Tag Archives: church

21st Sunday Ordinary Time – Cycle A

This homily probably could have used some editing or “tightening up” but here’s how I preached the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time in Cycle C of the Roman Catholic Lectionary this Sunday, more or less. 

Reading Gospel of Matthew 16:13-20

I suspect most of us are familiar with the custom in St. Louis of asking someone you just meet for the first time “What high school did you go to?” The question confounds newcomers to St. Louis. Why would you want to know where I went to high school? Sociologists say the St. Louis question of what high school a person attended is a way of getting to know a person. The high school attended is an indicator of social status. If I know what high school you attended, I’ll have a clue if you come from a wealthy background or poorer. I’ll know a bit about your social status or if we have similar backgrounds. Supposedly, answering the question about your high school helps people negotiate what their relationship is going to be with that person.

Jesus asks a similar question in the gospel, today. When Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am” He’s not looking for some indication if the apostles know his name. When Jesus asks “Who do people say I am” he is asking what kind of relationship do they have with him. Adding a couple more words in the question would get closer to what Jesus is asking. “Who do you say I am to you? Or “Who do people say I am ‘for them’? Jesus is asking for a relationship status update. Jesus wants to know what is the disciple’s relationship to him is going to be.

Various answers are given by the disciples. Some say you’re a prophet, a kind of spiritual teacher They relate to you, Jesus, in a non-intimate way like a person looking for wisdom that you might give. But teachers can be dismissed as not knowing what they’re talking about. Teachers can be ignored.

Peter gets the right answer. “Jesus, you are savior for us!” What’s Peter saying? By knowing Jesus as the loving God who comes among the human race so humans can relate to him in a way that people just can’t with a “spiritual being” folks can have a relationship with a person that can even save humans from the forces that seek to wipe out human existence.

Jesus’ question, “But who do you say that I am?” is an invitation to enter into a relationship with Him. Jesus isn’t just someone to know stuff about, or a teacher that provides moral guidance about how to live a good life. Jesus wants to have a relationship with his followers that enables them to live through death. Christ, the name means “Savior,” wants humanity to relate to him like we relate to a spouse, a friend, or a lover who saves a person from being consumed with selfishness until there’s only a bitter old man or woman without love in their life, unable to experience love or enjoy life fully.

Relationships are a two-way street. Both parties in a relationship have to figure out who the other person is to them. It could be best friend. This person might be the love of my life. It might be helpful to understand the Gospel of Jesus asking who people say he is if we’d flip the question around. Who are we “to Jesus”? Who does Jesus say we are, sitting in these pews? Who does Jesus say the rest of the inhabitants of this planet are to him; anyone who has lived, lives or every will live on this insignificant rock perfectly positioned in a not too far, not too close orbit around a star in a remote corner of the universe? We are the beloved human race he called into being so that he could have someone to love and became one of. We humans are the creatures Jesus loves like no other created being, so much so that he deems us worthy of saving from death. We are the beloved bride of  the groom Christ who can not stand the thought of ever being separated from. So loved are we as individuals and a race that Christ desired us from before time began to live with him and be like him even when we allowed death to invade the beauty of life. Who does Jesus say we are? The Word of the Creator God says humanity is the love of his life worthy of salvation even when they betray the relationship He wants with men and women through their sinful acts that weaken the relationship like adultery is to marriage. Relationships are a two-way street. To understand who Jesus is to us, it’s helpful to know who we are to Jesus. We are the beloved spouse he wedded himself to in the incarnation, so that he might save his us from death in order to live in his house, forever beyond the limits of space and time.

When the Gospel author Matthew has Jesus say to Peter you are the rock, the solid foundation on which Christ will “build” his church Matthew is saying the Church makes possible the relationship with Jesus. Peter is not being made Pope in that instant. Peter becomes the symbol of authentic faith. His statement is raised up by Christ as the foundational truth on which the church stakes humanity’s fate. The church is the Body of Christ. Matthew, the writer, is teaching the community he wrote his Gospel account for that the church is the human vessel that makes possible the relationship with Jesus that saves from death. Peter is a symbol of the Church. The relationship description Peter voices is the rock, the solid foundation of the truth proclaimed by the Church throughout the ages. The role of the church is to hand on generation to generation through sacraments, preaching and catechesis a relationship with Christ that saves from death. Outside of the rock solid relationship Jesus offers through His body, the church (which is safeguarded by the successors of Peter, the Pope and the leadership of the church in union with the Holy Father) there is no hope of living after death.

The author Brian Doyle, when asked why he is Catholic once wrote how the Church had helped him to be in relationship with Jesus as savior and saved. Mr. Doyle wrote about the authentic faith handed onto him by the Church represented by Peter,

“Sometimes I desperately need to lean on a god wiser and gentler than myself. Sometimes I desperately need to believe that when I die I will not be sentenced to Fimbul, the hell winter, where there is only the cold voice of Nothing, but rather I will be at peace and draped in Light. Sometimes I am nudged toward belief by the incredible persistence and eerie genius of the tale [handed on by the Church’s Gospel]: the encompassing love of the mother, the wordless strength of the Father, the Lord of All Worlds cast ashore on this one as a mewling child in dirty straw. Sometimes I am moved past reason by the muscular poetry and subtle magic of these [Gospel] stories. Sometimes it is an intuitive yes as the light fails and the world is lit from below. And sometimes I simply cast my lot with the sheer bravura of such a patently brazen lie. That a man could die and live again is ridiculous; even a child knows that death is the end. Or is it?”

Doyle, Brian. Leaping: Revelations & Epiphanies (p. 80). Loyola Press. Kindle Edition.

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Statue of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome. Possibly the work of Atnolfo di Cambio. Thought by some historians to be much older. This work has been released into the public domain by its author, Mattis. This applies worldwide. Via commons.wikimedia.org

The author of this quote recently died in middle age of a brain tumor. Family and friends say he died at peace, knowing his relationship with Christ as savior was the rock that would break the power of death, the key that would open the door of his house in eternal life.

 

Don’t just see Jesus as one of many gurus that offer wisdom or moral teaching for a happy life in this world as some do. Do not delay! With the assistance of the Church, through its sacraments, preaching and catechesis, fall in love with Jesus, the one who saves and who loves you to death…and beyond.

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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.


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

Poster what now

“Builds Stronger Bodies”

Readings for the Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Poster what now

“Call to Action: Time to Get Busy”

Readings for the Second Sunday of Easter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©2017 Rev. Joseph C. Rascher

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Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Easter

“Act 2 – Plot Twist”

Homily for the Easter Vigil and Easter Day

Gospel for the Easter Vigil
Matthew 28:1-10

I’ve been giving a “message series” this past week titled “Dress Rehearsal.” Like some movie sequels, be it the popular Harry Potter movies or the Fast and Furious series which apparently is on it’s eighth installment, sometimes it helps to understand what’s going on in the current movie if you know what’s taken place in the previous films. So let me very quickly summarize what the previous messages of this week’s series were about so that tonight’s/today’s message makes a bit more sense (Just in case you weren’t able to be at all the services.)

Last Sunday I compared this past week’s liturgies to a dress rehearsal of what the Christian life is to be like when we live as disciples of Jesus on the stage of the world. Palm Sunday was a sort of Disciples follow Jesus through his passion discovering the Paschal Mystery, that death can lead to fuller life here and now and eventually at the banquet of eternal life Mass gives us a glimpse of. Holy Thursday evening we learned what our role is in the drama of discipleship, that our role is to be servant; servants who die daily by letting go of their self-centeredness while taking care of the needs of others. Jesus, the lead actor taught us how to be servant when he washed feet and died on the cross to serve us life. Then, Good Friday was compared to Act 1 of a play. The first act of a play always sets up a conflict for the main character. The first act usually leaves the audience “hanging” at intermission wondering how the story will be “resolved” in Act 2. It might be a tragic ending or a happy ever after ending. Good Friday, Jesus is literally left hanging on the cross not sure if God is going to even open the curtain on a second act, or will his crucifixion be a tragedy with no happy ending.

But we’re here tonight/this morning because we do know there’s an Act 2. Otherwise, we might as well have [gone out and had a nice dinner]/[slept in!]  We’re here to celebrate the happy ending of the second act of the drama of Jesus’ life and death that gives us hope in the face of death. I know each of you, with me, wants to give thanks to God for writing in a plot twist into the story of Jesus’ death on the cross. Who would have expected such a turn of events? Surely not the soldiers keeping guard at the tomb, put there by those who were afraid that the followers of Jesus might pull a fast one. The women who went to the grave to pay their respects certainly didn’t expect a plot twist. Dead bodies stay dead as far as the  women knew. As the curtain rises on Act 2 the earth quakes as a way of saying God is shaking up the way the world works. God is destroying with mighty power the old order of creation and opening up a new future for humanity like a stone rolled back from the tomb of death humanity has found itself trapped in from that day in the Garden of Eden when men and women rejected the script God had written. A new day has dawned that will never see the darkness of death descend. What a plot twist, an unexpected turn of the story line! Death can not be avoided but death can be defeated. The drama reveals that actually any letting go of yourself trusting God’s script, including physical death, is the beginning of a new way of living, not the end of the story.

Did you notice? Twice “Don’t be afraid!” is spoken in the Gospel. “Don’t be afraid!” the angel says to the women while the pagan guards are laying on the ground in paralyzing fear (a sign that God overcomes the military and civil authorities that try to control human life). Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid!” to the women when they encounter him alive on the road. These words, of all the words spoken tonight/today are the meaning of our dress rehearsal that we should leave this building with tonight/today. “Don’t be afraid!”

Yes, we live in a world where death in the form of disease rips loved ones out of our embrace. It is true the drama we’re part of sees death used as a weapon to control with fear or even destroy people who are viewed as an enemy. Terrorists rely on playing the part of death for they believe have no other way to advance their cause. Hunger kills off the forgotten starving people in draught covered lands. Yet, we know there is another way. We’ve met the living in Jesus in those who have sacrificed some of their life for us to have a better life. We’ve seen the truth of the Paschal Mystery when our life has been richer because we we’re selfless with our time, talent and income that benefited another person. The way of Jesus can heal the world of it’s death plague. He alone has fixed what has become a tragic play with his plot twist of dying and rising from the grave.

The world needs to see Jesus alive in us! When we sacrifice for others, when we selflessly make life better for our children, our spouse, the refugee, when we “put on the identity of Christ we were baptized and anointed in confirmation to have, then the living Christ will be encountered by others traveling the road of history. Then the plot twist can play out in time. We do not fear what ever comes out way as we walk the road of our lives because we know nothing, nothing, be it illness, violence or life circumstances will permanently take away or life. We’ll live because Jesus lives in us and we in him.

Now it’s time for us to perform Act 3. Like the women who were told to go and tell the other disciples, we write the script for Act 3 by our witness to Jesus. We bring this Good News of the resurrection plot twist into the world. The dress rehearsal of Holy Week is over. It’s time to perform on the stage of the world. It’s time to bring people hope in the face of death that attempts to hijack the story God has written for humanity.


Holy Week Message Series “Dress Rehearsal” – Palm Sunday

This year for Holy Week and Triduum I am giving a message series entitled “Dress Rehearsal.” I explain what I mean by that title in this first message given on Palm (Passion) Sunday.

“Table Reading”

Homily for Palm Sunday 2017

Readings for Palm Sunday 

Students in high school English classes often have to study a kind of literature called “Historical Drama.” Historical dramas are plays like Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar or Henry the Fifth which tell the story of a historical figure’s trials and triumphs. Or maybe the student watches a movie of the historical play “A Man for All Seasons” about  Sir Thomas More who chose obedience to the Pope over his king, Henry the eighth who wanted an annulment of marriage that the pope wouldn’t grant. Historical dramas try to help the audience explore the why and who and meaning of events in history.

Sometimes, people like to look at the ceremonies of Holy Week as a kind of historical drama. Some of our brothers and sisters in Protestant denominations actually dramatize the events of this week with passion plays and last supper reenactments. Disciples of Jesus often view the liturgies of this Holy Week as a kind of chronological narrative of history. First Jesus arrives in Jerusalem, then he has dinner with friends, then he dies only to escape the grave on Easter. That is one way of approaching the why and who and meaning of the death of Jesus. It’s not exactly how liturgy works, though. Liturgy is not something an audience watches performed by skilled performers on a stage called the sanctuary. In liturgy, everyone from the priest at the altar to the usher in the last pew are the actors. The whole assembly of people in this room act out the drama of Jesus dying and rising in every liturgy in which we participate. (Notice I said participate in, not watch! We’re all actors.) In our processing from outside the building to our places in pews and sanctuary, our singing refrains during the Passion and processing once again to receive communion we are in a way rehearsing the mystery that was revealed in Jesus, death is the way to discover what the fullness of life is.

The Liturgy of Holy Week is a kind of dress rehearsal of what our daily life should be like if we call ourselves disciples of the crucified and risen Jesus. That’s why I’m calling my series of messages this week “Dress Rehearsal.” Each day of Holy Week we’re practicing, through ritual, what the rest of our everyday life should be proclaiming to the world. Disciples are actors on the world stage telling a story that should engage the onlookers to know the who and why and meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The Christian is the primary actor in the drama of revealing God’s love for humanity that was Jesus. We rehearse in this building what our faith is about, a journey to eternal life, the new and heavenly Jerusalem.

Like any dramatic stage production, though, the days of this week can be compared to the parts of making a play a reality. Each part of making a play keeps the vision of the whole in mind. The theme that runs through each liturgy is “Death leads to fuller life.” This is what I said in the introduction to the liturgy, outside.

Today we gather together to herald …
our Lord’s Paschal Mystery,…
For it was to accomplish this mystery
that he entered his own city of Jerusalem.
Therefore, with all faith and devotion,
let us…follow in his footsteps, so that,
being made by his grace partakers of the Cross,
we may have a share also in his Resurrection and in his life. 

Each day of this week keeps the theme we call the Paschal Mystery, death opens up the possibility of fuller life.

Today is like the first gathering of the cast that will eventually perform the drama on a stage, a kind of pre-rehearsal. The cast, you and me, have a table reading. We get familiar with the story. We discover the meaning of the story that we want others to learn.

Our procession with palms in hand was a rehearsal of our life’s journey. We learned that this story of Jesus we’re co-actors with is supposed to be a journey from life outside of the kingdom of eternal life to the banquet of heaven life which is glimpsed each time we come into this building, each time we approach this altar to receive a morsel of bread and sip of wine. The building we entered from being out in “the world” is a symbol of the heavenly realm.

Ah, but this is no stroll in the park on a sunny day. To walk with Jesus on the way to fullness of life requires suffering. The journey may have betrayal or people who think we’re on the wrong path to God who reject us. Perhaps, at times we’ll even feel rejected by God crying out “My God, where are you?” It’s not easy getting to a fuller life. The cross of death and the need to sacrifice ourselves for others is always part of the drama we enact as disciples. So we read the passion of Jesus as the script of every Christian’s life.

To keep us from being discouraged, on this day of Palms and Passion we still enact the resurrection. Our celebration of the Eucharist and reception of communion enable us to experience the risen Jesus who says the difficult work of our performance rehearsal is worth it. Jesus stands on the other side of the cross, the arms he opened on the cross ready to welcome the disciple who perseveres to his or her own death in acting out the Gospel.

Our “Dress Rehearsal” of the mystery, the who, why and meaning of Jesus in the liturgy of today and this week is how we remain faithful even when tempted to give up on faith in Jesus. Our liturgical dress rehearsal helps us to hold onto the truth in our hearts and daily lives that Jesus walks the journey with us and we walk with him.

[Singing]

Once we were people afraid, lost in the night.
Then by His cross we were saved:
Dead became living. Life from His giving.
For to live with the Lord, We must die with the Lord.    

[Inviting all to sing the refrain sung during the proclamation of the Passion reading]

We hold the death of the Lord, deep in our hearts.
Living; now we remain with Jesus the Christ.

  • Text: Corinthians, 1 John, 2 Timothy; David Haas, b.1957 Tune: David Haas, b.1957 © 1983, GIA Publications, Inc.

 


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/)

 


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 5

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

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

“What’s Really Going On, here!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Reflections on the Gospel of John Chapter 6: part 4

 Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ''Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass'' 17th century

Isaac Luttichuys (1616-73) ”Still Life with Bread and Wine Glass” 17th century

“Praying Without Words”

Gospel for the 20th Sunday Ordinary Time Cycle B
JN 6:51-58

Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing what Protestants might call a “sermon series.” The homilies (probably better called “teachings” in that sermon series language) I’ve been giving are reflections on things pertaining to the Eucharist we celebrate, in an effort to help people get more out of the Mass. I’ve chosen to do this because we’re reading from the sixth chapter of John for several weeks during August, that part of John’s gospel where he explains what the Eucharist is about by having Jesus call himself “The Bread of Life.” This Sunday I’d like to focus my reflection on the “praying without words” that takes place during Mass.

There’s a saying “It was a picture worth a thousand words.” We understand what it means to say something is a “picture worth a thousand words.” You’d need hundreds of words to express the message or the experience that is captured in a single picture. Wether it’s a photograph or a painting, there’s more going on in the image than can be expressed even with thousands of words. Or think of a sunset you’ve seen. “A picture that is worth a thousand words.”

The same can be said of some of the ritual actions that are prescribed to take place during the Mass. Not all prayer involves words. Sometimes an action, a gesture is worth a thousand words. A simple gesture can sum up what would take many words to say. We, you and I, need to do these simple gestures to deepen our experience of the love of God that is being revealed in these few moments at each Mass.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t use the gestures prescribed by the instructions for Mass contained in the missal (and your hymnals, by the way) for the congregation to do to express more deeply what could be going on in their praying the Mass.

Let me mention a few…

During the Penitential Act (you know when we say “I confess to almighty God” after the first hymn), the church asks EVERYONE to strike their breast at the words “Through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.” Why? Striking the breast (either once or three times, it doesn’t matter) expresses sorrow. Striking the breast is a symbolic penance and disciplining of the body and mind that lead us away from God by our sins. Maybe it could mean my choices have not expressed the love in my heart for Jesus. It could mean we realize we’ve broken Jesus’ heart by our lack of living as he desires. Whatever it may mean to each of us, we’re asked to “strike” the breast to intensify our expression of the words we’re saying, “through my fault.”

Have you noticed in the middle of the Creed we pray after the homily that there’s an instruction to “Bow slightly” at the words “and became incarnate of the Virgin Mary?” Why do we bow then? Hopefully, a simple bow says what’s going on in our heart and mind. I’m in AWE of such a mystery, God becoming like me, a human. Our humanness has been raised up to be like God. WOW! I want to honor the God who “lowers” himself to my state so I can be “raised up” (recalled in coming out of the bow to a standing position) to the nature of God in my resurrection promised because I take into myself the Bread of Life. Then too, what do people do when they want to honor and important person, like a king or superior? We might bow to show respect, our willingness to be of service. We humble ourself before the superior or important figure only to have him ask us to rise as an equal or to accept our honor.

Receiving communion…here’s were our actions speak volumes of words, and it’s not always positive as I observe communicants in many parishes.

The church has asked us to show reverence for what we are receiving, what we are doing in the communion procession. We are taking in our hands and mouths JESUS, the BREAD of LIFE, SAVIOR of our lives from death, GOD in our Midst. That should give us pause and have us mind-fully approaching the heavenly banquet food we are about to receive. Unfortunately, many Catholics by their manner of receiving common seem to be saying, “This is not a big deal!” receiving communion by the casualness of their actions. Sometimes, I compare how many Catholics receive communion to the drive through lane at McDonald’s, “Give me what I’ve been waiting for in line so I can get on with my day.” It’s not a very reflective or reverent type of action going on. The communion procession is not utilitarian like getting a snack, it’s a crossing over to another realm, the banquet hall of heaven and dining with God.

Let’s remember how we are to go to communion.

As the person in front of you moves away from the minister of communion,

a simple bow (even of the head) is to be done, to show respect for the presence of Christ before the communicant in the Eucharistic Bread and Wine. Approach with palms held one over another, as an early Church father said, as a throne to receive the King of the Universe upon which to recline. We Catholics, by the way, don’t “Take” communion. The Body and Blood of Christ is a gift. We “receive” a gift in our hands or mouth.

We also don’t eat on the run. Ideally, to give us time to reflect on what we have been given, we step to the side, STOP and consume the host while NOT MOVING our feet. Why? To show respect, to ponder what we’re doing, to be stopped in our tracks by the wonder of taking God into our bodies and being united to Christ in love. Don’t most people stand in amazement at a moment of beauty, or a when they see something that moves their heart, their inmost being? Isn’t this what communion is about? People often talk about an experience that made them stop in their tracks.

Only after a brief stop and consuming of the host do we move to the chalice. where a bow is also required. Don’t forget to say Amen! It’s necessary before a minister can give you communion. The minister needs to know you believe what we as church believe so that he or she can give you the host or chalice, an action that expresses our unity not only with Christ but with each other who are members of the Body of Christ.

Children often learn more by the actions of their parents than the lectures and words parents preach. People who visit our church will only know that we believe in some wondrous, mysterious thing happening in our church not only by our words but especially by our actions. Let our actions, not just our words be an authentic expression of our prayer and what we believe!


Patron Saint of Pastors St. John Vianney

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

VianneyImage2

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

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


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