“We are so lucky to be alive.”

Yesterday after Mass, Katelyn and I went to see the movie, Last Christmas. Without giving away too much, I can tell you I left in tears. There was so much beauty in the lines and the movie’s plot, but for me the most touching point, beyond the surprise element, was when the main character, Kate, (who had been serious ill and received a heart transplant a year earlier) was talking to Tom when he asked if he could touch the scar from the surgery on her chest. She allowed him to, and he gently touched it.

I realized in that moment what we do at Saint Miriam. We heal scars by not being afraid to touch them. Yes, so many of us have scars that we hide. So many of us live in pretend worlds where we often don’t let people see us with all of our wounds, some gaping, some scared over, some still healing. We come to Saint Miriam with past hurts, sores, open wounds and deep blemishes, but unlike many other parishes, we find that they matter not and are often healed, or at the very least, accepted and viewed as part of us. And, in that sacred realization, we find we are loved.

Today we also honor Transgender Day of Remembrance and the and the 311 Transgender persons murdered this year, as well as all those in the past killed – some 3,317 trans and gender-diverse people have been murdered globally since January 2008 – simply because of hate, like Diamond Williams, laid to rest on our property when even her own Catholic family discarded her body like waste, leaving her ‘unclaimed’ at the city morgue. Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. We all should be proud of what we do as parish to not hate, and to always welcome and love, everyone. That should inspire us to give more to ensure we remain because after all, where would we find what we have created together?

Toward the end of the movie, Kate says a line that has resonated with me ever since I heard it. She said, “We are so lucky to be alive.” And so we are!

I pray that we end this year supporting the place that has loved us as we are. I pray we will all come to the Annual Concert and Silent Auction this Friday and give to our End of Year Campaign. I pray for those of us who feel we live but are still not worthy.

My wounds are as big as yours, and yet – at least for me – I now see how lucky I am to be alive and be part of who we are and what we’ve created. If this parish ever went way, I also know that I would be lost and all alone once again, scars and all. 
 
Rest well, Diamond. You are loved and not forgotten. And to everyone who feel they are too different to join us, come and find a place that loves like no other!
 
 


We Are Failing and It’s Not Good.

As pastor, it is incumbent upon me from time to time to light a fire. Sometimes it is at the Great Easter Vigil with the Lighting of the Mew Fire. Sometimes at our annual parish picnic, where we see our faces glow with a community of hope.  And, sometimes it under our proverbial butts when we are failing to honor all that we are. Today is such a day.

There is both good news and bad news about our parish community. That is the long and the short of it.  

The good news is we are growing and we enjoy a place like no other where everyone is welcome regardless of who they are, the color of their skin, where they came from, who they love or who loves them; their gender status or marital status, no matter if they are addicted or in recovery or an ex-offender, too; where immigration status is of no concern to us. From the very beginning of our founding some 13 years ago now, we have promised a parish that kept its eye on the ball. That ball for us has always been and will always be, Jesus. How He welcomes. How He forgives. How He loves. Period.

The bad news is we are taking all we created for granted.

It’s not good. 

  • 65% of parishioners don’t attend Mass on a given Sunday. 
  • 66% of today’s young people leave the church when they go to college and less than 62% are enrolled in Children Faith Formation (CFF).
  • Only 12% of church members are actively  engaged in our parish.
  • Many who attend our parish still post negative social media posts that are less than forgiving and mean-spirited and often times overly political and few engage or ‘like or share’ our posts to help us grow.
  • Less than 28% attend events or support our social and community building like the annual concert coming up or past Fall Pumpkin Festival and fewer find seasons like Advent inspirational. Instead, Sundays are about leisure and sporting events. 
  • Less than 5% enrolled their own children in our very own school; the region’s ONLY Franciscan S.T.E.A.M.M. School with great reviews and deep discounts for parishioners. 
  • Less than 40% give financially on a regular basis and less than 15% truly tithe. Most simply ‘tip’ God from loose change and few give from their abundance, but rather only from whatever is left over.

Not good, right?  In a sentence: We are failing. We are failing God, we are failing one another, and the Church, and our world. 

I realize that in our world today it’s not just us. Overall people just aren’t going to church anymore, and when they do, they just sit in the pews and don’t actively participate, but we are supposed to be different, right? This wonderful place we built on the back of so many who gave their all IS to be DIFFERENT

And personally it is hard, too. I remember only years ago, a priest was one of the most respected professions in town. Today, it can be tough for people to take you seriously. The influence of the local church and the influence of a local church pastor is on the decline. In our world today statistics show we are on track to become just another Roman Church where:

  • 75% of people don’t attend church on a given Sunday and less than 19% go weekly!
  • 66% of today’s young people leave the church when they go to college or make their Confirmation.
  • Only 21% of church members are actively engaged in their congregation in any real and meaningful ways

Sadly, just like many of us and it better change.

If you are offended by words, good. You should be. If you aren’t giving, like so many of you didn’t give last weekend, than you should be offended, but not at me, at yourselves. I gave; I always do. I was present at all Masses and into the evening, as I often am. Even when things are tight at home, I still give. I never fail to show up for events or to lead or to grow or to change myself. I work to become a better person every week. A better priest. A better Catholic Christian. And a better parishioner.

Maybe you should now, too?
 

To help, here are some links that every parishioner should know and engage regularly:

 

Give today or sign up for your weekly or monthly recurring donation here

 

Give and End of Year Gift here

 

Enroll your child in CFF here

 

Enroll your child in Saint Miriam School for January here

 

Join a Small Group here
 
 

Support our Outreach here

 

View our Mass schedules and get to church here

 

Keep up on current events here

 

Download our weekly newsletter here

 

Buy your tickets for the Annual Concert and Silent Auction here 

 

We have one of the most beautiful, inclusive, progressive and yet liturgically centered parishes on the planet earth. We are there for you always and we support you when you need pastoral care and advice. Our priests answer their phones, go where needed, and return your calls. We are responsive and energetic, and we listen to your needs. We have events and community building activities like no other parish in the region. And, sadly, many take all of that for granted.

The choice is now yours.  I have always been honest; sometime brutally honest and so let me be clear here today: If you support us, engage us, and give, really give generously and from the heart and not just ‘tip God’ from whatever change is in your pocket, then your life will be blessed like mine, and we will grow together and become stronger and even more vibrant. But, if you continue down this path, we won’t do well at all, and we WILL fail and one day the doors will simply close and all we have will be lost. 

It is that sad, and truthfully, that urgent.
 
Monsignor +Jim, Pastor

 

 

 



The Earth is Dying.

I know it’s not a popular subject, and perhaps not the most interesting or entertaining. I know there are a lot of skeptics, too. I also know there is a lot of proof.  We are killing our planet. And, last week, our government’s Administration took the first step to officially withdraw our country from the Paris agreement on climate change, which – by the way – every other country on Earth has signed. Yes, every.

Climate change is already affecting every sector and region of the United States and the global earth is warming. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), has maintained global average monthly and annual records of combined land and ocean surface temperatures for more than 130 years. These data show that temperatures have climbed to more than 1.8°F (1°C) above pre-industrial levels as of 2015, and the long-term global upward trend is clear. In fact, the past five years were the warmest in history and we have rising seas, glaciers are melting, sea levels and ocean heat content are rising, and we have increased storm surge and tidal flooding, hurricanes, and historic wildfires. Patterns of rainfall and snow, droughts and storms, and lake and sea ice are changing, too. Not to mention plant and animal distributions and interactions are changing, with potential severe effects on crop pests.

You see, driving cars that burn gasoline and making electricity by burning coal and gas releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Curing of cement emits carbon dioxide, too.  Since the late 19th Century, when factories powered by coal became common, the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year has increased. And all of this climate change also threatens national security, our security preparedness as a nation and leader.

Our parish has been on the forefront of implementing ‘Green’ technologies. We have upgraded to Energy Star and efficient systems from HVAC to lighting to insulation to roofing and windows since we began at our current home. We use recycled materials, compost, recycle, and use ‘green’ technology wherever possible, and try to bring our own Carbon Footprint down every year. Just this past week we reduced our printing for the weekly newsletters to help, too! Oftentimes, these changes are not cheap, but the legacy is for our children and grandchildren, not for the momentary inconvenience to us today. The future is at stake. Yes, it is that serious; that grave. And I have even taken these plans to my own home and currently enjoy a 100% solar panel home with top insulation values. Cheap? No. But my coming child will one day thank me. I hope yours will, too.

It’s not too late. And that is why this Sunday we will gather, listen, learn, sing and pray to be better stewards of God’s planet. The choices we make today can help determine what our climate will be like. Putting a limit on heat-trapping emissions and encouraging the use of healthier, cleaner energy technologies, such as solar and wind power, would help us to avoid the worst potential consequences of global warming.

The Paris agreement was a good start, not the finish line. But it was the best ignition switch the world could agree on to spark international cooperation on this critical issue. I pray you will also be encouraged and determined to help. Join us in the spirit of St Francis, the Patron Saint of Ecology. He will be proud you did; so will I.
 


A Day That Reminds Me Always of Change.

This past week I took my leave of you for the first time as pastor for two consecutive weeks! I have never once been away that long (even though I did pop in for a full day of office work in between those weeks!) It was both refreshing and frightening at the same time! I used my time away to be with my wife and family in Connecticut, visit with long lost friends and family members I don’t see very often from my hometown of Erie, savor the sun of the Keys of Florida, and I even managed to get a little work in as I married another couple on the beach of Key Largo! In that same time, Pope Francis has opened the door to women deacons and married priests. Wow, huh? Some eight years ago we welcomed the first woman deacon in our church, and it went without one note of disdain or concern. We also continue to welcome single, married, gay and straight, celibate and not, priests, brothers and deacons. All has been well.  Why? Because we keep our eye on a life of service, not creating an atmosphere of pathology or interfering with God’s call with our limited human sight. God is God and God calls; we serve. That is how it will ever be until we transition like so many to behold Him face to face.  

The Solemnity of All Saints & Souls we honor this week is a celebration of those who have died and attained Heaven, as well as the living, those saints we hold so dear that continue to serve. They have made their transition after a life of service. My favorite definition of a Saint is ‘an ordinary person that does extraordinary things’! We all have that within us, if only we set our first to serve.  

To begin to understand these solemn days, it is necessary to understand what is meant when we refer to the Communion of Saints. The “Communion of Saints,” is at its most essential meaning, the sharing of the grace of Jesus Christ with and among His family members, the Church; all the members, living and dead that dwell with God. Those who have departed this life are alive. Blessed Mary, and all the saints in heaven, are alive, and are members of His one body. They continue to share in all ways, as St. Paul taught us, except their suffering is over and they see God more clearly than do we on earth who see only partially. And they remain intercessors on behalf of the Church not yet in Glory, doing as we all are urged to do, to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for all men and women, that they may live a godly and peaceable life. Now that is worth celebrating!

In a very moving, personal reflection on his imminent death, back in 1996, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin of Chicago wrote in, “The Gift of Peace”, several weeks before his death occurred:

“Many people have asked me to tell them about heaven and the afterlife. I sometimes smile at the request because I do not know any more than they do. Yet, when one young man asked if I looked forward to being united with God, and all those who have gone before me, I made a connection to something I said earlier in this book. The first time I traveled with my mother and sister to my parents’ homeland of Tonadico di Primiero, in northern Italy, I felt as if I had been there before. After years of looking through my mother’s photo albums, I knew the mountains, the land, the houses, the people. As soon as we entered the valley, I said, “My God, I know this place. I am home.”

Somehow, I think crossing from this life into eternal life will be similar for me; I will just finally be at home. That is why this entire next couple of weeks at Saint Miriam will actually be all about them, the dead we honor and the living we serve, and the changes we need to continue to grow and serve even better. We know that there is no greater corporal act of mercy that a Catholic can do then to honor the dead. However, what we believe, but much more importantly, what we do, demonstrates the importance of family and the communion of saints, both living and dead. That is why my time away has brought new depth to our continued life together in service to others. I am excited to bring these changes to us, and to allow God to transition our hearts to a deeper communion of service and love.

We can’t know for sure where our beloved deceased are, so when in doubt, we pray for them, and we hope they pray for us. I will never forget that bitter cold January day when I buried my dad in Erie. The snow was so cold and the depth so high at the cemetery, we were not even sure we could hold his funeral, but we did. If ever I was to believe, that was the day. No, it did not happen all at once, but it did come to me – God came, finally – and I believe now more than ever. I know my dad intercedes for me; I know I would not be here today if it were not for his intercession. I pray all the Saints pray for our life together here at Saint Miriam.
 
 


And A New Baby Makes “Circumdata Varietate” Come to Life!

St. Thomas Aquinas once said the church is “circumdata varietate”, that is, surrounded by variety, a variety bound by charity and truth that only the faithful can see clearly. (Behold the image I used, the old and the new together in service to God’s Church!)

Controversy is abounding again the Roman Catholic Church where Pope Francis is looking at whether they should ease its policy of celibacy for priests, a 1,000-year-old precedent. Mind you, this is not doctrine, just practice and can be changed with the consent of the Holy Father. A Vatican document has called on the church to consider the far-reaching move as a way to overcome the shortage of clergy in the Amazon region and to try and fill empty seminaries worldwide, as vocations are at an all-time low. As aging priests retire, there are few to take up their place.

A recent survey found that almost 9 in 10 Catholics wanted priests to be allowed to marry. Some have argued that celibacy may contribute to the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests, although others point out that many pedophiles and abusers are not celibate. And, our brothers and sisters in the Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches have continued to allow priests to marry and have thrived. And all protestant churches allow for married clergy.

The tradition of priestly celibacy developed into a practice from the 11th century onward among Latin Church Catholics and became a formal part of canon law in 1917. But, until then almost all were married with families, including St Peter himself.  

Although the proposals to be considered by the Vatican concern the ordination of married men in specific communities, the opening up of debate at the highest levels of the church will boost those arguing for a general relaxation of the celibacy rule. However, the possibility of such a profound change to almost a millennium of tradition is causing great angst among conservatives, even though the almost 300 married Roman Catholic Priests have continued to serve their communities well. (Most were Anglican and then incardinated (transferred ecclesiastically) into the Latin Church, but maintain their vows to their wives and children.)

This recommendation is being discussed at a synod of bishops from the Amazon taking place at the Vatican and a working document for the event says the possibility of ordaining “viri probati”  – Latin for “men of proven virtue” – should be discussed.

Pope Francis has previously said that he would be open to allowing married men to be ordained in areas where there is a scarcity of priests, while maintaining the requirement for most priests to be celibate. He has also spoken about “allowing space for women in the church at all levels”.

This past Friday, I was surrounded by my family and friends as Katelyn took my name. I worked hard for the church before that day, and I am still working hard after; nothing has changed as I remember the wise words of my mentor, Father Henry Kryder,“James, always remember that God will never ask you to give up one covenant to make another!” And, so God has been good to me and allowed me to live a life fulfilled, and still a life of service. And it’s a sacrificial life, one my whole family lives, my new wife probably most of all. Yes, she recognizes that our life together calls for Katelyn to also give up many things being my spouse, but we entered willingly into this covenant knowing that I will still be a priest and she will still be a nurse, and that together, we can still serve and love, too.

Now, to be clear, there are a few who believe that calls to change the discipline of celibacy are forgetful of what the church calls the “spiritual fruit” of celibacy, something largely incomprehensible in this libertine age, but which is nonetheless still true and essential to the work of the church. I can understand that view. But, for me, being in a relationship of love has certainly helped my priesthood, and my emotional wellbeing, as I have gained insights and sympathies gained as both husband and soon to be father! (Yes, coming by next summer, we are pleased to tell everyone that we will all meet our new son, Jameson Michael, and while I have been called ‘Father’ for many years now, I will soon hear the words my heart has so long for…‘Dad’!) Applause, please!

I know that there will always be very few, of course, who will refuse to accept me. Hardened idiosyncratic traditionalists who think they know better than the tradition itself and call me a heresy. This of course is nonsense if you knew the history of the church. But I am prepared to hear and feel their stings, something – sadly – I am accustomed to. Most of the time, however, people see me as some sort of ‘agent of change’, that proverbial thin edge of some wedge to a more enlightened, more modern Catholic church. The uncomfortable truth is this: Laity have no real idea of what the priesthood entails, and most priests, sadly, have no real idea of what married family life brings to bear on the average couple sitting in their pews. I have the luxury of knowing both; I pray it will help us all grow into a better, loving and accepting community.

Even before my own marriage this past weekend, I have openly stated my favor to the ordination of married men to the priesthood. Now, I am not opposed to the celibate priesthood in the Church, but I simply believe that the Church benefits from having both. Some are called to be celibate, others are not; why not just let the Holy Spirit guide and choose and call. We have other work to do!

The next time you see me, or another married priest, think about the sacrifices he made for what he believes to be the truth. Think about our Christian unity, not just focus on the ‘change’. That’s what I pray people will think of when they see me and my family. And that my job simply is to be as good as I can be at those titles of father, husband, priest, and faithful Catholic, as I can be. I know that I will both succeed, and I will fail at it every day; probably more times than I can count, just like you.

Perhaps, we should simply be more intent on listening; something we don’t do well as human beings anymore. God may – just as He has in my life – be calling us all to something new and wonderful!
 


Pumpkins, Change, and Us!

Well, the pumpkins have arrived, and the garden is overturned. Today, Father Frank and Brother Sean and I got all the final ghostly touches done and put up the Pumpkin Tree, too! The Pumpkin Patch is officially open!  The kids are also all back at school and folks are returning to a rhythm in their routine as their weeks quickly head toward cooler weather. Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons; a time when the trees show us how magnificent they can really be even in the midst of what looks like an emptying. Emptying only to be filled again in the Spring following the quiet, empty stillness of a winter.

I love the smell of burning leaves or a good fire in a stone fireplace, the taste of apple cider, warmth of pumpkin coffee, and the sound of a neat pile of leaves dispersed by a sudden and raging wind. I enjoy walking outside with hoodies and hot chocolate and watching all the beautiful colors that are present and I love the rustling sound as the leaves swish and crunch under my feet as I walk along a path. The Fall is always filled with keen sounds, smells and memories. Yes, I love the autumn and this year, I have another added bonus as I take on a wedding, too!

Those changing and colorful leaves had to learn to let go; it was time to release from the tree that held its life for the season, but time had passed, and change was needed. It is a reminder to me that I have to do the same, too. Change is never particularly easy for some, but I embrace it because I know good things are coming. I know all about the importance of change in my life, and I know that it is the only way that we grow, but sometimes I hate giving up all the leaves of my life.  I’m comfortable with what I have now, but I need to learn to rust Something greater. I need to let Him embrace ne and tell me when it is time to let go. To change. To become something new. 

I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to enjoy what is all around me right now, in this present moment, but I know that I should inhale deeply, love profoundly, and laugh loudly because change is coming. Change is always coming.

I want to be brave in my season of change. I want to be bold enough to say, “Bring It On! I’m ready”,  but I am not always that strong.  Sometimes, deep down, I wish things could stay the same. The leaves could just hang in place and remain a deep hue of green until it is spring again. Why do they, and so much of the things I love – outside and inside of me – have to fall and die and leave the tree so bare and so alone; so vulnerable?

Perhaps it is God’s way of changing something in me that needs changed?

 I wish you, in my absence, God’s peace as change comes and we become renewed.

 



Squaring the Circle on the Issue: I will be Married, we will have a New Associate Pastor, the Parish is Safe, and Our work continues.

The Synod on the Amazon, the three-week summit of bishops this week at the Vatican, has been overrun by the idea of German Bishop Fritz Lobinger of ordaining “elders” to the priesthood in order to provide local communities regular access to the sacraments; “married priests” is back on the table! Well, at least in discussion and disagreement! The Amazon region suffers more than most with the lack of vocational priests, with many priests forced to travel by canoe to reach isolated communities. And, of course, there has been strong resistance to the idea of abandoning the rule of celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite. These “elders,” although technically ordained, would not even be called priests and would work under a series of limitations and would also be ‘guided’ by the seminary-educated, celibate priests. (Similar to US permanent deacons.)

Of course, most of the Eastern Catholic Rites and Old Catholics have married clergy, and hundreds of clergy converts have become married Catholic priests in the Latin Rite, and in the ecumenical circles, Catholic clergy see their Protestant counterparts living and ministering with their spouses with no issue. So, in the end, while Lobinger is trying his best, I wonder why we would want to create a sort of caste system among priests? Perhaps the last thing Rome needs is another division between laity and clergy.

Experts say as many as many as 200+ Catholic priests in the U.S. are married. That’s largely because of a policy change made by Pope John Paul II in 1980, which offered a path for married Episcopal priests to continue their ministry after converting to Catholicism. And Eastern Catholic Churches have allowed the ordination of married men as priests for centuries. Of one thing we are very clear—the first Pope, Peter, was married. And, in Peter’s denial of Christ not once, but three times, in his very human weakness in walking away from Jesus at times of His greatest need, in his falling asleep and becoming so angry at times lashing out in violence, Jesus may have given us a greater insight into this issue: if you really wish to follow Me, it matters not if you are married or gay or celibate or straight; it matters if you can do it the way I taught: by loving God, loving everyone, and sacrificing everything. I think we got you covered.

It is true that in the early Church, some of the Apostles and priests were married.  But very early on, the Church was keenly aware of the wisdom of this discipline of priestly celibacy. This discipline was formally instituted in the early 300’s. Unlike the doctrines of the Church, which are the actual teachings handed down by Jesus and His Apostles and cannot change, Priestly Celibacy falls under the category of discipline in the Latin Church. Disciplines are teachings are guidelines put in place by the Church (through her good judgment) and by the authority given by Jesus to “bind” her teachings “on Earth” (cf Mat 16:19 and Matthew 18:17-18). They are given for the pastoral good of the faithful and must be faithfully observed. Many believe that Priests are “conformed to Christ” in many ways.  Included in this is following Jesus’ example of taking up a celibate life that more closely and perfectly parallels the heavenly life we are preparing for while on Earth. But the truth is we don’t know if this is actually true. The real, earthy, historical Jesus remains as much hidden today despite protestations to the contrary.

In the end, I am not sure how the greater Church will resolve this issue, but I equally know I don’t care, because we have so much good work to continue to do and what we want at our helm are priests that are content and happy and fulfilled so that they can serve us better.

Therefore, this coming Sunday we will take on a new Associate Pastor in Father Frank Souza, a Franciscan like me and dedicated to the Church as much, too. And, who has – like myself – never taken the vow of celibacy. In fact, in seminary we both left at that critical juncture, not because we knew we couldn’t be a good priest, but that we knew we were not called to be celibate, and yet somehow, Jesus still wanted us in a life of service. Then, the following Friday, Katelyn and I will be surrounded by those we love, standing in front of Bishop Gregory, as we marry and promise to die together. My heart leaps with joy and I know that God would never ask me to give up one covenant in order to form another. So, I know He will be there smiling, too.

In all of that I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, in both instances I know that I will be married, we will have a good Associate Pastor, the Parish of Saint Miriam and the greater Church are safe, and our work will continue.
 
Monsignor +Jim
 
PS I have been told by many that Katelyn makes me calmer, nicer, and easier to get along with. I think we better keep her around!
 


St. Francis Would Be Proud.

Fall is officially here, and the weather has turned to usher in the beauty of autumn. It is a time when soon we will bless our animals in honor of St. Francis Day this coming Sunday, unload our pumpkins and open the great pumpkin farm, mid-October witness families and children getting their photos taken in the pumpkin patch, enjoy a haunted and historic tour within our cemetery, and marvel at the community that we have created together! It also should be a time for us to pause and ask ourselves if we are trying. I mean really trying. Trying to be a better men or women, better friends, better Christians, better Catholics, better parishioners, but most importantly to become better people.

As we come to the Feast of St. Francis, I am reminded that Francis of Assisi lived a model life of humility, compassion, and love, while consistently striving to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Shunning materialism and worldly affirmation, Francis lived a virtuous life of simplicity, and sought to honor the dignity of everyone – especially the vulnerable, and the outcast. He embraced his own imperfections and allowed God to grow into a world that so often rejected God. He was humble, unpretentious, and welcoming. We strive to do the same at Saint Miriam.

Together, we have built, and live within, a community that enjoys hospitality as its hallmark. It is why we offer Franciscan Moments, our weekly devotional; dedicated to living our Franciscan faith. It is why we have a school, re-envisioned and growing rapidly based on Francis’ ethos and devotion to every living creature being treated fairly. It is why we welcome everyone, care for one another through pastoral care, honor the living with a custom birthday card and a simple Cake Pops and candles the first Sunday of every month, wrap the ill and lonely in prayer shawls made at the hands of our own, baptize the newborn without litmus test, bury the dead the world rejects, honor and pray for the living and in all its wondered and beautiful forms: the gay, straight, divorced, Black, White, Indian, and Asian, too; the transgendered and the homeless, the addicted and the lost. Our welcome – and our love – has no bounds, no limits, no test, no end. All are welcome. Period. Francis would be proud.

As the leaves turn toward winter, and life becomes dormant to live again in the beauty of a springtime renewed, St. Francis is asking us again, as fellow Catholics, to live “authentic Christian lives.” Through his writings and life, he has repeatedly called for the Church to be “poor” and “persecuted”, NOT to be poor in spirit ourselves nor to persecute others or to demean them – or the world around us – with our words and actions. We all need to understand that dancing with the cultural, political, and social norms of our day doesn’t square with faith in the living, risen Christ.

Therefore, join me and let us pause and reflect on our lives honestly and ask ourselves if our words and our actions reflect the Man encountered in the Gospels. Do you not only get the Gospel’s message, but do you actually live it authentically?

I believe in the Jesus who ate with tax collectors, and prostitutes. I believe in a God of welcome. I believe in a God of second chances who rescued again and again the like of someone so broken as me. And if I’m not mistaken, deep down, we are more determined to do the same, despite our past…

Open the windows, and let the fresh Autumn air in. St. Francis is here again!

 

 



The Real Francis.

As we approach his feast day, I wonder if we are any closer to knowing the true St Francis than we are the real Jesus? At Saint Miriam, we try to avoid what is often called ‘birdbath Franciscanism’.  You know, the sweet, sappy stuff of a man leaving his wealthy family and abandoning not only his fancy clothes and status, but the world, too, to live in a harmless brown habit and make friends with the animals in some idyllic countryside setting. It is a story line that draws many into read more, but alas, one that is often untrue and lacks the substance of what it is to be a true follower of the saint we know as Francis.

St. Francis is so often idealized; he is made into an almost cartoonish character made ripe for hippies and those who seek a carefree life away from a complex world. But the vignette that has become Francis is far from what is it is live out his ideals; it is unreal at its deepest self. I can tell you as a Friar, it is not easy to be what Francis was, nor is it easy to follow him today.

Francis lived in two worlds: he looked always toward heaven, but his feet were firmly planted on the earth where his work was needed. He was grounded where the Church did what it did, but he knew there was something more and so he reached always toward God with a thirst that few could contain. He lived out the gospel life; one that was hard and dusty and often unsure of its destination in this life but was solid in where it would lead in the next. One that changed the world but was not the stuff of fairy tales or for the weak hearted or those who wished to simply play with Franciscanism. Francis knew that the even the holy Mother Church needed to change and return to a path closer to the true road of Gospel of the Christ he loved and adored.

Christian Wiman once said, “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.”  This is what Francis strived for: the core values of a gospel-centered life, an honest experience of the life of Jesus lived out in the world in a way that would change it for the better. He knew what we all must learn: one must die every day into your own life in order to truly find a way to live.

We must love our life enough to lose it, and then, after having found the reality of joyfully losing it, we find the heart of the gospel…one that changes the world and recognizes that all of life is one continuous movement that begins and ends with our creator.

In all my years now, I have never found anything that fills my life more than my priesthood. It is also the one thing that I often cry about and ask to be removed so often. Then, evening and morning comes and God, too, and Francis sings a new song. Then, I get back to the work God has for me to do. After all, I know no other way.