How Are You? How is Father Jim?

Every time Sean works on our school preparations, he often meets with Donna and Lorraine. Without fail, before the meetings begin, every single time, both of them always begin with “How are you? How is Father Jim? How is Katelyn?”Their asking is not just a nicety or pleasantry or even a salutation, it is a sign of respect. It is a simple, but very effective means of inquiring about someone you respect and care for, as well as meeting their humanity and their needs where they are. It is about ‘Imago Dei’, recognizing their humanity and inherent dignity given to them from their first breath, just as God created them. It is, for us, about being a Catholic.
 
This past week, a former Zion Lutheran Church member scolded me publicly for speaking out against the Administration. She told me that while she respected me, and all that we do as a church, that I was wrong for not supporting the President. I replied that she could unfollow, or even unfriendme, but that the Gospel Imperatives – nor my very soul – were for sale. I do not speak or play politics, but when you afront the very dignity of women, the immigrant, the refugee, the LGBTQ, the child, or any person of color, you are not worthy of my respect, let alone my silence.
 
I think that is what increases my fear all the more; we have become fear-mongering, inhospitable, unwelcoming people. This is sobering and very sad. We have become what the bible feared the most. What some of our congressional leaders – and most poignantly, our President – have said lately may sadly say more about the America we live in today than we may wish to admit. Those things that were once said only in secret are now safe to say out loud.
 
That is why I encourage all of us to heed our words closely, but to pay close attention to the words of those who lead us, too. After all, we are all responsible to do the work that begins with a self-examination of our own complicity, discrimination, and dehumanization of the other. We must begin to define for ourselves what is it that America should stand for, for all of its people. Instead of using the President’s tweets as a scapegoat of all that is wrong with our society, we should all focus on doing the self-work necessary to begin to embrace all non-white persons as valued members of our society, who deserve a government, and a people, that serves and respects them as much as all of us.
 
And, in case we have forgotten our way, as Christians, we have an inherent duty to see God in every human being and protect and welcome them, too. Hospitality is not meted out to those we like; it is attributed to all or we violate what we are as human beings.
 


God is watching.

The story we just heard in our Gospel of the Good Samaritan is so familiar that to some it is on the verge of becoming little more than a cliché. Even people who have never read the Bible know the image of compassion embodied by the Samaritan who takes a risk to help a stranger in the midst of great trouble. In fact, the notion of a “Good Samaritan” now has a cultural component almost entirely separate from the term’s biblical origins. And despite many repetitions and retellings, this story is no less powerful and no less needed today; for behind its simplicity we find a lifetime of wisdom and a shocking upturning of our modern values.

Lately, I feel as if I am trying to win an unwinnable battle. Not a battle that needs won by any demonstrative way, but rather won for the sake of humanity, and for justice, and for peace within me. I realized that it began long ago with the last presidential election, and it cumulated in the radical way we are now detaining, incarcerating and vilifying immigrants and refugees, and yes, children, too. It’s…well, it’s just unbelievable to me. (Let’s leave it at that since I am blogging for my church!) I have tried to voice my objections, and even have given to help organizations on the border. I have used my voice – and the pulpit of Saint Miriam – to say, ‘no more’ and to ask others to see how they are anti-Christian and anti-God in their rhetoric that demands the rejection of others who seek our help and care. Much of this has served no real purpose and some of those most vocal have been friends and dare I say, even parishioners. Again, it’s…well, it’s just unbelievable to me. I was at loss and then entered facts, and an author I enjoy reading.

First a few facts! You see, our hands have always been dirty in this nation, as have been many nations, too. From the Indian Removal Act of 1830, to ‘Operation Wetback’ of 1954, to us detaining anyone of Japanese ancestry, to the millions of deportations in the last decade, our history as a country is marred by the intentional dislocation of innocent people. And, every time we do it we have made those people dehumanized.

Now to be clear, the Bible includes over 170 verses calling for the just treatment of migrants, often referred to as “strangers.” But just as relevant is how we are called to treat our neighbors and these strangers at our shore (or borders). The policy of mass deportation announced this week – to take place ironically on the Sabbath, this Sunday, is an attack on our neighbors. Regardless of where you are born, a person in the community is a neighbor who must be treated with dignity and love.What we have allowed is the faceless to become dehumanized. The ‘Mexican’ and the ‘migrant’ and ‘the refugee’ are not political fodder for hate. Even showing the dead bodies of a father holding onto his daughter, floating at the edge of the Rio Grande River was not enough. We simply turned away. After all, we couldn’t see their faces, but if we could I assure you they looked like us. We – all of us – have allowed this to occur and we are all to blame, and we all should be so ashamed.

Enter that Author! I stumbled upon a new article by Mike Rumley-Wells, a writer who engages in what his friends dubbed “reckless transparency.” In a recent piece within Relevant Magazine entitled, Why So Many Christians Want to Go On Mission Trips to Help Kids But Don’t Want Them Here, he writes, “I have no argument for someone who believes that we should not share our resources with children who would otherwise be raped or burned alive in their homes, because ‘Why should our tax dollars have to go to them?’ When I say, “I have no argument” I mean we have no values in common from which I can argue.” Exactly! There it was! Now I understand what I have been fighting against without success. You see, you cannot change the heart of another from stone and hatred to light and love without their first recognizing their own hate and bias. You cannot argue with someone without the same values as you.

The story of an unlikely helper still rings true today; is still needed today; perhaps today… it needed even more than ever before. Our job as faithful people is to welcome people with mercy. Our religious images are supposed to remind us where God’s heart is. God’s heart is compassion. With people who are in need, and our heart should be there, too.

The commands of Scripture are clear. The weight of history rests on our shoulders. The fate of families literally hangs in the balance. And God is watching.

 



I Want the Old America I Knew Back.

I remember when the 200th anniversary of our country occurred. It was a very big deal! Growing up in Erie, PA, we only had one newspaper: the Erie Daily Times. Now, to be sure, they wanted you to believe they had competition! (That is why on Sunday the newspaper that was delivered to your doorstep at the hands of a young newspaper carrier was called, “The Sunday Times News”!) but, you guessed it, same paper, same publisher, different name!

So, what was the significance of the paper and the year 1976? Color ink was introduced to mainstream news publishing and this edition – the one that celebrated our country and it is 200thbicentennial birthday was in glowing colors of Red, White, and Blue stripes all the way down Page 1! And yes, above and below the fold! (Like I said, it was a very bigdeal!)

At any rate, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! So, when it was delivered, I ogled at every tint of color and at every word and then I found a box, wrapped it lovingly and carefully in aluminum foil from my mother’s kitchen cabinet, and placed it gently under my bed for safe keeping! I was so very proud to be an American that day, even as youngster.

Today, I am still proud, but I am sorely disappointed. This is notthe country I remember. And, what I want to do, is to bring it back to that day on Sunday, July 4th, 1976 when every person swelled with love for a country that had been proud to have its door a statue holding a bright lamp that proclaimed to welcome everyone who was willing to work hard, give back to others, embrace the American dream, and love her, too, just like me…just like you. You see, we were all immigrants. This was all of our adopted home. We knew it back then. Today, not so much.

Today, we are smug and unabashed and even violent. Today, we separate children from their parents and put them into detention camps that are bad even prisoners would file grievances! Today, we are unwilling to seeothers, let alone love them or recognize their inherent humanity. Today, we are arrogant, mean, rude; we are the playground bully on a national stage. Today, we are a nation that I no longer recognize. I would like the old America back that I once knew.
 
No, not perfect, and I am sure I romanticized a bit here, but one that was kinder, gentler, and more loving.
 
Happy Birthday, America. I pray we find you again.
 


Many Hands Really Do Make Lighter Work!

Last Sunday Sarah, Lou, and Tom made 102 Blessing Bags with the help of a few extra hands from every Mass! This week, Kevin McGee cut the grass for the entire cemetery property and Charlie helped re-route our Wi-Fi and IT mess! Alan, Deacon Pat, Kirk, and Sean joined Katelyn and me in spending over three days clearing old junk, clearing closets, and moving furniture to get ready for the construction now underway for our new school and administration areas. Lorraine and Donna and Pat Wilcke helped organize the office, pack files and make room for the new school and administration areas. Chester also spent time training a summer volunteer, Jakob, on grass and lawn care. This week, too, Sylvia and Pat Liguori joined Katelyn in getting the classrooms ready for fall, and the Boy Scouts will soon paint sign poles after they have completed the planting of flowers along our property edge. And, a cadre of volunteers stand ready to help us pull everything together by early August, as construction will come to a close and a new era of our school will be ready this fall to welcome new families to a wonderful educational opportunity! These volunteer hands have saved Saint Miriam this week alone over $3,800 in what would have been hired help and outside contractors. We are better for having them as part of our life and because of their willingness to give of their time and effort, we are stronger financially, too.

That is how a community is supposed to come together. We are to bear one another’s burdens and raise up one another in times of sorrow. We are to give to support God’s work here and make the lives of others better. We are to be the Church, and do good, even when the world thinks only of itself. We are better for being together than we ever could by being apart.

Today, as I wrote my blog, we released our newest ad. The words are simple, but so profoundly true. It reads:

Every promise. Ever made. Has come true. Get ready for yet another! From the foundation of our Parish some 11 years ago we have made promises every step along the way – ones that better our community and help make the world better, too – and we are proud that every single promise has been kept.  Now, get ready for Saint Miriam School! Another promise kept.

That’s right! Every single promise we have ever made, no matter how tough the road, no matter how thin our finances or how daunting the task, we did it – together. I have led us through times of difficulty and together we have met every goal of promise. We have much too be proud of!

Now, I am asking that we compete the Stewardship Appeal as a family – together.  We are now only $500 a month to our goal. That’s it, only $500 a month away. BUT, we will only get there if every person gives something.

Together, we are better because we know and have witnessed that many hands make light work of every great effort.

 



Construction Begins On a Place We Call Home!

Well, construction begins this week!

Since we purchased our campus some five years ago, we have constantly strived to continue to improve our facilities for a better church, school and cemetery, and with this summer’s work we will remodel our Administration and School wings as well as build a new retainer wall for two new playgrounds, add beautiful new fences to both play areas, and our main parish building will get a brand new roof and gutters and the garage will be remodeled to match! We will finish it off with new tile in the entry to reduce carpet care expenses and put new carpet in the offices and two brand new classrooms for when our Saint Miriam School opens on September 4th!

Our project has us finishing in time for an August 14th“ Open House” for our school! We have been working hard on the planning for months for both the renovations and the new school, but rather than come to you for an added financial request, we have instead refinanced our loan to accomplish this work. However, we still need your help to make it easier on us to meet our obligations.

During Lent this year, I gave an update on all that we have accomplished and the wonderful ways we outreach to the world. I also gave an overview of the planned fall changes and upgrades, as well as two exciting new ways we will care for those who no one wishes to help. All of those plans are now coming to fruition. One of the most marvelous of things is that we can always count on our ability to lead the parish to new heights! Every promise I have ever made as your pastor has been kept, and every goal has been reached. We have much to be proud of and much more work to do! After all, ‘to whom much is given, much is required’!

There are many parishes who care little about outreach and mission work, still others that beat folks up about not giving enough, and many others who reject so many from their pews because of the socio-economic, sexuality or gender status. At Saint Miriam, we welcome everyone, and our strength and beauty are found in our wonderful diversity! That is something worth celebrating and something worth supporting.

We are excited about these projects and we hope you will join us by supporting us to get to our Annual Appeal goal! We are less than $700 dollars a month away from our eGiving goal. So, if you are not giving, please sign up for eGiving today. If you are giving, thank you, and please consider an increase to your gift giving, as even a modest amount will combined with others for great things, and if you use a debit or credit card, why not switch to checking or savings and save us the fees? You may also help us with a one-time gift to celebrate all that we are and all the ways we are truly your church!

This summer we will become even more of what Saint Miriam already is…this fall we will bring even more people to a place they can call home, too!

 

 



A Day for Dads!

On the actual day of my ordination to priesthood, just honored by all of you this past May 19th, I transitioned from a man known as “Mr. St. George”, to being known as “Father Jim”. I will be honest and tell you that it took some getting used to, as people of all ages were using this title, but somehow it now seems so comfortable to me. That is why I used this image of me and my dad, it is the way I like to remember my dad and me together. Oh sure, I was a lot heavier back then, but my dad and I loved one another and this is one of my fondest memories of being with him. It was a joyful day!

This week is about memories for me. I remember, too, how delighted I was when people younger than myself called me ‘Father’. And, when we opened our school, it was an abundance of blessings and gladness when I walked among the smallest among us here at the parish campus to the repeated outcries of, “Good morning, Father Jim!”  And, to this very day, it is not only strange for me, but also to my relatives to refer to me in this way. My own mother still calls me, “Jimmy”, but her letters and cards always are addressed to “The Reverend Father Jim St. George”. For her, and for many I am sure, it is a demonstrable showing of respect for my vocation in life.

Well, enough of my spiritual fatherhood, I am grateful, but would like to focus on my dad, whom I miss so deeply, and I call on all of us to place our attention on those men who are fathers, be it biological or adoptive or who have simply always ‘been there’ as our needed stand in! It is to them we owe the greatest of titles and respect. Today, we shall all humbly tell our ‘dads’ in all their varied forms, of our love, thanksgiving, and care for them. In the liturgical language of the Church, “It is meet and right so to do…”

This will be the third Father’s Day my sister and I are orphaned from our dad, at least in this life. I have always wanted to be a real dad, an actual father to a child. Perhaps, if it is God’s will, I will one day just achieve that dream (with the help of Katelyn, of course!) It is always amazing to me how God never forgets our dreams and prayers, but the timing is always His! It may come later than expected, but if it comes, I will welcome that day – if I should be so blessed – and do the best I can to be a dad, just like my dad was to me. My dad was the best dad ever; not that he was perfect, but his love for Andrea and me was always just that. I can think of no better role model. I want to be like my dad, whom I so deeply miss this day above most days.

I wonder if there is anything that really prepares one to be a father, or is it mostly “on-the-job training?” Reading and studying about it isn’t necessarily a true representation of reality, I am sure! Is it helpful to have a resource to turn to and explore what wisdom and insight those who are grandfathers could impart? After all, life experience is the best teacher. If so, then my dad is always here and ever present; I pray your dads are, too.

Father’s Day is our annual opportunity to congratulate and give thanks to these men who have accepted the commitment to be a living example of love and faithfulness in this role. Let us all pause and give thanks and show them all our love and thanksgiving! And to those who call me Father Jim, I am grateful and have always strived to never harm a single soul. I have taken my spiritual fatherhood seriously and I am proud of what we have built here at Saint Miriam.

I suppose to end my blog today; it is a good idea to add a prayer of blessing for the continuing journey of every father. So, I ask St. Joseph, to be their helper and guide. I know he has never once failed me.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you! And a very special wish to my own dad, I love you and miss you, poppa, and I thank you for being a great dad…

 



A Change in Name and a Stronger Focus of Mission!

Quantum Computer became AOL. BackRub is now Google. United Healthcare is Optum. Sound of Music became Best Buy and Blue Ribbon Sports is now known as Nike! You see, companies and institutions change their name to reflect their mission and future. This past week, we did the very same thing when Zion Preschool at Saint Miriam became Saint Miriam School.

Since we purchased the property almost five years ago, we have operated Zion Preschool as it was, a part of the former church that occupied this campus, and even though we owned it, try as we might to tie it more to our own mission, we simply failed. We gave the former staff the opportunity to learn about us and our mission, but they decided it wasn’t their mission; that is fine, it doesn’t have to be, but the work must be in keeping with the goals of our parish. And although we failed in some respects with that goal, over the past four years we learned a lot, grew a lot, and helped a lot of people along the way. When we purchased the property, the school was shuttered, the teachers let go, and a 38+ year legacy was in ashes. We decided to resurrect the school, hire the teachers (and even the cleaning lady and administration staff) and continue its mission to serve the children. We kept our end of the bargain; they failed to do the same, so a change has now come.

Over the past three years in particular, we watched and grew, and more students came. We implemented cost controls, added salary increases, and brought new security and upgrades. We also saw the change in School Directors, and then a few of the former teachers decided it was time to retire or move on. All of that was expected and needed. This new change is, too. This past year, the administration team gave me their notice for next fall, but a few unexpected happenings occurred in the last few months that caused us to decide to move up that timeline. It was time to bring a better relationship, a tighter bond, and cohesion to our mission. Welcome Saint Miriam School, a Franciscan Preschool and Kindergarten, tied to who we are and the way we view the world; not a separate entity on the periphery of our vision, but a close-knit community that makes us stronger and brings with it a renewed focus of mission and outreach. And, quite honestly, a whole lot of excitement, too!

Over the next few weeks we will begin another round of needed upgrades and construction. Almost every year that we have been here we have made some significant updates! This year, we will reconfigure the administration areas, change how students enter the school, and build two new offices as well as a S.T.E.A.M.M. Classroom! We will update our signage to reflect the new name and mission. And something even more exciting…we will also put a new roof over our heads! Yes! The parish will get a new roof to match the new Friary Rectory, and the Maintenance Garage for the cemetery will get one to match, too! We are excited about the new look and renewed focus of energy that is about to happen, and the better way we will manage our school, cemetery, and our beautiful church!

After construction is complete, our exciting new school will open September 4thand soon after we will also move toward our new outreach initiatives: Dinner, Church, and Sacred Spaces in Kensington and Dorothy’s Glenn, A Franciscan Village right here on our campus! So much to do, so much to be grateful for…

We are a mission-centered parish community. We have so much to be proud of and so much more to do, together. Please, if you haven’t already, choose now to support us by visiting this page, so that we can continue to do even more great things!

 

 



A Tale of Two Entities!

It has now been almost five years since we purchased the former property of Zion Lutheran Church and made it our home. It was June of that year when Zion decided it could no longer function as a church, and ironically, the same month we began looking for a property to build a new home for Saint Miriam after being in Blue Bell for six years. That is how we discovered that wooded lot of almost three undeveloped acres at the northwest corner of our current property, bordering Church Road. We placed a bid and it was accepted and that led to negotiations for the entire 12+ acre that included the historic cemetery and a closed school.

Many no longer remember that day, but it is worth noting that the cemetery was in disarray, the church building was badly in need of repairs and upgrades, and the school had been shuttered. At their final day in June, the teachers that had cared for Zion Preschool were formally let go, the school students gone, and their families told that the preschool would be no more after over 35 years of service to the community it called home. Enter Saint Miriam!

We closed on the loan on August 26th. We opened the parish on September 9th and we resurrected the school, too! After only a mere few weeks of hard labor, and well over 37 subcontractors and 42 volunteers, we made our deadline, hired back every teacher, increased their wages and bettered their working conditions. We added safety measures to the school, remediated mold and gave them new paint and carpeting and a safe place to learn and grow. We welcomed back a few former students who still had not committed to another school and every year since we have made it better and better. 

Our sojourn in education has led us to where God wanted. At least that is our belief. We treat our school as one of our major outreach projects and support her financially, with our prayers, and by other means of support and care. We give scholarships to those who cannot afford to attend and we welcome every religion, every creed, all without reservation. All are welcome in our school, just like in our parish. For us, our school is as important as all of our other mission projects, because we know it is our future, and incumbent upon us as parish to outreach, to grow, and to care in kindness those who will one day be our new leaders in the world. We care not about their faith tradition, only that they grow and learn to love in a world so often bent on hate.

As a priest and pastor, it always amazes me how much the greater church decries the lack of young people in the pews while simultaneously removing schools from their campuses and cutting educational opportunities. That is why this June, after more than five years of watching Zion change and morph, learning what is important to us, to students and their parents, and designing a program we can truly be proud of, we have decided to increase our support and dedicate even more resources to our school! These changes will strengthen our identity and care for the school, as well as bring unique resources and a renewed focus and vitality to the education of the youngest among us!

That is why the last few years have been very much like a ‘tale of two entities; the educational entity and the parish entity, but in reality, they are one the same. So, this coming fall, after years of experience now ‘under our belts’, we are bringing everyone to one table to serve better and to reach more people who need a place like ours!

Please join me this Sunday as I walk us through the coming changes for our school as well as our other mission and outreach programs.
 
Saint Miriam… ‘she ain’t done growing yet!’
 
 


I am a Terrible Runner.

It’s true. I am a terrible runner. My speed is less than average and because of my lifelong fight with Asthma, my lungs literally hurt during a run. But on Memorial Day, I will gather with my other Crossfitters and participate in the Murphy WOD (Workout of the Day) in memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, New York, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005.

This workout was one of Mike’s favorites and he named it “Body Armor”. It consists of two, one-mile runs, one at the beginning, and another the end of a WOD, that encapsulates 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats. For the real warriors among us, some of us will also wear a twenty-pound vest, or body armor, or carry a weight on our backs. From the day it was first honored to him, it has been proudly and simply referred to as “Murph” and is one of the hardest workouts we ever do; but think of what Mike gave for us. I will do so this year, as I now have for the last four years, in the bright sunshine or the pouring down rain, along with my fellow athletes, in honor of a focused warrior and a great American, who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is. He did just that. This Memorial Day, we will again remember, and many of us will cry, too, but the tears will be more than just the physical pain and exhaustion, it will be because we remember our people, and our nation, still have so far to go.

We, too, as a parish will tie simple, but beautiful ribbons this Sunday on our Cemetery Gates to honor those who served, like my dad, who is with me in ways I never expected, even as he is now gone from this life. A decorated Veteran; I will grieve again as I remember. (Click Here to get your ribbons to remember and honor.)

St. Francis once said, “Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these, they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”  This is true of every warrior who died in service to our nation and her people. It certainly was true of Lieutenant Michael Murphy, and my dad, and so many others who served and some who fell in honor.

As we honor Memorial Day again, I pray each of us will take a moment to honor our fallen heroes. Then, let us begin the hard work of restoring our commitment to our patriots who have sacrificed for us, but still live among us. They deserve so much, and certainly at the very least, respect, jobs, healthcare, and thanks for their labor while in uniform. Finally, let us work together to assist the forgotten and the downtrodden, in obtaining meaningful employment, better access to affordable health care, recrimination against discrimination of any kind, the treatment for both mental and physical wounds, and by rejecting the ‘names’ and any other limiting factor that divides us as humans. As Emma Lazarus reminded us with her infamous poetry, The New Colossus, “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.”

It is what Mike, and so many heroes, died for; they did not die for one, or for one type; rather, they died so all might be free…

Blessed Memorial Day, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, we still remember.