Tag Archives: Liturgy

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

“Evangelization – In-Deed!”

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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” – Good Friday

Act 1: Left Hanging

Homily for Good Friday – 2017

Readings for Good Friday and the Passion according to St. John

Do you enjoy going to see a musical? Have you ever gone to see a play, maybe it was professional actors or students at a local high school? There are similarities between drama acted out on a stage and the drama of the story told through the ritual of these days of Holy Week. Tonight, we continue our message series called “Dress Rehearsal” as we use the metaphor of seeing Holy Week liturgy as a sort of rehearsal of the drama of disciples on the stage of the world living their belief in Jesus crucified and risen. We’re considering who Jesus is for us and what meaning his life, death and resurrection has for humanity.

Musicals or dramatic plays usually come in two Acts with an intermission.  Most plays end Act 1 with some sort of unresolved tension in the story. You go to intermission wondering how the various threads of the story will be resolved in Act 2. The main character is facing some challenge like lovers separated. Or the lead has chosen a corse of action with consequences yet to be revealed as good or bad. The audience goes to the lobby wondering will this be a story where everyone lives happily ever after or will there be a tragic  ending?  Tonight is Act 1 of the Passion story of Christ. When we leave here, if we didn’t know differently, we’d be in that intermission frame of mind left hanging, waiting for a resolution of the story.

What we have seen so far in our liturgy in the events portrayed by John’s passion is a Jesus very much in control of his fate, yet choosing to be powerless victim. Does he know the end of the story? In Act 1 we’ve watched his final hours. The suffering of the crucified Christ must have been horrific. He’s beaten and bloodied. Nails have been hammered into wrists and feet. Pain paralyzing the muscles so Jesus could not even push himself up to breathe resulting in a death by suffocation; a death that was somehow salvation from death for us, for all humanity. Jesus bore the death of every human on his back carrying the cross so that death would be defeated, no longer the end of humans.

You know, Jesus still dies, today. The drama still plays out on the world stage leaving humanity wondering what will be the outcome of our common story. The world continues to kill Jesus, innocent of any crime that demands the death sentence. Children are gassed to death in Syria by their president. Religious fundamentalists use terrorist tactics to bomb others out of existence that don’t share the terrorist’s faith. Drought takes the lives of people in Africa and the wealthy citizens of the world stand by playing the stock market like it was rolling dice for what’s left of our resources. People are shot down on city streets and babies killed the womb. Will the story of humanity have a tragic end or experience a twist of the story line that ends happily?

Jesus, when he hung on the tree of Calvary probably had no idea what would come of his death. In a sense, he’s at the end of ACT 1 of the drama of the Passion and Resurrection. It’s like he’s left hanging by God the Father, not sure how or even if Act 2 would take place. There’s no resolution at the end of the passion we just heard. The Jesus who is still being killed by humanity’s sinful deeds is that Christ left hanging on the cross after death. Humanity needs a savior who will resolve our differences, a savior who no longer hangs on a cross but shows the way out of the grave in which it is entombed.

That way is the way of the cross. Dramas usually need props. The objects on the stage help get the message across being told by the play. In our case tonight, wood plays a pivotal role in the story of salvation for humanity. ember it was a Tree in the Garden that played a part in the down fall of humanity into death.
A boat of wood said by Noah over the flood carried humanity to a new life. The wooden staff of Moses parted the Red Sea to make it possible for the Israelites to escape death in Egypt and make a way to promised land.

The Cross of Jesus whose wood we venerate in this liturgy becomes the door to being saved from death. Our Christian drama has the prop of the wooden cross that saves. Tonight, we embrace that wood of the cross, saying we will carry it with Jesus and show a humanity there is another way to arrive at a better life.

We embrace, kiss and venerate the wood of the cross because we’re in the know. We’ve already read the script and know a plot twist awaits in Act 2, that Jesus is not left hanging there, nor are we left hanging what will happen. There is a resolution to the story. Death leads to life. Hopefully, we’ll be so moved by the drama that we’ll announce to the world there is an Act 2. Moved by the love revealed on the cross we’ll help restore the life of those threatened by the continued passion of Christ being played out on the world stage. Selflessly dying to self-interest in service of the needs of fellow humans instead of killing one another brings a better life for all. By uniting ourselves to the death of Jesus in this dress rehearsal of Salvation through liturgy and everyday life a new humanity will not be left hanging wondering what our future will be. We can rise up from the grave we’ve been digging for ourselves.

Singing (with congregation the refrain sung during the proclamation of the Passion) “Christ Jesus Victor, Christ Jesus Ruler, Christ Jesus Lord and Redeemer!”


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.

 


Lent Message Series 2017 “Root Cause” – Week 5

The final installment of my Message Series for Lent, “Root Cause.” So far I have named the root causes of humanity’s broken condition as choosing in free will to reject obedience to God’s will and attempt to be our own God (week 1, The temptations of Adam and Eve and Jesus), set forth the vision of a redeemed humanity (week 2’s story of the Transfiguration of Jesus),  personal choices to sin (week 3 as revealed in the story of the Woman at the well), and described humanity’s infection with social sin woven into the fabric of society (week 4 – The healing of a blind man. This week we look at the “cosmic” picture and learn how humanity’s choices to cooperate with the evil one has unleashed upon all of creation, death, decay and entropy the result of alienation (sin) from God.

Root Cause Message Series Poster

“The Power of Love”

Readings for the 5th Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

This past week we priests of the Belleville Diocese received an e-mail from the chancellor. Among the responsibilities of the Diocesan chancellor is keeping track of personnel files. The e-mail from the chancellor was a request that those of us who haven’t sent in our funeral instructions do so and here’s a simple form to help you tell us what to do with you when you die. Sounds a bit morbid doesn’t it?

Nobody really likes to think about their own death. Going to a funeral home visitation is difficult. But thinking about your own death, maybe how your body will be the one people are looking at in the casket, that can be a depressing thought if not a fearful thought. Yet, we’re all going to die. Some people approach their death with a fatalism saying things like “when your time is up, it’s up, you can’t change it.” Other folks rage against death, fighting it with every ounce of energy they can muster. The truth is very simple, though. Everyone dies.

The first Sunday of Lent we heard the story of Adam and Eve; how humanity was created to live forever like God. The story of the Garden in Eden describes how people were to be God’s companions who God could love and receive love from back without a time limit. Yet, the root cause of death was humanity’s decision to reject that offer of love that called it into being and instead try to live by its own wits; humanity wanted to be its own God. From the moment of eating of the fruit of the tree at the center of the universe, death, decay and the tendency of everything to eventually break down spilled out into all of creation. Death became the ultimate alienation from the sustainer of all life, God the creator. Call death a symptom of the sinfulness of humanity that radiates out into the cosmos that needs to be healed. Death is the ultimate sign of humanity’s brokenness that longs to be repaired.

Today’s Gospel story of Martha and Mary, the dead friend Lazarus and Jesus proclaims that Jesus, God in human flesh, has entered into this world of cosmic disorder, to face down death. Jesus declares himself the resurrection of life! This encounter with death in the person of Lazarus is the moment in the life of Jesus when the Christ declares that death has been put on notice. Death’s power over humans is limited. Death’s reign as the force that controls the universe is finished.

Jesus continues to stand at the graves of the victims of the power of death unleashed by human choosing the root causes of our broken nature ready to call them out of the stench of death. Jesus offers the way to defeat death and live no longer bound with the fear of the power of death. Keeping with our message series theme of “root causes” let’s name a couple of these causes of death that can be healed by the power Jesus shows in the mystery of sacrificing self for the sake of others instead of the self-centered vision of humanity. Of all the seven “Capital Sins” (the root causes of human troubles) there are two that we can focus on that routinely unleash the power of death.

The first root cause of death taking hold in our existence is Greed, an excessive pursuit of material possessions. How often do we see greed on a grand, even worldwide scale? There is a hunger for territory. Such territorial greed has led to wars to conquer land someone else possess causing the death of military and civilians. As Pope Francis has warned  us in his encyclical “On the Care of our Common Home” there is greed shown in the insatiable thirst for natural resources buried in the earth, like oil, gas, and coal that make some rich, but at the same time doom especially the poor to suffer the effects of climate change. Human greed may kill the planet that sustains the life of the ones who exploit the planet that makes life possible.

Not only is greed bringing death. There is the deadly sin of Wrath which can be described as the uncontrollable feelings of anger and hate towards another person. How often we have seen in history attempts to wipe out whole populations because of their race. Even today, we hear in the news of the hate that religious fundamentalists have toward another expression of faith in God that they’re willing to slaughter human life.

Greed and Wrath are root causes of death binding up the human person, entombing humanity in the stench of death limited existence that Jesus calls out as evil and speaks a word of resurrection to life.

If we find ourselves under the influence of the evil one trying to convince us to give into greed or wrath, what can we do? How do we let Jesus free us from the tomb we’re sealing up for ourselves? Jesus’s power to bring life out of death cause by greed is revealed in the choice to live Charity. To love, another word for charity, cures greed by putting the desire to help others above storing up treasure for one’s self. Charity is sacrificing for the good of others and reflects the sacrifice of Jesus who defeats death by his sacrifice on the cross. If we realize we’re giving into wrathful anger, then Christ offers us the power of Patience. Patience cures wrath by giving us time to understand the needs and desires of others before acting or speaking. If we stop, attempt to see the dignity, the hurts, the needs of the person we’re angry with we can defeat the power of death at work in us.

But there is a productive anger,  also. Not all anger is destructive wrath. Sometimes anger is a necessary part of the process of moving on through life. Anger is one of the stages of dealing with grief and can help a person move from feelings that life is over for the survivor to living life in a new way. Anger about unjust situations can move a person to action to confront the cause of injustice.

Martha and Mary were angry at Jesus for not showing up in time to do something about the suffering of a loved one and saving Lazarus from dying. We may be angry at Jesus, too, for sometimes it seems he’s not in a hurry to save a loved on from illness, or not in a hurry to fix the mess we people cause in our world. That’s part of the process of coming to realize how Jesus operates. Jesus doesn’t take away death, but uses death as the weapon to defeat death, letting go of self as the way to find the fullness of life. If he showed up before Lazarus died he couldn’t have shown he has the power to use death to defeat the power of death to deprive us of real life.

What the Lazarus story reveals is the truth. By his tears he sheds at the death of his friend Jesus shares in the grief, the pain of humanity ruled by the experience of death. Recalling his distress reminds us he was angry with the fate of his beloved creation and was moved to step into humanity to change the fate of humans.

Driving to meet some friends for dinner last night I pulled up behind a car at the four-way stop in Lebanon. The car had a bumper sticker that read,

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power,
the world will know peace.”

I’ve discovered that the bumper sticker is a quote from the musician Jimi Hendrix, of all people. But how true. The power of love was shown in Jesus’ death. His resurrection unties the binding strips that ties up life limited by death. Jesus commands us to be free of the fear of death, to be free from the limits of mortality.  Love overcomes the love of a humanity hungry for power over one another, a “root cause” of the cosmic forces of decay and death unleashed by Adam and Eve who ate the fruit of the tree at the center of the garden. Jesus reveals the power of love on the tree of the cross which stands at the center of time and space. In the opening of grave Jesus reveals the power of love which is stronger than death, letting in the fresh air of eternity that removes the stench of death.

Attributed to Aertgen van Leyden (1498-1564) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Wedding Homily for Home Beer Brewers Sara & Erich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


Keep Celebrating! Christmas is not over

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

After Christmas It’s Vital to Keep Hope

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


Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent – Surprise! God’s Way of Operating

Readings for the 4th Sunday of Advent Cycle C
Micha 5:1-4a
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

UntitledOver the next week or so a similar scene will be played out in the homes of people celebrating Christmas with the exchange of gifts. Wherever gifts are given between family members usually there is the moment when the beautiful wrapping is torn away to be followed by a squeal of delight. The noise is a sign of delight, of surprise! Maybe it’s a expensive piece of jewelry. Perhaps the gift is more expensive than expected. Words follow. “You shouldn’t have! I didn’t expect you’d remember! This is wonderful!” Most people like being surprised by those who love them. The unexpected gesture or gift can be a sign revealing how much a person is loved.

Our God is the God of surprises. Our God loves to surprise humanity with  his generosity of mercy. Scripture constantly reminds us our God is a God who does the unexpected on a regular basis.

For example, there’s the pregnancy of Mary. She’s a virgin. Unless you do what men and women have always done in order to have a baby, you don’t. You can’t get pregnant. Yet, the virgin finds herself pregnant after it is revealed to her God needs her to cooperate in His plan and she agrees to let her body be used as the vessel of incarnation, the becoming flesh of God. You want to talk about surprises and a God who delights in giving gifts to the human race he loves? No one in Mary’s village would have suspected that a girl would be pregnant with out another man being involved. Mary was probably the most surprised.

And what about Elizabeth who we know was too old to have a baby. Yet, when Mary shows up to visit her Elizabeth is six months pregnant, the normal way, but still I’m sure Elizabeth was surprised one day to realize she’d was “with child.”

But this is how God likes to work. God prefers to do the unexpected, something out of the ordinary. Our God is the God of surprises.

As people of faith, as disciples of Jesus who reveals the God of the unexpected, we must be prepared for God to surprise us with the gift of his love, too. To follow Jesus is to expect to be surprised by God. Jesus revealed the God who doesn’t just do the same old, same old. After all, no one expected that Jesus, after being killed on the cross, would show up a few days later, alive, opening up the possibility of eternal life for the human race. We should expect God to surprise us, too!

But too often we people of faith forget God likes surprises and so go through our days thinking nothing can or will change. There will always be wars. There’s a good chance people will disappoint me or hurt me. I’ll get sick. The sun will come up, I’ll go to work, come home, have a little time with the family and do it all over, again, tomorrow. This attitude is a temptation of the evil one to forget the surprises  of love God has in mind for us.

We must remember that God wants to visit his people with the gift of his love and signs of his mercy. We must be willing to let go of our low expectations of the routin-ness of life and pay attention when God visits us so that we can marvel at God’s love, like when Mary, pregnant with the Lord visits his people in the person of Elizabeth and the yet un-born John the Baptist.

God surprises us with his love in many ways if we would be pay attention to his advent in our everyday life. The source of love reveals Himself in the hug and voice of a child in our family who spontaneously expresses her love for her mom out of the blue. “Mom, I love you!” We can be surprised by God’s mercy when a spouse says I’m sorry before the offended partner asks for an apology.  The lonely senior citizen, surprised by a neighbor who not only brings dinner but eats with the recipient of the meal; the call out of the blue from a friend who just wants to say you’re thought of. Little surprises, little visitations by the Lord of Mercy to shake us out of our routine of low expectations.

As people of faith we shouldn’t be surprised that God likes to show up at unexpected times with a gift of his love. We have to unwrap the bearer of the gift with eyes of faith that recognize in the guise of someone we know is actually the gift of the love of God.

The proper response when visited by Jesus’ mercy is to marvel we’ve been deemed worthy to receive the visit and to Thank God. What were the word’s out of Elizabeth’s mouth when Mary, pregnant with Jesus appeared at her door? “Who am I to be so blessed?” What did John the Baptist do? He started kicking up a storm in the belly of Elizabeth out of joy.

When we receive a surprise visit from Jesus, reminding us of how loved we are by God, we, too, need to express joy. We need to give thanks and marvel at his love. Maybe a whispered “Thank you God” when our children unexpectantly show their love. A prayer of gratitude lifted up in this Mass is good. Or, expressing charity in corporal acts of mercy towards others is appropriate.

The proper response when visited by Jesus’ mercy is marvel and thanks.

Since the church is a people who expect surprises to come forth from the mercy of God we need to look to Mary to be our model. Mary, experiencing the surprise of God’s blessing in her pregnancy goes to share Good News with another person. She takes a chance making the journey to Elizabeth. It was a risky trip. So should the church take risks to bring hope of surprising Good News into the world. Love triumphs, not hate, not violence. Life is precious and not to be wasted in killing or hoarding the resources of our planet for a select few. The church processes the Good News of Jesus, the powerless God, crucified by hate yet living for ever. By our works of charity, by corporal works and spiritual works of mercy, we become the body in which the surprising God will love the world now and until He comes, again, at the end of time.

In these days of Advent and the coming feast of Christmas we celebrate that God, wrapped up in the beauty of human flesh is inviting us to unwrap the human potential to change, to visit the world with peace and justice.  God has surprised us with his love in the incarnation of Jesus. Surely we should make a joyful noise to the Lord in liturgy and in our witness to his kingdom among us, for he has visited his people hope!


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