A holy, Holy Week: Your strength is found in Him!

 

Well we did what we could…

We offered programs to deepen your spirituality, prayer time to change you and the world, a special Lenten Retreat, homilies that inspired, Stations of the Cross that allowed you to walk with Jesus, beautiful liturgies, and now it is up to you. Each of you must decide if the preparation will bring you to the cross.

The Church demands that we, as Her followers, live differently. The gospels are not a collective of advice, they are the certain assurance that God lives and we live, too. But, we must believe differently; act differently. Every time you walk into the doors of the parish, you must change, be willing to change, as God demands. Each time you take Holy Communion – the very Essence and Presence of Christ – into your hands and bodies, you are called to renew your commitment to be the vessel that returns to the world and shares the extravagant goodness and hospitality of our loving God; called to lay your own life down, so that others might find Him and love Him, too. This is never truer than the journey we take of Holy Week.

We, as broken human beings, ache for a chance to start gain. To feel new, renewed, refreshed, and loved. To find a means to let go of the stress of life and embrace the calm embrace of God. But it costs. The price is a willingness to interrupt our lives for the journey, embrace God and the lessons He will impart, come to the Lord empty-handed, willing, and vulnerable, ready to accept the freedom that is about to come.

Scripture tells us that many of Jesus’ followers were ‘locked in fear’ until He came and said those words we all long to hear, “Peace be with you!”

Join us for Holy Week this Year. Come on Holy Thursday at 7:00pm, Good Friday at 3:00pm, Great Vigil of Easter of Holy Saturday at 8:00pm, and Easter Sunday at 7:30am and 9:00am, and when you reach the light of Easter Day, rejoice!

For the Lord is Risen, and so have you!
 
 


The Real Work of God.

 

We are about to enter Holy Week. This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and marks the beginning of Holy Week, the week of events leading up to Jesus’ death. It is one of the most important days in our Christian calendar for with this day, the Church willingly enters with the Lord into the commemoration of the mysteries of His Passion.

Lent was our time to make changes and to become better people as we prepared our temple for Jesus’ arrival. Our temple is to be the place where our goodness meets the holiness of Christ with a freshness and a renewal of purpose. It is to be a moment of clarity where we gain new direction and a deeper sense of worth and value from the disciplines we endured during Lent. But, what if some of us neglected Lent? What if we find we are in the wrong temple yet again, or worse, that our temple is the same as it was last year? What if we are still misguided, directionless, or think the most important temples are the movie theatre, the market,  the mall, or a stadium? Instead of setting our eyes on the Cross, we have them locked on some product that pales in value to that which the Lord did for us, and we find ourselves rudderless and lost still.

I shared a Facebook Meme this past week that told a story. It speaks to a growing problem with the world, and one that drips even into parish life, despite the Covenant we promise to abide and live by. It seems that we would rather make up ‘pleasing’ facts of our own, than live in the uncomfortable truth of what is. The story goes that once an old man spread false rumors that caused his neighbor to be arrested. The judge, before passing sentence on this falsehood, told the old man to go home, but on his way, he was to“write all the things you said on a piece of paper. Then, cut it up into little pieces and throw the pieces of paper out of your car window. Tomorrow, come back to hear the sentence.”  The next day, the judge told the old man to go out and gather up all the pieces of paper that you threw out of your car window yesterday.” The old man said, “I can’t do that! The wind spread them all over the place and won’t know where to find them.”  The judge replied, “In the same way, simple words destroy the honor of a person to such an extent that a person may not be able to fix it. Gossips are worse than thieves because they steal another person’s dignity, honor, reputation and credibility which are impossible to restore. So, remember this: when your feet slip, you can always recover your balance, but when your tongue slips, you can never recover your words!”

This past week, North Korea launched another ballistic missile, in Syria, the Asaad Regime murdered well over 70 of its own people, including at least 10 children, in what is suspected to be one of the deadliest chemical attacks in history. St. Petersburg, Russia was the latest site of another suicide terrorist attack on their Metro system; over a dozen killed and many more injured. A Meningitis outbreak in Nigeria, Africa has claimed the lives of nearly 300 people. 30 men and women were killed at a Muslim shrine in Pakistan. And that doesn’t even touch on what is happening on our own streets, in our own families, right here within our own cities; within our own borders. And, here, within our own parish, even as we approach Holy Week, a small, but vocal faction wishes to spur on false rhetoric regarding recent staff changes, and that our budget is failing because of our school, rather than doing the real work of God.

As pastor, I have learned that rumors will always be part of our culture. Despite the effort to be open, honest, and transparent, gossip seeps in and the rumor mill winds up every now and then. Even though we have outpaced almost every other parish around us, grown in less than nine years into what most do not achieve in tenfold that time, care for those who are hurting, welcome the desolate, embrace the lonely, and welcome everyone. Despite us being designated a ‘Sanctuary Parish’ to the refugee, and caring for local children with a quality, affordable, private education that otherwise would not be possible, we would rather talk behind the pastor’s back and point to him and decisions that never actually happened to soothe our conscious with falsehood and produce upheaval in a parish that is based on everything beautiful.

As a priest and pastor, I have sacrificed to live out my call and given much. As pastor, my job is to issue corrections to destructive behavior that harms the fabric of who we are, just as much as it is to anoint the dying, pray for the world, visit the sick, and bury the dead. And, as pastor, I am charged by God who called me, and my Bishop who appointed me, to care for you – all of you – even those who wish to dishonor me and my positon. But let us be clear: I do not work for you; I shepherd and sacrifice for youI work for God, and I am charged with caring for God’s holy Church by Bishop Gregory.

Transitions may be uncomfortable. Change may be unwelcome. However, both are needed and necessary to produce growth. We – this entire parish – are a product of such change and transition. In our short, but vibrant life, we have grown and changed and transitioned many times. If we did not, we would still be back renting that small chapel in a Jewish synagogue with the just handful of people. Our ability to impact the thousands of lives we do would be harmed and even eliminated; in fact, it would never have existed at all.

I have tried to be a source of consummate support, love, and care for all who come here. I feel that I have been that to many of you, even those who have turned away from me for no reason. In Lent, I know that the devil is alive and well. I also know that I am not he, despite the words of some of you. It would be so much more comforting if the source were a devil with horns and a pitchfork. But the source, unfortunately, looks unremarkably ordinary: indifference, self-centeredness, clannishness, self-righteousness, pride, moralism, gossip, innuendo, and false superiority. None of these have a place at Saint Miriam.

I will make decisions that you may not always like. If I have not offended you yet in my life as pastor, I promise I will get around to you sooner or later! In other words, you may not always appreciate what I do, but I do so with all the facts, and all the prayer, and with the fullness of my office with all the facts. After all, is that not what you want? A strong pastor who is selfless and determined to care for everyone? Why not appreciate those who remain, too, while you mourn the loss of those who leave?

I endure the losses of staff, parishioners, and visitors right alongside you. I often sit alone in my office and weep, and yes, I often blame myself. But, I will never disclose personal information, or engage in gossip or backstabbing. I know the sting of feeling like you have failed. I have resigned from three jobs and was terminated from two others in my lifetime; one very publicly. I know the feeling, and I will not engage anyone on a transition. If someone departs, I will wish them well, pray for them, thank them for what they did in their life of service for us during their time here, and hope they find that which they seek. I pray they will do the same for me.

On the other hand, for anyone to state that I do so devoid of feelings, or with malice of intent, is not only cowardly, it is wrong and without a shred of truth. I do not deserve your respect simply because of my office or title, I have earned it because of my dedication, sacrifice, and unconditional love.
 

There are real problems in the world. Real death. Real poverty. Real illness. Real loneliness. Real war. If any of my readers, parishioners, and friends wish to engage in such harmful and unwarranted behavior, you are welcome to do it elsewhere, as harsh as that sounds. Why?

Because we have work to do; the real work of God…
 
 


“Father, whatever you need, just ask…”

 
When I was a young boy we had a rather elderly Monsignor who had served our parish with dedication for some twelve-plus years. He was a good priest and wonderful pastor. He was honest, always available, and would go wherever he was asked or needed. Many a Saturday you would find him toiling in the rectory garden, gathering his prized vegetables to give freely to the neighbors. It was this priest who introduced me to the compassion of God’s ministry when, rather than scold me for giving ‘communion’ to my pets in the form of Ritz Crackers and Grape Juice, he took me into the sacristy, found some loose ‘priest’s hosts’ and wrapped them in a small baggie telling me sternly in his broken Italian-English accent, “Whatever you doa, Jimmy, don’ta tella your momma! Onea day, you’rea gonna makea a gooda priest.”
 

I think I am a good priest, and I attribute it to his leadership, his love, but most of all to his compassion and dedication. It took me many years to get here; to let go of myself in order to give more to others. It is the model I follow to this very day. I try to go where needed, always be responsive, and never let anyone in need remain alone. I think often about Monsignor Marino after all these years. He lives on in my ministry because it was this elderly priest that gave me the core gift needed in every good priest: a relentless dedication to the love of Jesus and to those who come to him.

Monsignor was well taken care of in the rectory. We prepared his meals, did his laundry, and he was given a brand-new car every two years, too! But the highest honor we gave to him was when we replied, “Yes, Monsignor, whatever you need!”  We knew that being called to pastor a parish was by God and we honored that office with every word, every action, and with our every prayer.

This past Monday, Chester and Donna called me to tell me how much they love me. They called and said that they knew that every change, every loss, and every transition was hard on me, but that they appreciated me and all my hard work. They appreciated even more that I have stayed as pastor, never once abandoning them, or the parish. Then, they said something that I haven’t heard for quite some time, “Father, whatever you need, just ask…”

In a perfect world, we wish everyone who comes to our church would stay forever. I get that. I share that desire, too. But, the reality is, that on this side of heaven, people come and people go, not just in church, but everywhere. Think about it: I bet that fairly recently you’ve switched gyms or supermarkets. You’ve probably bought or sold your car in the last few years; maybe, like me, even your home. And, I bet that in your lifetime, you’ve even changed numerous jobs (either by choice or by directive!) The church is not a commodity, but the law of averages tells us a certain percentage of people inevitably come and go. It is the hardest part of my life as pastor, I’m always saying goodbye.

I have found that usually, when people leave a church, it’s because there’s a problem, a disagreement or a conflict of some kind. Sometimes it is even me! They don’t like my leadership style, or a decision made, or even a change. They rarely come and talk about it, they just give into gossip or innuendo and leave. But my job as Pastor is to protect the parish – all the parish – every single member – from the youngest to the oldest and I do so with great thought, much prayer, and sometimes many tears. I also know that I make these decisions – many of them very difficult – with the highest of ideal and intent, and with full depth of knowledge, because I actually live here and spend hundreds of hours a week here. So, perhaps those who think my decisions rash, might stop and rethink? Maybe they should pause and say to themselves, ‘He is the pastor, he knows more than I do; let me go talk to him, or just trust him. After all, he’s gotten pretty far!’

Ironically, I’ve also come to learn that people leave churches when things are going well, too. As surprising as it sounds, every time we make progress, we’ll lose people. So why do people leave even when we’re making improvements or growing? Simple. The people who are at our parish today are there because they like it the way it is. Change that, even for the better, and some will leave. Add new staff members, or transition one as they leave, build a new building or move locations, start a new program, stop an old one, or God-forbid announce a new initiative to reach out beyond the walls, and people will leave.

A longstanding parishioner remarked recently that he had never seen our school. In fact, he had never been in any other part of the parish building except from the door to the sanctuary and back out! He had no idea what it looked like, or how it functioned, or how many children we impact. Now, to be clear, he regularly comes to Mass, but walks in, walks out, and this is about all he does and all he knows. Once he visited the school, saw the tiny faces and the warm embrace of our wonderful educators, he gave $100 a month to support their work, in addition to increasing his pledge to the parish, too!

We all have a way of keeping to certain habits and paths; some are far narrower than others. This may be comfortable and easy, but it’s distinctly unhelpful for the church and for ourselves. Many parishioners have little knowledge of the true scope of our programs and the reach Saint Miriam has on the world. Many, in similar manner, have little concept of what their pledged contributions provide, or how they impact real people; making their lives better. They fail to take pride in all that Saint Miriam offers and accomplishes. And the smaller their vision, the less satisfaction they get in giving, and the less impetus there is to give generously, the more their very small God fails them, and then they leave in search of something they already had all along. If you are one of these, I pray that this is the Lent you will find a reason to change.

There will always be a tiny minority that likes the church just the way it is. They don’t want it to get bigger. They don’t want it to get better. They just want it to stay the same. As exciting as the future is, some people prefer the present. Others live in the past. I never have; I go where God calls…

Living in the past often produces dead roses and lifeless skulls upon our altars, and I have learned that’s life in a parish that doesn’t embrace change. So, I refuse to let us fall into complacency…after all, we have work to do!
 
 


We Dared to Allow for Change.

 
So far, during this holy season, I have spoken on reflection, self-examination, the inevitability change, and the willingness to emerge from our intended holy cocoon into something better; more beautiful. It is a process that growth demands, but it is never easy, and often uncomfortable.
 
I have been thinking a lot lately about dedication, willingness to be used by God (metaphorically and literally), letting go of our inherent selfishness, human desired focuses, and the prevailing entitlement mentality common in today’s age, into one of true servanthood. What I’d like to reflect on with you today is my leadership role, as a pastor, in the midst of change; intentional and unintentional, expected and unexpected, that so often accompanies parish life.
 
When I first began serving as pastor, I wasn’t used to such dramatic and inevitable change. I certainly didn’t welcome the plethora of change that so often comes with the job! I was, quite honestly, used to my intense role as a Trauma Chaplain. I went to the Trauma Center, did my 18-24 hours, and I went home. I was good at my job, loved the fast-paced culture, and my entire ministry was wrapped up by the end of my shift.
 

Pastoral leadership at the parish level is quite different. Days are really weeks or months, there are no shifts, one day can change as quickly as the weather, and ministry is marked by years, not days. And, as I have often ruminated, perhaps the hardest thing for me to get used to is saying goodbye, or worse, watching someone walk out the door knowing that it is good for the whole.

Most folks who come to us, come for a season. A season is a biblical term often used, but never defined, and I have learned that is very true in parish ministry. Some come for years, others for a mere number of weeks or months, and some just for a single Mass. But, however long their season is with us, they deserve our love, respect, greatest effort, and warmest welcome. In other words, we are to be radically hospitable to all, even if they are not to us, or leave abruptly.

I have also learned a valuable lesson on goodbyes; some folks are just not good at them. This is not a reflection on them, positive or negative, it is simply the truth. Some leave without nary a word, others with much hoopla, and still a minority go out with a proverbial bang! Some leave because they move or relocate jobs, others due to life changes such as illness or loss, still others because they have fulfilled their time – their season – with us and are ready for the next adventure, wherever it may be. Those are all valid reasons and we wish them well, but mourn their absence; and, as I said, it is part of healthy parish ministry. The hardest ones for me, however, are those who leave because they give in to gossip, or feel harmed in some way without giving anyone a chance to hear them out and perhaps, prove their perception wrong. I also find that many people are afraid of change, and that fear inhibits their ability to find where God truly lives and God’s best for them.

I find many of the issues holding us back to accept change are structural. This is where I, as a pastor, have my greatest responsibility. Where do we spend time, energy, and resources that are not bearing fruit? Who or what is causing inner-turmoil, dissension, or unhappiness? What programs are failing, or in need of a ‘fresh coat of paint’? I once heard something I’ve never forgotten: the biggest difference between a small church and a large one is that a small church has a much harder time letting go of the things that aren’t working! That is certainly true of our parish. It’s also true of our diocese, and many other churches, too. So, perhaps this Lent, we are called to practice authentic reevaluation, and learn to let go.
 
The other primary areas of what holds us back are cultural, embedded in personal preferences masked as core values. I have found that these values are often not worth dying for, if pressed. So, they are merely preferences without a gauge as to why, but hard-pressed are we to let them go without a fight! Jesus once said to Nicodemus that we speak of what we know, and testify to what we have seen. This is what I know to be true in parish life. For how we respond amid the ‘storm of change’ will have more lasting impact than the storm itself.  
 
Okay, back to the task at hand: what, then, is my primary task in the midst of change or storm? Well, that is simple: it is to hold us steady.  I need to keep my hand firmly on the rudder and listen to God’s voice. Rest assured, I feel a whole range of emotions with each loss, each change, each storm, but it would not be healthy for me to express them publicly. How could I remain calm enough to pay attention and truly listen to God if I am perplexed by own emotions? I have found that my service to all of you is to go deep inside of myself, in prayer and self-examination, and remember how big my God really is, and allow change to come…
 
So, then, perhaps my most important reconciling work as a pastor can be identified as doing everything from my position to equip leaders, ministry team members, parishioners, staff, and visitors, in the hard work of adapting to the changing world around them; even if it is right here at home. After all, our beautiful community of faith, centered around the good news of Jesus, once began because we dared to allow for change. 
 


Peter, do you love me?

 

Lent this year at Saint Miriam has been intentionally deeper. We carefully added both liturgical and reflection elements to allow us all to find God in ways we could never have imagined. We were intentional and reflective in our choices and decisions; just like Lent should be.

We began with Ash Wednesday and used the powerful symbol of ashes made from the burnt palm branches that welcomed in Christ at last year’s Palm Procession. We then added the ominous words, ‘Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust that shalt return.’ But, we were not selfish in our investiture day of Lent, as we then took those ashes to the streets with Ashes-to-Go and stood train side at the Ft. Washington Commuter Station to help others welcome in this time of refection and change, too. So, began our journey together.

Since that day, we have added moments of reflection in Adoration, and Stations of the Cross and the 24-hour Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament to take place the 29th-30th from 6:00pm to 6:00pm; as well as moments of instruction in the Instructed Eucharist and the coming Evangelism 101 on March 26th. We will soon enjoy together a beautiful and moving Lenten Retreat with Sr. Eleanor Francis this coming Saturday, and then – being a people of welcome and inclusion – will welcome her to our Altar for the Morning Mass on Sunday, the 19th and then enjoy her forum discussion afterward in our Undercroft space! A special Lent-edition Sacred Meal is slated for tonight, the 15that 6:30pm, and we will gather for Mass and Stations again, and the cycle will repeat until God deems us ready and we welcome in the Easter Triduum and the Light comes again on Easter Sunday

Lent is a time for cold, sober, intentional reflection on what we have become and what we wish to – nay, need to change. Lent is a time of reflection on that which, deep down, our faith knows to be true, but our human spirit fights to change in our brokenness and selfishness. Lent is an opportunity, given us by a god of love and grace, to move closer to the ultimate reality of community and love and dedication to God and church that we want to be true, but have mostly forgotten in our hustle and bustle life.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God of community. The God of light and love and peace. The God of hope and of grace. Is also the God of the poor, the marginalized, and the hurting. He is the God of the outcast, and the needy, the hungry, and the lost. Our God is pro-life in every sense of the word; God loves all, created all, and welcomes all. We, as followers of that God are to welcome the outcast, the seeker, the naked and the afraid. How we, as a community, do just that is the barometer of how we will be judged. This is what Lent should bring to us. Are we willing to give up something of ourselves – some enjoyment, some need, some desire, some time, some convenience – and add to our day an inconvenience, an outreach, a handout, to improve the life of another, or to stop long enough to worship this God we say we love, but rarely actually show it.

On my recent visit to St. Padre Pio, I met a man who desired to become a deacon. He has a heart of service, but he also has a severe learning disability. He drives a school bus and is simple in his demeanor. He is sometimes unkempt and disorganized. He often presents himself with a less than pressed attire and looks a bit disheveled. He has been the object of ridicule, even within his own parish, and yet he serves. Some believe he should not be at the altar, some have even suggested that he should never be allowed entrance into the discernment process, let alone ever be ordained a deacon. I met with him during my visit and he was very clear on his ‘issues’ and his disabilities. He admitted his failings and his shortcomings. He told me of his concerns in learning and how he would even be able to complete the intensive formation of diaconate training. I listened and I observed. Later, I returned to both priests of the parish and I asked the same question of them at two different times: What do you think of this man? The common line was this: “He is a good man, he is considerate, he is kind, he is compassionate, he loves God and the church and is dedicated to the parish.”

With the consent of the pastors of St. Padre Pio, a letter of welcome to the process will soon be going out from my desk to this man. And, one day, within the next few years, I have little doubt that we – as the community that calls God’s one holy catholic church our home – will welcome a new deacon!

The promise of God is He is here and now. The reality of God is there are no shortcuts to His love. Even in our humanness we are called to be more, to do more, to love more, to become more, to abandon ourselves more to serve more. The light is a gift to us. The work is all on us. The fast is required for us to get there a changed and ready people. In order to truly serve, we must be willing to abandon our boats and follow…
 
“Peter, do you love me? Then feed my sheep…”
 


New Wine, Old Wine Skins…Our Lenten Journey

 

New Wine into Old Wineskins is a parable of Jesus. It is found in all three synoptic Gospels at Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:21-22 and Luke 5:33-39. It reads:

“No one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out, and the wineskins will be ruined. No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins.”

While speaking out against the status quo of His day, Jesus referred to Himself, His message, and the recipients of that powerful life changing message, as new wine poured out into new wineskins. Jesus was scandalous and even intoxicating at times during His tenure on earth. He challenged the everyday ‘way things used to be’ and promoted a new way of living based on the Gospel. But, it scared people because they had to change their current ways of living and believing. Things have not changed all that much in the two millennia that has passed, as we are still frightened of change.

Jesus to this very day is still very much scandalous and intoxicating. The problem is that those of us who claim to follow Him — no matter our status, or stage in life — are so prone to pour the new wine of His life and word into our old rotten skins of “Church-ianity” that can never contain it, ruining both in the process. You see, we must change to grow, and the church must grow and change, and yes, it must allow for growth and change or good people will never grow, never find Christ, never be what God intended.

Think of it this way: IF things always stayed the same, leadership never changed, and oppressors always won, then Miriam would never have been born, never saved Moses, never influenced the course of Salvific history, and later, some thousands of years later, Saint Miriam Parish would never have come into existence either! This place we call home, where we worship, pray, cry, baptize our babies, anoint our sick, pray for the dead, welcome the foreigner, feed the hungry, warm the lost, cloth the naked, support the needy, and bear witness to a living, breathing, alwaysexisting God – this place – would never have existed for you to find it in the first place!

However, this place must learn to deal with change, too. That is why I prefaced my blog post today with my opening comment in my weekly Franciscan Moment Reflection this past Monday with the words, “Change is inevitable”.  And it is. For us, for our parish, for our nation, and for the world. Change is here, and change must always be here; and we must welcome and embrace and endure change with a spirit of playfulness and whimsy, or our wine will surely spill and our salt will lose its saltiness.

This past week, I accepted a very kindly worded written letter of resignation from Kathleen, as she will soon leave the position of Parish Administrator. This position has grown and changed tremendously, just as we have grown and changed greatly in the past almost two years now here on our new campus home. She feels it is now beyond what she wanted, far more things to care for than ever imagined, and she is ready to search for a new beginning. We support her in that choice. We send her with our best wishes, our regret for the times we disagreed, (especially me, as pastor, in my own humanness and brokenness) and we wish her nothing but faith, love, and happiness! We also thank her for the gifts she brought to the parish for the time she spent with us in this position and she leaves with a new computer laptop, and many good memories, as our gift for her journey! In her caring style, she asked for no fanfare, we will honor that request, but send our love and support.

The Board and I decided that we will not replace this position. I will accept more work in my current role, and we have promoted from within to others already this week on our team several of the tasks; they were thrilled to accommodate. Further, we will hire a new employee that will serve in an administrative support role, as well as a very much needed receptionist for our school at the start of every new day! These changes will reduce our payroll expenditures by almost 18% and increase our ability to serve even more students, families, and parishioners alike. This new position is slated to be filled within the next two weeks so get ready to welcome a new face to the team! We welcome what new wine God will bring our way and stand ready to accept with openness and love the changes to come.

At our school side, we welcomed Miss Margaret, back after the tragic loss of her son, Nick. She returns to us, changed as she is, to continue her journey and to touch the lives of the children she has come to love so deeply. We welcome her home.  Too, we also have a few board transitions coming up. Every Board member, except for the Executive Board, has imposed term limits for 2-4 years. Many of them automatically renew, but this year a couple members wish to finally step down after several such renewals; who could blame them? They have served well and helped us to be where we are today! So, we are excited to welcome Ms. Donna Mitchell who fill one such position, and we are hoping that someone new will help us by volunteering to serve for a two-year term? We need new wine to continue to strengthen, and to challenge, the status quo! Please see me, or email me, if you are so inspired. We would be grateful and certainly can use your talent and voice!

Finally, I would be remiss, as a priest and your pastor, if I did not take us back to Lent. This holy time of year is a good time of our journey to experience change that makes us uncomfortable. It challenges us to look within and see how we, too, must change to grow. If we do not readily accept change, we should seek out why? If we gossip over change and harm those who remain to serve, we should seek to change that destructive habit and become more in tune with our Covenant here at Saint Miriam. If we seek to cause division by spreading innuendo and falsehoods, we should recognize that Jesus was killed by the same activity. We are all better than that, and this is perhaps why God gives us the gifts of change, one another, and this holy Season of Lent.

The New Wine into Old Wineskins is also a good metaphor for building relational bridges with one another, even those we fall out of relationship with, or do not know yet. Our duty as Christians and practicing Catholics. We must all understand that relations change, but they never end unless we – in our brokenness and human selfishness – cause them to do so.

I will not be with you this weekend, as I will be traveling to St. Padre Pio for a diocesan pastoral visit and to confirm five new Catholics! I am excited and I will miss you greatly, but I leave you in the very capable hands of one Father Bryan! I hope you will pray for me, the Confirmandi, and their ministry team, but always pray for one another, too.

So, perhaps then, Lent is not just a time for loss or change, but also a time for a gathering up. We can use this time for self-reflection, penitence, and preparation before the Easter sunrise to gather up, with what I like to call intentional love, new habits, new ways of looking at our world, a renewed sense of commitment to our parish and greater church, and a renewed sense of wonder and respect for all God has given to us through His generosity, love, and grace, as well as our willingness to accept the change that always comes. I believe that such an increased recognition will better enable us to give to those in need, and receive even greater blessings because of our unconditional trust in God.

So how do we start? I think that our Catholic Catechism is clear:  We need, first, to gather up the disposition of the humble heart.

I will bring mine with me, I pray I meet all of yours, too.

See you next week.

 

 



Our faith is over 2000 years old, our thinking is not…

 

Well, Lent has finally arrived, and I guess it did so without much fanfare. I suppose, that is how Lent should arrive; inconspicuously, movingly, deeply, and with a gentle persistence that will call us to become better than we were at its conclusion, than today at its commencing.

We, as a parish and a ministry team, have been preparing ourselves for literally months now. Our liturgy, events, and dedicated opportunities for sinking deeply into Lent have cumulated into one of the finest Lenten seasons we have ever planned as a community of faith. This Lent will be different because we have all worked so hard to make it so, but that calls each of us to participate fully if we expect to get something out of it in the end. I pray we all will do so.

But Lent is not devoid of its joys, subdued as they may seem. I reflected on a funny Facebook meme I saw yesterday when posting on my personal page. It was the famous character, “Grumpy Cat” and he was positioned this time in from of a high altar within a large gothic Cathedral and the words emblazoned over the image read, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of The Year: Lent”! 

The image reminded me that the Cross, as tortuous a death machine as it was, still allows us, as Christians, to sing Alleluia from the very depths of our graves – in whatever form they come in life and in death –  because of what Jesus did for us. So, there is always some grateful joy around the edges of deep penitence and sorrow, in Lent, too.

That is why we chose to launch our new Livestream today on Ash Wednesday! Now, you may actually watch many of our services and Masses live when away from the parish. It will also be a grand way to introduce ourselves and our liturgies and deep, unbridled, belief in the One we follow, Jesus, to those who wish to ‘visit’ us online first!

We will begin our Livestream @ Saint Miriam with both Ash Wednesday services today at 12:15pm and 6:30pm. Then, as a weekly routine we will live broadcast Adoration and Weekday Mass every Thursday and our Morning Mass on Sunday morning at 10:30am. Other events will be announced ahead of time.

Another added feature to our beautiful parish is our brand new in-house store! That’s right, on your next visit to Saint Miriam, outside our Library, you will find a beautiful new rotating store kiosk that will offer you many opportunities to make purchases that will benefit the parish and school! From rosaries to books, to statuary, to t-shirts, water bottles, Mass cards, and much more! Stop by, make a purchase, buy a gift and support the parish that is always there for you! At Saint Miriam, you can shop online and now in person to support those who support you!

There is a lot going on, a lot of people to thank, and most importantly, a lot of people who work hard behind the scenes every week to bring you so many opportunities to engage your faith, grow into better human beings, and make the world a better place. All of this hard work brings us new innovations like Parish Apps, eNewsletters, Websites, a strong social media presence, and now livestreaming and a store, too. But all of this is without meaning if we do not do what we are meant to do and worship a loving God every week, change and reflect during Lent, welcome the stranger and the foreigner, love our enemies, forgive those who hurt us, and grow into better Christians and stronger Catholics.

At Saint Miriam, our faith is over 2000 years old, our thinking is not…

 


Is this Lent the one that changes you into something better?

 

Soon it will be Lent. It almost unimaginable, but we have been in planning mode now for the last few weeks! Everyone from Ministry to Liturgy to Design to Music Teams have been working hard to create Lenten Opportunities for you to deepen your faith and find God in new and moving ways. Our 2017 Lenten Schedule is one of the best we have ever out together, but it will need you to set aside some time and commit to becoming a better person, to wanting to find our Lord, and to being willing to give a part of yourself to the One who gave it all to you in the first place. Are you ready for Lent?

As followers of St. Francis at Saint Miriam, we can rely on his life and inspiration to follow the pattern of the Gospel more closely. It will lead us more deeply into the coming Lenten season and perhaps allow us to let go of the troubles of the world, as we try and find a closer relationship with Christ.

The world will always be full of trouble, pain, conflict, and war. Just turn on the news today and we may witness a plethora of the world’s troubles and in some very horrific ways. Even our own lives can seem tense and troubled, too, at times. Debts can be high, income low, and our relationships strained. Days run into weeks and the clock often controls them. Few of us find ways to simply stop, get off the proverbial merry-go-round, and find a place of peace and refuge, if only for a few moments to commune and gain strength from God. But, we must, or we shall perish like the wheat that falls to the earth. Every week we offer brief times of respite; from Adoration to Mass to Rosary, but the truth is few take time out of the ‘busyness’ of their own lives to focus on God. It seems the world – and ourselves included– is so busy we allow selfishness to creep in and we find it difficult to untangle ourselves even for 30 minutes. Then, tragedy strikes, and our first scream is for the God we neglected for years…

How will you dedicate your Lenten focus to God? Are you willing to make an intentional change? Will you promise to attend Mass regularly? Give more of time, talent, and treasure? Will you pray more? Give more of yourself, rather than ‘giving up’ chocolates, or some worldly good? Will you attend Stations of the Cross with your family and teach your children the meaning of what Christ did for us? Will you find a way o let go of one 8-hour day and sink fully into our Lenten Retreat to emerge a new creation? How will you focus your life more on that which lasts, rather than what fades with the passage of time?

Do you really trust God enough to make this Lent the one that changes you into something better?
 
 


Building a Longer Table…

 

The parable of the Good Samaritan, found in the pages of the Gospel of Saint Luke, is clearly and simply about who acts like a neighbor. Remember that it is not the priest, or the Levite, who steps out of the injured man’s path. Instead, it is the foreigner, the schismatic, the Samaritan, maybe the rough equivalent of our culture and world today would be to declare him as the Mexican, or unauthorized immigrant, the alien, or yes, the Syrian refugee. 
 
Upsetting the stereotypes of the day, in the Gospel story referenced, the Samaritan binds the man’s wounds, takes him to an inn, and covers the cost of his care. The Syrian Civil War, and its victims, are our neighbors; those left trapped and besieged in their own country of birth, and we need to begin to be that Good Samaritan if we are also to say we are followers of the gospel and the Christ. We are called to be better neighbors, just like the Good Samaritan.
 
A few weeks ago, in response to the ban on refugees, I made certain that everyone knew that I, as a priest and fellow human being, could not turn my back on refugees. I reminded us all strongly of our duty to uphold and believe in the Catholic social construct of Inherent Human Dignity; a dignity that is inherent, because we are all created in the image and likeness of God. It is something that can’t be taken away. Catholic Social Teaching states that each and every person has value, are worthy of great respect, and must be free from slavery, manipulation, and exploitation. And yes, this includes the refugee, the immigrant, and those seeking asylum. I stated clearly, too, that I would rather see Saint Miriam closed and shuttered, than to see her used as weapon in this fight against fellow human beings. That if it came down to it, I would fling wide our doors and provide sanctuary to anyone seeking refuge. And if that were not good enough for you, then to seek to remove me as your pastor and that I was willing to lose parishioners, sadly, if I must, but I would not turn my back on someone in need. I would not turn my back on the gospel.
 
Well, we lost at least one parishioner that I know of.  She stated that she was a strong ‘Trump supporter’ and that I violated her belief that we should not let in another refugee or immigrant. That the wall should be built and stand firm. That she vehemently disagreed with my position. After hearing about how wonderful Saint Miriam is from her, well, except for this huge obvious huge ‘slip up’, I presume, I queried this, “What if I stood up in a pulpit and stated, ‘Close the borders, screw the huddled masses, refuse the refugee, let the immigrants die in the dessert, after all, they had no business trying to enter this country illegally – it must be us first, crew the world!!” I continued, “Is that the type of priest – the pastor – you want in your pulpit preaching every Sunday? Is there not enough hate in the world…do you really want it preached here, too?”  Let me clear here once again, this is not politics, and this is not anything to do with an Anti-Trump agenda. I could care less who occupies the White House if they violate human rights, I will stand up for the violated. I am priest first, and you should be Christians first! This isn’t about politics; it is about the gospel.
 
What does the Judeo-Christian tradition teach us? At the most basic level, it teaches us to love God and to love our neighbor. So who is our neighbor? This is the very question that an astute and tricky lawyer once asked Jesus! By way of response, Jesus told a story of a traveler who was robbed, beaten, and then left half-dead by the side of road. It’s clear that the man near death is our neighbor. For our purposes, it might also be the person walking under the pitiless desert Mexican sun, or the family crammed in an unseaworthy boat on the high seas from lands far away seeking a better life. If we turn our back on the refugee or the immigrant, we have gone against everything Jesus taught. Everything. Jesus had no fear, no hatred, no malice toward anyone, except he tried to sway the hypocrite. He had only love. I stated the same idea a few weeks ago when I said, “He [Jesus] would have let these people in, no matter where they came from. And, Jesus would have loved them, no matter who they are, or where they were born.” I still maintain it, because I still believe it. I always will.
 
I am not sure if I salvaged this one parishioner, and, to be honest, I am not sure if my stance lost any others. I did tell everyone that you need not agree with me on everything, but you should not tell me to violate my vows as a priest. I never will. What I am sure of is that Christianity teaches that salvation depends, on how truly nations welcome refugees and immigrants. You might read our Scriptures as the ultimate migration narrative. In Hebrew Scripture, God repeatedly enjoins the Jewish people, based on their experience of displacement and persecution, to empathize and identify with refugees and migrants. If someone returned their back on a person seeking refuge, the cold dark desert night could literally kill them. Hospitality had life and death consequences back then…it still does.
 
Pope Francis recently said that, “It is not human to close the door, it is not human to close hearts.” Jesus, too, warned us about becoming lukewarm, and we have learned that when faith becomes tepid it is because the Church has become weak. I pray not here, not at Saint Miriam. 
 
In my mother’s house there was never a stranger. Never one. She taught me to welcome everyone to our table; the stranger, the homeless, the transgender, the discriminated, the lost, and the foreigner. And, without even knowing it, she taught me by doing so how to be a good priest. I hope we will follow the idiom, “If you are more fortunate than others, build a longer table, not a taller fence.”
 
We are, so let us get to building that longer table! There are people to welcome!