Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Refection, Part 5



November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 5

 My memory guides me through Holy Cross Cemetery in November even though I live far away from my brothers’ final resting place.

This stroll is like an underground railroad to spiritual freedom. The memory of my brothers brings hope that I will see God someday, in full view.

I hope I am on the right train.

I mine this underworld with gratitude.

This stroll becomes for me an act of art.

They were human, carrying both foibles and gifts. Now, we cannot change outcomes. We cannot change those who were fired from jobs or simply overlooked for promotions. We cannot wish that grace would have softened them or offered them forgiveness. We can’t change one sentence of a homily once given.

What happened has happened. I love that.

Somehow their gifts rise to the surface to meet others and me along the wet grass as we pray, especially in November. Their vocations still form us, like good art.

Fr. Bill’s voice still echoes in the silence of gravesites. His Irish-tenor, operatic voice will praise heaven for all eternity as his students still sing on earth.

I am amazed how memory brings voices to the surface within me.

I also love how his struggles with addiction helped form his faith. His pain gave him something even deeper to sing about.

Fr. Gene’s god-like, singing voice proclaimed the resurrection of Christ Jesus during Easter Vigil’s at Notre Dame for many years. When he sang, his clear voice pierced hearts and focused our attention that Easter heralded hope well after death.

During one Easter Vigil, I was a server as a student. His voice flowed over me and through me to God and to the congregation while his hands trembled in fear.

He was an artist and yet full of worry and stage freight.

When I squint my memory, I still see him as God, the Father, with his tall frame and straight shoulders, his salt and pepper beard and groomed, perfect hair. He is one of the people who initiated me into how to pray in public with beauty and deep faith.

I wish I had his hair.

Angels will stop and listen to Fr. Gene. I am convinced of this.

Another artist has left images of angels in glass and concrete. Fr. Tony, a painter, sculptor and teacher of art, left a mark of heaven in the chapel at Moreau Seminary. In fact, it is a full wall of heavenly hosts.

The think, dark glass protects worshipers from the morning sun, and the angel images protect us in our vocations.

These windows remain as one of his most impressive works. The images are two-stories high. There is not one student at the seminary since 1957 that has not prayed under the wings of these heavenly creatures.

I remember well when I was faced with decisions about my future while I was a student; I sought out these angels for guidance and protection.

I am confident those angels even helped me pass a few exams.

Fr. Tony’s art helped me become Fr. Ron.

After all these years, I now realize his art also helped me find my voice as a priest. Art is the courage to express our true belief, our varied experiences and our unique relationship with God.

Art lives.

I wish I could have coffee with Fr. Tony now. I have so much I want to ask him about his art and his life as an artist. He never wanted to speak of those things while he was on earth. I tried.

Now he has time to think about it all.

Now he is in the protection of the real angels of heaven. He is in full light.

Fr. Jim was a student while the angels were first being built in the seminary wall. He did a lot of heavy lifting to assist their completion. He also became an artist and teacher at Notre Dame.

Fr. Jim and I spoke often of his work while I was in graduate school. He had been commissioned to create a life-size seated Madonna and Child for a chapel in Jerusalem.

I would stop by his studio between classes. I watched him create a clay model of a woman after she sat for him while he photographed her. Chicken wire and wood provided a base. His creative hand carved a mother and child in clay.

I watched him create the faces of Jesus and Mary with earth and water.

I asked him one day, “Jim, how do you do that?”

He replied, holding a small tool in his hand, “It’s easy. You just take away what doesn’t belong there.”

I still listen to him as I search for Jesus’ face.

The procession to the cemetery is not just to bury one of my brothers.

The walk is so that our bodies will always remember.

The procession is art and poetry within our souls, from an underworld of love.

I remember most the Holy Cross men who were artists. I guess it is because much of their art is still on earth. I want to believe they are still helping us all create.

I have to believe this.

These holy men are still showing us the potential of life. Not only with clay and charcoal, with their music and voices, but with their lives.

These men are still forming us in faith.

They are still showing us how to be creative. Through art, peace will flourish. Through art, hope will find a home and there will be no more room for violence.

Art overrides our clumsy ways. Art forms justice, if we are courageous enough to find our true voices.

Architects and Designers… Praise the Lord.

Painters and Visual Artists…Praise the Lord.

Tenors and Pianists…Praise the Lord.

Sculptors and Metal Smiths…Praise the Lord.

Preachers and Teachers…Praise the Lord.

Writers and Poets…Praise the Lord.

Vocalists and Authors…Praise the Lord.

Finger Painters and Abstractionists…Praise the Lord.

All Artists and Believers, Living and Deceased…Praise the Lord.



Stained Glass Windows in Moreau Seminary Chapel, Notre Dame, by Rev. Anthony Lauck, CSC, artist























Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Prayers of the Faithful

Version 2

Sunday November 17, 2019

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

Let us pray for perseverance in faith. May our Universal Church secure our place in Christ Jesus. May hope abound.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for those who experience injustice by our lack of attention. May we reach out to the stranger, those who seek hope in our land and nation, and those who need food and shelter in order to thrive on earth.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for people facing natural disasters. May we reach far beyond our boundaries of comfort to help people in need. May our faith turn into practical care for victims of floods, fires and storms.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for lasting and secure peace. May we not forget our faith in working for non-violence for all people on earth. May we extend hope to those who need our helping hands.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for poets, artists and dreamers. May God continue to inspire those who help us see life without fear and boundaries. May art thrive in our family lives.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for our loved ones who have died. May our grief reveal hope for the next generation. In this Mass…


Luke 18:1-8: …pray always without becoming weary


…Pray always without becoming weary…Painting, Ronald Raab, CSC 2019

Gospel  Lk 18:1-8

Jesus told his disciples a parable
about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.
He said, “There was a judge in a certain town
who neither feared God nor respected any human being.
And a widow in that town used to come to him and say,
‘Render a just decision for me against my adversary.’
For a long time the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought,
‘While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being,
because this widow keeps bothering me
I shall deliver a just decision for her
lest she finally come and strike me.'”
The Lord said, “Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says.
Will not God then secure the rights of his chosen ones
who call out to him day and night?
Will he be slow to answer them?
I tell you, he will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time: Bulletin Column

Version 2

November 17, 2019

Dear Believers in the Christ,

This reflection is based on today’s gospel, Luke 21: 5-19.


I believe that all our eyes behold is because you love us

And we have not seen anything yet.


I believe that when we don’t appreciate what you give us,

Something will happen.


I believe that costly stones and vibrant gems on earth

Only reflect the beauty of your face.


I believe stones upon stones of our own making will crumple

And you will find us under the rubble of our egos.


I believe we can see our pride for miles

But we have not seen the beauty you have in store for us.


I believe there will be signs of your coming among us

When we least expect you.


I believe we will not comprehend what we see

When you decide our time has come.


I believe storms and chaos draw us into your calm

When fear disturbs our hearts.


I believe wars and violence happen because we cannot

Believe you are our true peace and serenity.


I believe awesome sights and mighty signs

Help us to come together and mean it.


I believe we are deceived by what we hoard and control

Especially our food and what feeds our hearts.


I believe earthquakes and famines reveal to us

To let go of our aggressive and isolated lives.


I believe that signs will show us the direction of

How you expect us to live today.


I believe that we have yet to discover our real value

And that tomorrow could reveal our true gifts.


I believe that when we trust in you

People in authority will be threatened.


I believe real prayer helps us discover that

Your purpose is ours alone.


I believe our truth threatens others

When we listen to the sound of your voice.


I believe that you know us so well

That the hairs on our heads remain counted.


I believe that life on earth is nothing to the beauty

When you finally hold us, telling us we are home.


Peace to you this week,

Fr. Ron







Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 4


Procession to Holy Cross Cemetery

November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 4

 Especially in November, the cemetery reveals the paradox of how our men lived and how they died.

 Fr. Jack showed me in spiritual direction that paradox is real when he told me his story of recovery from alcohol.

As I hold my chalice on many days at Mass, I remember him because he was allergic to the Real Presence of Christ Jesus.

In graduate school I threw clay on a wheel one semester. I gave him my favorite bowl for Christmas. The bowl had one flaw, a chip on the rim.

I hesitantly offered it to him, telling him of the flaw as my eyes fell to the floor.

With the gentlest of smiles, he looked me in the eyes and said, “A Navaho rug is not a Navaho rug unless it has one flaw.” Now there is room for God to work.

I still hold his words in a chipped heart.

He died at high noon on Easter Day.

An academic dean once told me that Fr. Chet, who taught English at Notre Dame, was considered to be an up-and-coming poet in his younger days. I asked Fr. Chet why he gave up writing poetry.

He looked down to the ground and responded to me with a grunt, “I gave it up years ago, and that is all in the past.”

I always wondered what secret he held; about what flaw was his truth.

One time, I read poetry to him at his grave.

Fr. Jim was considered one of the most brilliant writers in Holy Cross. He died after slowly losing his sharp and intelligent mind.

I always wondered if we could find the reason for his decline written on an index card or a scrap of paper tucked away in one of his filing cabinets.

Fr. Bill was considered one of the most influential preachers at Notre Dame in a generation. He died five days after collapsing from encephalitis. He was 50.

His nickname was, “The Silver Fox,” because of his thick, silver hair, and his keen insights. The doctors had to shave half of his head for a surgical procedure to relieve the swelling on his brain. They tried to hide that half of his head in the casket.

Some paradoxes show more than others.

Fr. Tom traveled to Notre Dame from the University of Portland for his first meeting as a Norte Dame Trustee. On his way home, he was killed when an iron poll slid off a truck and slammed through his windshield.

He died at 45.

Jesus was barely mentioned during his funeral homily. I never needed the tenderness of Jesus more.

We all felt the same.

There is one grave that is empty in the cemetery. It is not just an answer to a trivia game.

Fr. Phil was in the process of joining a diocese, so he was buried in another state. His family and his Holy Cross family wanted a visual reminder that he still belonged among his brothers. He died of a long battle with alcohol.

He and I were born in the same year. He was 49.

Fr. Larry taught German at Notre Dame. His emphysema caused by smoking stopped his career after my freshman year.

I never had the courage to tell him… I flunked my second semester of German after transferring from his class.

Fr. Carl coughed so loudly that students could hear him across the campus. He learned the classical guitar in retirement. He played it beautifully, but with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth.

I can still hear the strings echoing his passion.

Fr. Briedenstein never learned to speak after a stroke only because he was too stubborn and proud. He had been a high-ranking military leader. He was used to barking orders at people. He fed on anger. He medicated with bourbon.

He died only able to speak one complete word. “Too, Too,” was his command to me and to others who cared for him. His red-faced commands echoed down the hallway of the retirement center with various inflections.

I tried to help him mouth the words, “thank you.”

I listen again to the echoes of paradox across the generations of these men who served beyond measure.


Burial of Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, CSC









Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Prayers of the Faithful

Version 2

Sunday November 10, 2019

Let us pray for our Church Universal and all who lead us in faith and service. May our leaders come to understand the real needs of those who follow Christ Jesus.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray to affirm our earthly relationships. May our families rejoice in faith and live at our family tables with respect and dignity.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray to seek God’s love and everlasting encouragement. May our hearts be strengthened in every good deed and be directed to the endurance of Christ Jesus.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for all who carry grief in their human hearts. May God heal the brokenhearted and provide hope in every relationship on earth.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for our children who are struggling to make ends meet. May our loved ones find adequate employment, shelter for those they love, and hope for their families under heaven.

We pray to the Lord.

Let us pray for our loved ones who have died. In this Mass…

We pray to the Lord.


Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time: Bulletin Column

Version 2

November 10, 2019

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

Dear Believers in the Christ,

Luke 20:27-38 invites us into a reflection about our relationships after death. Some Sadducees were denying that there is a resurrection and questioned Jesus. Jesus assures them that in the end, all will rise with him. In the end, people will belong to God; there is no marrying or being given in marriage. We are all children of God and all are alive in God.

This gospel finds its place in November as we come to the close of another liturgical year in a few weeks. The liturgy focuses on the end times. Of course we are all worried about who we will belong to in the end. In the meantime, we find our life of prayer so that we will better understand now on earth that we belong to God. We pray now so that we will recognize his face when we get to heaven.

We have reflected already in the past weeks on the end times. On November 1, All Saints Day showed us the vivid faces that the Church lifts up for us. They are examples of people who prayed on earth revealing an example for us to keep our hearts fixed on Jesus. They struggled in life to put their faith in practice. These role models are always available to us so we may find the zeal to keep going, to believe that in the end we will finally rest in God.

We also reflected on All Souls on November 2. We remember with love, with great fondness those who have gone before us. We struggle to let go of our loved ones. We never want to let go of love. Life facing death is never easy. Yet, as Christians, we understand that we belong to God and go back to God. We shall be reunited one day with those who have loved us on earth. Death is never easy.

The liturgical texts, prayers and scriptures all point to the end times during the month of November, culminating in the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe on the last Sunday of our liturgical year. In the meantime, how do we prepare our life for death? How do we pray now so to recognize the face of Christ Jesus when we arrive in heaven? How do we let go of people we have loved on earth as they face death?

Death is formative to us as Christians. Letting go of anything is never easy. We let go of earthly possessions and even our fears. We let go of all the things we thought were important in life as we face death. We let go of all the ways life should have been or might have been. We let go of certainties and opinions. We let go of obstinate behaviors and negative thoughts. We let go of people, places and objects. We let go of health and future. We let go of love and hate. We let go of what has been, what is and we look forward to what will be. How does the Eucharist invite you during the month of November to reflect on the end times?

In peace,

Fr. Ron


Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 3


November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 3

 Cardinal O’Hara’s body lies inside Sacred Heart Basilica. His remains are protected from lake-effect snows and spring rains. His anonymous friend donated a bouquet of roses to be placed on his grave every Friday afternoon. For decades a dozen fresh, red roses adorned his resting place, which is made of marble.

A freshman classmate came from a poor family and wanted to take a girl from Saint Mary’s to a dance. He could not afford a flower for his date. So I stole three fresh roses from the gravesite on a Friday afternoon and made a corsage for her.

I admit my theft.

I really did not think the Cardinal would mind, since the following Friday a dozen of fresh roses would adorn his place of death.

I believed he kept track, by the dozens, of the campus stories of love.

In the graveyard, there are no fresh roses in winter.

Another bishop lies under the snow. Bishop Paul had been a very heavyset man in his adulthood.

Every time I walk by his grave, I am reminded of the time I strolled by the outside of his Portland apartment one summer while visiting as a student.

A classmate and I tried to look the other way when we noticed three large pizza boxes on top of his trashcan.

There are no pizza boxes near gravesites.

He is enjoying the great banquet of heaven where there are no empty boxes anywhere, where no guilt will be found. I pray he is feasting with delight.

I know of at least another bishop whose remains are tucked under South Bend snow in winter.

Bishop Lawrence Graner had served in Bangladesh. His voice radiated love. When he presided in Sacred Heart Church in retirement, he hardly needed a microphone.

He communicated more than words written in a book. His soul sounded when he stood at God’s altar.

He used his voice deliberately to sooth families, especially mothers; on the day a son was being ordained a priest.

His manner invited calm. The tenor of his voice was balm for fear.

As seminarians, we nicknamed him, “Hands”. In those years, he was invited to ordain most of our men. We all wanted to be under the calming hands of his faithful inheritance, a sure sign of springtime.

He died before I could find myself under his wing.

There are many names written in stone of our men who died overseas. They would have feared the mountains of snow in South Bend for all eternity.

They were used to the brutal heat of serving in threatening governments or serving while the Church was just being born in third world nations.

Their names are protected by the vigilance of Our Lady of Sorrows. She over sees in bronze, the names of many missionaries from her perch on the side of the cemetery.

I am hoping she will not forget my name even though I have never been in our mission countries.

She protects me even now. I have to believe that.

Only the priests and brothers who served in the military have a different mark on their gravesites. I admire their service, but in that cemetery, another marker is not necessary.

We are all Holy Cross religious. When it snows, we are even more the same.

No other marker is seen under the drifts of memory, loss and belief and most of all because we are all soldiers for Christ.

These are the peace terms I have inherited.

As seminarians we always kidded and joked about dying during the Christmas break. There would be no one to welcome our bodies since our classmates would all be home resting and filling up on blood-family time.

Brother Clarence would not be able to dig a new grave. The heavy drifting snow wrapped around the previous grave marker would not allow for such a task.

There would be no other religious in the seminary to mourn us.

Our bodies would have to wait for the spring thaw to be lowered by the community into a dark grave.

Only once do I remember, in my day, a seminarian dying during Christmas break.

John Cross died on Highway 24 in Cascade, Colorado, walking back from Holy Rosary Chapel to the novitiate.

He was in the novitiate in the class after me, even though he was older than me.

This year, in 2019, it will be exactly 40 years since his death on December 30.

He was 26 years old at his death.

I will remember him here in Cascade on that day, no matter how much snow is on the mountain.

I know there will be no seminarians near the cemetery because of Christmas break from school.

In my heart, I will traipse through the drifts of memory and pray for all of our dead when the snows are deep. The hope for spring melts fear away.

Under the Holy Cross marker, lie many men, even one whose last name is Cross.

I wait for the healing spring rains.






















Holy Cross Cemetery: A November Reflection, Part 2



Holy Cross Cemetery at Notre Dame 2019

November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 2

Brother Clarence dug the graves of our priests and brothers for decades. He never admitted to such a task during lunch at the seminary.

We were kids whom only carried books and avoided shovels. He served with love.

I never found out who dug his grave. I do know it was filled up with a holy man.

Brother Marcellus quietly clipped grass from around the concrete crosses. He must have prayed in rows.

His one shoe squeaked when he walked the long hallways in the seminary.

The rhythmic and often annoying sound was actually a reminder to us seminarians that he had been walking among the dead. I was always grateful.

Brother John served as administrative assistant to the provincial for 50 years.

I can imagine some people want to dig up his casket because the secrets he carried to his grave must be somewhere.

I remember hearing stories about how the elite of Holy Cross, the provincials and leaders, were buried in separate rows in the early days of the cemetery.

I am not sure of the exact date when all of that changed.

I am grateful that death treats us all the same.

I also remember hearing how some of the caskets of those leaders at the head of the line slid into the lake in the early days because of the weak soil.

We tried to hide our seminarian smirks.

We never laughed when we walked in the areas of the cemetery that put our brothers on one section and our priests on the other.

We got rid of at least one boundary in the Church.

Charlie was a character. He was the priest who invited Fr. Henry Nouwen to Notre Dame in the 1960’s to teach.

He admitted to me that because Henry wrote lots of books, everyone new Henry.

Charlie said to me one day, “Ronnie, but nobody knows me!”

I can’t help but laugh at Charlie’s grave.

He would want everyone to do that.

Jerry retired as the CFO at Notre Dame. He lived in the seminary at the same time as Charlie.

Fr. Jerry was the kindest man I have ever known.

He not only dealt with financial bottom lines, he also consoled hurting priests across the country.

If a priest were in trouble, Jerry would disappear for a couple of days. He would hurry to the airport and fly to his side and comfort him in his vocation.

Jerry never spoke of such a thing as he ate only milky grits for breakfast in the seminary.

However, we all knew.

Father Peter was another live wire. He spoke English with both German and Spanish accents.

He bantered endlessly with us novices. His skin was tough from wars and conflicts, in Germany and Chile.

In the end he would laugh at our shenanigans.

His brilliant laugh echoed off the marble at Marigreen Pines.

Father James served as rector of the seminary when I was in college. He taught sociology at Notre Dame.

He had a way of reading our needs.

When I served people in poverty in Portland, Jim heard confessions on Mondays. He also served coffee in our hospitality center.

He soon developed memory loss. That was a death by inches that I still grieve.

A couple of years ago, there were four men named “Ron” in the community. Three of them are now deceased.

One Ron died after doing his laundry.

Another Ron died from years of drinking and living sober.

The third Ron died of giving his life to the sick.

His funeral gathered one of the largest crowds of South Bend parishioners ever at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Holy Cross needs to accept more guys named, “Ron.”

















Rev. Robert Pelton, CSC: Priest and Prophet



A great priest died yesterday. He was a servant of the poor. Not just in his local neighborhood but around the world. He was an academic and servant of the Church. He was 98.

I saw him in April praying at Mass at Saint Mary’s College. I greeted with him with admiration. As ever, he held out his hand and looked into my eyes and into my soul. Students at Notre Dame could encounter him riding his bike on campus.

I always felt like a naive freshman around Bob. I could never get the words out of my mouth for how much I appreciated his work in Chile. He taught generations about the importance of living our faith in the world. He was not shy about Jesus and how love needed to be implemented when dealing with violent governments, people in need of peace, shelter, clothing and hope. He was a man of the Church.

He helped nations implement Vatican II. He served the rights and needs of farmworkers and students. He knew Oscar Romero and wrote books on his life. In his old age, he prayed quietly at Masses where dozens of people still came to him for advice. He also was constantly thinking of how he was called to improve the situations of people living in poverty in various nations.

Bob also walked to our cemetery to bury his many friends. I will miss processing from the Basilica down the road in the next few days to bury a man I deeply admired. Someday I will find the words of appreciation and the prayers of love. In the meantime, I lift up another Holy Cross priest in death and in life who inspired lives across the globe.