Category Archives: Reconciliation

Lent Message Series 2017 “Root Cause” – Week 4

The Lent Message Series continues…


Root Cause Message Series Poster“I See Nothing”

Readings for the 4th Week of Lent Cycle A

Many of us members of the baby-boomer generation and older will recall a popular T.V. show that I suspect lives on in reruns on nostalgia t.v. channels.  The show was Hogan’s Heroes. Your young people, go “Google” it. The t.v. sit-com was about a group of allied soldiers in a German P.O.W. camp who were involved in espionage against their captors. One memorable character was a bumbling German guard, Sargent Schultz, who often would say, “I know nothing! I SEE nothing! Nothing!” As we continue our message series “Root Cause”  that famous line by a fictional t.v. character is a way of describing the “root cause” underlying so many of the problems we’re identifying of humanity that required a savior like Jesus to redeem through his death and resurrection. Like a blind man “Humanity sees nothing,” People do not perceive the forces of evil at work in the fabric of our human societies. Humans are blinded to causes of the broken relationships between people that lead to wars in far away lands or conflicts on our city streets. Humans do not see the forces ultimately at work that blind us to the plight of people dying because of a choice to not see. The church calls this kind of evil “social sin” and we’re all victims of the disorder, the illness infecting the human community.

The symptoms of society’s blindness have names that usually end in “-ism.”Racism, nationalism, free market capitalism or socialism. Sometimes the symptoms have names that end in “-pobia,” a Greek word meaning “fear of,” like Islamaphobia, or xenophobia (fear of the foreigner) or homophobia.

If the names of symptoms end in “ism” and “phobia” what then are the root causes, the underlying illness? Let’s name a couple. Pride and Gluttony are two of the capital sins at work destroying human life. So often people appeal to national pride (my nation is better than any other and your nation needs to be like mine). There’s racial pride (my race is pure, my race matters more than yours). So often there are appeals to religious superiority and you need to convert or be damned or even killed for insulting God by your existence.

Then there is the gluttony expressed in consuming too much of the earth’s resources, not respecting creation (as reminded by the Holy Father’s encyclical on Creation “On the care of our common home.” Such gluttony has led to global warming that threatens as well as shows disrespect for fellow humans, most often the poorer members of our human family. Climate change has threatened the food supply of nations in Africa were famine looms for millions of people. When nations do not share in food that they have in excess with those in famine because there’s no profit, gluttony is at work.

Christ entered this human community and is confronted by it’s brokenness. The blind man in the Gospel, today, is a metaphor for the blindness of humanity’s inability to see the harm we do to each other. The man born blind is a stand in for the death we inflict upon each other when we refuse to see the “-isms” and the  “-phobias” that are not the vision God has for his human creation. We heard at the beginning of Lent that the desire of God was harmony, life without death, that humans rejected by thinking themselves as equals to God instead of creatures dependent on God’s mercy made in the image of His ability to love selflessly. The blind guy is a symbol of the blindness of humanity to the consequences of our actions and our need to see things in a new light.

So we are living in a world, a society infected with the root cause of our demise. How do we avoid being contaminated? What is the cure if we are infected with one of the root sins like pride or gluttony?

You know how people are always going around rubbing their hands with anti-bacterial gel? They’re trying to prevent being infected with a germ. Christ, in the Gospel rubs mud on the eyes of the blind man. He’s applying the antidote, the cure and the protection that prevents blindness and restores perfect vision. It’s sometimes seen as a symbol of being anointed in Confirmation. Anointed with the Oil of Christ in Confirmation we are made more like Christ, able to see the world as Jesus sees it.  Christ sees a world full of beautiful human life, worthy of God’s saving love. Christ sees the dignity of each human being, men and women’s incalculable worth in the eye of God. To be safe from the infection of the “-isms” and “-phobias” that lie about the dignity of other people we must let the anointing of confirmation’s Holy Spirit enlighten our minds with God’s wisdom, and unleash the spirit of discernment to help us see where society is demeaning people. Then we must rely on the Holy Spirit’s courage to enable us confront the sinfulness of society be it working to lift people out of poverty that is not their fault (and confronting those who blame the poor, like so many of our political leaders). We must speak out against those who give into stereotypes about Muslims or people of another race or sexuality. The story of the anointing of David is tied to this Gospel of “anointing” the blind man’s eyes to point out that those who are in Christ are to lead humanity to a new vision of our potential for true harmony.

If we recognize that we are infected with the root cause of humanity’s inability to see it’s got a problem, unable to recognize the dignity of every person, then we need to ask the Lord to put the muck of what ever we suffer in our eyes to we can identify it, be it racism or some sort of fear of people different from us, to help us see the consequences of that disease that we are spreading. Then we need to ask Jesus to give us the grace of conversion of heart so that we might see with the eyes of Jesus. Our participation in the sin that takes refuge in society’s disfunction may take a while to cure. It may need to be mentioned in the Sacrament of reconciliation. In that Sacrament of Reconciliation we are healed, restored to the state of being we became in Baptism. After having been washed in a pool of forgiveness in Reconciliation we are sent to carry on the mission of Jesus to enlighten the world, to help others see the need to resist the evil entwined in the human social order.

Ultimately, the cure for the root cause of social sin is the proclamation that Jesus is the Light of the World. Jesus enlightens our minds by his life, death and resurrection to understand how we can live together as a human community in harmony, like we did in the Garden at the beginning of time. Be servant to one another and work for the good of others. Don’t see enemies out to get me, but a child of God worthy of being cured, cured even from death by the Love of God  revealed in Jesus Christ.

Matthias Gerung 1530-1532 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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


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.



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?

I am the door.  All who enter through me will be saved.

Fr. Joe:
Salvation door.
Kingdom door.
Porta coeli – Jesus door.

I am the door;
all who enter through me will be saved
and will go in and out and find pasture.
Enter by the narrow door.

Fr. Joe:
Enter by the Jesus door,
Through the heaven-earthly door.

Prayer Blessing God
Adapted from the Book of Blessings, Blessing of church doors and the prayer said by Pope Francis before opening the Holy Door of St. Peter. 

Let us pray.

Blessed are you, Lord, holy Father,
who sent your Son into the world
to reveal your omnipotence above all in mercy and forgiveness,
by the shedding of his blood,
grant that we might live a year of grace,
a fitting time to love you and our brothers and sisters
in the joy of the Gospel.

Continue to pour out on us your Holy Spirit,
that we might never tire of turning with trust
to the gaze of him who we have pierced,
your Son made man,
the shining face of your endless mercy,
the safe refuge for all of us sinners in need of pardon and peace,
of the truth that frees and saves.

He is the Door,
through which we come to you,
the inexhaustible source of consolation for all,
beauty that never sets,
the perfect joy of life without end.

Grant that your faithful may pass through the doors of our church,
and be welcomed into your presence,
so that they may experience, O Father, your abundant mercy
whenever we gather to for the Eucharist,
the Sacrament of Reconciliation
and all the sacraments we celebrate in this house of the church.

Through Christ our Lord.

As the doors are opened and deacon and priest return to sanctuary the assembly sings

There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy – Verse 2 & 3

Jubilee of Mercy

Jubilee Mercy Logo

Today Tuesday, December 8, the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the Holy Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis begins. I recommend checking out the official website to learn about what this Holy Year is about. I’ve put the link over to the left under “Sites I Visit” but you can go to it here, also


Learn about the official logo, displayed to the left at Description of the Logo page.

The year continues to the Feast of Christ the King, November 20, 2016.

Jubilee Prayer written by Pope Francis

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew
from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us,
the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after,
loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm,
may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus,
through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Mercy;
you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit
for ever and ever.

Homily for 2nd Sunday of Advent: Mercy comes!

Readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle C
Baruch 5:1-9
Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11
Luke 3:1-6

2nd Suday AdventIn our modern world, people might hang calendars on their walls to keep track of what day it is. Folks keep track of appoints and birthdays on their smart phones with applications called iCalendar or Outlook. In school, students study a subject called History and have to learn dates on which important events happened, like December 7, “a day that will live in infamy!” In this day and age we have a thing called the Gregorian calendar, commonly used throughout the world, to tell us what moment in history it is. Back in the day of the Gospel writer, a unified calendar the world agreed upon as we know now didn’t quite exist. Instead, you’d situate an event with telling people who was in charge, maybe a reference to your particular cultures calendar might be thrown it. If I were to talk about an event that was announced last March 13th in the way Luke dates the appearance of John the Baptist I might say.

In the seventh year of the presidency of Barack Obama; in the first year of Bruce Rauner as Governor of Illinois; on the 22nd day of Adar, 5775 in the Jewish calendar and in the tenth year of Bishop Braxton’s ministry as Bishop of Belleville: The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis, declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy!

Luke’s announcement dates the appearance of John the Baptist proclaiming God was establishing a new era. It was in a time, Luke says, when there was a need for people to experience something other than the oppression of civil and religious leaders making life miserable for them. It was in a time when human cultures, Roman and Jewish and various sub—groups of Jewish observance, made knowing God as a loving God difficult. Politics, religious differences, governments all made it hard to believe God was in control and that peace among people was even possible. A new day, a time of favor was needed.

Things are not much different, today, are they?

People motivated by misdirected religious fervor take the lives of innocent civilians in foreign lands and in our own country. Politicians stir up fear among citizens of people who are “not like us” all the while vilifying one another as something almost evil, follow them and doom will descend. Violence, power and manipulating the fears of a population become the so-called solution to our problems.

Into this mess has come a voice, Like John the Baptist, who proclaims “Change your hearts, change your way of life! God loves humanity and forgives men and women. God can heal the hurt we cause one another. He desires reconciliation, he shows us mercy!” Pope Francis, in giving us a Holy Year (Jubilee of Mercy – official Vatican website), is reminding members of the church that violence and fear and manipulation are not God’s way of fixing the problems of the world, the church or our own individual lives. MERCY, forgiving wrongs and seeking to heal the hurts of the past are the way of true peaceful living. MERCY is God’s gift to humanity that will enable every person to know they are loved and need not see others as a threat to their existence, but a brother or sister seeking what all people want, a chance to live, to live in peace, now and forever.

Jubilee Mercy LogoThis year will be a time to remember where we need not fear God but long for his coming into our  hearts. The fact that God’s love can cure what’s wrong with humanity is revealed in Jesus who is “Merciful like the Father.” The Holy Father’s hope is that if we encounter how much we are loved by God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and in the celebration of the Mass we will extend that love through Corporal and Spiritual Acts of Mercy towards others. We’ll cooperate with God’s mercy in building a more peaceful world. Recall that “corporal” has to do with taking care of the needs of the body, “Spiritual” with the needs of the soul and relationships between people. Corporal mercy is shown in feeding the poor or clothing the naked or caring for the sick. Spiritual mercy is shown when we help people turn away from sin or teach another something they were not aware of that will help them have a better life. These works of mercy are how God knocks down, how God will level the mountains of injustice that are the seemingly impossible boarders to cross between races. Valleys of fear of people who are different from us can be filled with spiritual and corporal works of mercy! As Pope Francis said in his homily at a Celebration of Reconciliation for Several Penitents with individual confession and absolution on the eve of the 4th Sunday of Lent last spring:

“Dear brothers and sisters, I have often thought of how the Church may render more clear her mission to be a witness to mercy; and we have to make this journey. It is a journey which begins with spiritual conversion. Therefore, I have decided to announce an Extraordinary Jubilee which has at its centre the mercy of God. It will be a Holy Year of Mercy. We want to live in the light of the word of the Lord: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (cf. Lk 6:36). And this especially applies to confessors! So much mercy!
I am confident that the whole Church, which is in such need of mercy for we are sinners, will be able to find in this Jubilee the joy of rediscovering and rendering fruitful God’s mercy, with which we are all called to give comfort to every man and every woman of our time. Do not forget that God forgives all, and God forgives always. Let us never tire of asking forgiveness. Let us henceforth entrust this Year to the Mother of Mercy, that she turn her gaze upon us and watch over our journey: our penitential journey, our year-long journey with an open heart, to receive the indulgence of God, to receive the mercy of God.”

On this 6th day of December of the year of our Lord 2015, let us rejoice that God is coming with MERCY in this moment of time, this era of History to help us, to show us how to change our lives so that we are ready to welcome him when he comes at the end of time, the conclusion of historical time.

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.

Etch-A-Sketch and Lent

Here’s one for the I wish I would have thought of that file…

I recommend this blog entry for your reading. The author, the Rev. Christopher Keating, a Presbyterian pastor,  pulls together some recent political news  and the Season of Lent (God forbid you change your position in Politics verses the expectation to admit you were wrong and change your ways in your spiritual life!).

Check out Starting over with an Etch a Sketch at the Civil Religion Blog site of the St. Louis Post Dispatch website.

I’ve been taking a slightly different approach to preaching the series of readings assigned to the current cycle of readings, which is the same as the Rev. Keating refers to, preaching about the history of the convenential relationship of God and humanity that reaches its perfection in Jesus. But, I like his idea of God giving us the chance to start over again and again, too. Such is the beauty of the Scriptures – so many ways to get to explore how to preach the eternal truth of God’s love for humanity, his unwillingness to give up on us.

Brother Love’s Traveling Reconciliation Show

With apologies to Neil Diamond (Yes, I’m old enough to remember his early performances in the 1960’s) who made a hit out of the song “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” one of my brother priests who was part of a group of us hearing confessions yesterday reminded me of this title. My parish is part of a group of four parishes that hold communal reconciliation liturgies in each one of our churches on Sunday afternoons during Lent. Two on one Sunday and two on the next Sunday, which requires a bit of quick travel between the two parishes to make it to the next church on time. My brother priest referred to it as the “Traveling Reconciliation Show” between yesterday’s two locations.

It is Lent, and many Catholics feel the need to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Many of them don’t for various reasons. I’m not here to judge, but I do find it a powerful encounter with Christ both as penitent and the minister of the sacrament. Sometime I’ll have to write more about my experiences. For now, I offer two poems by a favorite author, Scott Cairns, for your Lenten reflection that might help you prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Take your time with them and ponder what they are revealing. The Sacrament of Reconciliation can stir in the heart the same thoughts and have the same effect as what is written of in the poems.

The Spiteful Jesus

Not the one whose courtesy
and kiss unsought are nonetheless
bestowed. Instead, the largely
more familiar blasphemy
borne to us in the little boat
that first cracked rock at Plymouth
petty, plainly man-inflected
—demi-god established as a club
with which our paling
generations might be beaten
to a bland consistency.

He is angry. He is just. And while
he may have died for us,
it was not gladly. The way
his prophets talk, you’d think
the whole affair had left him
queerly out of sorts, unspeakably
indignant, more than a little
needy, and quick to dish out
just deserts. I saw him when,
as a boy in church, I first
met souls in hell. I made him
for a corrupt, corrupting fiction when
my own father (mortal that he was)
forgave me everything, unasked.

philokalia: new and selected poems
 by  Scott Cairns

Page 11 © 2002
Zoo Press, PO Box 22990, Lincoln NE 68542

Adventures in New Testament Greek:

Repentance, to be sure,
but of a species far
less likely to oblige
sheepish repetition.

Repentance, you’ll observe,
glibly bears the bent
of thought revisited,
and mind’s familiar stamp

—a quaint, half-hearted
doubleness that couples”
all compunction with a p ledge
of recurrent screw-up.

The heart’s metanoia,
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,

as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time.

philokalia: new and selected poems
 by  Scott Cairns

Page 11 © 2002
Zoo Press, PO Box 22990, Lincoln NE 68542

A Homily for Reconciliation Liturgy during Advent

Recently, since I was “the new guy on the block” so to speak, I was asked to preach at a series of four liturgies over two weekends in our area. Four parishes use the same order of worship for the communal celebration of Reconciliation. The four pastors involved help with individual confessions during these liturgies. This is the homily I gave at the four parishes. 

The readings proclaimed during the liturgy were:
Isaiah 55:1-11
Luke 15:1-10

The point of any form of advertising is to get the consumer to come over to the side of the product being promoted. The object of any form of advertising is to get people to try the brand of the company doing the advertising.
Our car line is better! Come to our dealership and find out why!
Our store is better! You should be shopping here!
Our beer is best why drink anything else!

Now in Advent,we usually think about the fact that Jesus comes to us. The liturgy tends to invite us to remember Jesus came in the flesh and will come again at the end of this age. Jesus is who we usually think of as doing the moving.But we are also invited to respond to the message of Christ coming in our midst. We, too, need to choose, to decide to come to the side of right, to choose the justice ( that is the right order of God’s realm) reveled by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The message of advent is an invitation to come, to respond to the call to buy into God’s way shown by Christ. That “way” is an order of life where the relationships between humans and the relationship between humans and God is in correct, life-giving order.

But in our thirst, in our hunger we choose the wrong product. We choose an inferior brand. And just what is it that we want, what are we longing for? To be loved, to feel worthwhile. We want to feel important or necessary.

Frankly, Isaiah proclaims that God is saying “My thoughts are not your thoughts, my way is not your way!”

Humanity is out of order! Humanity is choosing a product that makes things worse between humans and between humans and God. And what is that inferior product? People choose selfishness. They choose self-interest. Folks choose to lookout for myself instead of serving others which is the way of Christ!

Sin is not breaking a commandment or rule of the church as much as choosing to listen to the false advertising claims of evil that in looking out for number one you and I will find what we’re looking for. Sin is deliberately choosing to be selfish and destroy or make difficult to see the relationship of love we have with others.
“Bless me father, I have sinned”…
I’ve refused to honor my wedding vows not by having an affair, but by getting angry with my spouse, I’ve made it difficult for her to realize that I’d do anything for her happiness by insisting that I’m right even if I am wrong and not letting the argument go.
“Bless me father, I have sinned”…
I’ve talked about those less fortunate than my self as if it’s their problem, not mine, and proclaimed publicly “they” haven’t worked hard enough to find a job instead of working to build a more just society.
“Bless me father, I have sinned”…
I’ve schemed at work on how to get other people to do my job and take the blame when things go wrong so I come off looking good and not get the blame. I’ve been trying to make the boss think the company’s success is all my effort and not sharing the credit!

Come back to the right order of things! Come to the Lord and take on the image of the Son of God you were baptized into, again, for he was totally unselfish! Only his Word, Jesus, produces the results we’re looking for, a life full of peace and joy.

But, we’re not going to be able to perfectly repair the damage selfishness does to the human community or our relationship with God. At our core, we’re born with a predisposition to selfishness, the original sin, so to speak. We need some one to COME TO US and save us from our self.

Jesus! Only Jesus, the selfless one can bring us to the right order of existence we desire. He CAME once before. He lived, died and in his resurrection revealed that his way, his order is the way of being that repairs the divisions of humanity and defeats sin.
He will COME AGAIN, to complete the work begun in his incarnation.

And so in the Sacrament of Reconciliation two movements are taking place.
WE COME to this sacrament, to discover that
HE COMES looking for us who have lost our way while looking for something to satisfy our thirst for happiness. HE COMES with hope, with healing, with the offer of a lifetime!

And, in our meeting, grace happens. The division, the hurt, our inadequate attempts to make life better which have brought about a disorder in this life are repaired. JESUS makes right, he restores order to humanity’s relationships and people’s relationship with  God through the power of his selfless love revealed on the cross that is made present in the words of absolution in the sacrament of Penance.

Let that power flow through you as a priest speaking in the name of the Body of Christ says “May God give you pardon and peace!” and rejoice that our coming together in reconciliation services and private celebrations of confession renews our hope that one day Jesus will come again with healing for the broken-ness of the human race, forever reconciling the disorder our choice of selfishness has brought to the world.

© 2011, Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

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