Friday, February 24, 2012


By Deacon Jerry Franzen Cathedral February 27, 2012
Genesis 9: 8-15 1 Peter 3: 18-22 Mark 1: 12-15

The preface is the prayer said by the priest
right after the Holy, Holy Holy.
There are special prefaces for certain feasts and seasons.
In the first of the choices for the preface for Lent,
in the new translation,
the priest prays to God with these words
regarding the Lenten season:
“for by your gracious gift each year
your faithful await the sacred paschal feasts
with the joy of minds made pure……”
That gracious gift is the season of Lent.
Some would rather God not provide that gift.
One year, when I served at St. Paul parish in Florence,
there were very sparce decorations
in church on the first Sunday of Advent.
A parishioner asked me,
“What are we trying to do around here,
make Advent as gloomy as Lent?
The words of the preface were “joy of minds,”
yet it seems that everybody is trying to give up something.
Candy? Snacks? Adult beverages?
Joy? We can’t eat meat on Fridays; Oh! We are so fragile.

We start Lent by wearing ashes. Glad it’s not sackcloth too.
Imagine having to wear clothes made from burlap.
What would be joyful about that?
It would seem that we Christians
have certainly given Lent a bad name.


I tell people that Lent is my favorite time of the year,
and they look at me like I’m crazy.
For years, I couldn’t explain it.
That’s just the way it was, the way I felt.
I now know that it’s because Lent points to Easter.
Easter has always been most important to me,
And, thus, the season leading up to Easter
has been my favorite.
Lent ends with the beginning of the Holy Thursday liturgy,
and the absolute best time of the Church’s year begins.
Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil,
aka Holy Saturday, and then Easter Sunday,

But I do realize that Lent in not everybody’s favorite time.
It’s because there is a tension.
How do we reconcile our spending Lent
with a “joy of mind”
and still deal with ashes, sackcloth, denial,
and our feelings of gloom and doom?
Why is it that every year we hear the story
of the encounter of Jesus with the Devil
on the first Sunday of Lent?
That sounds pretty gloomy.
Why does Jesus seem to warn us:
“The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”
Sounds like a warning of impending doom to me.
It would seem that the joy mentioned in the preface
should be connected to “Rejoice” instead of “Repent?”


On the surface, repentance is a feeling of sorrow, regret.
David regretted his actions with Bathsheba,
and his killing of her husband, Uriah.
The prodigal son regretted how he squandered his inheritance.
Peter regretted that he denied Jesus three times.
Each was repentant;
each felt sorrow for having done wrong.
But the word “repent” carries a more basic idea;
it has a positive thrust that comes from the prophets.
When the prophets pointed out the sins of the Israelites,
the sinners wore sackcloth and ashes,
they shrieked and sobbed publicly,
they cut themselves,
they confessed their faults out loud.
But the prophets were not impressed.
They saw the external symbols of repentance,
but they saw that nothing was happening inside.
True repentance involves a change of mind and heart,
new attitudes, fresh patterns of behavior, a new start.

We just heard from the prophet Joel on Ash Wednesday,
“Rend your hearts, not your garments.”
Change what is inside.
Sharing in the community ritual of ashes
means nothing, unless hardened habits change
and there is a new attitude toward God.

In the early church,
when an adult Christian sinned greviously,
the repentant person went to the bishop for confession.
A popular penance was the wearing of sackcloth and ashes
for an extended period of time.
This was not so much done to mark a person as a sinner,
as it was to mark the person as one
who is seeking to change those old habits,
one that is looking forward to a new start.
We wore the ashes of Wednesday,
not just to remind us of our sin,
not just to show the whole world that we are sinners.
We wore the ashes of Wednesday
to remind us that this is again our chance,
our time to change,
that there is a new beginning.
The ashes were applied in the form of a cross
to indicate that the new beginning is made possible
by Jesus’ Good Friday death on the cross
and His Easter resurrection.
We are not Christians, entombed in sin,
pretending that Christ has not risen.
We’ve heard the Good News.
We must rejoice because we can repent.
On Wednesday when the ashes were applied,
we probably heard:
“Remember that you are dust
and to dust you shall return.‘‘
The alternate words are: “Repent and believe in the Gospel,”
the same words we heard today at the end of the Gospel:
Jesus had been baptized in Jordan by John;
he then spent 40 days in the desert
in preparation for his ministry.
When he began his ministry,
his first declaration of the Good News was
“The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent and believe in the Gospel.”


So, how do we do it? How do we repent?
We must refuse to live in yesterday.
We must refuse the evil of yesterday by confronting yesterday,
as Jesus confronted Satan.
Jesus did not have to take that trip to the desert
for his benefit.
He took that trip for our benefit.
Jesus chose to meet up with Satan,
to make it clear to us that we must confront temptation.

Realizing we have done wrong is the first step.
Feeling sorrow and regret is the second step.
Turning away from evil is the third step, and that takes work.
It requires that we, like Jesus, confront the source of evil.
Deal with it; root it out; proceed to avoid it .

If the abuse of alcohol
has caused you to have some interpersonal problems,
make Lent the time to express your regrets
to those you hurt – and to confess those sins.
BUT, also make this Lent the time to go further:
during this Lent define that abuse as yesterday,
celebrate this Lent as the tomorrow of change.
Confront the reasons for the abuse and defeat them.
Am I using alcohol to try to improve my image,
an image that is already baptized in the likeness of God?
Avoid the companions that support your abuse.
This might even be a good reason
for giving up alcohol for Lent.

Who have we hurt by our greed,
that insatiable appetite for money or power?
Lent is the time to be sorrowful, to make amends,
but today’s preface says that we must not stop there.
Celebrate Lent with the “joy of the mind”
that recognizes the tomorrow of generosity
and service to others.
Confront the reasons for greed.
Ask yourself how they line up with a God that is Love?
This might be a good reason
to increase your gifts to the needy during Lent.
How have I not brought God’s love to those around me?
Tell God that you regret
that you may have shunned Him, ignored Him,
abandoned Him in others.
Tell him that pride, selfishness, hatred and lust
are on the way out of your life.
Celebrate the fact that you can reform your life.

Don’t put on the sackcloth and ashes of doom and gloom
because of this season.
Put on the sackcloth and ashes of celebration
because of this season,
and say “Rejoice, I am repenting,
I am turning my life around,
I am doing something new with great joy.
I am trying to follow the teachings of the Gospel.”
The words of the preface were, “the joy of minds made pure.”
That purity comes from our belief in the Gospel.
Put on the sackcloth and ashes of the season
because you TRULY DO
believe in the Good News of salvation.

Funeral Homily – Ray Foster

By Jerry Franzen St. Henry, Elsmere, KY 2/23/12
Isaiah 58: 6-11  Romans 8: 28-35, 37-39  Matthew 25: 31-46

Fr. Ryan and Helen, I am honored to have this opportunity
to share some thoughts with all of you,
thoughts about the Good News of Jesus Christ
at this time of sorrow. I thank you.

Helen, daughters Marian and Susan, son David, brother Pete,
grandchildren and great-grandchildren
and all the members of the extended Foster family,
I join you in your sorrow;
there now is a void, a place once occupied by Ray.
On behalf of Fr. Ryan, Fr. Nibi, Fr. Barth,
the staff and members of this parish,
I offer you our consolation,
a consolation that, I hope, will help you to know
that Ray’s presence will continue among us.

And how will that happen? Only through God’s love for us.
God can continue to make Ray present to us in many ways,
And He will.
For we believe that our God is a loving God.
God found ways to show his love for us through Ray
while he was among us.
We each have the task of bringing God’s love to each other,
Ray did this when he was alive, whether he knew it or not,
and I believe
that we will continue to bring God’s love to others,
because we knew Ray as an example of how to do God’s will.

When I was asked to preach at this funeral,
of course, my first thought was “What will I say?”
“How can anything I say be the right thing on this sad occasion?”
The answer to those questions
comes from the answer to a further question:
“What will God have to say on this occasion?”
We have just heard God speak
and I had a preview of what God’s wprds would be .
Today’s readings, what God had to say, are powerful;
they are filled with hope.


In the second reading, St. Paul wrote to the Romans that,
“all things work for the good for those who love God,
those who are called for his purpose.”
God, in his infinite love for us, gave us His Son for our salvation.
If we have someone like that on our side,
how can we possibly be afraid of those against us?
Nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not death, life, angels, principalities, or really any other obstacle.
Notice death was at the head of the list.
When we die, God’s love for us continues,
In death there is a separation from other humans,
but we must be sure to know
that death does not separate one from God’s love.
That there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God
gives us all hope for eternal life with God.

The first reading, in the words of the prophet Isaiah,
tells us what God wants in return.
It specifically mentions fasting,
but while fasting, depriving ourselves of some food, is a good thing,
and we do deal with that during this, the Lenten season,
what God really wants is the fasting that occurs
when we deprive of ourselves
by sharing our time to free those oppressed,
by sharing our bread with the hungry,
by sharing our shelter with the homeless,
by sharing our clothing with the needy.
God designed us to be able to do these things;
That, too, supports our hope in life eternal

And the Gospel passage explains
that when we do these things out of love for our neighbors,
we do them for God.
What we do in charity for others, we actually do for God.
We don’t do things for God directly;
that would be difficult, trying to deal with God directly.
So He gave us an easy way:
we look to our neighbors and meet their needs.

These three pieces of scripture were beautifully chosen for this Mass:
1. to tell us of the infinite love God has for us,
and that all we have to do is to love Him in return.
2. to tell us what God expects in that love for Him.
3. to tell us that we actually love God
when we show our love for our neighbors.
That is my take on what God just spoke to us in the readings.

But how do these readings apply to us who are grieving the loss of Ray, our friend, our family member.
I mentioned earlier the beauty of these readings.
I see that beauty in the composite image we get
of our relationship with God.
They give us hope that Ray is at the eternal banquet with God,
and that our present sorrow
will eventually be turned to joy for Ray.

The readings give us the true guide to how we should live,
if we expect to be at that same eternal banquet,
if we expect to be with God in heaven.
It may seem simple, because the guide is written down in God’s word.
That’s a start, but not good enough.
Someone can write down how to play the violin;
a book of instructions may be good and even necessary,
but alone, such a book will not be sufficient
for our learning to play that instrument.
We need someone to show us how – a teacher.
We recognize Jesus as the ultimate teacher,
as he has showed us so many ways that we can serve each other.

But Jesus is not bodily here
to show us by his actions how to love God
through loving others.
We know that we are here for each other;
each of us has the responsibility to provide that instruction
to others by our example.
Each of us has the responsibility of the teacher.


In Ray Foster, I saw a man
who was a wonderful example to others of all ages.
If you really wanted to know how to get to heaven,
Ray was one to emulate.
I met Ray through “Workcamp”
which was a joint St. Paul – St. Henry youth ministry
summer mission trip to Appalacia.

I saw Ray as a person who loved his neighbors,
whether they lived in a trailer on the side of a hill in Floyd County,
whether they were chaperones who weren’t exactly sure
why they were in Appalacia building a sturdy porch
onto a house that was about to fall down,
whether they were youth ministers
who didn’t quite do things the way
Ray thought they should be done,
or whether they were teenagers who didn’t have a clue
about where to find that left-handed hammer
in the toolbox.
Ray loved us all; he was a quiet and patient teacher for all of us.
He was an example for me of how
I should act in patience as a part of that group.
It was evident to me that Ray loved us all,
because he knew of the great love God had for him.

At the beginning of this homily, I said that there is the consolation that,
though there is now a void once filled by Ray
Ray will always remain with us.
That might immediately call to mind memories.
But, it actually goes beyond our memories.
He will remain with us in the ways that he has helped each of us
to better show our love for God
though our love for our neighbors.
I am sad that Ray has died,
but I am so happy that our paths crossed enough
that some of his quite patience
and his desire to give OF his life for the youth
has rubbed off on me.
That’s exactly the way that God worked through Ray
and wants to work through each of us.

Homily for Ash Wednesday Year B

By Jerry Franzen NCC 2/22/12
Joel 2:12-18  2 Corinthians 5: 20-6:2  Matthew 6:1-6,16-18

What is Ash Wednesday and Lent all about?
Jesus talks about our not drawing attention to the good things we do;
about giving to the poor without drawing attention to what we do;
about praying without letting others see what we do;
about fasting without letting others see what we do.
Giving to the poor, praying, and fasting,
probably not the things we most like to do, but good things.
But what’s the sense in doing good things,
if you cannot get a little credit for doing these good things?

The prophet Joel brings us God’s words and they include:
“fasting”, “weeping” and “mourning”
“rend your hearts not your garments” – tear your hearts.
That sounds really painful.
“Blow the trumpet to proclaim a fast.”
Usually we would blow the trumpet to celebrate a happy occasion,
maybe a special dinner not to stop eating or to just eat less.
And this was not for just a few people;
get everybody together for the fast,
the elders, the children, the infants,
even bridegrooms and brides,
who should be celebrating their weddings.
Joel goes on - Let the priests cry out to the Lord,
to beg the Lord to let his presence be known.
So, we need to beg the Lord to let his presence known?
With these images from Sacred Scripture to begin the Lenten season,
it’s no wonder that Lent is such a downer for many people.

On top of this, we begin the season by putting dirt on our foreheads.
Dirt that says, “Hey! Look at me, I’m a sinner.”


A lot of negatives!
And yet I’m here to tell you that this is my favorite time of the year,
even better than Christmas.
You may be thinking, “This guy is really strange.”
Most of you know that already,
after all I teach Chemistry and I really like the subject.

Let’s talk about the ashes.
In the very early Church, only adults were baptized.
They were sinners, and all of their sins were “washed away”
by their baptism.
Some thought that the newly baptized would be such good Christians
that they would not sin again, not ever.
Ha! When the new Christians did commit serious sin,
the bishops realized that something had to be done.
So the sinners were brought to the bishops and they confessed their sins,
originally in public to the community.
Can you imagine your standing up in public
and confessing all of your sins?
After the confession, the bishop assigned each of the sinners a penance.
It was a public penance which began about 40 days before Easter.
It often involved the person wearing ragged clothes
and having dirt on his or her face.
This set them apart from the community, identified them as sinners
and helped them to better recognize
and deal with their own sinfulness.
After they had endured their penance,
they were returned to full status in the community by the bishop
at the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday.
This was the beginning of our current sacrament of Penance.
And the period of penance, 40 days,
just happens to correspond to our season of Lent.
That period of penance and our Lent both point to Easter;
Lent is all about Easter.
And Yes, our ashes do remind us of the dirt on the face of the penitents.


So, you still might ask, “Why is this your favorite time of the year?”
Fasting, praying, giving away money, sin, penance, confession-
These do not sound like anybody’s favorite things to do.
It’s because, for me, and for all of us, Lent is all about Easter.

When I was in the sixth grade,
the teacher split the class down the middle
and told us that we would have a debate.
One side would defend the premise
that Christmas is the greatest feast in the Church.
The other side would defend the premise
that Easter is the greatest feast in the Church.
I was on the Easter side, and as far as I am concerned,
we won the debate.
For me, Easter has always been the greater feast.
And Lent is all about Easter.
If there would have been no Easter, there would be no Lent.
Lent is all about Jesus’ resurrection,
our resurrection, our salvation.

We don’t have ashes rubbed all over our faces;
They are applied to our foreheads in a special way,
in the sign of the cross.
They are applied to us as a sign of our salvation in the cross.
Words are said with the application of the ashes.
One form is:
“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
Most people equate the word “dust” with the ashes, just dirt.
“Remember you are nothing but dirt
and your dead body will return to the dirt.”
Another downer!
Many prefer the alternate form:
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
However, remember in the second creation story
in the second chapter of Genesis
that man was made from the clay of the ground.
That clay would have been dust in the dry region of the Middle East.
From the first creation story in the first chapter of Genisis
we know that man was made in the image and likeness of God.
Could “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”
really be:
“Remember you were made from dust in the image and likeness of God,
and you will return to that image and likeness of God
when you are victorous over your sinfulness.”
Yes the ashes do represent our sinfuless, the bad news,
but the cross is the cross of our salvation, our Easter,
our resurrection from sin – the VERY GOOD NEWS.
You see Lent is all about Easter.
There is a similar sentiment of our salvation in the alternate sentence:
“Repent and believe in the Gospel.”


Lent is my favorite season of the liturgical year.
It is a time when we are called to return to the Lord,
when I know that the Lord is calling me back.
We are all sinners;
we have each distanced ourselves somewhat from God.
But that is just the beginning.
Lent doesn’t end in sin.
Lent can be viewed in a much more positive manner.
It is a time for us to follow the urgings of the prophet Joel:
“Return to the Lord your God.”
Joel goes on in one of my favorites lines in the Bible,
one of the most positive verses in the Bible:
“For gracious and merciful is (the Lord),
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.”
This is why Lent is my favorite time of the year,
because it reminds me that no matter what we have done,
God is not harsh with us, he treats us with grace,
He is ready with mercy that is without end,
He can deal with our many, many sins and not get very angry,
He is kind and helpful in our return to Him,
And he removes any punishment
as soon as we ask for forgiveness.
That is all such Good News and it is right here at the beginning of Lent.
God sent his Son into the world for our salvation.
St. Paul put it this way in the second reading;
‘For our sake he made him to be sin,
who did not know sin
so that we might become the righteousness
of God in him.”
For our sake, God sent his Son, who was not a sinner,
to die for us, to take the punishment for us,
so that we might become what God wants us to be,
with Him.
Can there be a better god than that?
Yes, Lent is the time for us to consider our sinfulness,
but it does not end there.
It is also the time for us to better understand our God,
to immerse ourselves in the Good News of salvation,
to concentrate on the ways back to the Lord.
Yes, Lent is all about Easter and it is my favorite season of the year.