First Sunday of Advent 2021: Column on Luke 21:25-28, Cover Art

Dear Followers of the Messiah,

Today’s gospel, Luke 21:25-28, shakes us by the shoulders. It is spiritual cold water in the face. This message of urgency begins the New Year of Grace, 2022. 

Advent creates within us a desire for God. This is the message of our ancestors who waited for the Messiah. We know this urgency to wake up when we are confronted with severe illness or when our children are rushed to the hospital in the middle of night. We know it when divorce strikes our home or when a spouse is counted among job-loss statistics. We utter cries from the heart when life seems unfair. We raise a fist to heaven when we cannot control the outcome of life.

Advent begins with an eternal cry for justice. This is because our ancestors waited for the Messiah whose promise was peace, light and hope for all people. So, we begin this new liturgical season in deep human need, a condition we know well. We stand among others who ache for Jesus Christ. This penetrating longing of the heart is our food for prayer. 

Advent begins with a wake-up call to not let our hearts become drowsy. We are to cease carousing. We are to stop drunkenness. We are to be vigilant. We are to stand on the earth and desire God in the deepest recesses of our hearts and in the visible needs of the planet. 

God is nearby. God is here. God is within us. Advent allows us to see for ourselves the miracles of what God offers us and the world. So, let us calm our expectations. Let us put aside the frantic activity of December. Let us instead, wait in joyful hope for God to change everything in our hearts and on our planet. We begin the story of Jesus Christ over again. We wait. Pay attention to Advent. Wake up. 

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe 2021: Bulletin Column on John 18: 33-37, Cover Art

Dear Believers in the Christ,

Today, we celebrate the last Sunday of the Church’s liturgical year. Christ the King is the conclusion of our celebrations of Jesus Christ. This solemnity concludes with the message of Jesus that in the end, we will know him, be with him in paradise, and find our home in his dying and rising. 

I love this feast. It opens my heart because in the end, everything will be all right. In the end, redemption will be revealed for us, for the Church, and for each person. I cling to that. As a pastor, I ache for Jesus the King to love every person in every situation under heaven. There are days where I do not know where to turn except to the King of the Universe, to Jesus who died and rose for us and who waits for us in heaven. 

Jesus becomes king then, of not only wayward folks, but of all the issues in life that seem unredeemable. Jesus takes to his heart our children who live in violence and chaos. Jesus is king over migrants and servants even when we are made think otherwise. Jesus forgives us and our enemies. Imagine that scenario. Jesus is king over our fear. He heals those addicted to cocaine and heroin. He is shepherd to all people who on this side of the grave cannot help themselves. Jesus is king who tends to the mentally ill. He is healer over those with throat cancer who will finally sing his praise. 

He is the one who welcomes everyone around the table in the Kingdom, especially those who have never felt welcomed at their family table. Jesus is the kind-one who will bring all who have been abused into new and vital healing relationships. He will bring home the ones who fret and worry, those who are too stubborn to believe on earth, and those who cannot wait to get out of prison. Jesus the King is the servant for all people. 

In today’s gospel, John 18: 33b-37, Jesus is before Pilate. Their conversation about whether he is a king reveals heavenly grace amid earthly power. In the closing sentence of this passage, Jesus says, “Everyone who belongs to the truth, listens to my voice.”

The redeeming love of Jesus is still being revealed. The truth Jesus speaks of his authority is within our hearts. Listening to such truth can be intimidating. We may resist listening to him. We may want to find our path only in our pretense and self-sufficiency; we may want to listen only to our own ability to build our own kingdom. Jesus reveals to us in his suffering that he desires to be with us. He wants us to listen to his life, his scriptures, his examples, and his voice within the human heart. He desires to be our everything, our consolation, our peace, and our way to the Father. He leads us by example. He prepares a place for us in our Father’s glory. 

We have certainly been through a lot in these past couple of years. As we end this liturgical year, I want to thank all of you for your patience and perseverance. We can’t take anything for granted as we have all learned through these years of pandemic. Everything matters. Everyone matters. So now, we look forward to telling the story of Jesus all over again, to claim him in our hearts as if it were the first time, as we look forward to celebrating the longing of our ancestors in the opening weeks of Advent. So, we begin again, all over one more time, next weekend on the First Sunday of Advent. 

Thank you for creating our communities. Thank you for living the mystery of Christ Jesus here on earth. 

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin: April 2, 1928 – November 14, 1996

Read an article from Bishop Kicanas on the 25th Anniversary of Cardinal Bernardin’s death

Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

April 2, 1928 – November 14, 1996

On August 25, 1982, Joseph Bernardin, was installed as the Archbishop of Chicago. He was a breath of fresh air, a kind man, a priest amid people. The following month, I was ordained a deacon at the University of Notre Dame. Later in September, I met Archbishop Bernardin in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He preached at Eucharist celebrating the 125 Anniversary of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese. A deacon who was scheduled to serve that Mass became ill. I filled that role.

During the anniversary Mass, I had an idea. I thought if I could catch up with Archbishop Bernardin, I would ask him to ordain my class priests in the following April. Well, after Mass, he asked me to retrieve his homily on the podium from the arena. When I arrived back, we were alone in the same room. I asked him my request. He responded positively. I then had to go back to my superior and my classmates to tell them what I had done. They did not share my enthusiasm! As it turned out, Archbishop Bernardin did not want to ordain us before he had an opportunity to ordain his seminarians in Chicago. He later became Cardinal Bernardin.

In 1987, I accepted a position in the Office for Divine Worship in Chicago. As it turned out, I also spent three years on Bernardin’s priest council. At the time, there were 100 priests on that council. I listened to him lead and respond to criticism. I watched him support the efforts and concerns of the Archdiocese. I felt his love for God’s poor and marginalized. I watched him pray at Eucharist. His profound faith was inclusive and not harsh or rigid. He loved life and his priests and most especially the People of God. There was something very special about him as a man and as a leader.

The Office of Divine Worship was responsible for the large liturgies for the Archdiocese. Cardinal Bernardin had eight homily writers. He could not keep up with all his commitments in any given day. He wanted to make sure that what he said was accurate and inspiring. I remember filling out forms to give his writers about what to say at certain events. I felt deeply connected to him when I heard my words come out of his mouth at a Mass of Thanksgiving for the Neophytes one Easter Season.

His gifts of reverencing life from conception to the grave inspired me. His initiatives concerning the seamless garment of life were not accepted by other bishops. He worked tirelessly to support life in all its complexities, including the death penalty, homelessness, job concerns, nuclear war, and euthanasia. His willingness to step out in the rift of conflict over issues of social concern in a kind and generous many inspired so many faithful. His ability to listen was pure gift. His fearlessness loomed large to me as a young priest. In 1995, he received the Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame, given in recognition of outstanding service to the Church and society.  

He suffered much after his diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. While he was ill, a former seminarian accused him of abuse. Bernardin’s life became extremely public as those two issues became known. He handled his cancer and the accusation with sheer grace. The accusation was resolved before his death. I remember his face on the cover of Newsweek Magazine and the article about how to die with grace and dignity. He also received the Medal of Freedom from the White House while he was very ill.

I still have his death card in my Bible. I stare at his picture often. His voice is needed so much today, in the center of great divisions in our Church. I pray with him and for him, still hearing his gentle, slow voice in my life as a priest. Twenty-five years after his death, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, pray for us.

The Art of Faith 2021: Painting my story

This text is published in our parish bulletin on November 7 and November 14, 2021. Art for Andre fundraiser was an opportunity to articulate the story of my art in these past few years.

In these past couple of weeks, I have donated nearly 200 original pieces of art for a fundraiser for the remodeling of the former rectory to be called, “Saint André House.” During the event on the weekend of October 23/24, many people asked me what it was like to let go of the originals. Parishioners thanked me for being vulnerable enough to send my art into the world. They also wanted to know more about my art, the history of my art at Sacred Heart, and why I began painting.

When I arrived at the parish in 2013, Lisa Lundquist was offering art workshops for our Holy Cross novices. She asked me for space in the Parish Center because there was a large class of novices, and she was running out space in her home. I offered her space with one request, that I wanted to be part of the workshop as well. 

Lisa was very sensitive to my desire to paint. She pondered how to start with me. Lisa knew that I carried a great amount of grief to my new assignment from Portland where I had served people in poverty. The transition into being a pastor in Colorado was not easy. Lisa decided to use that grief as a doorway into my creativity. 

Lisa prepared two sheets of paper taped to a wall, dabbed some black paint on a Styrofoam plate, poured water into a cup, and washed out a brush. She brought me into the room and sat me down. She asked me to describe one of the people I missed from Portland. I described with words a woman who had been abused as a child, with curly hair, thick glasses, and who served as a janitor in a nursing home. I told her that she did not like herself, that the abuse had scarred her for life. Lisa took the brush, dipped it in water and paint and approached the white paper. In less than two minutes the woman appeared on the wall, with thick glasses, head downcast, holding a mop in her hand next to a bucket. I stared at the image and wept. Lisa had captured the woman perfectly in acrylic. 

Lisa then asked me to describe a second person. I described a young man who lived in a tent in the woods in Portland.  He, too, had been abused as a child, and could not keep a job. He had been received into the Church at an Easter Vigil. He always sat in the last row of our chapel with his arms over the back pew, wearing a baseball cap. Lisa handed me the brush with black paint and told me to paint him. I approached the white paper and in a couple of minutes an image of this man appeared. I dropped the brush in the water, stood back from the two images and cried my eyes out. I wept in grief. I wept in hope that they both would find what they needed. 

Lisa then looked at me and said, “See, everything you need is inside of you. All you need is to paint.” I go back to her words often. As I look back now, what is inside of me is my desire to see the face of Jesus Christ. I have painted my way into a deeper communion with Jesus, exploring my heart’s desire to encounter him, to hear his voice, and to see him not just at the end of time, but here every day.

The pinnacle of my art happened during the pandemic. Just before the shutdown, I was commissioned by Liturgical Press in Minnesota to illustrate the “Stations of the Cross in Atonement for Sexual Abuse and the Healing of All.” At first, I resisted the invitation because I knew that my art was not what the publishing house normally uses for their publications. I thought my approach was too abstract. However, the editor of the project, John Kyler, persisted. I painted all fourteen stations in the first weeks of the shutdown and handed in the project on May 1, 2020. 

After the book was published in December 2020, I began to realize that I too, was abused by a priest. I had never put the pieces together before. A priest, a family friend, sent me to another priest because I was not attractive enough for him. I never put those pieces together until doing the illustrations for the Stations of the Cross. The art has healed me. It is no wonder I told the stories of the two people who were both sexually abused when I began painting. I am amazed that at 65 years old, I am still learning about my life in so many ways, still unveiling truth. 

One of the highlights so far of my years at Sacred Heart was my art exhibit at Cottonwood Gallery for the Arts in May 2021. Sacred Heart Parishioners John and Sandy Goddard were instrumental in persuading the gallery to examine my work. The month-long exhibit of the originals was an incredible experience for many people. Over 900 people viewed my work during that month. I had many people tell me the story of their own abuse by family members or family friends. The effects of the abuse still linger as a cloud over present day relationships and activities for so many people. 

During that month, I learned that the priest who led me to a different priest was convicted of five counts of abuse and sentenced to prison for 8-15 years. I still cannot believe after 45 years that the sentencing happened in the same month as my exhibit. Healing abounds. Now, I have come to believe the reason I started painting was to help me get to the realization that I had been abused as well. 

I mentioned to many people during the Art for André fundraiser that my relationship with Sacred Heart Parish and the parish’s relationship with me is summed up in the art. These paintings represent our time together. They did not exist before I got here and will not exist after I leave the parish. These pieces of art are a segment in history of our time together. This is a beautiful reflection for me to ponder, to reflect upon in my art and in my prayer for everyone in the parish.

I never desired to hold on to the originals for long. I have found the search for my own truth and my faith more important than the final product. Over the past 8 years, I have given many of them away, donated others to fundraisers in the diocese, and sold a few. I don’t view the originals as possessions to keep. The journey of a blank canvas, the intuitive approach with paint on my fingers or brush, the quiet in my studio, the act of faith, all become prayer. The act of painting, the self-expression, and the truth are all keys to my heart.  

I paint with immediacy. I don’t spend a long time at the canvas. It is finished when the prayer or insight is finished. I have realized in my art that I paint in a similar manner as I preach. I use words from my heart; I express them in the moment, then I am finished. I don’t keep a written version of my homily because it doesn’t exist. My paintings are similar; I paint them, then I am finished with that image. Words and images are immediate; they speak, and I do not cling to them. 

Now, I do not know where art will lead me. I wait for the inspiration, the action of the Holy Spirit to guide my next moves into creativity and art. In the meantime, thank you for accepting my art and donating toward the next phase of our parish future for Saint André House. I look forward to celebrating our 100th Anniversary together in July 2022. 

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Bulletin Column on Mark 13:24-32, Cover Art

Dear Followers of Jesus,

In these November days, the sacred liturgy reflects on Jesus’ Second Coming as we move to the conclusion of our liturgical year next week on Christ the King. The end of time is presented to us in images and metaphors much like the beginning of creation: darkened skies, falling stars, chaos upon the earth, and deep questions rousing in our hearts. These changes will give birth to the Kingdom, much like the Kingdom gave birth to the beginning of all creation. These changes help us view what is most important today, since we do not know the day or the hour. 

Praying through the images of Mark 13:24-32, Jesus says to us we must pay attention to what is revealed every day. He uses the example of the fig tree. When it blooms, we know summer is near. In the same way, when we see the moon darken and the earth change, we know God will lead us home to eternal life. We will live in his glory, in the full bloom of eternal life. 

Jesus also says that heaven and earth will pass away, but his words will never pass away. In these words, we hear the echoes of the beginning of John’s gospel, when he writes that in the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word became flesh. Jesus points us to what he has been trying to show us all along in his life, that his words of love, mercy, and forgiveness will be forever what we cling to. His very presence is the Word from the Father. His words and actions, his presence on earth, will reveal to us life eternal. We are invited in these last days of our liturgical year to reflect upon the love that is revealed to us today that will show us the Kingdom at the end of time. We are called to surrender to his presence every day to the Word that will unite us in heaven. 

Clinging to Jesus’ words reveals not only what will happen at the end of time, but allows us to live today. In our day and time, we desire love. We desire the richness of justice for people. We desire the hope that people will find real meaning in their lives and joy in his presence today. Faith is an open door. Trusting God becomes our goal on this side of the grave. 

As we reflect on death in these November liturgies, we ponder the joy of his presence today. We conclude that only love will open doors. Fear shuts doors of faith. Stress and strain close potential to believe in God. Condemnation of others closes off forgiveness and peace. Fear does not lead us home. Only faith in God’s presence and joy of his mercy shows us the open door to the Kingdom. 

In November, we have celebrated saints and souls, and continue to reflect on our own grief in the death of loved ones and our yearning for eternal life. November, it seems, teaches us how to live throughout the year. Surrendering to brevity of life enables us a true relationship with Christ today. Our human death will not destroy the soul. Hope abounds in the hearts of those who trust in the words of Christ Jesus, for his words will never leave us, no matter what happens. 

But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Bulletin Art, Column on Mark 12:38-44

Dear Believers,

Mark 12:38-44 invites us to examine our pretentious behavior. So often we use religion as a way of thwarting power over people. We make the regulations of the Church difficult so we can justify our own place in authority. The Church, however, is meant for so much more. It is an instrument to allow us to know our need for God, to explore our deepest humanity, to witness to God’s eternal presence right here among us. 

The image that Mark’s gospel uses is that of the treasury. We understand money is power. So, he uses this image of power to reveal the real power of God’s presence in our lives. He uses the powerless widow as a juxtaposition to human power of pride and self-sufficiency. Her life of powerlessness is key to our unity with God. Her life as a widow becomes richness in this text. As a widow, she cannot own land. She is without all of society’s benefits of marriage that would stabilize her life for her financial future. 

The widow drops coins in the treasury. Her two coins teach us many things here. She realized her value comes from God. Two coins was a lot of money for her, in fact, it was all she had. Money was valuable to her, yet she knew of the value of her life in God. She gave from her need. The value of her giving was worth more than the value of what wealthy people offered.

We are to give more than money back to God. We are to give back all that God has given us. We are to acknowledge every gift, every talent, and every desire of our souls. We give back to God because God gives us life. God also gives us the promise of life for all eternity. Such a wonderous gift. 

The gospel cautions us not to go around with pretentious actions, clothing, and places of honor. We cannot live in God and claim our earthly pride. Our lives of faith are meant to reveal a deep humility in all that we possess, in our hearts and in our actions. It is easier to know the rules and regulations of the Church than to be the humble witnesses that God desires of us, allowing us to be servants of the mystery we celebrate. 

Faith is not meant to make us look good. It is not a place where we lift our pride and pretentious actions to show others we belong. Instead, we give to God from our deepest humility, from our incredible need for God’s redeeming love and mercy. There needs to be a place for God to work within us. This place is the treasury of our hearts that always knows God’s value and love. Our hearts become a vessel for our conversion, to know a deep and lasting place for God to work within us. 

Our treasure lies within us. This is the place of encounter, of mystery. We belong in the treasury of God’s willingness to be among the broken, the fragile and the marginalized. What a treasure indeed. 

Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Art for Andre 2021: A thank-you from a five-year-old

I received this note from five-year-old Violet this week. She attended the art show/sale last weekend. She is a great artist and usually brings me her work after Mass. I will leave the translation to all of you! So cute!

Next weekend, November 6/7, I will have another 60 pieces for sale after the Masses. If you missed last weekend, check out more of my work next weekend.

The Priest Magazine, November 2021.

Carrying Grief: November is a time to face our own mortality

I carry in my heart smoldering grief. On most days, I experience the fires of loss that are never extinguished, it seems. November rouses memories of those I buried this past year, both parishioners and strangers. I am also confronted with my own fear of death. This fear is revealed in the many ways. I cling to power, false identity, and making myself look good. I often fear approaching Jesus as remedy for my soul, clinging to my ego. The deep fires of grief are inherent in my life as a priest.

This year has been exceptional in the ways we all carry grief. Our people bear the weight of job loss, of unexpectedly letting go of a parent or spouse to the pandemic. Business closures, teen depression, and career failures, have tested even the strongest families. We carry the weight of their pain. We stand among the fuming fires of what has been, and long to lift hope from despairing ashes.

November claims much in the heart of a priest.  The scars of grief seem slow to heal. As we celebrate the closing weeks of the liturgical year, we must take stock of our own patterns of loss. Grief comes from the many unspoken issues we carry as pastors. We often become stuck when we accumulate illusions of power that we think will hide our loneliness. The trappings of priesthood cannot sustain our human and spiritual identity. We all experience the perils of life when we hide our grief behind alcohol, drugs, laziness, pornography, or rage.

November is a time when we are called to become honest with ourselves as we face our own mortality. Sometimes we grieve how our lives have turned out. When we were young, we thought we would make a difference. We thought our theology would change the world. We thought others would support our vocation. We assumed we would become someone special in the church. We thought we would share the perks of belonging among our peers. Sometimes life does not unfold as we wish.

We can also fall into traps when we think our perfection will make others love us. Sometimes we get caught in a web of pleasing others and even trying to copy other people’s lives. Shame and guilt may catch up with us in November. In the end, we are only accountable to God’s tender mercy and forgiveness.

 In our stubbornness, we may hold tightly to the way things used to be. We white-knuckle our prayer, our profession, our lives, thinking that if we hold on tight enough, no one will notice our pain. As we pray the Beatitudes, we come to realize that God creates saints from the absolute truth of our human existence. We are all created from love so to love in the world. Saints become saints because they lived authentically on this earth.

We may lose our way when we grasp tightly to these illusions. We die from the inside out, unable to find joy in Jesus Christ. As we learn lessons from the fig tree and from the poor widow, then we see even our small deaths create a space in our hearts for God where his love may find a home. I rely on God to show me how to die to self.

We may easily fear the future. We worry about who will care for us when we are ill as we face our own death. Loneliness is real as we reflect on our mortality. In November, we bask in the truth of God’s care for us in the end. We also learn how to live, minister, and thrive today. We, too, are saints and souls. The tenderness of Jesus calls us into a well-lived life.

I have come to realize that the chaos of grief is a vital part of my ministry. Finally, after many Novembers, I claim grief as gift, a genuine path to relationship with Christ Jesus. This love helps me listen to the marginalized and my own emptiness. I am called to listen to the hearts of those who experience tremendous loss. I am also called to befriend my own longing and soulful grief. Caring for our souls becomes a lifetime of authentic reflection and prayer.  It is easy for us to distance our lives from the grief of our people and to neglect our own. We may forget we are human as well.

Printed from The Priest Magazine, November 2021. Published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.