Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Bulletin Cover Art, Column on Mark 9:38-48

Dear Believers in the Christ,

Mark 9:38-43,47-48, challenges us to follow Jesus with urgency. We live with the expectation from Jesus Christ that our focus is to remain on the Kingdom of God, and we are to help others find that conviction. We seek healing for the sake of the Kingdom. We seek love and justice even if we are to put our humanity aside. There is an exaggeration in this text that is hard to imagine in our own lives. Yet, Jesus desires us to live with the full hope that our hearts and actions are set on the path of justice for people and the richness of eternal life for even the sinner and the outcast. 

When I served at Sacred Heart in the mid-1980’s, I proclaimed this text at the Saturday evening Mass. The church was filled with people. In those days, I used various physical props often to support a point of a homily. A psychologist and her daughters were sitting in the front pew that evening. A woman suffering from mental anguish was sitting halfway down the church in the middle of the pew. 

So, each time I read a shocking line, “If you hand causes you to sin, cut it off,” the woman in anguish yelled at the top of her lungs, “No, Father, don’t do it!” She yelled out every time she felt threatened by the text. No one in the assembly flinched. No one seemed to react to the emotion of the woman who as appalled by the gospel. 

After I proclaimed the complete gospel, I walked down to the psychologist and asked her to help the woman who had screamed out. She looked at me puzzled. I asked her what the matter was. She said to me, “Oh, I thought she was one of your props!” 

Now, after all these years, I remember that moment every time I read this gospel. I think of the woman in anguish who had a genuine emotional reaction to this story in the gospel. That woman can teach us how to listen to this text and the dramatic stories of Jesus. We need to be appalled at this text. This story should wake us up. We have all grown too familiar with these gospels and have yet to fully understand the ramifications of the story itself. We should all be screaming out in our pews, “No, Father, don’t cut off your hand!”

Jesus rouses fear to get our attention because he desires us to live virtuous lives here on earth. He invites us to help others to do likewise. His commands to us are countercultural. He desires justice in our relationships and in our systems on earth. He commands we act for the good of people and the good of the earth. He wants us to live for the common good and to put his Kingdom first in every action on earth. Jesus demands that we preach with authenticity so to help all people achieve his gift of eternal life. 

If our preaching or actions are false, then it would be better if a great millstone were to be put around our necks and cast into the sea. No person could survive the sea with a millstone around the neck. The weight of our wrong intentions against other people bears an enormous weight in our faith. Christ desires us to lift others from sin, division, and injustice. 

This gospel story strikes us like a swift sword. It wakes us up to our own actions in Christ. Let us be vigilant in Christ’s desire for every person to be with him in paradise. 

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.”

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021, Bulletin Cover Art, Column

Dear Followers of Jesus,

In Mark 9:30-37, today’s gospel, Jesus reveals to his disciples that something new will happen. The something new is that he will be handed over to people who will kill him and after three days he will rise. These words along the trip to Galilee could not be comprehended by the followers of Jesus. These words were too much for them.

The disciples thought that the teachings of Jesus were going to bring them a new identity. They believed they would sit in a circle of power on the earth that was going to create for them authority and control over other people. Jesus invited them to realize that his death and resurrection was the authority they were seeking. 

So, Jesus corrected their thoughts about authority and power. He told them, “If anyone wants to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” This statement must have haunted the disciples because they thought following Jesus would provide for them much privilege and status. Instead, Jesus called them to stop arguing among themselves about who would be given the greatest role and be held up in great esteem. 

To demonstrate his corrective, Jesus invites a child into their midst. Of course, a child at that time represented not power, but powerlessness. A child had no rights or status. The child could not own land or be given high esteem among the people. A child and a widow at the time were without cultural status. 

In this text, the child can also be considered as a new perspective on life, a new generation of thinking, status, and a way of life. The child in their midst is a metaphor of what will happen to Jesus. He will rise from the dead, and that will be a new view of life. There will be a new generation who will think differently. The child represents baptism. Those made new in Christ will bring new life to the world. A new view of God will be revealed in the child. And Jesus wants his disciples to become childlike, to take on this role of faith, by dying to self and to rise in his new authority even here on earth. 

The child stands among the disciples to live differently in the world. The child is innocence and wonder. The child is also viewed as a dependence on God, to rely on God for everything. The child is a world view that is both new and extremely challenging. Baptism brings us to becoming childlike on the earth. The new, the child, the newly initiated, become a new innocence of love. 

Following Jesus is demanding. Yet, we are to be childlike in doing so. Following Jesus is not a club or a quick ticket to get what we want. Following Jesus becomes a letting go of the old and receiving new. This constant conversion of dying and rising brings us new life on earth. This is our status, this is our power, to die to self and to accept the person of Jesus in our lives. 

How do we become bearers of such innocence in Christ Jesus? How do we let go of our control, our posture of power in our world to allow Christ into our actions, our ways of life? These are questions for every follower of Jesus. We can get stuck in our old ways, in the surety of doings things the same from generation to generation. We can hold tight to rituals, prayers and certainties with hearts that are tight with pride, control, and only human authority. The richness of faith is that we are constantly being made new; we are constantly children of God. 

We come open hearted to God as children teach us on earth. We reach out to the Father’s hand to be guided in all we do on earth. We live on earth to die to self and to become filled with the riches of God’s love and mercy. Our authority on earth is to bear the name of Jesus Christ who fills us with hope. 

Our innocent hearts are filled with the power of Christ Jesus. 

“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows 2021

Today is the Memorial of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. Our Mother of Sorrows is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. i invite you to pray for our priests, sisters and brothers throughout the world who learn from Mary to stand among those who suffer and to hold a candle of hope amid the conflicts of life.

Mary, Sorrowful Mother, a sword pierced your heart seven times. You stood next to your son along the path to death. You stood up for him when people threatened him. You stood by him when people seized his reputation. You knew you could not change his course. You could not fix his pain or wish it away. You stood among his thorns. You stood among his nails. You could not mend his agony with mother’s kiss or bathe it away in tears.   

You teach us to stand among people’s pain. You show us to be present to love even when anguish overwhelms. You show us to stand with integrity even when we want to flee from pistols, disease, and hardship. You reveal fidelity in our hearts even when we blame people for their mental anguish or personal poverty. You challenge us to stand next to all who suffer no matter the cost or exhaustion. In peace, you stand with us next to love itself, Jesus Christ.

Mary, Our Mother of Sorrows, pray for us.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Cover Art, Column

Dear Believers,

In Mark 8: 27-35, Jesus asks a question to his disciples, “But who do you say I am?” This divine question must be considered in our prayer, in our relationships, and in our world. We cannot skirt this prayer or brush it away. 

Every day, we recommit our lives to the essentials in life. We love our families over again and we work diligently. We care for our bodies. We love life. However, an essential daily renewal is also a commitment to listening to Christ and following him. We also need to recommit ourselves to who he is for us. How would we answer Jesus who poses this question to us?

We cannot answer him until we come closer to him. We cannot keep him in a container of piety or indifference. This question opens us to the Trinity, to the divine life within us and in our world. However, we will never be able to answer him until we come to know him. 

The gospel also reveals to us that following him will take us to places we would rather not go. We shall lose our lives, take up our cross, and find our hearts in his. This is a lifetime of prayer, reflection and answering his questions. Jesus’ question to us is at the heart of our conversion to his divine life within us. Our answer is much more than lip service. Our answer is life converted to him in every aspect of our humanity. His love invites and changes us. His divinity is an invitation for us to live beyond our own selfishness. 

On September 15, the Church celebrates the Memorial of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. This is the feast day of the Congregation of Holy Cross. Our religions community has served this parish since 1984. Our Lady of Sorrows guides our spirituality and our prayer as a professed religious community. I invite you to pray for our brothers, our priests and our sisters this week as we again learn to imitate Mary’s posture toward suffering. 

I have learned in my priesthood a deep reverence for Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows. This image pierces my heart. She stood next to the suffering of her son, Jesus, without controlling his pain or changing it. She held such mystery in her heart. She models for me a posture of such witness to the pain I behold in our parish and community. I cannot solve the pain and hardship in any life. However, I can learn to behold its mystery, to sit with the dying, and to listen to the grieving. Mary’s witness teaches me to overcome my false opinions about how life should be or how I think others ought to live. The real life of people shows me the beauty of God. Mary’s example of witness enables me the patience to hold up other’s unnamed and unredeemed pain.  

So, in today’s gospel, Peter answers Jesus, “You are the Christ.” As we know, Peter also denied Jesus three times. We live in constant paradox. We know that answering Jesus’ question takes us many years of life, prayer, and sorting through the issues of life. 

I believe Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, helps us understand the mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. These are the events of our life of faith. These are the mysteries that enable us to come to know within our own hearts, that Jesus is the Christ. Oh, happy day. 

He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.”

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Bulletin Art, Column

Dear Believers,

In Mark 7:31-37, we pray this day with the deaf man who was healed by Jesus. Jesus took him away from the crowd, put his fingers in the man’s ears, spat, touched his tongue and looked to heaven and asked the Father to open his ears, his voice, and his soul. 

Jesus declared, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!”

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus tells the man not to tell anyone about the healing. This is a device in Mark’s text to move the reader along to the end of the story. We still listen to him. We still long to have Jesus touch us and to open us to his healing presence, discovering the beauty and tenderness of his presence. In our emotional shutdowns, we long to be open. 

Jesus’ declaration, his prayer of “Be opened!” has echoed through the centuries. It lands in our ears, in our deafness. Jesus’ touch of love is for us. In the sacraments of baptism, reconciliation, and Eucharist, Jesus continues to show us the way of being opened to the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Jesus desires to heal us no matter what, no matter our sins, our divisions, our heartaches, our past hurts, or hesitations, or even our resistance. 

Be opened. This is in fact, a command of Jesus. It came from his very mouth. I know I need to listen to these two words that invite me into relationship with him. I feel this command in my body. I feel it as I walk on the earth and lift my soul to heaven. I feel it as I encounter people who are bowed down from fear, exclusion, ill health, and turmoil. I feel it as I listen to other people’s pain and know that I can never fully understand the pain of another person. Yet, I am being called repeatedly to be open to the gift of the Holy Spirit and the surprise of how people journey through the sacrifices they make for family and community. 

Be opened. This line is sacramental. It connects us to the freedom of our baptismal life in Christ. It connects us again to the beauty of the Eucharist, where we find eternal life in the center of our daily lives here on earth. As I ponder this simple line, it may very well be a summation of the Christian life. These two words lead us to the glory of Christ’s presence in our encounter with him in our personal prayer and in our communities of faith reaching out to live the mission of the Church on earth. It is a call and a challenge. It demands a physicality of ears, souls, and hearts. It is also a mission and a way of being with other people.  

Be opened. Most of all, these two words call us to be in Christ. We cannot live the Christian life without a relationship with Jesus Christ. No matter how hard we try, we cannot produce mercy, tenderness, and compassion without the source of love in our hearts. We will close. We will shutter our hearts. We will look down to the dusty earth only. We will judge others harshly. We will reiterate the name enemy. We will put people in boxes. We will live in exclusion and think others are out to get us. Shut down. Close. Limit. Condemn. These will be the outcomes when we do not take these two words to heart. 

Be opened. Jesus’ words to us also lead us to truth. We will speak clearly. We will speak the truth that God gives us. Our hearts, our ears, our mouths, our senses will become God’s instruments on earth to liberate ourselves and one another. This is the power of God’s grace in our lives. Again, we do not forgive or liberate our own lives. When we experience and know his touch, we are set free. All things are possible in Christ. Then, we will be able to hear the voice of Jesus, to sense his presence, to understand his life and ultimately to see his face even here on earth. 

Be open. Be open. I want to hear. I want to speak clearly. This is a deep and passionate prayer. This may become the simplest of prayers for you and me this week. I hope you can feel this command in your soul. The Church needs us to hear, to speak, and to love. 

They were exceedingly astonished, and they said, “He has done all things well. He makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” 

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

First year seminarians 1974: Saint Joseph Hall at Notre Dame

A former classmate recently sent me this photo. Nineteen of us began our discernment in Holy Cross in 1974. A couple of men attended Holy Cross College, most of us began as freshmen at Notre Dame, a few others were sophomores or juniors.  I was the only one to be ordained a Holy Cross priest out of this group.

As far as I know, four of these men have died. Neil, third in front row, died at the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Mark, fourth in front row, was ordained a priest in Buffalo, and died almost ten years ago. One man died of AIDS in the 1980’s and another died of cancer way too young.

Most of these men left after a year or two of formation. I have kept up with only four or five since. God scattered us across the globe. We look more like inmates than classmates in this unflattering photo. However, we all desired good things.

I hardly recognize myself in this photo after 47 years. I am second in second row. However, I remember this day like yesterday. I pray for these men, no matter where they are today, who wanted their lives to matter, to count, in service of others. I would love to hear the stories.

Twenty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Bulletin Cover Art, Column

Dear Followers of Jesus,

We listen to Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 in today’s Mass. This text invites us to look within to see how we live and how we follow Jesus. The externals of life do not defile. What comes from within, defiles. This is an incredibly challenging text because religion can easily just be lived externally. We can keep rules, but never be changed by the rule. We can learn formulas and rituals, but never take them to heart. We can read the gospel, but never change our actions or the way we relate to God or one another.  

Faith must touch the heart. Living our lives in Christ Jesus is not a rule, but a relationship with him. Reading the gospels are not just a piety, but a way of life that is extremely challenging. One of the most challenging things in my priesthood is to reveal to people that faith must be lived from the inside out. There are no rules that will make us Christian unless we have the heartfelt desire to live what we teach, to practice what we preach, and to become what we believe. Living life, all of it, from the heart, is a practice that takes us into genuine conversion. This is the gift of Christ Jesus in our lives. This is the belief that must sink in our daily actions, our conscience, our ways of life and how we see the world. 

I am often tempted to keep Jesus at arm’s length. It is easier to see his words only on a page and never have the courage to incorporate them into my life. It is easier to waste my time on living on the surface of life and not to invite my Savior into my heart. It is easier to spout out what others should do and close the door on him to my actions. It is easier to learn about Jesus, and then refuse to know him! It is easier to read books about prayer, but never pray! It is easier to memorize Psalm 23 about the Shepherd, but never know the Shepherd in the intimacy of my heart. 

Ongoing conversion in the Church is not a matter of externals. When we live from only external realities, faith is sure to dry up. Faith must cost us something. The cross is not just a piece of wood; it is an action, a deep source of conversion and change, and most people find it difficult to be inconvenienced by any hardship. Taking faith seriously means real change of lifestyle. It means reflecting seriously on how we view our neighbor. It means we put our lives on the line for the poor, the handicapped, the hopeless and the depressed. When we can view faith from the heart, we can live in Christ and the possibilities of life are endless. Christ can use us to speak boldly about love, compassion, and peace, and not just speak about these things as issues, but to live out these commands in our daily lives. Faith makes a difference if we let it make a difference within us. 

One of the obstacles today is that we have a phone in our hand for most of the day. Though we possess great benefits at our fingertips, there are also many obstacles to living our true selves. We learn things about people instantly. There is no time to think for ourselves, to sort through the consequences of gossip, ongoing hateful opinions of people, and the flinging of gossip across the nation. Living a life where the heart speaks truth is covered over by our addiction to instant gratification, loneliness, and thinking that other people hold the truth more than it resides with our human souls. These externals are harmful to us, to our relationship with Jesus Christ, and our faith communities. We must be able to sit alone and ponder life, to pray through issues and the consequences of our actions, to befriend silence and deep prayer, all of which if taken seriously and in faith, can change us all for the good. Life truly lived from the heart opens up eternal life in Christ Jesus, all for his glory and for the benefit of the world. 

Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile…”

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC, Pastor

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time 2021: Column, Art

Dear Believers in the Christ,

In John 6:60-69, we hear Jesus say to his disciples, “Do you also want to leave?” Jesus understands that his words and commands will not be accepted by everyone. Not all people will be able to listen with a soft heart or act with his loving power. It seems every day we all must make decisions in our lives about what we believe. Will we entrust our lives to God’s goodness and love, or will we work in this world with only our bloated egos? Will our thoughts and actions be at the center of life, or will we believe that God has a plan for us, even when life is pretty darn complicated? 

We live in complicated times. Mass shootings are weekly occurrences. Mental health issues among teens and older citizens seem out of control. Divisions among racial lines, among people with money and power and those with little of each. Control in politics and the cursing of people in the opposite party seem to be considered normal today. It seems that we have already answered Jesus in so many ways; perhaps we have already left him. 

In this text Peter answers Jesus with another question, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter asks Jesus this question because he has seen with his own eyes the beauty of his relationship with Jesus. He understands his deep human concern for people and Peter has also captured insight about his divine life. Peter has taken the words of Jesus seriously because he knows in his heart that Jesus is the Word-made-flesh. 

There are many things that have shattered our rhythms of life in these past two years. We are all still trying to recover from job loss, discovering how to educate our children, and grieving the loss of loved ones who have died in the pandemic. We are all tempted to abandon God who promises to be with us. However, if we settle into our pain, we know that God’s love and purpose in our lives is the only thing that will set us on the path of community, friendship, support, and encouragement. 

Some of Jesus’ followers left him. Not everyone today takes faith seriously. Yet, we must take the Eucharist and the scriptures to heart if we are to live with genuine hope. We must live the mystery we celebrate on Sunday. It is not enough for us to just show up at Mass or at our family dinner tables once a week. Our lives are calling out for sincere connection. We must believe that Jesus is in our fear, in our questions about our future, in our inability to calm our restless teens. Here are some things to consider:

1. Admit our restlessness: In our spiritual lives, we take this text seriously. We must admit to Jesus that life is difficult. Assess your life in faith. Tell the truth.

2. Admit we cannot fix our fear: We need something greater than ourselves to survive and for life to flourish. Are we willing to do the work of reflecting on our fear? Or do we just let fear continue to stifle us because it is what we have always known?

3. Admit we need love: Only love will change things. Violence will not change things. Divisions and rage will not change things. Can we decide to turn to love beyond our fear? Can we allow God to love us into the new life we seek?

4. Admit our surrender in God:  If we are to grow and mature as human beings, we must surrender to life beyond our anger, our rage, and our addictions. If we are to raise our families to be vibrant contributors to life and the world, then love and hope become central and vital. “Where else shall we go?”

5. Admit we are instruments of hope:  If we make our lives available for God, then we learn God uses us for the common good and that is healing, assurance, community, and peace. We become what we seek only in Christ Jesus. 

Life is easily bruised. We may blame others for our pain. In Jesus Christ we become instruments of justice, of peace, and gain the courage and conviction to stay with him. We do so because, like Peter, we have seen and witnessed incredible things. 

God give you peace,

Fr. Ron Raab, CSC