Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: April 2015




(This is my monthly column, “Bridge Work” from the April 2015 issue of Ministry and Liturgy Magazine.)

Touching the hem of leadership

When I returned to Sacred Heart Church in 2013, nearly thirty years after I was assigned here in 1984, I went into the sacristy and opened the vestment closet. The original wool vestments that my pastor, Fr. LeRoy Clementich, CSC commissioned in 1984 were still hanging in the end of the closet. An entire liturgical set of vestments with hand-woven, overlay stoles were designed and sewn by a monk in Minnesota.

These vestments brought back more than just good memories of celebrating the sacraments with wonderful people. These vestments were from an era when we still believed that all church art was to be reinterpreted in the modern era. The 1980’s were still the time that our faith in Christ Jesus was to be interpreted on the local level in architecture, stained glass, vesture, statues, music and hymn texts and all artistic expressions of being church.

I fear that much of our artistic expression within the liturgy, especially in vesture, subsided in that era. It is no wonder that these vestments have been pushed to the corner of our closet. Now with polyester fabrics, the designs and symbols, the style and execution of most vesture is made to look more traditional, from an era before the Second Vatican Council.

So in the colder months since I arrived back to Sacred Heart, I have been wearing Fr. Clem’s vestments. They mean more to me than a fine memory. As I pull down the heavy wool cloth over my body and surrender to the stole over the chasuble, I pray that I may fulfill his role of leadership that so many people loved and admired.

I recall his fine leadership more today than I appreciated at the time I was with him from 1984-87. I ask Jesus to be with me in the celebration of the Eucharist in the ways the Holy Spirit built up our community with the same vesture decades ago. I also pray for Clem who turned 90 in 2014. I want now what he had then when he celebrated the Eucharist, to be open to Christ’s presence and love every day.

The mantle of leadership that the heavy stole represents is never easy no matter if it is designed by hand or machine. This leadership goes back to the power of Christ Jesus. We hear this in Mark’s gospel on the Thirteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time that a woman approached Jesus in the crowd and longed to touch the hem of his cloak. Once again, a woman who was powerless in the culture knew what Jesus could do for her in her greater powerlessness of being ill. This moment also represents Jesus’ resurrection when Mary Magdalene came to his tomb and found his body not in the tomb and a cloth lying in the corner. The small piece of cloth that wrapped the head of Christ becomes our own baptismal garments so that we will all be healed.

Jesus garment was not mass produced by machines, not ordered from a catalogue or designed to look like it came from some other time and place. His garment was significant because he was wearing it. His garment was significant because his healing power could not be contained within it. Jesus’ garment did not hide the fact that healing grace flowed through the material. His sweat-stained garment with a filthy hemline from traveling the road was considered to be all that people needed to touch so that their spirits, bodies and souls could be made new.

Many clergy today would consider Fr. Clem’s hand-made vestments to be out-of-date. However, the real meaning of the chasuble and stole is authentic in any generation. All of these vestments must lead people back to Jesus’ dusty, sweaty garment that was touched by many who needed healing. Today, our vesture must be connected to our baptismal garments and the new life that comes from our sacraments. This garment is also connected to communion veils and wedding dresses, to school uniforms and hospital gowns when people face change and opportunity in life. We need to connect our vesture to the body bags of the dead and even the second-hand clothing worn by people on our streets. Our liturgical vesture is even connected to our death shrouds that will cover our people in burial.

The white chasuble designed by the former monk has now yellowed. The modern designs of the stoles look dated from years gone by. The memories of Clem’s leadership seem alive and new when I feel the cloth on my body. The weight of leadership as a priest and pastor will always be a balance on my shoulders, within my heart and in my prayer and my utter dependence on Christ Jesus.

I know I cannot pray at the Eucharistic table or even live without connecting these heavy wool vestments to the love Christ has for our people and for me. I stand at the altar of God raising my hands in prayer feeling even more the weight of the vesture and the grace that flows from the Eucharist and the hem of this ancient garment.




Bread and Concrete: (Liturgy and Ministry Magazine, April 2015)

(Part 3) This is the third feature article in a ten-part series in Liturgy and Ministry Magazine, April 2015. This series reflects my ministry of celebrating Eucharist in Portland, Oregon. I am very grateful to Ada Simpson, editor for her willingness to publish these reflections.

Kisses of betrayal and mercy

“…She has not stopped kissing my feet since the time I entered.” Luke 7

 I approach the altar with a profound bow. I make my way up the two dark-stained wooden steps of the sanctuary. I lean over the altar and kiss the place of sacrifice and of celebration from where we shall eat our daily bread. With the altar I begin the Eucharist with a sacred moment of intimacy. This kiss is far reaching, it is not just a kiss on wood or cloth or stone or mosaic or tapestry. This kiss is public witness that my life as a priest is either authentic – or not. My life must become and remain a vessel for God’s faithfulness to fill every relationship and every human encounter.

My public kiss begins in my private prayer. My lips on the altar may turn into a kiss of duplicity if I do not find my true life in Christ Jesus. My vocation is to make this kiss real and genuine. I am called to find Christ in my silence, in the intimate moments of my life struggle and in my own pain and suffering and on-going questions. If I avoid the truth of my life, my lips will become chapped kissing wood and cloth. My kiss is formed from years of prayer, a lifetime of struggles with personal intimacy, discovering a generative life and a healthy sexuality. This kiss is a public witness that I have found intimacy with God and especially within the Eucharist itself. This kiss goes public at every Mass. Continue reading

Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: March 2015


Here is my monthly column called, “Bridge Work” for the March 2015 issue:

Easter Sunday: Preaching from a liberated voice

I dig deep into my gut in order to preach on Easter morning. I am usually emotionally exhausted from the liturgies of Holy Week and my voice is hoarse from singing and preaching. I struggle to interpret our faith in Christ’s resurrection on Easter morning to many people who have not accompanied us in prayer during the Triduum. I find preaching Christ’s liberation very difficult when people have not touched or ritualized their own suffering. My voice is often raspy from trying to convince people they are loved on Easter morning. Continue reading

Bread and Concrete: Where Ministry and Liturgy Meet, Ministry and Liturgy Magazine, March 2015

(This is the second in a year-long series published in Ministry and Liturgy Magazine, March 2015 issue. I am grateful for Ada Simpson, editor who made the decision that these reflections from my years at the Downtown Chapel in Portland should see the light of day in Ministry and Liturgy magazine.)

Processions on Concrete

“Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,

but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.” Luke 24 Continue reading

Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: February 2015

( This article is from my regular column, Bridge Work, in Ministry and Liturgy Magazine for the February 2015 issue. I posted the feature article a couple of weeks ago from this same issue)

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Washing the church

Pope Francis challenged all liturgists during his first Triduum at the Vatican. Not only did he wash the feet of people in prison but also of a Muslim woman. He not only wanted to take the liturgical gesture into the world but he also did not celebrate the Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper inside Saint Peter’s Basilica.

The shock waves have grown stronger in these past few years. Pope Francis touches deformed people. He caresses the tight bodies of diseased children. He cups his hand around the face of a crying father. He wipes the tears from the cheeks of a grandmother with his fingertips.

Pope Francis creates havoc for liturgists that are tied to rubrics alone. He sends shock waves among his nervous security guards when he steps out of his car but more importantly among anxious bishops that are to follow his example. Pope Francis is expanding our notions of ritual itself, how the Mass is celebrated and lived in our time and in our cultures across the globe.

I relish Pope Francis’ example even though I cannot keep up with him. I remember last Holy Thursday as I bent down to wash people’s feet in the aisles of our church. I prayed for him and his example to me. I still need to bend down further to wash the feet of the unexpected immigrant, the fragile cancer patient and the lost teenager.

I recognized that evening the faces that belonged to the feet I just washed. I had already celebrated four funerals of loved ones from the twelve people I just bent down toward. I recognized the faces of those who grieve most especially that year and the faces that were still shocked that we would ask them to have their feet washed in the first place.

The Washing of the Feet is a daringly dangerous ritual. The ritual is designed to disengage us from comfort and security. I realize that the dirty feet of other people bring me to surrender my own life. I bent down to our people last year knowing that I cannot solve their grief nor can I solve their problems of job loss, fixed incomes or the fact that their grandchildren no longer believe the church is worthwhile or important. The ritual is as much for me as it is for them because I know my sheer dependence on Jesus whom I trust will still bend down so low as to wash my feet and wipe the unrelenting tears from my own cheeks. The Washing of the Feet exhausts me since I do not have the power to heal all the broken lives or mend their relationships. I find my doubt so clearly in the scum that is left in the bottom of the bowl on Holy Thursday evening.

All liturgical ministers must uncover the meaning of these Triduum rituals for themselves. Musicians must put down their horns and their stringed instruments, close the lids on their keyboards and flee the church to discover again why they are creating music for our rituals. Musicians cannot escape the pastoral needs of people in hospitals or soup lines.

Liturgical planners must connect the pitcher and bowel that is used on Holy Thursday to their prayer and conversations about how people use bedpans for the elderly or how parents have to care for their children who vomit in the nighttime. These rituals are profoundly related. Liturgical items and physical objects must be tied to real life, not just rubric.

Deacons must again see their service at the altar during the Triduum as a gift and not as a privilege. They must discover for themselves the Good News and not keep it bottled up for safekeeping inside the church. They must see in the eyes of the dying person in a hospital the reason to proclaim the gospel of good news at the ambo.

Pastors also need to find again the reason for these rituals. Pastors need to put worry aside about this year’s budget. We must make sure we sit in a chair in a soup kitchen to hear stories of hope from people without homes and shed the notions of security that we want to build our parishes upon.

The Washing of the Feet is a yearly ritual that must speak loudly to our people and even more clearly to those of us in liturgical ministry. Do not short-change this ritual. Do not substitute hand washing. Do not think this ritual is meaningless to our younger generation. This ritual is designed to change us all, to challenge the notions about people we serve and people whom we outright neglect. This ritual helps us realize our own selfishness as liturgists. This liturgical act shows us that the real meaning of ritual is how we live our daily lives.

On Holy Thursday, I will shower before Mass and I will pray that the ritual of the Washing of the Feet will cleanse my soul again. I will continue to pray for Pope Francis who is washing the Church in ways we still cannot imagine. This is our faith, our faith in the real presence of Christ Jesus.


A Christmas Wish List for the Church: Published in Ministry and Liturgy Magazine October 2014

John the Baptist Charcoal: Ronald Raab,CSC

John the Baptist
Charcoal: Ronald Raab,CSC

(The editor of Ministry and Liturgy Magazine asked all of the contributors to create a wish list for the Church. The list was started by my reflections from the October issue, 2014. I also offer this version of John the Baptist. This drawing was my very fist in charcoal in the early autumn.)

A Christmas Wish List for the Church

I pray that when we place the infant Jesus in the manger in all of our parishes that we will also work hard to find adequate placements for foster and orphan children and learn to receive children running across national boarders trying to escape poverty or war.

I pray that when we decorate our sanctuaries for Christmas that we will also use our resources to find housing for mothers and children who face domestic violence especially in our suburbs.

I pray that when we set up our manger scenes in our churches that we will also tell the truth about families torn apart from generational alcoholism, about the truth of loneliness in family life on Christmas Eve.

I pray that when we celebrate the Word-Made-Flesh, we will also acknowledge and affirm all of God’s people, men and women, gay and straight, rich and poor, housed and homeless and then remove all of these labels in our prayer and service well beyond the Christmas season.

I pray that when we celebrate the three wise men traveling to the place of the Child, we will go out of our way as a Church to discover the real stories of our people lost in war, hatred and violence across the boundaries of nations and find again a star of hope that leads us to Christ Jesus.

I pray that when we celebrate Mary, the Mother of God, we will also acknowledge and care for the many mothers who abandon their children because of mental illness, drug and alcohol addiction and poverty and realize that we must mother the lost and forgotten.

I pray that when we celebrate the Flight into Egypt, we will begin to take our dreams seriously to protect our families. We need to pray for fathers who no longer act on their dreams for their families. I pray that the Church might flee into the night to save our runaway children, the children lost among heart-numbing poverty.

I pray that when we take down the dried trees and the dead poinsettias and put away the nativity scenes that we will then get to work in a new way for the dignity of family life, for the health and welfare of youth and parents who live in terrifying addictions, for children coming home from war and work hard to care for grandparents who will die alone this new year.



Ministry and Liturgy: December 2014


Lent: Our holy women


In last month’s column, I wrote about my early years of priesthood ministering among people with HIV/AIDS. The stories of some of the mothers of young men who stood by the suffering, confusion and pain of their sons taught me lessons in holiness.

I was called to the hospital to anoint a man in his late twenties who was dying. I was told that his parents were traveling from another state to be at his side. The exhausted parents entered his room after I had just anointed their son. He was extremely close to death. The elderly father sat down next to his son. The mother, fifteen years younger than her husband entered the room wired and angry. Her anger filled the room. I quickly escorted them into a room nearby to try to calm them.

The mother told me that she was not angry that her son was dying or that he was dying of AIDS. She told me that she was angry because her parish priest had told her not to come to the bedside of her dying son because he said the young man was going to hell anyway.

I sat for hours with the family during that week. I tried to calm them. The voices of the women in the family became strong and healing again. The women rallied against the bitterness and homophobia that harmed them. At the end of the week, we buried her son on my birthday in an atmosphere of peace and honesty that I seldom experience at funerals.

For many years afterward, I received a birthday card from her. Her appreciation and love extended to her family and me until she died. I will never forget her initial tears and her many years of gratitude.

Another mother called me to come to her home to anoint her son. She met me at the screen door. The house was cluttered and very dark. Her son was dying in the first floor bedroom. I walked in and knelt at the bedside. I held his hand and prayed in a low voice. She stood next to the bed on the other side. We all prayed, read scripture and I anointed him.

She escorted me back to the screen door and the light streamed in to the dark living room. She cried in my arms. She looked up into my face and told me that she was so surprised that I touched her son’s hand. She whispered through her tears that no one had ever touched her son in his disease. I still see her in my heart when I visit people who are seriously ill.

A mother from a wealthy parish came to speak with me. Her story about her ill son seemed aloof and distant. She did not know how I would receive her or the news of her dying son. I met him and we all prayed. We buried him in the love and consolation of his mother.

Every year I receive a note or email from her requesting that I offer Mass on his anniversary of death. After all these years, I still read about her life and her memories of her son who died way too soon. I will never forget that day of his burial and her response to her only boy. Her tears are etched in my ministry.

I recall these holy women as I reflect on the gospels for the Lenten season (Cycle A). The Woman at the Well became a human vessel for the message of hope that Jesus carried with him. Her soul was parched by her experiences of her past. Her head was bowed to the ground by the weight of her sin and her insecurity that her life would ever be different.

In a life changing exchange, Jesus and the woman came face to face in their thirst. She realized that he is the wellspring that she had been looking for. Jesus was the source of grace. Her soul soaked up the encounter and healing flowed deep within her.

She left the holy scene believing in the voice of Jesus. The encounter brought her back to real life. She found her voice admitting her suffering. Her voice then flowed generously as she went back to her village to tell everyone what she had experienced. She mothered her village into a deep belief that consolation and love existed for every person.

Martha and Mary questioned Jesus about his presence when their brother, Lazarus died. Mary and Martha did not realize that their brother had to die so the revelation of God could be present through death. They stood by their brother and waited for the miracle of Jesus. Mary and Martha rested next to death and prayed for new life. Martha said, “ Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.”

These women stood in the promise of Jesus’ Paschal Mystery in moments of forgiveness and new life. Their witness still speaks to all believers. We all come to believe through these holy women in scripture and the holy mothers who waited for healing and hope at the bedsides of their sons.


Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: November 2014



Ministering Beyond the Threshold

I ministered among people with HIV/AIDS for most of the first twenty years of my priesthood. My religious community never assigned me to such a ministry. I just happened to live at a point in history where I could not avoid being involved with people facing such a horrific illness. As I look back to those years, I would never have dreamed when I was ordained that a disease would become one of the major influences of my early priesthood. Continue reading

Ministry and Liturgy Magazine: October 2014


Christmas Light: Go and search diligently

Many years ago, I met Virginia, an elderly woman in our parish. She had lived her life with a vision disability. Virginia lived with Priscilla, a widow and long time friend. The two had teamed up for years to make peanut butter sandwiches for people in poverty. With their combined efforts, they worked in many areas for the church. With their combined voices, they spoke out against many injustices against people in poverty. The two needed each other as they both became feeble. Continue reading