I Won’t Give Into Fear.

“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Sometimes I am there, too … And that is all we can manage these days and also all that really matters: that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves.”   — Etty Hillesum

How do you feel when you hear these words or phrases? Love, passion, freedom, receive, a full belly, generous, lavish lifestyle, low debt, enjoyment, pleasure, delight, acceptance? Now, pause for another moment and reflect on how do you feel when you hear these words? Rejection, restraint, limitation, withhold, resistance, empty, scarcity, abstinence, insecure, displeasure, pain?

Most of us respond far more positively to the first set of words, and far more negatively to the second. It’s almost visceral. However, like it or not, we swim in a culture of pleasure, and, in our view, God would only care about (or be characterized by) words that speak of generosity and giving and enjoyment. Our new-age God would never ask us to be in scarcity.  After all, we worship a God of abundance, right? Just ask the like of Joel Osteen who has amassed an empire based on the ‘prosperity gospel’, an aberrant theology that teaches God rewards faith—and hefty tithing—with financial blessings.

But, for many, we live in fear and denial of the reality: many are our to literally wipe us away. If you are ‘different’ by their standard, you are rejected and deemed expendable. Ask those of us who ever loved someone of the same sex, or lives our lives openly as a gay/lesbian person, or married someone younger, or finds our truth in a fluid gender status, or is fully whole as alternatively gendered than birth, or we inherited a darker skin color, or emigrated from a land distant from our preset shores. The list is endless.

But wait! Under the present Administration and its allies there are more to add to our list! If you seek support, need welfare assistance, are food insecure, or are anything other than a White Anglo-Saxon Protestant that lift your hands high to a God you worship while you stick your foot on the neck of those you dislike. No, the gospel is not alive and well, only the hatred that comes from a gospel warped by our own prejudice and violence and hatred of the ‘others’ we despise. We run quickly past the scriptures for love and embracing our enemies and we instead invoke a semi-Levitical code for death to all who we hate. We have now even allowed the courts to stack the deck against freedoms gained. I stand back and ask myself quietly and disgustedly, ‘what have we become; it can’t get any worse.’ But, it does.

Yes, we are indeed a generation that needs to receive the fullness of the lavish love and the border-breaking permissions of God, but we must first see that God for what He demands of us; see it in truth, not distorted. We are also a generation that is chained by both public and secret lack of restraint, self-control, and multiple levels of addictions and hatreds. Perhaps we might remember something Jesus taught us in the desert: The ‘Destroyer’ knows exactly how to tempt, how to test our limits. The devil – in all his forms – loves to break someone who is good at saying “Yes” to themselves, and “No” to others. We can easily identify the others now, right? They don’t wear the red hat of hate and division.

So how do we do it? How do we look outwards toward others and not lose ourselves? I think that somehow our vocation as believers in these sad times must be to first restore our inherent ‘Divine Center’ by holding it and fully occupying it ourselves. It is why we offer Adoration, Rosary and Contemplative Offerings to fortify our prayer life at Saint Miriam. It is why we welcome everyone through our doors and freely to our altar. It strengthens us to serve the homeless in the city and still maintain the beauty of a parish in the suburbs. If contemplation and joy would ever mean anything deep, it must include that we can “safeguard that little piece of You, God,” as Hillesum described it, but truthfully and wholly and inclusively.

What could it mean to find this kind of deep rest in God in a world such as ours today? Every day more and more people are facing the catastrophe of extreme weather, and as Fr. Rohr says so well: a neurotic news cycle driven by a single narcissistic leader whose words incite true hatred, violence, sows discord, and amplifies the daily chaos between people of color, varied sexualities and gender status, wide-ranging national origins, and differences that our nation has tried to overcome for centuries. We made such strides, but now we are in full reverse mode. And, the pandemic seems to be returning in waves greater than before and many who follow him are more concerned with their own comfort and ‘false freedoms’ than the lives of the weak and the vulnerable. The power of hatred comes through a false idol and a warped sense that by harming or eliminating those who literally live on the edges of the margins somehow makes us fuller, more blissful, beyond content. It’s no wonder our mental and emotional health are decline. We hate openly now. Others – those we hate – now are forced to hide in fear, as the sun is setting on their brief moment of safety and light. Shame on us.  Shame on us who permit it and shame on those who perpetrate it.

So, I will not give into fear. I will not post that you must rush to me to be married before your rights are removed, or that someone our doors will one day shut to your need for sanctuary. No, I will not give into that fear. I will instead pray, and vote, and stand up, and even lose my life for your rights. And, no, Saint Miriam will never change its course or cause. Yes, by our living only for ourselves; by our turning only to God when we are in need, by our rejecting the true values of being a Catholic Christian, we have wholesale abandoned any sense of truth or caring.

Things must change. Living in fear will not help. Stand as a sentry at the door of your senses so “the blood-dimmed tide” cannot make its way into your soul, for these next coming months, and whatever they bring, know God is still God. We are still here, and we will not live in fear.

 
 


I Am Burned Out, too; I Get it, but I Won’t Give Up.

I get it. I am tired of it all, too. “They” keep saying just do certain simple things like distance and wear a mask and we will be back to some resemblance of normal. But, now, here we are – some 8+ months into the worst of the pandemic and we are canceling holidays and much of the world is shutting down. Even our highest officials in government can’t agree and our president wants us to believe its over. Well, it’s not. I have seen the face of this virus as I anointed and helped families say goodbye. It isn’t over; not even close. I wish it were. I am tired, too.

So, yes! I am burned out. I am fighting to keep our parish alive and help maintain all the jobs for all the folks that call Saint Miriam home. I am fighting to keep our doors open despite the fact that my pleas for financial support are falling on ears, who like mine are burned out, tired, and fatigued. I am fighting to feed the homeless and fill empty blessing bags. I am fighting as we move our silent auction and concert into a virtual world, expand our safe distancing opportunities, like pumpkins and photos, and still I know the truth: we are all tired.

Summer did not extinguish the virus as promised. And with fall has come another dangerous, uncontrolled surge of infections that in many parts of the world is the worst of the pandemic so far. Hospitalizations are up, new restrictions are being imposed, and some nations are finding that their health care systems are in danger of collapsing. We, as the public have a deep weariness about us and now a growing tendency is abounding as many are willing to risk the dangers of the virus, out of desire or pure necessity. And, in sharp contrast to the spring, the rituals of hope and unity that helped people endure the first surge have given way to exhaustion and frustration. There are no window signs or messages of hope. We are weary. We are burned out. I get it, but I won’t give up.

For me, this pandemic has taken so much. It robbed me of a spring and now a summer, too. It robbed my wife and I of a normal birth for my son. It took away our ability to baptize him with all of you near. It robbed me of time with my mother who is now seriously ill. It took away joy and plans and hope. This pandemic has taken so much that I won’t let it rob me of Saint Miriam, too. Whether others join me or not is of no consequence. If we close down because others don’t care enough to support us, I will still fight and give until the last ember of Saint Miriam glows. Why?  Because we are different, and we are desperately needed.

This past week, in consultation with my school administration, we hired back someone who had been terminated earlier in the year for cause. She pleaded her case, took ownership of her issues, and asked for another chance. I agreed. Some didn’t and voiced their opinion and dissatisfaction. I wrote these words to them.

“It had come to my attention that our rehiring a former employee has caused some issues. So, I wanted to take a moment to address it directly. I, too, had some reservations with respect for hiring somebody that was terminated for cause. However, after much prayer and consideration, I decided to actually live out the way the world should be and to allow another opportunity for someone who was owning responsibility for their past actions and was contrite in there asking to be considered for another chance within our organization. As many of you know some 30 years ago, I made a terrible mistake and it costs me a few months of my life and to this day I am still often reminded how unworthy I am and that I did something wrong. Saint Miriam has always been sincere; we have lived the truth in speech and in practicality; that we worship a God of grace and of second chances. As pastor it is my responsibility to uphold the values of Saint Miriam and to remind us as an organization, to never stray from those values. I am not sure if this rehire is going to work, but what I do know is that we would be less of a people of faith if we rejected her without one more try. Thank you for listening to me today.”

This is why we exist. This is so many other ways that we are inclusive, welcoming, loving, forgiving and different. I pray we are worth your time and your support.
 

 



The Blessings of Ordinary to Extraordinary.

This Sunday, October 11th 2020, at the 9:00am Mass, I will do something I rarely do. I will exercise my authority as a Bishop and consecrate holy oils. I will take the vulgar and transform it to the sacred, the ordinary to the extraordinary, the profane to the hallowed.

Some of the church’s most ancient traditions and rituals are witnessed during Holy Week, including the preparation, blessing and distribution of oils central to the Church’s sacraments and rites. This chrism Mass is usually celebrated on Holy Thursday at the local cathedral with the bishop gathered with his priests but can be moved as needed for pastoral reasons. We are doing so out of both need and symbolism: perhaps can we, just for a moment, still remember that God can do the same with our lives and the pandemic we now endure?

There are many Old and New Testament scriptural references to “anointings,” suggesting the importance of holy oil in ancient and biblical cultures. The oils we will consecrate this Sunday include the oil of the sick, used in the anointing of the sick; the oil of catechumens, which is for those preparing to be baptized, and the chrism oil, which is consecrated and used for baptism, confirmation and holy orders.

Apart from the Holy Oils (Sacred Chrism, Oil of the Sick, and Oil of Catechumens) sanctified by the Bishop, the Church also provides for the blessing of ordinary olive oil as a sacramental. This oil may be burned before the Blessed Sacrament, or before sacred images and then used by the faithful in the same way as they would use any other blessed sacramental. Such devotional anointings accompanied by prayer are not to be confused with the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick, any more than one would confuse the use of Holy Water with the water of Baptism. I have chosen to include this offering as well on Sunday as a new candle has arrived that will burn before the stunning Tabernacle that is coming, made by the hands and effort of our own parishioner, Don Pauley. We will also use this oil to refill the lamps before the main icons within the Chapel of the Mother of God, Searcher of the Lost, at our Falls Retreat Center in Starlight; an absolutely stunning place for prayer and contemplation. 

The oils this week will be set out for display for all Masses in large glass decanters, but consecrated only during Sunday’s 9:00am Mass. Virgin olive oil will be used for the oil of the sick and oil of catechumens. However, the oil of chrism, is distinct in that it is mixed with a resin, balsam, giving it a sweet perfumed fragrance, after which the oil is consecrated only by a bishop. It is set apart to be used for a person who is baptized and later at the sacrament of confirmation; the bishop literally breathes upon that oil as a visible sign of the Holy Spirit coming down on the chrism oil. It is a beautiful symbolism that is desperately needed with all we find ourselves living with in today’s world; I pray it will be for us a symbol of renewal.

In that same spirit of a sense of finding renewal, I have requested that the clergy gather to join me. In doing so, they will renew their vows as ordained clergy and their devotion of a life of service through their calling to help them – as it will prayerfully do for all gathered – persevere through hardship.

Our Franciscan-inspired simplistic designs – here at our main parish and farther north at our Retreat center – creates a sense of peace, allowing you to let go of the busyness of your daily life. 

I pray you will join me.

 



It Didn’t Matter.

As said in my latest video, I know that I haven’t written much lately. My blogs and devotionals are hard to fathom as I grapple with the world around me.

As a priest, some think I am somehow immune to it all, but I am not. To be honest, I am just tired. I’m so worn out I often find that I cannot even pray, let alone write. Then, recently, we had a parishioner leave us because he didn’t like chairs over pews. (Yes, sadly, we have kept people safe, allowed for easy distancing, but unbelievably I am still dealing with this issue.) And, it wasn’t his leaving that caused me so much pain, it was the manner in which he dismissed all the good we do, and all over a damn pew. It didn’t matter how we loved or welcomed him as we do so many others. It didn’t matter how we care for those experiencing homelessness. It didn’t matter that our priests and deacons sacrifice their days and talent for literally almost no pay. It mattered not to him in his leaving that we are always here, always praying, always replying and always trying to make the best decisions. It didn’t matter that we built a school for every child to learn, regardless of their ability to pay, invested in a hybrid and very expensive faith formation program for our children (and absorbed all the costs) and care beautifully for a historic, 300 year old cemetery, too. It didn’t seem to phase him that we refurbished a stunning retreat center and got it opened in record time. No, what mattered most was sitting in a wooden pew that we never purchased and was just part of the deal when we purchased the building. In fact, from our founding as parish we have never even had pews until our last move to Flourtown.

This past week, I went to the hospital to visit a man dying of COVID; his own priest refused to come, so I went. I also traveled to visit my mom who won’t leave the house due to the pandemic, which isn’t healthy mentally or physically. I helped my family deal with Katelyn’s grandmother being placed on hospice, and then her grandfather being dupped and robbed at his own home. I returned from that trip of over 1,300 miles in 5 days to meet with my school leadership team to ensure our safety, record a video on our next steps of opening, rearrange our sanctuary space, and tried to get the parents of our children to value their role as first educators for faith formation. I even reached out to several, and while most got back to me, but some still haven’t taken the time to even respond. If this weren’t enough, our bank merged with another bank and we have been literally rebuilding our financial information and new credit and debit cards as well as completing our end of the year audit to finish our financials for all four entities! Oh, and I am guiding the reopening of our new retreat center this Saturday and supporting our outreach to the homeless, too, and still trying to be a good husband and dad and preparing myself for medical procedure. It is daunting, overwhelming and at times, to be completely honest, I just want to walk away from it all.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not dealing with much more than many of you! I just have a voice here to vent, but there are many who think no one else is dealing with an abundance of stress. I have news for you: we all deal with it and we all deal it with in a variety of ways, and we should care about one another more.

A few days ago, a parishioner stopped by our offices; she stuck her head in my office to say hello. We reminisced (and truthfully moaned a little, too, about the state of the world!) but then she paused to ask me how am I have been coping with all that is going on; the COVID-19 pandemic with no end yet in sight, the continuous loop of injustice, the killing of black men and the retaliation against good police officers, mobs in our streets, a president who delights in literally being mean and who dishonors anyone who disagrees with his ways like a bully on a playground, the resentment and animosity among people, especially on social media, and keeping a parish afloat through it all. “How, Father, do you do it?”  I thought about it briefly, as she reminded me in the middle of her question how she has known me and Saint Miriam since our beginning days in the synagogue where we began in Philadelphia. “You’ve always done things 100%, Father.”  Her praise lifted my spirits, but just momentarily.

What she didn’t say – and probably doesn’t know – is how often I deal with disrespect and questioning and backstabbing from those who do it with little or no information, just innuendo, even as I try my best to do what is right. Isn’t it the Christian thing to do lately?  We find someone to vilify even as they do their best. It makes us feel superior somehow as we swallow them into submission and walk away with our own false superiority intact. We are no longer focused on community building, only ourselves. And, in doing so, we reject God.

And, as if all of that weren’t enough, even the sun is now covered by the dark smoke of unending west coast wildfires, mostly caused by the carelessness of human beings like the couple who decided to bring to light the sex of their unborn child, but instead lit aflame 10,000 acres. There are some fires also caused by more mundane human actions, like driving a car into dry vegetation, and still others by power transmission lines or other utility equipment, which spark and ignite fires in remote areas, and a few more by natural occurring phenomena like lightening strikes. All of these together have so far caused 6,500 firefighters to battle 28 major fires in more than 3.2 million acres, and at least 24 people have died in California alone. Then, more sadness strikes at us as we all woke up a few days ago to learn of the death of the liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It seems that our hopes are being taken way bit by bit; at least we think so, if we look at is only the worldly.

So how do I not fall to pieces every day, in a world so clearly on the very edge of a vast chasm, and anarchy in every valley down below? I pray. At least I try. And last night I sat with a few others and together we prayed the rosary via Zoom. It was needed and beautiful and simple. There we were, just a few of us, from our own homes laughing and chatting and then praying together. We prayed for you, and us, and the world. We prayed.

We don’t do that much anymore either. The pandemic has sadly robed us of church and prayer, too. We instead hate so easily and isolate ourselves from the very places that used to give us true life. And the statistics for Christians attending church or finding value in the holy Mass are more than troublesome. It is now more likely for a Christian to have stopped attending church altogether during the pandemic than trying to find their way back to worship. In fact, 32 percent of practicing Christians have done just, that and over 58% of families with children have not cared to enroll in faith formation this year! The remaining 18 percent of practicing Christians are viewing worship services from multiple churches throughout the month, but none have expressed any desire to go back to in-person worship. It is no wonder we so easily hate today. Everything is bewildering in this brave new world we are creating by our actions and our inactions. Especially by our unwillingness to be what gives us life; true life. This is sin.

A friend and fellow clergyman, Daniel, reminded me in his recent post, about author Audre Lorde who writes, in what reads like a checklist of our 2020 anxieties,

“…when the sun rises we are afraid

it might not remain

when the sun sets we are afraid

it might not rise in the morning

when our stomachs are full we are afraid

of indigestion

when our stomachs are empty we are afraid

we may never eat again

when we are loved we are afraid

love will vanish

when we are alone we are afraid

love will never return

and when we speak we are afraid

our words will not be heard

nor welcomed

but when we are silent

we are still afraid.”

What can save us from the madness of despair in this context? Is it no wonder people stay home and simply self-isolate and hate so easily? I find that the thing that helps me is remembering that I am not alone in all of this and that the things that truly bring me peace are at places of peace, like Saint Miriam.

None of us would be here, were it not for those who prayed, believed, and loved. My mom and dad taught me how to love and forgive and welcome at our dining room table; by doing so, we created Saint Miriam. It is now up to all of us to keep a legacy alive, or one day, we will simply drive by a boarded up and shuttered dream on the way back to the isolation and loneliness of our lives; another victim of the pandemic, or worse, our own inaction.
 


The Burden of Hate; Lifted Here.

In a recent survey, about 80% of people believe churches should be subject to the same rules on being open and on requiring social distancing practices as other organizations; some 28% said they believe their own place of worship should be closed for all in-person meetings, while 57% said their own churches should be open, but with modifications, and 13% said their congregations should be open just like before the pandemic.

However, that doesn’t mean that everyone is showing up to open church. The Pew study found only 12% of American adults reporting they have personally attended an in-person worship service in the past month. This compares with 70% of American adults who believe their churches should be open in one form or another. Overall, fewer than 1-in-6 adults who want their churches open say they are attending themselves. The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on worship and church sustainability. Many churches are simply choosing to close rather than try and navigate these unprecedent circumstances and large financial strains.

I found it interesting that Evangelical Christians and Catholics are most likely to say they have attended in-person worship within the past month. Evangelicals top that list at 44%, followed by Catholics at 32%. And online worship participation ranks high among all Americans who identify as regular churchgoers, with 72% of such adults accessing online services weekly. But, let us not all lose hope, because among the other half of American adults remaining, a full 42% say they will return to regular church attendance at the same rate as before the pandemic once it is all behind us. In other words, we all need to hang on!

I think that is the most wonderful thing about Saint Miriam. We were well-prepared to deal with the pandemic, despite not even being aware it might hit us so hard! We had strong online giving and virtual worship opportunities, plus we had already begun to see the need for virtual learning. Our school and Children’s Faith Formation (CFF) teams had already begun implementing the start of such learning prospects. Then, the pew removal ended up being a Godsend as we found the need to distance and allow space for worship to return. Our new Sanctuary allows for adaptation and multiple tier uses. Yes, we were in good standing and since them we have done so much more.

Despite the circumstances, we also have increased our outreach and serve more persons experiencing homelessness than anyone could have imagine; both on the streets and in our own parking lot, we care for literally hundreds weekly with food, nutrition, fellowship, warm clean socks (And, we just received word we will be receiving another 5,000 pairs of Bombas Socks by fall, too!), and a safe place to park and find rest.

We also have not stopped caring for our property. We added new signs out front, completed parking lot safety upgrades and maintenance, added cameras and livestream enhancements, worked to open our new Retreat house, and covered additional costs of disinfection protocols and PPE gear needed for staff and attendees. We also added a RSVP Seating System to help keep us safe, mandatory maximums on attendance for the time being, and Plexiglas protection screens to the ambo and pulpit. We added a CFF Hybrid Program to teach our children love and values, and not only absorbed all the costs, but still managed to cut in half the annual tuition for our children programming to help parents already overburdened. 

At the school level we added MyON, a virtual reader program and Learning Pointe, a safe place for virtual learning to happen when parents need to return to work, but students are out of the classroom. Now, regardless of their school district, we have a place for them to learn and be safe.

Through it all, we have reduced ancillary, marketing, and staff costs to allow needed funds to be freed up, but sadly, fundraising support is down, and general giving is down, too. We received in the past as a matter of regular occurrence a full ¼ of our income every Sunday by in-person giving. Now, that income is almost non-existent. 

So, we must all ask ourselves now, where do we go from here? How do we continue to be light, in dark? How do we bring love where others so easily sow hate? Do we want Saint Miriam is exist when we are ready to return?

The late, well loved, Congressman John Lewis once memorably once said, “We must find a way to… lay down the burden of hate. For hate is too heavy a burden to bear.” I think that is one of the best ideals of Saint Miriam! We are founded in the belief that Jesus loved, not hated, even those who hated Him and that He is recognized best when we stand, as He did, among the sick, the poor, the excluded with open hearts and doors. We are our best as we show them God’s merciful love through our own willingness to sacrifice and to love even the most unlovable.

This is why we adhere to a Church teaching on giving priority to the well-being of the poor and marginalized; this is not a political or ideological choice, as it lies at the very heart of the Gospel itself.  This preferential option for the poor, which includes feeding the hungry and drawing close to the excluded, “is the key criterion of Christian authenticity,” as Pope Francis recently reminded the world.

At Saint Miriam, our needs are ever expanding, and we cannot find it in our hearts to turn even one person away from the life changing … even lifesaving … programs we offer. But, with reduced giving, the lack of participation in regular fundraising activities, along with the unexpected emergencies and the impact of the global pandemic it is all taking a toll on our budget. I need your help; we all do.

 So, I write to you today because I refuse to lose heart. I remain an optimist, trusting in God’s unfailing goodness and also in your generosity. Just as it was said so wonderfully by our staff wanted to do a beautiful video to show their support of our mission and families, ‘We are in this together.’

As I talk with many of our parishes loyal and kind friends, I know many too are suffering through these hard times of uncertainty. I hope there is assurance when I tell them – as I remind you now, too –  they are remembered in our prayers and Masses. Will you please help by sending your most generous gift today?

Through your generous partnership, you are us accomplish so much good in the world. I do trust in God, and YOU, to help us through this challenge.

God bless and reward you for all you have done. May our loving Lord draw you ever closer to His Heart. Be assured your intentions will be remembered in my prayers.

I look forward to seeing from you!

Sincerely in hope,

Monsignor +Jim 

 



Here’s What Pastor Moments Taught Me.

 

I’ve been thinking all summer about being a pastor, especially as I continue to navigate the unknown for months on end now. Many have thought that I simply made these decisions and was left fine, but the truth is, I am not sure.

First, the decisions were about closing. Do I close the school as the governor ordered? Do I close the church, as he didn’t even ask? Who would be harmed either way? How do I control a virus? What would my life be like if someone got sick, or worse, died because of a decision that I made, or didn’t make? Then, the decisions came about reopening! Who needed us to reopen? What would parents do with their children if we chose – like so many other school – not to reopen, but they still needed to go to work? Who would come to Mass in a pandemic anyway? Or, were there others like me who desperately needed God now more than ever? Where would they go if not here? And, if we opened, how could we do so in the safest manner possible? What would it cost? How could we afford it when no one was coming for so long? How could we track, manage, and protect and still worship at the same time?

Of course, those were the public decisions so many now know I had to make as pastor of Saint Miriam. But there were those that many failed to realize that I needed to make, too, but that I was still faced with on a daily basis; these included, who would serve Mass? How would I keep my team safe? What of the sick, the injured, the dying, and the dead at hospitals and nursing centers? Would I instruct my priests and deacons to go to the very places where the virus was the most active; would I even go? Who would be quarantined and for how long?

Then came another plague to our parish life, too: the mental health crisis that came underneath it all. So many of our older parishioners especially were literally shut inside with no way for us to go visit, or touch, or hold them. It produced a mental health crisis not predicted, and still, truthfully, not handled. After all, how do you handle it when often the person can’t see they are ill to begin with?

And, there were those things that many folks don’t want to hear about, too! Like budgets and paying the mortgage, the light bill and insurance. How would we – how could we – survive when more than 25% or more of our income came on a Sunday basis when people came and dropped off their donations in person, but now, no longer could? How could we remain vital without income? Would people drop off or mail their checks to help us stay here? To remain…

Then there were furloughs and staffing and PPE gear expenses and virtual reality upgrades, not to mention the Sanctuary renovations and a new retreat center! Yes, these pastor moments  were tough; they remain so. I wonder, what we will look like once a vaccine is found and people can return to whatever the normal will then look like? Will God still matter?

The power of these pastoral decisive moments are those none of us like, wish for, and sometimes run away from. These are the times in our lives when we actively must choose a particular path, and they require us to be brave and to believe. I know that I never have thought of myself as particularly brave, but at their root, these moments require just that, and we all want to be brave when it counts, to be the one who steps up, leans in, does the right thing, all when it matters most.

A pastoral moment for me ― one that we remember as having marked or defined us ― is often preceded by a long season of preparation and prayer that most never see or even think about. And when the moment passes, and the decisions have been made, and the adrenaline rush is over, we are left to live according to what we felt at the moment of decision. Right or wrong, we live with our decisions and pray we are somehow right. 

The last few months, especially since mid-March, have been a bit like riding a wave. Like all waves, it has been all-consuming for a brief moment, and then, and here’s my point, the moment passed. As all such moments do, it passed and here we are, again, with only ourselves. Our God. Our life together.

I guess my bigger point with my blog today is that God has been with us. He never left not once. No, sadly, not in some ‘Moses strike that rock’ moment, but more subtly, consistently, calmly guiding our thoughts and actions in prayer and belief and because we stayed and believed in Him, Saint Miriam remains stable and alive and vital. Yes, we have adapted to the pandemic like many of you have personally at home, and dare I say, we have come to see a new us where things that were important, no longer are and people and relationships and commitment are the real stuff of our life together, and our connection with God.

For me, I have learned that everyone is needed; everyone has an important part to play, and an offering to make to our life at Saint Miriam. And while we grieve when some people choose to leave, most of us stay and pray and do what we are called to do: believe and remain in relationship with each other. Then, by our doing so, prayer is easier, we are kinder, changes hurt a little less, anxiety is reduced, and God still comes.

I am not a perfect man, and I am far from a perfect priest and leader, but I show up and I remain. I think it’s important to acknowledge that as we step up to the plate, we’ll miss more balls than we hit, but if we run away, we are left alone with ourselves and that is often harder than staying in the game itself.

Faithfully, imperfectly, in an ever-changing world in which we, too, are being changed is where we now live. So, I have TWO gifts for you today! The first is a prayer video for those who are unsure and even scared, and the other is video for parents who are praying about whether to, or how, to send their children back to school and to help their kids pray about it, too.

Please know that I am often scared, too. I pray that knowledge – and these gifts –  help steady you until the world comes to a new day when we are gathered home again.

Please also know I am here for you. Saint Miriam is here for you. In person, virtually, in prayer, by phone, email, text or chat. We are here, because we are better together.

Be well,

 

Monsignor +Jim

 



Off We Go!

 
I am writing early this week because we have so many exciting things going on!
 
First, I am off to our new retreat center later today to meet with a few contractors and bring up some of the donated furniture from some of you! We will try to get the center open by early fall so that everyone can enjoy it! Please remember that we have a ‘working’ weekend coming up the last weekend of August! Please join is if you can by Clicking Here!
 
And, our next Cow Share orders must be in by the end of August so get on the wagon for some great beef by Clicking Here! We also welcomed Lydia Wenger to our staff today! Stop by and meet her in our offices! 
 
Also, we heard parents who are struggling with how to teach their children this fall and work, too! So, we just updated our educational platform through our parish with a brand-new program! Virtual Learning Pointe at Saint Miriam is designed to support eLearning for students K (An in-person class set up to allow for appropriate learning of this age group with guidance including academics, physical development, socialization, task and emotional development.), and 1st to 6th grade! Qualified/screened proctors available to assist students in a facility that is RAVE certified insuring the safety of all. COVID response protocols require all students/staff wear masks, have temperature regularly taken throughout the day, socially distance and workstations sanitized between uses.  Kindergarten students at Learning Pointe will have a space designated for K-only! Students grades 1 to 6 at Learning Pointe at Saint Miriam will have access to two large indoor areas: one designed to support on-line learning, the other to support socialization and enrichment activities. Our 12-acre campus has ample outdoor space for exploring and exercise in addition to two age appropriate playgrounds is available to all students throughout the day. Extended day option from 1PM to 5PM available, too! Wow, huh?  Visit our on either our parish or our school site by Clicking Here!
 
Additionally, our new Honor and Memorial Wall is designed for everyone who donated chairs and renovation funding! Please see all the details at our website by Clicking Here! We had two more chairs donated yesterday at Mass, so we are excited to bring this project to a close!
 
Please also consider reading at Mass, even during the pandemic virtually! We have two readers that are on board for a virtual recording this month! Learn more at our website and volunteer by sending me an email!
 
Also, if you did not yet see it, we are the recipients of a beautifully stunning gift! A 16th century wall sculpture of Jesus is now in our Sanctuary! The very generous gift of a woman who joined us a few weeks ago and decided we are the place she wants to call her spiritual home! I am grateful to her and to God for allowing us to continue to grow and serve. Our home is beautiful thanks to so many of you who give so much!
 
Finally, during this pandemic time, as always, we have a team working hard behind the scenes to keep us here, vital and alive. Someone once said that they ‘long for the days for all we had to do was care for pancake dinners’! Well, those days are still here and they happened ‘back then’ because of those who care for the worst things of a parish like rumors, and bills, and staff, and worry! It is not easy to keep us going and sometimes we make decisions that some will not agree with; we understand that and are always willing to sit down and give more details, but we will not disparage another human being and we would never harm or try to destroy what we built together. Please know that there are so many of us whom are ‘staying in the water’ even when others choose not to as parish life is oftentimes transitory; people come, people go, but it is those who remain and serve that should be rewarded for their dedication and work ethic. They give and they care; that is very rare today.
 
I have seen this pandemic at its worst; at the side of the dying and the sick in hospitals, at graveside as I bury them, and I have watched it as it has robbed so many of their stability and health and increased their anxiety. Please, let us not give in to such means within something so wonderful as Saint Miriam. Stay, pray, and return when you are ready, and we will be here, waiting!
 
I am grateful for our volunteers and board members and staff. I also recognize my own weaknesses, and thanks to God, these fine people help me to become a better person every day! This is what we call a faith journey! We are not perfect, but we strive toward perfection, because one day we will be held accountable for all we did, ‘and what we have left undone’, and I am grateful to be among such fine people – and you – that make up our parish life!
 
Off we go to see what we can do next! See you Soon!

 

Monsignor +Jim

 



Haters Gonna Hate. A Time for Love!

I long to return to normal. I long, at least to return from this pandemic that is robbing people of joy, hope, and stability. I long to return to the days of boring and ‘known’ routines. I long to wake and not see an updated staggering death count, or worry that my mask isn’t clean, or my hands dirty. I long to be back to whatever a normal day, without fear, will be. I long to be where people are nice again and love is what we strive for.

Yesterday morning I spoke to a longtime parishioner who tragically lost his dad out of state to COVID. For those who don’t know, I’ve been quietly helping them over the last month. If losing his dad to this deadly pandemic wasn’t enough, he also lost grandmother (his dad’s mom) earlier in the month and then his aunt (his dad’s sister) died just a few days later. And, yes, all of them from COVID. To make it worse, he hasn’t been able to travel to be there with his family due to the restrictions, and now – unbelievably – he will most likely not be able to bury his own father. COVID takes more than health or lives, it removes stability and healing, too.

As someone who lost their own father, I could not imagine where my grief would be today if I did not have the chance to mourn properly and say goodbye to my dad. I know that some four years later, I am still grieving and oftentimes, when I least expect it, I am overwhelmed with a flood of emotions, all related to that significant loss. How would I be today if not for doing all that a son must do back then?  I don’t know, but I do know I would be worse off, and perhaps mentally harmed. The loss of a parent, especially when you have a strong relationship, is not something anyone ever just gets over; God simply allows – somehow – us, as humans, the ability to take that loss and incorporate the darkest of grief someplace deep within us. No, we don’t get over it, we sort of encapsulate it. Grief never goes away; we just learn to live with her by our side. I guess what would it say of a life gone, if no one still grieved?

It is probably why we invest so heavily in the 300+ year old cemetery on our beautiful campus. We believe in the living and the dead, the holy communion of saints.  We honor each life lived and we care for each body given over to us for our care and stewardship. We take our responsibility seriously. We honor our commitments.

Perhaps this is why I am so sad about what I see generally in people lately. I watch in disbelief how people treat one another on social media platforms, and those who will not wear a mask are beyond my imagination! The hate that comes from them is unbelievable! But if you think the church is immune from this sort of stuff, you would be sadly wrong. We are not and oftentimes it is a place where we find those most broken hurting others.

We have always had those who leave in haste, or refuse to try and reconcile, and especially those who hate so deeply. As a church we have experienced hate and vitriol and those who think us too liberal, or not-enough-Catholic, or whatever. But, we do not tolerate hate.

I have never been one to hate anyone. (Now, don’t think I don’t dislike a few people, I am only human and I am often morally inadequate.) But hate has never been something I hold on to for very long. I also have never been one to refuse a sit down, talk out about an issue, with anyone, even if they wounded me. We may never agree in the end, but I am always willing to sit, talk and try.  For so many, sadly, relationships are like chaff and they discard people so easily. But when I see anger, I think fear; what are they so afraid of? I often look at their lives and I see brokenness and sadness. I find relationships and family members they cannot get along with, or  relatives who dislike them, or children they do not embrace, or the lack of friends to be close to; the list is sadly endless. When I see estrangement, I often find a person who cannot reconcile, or certainly doesn’t even try. I pray every day to better myself and improve my weakness to that end. I do not want to be lonely or vile or hateful.

This is also contrary to who we are at Saint Miriam. No, we don’t always get along. No, not everyone stays and yes, people leave but people come, too! As we founded a parish now so many years ago, we have learned that people hate change and some, even from within, hate when things don’t go here way. When those days comes, they often hate others and yes, they even hate me. A friend and brother priest, who lives and serves in Southern Virginia, once reminded me of one of his favorite phrases, “‘Haters gonna hate’ James! Don’t pay ‘em no mind!”  Well, I try, but I still hurt. And sadly, they still hate, but we must stay true to our course, especially today in a world that needs love more.

It should be noted that in a little more than thirteen years we, as a team, have done something rarely done: we have built from scratch a place like no other! We enjoy today a parish a friary, a school, a cemetery and a retreat center! We have grown from 2 people to literally hundreds! We now employ a team of over 19 consummate professionals who rely on what we do and contribute to it every day. We have a ministry team and a board of directors that sacrifice their time and talent – for free – to help us grow and grow and serve and serve. We care for the homeless, we outreach to the marginalized, we welcome the rejected, and love everyone, and we pray even for those who hate us and wish us harm. This isn’t a fairy tale, or something we one day dream to do, it is actual, it real ministry, it is done every single day. 

Over the last few years, while there are those who reject, libel, and even hate us from their computers, graced with self-granted-keyboard courage, we continue to serve and love and welcome with our pause. While there are those who use social media to harm and demean others, while there are those who leave us because they don’t like chairs over pews, or claim our leadership to be somehow inadequate, despite our wonderful creation, while there are those who don’t like the way we stand up for those who others hate, or how we welcome the LGBTQ or the immigrant or refugee, or how we won’t support an Administration bent on division and internal civil warfare, we still ‘stay in the water’ and we serve and answer phones, meet grieving families, welcome students to our school, and bury the dead; we still baptize the infant and the seeker, and anoint the sick, and care for the lost, and give food to the hungry; we stay to provide respite for the weary as we welcome the living, and a myriad of unknown supports every day, all the while we refuse to give not the hatred and the division, or call another human being sick in any horrible mean-spirited way. No, every day, we go to the well and find the rejected and embrace them, because we know it will one day be us at a dry well praying for someone to love us, too.

And if you think it isn’t noticed by others, I welcome you to come this Sunday and behold our newest gift! A stunningly beautiful 16th Century hand carved Jesus sculpture! It is simply breathtaking, and it is a gift from a wonderful woman who walked into Saint Miriam only a few weeks ago, and since that day has fallen in love with us, and all that we are; so much so, that she gave us this very impressive and humbling gift.

So, I will pull up my big boy pants and get back to work and let the hate stay with the hater. We have real work to do here at Saint Miriam. No, as they say, ‘haters gonna hate’ and so they will, but as for us and our home, we will keep our eye fixed on the ball, and the ball for us is Jesus.

See you Sunday in a place we built together in love and hope!

 

Monsignor +Jim

 
P.S. Oh, in case I didn’t mention it before….all those who hate you or revile you or hurt you? We knew it was coming, right? Jesus told us so (You know, in that  Bible you never pick up!?), and what are we to do? We pray for them! Because we can’t see hate with our love glasses on! 

 

 



You Won’t See Me For Two Weeks; I Love You That Much.

As I sit down at my desk to write this blog, the United States of America has just surpassed a new milestone: we now have over 3 million cases of coronavirus, and sadly and disturbingly our numbers are rising. We actually added 1 million cases in the last month alone, and 14 states are increasing so rapidly that intensive care unit beds are at a premium. In one major city, they are down to less than 25 intensive care beds. We are on the verge of an actual meltdown.

I have watched during the last few weeks all the infighting throughout our nation, as we here at Saint Miriam have made several changes, totally unselfishly and out of love, to accommodate people back to gathering for Mass safely in person, as well as bringing children back to our school and daycare, and to plan the opening of our retreat center. But, as we have moved forward in love, so many others are engaged in decisions that will result in harm. It is hard for me to see the failure of so many in leadership to think ahead. Now, the current Administration says schools must come back in the fall or they are threatening to limit federal funding, even as the CDC holds firm on its stance not to do so. This is unbelievable. It is basically tantamount to an unregulated research study. I find it appalling.

As a pastor who oversees the complexity of two campuses now that contain a parish, a friary, a school, a daycare, a cemetery, and a retreat center, I literally make decisions every day that can immediately affect people’s lives and possibly result in their harm or even death, even my own and my family. I know that many would not even understand this; after all, we are small by comparison to others, but literally if one or two people get sick under my watch, it is enough to ripple effect to others. My decisions would impact hundreds, if not thousands, of lives that those infected would then touch or infect or harm. I could not bear that, and so I deliberate and pray, and I watch and remain vigilant with every decision.

I take my position seriously and I find these demands to reopen in the face of an unprecedented worldwide pandemic, and a nation with such huge numbers of infections, to be reprehensible. If we are really concerned about bringing children back to school full-time in the fall, then we need to learn how to sacrifice today. Stay home as much as possible, practice good hygiene, wash your hands often, wear a face mask when you are in public, avoid indoor dining and restaurants (instead support them through takeout orders directly to the restaurant), when you gather in public places and venues, like church, be sure to practice safe social distancing, avoid physical contact with those who are not in the same household, stay current on physicals and your vaccines, avoid going to crowded beaches, or any place else where people are in close proximity to you and especially where they don’t/won’t practice distancing. When you are required to travel, be extra cautious, and when you return, self-quarantine.

Recently, due to unforeseen circumstances, I was forced to unexpectedly travel to bring back our RV from Florida. Many of you remember that we actually lived in the RV on our property near the garage for almost three years until we built the Friary. Sean and I sold our condo in Philadelphia and donated the money to Saint Miriam to buy the campus we now call home, but that left us without a home and the motorhome was the best way to live near the church and still have a roof over our heads. Afterwards, we owed so much that we couldn’t sell the motorhome, so we moved it down to Tampa and rented it through a vacation company for families going to Disney! It helped us save the RV and our credit! But, the company recently changed hands and the RV was being abused, so we brought it back and we had plans in place to do so safely, but they changed abruptly and so I found myself on a quick flight to get to the RV and the drive it straight back to home; a trip that lasted a total of 26 hours. I was extremely cautious, and I even paid more money for a safer individual seat on the aircraft. I controlled my own bag, took very little with me, washed my hands every stop and sprayed more sanitizer on me and my surroundings than I could ever imagine, and immediately I turned around to return home, stopping only twice for gas. But, in the end, even with almost no contact, I did fly on two commercial flights and so I am staying away from you for two weeks. In love, I am distancing.

I realize that these measures require a little bit of sacrifice but think of all the people who died who were impacted by the actions – or the inactions – of others. If you want administrators, such as me, to make decisions about opening a school in the fall, then damnit! sacrifice today and stop whining about it. People’s lives are at stake!  And, if that isn’t worth anything to you then Saint Miriam isn’t the place for you either because we love everyone and welcome everyone and never would we intentionally harm anyone.

And for those of you who keep advocating for churches and nonprofits to pay taxes and not to receive any support during the pandemic, I will remind you that we have literally in the case of Saint Miriam spend thousands of dollars – almost $72,000 to date – on safety equipment, renovations, construction, programming, technology, signage, and consulting in order to keep you safe  in any of our environments all the while we are literally out on the streets caring for those who are experiencing homelessness. We have done it all out of love and sacrifice and without a single dime in support from the local government. We even renovated our sanctuary and asked many times (I even begged) for everyone to sponsor a chair. It is only $200 and so far, we are stuck with 60 more to go. If you watched our social media, the last 50 chairs arrived. No, we don’t have any sponsors (I, personally, have sponsored 8 chairs, so I am in it with you).  We let the order process despite no sponsors, because we need them and are hoping someone hears our pleas.

Yes, a church that loves us so much that they spent this much even when no one was there for over 4 months is worthy of a sponsorship of a $200 chair, right? Well, you would think so, anyway, I think so many are preoccupied with their own lives that they forget about our life together and that one day they will need to return home. That is as sad as the way we find ourselves as a nation today. It is time we think and care for others, too.

So go ahead, keep bitching and moaning about having to wear a mask, go to your beaches and your restaurants and advocate for a president who could care less about any of you, and when you call your local church to bury your dead infected and killed by this pandemic, you may just find that we are closed because no one cared to help.

Yes, it is a time that history will judge record the way we loved; or not…