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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” – 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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A God of Life Not Death

I know it’s been a least 6 months since I’ve posted…more about why in another post I’m preparing. For now, I invite you to read my homily from the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C in the Roman Catholic Lectionary.

Homily for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

Readings for the Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time Cycle C
1 Kings 17:17-24
PS 30:2, 4, 5-6, 11, 12, 13
Galatians 1:11-14A, 15AC, 16A, 17, 19
LK 7:11-17

Funeral homes are not comfortable places to visit. Anyone who visits the family of the deceased finds it awkward, an uncomfortable duty to go to the funeral home and stand in front of a casket. What do you say? How can I make the wife, the husband, the parent of the person whose body lies in the casket feel better like people naturally want to do?

God, in the person of Jesus has empathy for the funeral home experience. Jesus encounters a funeral in today’s Gospel. Surely, God’s emotional heart revealed in Jesus feels the pain of the mother following her son’s casket to the graveyard. Like any decent human, Jesus most likely was wondering, what do I say, what do I do?

800px-Nain_widow's_son_is_resurrected_by_Christ

Nain Widow’s Son is Resurrected by Christ – mosaic in Monreale Cathedral

This story and others like it in the Gospels show us the death of people is not an unknown experience to God. In Jesus, God knows first hand, in an emotional way the pain and grief of death. Jesus encounters human grief and  human death not just in the young man of today’s story but many times Christ comes face to face with death in the Gospels. There is the time he visits the home of a dead little girl and says “Teletha kum” that is, “Little girl, get up!” Another time he cures from a distance the servant of a Roman official who claims he is not worthy to have the Christ enter his house. Of course, the experience of death got very personal when Jesus takes  four days to get to the home of Lazarus only to find out he’s too late and his friend is  already in a grave.

The death of people pulls at the heart of Jesus. Maybe that’s why he was willing to suffer death hoping somehow his own death would destroy death for he had seen how he was able to bring people back to life on numerous occasions. Each of these encounters with death stirs up God’s mercy and is sign of power of Jesus to control death. In Jesus, our God reveals his empathy, God grieves over the human condition that leads to death.

Here is the point of the Gospel. God desires life for his creation. God is a God of life! Death is not something The Lord sends humans, but rescues humans from. Death is not something God does to people (like the prophet Elijah of the first reading seems to imply). Death is something God controls. The Almighty has the final word over death.

Yes, the Lord knows the time of our deaths, but God doesn’t make death happen for death is the consequence of humanity refusing to live in God’s realm from the beginning. Death resulted because humanity refused to submit to God’s authority from day one. (“Hey let’s eat those apples God said not to eat! What’s the worst that could happen?”) You might say humanity brought it upon itself and God had to rescue humanity by becoming human so that he could die and restore order to creation. The Good News revealed in Jesus is that death isn’t as powerful as we think it is. Life is God’s desire for us. By having faith in Jesus Christ, by being a member of his Body we can have some control over our destiny, eternal life or eternal suffering. With Jesus we participate in the restoration of the human person created from the beginning to be alive able to know, love and serve God, without fear of life ending.

Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Resurrection_of_the_Widow's_Son_at_Nain_(La_résurrection_du_fils_de_la_veuve_de_Naïm)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

Brooklyn Museum – The Resurrection of the Widow’s Son at Nain (La résurrection du fils de la veuve de Naïm) – James Tissot – published in the US before 1923 and public domain in the US.

Because we are the Body of Christ, we also have the power to give life to those who are in the grip of the power of death. Yes, we won’t resuscitate a body like Elijah or Jesus in today’s readings. You and I will never be able to go to the death bed of a loved and make a dead body live, again.

But…
When Jesus resorted life to the young man, the mother was also given her life back. It the culture of Jesus’ day, she would have had to beg to continue to eat, to live. Women didn’t work. The culture of the day dictated that women rely on the men in their family to provide them a home, food and safety. The woman of Nain has no other men to give her life. Her only son is dead and she’s a widow. Jesus gives life to two people in the story.

Everyday we encounter the cultural forces of death that attempt to deny people life till they are born away in their caskets, too.
Hunger…
Illness…
The violence of war remotely revealed on our media screens…

What do we do? Ignore the grief, the suffering in front of us? Or be the Christ who is en-bodied in the church and reach out and touch those affected by death’s influence?

We need to listen to the voice of empathy tugging at the heart of Jesus beating in us that made him stop and touch the casket. We raise up to life those we feed through food banks and Rice bowl collections.We make life more comfortable for the sick person we visit or bring to the doctor or run the errands of a senior citizen who can no longer drive. In voting, in letter writing, being politically involved we have a chance to move our leaders and representatives to build a more just world were peace can take hold instead of resorting to violence. As members of Christ by baptism, we too, like him, can face death declaring God is a God of life.

Once we say we belong to Christ, we have a decision to make. We must choose to extend the power of Christ over death or we can just walk on by, ignoring the grief of humanity facing a grim future because it seems like we can do nothing. The spirit of Jesus lives in his church, us. Let our hearts beat with the empathy of Jesus, stopping to touch the lives of those under the power of death and bring them life.

© 2016 Joseph C. Rascher

O God, from whom all good things come,
grant that we, who call on you in our need,
may at your prompting discern what is right,
and by your guidance do it.
Through our lord Jesus Christ, your son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the holy spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Opening Collect for the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Roman Missal, 3rd Edition


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