Welcome to Saint Miriam 5.0!

 

I grew up, studied, entered the ordination process, and left the Roman Catholic Church. It was a process of some 20+ years. It still has its effects after all this time. Some would say that I failed them; I would simply like to believe that they failed me. In fact, they failed many of us. Some of us left due to our sexuality, gender, struggle over certain teachings, or because we were rejected or told often how broken we were. Some left over political stances or posturing that left lives aloft and alone. Some, sitting in the pew, knew the homily was about them, or at least people like them. Condemned, ostracized, rejected, we left. Some left alone, others in groups, and many in droves. The point is, we left.

We left a church that did not honor us. Did not want us. Did not want to be Jesus. And, we found Saint Miriam. As someone reflected beautifully recently during our Net Promoter Survey, “Many of us left the RCC, some left other traditions, some were just tired of organized religions, but we all left and were all missing something. Then, we found Saint Miriam, a place that accepted us, and we became a place of the rejected and hurting, but we did not let it consume us; instead, we became a church!”
How simple, how eloquent, how true.
 
Coming from a church tradition that asked no questions, and really did not want us (those in the pews) asking questions anyway, we the in this church must be willing to ask the critical questions that challenge our pursuit of violence and power, the erosion of human rights, the destruction of our environment, the assault on human life and dignity, and the exclusion of the different and the rejected. Only a questioning community can begin to bring solutions to the surface. And that is why over the years, we have changed as needed and it has made us stronger. I would like to believe it is because, as Father John Dear once said so wonderfully, ‘we listened with the ear of our heart’ to the promoting of the Holy Spirit, and simply followed.
 
v.0 began our journey in Philadelphia, in that one room rented chapel at Mishkan Shalom, a Jewish Synagogue, where we got our roots, and our wings to fly to v.1 in Blue Bell, a larger, rented space of just over 5,000 square feet. It was there we changed, added a lending library and memorial garden and bell tower; it was there we deepened our direction and welcomed everyone. It was there we added the Saint Miriam Café, changed the way we honored ‘church’, and became stronger in our outreach by partnering with local agencies like Laurel House and the Patrician Society and we then, we began our school! That led us to v.3 and our plan to build a new parish on a wooded lot that we purchased in Flourtown from Zion Lutheran Church. We dreamed, raised money, and began the designs. Then, God came and the Holy Spirit blew; we listened and v.4 came into begin when we bought the entire 12+ acre campus! We now have passed through our first two years and we have added much, changed some, did a lot of good. We have mourned often, grieved the loss of some friends, and celebrated with the many more who came, stayed, and discovered this loving island of misfits where “King Moonracer” is none other than Jesus Himself! We have always been willing to change in those areas, as needed, but never once changed the core tenets of welcoming everyone, loving even the most unlovable, and kept our eye on the ball; the ball for us is Jesus. Now it is time to change and grow again we rapidly approach the 10th Anniversary of this wonderful parish we named Saint Miriam!
 
In Saint Miriam v.5, which has already begun, we will complete the Friary Rectory and the needed repairs from our flooding during last week’s storm. We will also be adding our new boundary fence to begin to think of our plans for the wooded lot! And, thanks to a generous gift from one of our parishioners, we will enjoy new parking surfaces and entry and exit roads, too!
 
  • Repairs: We have already completed the needed repairs to our Bell Tower and added a new rope to allow us to both joyfully ‘ring’ and mournfully ‘toll’ our historic bell. We have also painted all of the exterior and much of the interior! The main restrooms will be completed by early fall, too! Our list is being accomplished with your support and prayers!
 
Soon, we will also be turning our attention to the ‘things’ of running our parish. A few of noteworthiness are as follows:
 
  • Liturgically: We will begin to move to adopting fully the Roman Missal to allow us to be in sync with those who seek us out from other Catholic traditions. We already adopted much of the changes, but now we will simplify our missal and place in the pew cards to assist all of us in this time.
  • Worship: We also be adding some wonderful worship and adoration opportunities this fall! Rosary will be enhanced, and Benediction will be added to our line up! Our baptism Sundays will also be changing as we develop more wonderful ways to fully appreciate the welcome we encourage at a time of celebration!
  • Small Groups & Fellowship: Our Small Groups will change again and some will be added to adapt our direction. The coming Laudato Si Group will be one such effort! Our Saint Miriam Café experience will also be enhanced, as we introduce new ways to socialize better, reduce our costs, and effort, all while making the ‘way we do fellowship’ even better!
  • Music: Our music team is doing a great job, but there is always room for improvement and this fall we will bring new ways of using music and liturgy together to make your worship experience even better and include those who wish to participate more!
  • Communication: We have done a great job with communicating, if you have listened! Now we will reduce our output and increase our effectiveness by combining our three newsletters into one! Stay tuned!
  • Our Identity: Finally, we will deepen our Franciscan ethos and identity by using St. Francis as our guide to care for one another, rebuild the greater church, and care for the environment. As our Friary takes shape, it will be a beacon to those who wish to follow in the footsteps of Francis and our priests.
 
I look forward to fully implementing v5. And, as always, my door – and my heart as a pastor – remain open to your voices and suggestions, but you must be willing to join us and make the effort. You also must be willing to sacrifice to keep the dream alive and fiscally well and hold to the Saint Miriam Covenant! Also, eGiving on a regular basis allows us to do what we do, and without it, we struggle, and one day we might just fail. So, if you have not engaged your giving profile, please create one today and support a parish that is always there for you!
 
We, the women and men with a new vision for the beauty of shared church, must stand before the altar of our God and declare: Here we are, broken and believing, dreaming and visioning, and remain undeterred!  We are the healers, the believers, the workers, and we have a dream and a vision for our children and our shared Catholic Church.  And, we can’t wait to see v.6!
 

 



Jesus Stuck Between Hymn 809 and 810.

 

Adoration, rosary, prayers, Hail Mary, Our Father, Benediction, Solemnities and Feasts, rituals, symbols, incense, bells, liturgy, sacraments, the Mass. These are just a few things that, as Catholics, move us beyond ourselves to a sense of something greater, but there is nothing that informs us more deeply, is more substantive to our life, nor informs our social teaching and our way of being more than the recognition that Jesus is truly present in the bread and wine of our Eucharist.

Last Sunday was Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and blood of Christ, and in this celebration, we not only proclaim our belief in the Real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist, but we also proclaim that same Jesus lives within each one of us who are baptized into His Body, the Church. In the Holy Eucharist, we receive the Divine Host whom we carry in procession within our very bodies as living tabernacles of life, because He is within us.

I was told recently of the way they mark this beautiful day in Seville, Spain. The night before the procession in Seville, the streets are strewn with rosemary and flower petals, balconies are draped with shawls, and shrines are put up at various points along the route, with a competition for the best one, and in the Plaza San Francisco the procession passes through a specially constructed portada, a kind of gateway. An unusual feature of the end of the procession is the dance of “Los Seises” (the sixes because 12 boys in two groups of six perform this beautiful dance before the altar; see it here!) performed in the Cathedral by young choirboys in mediaeval style costumes. Every church displays its finest of gold and silver in churchware such as chalices and monstrances. It is a day to proclaim their belief in the real Presence of Christ among us!
 
This day reminds me of the call to our continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness, but at Saint Miriam, we recognize that our inherent beauty is not found just in rules, but the grace and love of God. Each one of us who bears the name Christian are to become more like the One whom we love and in whom we live. Jesus comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are, then, like “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is the center of every person! When we process back from receiving Holy Communion at Mass, we proclaim that the Lord continues to come into the world through the Church, and through our Baptism, and that in us, God takes up residence so that we can change the world! We carry Him into the real world, just as the people of Seville carry the ornamented and beautiful monstrances into the streets on Corpus Christi. 
 
So why am I still stuck on last Sunday when we are about to enter Ordinary Time? Well, because last Sunday taught me something that all Catholic Priests know to be true…some of us still don’t get it. Some of us really don’t believe that Jesus is present, let alone Present in the transubstantiated bread and wine. But I assure that He is. How do I know? Listen!

 

Just as we prepared to process back out of the church following the conclusion of Mass for Corpus Christi, one of our acolytes opened her hymnal to sing the recessional hymn, and stuck somewhere between Hymn 809, I Received the Living God, and Hymn 810, Come to the Banquet, was a host. Yes, someone had taken what was obviously once a wet host and stuck in between the pages of a hymnal. Jesus was stuck between Hymn 809 and 810. My heart sank. 
 
Now, I can imagine how this happened. Perhaps someone had a child who grabbed the Blessed Host from their hands and stuck in their wet mouth and reacting quickly, the parent removed the host. Or, someone dropped the host, or it became wet somehow after receiving. But, however it happened, it should not have happened and it was not only disgraceful, and thoughtless, it was wrong and a disgrace to our Lord.
 

There is a reason that we mandate children wait until they are prepared by way of their First Holy Communion to receive: So that they understand that what they receive is not just mere bread and wine, but Bread and Wine; the very real and very Present Body and Blood of our Christ. To stick Him between the pages of a hymnal, like some discarded trash is beyond my imagination, and yet it happened and it occurred on my watch as pastor, and I am ashamed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we see this in varied forms all the time, and we have witnessed the Blessed Host fall to the ground through our error, or the error of others. We have seen those who ‘snatch’ Jesus from our hands and turn away without nary a word. Or those who say, ‘Thank you’, instead of the proper affirmation of, “Amen.” Or, those who take the host and look at us in such a way that we wonder if we should have them consume the Presence in front of us before returning to their pew! But, in all my years, I have never found a host in a hymnal! I have never found Our Lord pressed like a leaf between pages of a book.
 
In the Nicene Creed, we profess together at every liturgy, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”. These are the four marks of our Church. They are inseparable and intrinsically linked to each other. Our Lord Himself, in founding the Church, marked it with these characteristics, which reflect its essential features and mission. Through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church fulfills these marks and there is no better way to receive the Spirit than at Communion. 
 
The “oneness” of the Church is made visible here. As Catholics, we are united in our Creed and our other teachings, the celebration of the sacraments, and the hierarchical structure based on the apostolic succession preserved and handed on through the Sacrament of Holy Orders and in our valid reception of the Eucharist. Whether one attends Mass in Flourtown, or Alexandria, in San Francisco, or Moscow, the Mass is the same — the same readings, structure, prayers, and apart for a difference in language, celebrated by the faithful who share the same Catholic beliefs, and offered by a priest who is united to his bishop. But, when we violate that which is at the core of our life as a Catholic, we harm the fabric of who we are, and we dishonor the Lord.
 

Over the coming weeks, Father John and I will be implementing changes to our Mass structure, to unite us more fully with all Catholics worldwide, as well as introducing lectures, homilies, hymns, liturgical movements, a more in-depth adoration experience, and small group opportunities to teach, re-teach, and remind all of us – from the youngest to the oldest – what we believe, why we believe it, and what gives us the ability to carry Jesus to others in the world.

The Church must be a home for the whole human race, and seen as a seed of the kingdom to come. What we do here, even within our small parish, has implications beyond our doors. It is an invitation that unfolds into a life of continual conversion of every believer who comes to us. This conversion happens in, and through, the very “stuff” of the struggles of our daily lives; through the mistakes, the wrong choices, the failures, and the pain, joined to Jesus’ Passion. Through it all, the love of God purifies and refines us, like the refiners’ fire purified the gold that was used to make the many Monstrances the people of Seville carry into the Streets on Corpus Christi. Like Mary, the Mother of the Lord, we are invited to give our own “Fiat“, our own “Yes” and “Amen” to the God of love each time we receive Him present in the host, but we cannot enthrone Him in our hearts, if we discard Him in a hymnal.
 
We have the beautiful gift of receiving the Bread of Heaven, so let us become what we consume.
 
 


What makes a Catholic Church, ‘Catholic’?

 
Surely there are thousands of examples of how Catholics have built sacred spaces over the years, but why do we build the structures the way we do? How does one even begin design for something as huge as a dwelling place for God Himself? Why do we, as a community, sacrifice to make such places to worship, rest, dwell, socialize, and adore this God of ours, as we are at Saint Miriam again this summer? To succeed in all that makes us, well, ‘us’, and that which makes us a ‘Catholic’, we should begin with an exploration of theological concepts, but more importantly the fundamental cornerstone that make our practices Catholic, too!
 

Inherent dignity is a basic that drives us in our being a Catholic. We often talk about how some things are alike, but we hear more praise of diversity, as if it were of the highest worth, but there is something deeper for us as Catholics. Diversity is an expression of finding no underlying agreement about basic principles. Thus, it becomes a form of skepticism and/or separation. But we maintain that all people are indeed created equal, but, if you look at them one by one, no one looks exactly alike. Yet, each one has a body, hands and feet, unless lost in some accident, of course. 

If we were created on the outside like everyone else – like some type of Borg – everything exactly like everything else, we would not be able to tell one from another! Everyone would blur into one undistinguishable mass. If we say that all nations, or even all religions are exactly alike, we would be surprised when we investigate them to see how different they are. It is something like St. Paul’s telling us in Sacred Scripture that the foot is not the hand. To make it so, or think that they are the same, would mean that we really did not have a body which, to be what it is, requires different parts doing different things, and yet belonging together for the action of the whole being of which they are parts. This is how a church works, too! Under all of this is the principle of inherent dignity. We believe, as Catholics, that every human being is created in the image and likeness of the Creator – God – and thus every human has inherent dignity. This one concept drives all others; or at least it should. And, it should drive us to be better people, more loving and more inclusive, because as a child once said, “God don’t make no junk!”
 

John Henry Newman, an Anglican priest, and the great Swiss theologian and priest, Hans Urs von Balthasarm, call this, “The Incarnational Principle.” By the Word becoming flesh, humanity is joined with the divine through Christ’s incarnation. In other words, by God becoming “enfleshed” in Christ, He revealed to us the true nature of existence; we are creatures subsisting of both body and soul, and we are, therefore, children of God.

Furthermore, since God revealed himself to us by becoming flesh, God reaffirmed His affirmation made in Genesis that all God had created is “very good.” The Incarnation allows for the sacramental use of physical things, which stir our imaginations and help us in coming to know, feel, and adore the transcendence of God. That is what a Catholic Church, being one of the largest sacramental signs we have, is supposed to do and supposed to be. Our parish buildings express this reality through their design, but it is the people within them that carry out that fundamental mission of welcome, love, and hope.

Catholicism, then, is not distinct just because it has offers the Sacrifice of the Mass, or certain Scripture, or a Holy Father to whom, with the college of bishops, its unity over the ages is entrusted through Apostolic Succession. One of the fundamental things about Catholicism is what it holds to be true, and how that truth allows us – as followers – to act and to be as an incarnational people; a dwelling temple for the Holy Spirit of God. And what makes Catholicism distinct from most other Christian sects and other religions or philosophies is that it considers itself to be solidly grounded in reason. Its “faith” is not opposed to, or a substitute for, reason. We are to think and then act. We do not blindly follow, we live out our faith in a world that so often knows us not.

That is why at Saint Miriam we build and grow, despite our brokenness. We bring into existence even more ‘places’ and ‘rooms’ where all are truly welcome and can find a living, loving, Presence of God. We reason that since all are created in the image of God and all have that inherent dignity, then all humans – no matter their color, or station in life; no matter the sexuality or gender status; no matter their addiction or level of brokenness; no matter any other human factor, are loved and embraced by God because God shine through them. We believe that no one is devoid of all goodness, and no one is beyond the redemptive activity of God. So, we love all and embrace all, even those who reject us; yes, even those who intentionally hurt us. Why? Because we are Catholics.

Recently, I read a few posts on social media from some folks who believe that you lose employees, parishioners, etc., because of poor management or ‘bad managers’. This may be true, but sometimes you lose those very same folks because they are failing to live into truly being Catholic, and are not following the precepts to honor their inherent dignity, or worse, they fail to honor and uphold the dignity of those who sacrificed around them.

None of what we have here at Saint Miriam would be made possible if it were not for Mary’s Immaculate Conception, and her wonderful fiat that sprung forth from it! It was her deep belief – and her affirmation to the Angel, even when frightened – that ushered Jesus into the world so that we might one day build, grow, and live.

This is why we are building a Friary Rectory. This is why we built a church to begin with some ten years ago. We recognize that a Catholic church is not just another building to us, it is not just a worship space; it is a sacred space worthy of our love and deep stewardship, because we are Catholics! Yes, we firmly believe that “beauty will save the world.” Therefore, we design all our spaces by the principle that each human is inherently beautiful and bring us a ‘face of God’, and together that multitude of beauty that is us that brings beauty to reality!

Through this fundamentally truly Catholic approach, we embrace architectural orthodoxy, even as we build yet another space this summer, while expressing the dynamics of today’s new evangelization so that others will find a place where they are truly welcome.

Do not let summer allow you to forsake that which is you at heart. Support us when numbers dribble and debts remain, so that we may continue to carry on that which we started: a mission of welcome and love at Saint Miriam.

 
 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Sacrifice of Building.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



Keeping Our Word. Resurrecting Honesty.

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

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

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

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

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


Embracing and Celebrating Failure.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embrace failure and watch your life become a success!
 
 


The Monster is Inside.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What will you choose to become?