomes the presence of Jesus encouraging us to keep the vision of what we shall be until time fades into eternity.

The practice of charity is the training camp that keeps alive the desire to reach our goal. When we help other people live better lives we see that self-sacrifice produces a fuller life.The school of self-sacrifice guided by the textbook of scripture and the practicum of liturgy prepare us to become what we envisioned ourself to be in Christ. We need to reach out to the hungry, cloth the naked and welcome the refugee. You and I need to work to protect life in the womb. It is essential that we share the vision of a human family that can live in solidarity instead of conflict. Such living like Christ strengthens faith that the vision is achievable.

It is helpful to have a “mountain high” experience of what we can be as church or how much love Jesus has for us. I encourage you to attend one of the “Cursillio” weekends that some of our parishioners have gone to. Make a retreat at King’s House in Belleville. If you’re in high school go on a Teens Encounter Christ retreat (that’s where I was really given the vision of what being a disciple of Jesus could make of me). Ideally, Sunday Mass each week is our mountain top encounter with Christ that can inspire us throughout the week. We need to renew the vision of what we are becoming in Christ. Such vision will sustain us when life gets difficult.

What do you want to be when you reach full maturity in Christ?  Jesus shares with us in the transfiguration a vision of what He wants us to be. The Son whom the Father is well pleased with wants us to be perfectly alive, never more under the power of death, gathered together with all the ancestors and our beloved family. Keep the dream alive. Walk the walk of Jesus and you’ll be ready to become what God wants his children to be when they reach the full maturity of a Christian, fully alive in the Body of Christ.

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Pope Francis’ Easter Homily

I think the Pope and I sort of said similar things but in different ways. 🙂 See what you think. On Easter Night, “God Creates a New Age – The age of Mercy” and compare to the post below this one.

http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2017/04/on-easter-night-god-creates-new-age-age.html

 


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.


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE -Week 2

This Lent I am preaching a Message Series called “Root Cause” exploring the roots of our broken human condition and the cause of our hope for salvation.

Unfortunately, this second Sunday of Lent I was too sick to celebrate the Eucharist and preach the second part of the series in my parish. Part of the “broken human condition,” the existence of viruses graded me by the respiratory system and laid me low in bed. Thanks to our visiting presider Father James Chambers, OMI who was able to substitute for me with short notice.

Since I didn’t get to give my message to continue the series, I’m posting it here, for continuity. I should be back in the pulpit next Sunday by God’s mercy. I’m feeling about 85% as I post this on Monday.

Root Cause Message Series PosterRoot Cause: Cross My Heart and Hope to Die (Lent Week 2)

Readings for Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

“Cross my heart and hope to die!” When I was young, “Cross my heart and hope to die” was a solemn declaration of a promise to another person. Maybe children still say such an oath when they want to indicate how serious they’re taking a promise. There are things in life worth risking ultimate consequences. Of course, no child actually believes they’ll be required to carry out the dying part of the oath. It’s just a promise the child will fulfill an agreed upon obligation.

God makes promises, too. When God makes a promise it’s called a covenant. In the time of Abraham such a solemn covenant agreement was often sealed with a ceremony of sacrificing animals. Animals would be split in two and the parties to the agreement would walk between the halves as a way of saying “If I break this agreement, so should I be split apart and die.” “Cross my heart and hope to die!”

The solemn promise made to Abraham in today’s first reading is a promise of protection from anything that would destroy Abraham. In the early days of humanity’s relationship with God after humanity’s choice in the Garden of Eden that lead to living in a world full of death, an afterlife in heaven wasn’t imagined. A person lived on in his descendants and the “nation” he founded. God, in the first reading is promising a kind of eternal existence to the man all three major religions that believe in one God trace their roots to, the Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It’s a vision of the future, a future without death lurking in every moment of life.

These weeks of Lent we’re examining the “Root Cause” of humanity’s imperfect, dysfunctional existence and seeking to know the way to truly live. We were created to live! To live richly, fully, unencumbered by fear, illness or the limits of time. Ultimately, death was consequence of human rebellion against God’s desire for us, the root cause of our problem as a human creation. God reaffirms his promise, his desire for humanity to flourish, to know life in the story of Abraham. But the covenant to protect and make of Abraham a guy with lots of descendants was not a sufficient enough promise for God. It didn’t go far enough to achieve the vision of God for humanity. It was only a hint, a vision of what God had in mind. God needed a “root cause” of human salvation to be saved from the power of death.

Just as death was the consequence of the root cause of human choice to believe the lie of the evil one to Adam and Eve that humans don’t need God, Death becomes the root cause of our salvation in Jesus, the fulfillment of a promise.

Transfiguration by Ludovico Carracci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The day Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to some high place far above everyday life, Jesus is making a promise. The “mountain” is a symbol of a world apart, high above the mundane life of the everyday. God speaks from mountains in the Old Testament. Jesus is taking his friends into the realm of the divine, revealing His version of reality. Talking with Prophets on a mountain is the scripture author’s clue to the reader that Jesus is the fulfillment of a promise made to God’s people across the ages. Jesus is helping his disciples understand that he can be trusted to keep his promise to restore creation to it’s fullness of life. The ancestor of Abraham, the “root of Jesse” becomes the cause of a new tree of life (the Cross) to give up the fruit of eternal life.The transfiguration experience is a statement of the solemn promise that God makes humanity – death will lead to life.

Like the apostles we’d like to enjoy the fruit of the tree of life Christ climbs on Calvary without the sacrifice of offering ourselves in daily trials. We’d like to have the banquet of life without the work of preparing the feast in the kitchen of this world. Why must we sacrifice? Why must we suffer and then die? That’s the business about the apostles wanting to put up tents. Haven’t we all had moments in life when everything seems to be going so good we don’t want it to end? We were baptized “into” Christ. That means looking at our sacrifices, our sufferings as ways of sharing in the dying of Christ that produces the fruit of the cross, eternal life. The Transfiguration is a vision, a promise, that everything we have, do or will go through is worth the experience. There is a light guiding us through the realm of death.

In the midst of our suffering, as we make sacrifices for the good of family, in the midst of our grief when a loved one dies, look to the faithful Savior. Recall the vision of what God has promised in the death of Jesus, our root cause of hope in the face human destruction. Hear Jesus say, “Cross my heart and hope to die. For my death is the death of death and way to life for all who walk with me through the world below the heights of eternity.”


Lent Message Series 2017: ROOT CAUSE

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, hasn’t it? If I have any loyal readers, thanks for you patience.

I’ve been trying out an idea from the author of the book Rebuilt, Father Michael White. He is pastor of a parish that has become rather famous in the Catholic Church of the U.S. because of their seeming success in revitalizing their parish using many of the practices of the “mega-church” movement.  The leadership at the  Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland (home of Rebuilt) think preaching using the organizing principle of a “message series” is an idea that will engage parishioners. So, the last few weeks I organized a “series” based on the Sermon on the Mount that the Catholic Church was reading in the Sunday Lectionary called “Turn On Your ‘Kingdom Positioning System’ Or Be Lost.” The Sermon on the Mount is a kind of “directional system” for how to navigate the Christian life, like a GPS guides your route in a the physical world. Parishioners did remember the theme but I’m not sure how much practical life-change as Fr. White in the link above describes in his reason for using the message series.

So for Lent I’ve planed out another series called “Root Cause.” I’ll be exploring the “root cause” of why humanity is in the mess it is and ultimately needs the redeeming work of Christ to save it. Hopefully I’ll give some practical ideas on how to experience life-change (conversion of heart is the goal of preaching and liturgy). I’ll try to post each week’s “Message,” here on the blog. By the way, apparently it’s called a “message” instead of a homily because folks don’t want to be preached to but get advice and teaching on how to live their life as a Christian. Hmmmm….isn’t that what a homily is?

Root Cause: From Tree to Tree (Lent Week 1)

Root Cause Message Series Poster

Readings for the First Sunday of Lent – Cycle A

Parents know children will ask questions about the world. Why is the sky blue? Why does it have to thunder? It scares me! Parents realize kids won’t understand all the technical science language of light refraction that produces blue so they tell a story of how God likes to paint the sky with His favorite color. As for thunder; how many times have children been told it’s the angels bowling instead of the difficult concept to explain to a 4 year old that electricity in lightning supercharges the molecules of air that produces a sound wave boom across the sky. Stories have always been told to make sense of serious questions.

I like to think that thousands of years ago children seated around a campfire in a middle-eastern desert while traveling to some proposed “promised paradise” were asking their parents why humans have to work so hard to survive and then die anyway? (Besides asking “Are we there yet?”) And so, because truth has to be told in ways that the children could understand, a story is told. The story uses images anyone could relate to. A tree full of delicious fruit would seem like heaven to people wandering around without anything sweet in the hot, dry desert. Snakes, ugh! The ancient dessert travelers probably had seen their share of illness and death caused by the slithery creatures the embodiment of danger. The Adam and Eve tree story reveals that humans had it perfectly good and then “the evil one” tricked men and women into thinking they could ultimately control their lives. So humans had to leave their perfect life. They rebelled against God and suffered the consequences. Now we’re doomed to our fate because humans make bad choices to reject the Law God gave us. Those choices perpetuate illness,  trap us in suspicion of others and cause death. Like a fairy tale about witches who build houses out of gingerbread and lure children in “for dinner” humanity was given the chance to choose the good, to love; or people can choose to fill their selfish bellies and believe the evil witch or snake or devil really has what satisfy their soul hunger that isn’t for food.

The truth revealed in the scripture story of the tree in Eden is this: evil is real. Evil tempts us with a false “world view” where humans don’t need God. Humans are tricked into believing in our own power to save ourselves, that the individual is the center of the universe and that other people who want what we have are obstacles to our happiness. Or to use the language of our present day national leaders the “evil one” presents “fake news” and “alternative facts.”

Our message series this lent will invite us to consider that the “Root Cause” of humanity’s sorry state is revealed in the human freedom to choose self-interest over self-offering of lives for the good of others. The evil one isn’t a snake, but evil is heard in the voices that tempt people to think they can or should be able to dictate how life should be lived instead of submitting themselves to the will of a God that doesn’t seem too be concerned enough to intervene. Ultimately the root cause of all things that deprive humans of a fuller life is the lie that took root in the human heart that God isn’t in charge, so humans can be.

Jesus, in his temptations in the desert comes face to face with evil. I suspect Jesus is wrestling with his human nature, the fact that every human being thinks they are the master of their life. In the desert with nothing to distract him Jesus must face the very human, deeply rooted sense of self-importance expressed in selfishness. This confrontation with the voice of evil reveals three roots that drink from deep veins in the soil of the human psyche of alternative facts about human relationships. The devil in the story tries to get Jesus to choose to believe disordered relationships can satisfy better than the perfect order of life God created.

One root reaches into the image we have of ourselves. Jesus is tempted to think of “me-first.” He’s invited to have a distorted sense of self-importance. We too hear the voice when our egos start to get the best of us. It’s been a hard day. Those kids have been a pain. My spouse has no clue about how much I give up to make her happy. I deserve a break. No body will notice if I spend a little of our money on myself. When ever we begin to think “me-first” or “it’s all about me” the evil one is probably whispering in our soul to choose to eat of the tree rooted in the bad soil of self-interest. Jesus rejects the suggestion of taking care of self before all others. He chooses to be a man who is concerned about the hunger for the Bread of Life that overcomes death that he alone can provide.

Another root branches out into the realm of the proper relationship between humans and God. Jesus is tempted to distort the relationship with his Father, to test God. When we tell God what to do instead of seeking his will we put down another root into soil that won’t produce good fruit. Thinking we can make God do something, thinking I know what I need better than the Father can lead to separation from the source of life. Negotiating with God in prayer, reminding him I took care of the poor or I’ll give so much money to the church if you grant me a favor, anytime we make the I in our prayer more prevalent than God the focus is off. God is in control and will always provide our daily bread. It’s our job to trust, to seek his will, to ask for his grace to persevere but never demand or to think we can manipulate the Father.

The third cause of root disease that Jesus is asked to prefer over a healthy root system to the tree of life is to see himself as ruler instead of servant. The devil promises what he can not give. Power to control the lives of people, to make them servants to Jesus’ desire. Christians who refuse to see themselves as servant to those who are  brother and sister in the human family are going to find themselves cut off from the fullness of life. When we use people to make ourself feel better, when we refuse the identity of servant in the image of Jesus we were baptized into, we let evil influence our free will. Christ chooses to be servant, not a ruler. So should we.

Trees will produce good fruit if planted in good soil with strong root structure. The root cause of the messed up human condition is a decision. Not a decision by characters in a story named Adam and Eve, but each individual’s decision to be swayed by the evil that whispers in our heart. You can do better than it seems God is doing for you. It’s my hope that our message series this Lent will help this parish confront that voice of temptation like Jesus did. Refute the fake news with Good News. Here’s the choice we confront once again this Lent. Do we put down our roots in bad soil? The soil of self-interest, making ourselves the center of the universe? Or, do we put our roots down in the promise of Jesus causing the tree of our life to become full of fruit that benefits the rest of humanity.

We children of God wander the desert land the limited span of the time our life will last asking questions. Why are things in this world such a mess? Why are humans constantly at war or making life so miserable for each other?  Lent begins with the story of a tree of life and knowledge at the center of a perfect garden. Lent ends with another tree, the tree of the Cross of Jesus which gives life and knowledge, the Good News. To chose to eat of the fruit of sacrifice of self that hangs on the tree of cross is how we “get back to the garden,” the perfect life God desires for all humanity. Choose to recognize the root cause of our troubles and be a part of the cause that roots out evil and produces the fruit that offers the fullness of life eternal to humanity.

A relief at Exterior of the Duomo (Milan) -Tree of Knowledge and Tree of the Cross of Christ By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

A relief at Exterior of the Duomo (Milan) -Tree of Knowledge and Tree of the Cross of Christ By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


Wedding Homily for Home Beer Brewers Sara & Erich

On Labor day weekend I had the privilege of presiding at the wedding of my cousin’s daughter and her fiancé in another parish. Afterwards, I received many compliments on the homily and how appropriate it was to the couple. You see, they are both beer enthusiasts who brew beer and meet at a group for home brewers in Washington D.C. The groom proposed at a favorite craft brewery in southern Illinois, Scratch Brewery. After getting positive feedback from an editor of a national publication, who was a friend of the couple, about my use of an extended metaphor (I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing), I admit I got a little “big-headed” for a while and asked the couple for permission to publish the homily on my blog, which they have graciously given. Perhaps a few home brewers will find their way to this corner of the internet if they search beer and brewing and wedding. It’s published here for those friends and relatives who wanted to revisit the homily, too.

frjoeerichsaraCongratulations and Best Wishes to Erich and Sara! May you have many happy years together as husband and wife.

Wedding Homily for
Erich & Sara
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Catholic Church, Herrin IL
September 3, 2016 – 2:30 PM
Rev. Joseph C. Rascher, homilist and presider

Readings:
Tobit 8:4b-8
Colossians 3:12-17
Matthew 5:1-12a

Most of us know that Sara and Erich first meet at a club for home beer brewers in Washington D.C. Both our bride and groom brewed beer at home then meet attending a club of home brewing enthusiasts. So how could I not make at least some reference to beer in my homily this afternoon? I promise I won’t belabor an analogy about the process of brewing to making a successful marriage but I couldn’t resist looking up a quote attributed to one of our nation’s founding fathers. It’s popularly believed Benjamin Franklin once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” As I looked for the quote on the internet I came to find out Mr. Franklin never spoke such a thing! Well, if you can’t believe that a founding father of the country said such a great truth, what can you believe?

Here’s the actual quote.”Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine, a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy.” That actual quote is a bit more poetic. This quote about vineyards watered by God’s rain actually points us toward a truth we can believe in that we are witnessing this afternoon. Here’s something to believe in — God wants us to be happy. God showers down upon humanity his grace, his love where it enters the hearts a man a woman and brings them together in marriage. Their marriage then produces a new reality, a fruit of oneness that is sweet and complex and joyful and yes, sometimes a bit bitter like hops, but a wonderful coming together of individuals that can witness in the flesh to the presence of God’s love in the world. God is at work this afternoon in this liturgy making two baptized people into the sign of his unity. We are witnessing the revelation of the Love of Jesus in human flesh so that the world will get the message, God is Love and Jesus still dwells with his people. Bride and groom become something more than a legally bound partnership. They are changed into a visible sign that God loves us and wants us to be happy.

Sara and Erich, those who are married many years (like some that are gathered here with you to celebrate your wedding) will tell you the process of becoming this sign of “God Love” takes time. Saint Paul, one of the founding fathers of the church wrote the recipe of how you’ll become more and more this sign of “God Love” revealed in his Son Jesus who you will now enflesh in your becoming one as husband and wife. In our conversation on Thursday about the readings you said as much.

In generous portions you both will need to show each other compassion, humility and forgiveness. There is one more essential ingredient to make this marriage a sign of “God Love” in a union that is bound together for ever — The Love of God revealed in the life of Christ. Not just welcoming that love in praying together. Not just acknowledging you need God, like Tobiah and Sara did on their wedding night as we heard in the first reading. Together, you must love like Jesus. That means sacrificing the self on the cross of your life that so the life of your spouse (and one day, children) may be richer, more alive, full of a joy that can not be taken from you. As Pope Francis has written in his Apostolic Exhortation On Married Love, “The couple that loves and begets life is a true, living icon – not an idol like those of stone or gold prohibited by the Ten Commandments – capable of revealing God the Creator and Savior.”

Erich, you also reminded Sara and yourself in our conversation that this task you embark on, today (and have been on for a few years), will take the ingredient of patience. The second reading is Paul’s recipe for the faithful disciple, and yes, the successful marriage. Paul stresses patience with each other; patience with yourselves for not being perfect. Patience, like the compassion Christ showed us sinners on the way to the goal of God’s kingdom will be the “yeast” that takes time to do it’s work. The yeast of patience will ferment the perfect brew that satisfies the pallet of your marriage over time. Then the rest of us, including your children and your children’s children, as the nuptial blessing says, will share in drinking of the love of God in our midst that you have revealed over a lifetime.

All of us should be aware of something, though, about biblical times and the symbolism of yeast. Yeast was not a thing you wanted around in your house during the high holy days of Passover. It was a symbol of corruption, something that destroyed the purity of the unleavened bread needed for the feast. And as our couple know, too much yeast and the beer is destroyed. (Didn’t Sara have a batch blow up in her apartment closet once?)

In a way, marriage truly lived according to the vision of the church and of the Beatitudes we have heard in the Gospel can corrupt the world. Married Christians should be a kind of “corrupting” influence mixed into our world where selfishness seems to be the motivation of so many. We live in a society where violent aggression is seen as necessary to establish the superiority of a political or religious system. The culture we live in is an environment of toxic individualism. Married Christians by their example of selfless love for each other and their children are to be the corrupting yeast that breaks down the selfishness of society, reveals cooperation is the antidote to violence and helps others see that we are responsible for the well-being of one another. It was wonderful to hear Sara tell me in our conversation how “We both feel strongly about social justice. We both want to try to help the less fortunate. As a couple we need to be people for others and not just focused on ourselves.” You get the Beatitudes. You both are “Blessed” for you recognize that you must live in the Kingdom of God here and now in a culture that needs the yeast of corruption, married love. You’ll just be a small influence, but small is always powerful in the Kingdom. As Mother Theresa of Calcutta, who will declared a saint tomorrow once said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” This is your task. Love greatly! Be Gospel, be Good News! The world needs your witness to the power of God who wants us to be happy.

Sara and Erich, you are entering into a great mystery not to be solved or even understood. You are embarking on a journey of discovery where you’ll come to know more and more how deeply you are capable of loving. That journey will take you to new places where you’ll discover how profound is the mercy, the love of Christ for us.

Erich told me of a quote from Kaiser Wilhelm: “Give me a woman who truly loves beer and I shall conquer the world!” (And then he lost WWI!) Another quote not to believed as true. But believe this… “God’s love given you in baptism has given you each other to love without measure. His love revealed in you will advance God’s Kingdom in this world, enabling others to know God loves us and loves to see us happy. Remember this truth, God’s love has conquered this world of death!”

May God who has begun this good work in you bring it to completion!

 


Transfiguration Day Thoughts from a Hill

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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.


Orlando and a God of Life

Homily for the 12th Week of Ordinary Time — Cycle C 2016

Readings for the 12th week of Ordinary Time, Cycle C
Zechariah 12:19-11; 13:1
Galatians 3:26-29
Luke 9:18-24

Perhaps you have heard of the terrible event that happened in Orlando early last Sunday morning. Most of us are aware of the murder of 49 people in a nightclub and dozen others who were wounded by a single gunman. And, perhaps, you came here today hoping to get a reprieve from the news of such violence.  After all this is church, not the news. You might say to me, “People come to church to hear comforting words about Jesus’ love for them, not to hear commentary on the news, Father!”

Yet, the event of last Sunday kept coming to my mind as I read the words of our first reading. “They shall mourn for him as one mourns for an only son or firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem (or Orlando) will be as great as the mourning that followed a previous tragedy in the plain of Megiddo (or Sandy Hook).” The Scriptures insist we apply the Word of God to our present situation.

Evil is very present in our world. The seductive voice of the devil still influences people with the promise that God will be served or the world will be a better place if violence is used to impose your will on others. Violence, killing, seeing human beings created in the image of God as somehow inferior to yourself, a “true believer” is the work of the devil still rebelling against the Rule of God and His kingdom of love. Therefore gay folk must be killed. People who worship Christ as God must be eliminated. It’s o.k. to use violence to silence those who disagree with my political point of view. Our world still experiences the seductive voice of the Evil One.

417px-JesusTeachingAs Catholics, our Holy Father, Our Bishops, our Scriptures would have us be clear about how God operates. Today’s Gospel reading has us recall how Jesus Christ taught his disciples to respond to evil. And it’s not with more violence.

First, God is a God of life. God never causes death or condones violence that brings death to any of his children created in his image. Those who claim to kill in the name of God are not hearing our God’s voice but the voice of the evil one who tells the lie that violence against human beings pleases God or will make the world a better place. Instead, God uses his son’s non-violent acceptance of death as the means of destroying evil.

Secondly, this God of life is the one God worshiped by Jews, Christians and Muslims. Unfortunately, the sacred scriptures of all three faiths descended from Abraham have been perverted by people seduced by evil throughout human history. The same God of all three faiths wishes to establish a way for humans to live in reconciled peace. This God worshiped by Jew, Muslim and Christian does not cause or condone evil. There is no room in the Christian heart for judgement of another person because of their religion rightly practiced. God is all good. God is great. God is life. God, by his very nature is incapable of causing death. But, in Jesus Christ, we believe, God has taken on death and destroyed the power of death to deny humans life. This is what Jesus proclaims in today’s Gospel. God will destroy the power of evil that causes human suffering through His own death. He said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed by evil men and on the third day be raised.” Because Jesus became human, every human who loves others and who sacrifices his or her self for others (like some of the people in the Orlando club did) is Jesus enabling every human life to reveal the presence of the divine image in this world. And those who love unselfishly, Paul reminded us in the second reading no matter what their ethnic origin, (Jew or Gentile), economic status (slave or free), sex or sexuality (male or female), there is the potentiality of that person being Christ in the midst of the present day world.

Therefore, in a sense, an evil man once again killed Christ. Once again, in our own day, Jesus is persecuted, denied, and tortured. And once again, we are asked to believe with eager expectation that Jesus has THE WAY to defeat hate. He has THE WAY to destroy the power of death seemingly so powerful in our midst.

In the Gospel Jesus predicts death will not defeat Him. “The Son of Man will suffer greatly, but on the third day He will rise, again.” Those who are killed because of hate remind us to trust that the love of Jesus that did not resort to violence to win the victory over evil is the only way to live. Sacrificing of the self for the good of others, in union with Jesus, is the only way to peace, that is the ultimate reconciliation of humanity. Unfortunately, so many people on our planet and even in our country have closed the “ears of their heart” to this truth revealed by Jesus to the whole of humanity. So, evil seems to prevail, but only for now.

The events of Orlando bring us face to face with evil in our own backyard. The question of Jesus should be ringing in our minds. “Who do you say that I am?” A nice man with some nice thoughts to share? A fool? By our presence in this church memorializing him, thereby recognizing he lives in our midst, we are hopefully saying, “You are the one who can save humanity from its self and its violence. Not just at your return at the end of time, Jesus, but even now. We will not give into the voice of evil that says violence is the answer. We’ll even risk our lives for others, for we claim Jesus is the Christ, the God who reveals sacrificial love is stronger even than hate and death. Thoughts and prayers or hashtag “we are Orlando” is not a bold enough statement of our faith. Action that says we’re willing to follow Jesus promoting the dignity of every human, even to the death of our self at the hands of evil persons, is the only correct answer to the question, “Who do you say that I am?” You, Jesus, are the love of God for all humanity. You are mercy that definitively fixes the human condition so influenced by evil. You alone, Jesus, are our savior. May your church strive to more perfectly be your presence in a world that still knows the effects of evil so that we may share in your victory over the power of death.

©2016 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

(May I suggest you check out a statement by Sean Cardinal O’Mally, Archbishop of Boston who, I think, says more eloquently what I tried to preach
http://www.cardinalseansblog.org/2016/06/17/reflecting-on-the-orlando-tragedy/)

 


Keep Celebrating! Christmas is not over

May I suggest reading an article by the Rev. Christopher Keating of Woodlawn Chapel Presbyterian Church in St. Louis that appeared on the Saturday edition Religion page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Rev. Keating writes about how the Christmas Season continues through January 10th (the Baptism of the Lord) and how many in our culture have a difficult time pondering over time the mystery of what we begin to celebrate on Christmas day. We need to time to contemplate with Mary the mystery of God become man.

After Christmas It’s Vital to Keep Hope

http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/civil-religion/faith-perspectives-after-christmas-it-s-vital-to-keep-hope/article_3f02a67e-9dfb-5f83-9637-3e78280a2fea.html


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


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