Of iPhones and Sebaceous Carcinomas.

 
Last Friday morning I was up at 2:50am. I had to be! You see, if I didn’t get up at that ungodly hour of the morning, I would have missed my chance to order the new iPhone! I have been saving all year for it; every gift, every gratuity from a wedding, every extra dime I could save, I did and I had just enough to buy it and I was so excited! I always am! Yes, every time a new Apple product emerges, I am like a school boy earning his very own letterman sweater! Three days later, at 7:40am, I am sitting in a medical procedure chair having a cancerous growth removed from my neck. Things change, perspectives change. What remains is what is important. Just ask the eight lives taken at the hands of yet another terrorist in New York City yesterday afternoon, if you could, what they wish they had made important in their daily lives.
 
Later today, at 6:30pm, I will walk the hallowed grounds of this cemetery, amongst the lighted luminaries we will place beginning at 5:00pm today, and I bless the graves of the dead. Each votive light will be placed by a grave – hundreds of them – to show the world what is most important to us as Catholic Christians, and as parishioners here at Saint Miriam. Then, on Sunday, we will light more lights, placing each at our beautiful stained glass windows to honor the dead, too, and to remind the world that the dead are part of us, as the living, and will never be forgotten. We know that together we are the Communion of Saints. Few will attend later today, I know that; I don’t care. You see, today, for those who will gather with me, we know the truth; that life is fleeting and the most important things we own are the things we cannot buy.
 
After I returned home yesterday from the surgeon, my mother was very upset with me. You see, I did not tell anyone. I knew of the potential diagnosis for several weeks, but I had work to do. So, I did my job, labored as a priest, and dealt with my own stuff in the middle of the night when I was alone and able to think and ponder and pray. After my mother calmed down, and after a few more “James Michael’s!” (Yup, I knew I was in trouble!) I took some time to lay down, as my neck was sore as the anesthesia wore off, and I wanted to just rest. My mom sat with me for over two hours. Never saying a word, just sitting with me. Later, my friend Kate reached out, then Sean, Pat, Chester, and then David, and Lorraine.
 

You see, it isn’t about iPhones or things that we amass that make our life plentiful. It is the hands and voices of those we love, and those who care. It is about those who will remember us should we ever depart. Today, we remember others with a simple light and a prayer at their grave. That is far more important than anything else I could possible do tonight. 

The surgeon thinks he ‘got it all’ and went deeper to extract below the margins. Now, we wait for the pathologist to do his or her job and to tell me the diagnosis. I am not afraid, not fearful at all. You see, I know the greatest gifts this life has to offer, and I have them all…people who love me and will always remember me.

It’s never about things…
 


It’s All About Them.

 

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. There is no greater corporal act of mercy that a Catholic can do then to honor the dead. 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 we will begin with All Hallow’s Eve and honor the history of our dead contained within our beautiful cemetery. While we will, of course, add a little Halloween fun to the evenings on the 27th and 28th , we will also add history and candles and increase our knowledge, as we walk the hallowed grounds that make up Union Cemetery of Whitemarsh at Saint Miriam with our annual Historic Tours. Then, we will turn our attention to All Saints and All Souls Day, which we, as a parish, will officially mark on Sunday, November 5th but add hundreds of candle-lighted luminaries to the cemetery in a moving ceremony on November 1st at 6:30pm. 
 
Many Christians know All Hallows Eve by the secular name “Halloween,” and avoid any celebration or religious observance of the day. The prevailing thought within many churches is that the holiday glorifies evil and is anti-Christian in its ideology. While many of the customs and traditions associated with the celebration find their roots in Medieval superstitions and ancient European rituals, the prevailing theme of the holiday was to give thanks for the harvest and honor family and friends who died in the past year. That is why these days hold one another in tandem as we honor, believe, and love. 
 
The Solemnity of All Saints, is a celebration of those who have died and attained Heaven, and we know that God desires all of us to become saints one day. And, of course, we remembered those who are undergoing purgation on Wednesday, November 1st, which is officially All Souls Day this year. 
 
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! 
 
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. 
 
Join us this week. Come and learn some history at the cemetery entrusted to our care and enjoy a family night out (with Pizza, too on Saturday at 6:00pm!) Then, bring your children to the “Lighting of the Luminaries” on Wednesday, November 1st at 6:30pm and teach them that we care for the dead and love them still, and finally, celebrate the life of all the saints – living and dead – on Sunday, November 5th as we honor All Saints and All Souls Day. Your gifts of light will cover a cemetery and light the windows of our parish this year, as they honor and remember all saints, all souls! 
 
If the dead happen to need our help, our act of kindness can have great impact on them.  If not, this kind act still has great impact on us, exercising our love muscles so that we will be ready to enter directly into the wedding feast of the Lamb when our own time inevitably comes. 
 
Let us spend our earthly tour filling our minds with the thoughts of heaven, so that when we finally cross over into eternal life, the images we see may not be foreign, startling, or even strange. Let us pray that we, too, may be able to one day say: “My God, I know this place. I am home.”
 


The Lonely Walk of Me and God.

 
Yesterday evening, after I learned of the death of one of our own, I sat quietly and prayed for him and his family. I then put in my Apple AirPods and listened to Green Day’s, “Boulevard of Broken Dreams”. For those not familiar with the song, here a few lines of the song:

I walk this lonely road

The only one that I have ever known

Don’t where goes

But it’s home to me

and I walk alone

I walk this empty street

The video for the song most fittingly begins with the scene that features a stranded car on a lonely road. Sometimes being Christian means you walk alone, even when surrounded by others. Oh, I know what you are thinking, ‘I thought God walked with me and sometimes, wasn’t Jesus supposed to carry me?’ Yes. He does, but the world doesn’t.

You see, sometimes you need to carry your own water until you figure out what is truly important in life. No one, not even God can do that for you. The road is often lonely and long, but the reward is so great.  As a priest, I am often called to walk alongside those who struggle and who journey. Oftentimes, I am a comfort, sometimes I am a burden. Even with all my training; my vocation, my calling, it is not enough. The walk must occur, the strides alone. 
 
Sometimes it is I that must walk alone. It is me that must make the arduous journey. Sometimes God is asking me to journey to places I do not want to go, or to do things on the way that I do not want to do, or learn things that I wish I need not have to learn. But, I have learned in my journey on the road that I must. I must go, do, and learn to serve better. 
 
I used this song last evening as a source of strength. In my sadness for the family, and in my own ‘stuff’ of the past day, now ending, I took pride in my willingness to walk the path alone, as I have done on many occasions, much to the chagrin of family, friends, and others. But, I will admit freely, that sometimes in my journey to a better, stronger, more deeply feeling me, I throw a pity party to myself, but overall, I find these times of journeying alone to be cathartic and life-giving, thriving on a sense of independence, and the solace and understanding yet to come when God finds me again.
 
Far from being immune to loneliness found in needed journey, the Bible often shows that many of God’s people have struggled to endure the walk to a new freedom. Job expressed his sense of loneliness when he is accosted by his friends whom he calls “miserable comforters”, and Elijah journeyed 40 days and nights to Mount Horeb where he succumbed to his discouragement and loneliness. Hiding in a cave in the desert, he told God he felt as if he were all alone in the world.  Elijah and Job were both fueled by fear and uncertainty in their journeys. And, even Jesus knew true loneliness when His followers forsook Him at His arrest and crucifixion, but a needed journey was to follow that would save Him, and the world in the end. Yes, some journeys must be alone. 
 
When we finally arrive in that lonely place, we make a startling discovery: Jesus is there. Jesus carried His cross alone and Jesus died alone so that we will never have to suffer such heavy solitude. Jesus experienced a kind of aloneness that we never will. We need not fear the dark, solitary spaces of our journeys ever again; God is there and growth will come and new learning, new life. 
 
I leave you with this promise, and then a poem by Geoff Warden. As long as I am gifted with the geratets gift I have ever know, that of this wonderful, beautiful parish of Saint Miriam, even in our alone journeys that must occur, someone will be waiting with open arms at your journey’s end.
 
 

A somber stroll through parks delight, 
Taking notice of natures landscape, 
Ducks of summer, prepare winters arrival, 
As I stroll, I ponder the lonesome walk…

Reflection of things today and futures hold, 
reminiscent of ones lonely walk of yesterday, 
A sadden heart……by deceptions hurt
of a simple plan not comprehend.

As his lonely walk commence with step, 
Simple truths he would voice unaccepted, 
Continually dealing with the murmur and complacency
of blinding eyes that just would not see…

He who had all placed in palm of hand, 
Was seen in company of known harlot, 
The well to do would scorn such action, 
yet his heart filled a much greater need.

Imagine The simple plan of his love, 
continually they pick and tare apart..
yet the simple truth of love he shares
is a path of chose not of demand…..

Reflecting upon his lonesome walk, 
and the continual rejection of his voice,

has filled my heart with joyous sorrow

Yet comprehension of my own stroll 

 

Slowly, I begin to appreciate collaboration that must occur between me and God.  Maybe I won’t be walking a lonely street soon enough…
 


The Point of It All.

 
Sometimes I come and sit in the sanctuary. I come when I know that there will be no one else around. I come alone and I sit in the back of the last row of pews that face the altar directly and, when I kneel alone in that pew, in that far back area consumed by the shadows of our church, my face buried in my hands, a forbidden thought intrudes: ‘You should have left all this behind a long time ago. Your work here is done. It is too much work now, and no one really cares.’ 
 
Why does our culture care so little about coming to this place, or others like it? Why do so many abandon us on a weekly basis only to show up, or call, or plea when death comes, or babies are born, or illness happens upon them? Why don’t those who care to be members and ‘active’ parishioners enjoy the sights and sounds of what we endeavor to bring them with so much work and effort and sacrifice? Why is the mall, or a movie, or the beach, the place ‘to go to’, but the church is no longer a ‘destination’ of joy – or even of need – until something unthinkable strikes? 
 
Is an awful truth about the modern backlash against all things ‘church’ on real display here, too, or are we so far into a post-modernity of the world that God is no longer important unless a crisis abounds? Is my work as a priest so worthless that people do not care to even notice how we (my fellow priests and deacons and ministers) suffer for our craft on their behalf?
 
No one cares whether one bent over Friar in a back pew of a small parish, like me, throws in the altar cloth at last, but the religious disenchantment of the secular age puts the question even more broadly: Why the church at all?  Yet as soon as the voice in my head forces the question to the forefront again, I know the answer, although it’s hard to explain. Unlike many Protestants, Catholics have long put their practical faith more in the community of belief than in the person around whom that community gathers. In other words, it is God’s decision, not mine and if I must suffer, so be it. I will stay until God says, ‘Go‘.
 
As Catholics, we are on intimate terms with Saints, the Mother of God, the parish priest, the good sisters, fellow sojourners who love Mary and her Son. We make our home in the seasons of the year, from Lent and Easter to Advent and Christmas; the trusty liturgical cycle; a beloved Sacrament for each stage of life; the silence before and after Mass; holy water and Baptisms. But what’s left when, owing to intrusions of power, or sex, or new ideas, the ancient solidarity cracks? Compared, to say, with the Evangelicals, we Catholics do not often speak so easily of Jesus THE Christ: no “Closer walks with Thee” for us. No, our faith is more reflective, but then the unthinkable happens, our faith – just like Saint Miriam – becomes so commonplace that we take it for granted.
 
Cynthia Ozick once wrote, “We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.”  How true. And I have found that those things we take for granted, often disappear. Sadly, our brains don’t seem to be built to pay attention to what’s good in life, but more to what seems urgent or threatening. That makes sense, as fundamentally, safety and security trump happiness and well-being as biological beings, but what about our spiritual side? What about the things that will survive this life and usher into the next?
 
So, I remind myself from my darkened and often lonely back pew, and now you, my faithful reader, that Jesus is the point of all the smells, bells, rules and dogma; the point, finally, of being Catholic, and the reason we gather here week in and week out. Ironically, the failures of the church make that point with power, for it is when one dares imagine the deliberate act of lapsing that the image of Jesus Christ snaps into foreground focus. Here, perhaps, is the key to Pope Francis’ astounding excitement of recent press, for far beyond all matters of style, doctrine, and behavior, he is offering a sure glimpse of a fleeting truth about the faith: The man on his knees, washing the feet of the tired poor, is the Son of God. It is us. It is what we are required – beckoned – to do, to become anew, by the One we claim to follow, worship, and adore. Everything else is fleeting and but dust.
 
This past week, during a point when I was ready to allow that thought to intrude into my consciousness again, Nevaeh Lee handed me a homemade card; I used her card as my image for this blog post today. If you noted the minutiae, it took her four times to get my title spelled correctly, but finally, “Father James” appears! That is how I find myself to be, and a good reminder for you, too; we are not meant to get it right the first time, for if we did we would have no need of the gift of Jesus in our lives. We are not meant to be perfect, we are meant just to be faithful.
 
Come back. Come back and join me on a regular basis! Show me, and my fellow priests, that what we do is not worthless. Show me that the God we proclaim is alive and well and that the world will hurt less because we value the time we gather together here in this place we have built by believing in the power of love and a radical welcome!
 
Pope Francis is pointing more to that figure than to himself, or even to the greater Church, which is why institution-protecting conservatives are right to view him with alarm. For this pontiff, the Church exists for one reason only — to carry the story of Jesus forward in history, and by doing that to make his presence real. Everything else is just rules.
 
We have been living that truth since we began. Come and show the world the love of the Gospel of Jesus lived out here at Saint Miriam. You may just find me in the back pew waiting…
 


God, Guns, Guts, and Francis.

 
The statement that “God, Guns and Guts made America free” is full of deep philosophical meaning to many, and has become a rallying cry for those who believe their gun rights to be under attack. We have all heard the basis for this opinion: firearms are the only means to protect one’s property and against the siege of a tyrannical government. Oh sure, a few now throw into that mix the terrorists that have harmed and killed so many under their delusional use of the term ‘Islam’. But truth be told, the greatest attacks on our soil have been perpetrated by people who look like the majority.
 
Among the most common mechanical possessions in the households of America, outnumbering even the motor vehicles and flush toilets, is the mechanical device known collectively as the gun. These guns include all types and forms from rifles, shotguns, to pistols and revolvers, and according to the Congressional Research Service, there are roughly twice as many guns per capita in the United States as there were in 1968: more than 300 million guns in all!
 
Some folks keep them tucked away in bureau drawers, night stands, cupboards, or racked splendidly on display as mantel-pieces. There are large ones and small ones; Sig Sauer SIG MCX, AR-15, Krags, Enfields, Springfields, Mausers, Mannlicher-Carcanos, M-1 Garands, the infamous Remingtons, Winchesters and Brownings, too, but also Berettas, Rugers, Lugers, Colts; guns for all seasons and for all reasons; guns to punch holes in targets, or in tin cans far afield. Those used to kill a deer or prize a large Kodiak bear. There are guns for their own sake, some guns never used, just collected, and those we squirrel away (no pun intended) as some sort of last line of defense against the intruder at night, or burglars or the worst, a lone rapist. We prize our guns in an effort to fend off the possible looter or the lunatic invader of our home. And, if you believe the rhetoric lately, we need our guns as part of our quiet patriotic duty as Americans to stave the raving terrorists bent on doing us harm, but more so to help against our own government, because we passionately believe that the U.S. Constitution gives us a personal right to keep and bear arms, but that there are those who secretly are trying to take away our every gun and amend our right to bear these arms and we aren’t going to let that happen. Ever. Period.
 
Now, to be sure, there are earnest sportsmen and gentle collectors of guns who do not feel this way. In fact, most gun owners believe we need some gun legislation to protect our own. And, I would venture to guess that most would never believe that we should allow the modifications that allowed Stephen Paddock to fire on the crowd of 22,000 concert-goers from more than 300 meters away, from the window of his 32nd-floor Las Vegas hotel room. 
 
Think of this: the modification that allowed this death and mayhem is called a bump stock, and it was originally created with the aim of making it easier for people with disabilities to shoot a gun. It works by allowing semi-automatic rifles to mimic fully automatic weapons by unleashing an entire large magazine in seconds. A modification designed to help, is now literally killing thousands of our own citizens. Far more than any terrorist attack. It needs to stop. 
 
America has only 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but almost half of the civilian-owned guns in the world. We also have six times as many firearm homicides as Canada, and nearly 16 times as many as Germany. And, if that is not enough to rattle your cages, take this statistic on:  There have been more than 1,518 mass shootings, with at least 1,715 people killed and 6,089 wounded, all since Sandy Hook in December 2012. Yes, I said since the end of only 2012. We should all be astonished and ashamed. 
 
Let me be clear here. I am not a perfect man. I admit that often. I do, however, love my country and uphold her rights and no, I do not want your right to bear arms taken away. I sat in a jail cell once when very young because I violated a law of this land. I know the consequences. I also took gun safety training to hunt with my uncle and learned how to safely handle a firearm at age 16. I then served my country in the US Navy and was trained to use a gun. I stand for the Pledge of Allegiance and National Anthem, and I kneel in support of my love of God and all God’s created, and to honor those who have been harmed by the majority that may take their lives for granted. I am not a gun owner now, admittedly. I have never shot a firearm after that initial training. I admit that, too. But, I do not believe your right to own a firearm should be taken away. I do believe, however, with the firmest of belief that automatic weapons need to be banned and banned today
 
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, supporters of gun rights often argue that it’s inappropriate to bring up political debates about gun control in the aftermath of a tragedy. I do not understand this logic. When I was hurt at my gym last month we automatically began to speak of cleaning the gym better, watching how we use weights, wiping down our bars after use, etc. We all made modifications to prevent another injury. This is no different, but far more dangerous and we need to discuss it! And, not one of my fellow athletes demanded their rights to a dirty gym. 
 
Weapons that reload automatically and fire continuously with one trigger pull have been banned for civilians in the United States since the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986. But it is the semi-automatic rifle—those guns that reload automatically but fire only once per trigger pull—that have seen wide use in recent mass shootings and that probably constitute the majority of rifles used in homicides and other crimes. So, let us begin here, with these? Let us come together and figure out with non-gun owners like myself, and gun owners around the nation how to get rid of this one type of gun to better protect all of us? Can we not set aside our petty politics and spun-out-of-control belief that everyone wants to ban guns long enough to save the next life, or worse, lives from the next massacre? There is only one reason to own an automatic weapon: to protect this nation as a member of our military or to kill as many innocents as one can as a deranged civilian. Stop it. 
 
Today is the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, my Seraphic Father, as a Franciscan. This weekend, children in this country will bring their pets to the church to be blessed on St Francis’ feast day because of his love for animals as expressed in his Canticle of Creatures. St Francis is the patron saint of animals so many parishes like ours will offer animal blessing services to honor the life found in every creature. And, by my calculation that includes human beings, too. St. Francis was also a strong and unrelenting prompter of peace. In fact, few prayers are more popular around the world, or better loved than the “Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.” Nearly everyone recognizes a happy harmony between the words of this prayer and the generous, joy-filled and peace-loving spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi. 
 
Though written in rather simple language, the Peace Prayer of Francis provides us with rich material for spiritual reflection and change. Like that of Christ, our mission on earth is to bring to others God’s peace, God’s state of “perfect well-being”, of completeness and fullness of life for all people and all created. 
 
Francis saw this as his mission. In fact, in Chapter 3 of his Rule of 1223, that we follow as Friars, he advised his followers that in going about the world “they should not be quarrelsome or take part in disputes with words…or criticize others; but they should be gentle, peaceful and unassuming, courteous and humble, speaking respectfully to everyone. Whatever house they enter, they should first say, ‘Peace to this house’” Surely, Francis was an instrument of peace.
 
Now, I wonder when will we be, too?
 


Homecoming.

 
Last week someone posted an image on Facebook that read, “Why is the sun out?! Come on Fall! Go away sun!!” It has been unseasonably warm and yet, we are amid the return of Autumn already and many homecomings, too!
 
I could not help but become emotional, as I reflected on last weekend’s homecoming. We all gathered together last Sunday for our annual InGathering Mass, and shared our beautiful Water Communion Service, renewed our covenantal commitments, and reminded ourselves of the home we share, a home that we come back to, whether after a long or short absence, a home we welcome all to make their own: a home of love and hope and faith; a home we named Saint Miriam some almost ten years ago now. It was a beautiful homecoming
 
We also should have all been profoundly struck on the paradox within our midst when we reminded ourselves the importance of water.  We gathered ritually last Sunday morning and thanked God for all the blessings that water had on our lives. We were carrying gifts of our summer – symbols of the water that we have been present with, and which have been present to us. These symbols called to mind light summer showers, thunderstorms, dewy mornings, and misty evenings, or perhaps moments at oceanside, poolside, rivers, and lakes—swimming, fishing, hiking, strolling. They helped us to remember who we were with while there, even if we were alone. We thought deeply and remembered that we found ourselves in the presence of water during a moment of grief or birth or rebirth, or maybe in a mundane place whose sacredness is palpable nonetheless. But, we also should have thought about the destructive power of water, too, and effects in places like Houston, Florida, and now on the people of Puerto Rico. 
 
As I prayed for, and dug deep into my wallet to send aid to my brothers and sisters suffering the effects of destructive forces in Puerto Rico, just as I did for Florida and Houston before that, I also prayed that they would be the recipients of the great gift we received here as a community this past summer: a brand new and beautiful home, renovated and made even better, after the disturbing effects of ravaging flooding. I pray that their homecoming will be safe and the present-day destruction will one day be just a memory that makes them stronger as a people.
 
Last Sunday was also a homecoming for Father John Francis, too! After being away from the East Coast for many years, while living in California, he and his family are now safe in their new home in Wilmington where Father grew up! He and his partner will raise their son there, and he has made his new home at Saint Miriam, as one of our Assisting Priests. Another wonderful homecoming
 
And, to make my post even more personal, I am home now, too! After giving up my home in Philadelphia, selling my condo and giving the proceeds to our parish to allow us to close on the loan that made this new home possible, God – a God of restoration and hope – gave me a new home this past week with the opening of our new Friary Rectory. It was a long three years living in a very small space, but now I am here, and I am finally settling in to my own homecoming
 
And that is why my last reflection today is also one of welcome and homecoming for another person! Deacon Pat Heffner and I have maintained a relationship during her sabbatical announced months ago. She has used her time away from active ministry to reflect, and to pray, and to discern her path again. She now realizes the importance of Saint Miriam and her people in her life. She personally met with me last week, asked to return, and I gave her my blessing. I know you will join me in her homecoming this month.
 
It was a heartfelt moment for me when I noted her gaze that day we met last week. Unbeknownst to her, as I came downstairs from the Rectory, I caught a glimpse of her and watched as she looked around at the parish with new eyes, witnessing all that we have become in her absence, and I could tell she was deeply moved and ready to return. She will be with us for her first time back home at Saint Miriam next Sunday, October 8th, the Feast of St. Francis! What more beautiful way to return home than on the feast day of the Saint we follow as a welcoming Franciscan parish? So, on behalf of all of us, to Deacon Pat, I say welcome home and enjoy your homecoming to us! 
 
I often ruminate how we, as a parish, are like water. We are a living, breathing organism that ebbs and flows. I serve as her pastor, and I am proud to do so, but we must all remember that, as such, we are a parish, not a prison. People come, and they go, and some return, too! We should be mindful that this is part of parish life; part of all life. 
 
Life is all about homecomings in whatever form God brings to us.
 
Welcome home.
 


The Occasional Parishioner Meets iGen

 
Dr. Jean Twenge, noted author, professor, and psychologist, wrote recently in The Atlantic, on the newest generation dubbed, iGen, (those born between 1995 and 2012). Members of this particular generation have grown up with smartphones, tablets, and smart devices, have their own social media accounts even before they start high school. They also do not remember a time before the internet! Yes, they are the first fully electronic and ‘plugged in’ generation.
 
Twenge has been researching generational differences for over 25 years, but around 2012, she noted an abrupt shift in teen behavior and emotional states. Smartphones and tablets quickly spawned adverse effects of increasing “screen time”, but the impact of these devices had not been fully appreciated, as she believes, the effects go far beyond the usual concerns about curtailed attention spans in children. The arrival of these smart devices has radically changed every aspect of our children’s lives, from the nature of their social interactions to their state of mental health. A red flag is now before us. 
 
This is also coupled with what I call the advent of the occasional parishioner. These are folks who attend Mass sporadically, interact with the ministry team rarely, and who do not engage the activities, small groups, worship opportunities, and other outside activities and events that our wonderful parish offers on a weekly basis. Their accountability is low and their involvement worse. I have witnessed this in a variety of forms; By way of example comes a parishioner last week who walked into our renovated space and stated, “Wow, Father! When we did we renovate?!” Or, another who made an appointment with me and asked me where to meet. When I told her my office at the end of the Administration and School Wing, she replied, “We have a school?” 
 
Now, to be clear, these may be extreme cases, but they are given to point out how low on the scale of activities church has become in the lives of many of us. We are not “good Catholics” anymore, we are “rarely Catholics” at all! We drop in to church when there is nothing else better to do, rarely will change an opportunity to do something else that beckons our attendance, and then when we do go, we basically ‘tip God’ from whatever we have left in our wallets or purses on our way out the door until we come again, maybe next month! What we miss in the interim is life giving, life changing, life altering, and fulfilling. We miss community, togetherness, shared experience, wholeness, worship of our Lord, spiritual depth, and God Himself. We reject our Baptismal Covenant, and in doing so, we miss that which sustains while we prefer to build ‘paper houses’ that will fail us once wet. In the end, this will not only fail us, but it fails our children, too. Case in point…back to Jean Twenge. 
 
Twenge sees the rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocket since 2011. She believes that it is not an exaggeration to describe iGen as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades. Today’s teens are less likely to date. They are also having less sex, which many would think a good thing, until you find it is because they are spending so much time alone in their room, tethered to a ‘smart’ device. And then there is driving! Nearly all of what we called “The Baby Boomers” received their driver’s license by the spring of their senior year; today more than one in four teens still lack one by the end of high school! 
 
And if you think since they are not dating, not driving, and not having sex they are out working and earning money, well, you’d be wrong there, too! In my era of growing up, we couldn’t wait to get a job, and almost every one of my friends worked, eager to finance our freedom! But the iGen teens aren’t working. Statistically, the late 1970s found over 77 percent of high-school seniors working, but by the mid-2010s, less than 55 percent did; and the number of eighth-graders who work for pay has been cut in half!  So, what are they doing with all that extra time away from relationships, sex, working, and driving? They are on their phone, in their bedrooms, alone and often distressed. 
 
Almost all this corrosion of happiness and cultural change of norms can be traced to the creation of smart devices. There is compelling evidence that the devices we’ve permitted in young people’s hands are having profound effects on their lives, and in the end, actually making them seriously unhappy. So unhappy, in fact, that they are depressed and – in alarming numbers –  often suicidal. The bottom line for Twenge: “There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness.” 
 
Look, I know that depression and suicide have many causes, and too much technology is clearly not the only one. I personally have dealt with depression for many years and I have, admittedly, been suicidal, too. I only survived because of the love and care of other people. Therefore, we must realize that for all their power to link children to the greater world, smart devices may just exacerbate the age-old teen concern about being left out; being ‘a loner’. Today’s teens go to fewer parties, spend less time together in person, and stay to themselves to the point that when they do congregate, they document their hangouts relentlessly on various Social Media platforms and ‘feel’ less and are less engaged while present to one another. They date less, have sex less, drive less, hangout less, engage less, sleep less, and feel helpless and alone more. This is not a good trend and we can fix this right here at our church. 
 
I watched television the other evening and a major basketball star had his little girl in the driveway of their multi-million-dollar mansion playing hopscotch. Yes, hopscotch! Why? It is back to basics for him and the relationship he wants with his daughter. He wants her to grow up knowing that happiness comes from the simple things in life, and that no matter how much money you have, happiness can never be bought.  
 
This is the time! This is the year! This is the place where you can save a life! And maybe the life of your own child! Allow your children to see, not just hear, of the value of honoring God, worship, and community. Let them watch you wake up every Sunday and say with great joy, “Let’s go kids! It is Saint Miriam time!” Come and witness a God who loves you so much that He sent His own child to die, so that you and your child might live and live life abundantly! In addition to Sunday, why not plan to attend a weekday Mass occasionally, say the rosary, bring the children to Adoration and teach them the value of sitting with Jesus for a time, and as you do, watch them grow into balanced adults with a love of God and an inherent duty to love the world around them. The way to save the world is to remove the stranger in their midst, and make them all friends
 
Together, you, me, and Saint Miriam can offset this trend, if only for our own children here, and bring them life in abundance!
 


“It’s Crazy; it was just a simple accident!”

 

“It’s Crazy; it was just a simple accident!”  Those are the words of my friend, Kate, a nurse and a fellow Crossfitter, who often works out at the same class I go to every morning. She texted those words to me following my emergency surgical procedure to remove an infected hematoma from my lower left leg. We all thought it was nothing really.  After all, I simply tripped and fell into a weighted bar; it was nothing but a concussive hit to my leg. But, after a few days, the swelling was immense and the pain unbearable.

I went the emergency room and they prescribed antibiotics, but just as a precaution. The physician thought it to be just a swelling from the hit, but gave a prescription just in case. There were no broken bones and no clots. He limited my gym activity, but days later, it got progressively worse. I returned, but this time to my family doctor, he added another antibiotic; that failed, too. One more trip last Monday to my family doctor and he walks in, takes one look at my leg, and says, (with a crunched up face) “Oh my God, Father! You are going right for an emergency surgical procedure! This is horrible!”  [Note: you never want a doctor to scrunch up his or her face and say those words. Ever!] I tried to get my family doctor to treat the wound himself, but he stated emphatically that we needed a surgeon. So, off I went. 
 
It took my doctor a few phone calls before he located a surgeon who could do the operation right away. I went immediately to the clinic and they performed the procedure as an outpatient. No anesthesia and no numbing allowed for this one, so very painful. After he finished and packaged up the culture, he turned and said to that if I had waited even one more week, the infection could have spread into the bone and I would have been in a lot of trouble. “Best case, Father Jim, you would have been in the hospital with IV antibiotics for a few weeks, worst case, you could have lost your leg!” Wow, I thought. And here I thought I was actually getting better! 
 
Over the past three weeks, since my initial injury, I have been dealing with the injury, the pain, and my limited mobility. I have riled in pain the middle of the night and cried, too, through much of it. I have also dealt with something I try never to do, my own mortality. How quickly I went from lifting large amounts of weight, performing CrossFit moves that would hamper many, and still come back to the parish to work a full day. How quickly I went from being ‘pretty good for my age’ to an almost invalid. How quickly friends from my life, the parish, and even at the gym, whom I thought would always be there for me, have forgotten about me, and worse, never even checked in to see how I was doing, or offered their support. I realized quickly that if I died tomorrow, any impact that I have had on the world around me would soon be forgotten. 
 
One of the aspects of disease, injury, and illness that regularly causes a lot of pain and heartache is the dealing with the change it brings. Prior to being ill, one has a sense of who they are and what to anticipate in themselves. I know that my world was pretty static in that regard! My strong sense of identity was based on what I have or didn’t have, and not on what I have achieved, in my life. It also was based strongly on how I knew and related to my own body. Daily life and expectations were defined by these relationships, to either positive or negative effect. Even, as a priest, I was fully human and fully broken. 
 
However, when this identity that I had created was challenged, eroded away, and even lost in the face of my unplanned injury, things became much more complicated. As humans, you could argue that we are perpetually changing all the time. Purely in terms of the molecules that construct us, we are different at every given moment of the day. Even the act of breathing changes us in some way, but this injury showed me that I was alone again. The words of my mentor, Father Henry Krider, as we sat on the close at Catholic University in Washington eating our lunch from a paper sack, came flooding back, “Jim, one day you will make a good priest and you will find how lonely your world will be. Even in the midst of hundreds of people, you will feel alone. Whatever you do, don’t give up.” 
 
I felt the loneliness of the life of a priest before, but not like this time. And, since my world revolves around working every weekend, friendships are hard to maintain, as most people use weekends as their down time. For me, it is the busiest part of a week. I have learned that much of my life is isolated in God-stuff, and now I have learned that what I thought I was, I am not, and those who I thought would be, are not, either. 
 
If our sense of the world and ourselves is static, then we misunderstand much of life. Change is happening both in us and all around us at some level at every moment of the day. So, my injury has had a few powerful impacts, too; vestiges for the good, as I have embraced the changes that have come, and through it I now return toward physical wholeness again. 
 
I know for me to move forward, I needed to let go of the person I knew before it, and embrace whoever the new person is that may follow. That doesn’t mean there will necessarily to be drastic difference, but that I must be very wary of spending my recovery chasing someone who may not completely exist anymore. Oh, and yes, I need to regain my focus on the fact that we are all but fleeting, and so I will keep my eye on Jesus. For, it is only in Him, that I find my true strength and Someone who never fails, never abandons, never leaves my side, even when I am at my worst. 
 
Ecclesiastes remind us the hardest lesson of all: “Teacher: Life is fleeting, like a passing mist. It is like trying to catch hold of a breath; All vanishes like a vapor; everything is a great vanity.” 
 
Hold on, Jesus, I am learning. Hold on until I get it right.
 


The Boy Who Ate a Hotdog and Almost Died!

 
You may think that my blog this week will be about the two major hurricanes (I have prayed, spoken about, preached on, and given my own funds to help with relief), so it is not. Or, perhaps Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, known widely by its acronym,  DACA, a program that had protected nearly 800,000 young undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children from deportation. (I abhor the President’s decision and I will continue to declare us a Sanctuary Parish, and pledge to do whatever needs done to ensure that Dreamers, stay dreaming within our borders!) so it is not. Or, perhaps you may think it would be about North Korea? (A very tense and frightening situation. One scarier than I can ever recall, and sadly, one without an immediate resolution. I do know that until one respects everyone in a conundrum, no one wants resolution and conflict will ensure.) Therefore, as I am not a diplomat, so it is not. 
 
What I am going to first talk about is the story of the boy who ate a hot dog and almost died. Yes, an extremely rare story about a boy with a very rare condition! It is reported that a 9-year-old boy was enjoying a hot dog and took an overly big bite, and immediately went into cardiac arrest. Not from choking, as you might think, but rather from a rare syndrome called, Brugada Syndrome.
 
The total number of cases of Brugada is difficult to measure, but based on EKG findings alone, about four in 1,000 Americans is diagnosed, and most do not even know they have the condition until later in life. Despite immediate panic, the story has a happy ending: After defibrillation, the boy was resuscitated, and doctors implanted a defibrillator into his chest to prevent sudden cardiac arrest again. He is fine and will hopefully live a full life, even with a rare condition. 
 
I also have a rare condition! Much to the chagrin of many, whilst in seminary, I became aware of myself as a liturgical creature. I absolutely love liturgy! It is why I continued at St. Louis University to gain a deeper understanding of all thing liturgical! No sooner did I matriculate my first week then I discovered weekly Chapel Service, the beauty and rules of the Mass, Evensong, the Daily Office, the Rosary, and Contemplative Prayer. I quickly discovered, however, that prayer was not in my bailiwick, nor was being overly contemplative or quiet! While I stayed for an extended time at L’abbaye Le Bec-Hellouin, a Benedictine Monastery nestled in the Normandy region of France, being quiet, silent, and contemplative almost drove me to the edge of insanity! But, there was one service, also in our chapel, that took my breath away: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament! 
 
We introduced Adoration last year. Quietly, often with only a few of us, ever since – week in and week out – we have been ‘Adoring our Christ’ ever since. We have brought to the community a few 24-hour Adorations, as well as Lenten observances of the Blessed Sacrament. Now, this week, we will introduce Adoration and Benediction along with a beautiful new Monstrance, given in loving memory of my dad, Alton. (see inset image). 
 
Now, I will admit, that sitting in front of a Monstrance that contains the Essence of Christ, may seem a bit unexciting, tedious, or even weird. Then again, almost everything we do as Catholics falls into one of those categories. But, each – and everything we do – is needed, necessary, and life preserving. To truly appreciate the Blessed Sacrament, one must understand it and experience it. 
 
Unfortunately, the lack of familiarity with exposition and benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is not uncommon these days. Exposition (and Benediction) of the Blessed Sacrament is not only a very old devotion in the history of the Church, but one that highlights the fundamental mystery of the Holy Eucharist that our Lord is truly present – body and blood, soul and divinity – in the Blessed Sacrament. In his letter, “Dominicae cenae”, Pope John Paul II wrote, “Since the Eucharistic mystery was instituted out of love, and makes Christ sacramentally present, it is worthy of thanksgiving and worship. And this worship must be prominent in all our encounters with the Blessed Sacrament.”  And it is! 
 
Basically, what we do is pretty simple: The priest places the Blessed Sacrament in a monstrance or ostensorium on the alter for adoration. a song of praise (like “O Salutaris Hostia”) is sung, as the priest incenses the Blessed Sacrament. During the period of Adoration that follows, the faithful may pray in quiet and foster a deeper spiritual communion with the Lord. Sometimes, Adoration includes prayers, readings from Sacred Scripture, etc., or may be accompanied by a homily or exhortation to increase the understanding of the Eucharistic mystery. All in all, the service is pretty short, (Benediction is less than 7 minutes!), but so needed! 
 
At the end of a period of Adoration, the priest then again incenses the Blessed Sacrament as a hymn of praise is sung (maybe, “Tantum Ergo”?), and then blesses the gathered with the Blessed Sacrament, making the sign of the cross using the beautiful Monstrance. After the blessing, the priest then reposes the Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle. That’s it. Pretty simple. Pretty life changing. Pretty much our life! 
 
Look, as a reminder, the death that Jesus died is the death we re-enact every Sunday morning at Mass. We lift Jesus up from the altar and we do what some call strange, or even weird, as we eat his flesh and drink his blood.  Really. We believe His flesh and blood are here and present through the mystery we call Transubstantiation. And so, the mere sight of the very real and present Jesus, in His Sacramental form, is good for us, too, because Jesus is here and now. Really. Or, as St. Augustine was keen to emphasize, ‘eternity is seeing God.’ Wow, huh? 
 
We have not seen as the disciples did. Oh, man, how I wish I could see Jesus! Walk with Him, talk with him, experience His call at the side of a sea! But, because we cannot, we not left in the dark; nor is a vision of eternity outside our experience in the present age impossible; we have Adoration. We have Jesus here, now, every week! Through His Presence, eternity has begun in the worship of the holy Church; a foretaste of what is to come. 
 
Adoration and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament may be weird, but it also so wonderful. Be not afraid. Come and join us every Thursday from 5:30pm – 6:30pm and gain a bit of heaven at Saint Miriam!