This Place is Hopping!

 

Well, we are hopping! It isn’t even spring and Saint Miriam is entering fully into 2018! 

I drove onto the campus yesterday and needed to wait in line! Yes, I needed to actually wait for cars to park and people to move to where they were heading! Then, as I entered the building, I watched with great joy all the activity going on and I was overwhelmed for a moment on how far we have come! There were children running, teachers engaging young minds, administration keeping the parish going strong, ministry team members serving God and community, staff members were preserving our campus, ice was being removed from fixtures and grounds crews for the cemetery were on task, as our own maintenance team were also repairing our facilities, and keeping us all safe. There were also visitors and families, small groups meeting, and support groups, as well; not to mention the Tommy Conwell Rock Academy, too! So much going on, every day, in our little corner of the world. We should all be proud of what we have done together in such a short span of time.

In just about a month, believe it or not, we will enter Lent already; then in March of this year, we will celebrate our 10th anniversary as a parish, and the 200th anniversary of the site we now are stewards of! We will be honoring both as Bob Pardi is already working diligently on gathering information and planning a celebration! Yes, God is good.

In our ten years of us being a parish, we have become so more than we could have ever dreamed. Our Franciscan identity serves us well because we serve so well. We have served others without reservation and made needed changes when they came. We have never stopped loving, or welcoming, and we have grown into a fine parish where everyone who comes feels welcomed and included; they know God is here.
 
I realize that I am not a prefect leader and that mistakes did occur and my cracks sometimes were abundant! I can only hope that I have served better than my worst mistake. I pray that you will continue to love me, pray for me, and support me, as I do each of you. I have come to realize fully that together we are better.
 

As I look toward gathering with the board next week to see where God wants us to go next, I am so comforted by the fact that God has always been here, because we have also prayed God would be. We have kept our eye on Jesus, and while it hasn’t always been easy, it has been fulfilling because we love with wild abandon. We love and welcome beyond what the world thinks wise. I think that is a pretty wonderful thing!

I can’t wait to see what the next ten years brings us!

 



A Time for Change or the Status Quo?

 

Well, as I mentioned in my Franciscan Devotion for this week, here we are! Another brand-new year! A time of transition, change, and reflection. And, while it may not always be easy, it is also a time for us – as a parish community – to do the same!

Each and every year, about this time, just as the calendar unfolds into a new year, the parish board and our ministry team leadership take a couple of days to go on retreat. This year, we will do so with the Community of St. John the Baptist in New Jersey in mid-January. We will sit, talk, pray, and reflect. We will hold each of you in prayer and love, and make decisions that will impact, change, or alter things that may need change or may not be working so well, or we may decide to simply leave alone what is working. All of this will be done, as it always has been, in community, with respect, and in open dialogue with one another. This is the way God comes and helps us to discern. This is how we have become Saint Miriam!

Over the last few weeks, well into the prior Thanksgiving season, I have been doing my own reflections and making needed changes. While most of this has been to improve my life, increase my personal happiness, to find a sense of accomplishment, as well as to let go of some stress, it has also been to allow for me to remain a strong leader and warm and accessible pastor. They say that ministry is hard. That is an understatement. And, for the last few months, as I have dealt with my seasonal depression, the remembering of my dad, as well as caring for my mom now, I have noticed that I needed to also find a way to regain my focus, and to stay steadfast at the helm of what makes us, well…’us’. I realized that I was on the verge of what we call ‘ministry burnout’. This should have been expected, as we have done so much with our less than ten years together! Yes, God has been good, and we have grown, expanded, and moved and now have grown even more, but that has come at a cost to all of us; a shared cost that we should all be so proud of. It has also cost me a sense of being me.

You see, being a pastor means that I am human, too. But, many folks forget that I am human, have human needs, and need to reflect and engage my broken parts! I have become more open to my own sense of being broken since my brain surgery, and what legacy I will leave when I am called to return home to God, but I failed to also note that my humanness demands I care for myself and that I am able to maintain a personal life, too. So, over the last year, with the help of my administration and ministry teams, I have tried to allow myself more personal space, take a day off now and again, as well as work on my personal ‘stuff’. Some of you may have noticed that I have needed more time for myself and some days I have been distant or reclusive. As I was working on healing from being berated in the press and made to feel a villain, I have shut down at times to find strength and to grow into a better person. This may have heightened your anxiety, and caused a few rumors to spread, but I assure you, I am okay and that this is normal. I, like you, need to be fully human every now and again, and not a priest or a pastor, just me…just James.

Living in a Friary is often tough business, too! I am almost always accessible; perhaps too accessible. I am always working, always on, and folks often just walk upstairs without notice or warning! I, like many of you, perhaps forget that I need my personal life and personal space to become and remain a good pastor, but also a good James! In other words, we all need to remember to reflect and change and grow. One cannot grow without change. Once cannot become fulfilled if all we do is live and work and not care for one another, and ourselves. I am learning how to be kinder and gentler to myself, how to forgive my wounds and my past mistakes, as I also try to become a better priest for all of you.

And, there is my request! I would like you to engage us, and me as your pastor! Send me your suggestions, your needs, any desired changes, and tell me what is good and what you wish we might look at again! Allow us to use our retreat this year to come back renewed and rejuvenated and focused on what makes this place so wonderful. (Please be kind in your writing to me and use this forum to help everyone.) Let us also allow one another the room to grow personally, and as a community, to maintain our personal and our corporate lives, to not be hard on one another with false words, or meaningless innuendo, but to love and to love deeply.

The world is full of hurt, we are different. We always have been, and I pray our radical welcome will always be different to include the hurting, the lost, the sojourner, the seeker, and yes, even me, too.

I will end with a wonderful idiom I was given this week; may it bring us peace this new year.

Always do what makes you happy, the naysayers are there to remind you not to be like them!
 


And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet…

 

Life is all about change and the transitions we experience as we adjust to them from year to year. And one of the biggest ones is almost here! New Year’s Day!

As this will be my last blog of 2017, I thought we should all enter a brand-new year, as many folks do by seeking a proper direction, rather than the making of some impossible plan! I know that this time of year oftentimes leads us to grand and audacious plans, with huge goals and big ideas! We make seemingly impossible ‘new year’s resolutions’ that almost always get broken, as real life settles back in as the norm. But, this time of transition should mean new changes deeper within us; the kind that will make us better people.

If I could offer any small bit of learned advice, it would be to think back before you move forward and ponder how your life has changed this past year. Maybe I will use my own life by way of example!

Here is how my life has changed in 2017. I have grown older, but a bit wiser. I have found a way to let go of my deep grief over the loss of my dad to smile again when I think of him. I live in a new home, built by a loving parish. Our campus is simply beautiful and together this parish thrives and grows because we have learned to let God work and Jesus to dwell here. The children here are loved, protected, and joyful! They will grow up in a parish unlike the one I did, where love is prevalent and their lives matter. I have had some personal transitions, but in them someone walked into my life who reminded me that I am loved so deeply. No, I am not perfect, and that is simply okay. For the first time, however, I feel worthy and accepted and whole. That is my greatest gift this year and I thank God for allowing this to happen to me.

And what about us? Well, we said goodbye to a few who felt their journey with us had come to an end, and we grieved their going, but we welcomed so many newcomers to our loving table. We bid farewell to a few beautiful souls, and will one day we believe – and trust – we will see them again. We welcomed the newly baptized, anointed the sick, held the dying, prayed for those who asked and a few who didn’t, and loved many in marriage. We flung wide the doors of our hearts and allowed every single person who wanted to come and join us to do so and feel loved and hopeful again, too. We improved our grounds, built a rectory, added additional classrooms and offices, renovated our spaces, and cared for the homeless, and those in need. We kept true to our mission of extending the radical welcome to all who come. Our doors, and our hearts, have remained open unconditionally, and have become such loving places to everyone. Yes, we have much to be proud of, and 2017 was good to us, because we were good to God.

St. Bernadette Soubirous once said, “From this moment on, anything concerning me is no longer of any interest to me. I must belong entirely to God and God alone. Never to myself.”

So, there it is! That will be my simple resolution this year: to become better at lessening the focus on me and to continue an   intentional focus on the needs of others, especially those who love me so deeply and taught me to love myself, the church, my parish, and my God. Why? Because I have learned that I am truly happy when I give freely to others, and when I allow God to love me by hearing His voice in those who love me so deeply, and when I find God in the small things, because those are the things that really matter.

As one page of our calendar will soon now almost imperceptibly flip into another, and thereby cause the birth of a brand-new year, tethered to our hopes and dreams of a fonder tomorrow; and as we remember, too, those lost to time, but never to God, it is a good time to also reflect on ourselves and how we view God in the world and within our very lives.

Join me and let us all make this the year we finally realize our lives are so filled with love and hope, and would be so empty without such a loving God in our midst.

To all who taught me the power of unconditional love. I am so very grateful and love you beyond measure!

Blessed New Year!
 

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!

and surely I’ll buy mine!

And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,

for auld lang syne.
 


Going Home for Christmas…Finally!

 

It was Christmas 2014. I left right after Mass that day to head home to Erie to get there before my dad left us. I knew the time was close. I never made it; just 30 minutes, that’s all I needed. I lost my dad and my world crumbled. It stayed that way now for some almost three years. Oh, sure, most wouldn’t notice, as I put up a good front and weep in the darkness when no one is around, but my heart – and my life – has been broken ever since.

That is why The Longest Night, our annual ‘Blue Christmas’ Service tomorrow evening at 6:30pm, is so healing for me and so important. It allows me to actually cry at church – the only home I have now –  and feel my grief and let go of some of my grief. Tomorrow, I will heal a bit more and become a bit more whole again. I may never be the same, but whatever is left, God will use for good. That I know and that I trust.

While studying in seminary in Washington, DC, I had the honor praying on the Howard Thurman Chapel at Howard University School of Divinity. Howard Thurman, an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, as well as someone whose legacy has impacted my worldview, once penned these moving words,

“There must be always remaining in every man’s life some place for the singing of angels — some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness — something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory — old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.” And so, it did this year. This year, I gained an angel and hope is renewed and the harshness that once was is now gone.

You see, this year, my friend Katelyn made me the gift I used as my image today. It was my Christmas gift from her and she handmade it herself, and she could not have chosen anything better. The image is lovely as could be, but it is the wording that touched my heart most deeply, “I’ll be home for Christmas.” 

Home was always important to me from the time I was a child. I loved going home and being at home! When I left home for college, I returned for every break and for every holiday. From San Diego to Great Lakes to Erie was my route back home from the United States Navy. When I left for seminary, the time away was longer due to demands of learning and formation, but I still returned home. When I studied aboard, I was home by the end of a very long year. Yes, no matter where I was, I always knew where home was, but home has not been the same for me since I became a priest.

You see, as a priest my home is wherever I am needed. From Chaplaincy services to my years as a Trauma Chaplain in some of the nation’s largest Level 1 Trauma Centers, to becoming a parish priest, my home was never a place, but rather a need. I go where needed, and when I am there, I am home for a time.

Moving to Flourtown, I gave up my condominium in Philadelphia, moved into a tiny house and lived in a motor home for some two+ years, I endured freezing winters, waking up to no water, and learning the lesson of conservation the hard way! My commute time was less than 45 seconds, but it never really felt like a home. Now that the Friary Rectory is done, I thought I might have home back in my world, but even with my mom here, it is more akin to a hotel, than a permanent home. I am often reminded of Luke’s Gospel where Jesus says, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Yes, being a priest is a homeless position where you go where needed, and where home is so elusive until God calls you to a place of rest.

That is why Kate’s gift came at the best possible time! As Howard Thurman said, ‘old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting’, and because of her love for me, it has done just that; her simple, selfless gift has turned my world just at the right time! Any earlier, it would have been lost in the darkness of my grief; any later it could not have been undervalued or under appreciated. Her timing – and God’s – was impeccable. This beautiful gift is cherished far beyond my mere words here can ever express, for I am a mere mortal and broken man. But, suffice-it-to-say, Kate gave me this gift at a time where I was ready to let go of my deep pain and tragic loss of my dad – I had to let it go – in order to try and find home again, but this time within me.

So, you see, the lesson of Christmas is that home is never a place, it is rather a feeling or a destination that dwells deep within you all the time, even when you fail to know it is there! The Christ has never left me, even when I felt abandoned in my loss and depression, God was still there; Jesus was still holding me. But it took the passage of time, the softening of my deep grief, and the gift of an angel named Katelyn to remind me that Christmas, too, is not a day. No, Christmas lives all year long!

Merry Christmas, dad. I miss you. Merry Christmas, Katelyn, thank you for being my true gift this year and sharing my life! And a Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to all!
 


“If Not Now, When?”

 

One of our parishioners sent me a little encouragement when I was healing from my leg injury. For some reason, I kept it all these weeks, not discarding the email like I would normally do, but somehow knowing it would be needed. So, it was saved, until today.

She told me how she had been reading some literature of the Jewish Holocaust, just a few books that had been waiting for her attention, as they remained nestled on a shelf for years. Her most recent two readings are by a renowned Italian author, an Auschwitz survivor, and Jewish-Italian doctor named, Primo Levi, who was in a Partisan group and deported to Auschwitz in the last year of the war. His work, “If Not Now, When?”,  is a riveting story of Jewish partisans who fought back, both men and women, in Eastern Europe over several years. She enthusiastically reported that she ‘could not put it down.’ So much so, she decided to read his second book, “The Drowned and the Saved”. This work is replete with questions of moral ambiguity that are both disturbing and thought provoking. He finished this last contemplation of the Holocaust before his death in 1987, sadly at his own hand by suicide.

Observing a general loss of understanding about Nazi Germany, as time passes and eyewitnesses die, he asks this deep question, “How much of the concentration camp world is actually dead?” Now removed from the experience by time and age, Levi chose to serve more as an observer of the camp than the passionate young man of his previous work. He writes of ‘useless violence’ inflicted by the guards on prisoners and then concludes his book with a discussion of the Germans who have written to him about their complicity in the events of the war. In all, Levi tries to make sense of something that he knew made no sense at all.

Toward the end of the work, Levi asks his reader, and down to us here today, a vital inquiry for thought, ‘What can each of us do, so that in this world pregnant with threats, at least this one threat will be nullified?’ Levi’s answer is a thoughtful analysis of the process that was the camps back then, but his chilling conclusions about the conditions that created them, are uncomfortably relevant to current events we face, as terrorism and apathy pervade today.

I think that is why this week I am preparing for an end to Advent that ironically falls literally hours before Christmas will be observed. This year, the Early Mass at 7:30am on December 24th is actually the observance of The Fourth Sunday of Advent. Then, hours later, we will gather as a community for the 4:30pm Family Mass and Christmas will be upon us! But, for me, it is what happens, as we prepare our hearts in Advent, that will make or break Christmas Day.

So, let us gather and ask ourselves, have we become better people? Have we decided to care more for the parish and one another than some random toy or game? Have we cared for the poor and the needy? Have we given a gift to the underprivileged with our annual Giving Tree? What have you and I done – each one of us – that we can legitimately point to that will prevent chaos, heartbreak, and apathy from winning, while the Christ Child is born anew to us?

Perhaps I will end in a rather unorthodox manner for me. Rather than give you my answers, let me allow you to forge on you own. I will end with a writing from Sir Francis Drake, an English sea captain who lived from 1540-1596. He was the second sailor to circumnavigate the globe. Below is his famous prayer, found on page 143, one that it would appear God heard and rewarded.

Let’s make it ours today, and see where God takes us in our journey toward Christmas. After all, ‘if not now, when?’

 

Prayer for the Parish

Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves, when our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,
when we arrive safely because we have sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when with the abundance of the things that we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the waters of life;
having fallen in love with life, we have ceased to dream of eternity;
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas
where storms will show your mastery,
where loosing sight of land, we shall find the stars.

We ask you to push back the horizons of our hopes,
and to push us into the future in strength, courage, hope and love.
This we ask in the name of our Captain, who is Jesus Christ.
Amen.
 


Saving Advent.

 

Yesterday, I received a photo from one of our families via text message. They texted me because they missed Mass on the First Sunday of Advent, but wanted me to know that they still honored the traditional lighting of the Advent wreath at home with their children. They were gathered around their dining room table and the small Advent wreath was being lit by their children. They ended with a note of the impact Saint Miriam has had on their lives that they would do this, despite missing church. I was touched and felt as if we really do matter.

If you look at Saint Miriam by the barometer the world uses to measure success stories, we aren’t very much at all, I suppose. A medium size parish that is growing, but where most activity occurs only on Sundays. One where, despite our best pleadings, not everyone gives to support her financially, and where less than 30% of parishioners have returned their end of year gifts. A parish that is always present when needed, but that need often escapes most folks until they are in trouble; then we become more important for a time until the need or circumstance passes. Then, we are relegated to the periphery of their lives once again. I have learned to live at the margins until needed and then I give and retreat back. It is not always easy, but it is the life of ministry.

If you look at the way we place importance upon things, I would imagine that is how we do with most of them. The importance, or relevance, is always changing based on our needs, but that is why Advent calls us to look at things differently and to place others ahead of ourselves.

A few years ago, I don’t remember where, I found a short video posted online. It was called something like, “The Advent Conspiracy.” It was a grassroots movement that was started by a few Christian churches to bring some sanity back to the season we now find ourselves within. It hoped to bring more worship and less consumerism to Christmas, to “give presence.” Its four principles were, “Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.”  I wonder what would happen if we all made a concerted effort to just that this season; if only for a month?

For me, especially this month, the earth seems to be dying as I walk around our campus. Perhaps I am dying a little, too, and that is part of the plan of God. The once beautifully green and lush foliage now finds trees that have lost their canopy; the grass has withered and brought the mowers to a standstill. The beauty of colored flowers have given way to the emergence of the only things that stand to retain their hue: the dark green of the evergreen and the deep brown of the earth. The wind has increased from its more northerly direction and frost appears daily upon my car. Even the sunlight is less, the darkness more and the nights seem longer, deeper, darker, and sometimes more foreboding. In just a few days, we will come to the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year, with the year’s least amount of daylight. Symbols not to be lost or overlooked, I would imagine for us now. These changes remind me of the impermanence of this world and that I need to always focus on something greater that will always be present, always sustaining, always giving, always feeding. It is during this time of year; this very specific time of year that God has deemed to grant us the wonderful opportunity called Advent.

I say opportunity because it is more than just a liturgical season. It is a time to be challenged as a world, as a people, as Christians, and as practicing Catholics, but more importantly, inside ourselves where God dwells and where the tensions of the world seem to be at their height; their strongest. We are called to pause and reflect on what needs to be changed in the world and within ourselves. What is broken, damaged, in need of repair, what needs to be changed, and Who do we want to help us effectuate those repairs? Is our parish worthy of more than a ‘now and again Sunday appearance’ and do we respect her – and all that she does for us – to give and sustain her from our bounty this season, and not just from our leftovers?

Yes, Advent is our season and our chance to change and to become better people, but to do we must focus on others and on God.

Will you help me save Advent this year?
 


Remaking the World with a Soft Reboot.

 

‘Rebooting’ is a rather new age verb defined to mean restart or revive. In computing, rebooting is the process by which a running computer system is restarted, either intentionally or unintentionally; like we all have to do with our smartphones from time to time! A “reboot” restarts a machine whose software has malfunctioned. Reboots can be either cold (alternatively known as hard) where the power to the system is physically turned off and back on again; or warm (known as soft) where the system restarts without the need to interrupt the power.

We often hear of rebooting a computer, but did you know that in cinematic terms, a reboot refers to a particular sort of revision of familiar properties. Characters who have grown tired and typical and situations that have become predictable and self-referential are reimagined in a bolder, more believable style.

God once intentionally hard rebooted the world with a great flood, and then promised to never destroy it again by making a covenant with Noah, his sons, and every living creature. He said, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And, the sign of that promise? Well, of course was God’s placing a rainbow in the clouds to remind God of the Covenant every time God sees it, not just us! This has been made into numerous films and children, and yes, even myself, have played with Noah’s Ark figures to much delight for centuries (Feel free to stop by my office and see the one mom made for me!) 

Another famous film torn from the pages of the bible is the Exodus story! But, how about the rebooting we find from the 1956 DeMille epic, The Ten Commandments, to when Ridley Scott released a new, rebooted version called, Exodus: Gods and Kings, in 2014? In Demille’s version the hero was Moses, infamously played by Charleton Heston, and presents a man facing straightforward choices between right and wrong, who never doubted his mission. With his arms outspread from that famous scene played millions of times, Heston’s Moses orders the Red Sea to part before him. “The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us! Behold His mighty hand!”

By contrast, Ridley Scott’s revision contains lots of ambiguity and subtle doubt. Moses, this time is played by the actor Christian Bale, who is caught by surprise – as much as anyone – when the waves begin to pull back from the rocky shores of the Red Sea. Here, the famous parting is less than biblical in proportion and is defined – or rebooted – as an unusual tidal, meteorological, or seismic event that could have created a temporary land bridge across a shallow section of sea.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always loved the story of the ‘Parting of the Red Sea’! After all, the Exodus, at its heart, is a story of political freedom and release from bondage – it is about justice – which is why it has inspired so many people who have struggled against oppression, but let us not be naïve, the story is also a story of God destroying an entire society! Whoa, huh!? So that is where I always ran into trouble in my faith: how could God once destroy a people with a catastrophic flood, promising never to do it again, and then He does so again by visiting numerous plagues on Egypt – yet another cold reboot – in order to free the Israelites from servitude? Does the end justify the means? Was a hard reboot really the only way? 
 
I have learned not to just blindly believe what I am told, or to act out of impulse. I try to reflect, to learn, to hear the real story, both those given in thirty second sound bites, or in the new and improved Twitter at 280 characters or less per Tweet, or what the Bible says or the church, because for me it is not just about trying to raise emotions, or ‘selling more newspapers’, but I have found that the back story is often the real story – and that is where I find the means to change myself  in order to change the world.
 
I also know that the world, and all its evil, will never be changed if good people do not act, or act on false rhetoric, without first looking deep inside and decide to recommit – to reboot their ways – in order to make the world, the church, this parish, and one another a better place and a better people. This is the season we find ourselves in today as we turn our hearts toward the Christ child coming. A place, and a time, set aside by God to offer us all yet another chance at change – our change – and thereby change for the world for the better – for all our tomorrows to come; rainbows and clouds alike.
 
God once intentionally hard rebooted the world with a great flood and a plague, too, now He does so every year with a soft reboot that we call Advent.
 


True Thanksgiving Is So Much More.

 
After our beautiful interfaith Thanksgiving Service last evening, I thought I would begin with a reflection today on being grateful. For me, being grateful has a deeper resonance than just being thankful. I normally reserve the word grateful to things and people of greater significance, and so this week, I am far more than just thankful… I am grateful
 
You see, there is a difference between being thankful and being grateful. At Thanksgiving time, we pause, even if only in an often-cursory way to consider what we’re thankful for. Usually, however, we’re more interested in turkey with the trimmings, football games, holiday parades, and shopping than in the practice of deep gratitude. Isn’t it odd how on the one day set aside to give thanks for all we have, so many use it for a mad shopping rampage for yet more stuff? Why not stop for a minute this year and give gratitude a try?
 
Take a few moments this week, especially tomorrow before your day begins to reflect on what you’re most deeply grateful for. Most people’s lists are kind of short. Mine would need to include my family, friends (especially Kate, who has been there for me this year, even when I have been at my worst), my parishioners, ministry team and parish board, material comforts like my rectory with a warm bed at night, my CrossFit family, our nation (yes, even as it sits in some turmoil), our beautiful parish, the children and educators of our school, the historic cemetery we care for, and yes, Tucker and Friar, too, of course! That about covers it, at least the start of my list this year! 
 
But I would like us all to try and go deeper this year. If you’re being thankful for something, say, our parish of Saint Miriam, be thankful for the whole thing, not just your favorite parts. I know that I am grateful for Saint Miriam and God’s providence that led us to create her from the ground up! She is a miracle in only about nine years! So, I am grateful for all the varied people – all the kinds of people – all the races, all the ages and shapes and lifestyles and perspectives, all the colors and sexualities, and the varied versions of family that we embrace, the heroes, the lost, the lonely, and the ones who struggle. Everybody
 
And, if you are grateful for your family, give thanks for the whole darn crazy lot of them that make up your family tree! Give thanks for Uncle John who ruins every holiday by getting drunk and Aunt Bee who likes to pick on everyone’s spouse! Embrace the cheats and the losers and all those misfits, like me, that make your family, well…your family! Pause to thank God each and every one of them, for if it were not for them, you wouldn’t be you! If you are grateful for your health, thank God for your body, this amazing creation that may be older and weaker than you wish, but it keeps you alive. If you have a few health struggles as I do this year, thank the Lord we are still around to fight them! Be grateful that this created, magnificent machine of a human body knows how to move, bend, lift, heal, and feel! Show your gratitude that your organs know how to digest food, fight germs, and heal itself! Even pain is a necessary gift, so take a pause and thank God for all the pain because it has made your body – and you – stronger and who you are today! (Another lesson I learned overcoming my recent leg injury!)
 

In the Gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day we find once again the story of the ten lepers. We begin with ten men who have the worst disease of their day. The physical ramifications are horrendous. Leprosy attacks the body, leaving sores, missing fingers, missing toes, damaged limbs. In many cases, the initial pain of leprosy gives way to something more terrible than that – a loss of sensation in nerve endings, leading to more damage to more body parts. The disease can take 30 years to run its course, and in that time span, entire limbs can simply fall off. It is, assuredly, a most horrible disease. We have nearly an impossible task in trying to fathom what it was like 2,000 years ago, when medical treatment, as we know it today, was almost non-existent.

And then, there was the emotional pain of a leper, which must have been even worse than the physical pain. He was removed from his family, from his community; ostracized. There could be no contact, whatsoever, with her children or grandchildren. None. Immediately removed. His wife would not be allowed to kiss him goodbye. No one would have allowed it, for fear that she, too, would become afflicted.

Then, comes this Jesus guy who says to these lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They pause to look down at their broken bodies. The hands of one man are still mangled. Another man looks at his leg, which ends with a filthy rag at the knee. Another looks at his skin, and finds it as repulsive as ever. In other words, these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher. 
 
But, despite their doubts, they muster up enough strength, hope, and gratitude to head off in search of a priest. And on their way, they were healed! On their way, a hand reappeared, and tingled with new life. A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground. The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete. The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to brown. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over. But for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit. 
 
Is there a more deeply needed lesson for us on this Thanksgiving Day and as we turn our eyes soon to Advent? You cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. You cannot put conditions on holy God. You cannot say, “Lord, as soon as there’s enough money, I follow your instructions.” You cannot pray, “Lord, if you’ll just solve this issue in my family, I’ll start to go back to church again.”  You cannot and must not put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed and we must begin in gratitude for all that we have been blessed with. 
 
In might sadden you to note that ten lepers were healed that day, but only one gives any gratitude. For most of us, if we are honest, that would be us! So, let us change our perspective this Thanksgiving! God might say, “Love me despite the disease in your body.” Or, “Obey me despite the lack of talent.”, or “Love me during the lack of resources.” or, “Follow me now, despite your depression or addiction.” or, “Praise me in your darkest night, and in the worst of circumstances, because faith in me will yield stores of riches beyond your wildest dreams!” How will you show your gratitude and love to God, as well as those you love this week? 
 
I was once asked why I sacrificed so much to build and maintain Saint Miriam? Why did I endure all the hardships, the public scrutiny? Why did I allow myself to be scourged in the press, beat up by other church leaders? Why did I persevere when ‘they’ said it could not be done? Why did I allow myself to be the object of ridicule and scorn? Why did I contribute all my life savings and my retirement funds and still tithe at a rate that takes away half my income to keep us going? Because none of it was a sacrifice in hindsight. Why?  Because I want to understand more and more about our wonderful Savior, and that is a cost I am willing to endure because…
 
I am grateful.
 


Pizza or Jesus?

 
Life is always about choices and passions. These choices and passions are life giving, or life taking. They guide our journey to make us better people, or leave us in a ditch along the roadside. We focus them for the betterment of others, God’s planet, the community of people we inhabit and share the earth with, or they cause us to lose values, and we deplete being human. Yes, choices and passions are important to who we are now and more importantly, whom we shall one day become. 
 
For instance, I have a friend who has a love affair with pizza! Not that he just enjoys eating pizza, like many of us, but he really enjoys what I will call the ‘art of pizza’! He dreams of it, develops new ways of creating it, introduces marvelous new topping combinations, posts dreamy images of his creations on social media, and travels to visit other like-minded pizza makers and dreamers to hone his skills in creating, not only one of the best pizzas around, but also the healthiest choice, too! He has spent lots of his energy and days becoming simply great at making pizza! Each is a true masterpiece! Yes, he loves everything pizza! 
 
Now, I have another friend who is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful women in the world! She is elegant and well-spoken and very caring. Her beauty is intrinsic and goes far beyond just the exterior. Her career choice cares for the least among us, and she even has a place within her heart for the likes of me! She once said of her boyfriend, “I love him more than pizza! I just hope he never asks me to prove it!” 
 
So, what does pizza and Jesus have to show us? Life is always about passions and priorities. My pizza loving friend is also a wonderful man who dearly loves God, raises his children to be good Catholics and even better Christians, and adores his wife (who wouldn’t?!), but his passion for pizza occasionally causes him to miss his Sunday Mass obligation! We joke about it often and he knows my heart is always with him (I am quite sure he is laughing hysterically, as he reads everything I pen here, too!) My point is simple: priorities and passions lead us and guide us into what we become. 
 
This Friday is our annual Concert & Silent Auction, Strings and Keys in a House of God. This even has been alive and well from our very first year as a parish when we had but only a handful of folks. It was given to us as a gift from a very talent parishioner who wanted to give something of herself back to us. While Kimberly Foster and her family now reside in New York City, what she gave us almost ten years ago, by sacrificing her talent for one evening every year to perform a live strings concert, has endured and made us something of who and what we are now as a parish. You see, by using her time, talent, treasure, and passion; by her elective choice to give back to God and a small mission parish back then, she created something wonderful and shared her passion and love of music with others. To this very day, her gift continues and I know her passion and her priorities gel with mine. We are willing to sacrifice to allow a place of hope and love, like Saint Miriam, to thrive and grow, because we recognize where our heart is, and what we wish to one day become. That will be our true and lasting legacy.
 
How about you? Will you be eating pizza, or here with us and our Lord, Jesus this Friday, as make God’s church even stronger? Even if you cannot come for some reason, or if you are unable to reschedule an event or an obligation, why not send someone in your place to bid on an item, or at least purchase a few tickets to the concert to help us raise needed funds to continue our love and passion here at Saint Miriam? 
 

You see, this is far more than just a concert and silent auction, it is our yearly choice that allows our passion to welcome everyone continue. We cannot do it without you. 

After all, we love you more than pizza!