I Once Said Yes to God; Then God Asked Again.

 
In the Book of Joshua, we hear these words, “Have not I commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” 
 
I have read these words many times, even studied them in seminary in Hebrew Testament Classes, but I’m the first to admit that I didn’t always believe them. After all, how could God be with me in my sinning? Why would God be with me in a prison cells? How could God even want to be with the likes of me? No, God would not want to walk beside me, no matter how faithful I am at any given moment because I know how broken, how sinful, what a mess, I am.
 

Today marks the third anniversary of my elevation to the episcopacy. For three years now I have been what I call a ‘quiet bishop’ in God’s holy Church. Many desire the office and will do anything to get that hat. Not me. I ran the other way, sought counsel, and prayed deeply that it would leave me, much like St. Paul’s proverbial ‘thorn in the side.’ Some think being a bishop brings prestige, or more power, but Jesus taught us that power is made complete in ultimate weakness; like hanging on a cross, being mocked, still trusting God. In the end, the hat brings nothing but false piety. It is the One we serve that our eyes should remain fixed on while our hands do labor for Him.

So, no, I did not want to be a bishop, never liked bishops, and bishops always frightened me as a child. Bishops always seemed to make rules that made no sense, acted haughty and aloof, were mean-spirited, and couldn’t pastor their way out of a wet paper bag with a full set of dry instructions! Bishops lived in wealthy places, worked in beautiful offices and were driven around in luxury cars. Bishops always seemed out of touch with the sheep they were to edify, and hated by the clergy they were to lead. Bishops lived in insular universes away from the world. No, I did not want to be a bishop. But then came God.

Sometimes when God calls you run, like Jonah. But I have learned that God always catches you. The faster you run, the faster God catches up! He caught up with me when a bishop asked me in my running away what I promised that fateful day I prostrated in front of the altar of God and became a priest in Washington, DC. My reply: I promised to go where God called.  “God’s calling.”  Was his simple reply. So, I pulled myself up by my bootstraps and came along. I pray I have been worthy most of the time, even in my brokenness and humanity.

The bishop regalia doesn’t come out very often at Saint Miriam. It sits quietly in the background reminding me, and those who attend Mass, that a bishop lives here; that we are a parish, yes, but also a Pro Cathedral. But I do so ever so quietly, unlike those bishops that scared the heck out of me as a little boy. I entered the presbyterate to serve others; I serve just as well as bishop, just with more duties and the same little pay. There are no fancy cars, no drivers, no regalia, no pomp and circumstance; just me, my deep faith in God, and a crozier, and that large hat I dislike so much, but only when needed. Otherwise, when there are no episcopal events that require my attention, I reside back to my pastoring as a parish priest, wearing my Franciscan habit, and remembering why I became a priest in the first place. God called, I answered, and I changed my life, and hopefully for the better, the lives of others, too. As the Holy Father said it best, “I have the smell of my sheep.”

Now, as I gaze upon an energetic and growing parish, a vibrant and wonderful school, the coming of another summer camp, a historic cemetery, and as we prepare to bless an active construction site that will bring with it a Friary Rectory, yet another addition for Saint Miriam to serve more, serve better, serve honestly and with intent, I marvel at what a “Yes, Lord” can actually do!

How comforting it is to know that wherever we go God is there with us. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations and we wonder if God is paying attention. We may feel alone and even depressed. We sometimes can’t feel God’s presence, or hear His voice, but we need God’s guidance and help always.

I have learned that God is with us, in our ‘yes’ and in our ‘no’ leading us, guiding us, loving us, providing for us – all with God’s unlimited and loving resources. It is essential that we realize how much God loves us and that God has a good purpose and plan for us; if only we might say yes!
 
God called, I followed. 
 


The Sacrifice of Building.

 

Jesus said to St. Faustina, as documented in her Diary of St. Faustina, 1767, “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.”

That is how I have come to see my life. It isn’t always easy; it wasn’t meant to be, it is a life of service and sacrifice. Folks don’t like sacrifice much anymore. And, as much as life has changed and become more modern with so many gadgets to make us more productive and to manage our time better, we have become more aloof and distant from one another and lack the innate ability to truly sit with someone, know them, communicate, and feel their need. A smart phone isn’t so smart when it comes to identifying the needs of others. So, as much as some things change, some things never change; like the need for self-sacrifice and service of others.

I recently watched an episode of The Big Bang Theory the other evening, and Sheldon was testing a prototype machine that once pointed at someone near you, could readily identify what they were feeling. Obviously, it didn’t work. It couldn’t; after all, we are humans with complex emotions and needs, and it takes more than a machine, it takes another empathetic being to help us on our journey.

Yesterday, Father John and I were rejected by those who lost their empathy. The pastor at St. John Neumann of Bryn Mawr, who last week had given us permission to celebrate the Funeral Mass for BJ Johnson, withdrew that permission at the proverbial 11th hour. The family is suffering; so are we. Both John and I are feeling the sting of rejection once again, and the pain of knowing that those who cared for BJ all her illness – and knew her best – will not be at the helm of her life celebration. But we take great solace in knowing that we are not alone in that rejection for Christ, too, suffered it and taught us lessons about it. In fact, the most important part of Peter standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders of God’s people, is when he declares to them that the stone they rejected has now become the cornerstone. He’s telling them in effect, “You have rejected the very one on whom God’s whole temple, the living temple of God’s people, is built. You have rejected the cornerstone of this building of God’s people.” So, now when we hear harsh judgment, or are victims of rejection, we offer empathy instead of retaliation. We give a fish, rather than a scorpion. After all, I say to myself, ‘How could the Sanhedrin have known who Jesus was?’ But more so, too, ‘How could they not have wanted to accept Jesus as the foundation stone?’ So, I willingly give of myself, and I think many of us do. We certainly haven’t rejected Jesus, and yet I wonder, do we do enough to help build the kingdom? 

I have come to realize that to live a life worthy of being a Catholic Christian, there must be a sense of love for others, even total strangers, where one is willing to sacrifice themselves completely. Some of those sacrifices will be small, like giving some of your income to help the church, offering prayer when needed, or supporting a project like our current Friary Rectory Fund, but some will require self-sacrifice of time, effort, and yes, some will be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice and give away their own life for another.

A vocation, especially one to God, can be seen in a very similar way. As priests, we don’t have to find a way to get ourselves killed, but we can find a multitude of small things to do for others, by not focusing always on ourselves. We can take the example from our Christ and His most Holy sacrifice. In our daily sacrifices, we can find God, His love for us, and our own conversion to a deeper sense of holiness and commitment. As a Friar, I follow St. Francis who literally walked away from everything to hear God better and to serve God with all that he was. You will notice that I didn’t say ‘with all that he had’ because he had absolutely nothing to the point of wearing literal rags! And yet, God used Francis to build something that has lasted now for hundreds of years and still speaks to many of us willing to take that walk, too. Francis lived a rather carefree and rich existence, until one day, while praying, at the Church of San Damiano, he heard Christ speak to him saying, “Francis, repair my church.” In order to fulfill this request, he sold some of his father’s goods. So shall we all…if we truly wish to serve God. Sacrifice.

In the end, no matter what one might set out to build – whether a small house, a winter retreat, a place of reflection in the middle of the woods, a stately mansion, a family that loves one another unconditionally, or even a parish like Saint Miriam – it all takes sacrifice.

As I pen this blog today, we are rapidly approaching the ‘birthday of God’s holy church’; Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended on those first who gave their all to become followers of Jesus and has never left us as our Advocate, our Paraclete, our Friend. This coming Sunday, we will honor that gift of God as we also honor our PREP/CCD students who will ‘move up’ with our annual pinning ceremony. Each will be recognized for their achievements and their dedicated attendance. However, not all will receive an award.

Our parish recognizes sacrifice, but it does not honor everyone simply because they call themselves members. Being a parishioner, a student, a builder, a priest, a Friar, etc., takes sacrifice and dedication. Those who did not attend will not ‘move up’ and those who did excel will be honored for their dedication and exemplary life as a Catholic who loves with wild abandon and wants to learn and to do more to make this world a better place.\
 

Our lives are to be built on the two great commandments given by Jesus – to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor. This is true for all of us. Jesus gave a teaching on building on a strong foundation. He said, “Everyone then who hears these words of Mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon the house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew against that house and it fell; and great was the fall of it.” (Mt 7:24-27)

Soon, we will live that sacrificial example one more time, as a parish of faith. We will build, starting on June 5th, a rectory for our Friary. When young men are discerning the vocation of priesthood, it is important that they have a quiet place for prayer and reflection while learning about the life that would come with being a priest. Through the work and support of many individuals, Saint Miriam is creating such a setting that will include those seeking to decipher God’s call, and those who already serve God’s House.

The ambiance in the house will be very peaceful, very quiet. We will have time to pray and reflect and to seek God’s guidance to serve you better. Each bedroom is private and all residents will have their own personal space for reflection, as well as a communal gathering space to be in fraternity. The presence of the Blessed Sacrament will be with us, too, to offer a place of prayer always, while being connected to an active parish and having priests in residence to provide living examples of what the life of a priest entails. 

So, for our graduates, and for all of us, let us make sure that we are living our lives on a strong foundation. If our early teachings are not in harmony with the teachings of Jesus such as to cheat your way to success, accumulate as much gold and silver as you can, do all you need to do, even if not right, to climb the ladder of success, our foundation will be weak. Rather, let us build our lives on the foundation of the Word of God. We can delete past teachings that are harmful and build our lives on the truths taught by Jesus.

Our foundation will only be firm if we are willing to let go of what we think is already in place.

 



From The Jungles of Vietnam to Your Place in the Pew.

 
This coming Sunday we will honor. We always honor our veterans, those who wore the uniform of this great nation, but this coming Memorial Day we especially honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice, themselves, so that we might remain free. Whether they stormed the beaches of Normandy, fought in the jungles of Vietnam, or battled in the sands of Iraq or the mountains of Afghanistan, our brave men and women in uniform have always put our country and values first. Over time, our nation’s enemies may have changed, but the heroism displayed by our military men and women in uniform never has. Memorial Day is one of the most important holidays on our calendars and the tradition is believed to have been started by local communities all the way back to the late 1800’s.
 

Our parish, too, will honor these lives. We will tie simple red, white, and blue ribbons to the beautiful iron gates of our historic cemetery. We will place a United States Flag next to every grave of anyone who served in every war or conflict from the Revolutionary War to the present-day Iraq and Afghanistan. Then, after the Morning Mass at 10:30am, we will walk in solemn procession, following a bagpiper and say a simple prayer, then stand and weep as taps from bugler are played and the shots of a musket ring out in their honor. This Sunday, we will hold our nation’s veterans close at heart, and we will honor.

We also honor another important day, the Feast of the Ascension. Ascension Day is the celebration of Christ ascending into heaven after His death, burial and resurrection. Augustine of Hippo, an early church father, says that the Feast of Ascension originated with the Apostles. It may be one of the oldest feasts practiced by the Church, possibly going as far back as 68 CE! Churches around the world have observed Ascension Day Feasts for centuries, including ceremonies and traditions from processions, to prayer vigils, and Catholic Masses. This is an important day as a reminder of the Kingdom of God that is within our hearts, and of the ever-present Holy Spirit, watching over and protecting each of us, as we spread the light of Jesus’ truth throughout the world. 

When I was a young boy, we always honored such days, both civil and church. I cannot remember a day we missed our Sunday Mass obligation; mom would ensure we were close to death before we might miss Mass! Twenty years ago, ‘active parishioners’ in a Catholic parish were those who came three times a week to attend Mass; today it anyone who attends three times a month! Something is missing in our lives; something is wrong with this picture. We have learned to minimalize the importance of tradition and honor. We have learned to relegate Mass attendance to some past and outdated legalism of the Church. We have learned to worship idols from soccer and football games on Sundays’, to sleeping in, or tending to our own hangovers. We have learned, and have taught our children, to relegate God, and the values we hold so dear, to a vacation from church, especially during the summer months. Oh, without a doubt, we will sit in the pouring down rain through an entire 3+ hour football game, but God forbid if I go ten minutes over the allotted Mass time! Yes, we are moving in a direction that one day will replace Mass attendance and worship of God with a Wii and our veteran’s graves will no longer be sacred, and our nation will be far less a nation, because our values and our holy church will be far less a place of strength and honor and commitment.

There is an importance in teaching our youngest – and reminding ourselves, too – of the importance of honor, commitment, truth, and God in our world today. These values are not only worn by our nation’s veterans and heroes, who died for us, but also by those of us who call ourselves Christians. We are to be filled with the Spirit of God and welcome in the honoring of His day every week, every day, every chance we get. This honoring should come before all else we do. God is that important and that deserving.

It is no secret that I am a consummate and dedicated CrossFitter. I CrossFit at Manayunk CrossFit and Athletics almost every day except Sunday, because – yes –  I attend Mass that day! It is also no secret that as hard as CrossFit is, the most difficult for me is the running, or sprinting, components because I hate to run! I hate everything about it! As bad as my form is with the “Snatch Hang Clean”, I would rather do another of those than sprint even a block!

This coming Monday is what we call the Murphy WOD, it is a ‘Workout of the Day” in memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, N.Y., who was killed in Afghanistan June 28th, 2005. It was one of his favorites; it is one of the hardest workouts we do at CrossFit. Together, on Memorial Day Monday, my fellow athletes and I will run a full mile, complete 100 pull ups, 200 push ups, 300 squats, and then, yes, you guessed right: run yet another full mile before we complete this workout and honor Mike’s sacrifice.

I was bemoaning the coming of this workout the other day and one of my friends at the CrossFit Box says in reply, “James, what if Mike had that attitude that day he died to protect us?”

He was right. Now, I ask all of you…
 
What if Jesus had that attitude the day He was asked by His Father in Heaven to save your life?
 

See you at Mass this Sunday and every week from now on…

 

 



Keeping Our Word. Resurrecting Honesty.

 
An unknown author once penned that,“One thing you can give and still keep is your word.”  At Saint Miriam, we have done that very thing every single day from our first day into being some nine years ago! We made a promise; we’ve kept that promise all these years and by doing so we are resurrecting honesty within the church.
 
Despite the few naysayers, or those few that tried to bring us down, we have successfully built a spiritual refuge that now includes a beautiful parish, 12+ acres of well cared for campus, a historic cemetery, a vibrant school and summer camp program, and a pet memorial garden. We uniquely honor our fellowship time together with our Saint Miriam Café that simultaneously supports our benevolence programs by providing scholarships to children in need, all the while we dine on wonderful food! We soon will break ground in June to add a Friary Rectory and welcome other Franciscans into a life of service. We have numerous ways to honor God through liturgy and devotion that includes weekly Adoration, we reflect on our Blessed Mother through the Rosary and Franciscan Rosary alike, and we honor the walk of Jesus with our new Outdoor Stations of the Cross, and honor your need for reconciliation now with daily confessional! Yesterday, our maintenance garage received a brand-new door, as we work to complete the renovations there too, and we added a UTV vehicle to reduce our costs of outside labor. In the coming weeks, a new wooden fence will outline the perimeter of our campus to the North and new roadways and parking areas will emerge, too! Yes, we are good stewards of every dollar and we keep our word.
 

When our words don’t match our actions, we lose a measure of healthy ownership and control over our lives. Careless language undermines our relationships, chips away at our sense of self and decreases our personal power. Words and language patterns are powerful forces of creation. They articulate our reality. They put our dreams and goals out there for the whole world to see. They define our agreements. And they are the cornerstone of personal integrity.

The famous metaphysician, Florence Scovel Shinn, once said, “There is always plenty on man’s pathway; but it can only be brought into manifestation through desire, faith or the spoken word.” Every time we speak, we create a road of some sort. The quality of that road, and how far it goes, will be directly related to how well we maintain our integrity with our words and our choice of language. 

The road we have created together at Saint Miriam is priceless. It is the ‘pearl of great price’ that many have owned and lost in their own brokenness. It is what the wise seek and the sojourner quests. We have managed to create the impossible into reality out of nothing, literally! A Catholic parish that is welcoming, inclusive, loving, and gives back to those who give to her in ways that once cannot easily find in our world today. We welcome every single person, without regard to any limitation or descriptive adjective the world so easily thrusts upon them. We feed souls and provide opportunity for a deeper relationship with our Creator. Our priests are available, loving, and open. They go where needed and arrive when called. Our staff is as diverse as we are! They are of every religion, and every color, every gender; and we even welcomed our first Muslim to our team this year, and he is wonderful and adds depth to our thinking and supports our mission with his work. Our volunteers are amazing in their support and dedication of this place. Our educators are learned and more interested our students, than in outward praise. Our community is as diverse as we proclaim: from two months to 95 years in age, made up of every color, every origin, every national derivation, every stripe; they are of every sexuality and gender status, and none are turned away, treated differently or less than any other, and all are fully welcome at the Altar of God. We have much to be proud of, and much to care for together; we have much to preserve for the next generation. It is time for us all to act, together.

The American Heritage dictionary defines integrity as the “steadfast adherence to a strict moral or ethical code,” and “the quality or condition of being whole or undivided; completeness.” Integrity, then, is having high principles and keeping those standards consistent throughout all the different realms of our life. It also means that we must give to support the very place that is always there, always willing, always available when we need her.
 
Today, make this the day that we honor what we have built and complete your stewardship pledge by visiting our website and show the world that this place – this wonderful place full of honor, integrity, joy, and service – this place that keeps its word at every turn, and with every decision, this place that is building a better reality, a better parish, a better church, and impacting a better world, this place called Saint Miriam is our home and worth the effort.
 
 


Embracing and Celebrating Failure.

 

It is easy to laugh at Jesus’ disciples, as they all seem like a bunch of clowns running around trying to outdo each other and failing miserably. James and John, the famed sons of Zebedee, come to Jesus asking for the seats of honor when he comes in His glory. They just don’t get it. You see, it’s not about glory; it’s about service. It’s not about the honored place; it’s about honoring God. Ha ha! Those silly disciples! They were always out for something, when what they had – ‘the pearl of great price’ they all wanted deep down more than anything else – was in front of them all along!

We laugh with our modern ears today because we don’t understand the importance of honor in that ancient first century culture. In those times honor was everything. You measured your life by how much honor you could accrue in your hometown. The scales of life were calibrated in terms of honor and shame, and you did everything you could to tip them in favor of honor. That woman at the well that Jesus went and talked to; she had no honor. The blind beggar at the side of the road, was a ‘nothing’ to those around him. Those who climbed down from sycamore trees and through holes in roofs and who walked miles in the dust, all were ‘nobodies’, until they met Him! That was why it continues to be such a shocking story to tell after over two millennia!
 

But this is not so much how we see things today, so it’s easy to chuckle at the disciples arguing over who gets the honored seats. We have our own scales, though, don’t we? Instead of “honor”, we often weigh the worth of our lives, and of others, in terms of “success” and “failure.” We praise people who are successful. We avoid becoming a failure, and as we witnessed this week by the anonymous letter I received from “Concerned”, still scarlet letters stay placed prominently upon folks even after 40 years of change and doing good. Yes, we still measure, we just measure more harshly.

In American Magazine this week, Pope Francis clearly and unabashedly stated that, “A priest who perhaps has studied a lot of theology and has one, two or three degrees, but has not learned to carry the cross of Christ is useless. “He might be a good academic, a good professor, but not a priest.”  This lesson can apply to all of us who, as Catholic Christians, are unwilling to carry our cross and nourish the hearts of others, and support the work of God in the world, but instead judge, harm people, and lay upon the shoulders of other folks a weight which we ourselves could never bear.

I know that this makes no logical sense! Yet, it is a theme that runs throughout the whole of Sacred Scripture. We, as God’s people, are often the butt of the joke, the least and the last, those who turn the other cheek and get another slap! Then, we forgive the unforgivable and kick the and off our sandals and do it all over again. In the end, the way to free ourselves from worshipping the false idols of this world: fame, honor, being liked the most, and success is to turn these things upside down and to reverse the logic of the world in order to point folks Heavenward; we must become a servant.

This past week we received great news as we marveled at what God can do yet again to those who put Him first in their lives! We welcomed Father John Connors to our ministry team and into our family and our hearts. Together, we will serve God by honoring our life of service and giving to all of you first. In keeping with the Holy Father, we promise to continue to be servants and pastors, not lords over you. We will strive to be models of trust and compassion, but we will also hold your feet to the fire of Christ and direct your paths toward salivation. You may not always like us, but you will always trust us and love us.

Yesterday, we received some good news, too! Our building permits were issued by the township and soon you will see construction workers traipsing about our campus and scurrying upon the rooftops, as they build for us a Rectory for the Friary to house those who dedicate their lives of service to others. It is, as they say the least we can do by providing them a place to lay down their heads.

However, in the midst of all this joy, I also received some challenging news. It seems that many of you feel that stewardship is for someone else? As of today, less than 22% of you even bothered to complete your pledge cards, or update your electronic giving online. The total increase was less than $1,200 a month. For a parish of our size, this is not only unacceptable, but pushes the weight to others of us who already give so much that it hurts. In other words, it is unfair and un-Christian and certainly not in keeping with Saint Miriam. Here, in this beautiful place that so many take for granted in all that we have been able to do in our short but amazing life together, we do not demand equal giving, but we do ask for equal sacrifice. I trust that you will pray in earnest and go to our website today and complete your pledge and sign up for electronic giving, or I promise you this: we will fail without your support.

Jesus must laugh at all of us as we now scurry for the prizes of this world, because He came to reverse the scales completely. He says to seek the role of a servant. Seek the lowest place, the last position, so that you may be first!  Give to His holy Church so that life and light might be made more abundant to others in a world that knows more of darkness. If you want to become great, then first give away more of yourself, and what you have, and learn to be a servant; a servant that loves God more than any other single thing in the world. If you want real honor, be ready to endure shame, and do not increase the shame of others for their past mistakes, as we all have a past, and so does every single one we honor with the title of ‘Saint’.  If you want true success, then seek something the world would consider to be failure. Become a religious, a priest, a sister, a secular Franciscan, a better Catholic, a stronger Christian, a lover of the lost, and a willing supporter of God’s mission. In doing these things, you may never have a building erected bearing your name, but you will have eternal life.

When Jesus willingly took the lowest place, when He was lifted, lifted up high upon that wooden cross, that act of being crucified ended in the Resurrection and gave us hope and true life, even in our sinful ways. The failure of our Christ to become the earthly king almost everyone of His day despised, ridiculed, hated, and then killed, becomes for us the greatest success story of the world, as He rules in our hearts for eternity as the ultimate One whose sacrifice saved the likes of you and me. Can we not sacrifice something of ourselves and give back to Him now, too? 

I do hope our stewardship campaign will be a success in order to allow us to continue to serve a God of hope. I hope more of us than ever will experience the needed leap of faith that giving in and through our church can be. I do know that I have learned my greatest acts of goodness have been those when I was willing to give generously. 

Embrace failure and watch your life become a success!
 
 


The Monster is Inside.

 

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche once famously said, “Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.”  In other words, the tormentor becomes the tormented. People, in the end, become what they love and hate, because their mind focuses on it. It is all consuming as the hall of mirrors folds in on itself. It is just madness. Then they lash out at the darkness that was, in the end, created by their own design.

That is why we spend such an inordinate amount of time at Saint Miriam on focusing on Jesus, enhancing our liturgy and worship opportunities, as well as building, renovating, upgrading, and creating. We want to bring to our community, to visitors, to the world; as well as leave a legacy that shows who we are and what we believed. We also want to avoid becoming what we disdain most: a world, and a people, who think God dead and that we can do it all on our own. We can’t. We never could.

Often, we, in our human brokenness, battle various forces of evil. They come in our life’s journey in the form of illness, delays, rejection, debt, grief, job loss, divorce, and so many others that we often have little or no control. But, some of the evils that plague us and have the deepest of dramatic impact are of our own making: poor word choices that pass from our lips and harm others, not offering the gift of forgiveness, walking away from a friend, or a relationship, leaving a community that we loved – and who loves us – like Saint Miriam, for example. These are the monsters to be battled, we rationalize, those who would manipulate us into doctrines that serve their purposes, and not our own, but often our premise is wrong and based on irrational outlooks that feed our own hurt.

Once we’ve battled these forces, then what? We have to come to face an abyss. Once we’ve torn away the morality and the manipulations of the past, and once there is no one left to blame for our lot in life but us, we are left with ourselves. Then the hurt turns into our own brand of evil and we gossip, backstab, and harm others once more, and the cycle begins anew.

The abyss always looks into us and causes us to rely on only what we have left inside. What we have inside is determined by that which has fed us all along during our journey.  If we are a crappy person inside, then the abyss will turn us into a monster. That is why I urge you to not abandon your life with us. I don’t mean we just want to see you on Sunday, there must be more to truly be fed! Take advantage of the numerous ways we feed you, even during the coming summertime!

Come adore our Lord, and enjoy the mid-week liturgies, and pray the rosary on Thursdays, attend a Baptism Sunday Mass and relive and renew your own covenant with God, bring your children to Mass weekly, and show them in practical and real terms, how important God is in their lives, because He is important enough in yours to put God first! Walk the new Outdoor Stations of the Cross during your lunch break, or on your way home, and watch how God changes your life and reduces your worries! Explain to others why we honor our Blessed Mother, as we will this Sunday with a grand May Procession! Seek out a volunteer opportunity and help us reduce our expenses, while feeding your giving side, or send a Mass card or offer a Mass Intention to someone, and show them you are praying for them and believe in the power of prayer and God. Don’t forget to be a good steward of all the beauty that we have here and choose to tithe this year; complete your stewardship card and join the many of us who love this place so much that we are willing to give to God, first.

When you immerse yourself in something, it’s almost unavoidable that you’ll become it. Remember that what is inside us, we often have cultivated on our own.

What will you choose to become?
 
 


Avelut Ends. Joy Comes!

 
In Judaism, there are several terms commonly used in connection with death and mourning rituals, customs, and traditions. Most of us who are not Jewish are at least familiar with the word shiva, the traditional seven-day period of mourning, following the burial, when mourners remain at home, mirrors are covered, activities cease, and guests are received to offer comfort and participate in daily religious services. The less known word that you may not be familiar with is Avelut, the Hebrew word for mourning, which consists of three periods: shiva, sheloshim, and the year of mourning.
 
The word mourning is not used as often in our culture, as say grieving, but I have been in such a state of mourning, which to me is a much deeper and certain expression of deep, dark sorrow when someone you love has died. When I was growing up in my family’s funeral business, those who mourned typically followed certain conventions such as wearing black clothes, a torn ribbon on their lapel, or a wide black arm band over their suit jacket that told all who encountered them that they were is sorrow; mourning for someone, and we treated them differently. These “mourning bands” were first worn in the 18th century as a sign of respect for a recent monarch’s death. Black armbands are sometimes even seen in sports, after the death of a significant person. It’s been a tradition among ballplayers at least since the twenties. Even Emily Post wrote in her etiquette guide in 1940 regarding the deep meaning of the arm band. I am sad to say that the rarity of these bands is now pretty much a vestigial survival of the practice, at least in the United States. 
 

In our society today, however, we want the ‘bad’ to go away, and to do so quickly and quietly; that includes grief. We will hurriedly slide into a funeral for a visit, and leave directly afterward; we will hold your hand for a moment, and send a card, or a bouquet of flowers, but then it is time for you to just ‘get over it’ and move on; after all, we have text messages to reply to, and Facebook posts to read.

But it does not work that way in my world. I have been in deep mourning since the loss of my dad, Alton, at Christmas now two years ago, as unbelievable as it seems to me to say (I say his name often so no one will ever forget that he walked gently on this earth). Before that, mourning came with the loss of my friend, mentor, and our Associate Pastor, Monsignor Joseph Klemas. 

Father Joe was a good and honest man. I never understood the phrase, “He is such a lovely man,” but if anyone was so, it was Joe! He was, as I often ruminate, the ‘yin to my yang.’ He balanced my sometimes volatility and passion with a direct calmness that sprang from his own illness  with a heart attack. He was my confessor, my confident, and my friend. He was brought to us, I still believe, by a loving God who knew he needed to die an active priest, as much as we needed him to serve us, as a living one, until God was ready. God called on May 20th 2015 after a relatively short illness with leukemia. I wasn’t ready; Joe was.
 
We sat for our last time all alone in his room at Temple. We laughed, reminisced, and cried. We held hands, sitting knee-to-knee as he told me what he wanted, how he felt, how he loved me as a brother, and how he was worried about Dot, and how sometimes I just plain pissed him off! Then, he said to me, “Thank you, Monsignor, for giving me my priesthood back; I am good to go.” He was, and it was only two short days later that he met his Creator, the One he served with distinction all his life. I am still in mourning. 
 
I made a promise to Father Joe, and to all of you who made up the parish, that no one would be considered for the positon of  Associate Pastor for at least one year. When I told Joe that at Temple, he rebuffed and said, “But you need help…(long pause) but I am humbled.” I retorted that he deserved it; nay, he earned it! He had!
 
It has now been more than two years since we buried Monsignor Joe. God is ready, I am ready, and we, as a parish are now ready to welcome a new Associate Pastor. I have been in deep prayer and discernment as to the type of priest we needed. We have two good Assisting Priests in Father Bryan and Father Ken, but we need another full-time priest now as we grow into where God will lead us next. It is time. So, I asked God to send me someone like Monsignor Joe; quieter than I, more contemplative, prayerful. Someone who loves God and people, but also has the heart of a servant. I also hoped for a Franciscan, of course, to share my worldview and ideals! Someone once said that I may be exactly what God needed to build Saint Miriam, but my greatest strength is that I have the ‘heart of a pastor.’ I pray it is so, but I also know that I am Type-A, high energy, and often misunderstood as my emotions and energy run very high. I need a good balance, not a clone. God brought us Father John Connors!
 

Father John is much like me in that we both migrated from the Roman Catholic Church, attended Catholic Seminary, lived within a community of Order Priests, have a love for people, a fondness for liturgy, and we both believe in a loving God, and a life of unconditional service. We both served as Chaplains and know the pain of illness and loss. He, too, knows what it is like to be ostracized, misunderstood, and maligned. He knows what it is like to live in poverty, without anything, and was once even homeless for several months where his residence was a tent in a park. And, while he is not yet a Franciscan, he has a desire to discern its call! 

Where we differ is as important, too! He is much more contemplative, reflective, and prayerful! He enjoys engaging youth in sports and teaching scripture as well as leading retreats! He is married to a lovely woman named Joanne, and has a step-son; a family they have made together with the help of a God who loved John and Joanne so much that He made a way for John to remain a Catholic Priest, and honor his covenant as a new husband, and still remain faithful to his call, as a servant of God.

I am overjoyed to formally welcome Father John Connors, as our new Associate Pastor at Saint Miriam, and pray you will welcome him with me on Sunday, May 7th 2017!
 

Avelut Ends. Joy Comes!

 
 
 


Authentically Catholic Is Deeper Than a Big Hat!

 

I am rapidly approaching the fourth year of my episcopacy. I never thought I’d say that, as I felt surely it would be temporary! I have tried to lead my parish, and my appointed diocese, with the heart of a shepherd, but some say that I often run things ‘more like a business than a church.’ 

I have done a lot of praying and thinking searching; of my heart and the internet! My conclusion? They are right! You see, to build what we have built in less than ten years, to go from a rented chapel space with an annual budget of less than $3,000 to a 12.5-acre campus with a vibrant parish, thriving school, and renewed historic cemetery with a combined operating budget of over one million dollars, takes business acumen, and the heart of a shepherd. I try to find a good balance between the two, but perhaps it is a misconception of what a shepherd is, and does, that may be at the center of the issue.
 

I have watched on social media and within church news lately how many bishops are made! I was astounded! Why the heck do we need so many darn bishops?! And why do they need to dress up every day!? Then I realized that it much more to do with showing how powerful your jurisdiction is, rather than doing the work of the Church. A pastor should be a deacon first, a chief pastor (a bishop) should have the smell of their sheep always. Being authentically Catholic is far more than playing dress-up for the world; it is about keeping the waters calm, leading a flock, and providing constant direction, love, and care to those God brings to you. You don’t need a big hat to do all of that, you do need a rod and a staff, and thick skin!

The most famous example comes to us from the very pages of scripture in the 23rd Psalm, “I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” That single portion from David’s Psalm of a what shepherd looks like places the emphasis upon a staff. A shepherd’s staff, or crook, is the long stick with a curled end we all think of so easily when the word ‘shepherd’ is presented to us. The staff has a curved end that fits the neck of the sheep perfectly, and it formed from a gradual u-shape, so it is gentle. I use it when I must present myself in my episcopal attire!

The staff has two purposes: First, it gives you a longer “arm”, since the shepherd has hundreds of sheep to watch over! For example, when you need to reach out to that ‘lost proverbial one’! Secondly, you need a staff to push a stray sheep into a trailer, or pen, or move them to turn at a crossing, when they think it the wrong direction! Waving a stick in your outstretched arm helps you block them off and steer them in the direction they need to go. Interestingly, the staff is designed to take hold of little lambs, as well as the full-grown sheep, using the same staff. After all, we all need a little direction from time to time!

But, so little is often said about the rod! The shepherd can lead and nudge with the crook, but he defends the flock from the wolves by his rod, and correct the sheep with the very same rod, when it is needed. Even today in many parts of the world, shepherds still carry rods and staffs to protect and care for their sheep, but the crook has a significantly different meaning and use than the rod.

God loves us so much not to leave us to ourselves. He cares enough to discipline us with the metaphorical rod when we need it, and loves us gently with the nudge of His staff. If God didn’t love us, He would allow us to just wander off like sheep over a cliff. God protects us from the enemy with the rod, and God uses the staff to keep us close to the Good Shepherd to save our soul. Jesus is the Great Shepherd, and He uses both the staff or crook when we need it, and the rod when we need it, too. So do His pastors. It is our job.

So, maybe next time you might think about both the staff and the rod before thinking me and my brother priests so callous! We may just see the cliff ahead and want us all to survive…

 

 



But it’s so long, Father!

 
Yes, it is long. In fact, tonight’s Mass is admittedly the longest of the church year, chiming in from start to finish somewhere around two to two and one half hours, but it will change your life deeply. And, think of what our Lord endured, so you cannot come impatient, watching a clock, and without allowing yourself to fall deeply into the experience. The Vigil liturgy tonight must be experienced; you must allow yourself to be immersed in every nuance.
 

The Easter Vigil begins with darkness. The darkness itself is the actual first movement of the liturgy, so we begin our preparations with that darkness. It represents all darkness – and all the meanings of darkness – whatever, wherever, and whomever is devoid of light; evil thoughts, motivations, deeds, actions; all that is hidden and secret, things deceitful and dishonest, gossipy, divisive, and abusive, and yes, immoral and sinful. It is all the ways and means that darkness is of our world, and all the ways that this darkness finds its way into my heart, and I am sure your heart, too. So, if you come to the Vigil tonight and restless, and impatiently fidgeting in the darkness that we begin within “until something happens,” you will miss the power of what is about to happen! We begin, today, in the sunshine that is trying to become our Holy Saturday, under the semi-clouded skies of God’s created world, to prepare by readying ourselves to experience the darkness so that we will then even more appreciate the Light. 

Why come then? Because #MOAB (Mother Of All Bombs) needs to be replaced with #CTLOW (Christ The Light of the World). To do anything less is distasteful and reprehensible, embarrassing and humbling, fearful and despairing. It is only in the Light where true power, deep grace, and ultimate love lies, not in any-sized-bomb that destroys anything.

So, what are the movements you will experience if you dare to come tonight and join us in the darkness? First, we begin outside were in the darkness, a fire is kindled. Then, the candle is lit from the new fire and processed into the community – into our parish – into our hearts to warm us again. We receive its light, and experience its power, as that light grows among us. When the candle is brought to the front of the sanctuary, we experience, too, the Exultet, the Easter Proclamation,and so begins our journey through Salvific history and life is renewed.

We will then bless water, renew our baptismal promises, re-engage as Christians and as Catholics in a world that would rather know us not, as so many hearts are bent on revenge, and plotting, and amassing more things, rather than changing the world with light, love, selfless giving, and hope.

Yes, even as a priest, I am always human; and as a man, I like you, openly share some of the original Apostles’ doubt that day, “early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark…” they met those women who had he audacity to say He lives! After all, how could we not doubt? We live in a scientific age when truth must be verified by some controlled means for validation. No one alive today has witnessed a person rise from the dead! And yet, we believe…we believe the unbelievable testimony of those Galilean women that came full-force to those apostles in their deep grief and unimaginable loss, just as much as it comes to us today…tonight…after the sun sets and the world is drafted into darkness again.

But, pause for a moment today as you go about your busy Saturday lives and think for a moment as to ‘why’? Why do we believe? We believe not only because the apostles came to see the risen Jesus, but also because of experiences that you and I have all had just like that woman whose daughter rose from a death-like condition, because so many of us have been raised, too, from the plagues of our own lives. We do more than give credence to the story, we live it over and over again.

Amid your busy springtime, as the weather softens and our bodies beg to become lazier, God’s holy Church comes and begs us be different! The Church comes and interrupts our days and intrudes on our ‘standard way of life’ to summon and to haunt us.

Around that fire tonight at eight o’clock in the evening, just after the twilight has vanished, witnessing the first light of a brand new Paschal Candle, and in those wooden pews hearing about how we became a people of God, will be those who know for certain, absent any scientific fact, that we believe and so we conform our lives to Jesus, that we, too, might rise from the dead.

There is among us a deep and engaging wonderment of a world that can be made anew, a place where conservatives, moderates, and progressives alike can start a world again that loves first. It begins tonight with the longest Mass of the year, yes, but oh the peace that will come is worth every single second…

Come…