On the Margins: Matthew 20:1-16


On the Margins from Mater Dei Radio, Portland,OR

Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time


Gospel  MT 20:1-16A

Jesus told his disciples this parable:
“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner
who went out at dawn to hire laborers for his vineyard.
After agreeing with them for the usual daily wage,
he sent them into his vineyard.
Going out about nine o’clock,
the landowner saw others standing idle in the marketplace,
and he said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard,
and I will give you what is just.’
So they went off.
And he went out again around noon,
and around three o’clock, and did likewise.
Going out about five o’clock,
the landowner found others standing around, and said to them,
‘Why do you stand here idle all day?’
They answered, ‘Because no one has hired us.’
He said to them, ‘You too go into my vineyard.’
When it was evening the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman,
‘Summon the laborers and give them their pay,
beginning with the last and ending with the first.’
When those who had started about five o’clock came,
each received the usual daily wage.
So when the first came, they thought that they would receive more,
but each of them also got the usual wage.
And on receiving it they grumbled against the landowner, saying,
‘These last ones worked only one hour,
and you have made them equal to us,
who bore the day’s burden and the heat.’
He said to one of them in reply,
‘My friend, I am not cheating you.
Did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
Take what is yours and go.
What if I wish to give this last one the same as you?
Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?
Are you envious because I am generous?’
Thus, the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

From Hurricanes and Earthquakes…Rescue us, O God


Rescue us, O God…Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC 2017

Litany text: Ronald Raab, CSC

Response: Rescue us, O God

From hurricanes and earthquakes…

From horrific storms and flooding…

From the devastation of land and homes…

From torrential downpours and rising seas…

From the loss of electricity and shelter…

From thrashing wind and uprooted trees…

From the slaughter of animals and wild life…

From the destruction of homes and personal property…

From the obliteration of clothing and memorabilia…


For the human survivors of tornadoes and storm surges…

For grieving family members of those buried alive…

For the elderly who wait for a word of hope…

For children who sit in darkness and in hunger…

For the new orphans who scream in shock and disbelief…

For students who wait for the rebuilding of schools…

For the elderly who died in the stifling heat…

For people swirling in grief on completely destroyed islands…


In gratitude for heroic rescuers who pulled children from wreckage…

In gratitude for medical teams and kindhearted helpers…

In gratitude for fundraisers and every coin of concern…

In gratitude for a call to silence to hear the children buried alive…

In gratitude for bottled water and every crumb of food…

In gratitude for soldiers and healthcare workers…

In gratitude for new attitudes toward people of every race…

In gratitude for shelters and emergency housing…

In gratitude for makeshift beds and warm blankets…

In gratitude for a new reliance on strangers and family members…

In gratitude for a deeper and more sincere relationship with God…







Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Cover Art and Column

Unexpected Forgiveness

“Unexpected Forgiveness” Painting using a rag, by: Ronald Raab, CSC

Dear Believers in the Christ,

Harboring grudges creates sheer poison in our souls. No person can escape being hurt by others and everyone has their place in hurting other people. Grudges can even be passed down from generation to generation. Blaming, hurting, condemning and shunning people can be an entire way of life for many people. We are all in this game of fragile relationships and our need for reconciliation.

When we hold on to a grudge, we tend to keep score in forgiveness. In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus invites us to go beyond our stingy ways in which we forgive. He invites us to forgive even beyond seven times. He challenges us to go beyond seven times seven times. Forgiveness is one of the most difficult aspects of our human relationships. It seems that because it is so difficult, it becomes a graced-filled aspect of following Jesus.

To forgive someone becomes a nitty-gritty challenge of everyday life. Forgiveness calls us into a new respect for one another, especially when the conflict is with a spouse. Forgiveness challenges us to create a new image of another person, which is difficult, especially when it is our teenager. Forgiveness breaks down power structures and helps us view people on a level playing field, especially when it is among nations, within the Church or a neighbor next door. Forgiveness really is about a new world order, a place where love, respect and hope can flourish. Forgiveness is finally finding Jesus.

Jesus came among us to model forgiveness. Even at his birth, prophets spoke of the miracle that opposites would be together such as a lion resting with a lamb. In Jesus’ mission, he broke through barriers of illness, disease and political boundaries such as reaching out to the leper, healing him and calling him back to the community. Jesus brings the Kingdom of Heaven to our earthly realities at every Mass within the sharing of his Body and Blood. Forgiveness is the heart of who Jesus is because his mission in so many ways is to bridge the conflict of our earthly life with the hope, love, and peace of the Father’s Kingdom. So when we forgive others, even more than seven times, we light up our world with a heavenly reality of justice, peace and serenity.

Here are some statements to consider as we all reflect on forgiveness: I hold on to my grudges with anger and resentment because…. Finally, I see that my resentments become my food, my way of life and I cannot seem to… Forgiveness is really difficult for me because I know I have to… I ache to let go of the monster grudges I carry since I … Jesus, help me to enter into the mystery of your challenge to forgive so…

Blessings to you as we all learn to forgive,

Fr. Ron

Mary: The Seventh Sorrow 2017

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Please pray for the Sisters, Brothers and Priests of the Congregation of Holy Cross today. Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us. 


Mary: The Seventh Sorrow 2017 Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC

John 19:40-42 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body. Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds. They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom. Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried. So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by.

Miracles in red

 I have stood at the graves of many people who have died. I never take for granted this privileged moment of praying over a hole in the ground just before the casket is lowered into the earth. This is a sacred time in the life of every family and every group of friends. I have crisscrossed the country in my ministry and yet the gravesite remains a familiar and holy moment in my relationships with family members no matter in what state death takes place.

Each family comes to the gravesite with their own emotions and ways of dealing with death. Each person grieves differently. The actual practice of burial is becoming less frequent in our culture and Church. However, when we all stand near the open hole in the earth in the middle of the cemetery, the reality of death is made sure in our souls.

People react to this moment with their own stories and emotions. Some people are deaf to the prayers being said because of the guilt they feel concerning the dead person looking at the casket for the last time. Others come to the grave with a spiritual freedom that seems to hover lovingly among the other mourners. Sometimes in the stark cold of winter, the regrets of family seem to pile up along the casket higher than the snow drifts in the cemetery. In the summer months, the anger of grief is often more brutal than the summertime sun and heat in August days.

At the gravesites of loved ones, people wait for miracles. People wait for the miracle of grief to be removed from the young spouse of the deceased. They wait for a way to cope with the loss of child. Some people wonder how they will financially survive after a young father’s death. No matter the circumstances of death, the survivors often wait for something new to happen. People wait to know for themselves that death does not have the final word. The gravesite often brings reconciliation among siblings and forgiveness from children. Gravesites so often heal past aggravations and mend family battles. Miracles happen so often at the gravesites of loved ones.

My brother and his family and I buried our mother on a beautiful July morning in the Midwest. I was living in Portland, Oregon at the time and on the flight back to Indiana, I reflected on what the moment would be like to bury my own mother. I realized during the flight that I had said goodbye to her for over thirty years. I had left for the seminary at age eighteen. I had spent over half my life moving across the country and always saying goodbye to my mom.

As I reflected back on my relationship with my mother on the airplane flight home, I realized that in all of those years, my mother always waved goodbye to me with both hands. However, it took this moment of her death for me to realize that was her way of blessing me. I had never had the insight until I was preparing to say goodbye at her gravesite.

I told the story of her waving goodbye during the homily at her funeral in Edwardsburg, Michigan. After the Mass, we drove to the cemetery over the state line in Osceola, Indiana. After we gathered around the open grave, we collected our lives and prayer one last time for my mother. My mother’s sister and two brothers were seated near the gravesite for the final farewell. After the singing and the ritual prayers, I invited all of us to wave goodbye to my mother, Rosemary. It was a profound moment of prayer for the entire family and me. It was as simple, human gesture that every person there recognized. I only then realized that she had waved goodbye to all the family in the same way throughout the years.

Immediately after our wave goodbye, I took off the liturgical stole I was wearing and held it in my left hand along with the ritual book of prayers. In a flash, a woman approached me and grabbed my right hand. She took my hand and arm and placed it on her breast. She stood extremely close to me and whispered that she was a seer. She told me that she had felt my mother’s passing. She came to the cemetery to tell me two things that my mother wanted to tell me.

This African-American woman wearing a bright red dress told me that my mother loved the white flowers that I gave her for the funeral. However, she told me that my mother would have preferred pink. I stood there next the mound of dirt that would cover my mother’s casket in complete shock. In fact, I had sent my mom white flowers for years. I also knew that her favorite color was pink.

She also told me that I did not have to know her name or where she was from. The seer then grabbed my hand even more tightly and slowly stated to me that my mother wanted me to persevere in my priesthood. I stood on the artificial turf covering the uneven mound of dirt for my mother’s grave and tried to steady myself and took a deep breath. I could not believe what was happening. The woman clad in bright red then let go of my hand and walked away into the crowd of people, got into her car and drove out of the cemetery.

Mary waited by the tomb of Jesus waiting for the next move. The mother of Jesus waited for the miracle that would change everything, that would turn her pain into healing. Our Lady of Sorrows waited patiently for some new event that would change her suffering into perseverance.



Mary: The Sixth Sorrow 2017

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.


Mary: The Sixth Sorrow 2017 Finger Painting: Ronald Raab, CSC

Mark: 15:42- 47 When it was already evening, since it was the day of preparation, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a distinguished member of the council, who was himself awaiting the kingdom of God, came and courageously went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus, Pilate was amazed that he was already dead. He summoned the centurion and asked him if Jesus had already died. And when he learned of it from the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. Having bought a linen cloth, he took him down, wrapped him in the linen cloth and laid him in a tomb that had been hewn out of the rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance to the tomb. Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses watched where he was laid.

Into your hands

            An image of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows hangs above my office desk. This stark drawing in charcoal and ink depicts a mother caring for her son dying of AIDS. The artist is a priest of the Congregation of Holy Cross, Rev. James Flanigan, CSC, a retired professor of art from the University of Notre Dame. The drawing dates back to the early 1990’s, from the chaos of AIDS in family relationships in our country.

One of the most striking aspects of the drawing is the left hand of Mary. Her hand reaches out to touch her dying son who is cuddled up in the covers of his deathbed. Her large, dominant hand seems out of proportion in the scale of the two figures. After years of looking at this piece of art, I realize that Mary’s hand wants to reach out even beyond the body of her dying son. The artist wants us to focus on her holy hand, the loving reach to the body of Jesus. These are the hands that received Jesus after he hung upon the cross. Mary wants to reach out to the rest of us who have now become the Body of Christ on the earth.

I look again at Mary in black and white when I am on the phone with a grieving spouse. She tells me that she can no longer afford to live in her house and I realize that the situations of death are only gray in real life. I stare at her gesture when I am unsure of what to say next when I am on the phone in conversation with a mother who wants to make an appointment with me to talk about her emotionally and spiritually lost son. I pray that if she does come into my office, she could see Mary’s hand in person and she might receive the grace to comfort her offspring.

I glance up at Mary’s image when I am sitting in one of the chairs in my office listening to the confession of a mother who cannot change her child’s behavior and wants so desperately to change her own attitude about her only child. I capture another glance when another mother tells me of her addicted son who lives in another state and that she cannot touch or comfort him given all the miles of separation. I listen to a grandmother as she sobs into a lace handkerchief because her son’s wife will not let her be near or even touch the grandchildren.

In these moments I realize that the hand of Mary is not just a sketch on my office wall, but a spiritual reality of hope in real life that is promised to us from the Mother of Christ Jesus. The hand of a caring mother is not just two-dimensional, not just an image in the imagination of an artist, but an extension of hope for all who are lost, forgotten or on the margins of life.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus received the body of her son after his death on the cross. Into her arms his body found a moment of comfort and yet she could not retrieve him from his suffering and death. This horrific scene is portrayed so often in paintings, clay or marble and in movies. Mary in the tears, blood and filth of that moment caresses the dead Jesus. This real and human moment speaks well beyond any artistic expression, to all people who suffer with their children. What I view in ink and charcoal becomes real life for all parents who have lost their child in the suffering that connects all of our generations, cultures and nations.

The hands and embrace of Mary were the same hands that received Jesus as a fresh newborn in a cave near the outskirts of a village. Jesus was born on the margins of society and also marginalized as an adult and in death. Mary’s hands offered her son to God as an infant in the temple. Her hands also reached out to him after finding him when he was lost and then found in the temple again at age twelve. Mary’s embrace kept the infant Jesus safe in the flight into Egypt and now her hands could not keep him safe from death.

As I reflect on the strong, loving hand of Mary in the scene above my desk, I ponder as well the hands of parents who have let go of their children or who were forced to let them go. In every state in our country, so many teenagers are being forced to make choices to run from their parents. These choices are often made out of sheer safety and survival. So often the arms of birth parents or foster parents are disfigured from needle marks from injecting drugs. In many cases the mother’s arms are so bruised and bloodied from being abused by husbands, boyfriends or tricks. These arms are too weak to hold the bodies of their children or the concerns for their children’s futures.

The issues of alcohol, drugs and urban violence separate the lives of children and parents. These situations are complicated and real. This is life for so many of our young mothers and their children in our cities as well as our rural communities. Poverty, drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness and domestic violence all pull apart many of the basic human relationships of parents and children.

Every morning as I enter my office, I ponder again how I might help the strong hand of Mary’s comfort in the new day. This hand of a strong woman with her dying son from AIDS needs not to be reproduced in artistic expression, but needs to be lived out in the grit of daily life and the complicated issues that surround suffering and death. I pray that the Church might be consoled by Mary’s outreach to people in poverty and in need. I also pray that we may learn once and for all that a person in desperate need is the exact place in which God’s love is being offered. Mary’s hand is showing us all how to stand among the ill, the outcast and the suffering that is the Body of Christ here on earth.



Mary: The Fifth Sorrow 2017

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Version 2

Mary: The Fifth Sorrow 2017 Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC

John 19: 25-30 Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother* and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home. After this, aware that everything was now finished, in order that the scripture might be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I thirst.” There was a vessel filled with common wine. So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth. When Jesus had taken the wine, he said, “It is finished.” And bowing his head, he handed over the spirit.

Amid this day’s grief

 My priesthood began shortly after AIDS was named as a killer among people in our country. I would never have predicted that a disease would so form my early years of ministry and carve a deep wound within me as I faced the sudden and tragic crosses of such suffering among family members.

I find myself at a loss in this present generation of priests and young families to explain the angst and the fear of those years when a diagnosis was an instant condemnation of death. I can only paint a few pictures with words of the broken relationships, humiliation, shame and grief that tore so many families apart in my early years of ministry.

I especially remember the mothers who stood next to their son’s suffering during the early days of AIDS. These women straddled the demands of other family members as they cared for and worried about their ill children. They had to deal with the shame that often accompanied the diagnosis of AIDS. They had to defend their dying child when so often so many families were not aware of the disease or the struggles of sexual identity. In many cases sons had to come out of the closet as homosexuals in the same conversation that also informed parents that they were dying. Mothers even had to protect their ill children from the anger of the father’s of these children who could not admit they had gay sons

There seemed to be little warning of this disease that drained the bodies of seemingly perfectly healthy people. The “wasting disease” caused men to lose drastic amounts of body weight. The initial, multiple diseases that appeared under the label of AIDS were also new and considered contagious during various times. This health crisis produced mass amounts of fear among doctors and nurses, hospital janitors and researchers, and among professional chaplains and social workers. There was also much fear within Christian churches as how to respond to people living with AIDS and there families.

I was called one afternoon to the hospital to anoint a man who was dying of AIDS. I was asked to welcome his parents to the hospital who would be arriving that evening at 7:00pm from their travel across the country. They were arriving to be at the deathbed of their son. I had no idea of their family story or what I would be facing as I arrived a few minutes early in the quiet room.

I sat by the dying man’s bedside and waited for his parents. The nurse and I decided not to wait for his parents to anoint his emaciated, tormented body. She and I prayed on their behalf, a prayer of letting go and of reconciliation. We prayed not knowing any of the stories of the relationships with his family, not understanding the hopes and dreams, the skills and talents of this man who was very close to leaving this earth. We prayed with a pregnant silence and a few words of Scripture. I dipped my thumb into a small metal container of sacred oil and dabbed it on his forehead in the sign of the cross. I could feel his breath slipping away as I reached across his face.

I then remained at his bedside and waited. Finally, his parents arrived in the room carrying with them a flurry of emotion. They were exhausted from the day’s journey. I became aware of his mother first. She seemed full of anger as she threw off her heavy coat and she seemed so restless next to her son’s quiet presence. I tried to welcome them both, but something more was happening. I made a quick decision to invite them into an empty room next door. As we settled into some comfortable chairs, the story unfolded.

His mother admitted to me after taking a deep breath, “I am not angry that my son has AIDS. I am not angry that my son is dying. I am angry that my priest at our home parish told me yesterday not to come to my son’s deathbed because he was going to hell anyway.”

I tried my best to calm them both and to invite them to sit at their son’s deathbed so to let him go in peace without anger and regret. I encouraged them to get some rest for the night. The next day, his mother called me and told me that her son had died in the early morning. She asked me to offer her child a funeral service and that the rest of the family would be coming from all over the country for the burial. I spent the next few days immersed in their family stories. They were all afraid of the public shame of the collective name of the diseases that had killed their son and brother, AIDS. They had never admitted that their strong, well-educated and successful son held on to so many secrets in the years before his death at age thirty-five.

We buried this son on a sunny day in November. That day happened to be my birthday. We all arrived at the church with a collective ease and even joy. The week had brought many miracles of acceptance from the hours of storytelling we shared. The funeral became a true celebration of faith and of a son’s life that was filled with hope. The family admitted out loud the cause of his death and the label that their son was gay. The funeral became a celebration of the fact that God’s love is unending.

For many years after the funeral, this lovely, Midwest mother sent me a birthday card to thank me for being with the family during her son’s death and burial. Every year until her death, she gave thanks that her son’s death brought the family into a deeper relationship, into a more truthful bond. Even though her grief never left her, her gratitude helped ease her own suffering.



Mary: The Fourth Sorrow 2017

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.


Mary: The Fourth Sorrow 2017 Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC

Luke 23: 27-30 As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented him. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep instead for yourselves and for your children, for indeed, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’ At that time people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ for if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” Now two others, both criminals, were led away with him to be executed.

Standing next to suffering

One of the images I use in prayer as an adult comes from my childhood. The image seems odd and even a bit crass. I remember being sick many times with stomach flu. My mother would always wake up in the nighttime and come to the bathroom and hold my forehead while I was vomiting. As I look back on my young days, that gesture stands out to me as one of the most comforting and consoling. That human, maternal touch while I felt so vulnerable and helpless still comforts me in times when I feel out of control and not sure what to do next in life.

This simple gesture from my mother speaks to me about Mary’s role in Jesus’ suffering and death. Mary stood next to Jesus’ suffering and she could not control the outcome or take his pain away. Mary could not fix her son’s destiny and change the pattern of grace in Jesus’ life. Her role was to simply stand among the threats on Jesus’ life and among those who would eventually put him to death. Mary could only reach out to his hurting body and touch his human wounds.

At the end of my sophomore year in college, I was asked to become an orderly at Holy Cross House, our retirement center and infirmary next to the seminary. I began my junior year learning my new role as an orderly for our priests and brothers who were very ill and close to death. It became my turn to make sure I held the foreheads of these men when they were sick, to change their diapers and bathe them in a shower chair.

Sue was the head nurse at the time. She ran the infirmary with great care, intention and compassion. Her reputation had filtered down to the seminarians and even those of us who were just starting our many years of formation. I reported for my first day wearing my new scrubs. I was totally out of my element and my naïveté was obvious to every one. Sue welcomed me as if I had been working with the sick all my life.

On that first Saturday afternoon, Sue invited me into the room of one of our priests who had been in bed for over twelve years. He was a victim of a hit-and-run accident. He was struck by a car while riding his bicycle along the main road into campus of the University of Notre Dame. He was wearing his long, all-black religious habit that made him invisible in the darkness. The authorities never found the driver of the car.

The daily staff schedule of Holy Cross House revolved around the care of Fr. John. Every two hours a staff member fed, turned and comforted the silent priest. Even though he had been in bed for twelve years, he had never had bedsores. He did have drop foot, the muscles in his legs and feet collapsed. He had ground his teeth down to the gums from his anxiety. He could not speak or move. His eyes could not focus on the people who cared for him.

At 2:00pm, Sue introduced me to Fr. John. We spoke to him as we would speak to any person because even the doctors were not sure if he could understand our voices. She taught me how to change his diapers, bathe him and how to oil and powder his body. Then she took a feeding tube and asked me if I would help her feed him by inserting the rubber tube into the hole in his abdomen. I felt squeamish and unsure. I told her no, that I could not help her do that.

Sue reassured me, “That’s alright, we will try again next Saturday when you are working again.” So the next Saturday came quickly. At 2:00pm, Sue took me again into Fr. John’s room. We changed his diaper, bathed him, changed his sheets, oiled and powered his body. She then took the rubber feeding tube into her hands and looked at me. “Will you help me feed Fr. John?” I looked at the tube and the hole in his abdomen and quickly responded to Sue, “No, I am not ready.”

So Sue said again, “Do not worry, we will try again next week when you come back to work with us.” The next Saturday came along quickly, we entered Fr. John’s room one more time at 2:00pm. We bathed him, changed his diapers and his bed sheets. We oiled and powered his body. We fluffed his pillows. We prepared him for the next few hours of his life. Sue then took the long, rubber tube into her hands and asked me once again to help her feed him. The thought of feeding him almost made me sick to my stomach. I said, “No”.

Sue came over to me, took my hands into her hands. She came close to my body and looked me in the eyes. She whispered to me, “Ron, you must remember just one thing. Fr. John is your brother.”

I felt the grace of those words whisk through my body. I realized my spiritual connection to this helpless man. I felt the beginning of my call to stand next to suffering. I picked up the rubber tube and we feed Fr. John together for the first time. I will never forget the patience and dedication of Sue. She waited for me to finally understand that feeding him was not just about the tube and the food. I had to come to realize, that if I was going to enter into this religious community even as a young member, I needed to know that Fr. John and all of the ill men in that building were my brothers. I needed to be in relationship with them, to care for them even when they were old and very ill. I needed to learn to stand along side of their suffering. I also prayed for the day that someone would stand by me when I was old and ill and in need.

Nurse Sue stood by the suffering of so many of our priests and brothers. She also stood next to my youth and naïveté. Sue will forever model for me how to stand next to suffering, to wait patiently for the ways healing may happen among patients and caregivers. Sue modeled for me the central mystery of my vocation, to bring hope among people who are in pain and isolated, among those who carry the cross of suffering.



Mary: The Third Sorrow 2017


The Third Sorrow: Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Luke 3:41-50 Each year his parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and when he was twelve years old, they went up according to festival custom.

After they had completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus remained behind in Jerusalem, but his parents did not know it.

Thinking that he was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for him among their relatives and acquaintances, but not finding him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions, and all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers.

When his parents saw him, they were astonished, and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety.” And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he said to them. He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them; and his mother kept all these things in her heart.

Searching backward to belong

 Jake sat across from me in a neighborhood coffee shop and slowly sipped his way through some horrifying moments of his story. While his coffee was still hot, he began to tell me that his mother sold him as a child to men for sex so she could get money for drugs. I noticed Jake’s hand beginning to tremble as he recalled the details he held only in his mind. I felt deeply humbled to receive even a piece of his story in the busy, music-filled room.

During the next several years over many cups of coffee, I learned more about his search to heal. Jake has searched his entire life to find his father and to put the broken pieces of his past together. He is so aware that those pieces are so shattered and devastating. Nevertheless, he wants to make sense out of his past, to finally feel and ponder the truth in his heart, no matter how painful the truth might be for him.

Jake was tortured and raped by many of those men that purchased him for sex. He was also bounced around to several foster families where the sexual abuse continued. His body carries the scars where men would burn his young skin with cigarettes. He was deemed “unadoptable” by the state as a child after he was gang raped in a barn by a group of teenagers. Jake still longs to find peace in his life after years of violence and neglect.

People made fun of him as a child because he was physically small and effeminate and so emotionally lost. Other kids called him, “Mary”. He was bounced around even over state lines and there was still no peace for him, no healing so that he could have a decent childhood. As Jake grew older, he became a heroin addict like his mother to escape his pain. His addiction was inevitable because that is all he knew growing up from the adults around him. He began to sell his body so that he could support his own heroin addiction. His adult life became a continuation of his childhood.

Jake found his way somehow to the Church as a young adult. His search for real parents led him to seek God. He found God through Mary. Jake came to believe that Mary would not abandon him. Jake knew that Mary had searched for her lost son. He wanted that for his own life. Jake discovered that Mary would search for him even when he was so wasted from drugs and alcohol. He believed that Mary could find him even on those nights that he had sold his body one more time. God drew him into the Church slowly and miraculously.

Jake overdosed on heroin just before his scheduled baptism at an Easter Vigil in a parish somewhere in the South. He was later washed in the Holy Spirit several weeks later during the Easter season after he had a few weeks of sobriety. To mark his entry into the Church, he had a large tattoo inked in elaborate calligraphy on his chest, “MARY.” This tattoo marked his body for the woman who walked with him to baptism, Mary the Mother of God. Jake’s tattoo was also a statement that he was claiming his own power from having been made fun of during his childhood. He wanted to own the fact that he had been made fun of and repeatedly called, “Mary.”

Jake turned to Mary because she could not explain to Jesus about his real, heavenly father. Jake believed that Mary would help him forget about his own mother and console him about not knowing and not understanding his biological father. He wanted a relationship with Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows because he wanted Mary to chase him down, to finally find him in his misery and call him back to his boyhood.

Jake’s adult life is consumed in hatred for his parents and his childhood. Jake’s suffering continues because he also lives with AIDS from the many years of sex and sharing needles. Jake is still addicted after many years of entering various recovery centers. His pain is too intense to forget. He holds on to Mary in his heart, however, even on the many days where his addictions scream at him to take his own life.

Jake’s story breaks my heart. I realize in the many years that I have listened to him that this scene of Mary and Joseph searching for the child has profound meaning across generations and places. The unexpected loss of a child for Mary becomes a rich and powerful story for so many people in our day and age that feel lost and separated from parents and family. This story is ongoing in so many people’s lives, especially for people who have been abused and neglected by their own parents.

I have no idea what happened to Jake. I do not know where his mother lives or if his father is still alive. I take to heart his story when I read again this Third Sorrow of Mary because the search for intimacy and union is life long; the search is profound in ways in which I cannot comprehend. Mary is the mother of a lost child, a broken relationship that lasts for even just a moment in time. The fact of this severed relationship offers hope to many people who search backwards in time to make sense out of their childhoods in order to find a place on earth in the present in which they can belong.


Mary: The Second Sorrow 2017


Our Lady of Sorrows: Painting by: Ronald Raab, CSC 2017

Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, is the Patroness of the Congregation of Holy Cross. As we prepare for the memorial on September 15, I will offer a new image and a short reflection based on each of the Seven Sorrows of Mary.

Matthew 2:13-15. When they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt and stay there until I tell you. Herod is going to search for the child to destroy him.”

Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed for Egypt. He stayed there until the death of Herod, that what the Lord had said through the prophet might be fulfilled, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

The Second Sword

 An elderly father whispered to me in the parish lobby,

He trusted my heart to bear the mystery of his lost son.


His only boy graduated from Notre Dame year’s back,

Today surviving somewhere in an Indiana woods.


The father’s lost child suffering from undiagnosed mental illness,

Torments his father’s dreams disoriented among regret and disease.


Carl whisper’s to me his prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows,

Hoping that his child will remember his past parental love.


From a small church lobby in a strange city a few years ago,

I carry the father’s dreams aching for Mary to accompany the searching family.