We Keep Our Eyes on Jesus!

 
What makes a church a home? I know that Saint Miriam is not always the most perfect place, or the place that makes us feel joyful all the time, but compared to the rest of the world, she ain’t that bad, as they say!
 
There are painful memories here, just like within any family. Past hurts that never heal, past pains that need repaired, past words that somehow never see to fade…but this is the case in all families. It is what makes a family a family. But there are many joys to be found here, too, and many ways to honor God and deepen our faith. We work hard to provide these opportunities; to enrich our lives and provide a means to bring God closer.
 

Soon I will be interviewed for a documentary from a world-renowned filmmaker from Sundance Film Festival. He will interview me to show the world that there are priests, and people who make up wonderful parishes, that actually do the work of the gospel. In our original meeting, some months ago, he asked me to sum up what makes Saint Miriam so special and how we stay on course. I said, “It’s simple, and just as complex and difficult, we keep our eyes on Jesus!” And, we do!

In our culture today, everything has become increasingly caustic to human life and human dignity. Words have become more volatile, communication instant and devoid of feeling, rhetoric more hateful, vehicles armored, guns with larger magazines more deadly, social media is harsh, communities less caring, politics more mean-spirited, international relations more and more hostile, and yes, even Jesus has become weaponized.

Church and religion are often nothing more than vehicles to promote hate, separation, division, and a culture of inhumanity and hatred. From the sacred ground of Vatican to the institutional multifaceted compound of Franklin Graham, to a church near you. They are more like clubs than parishes where ‘who is in’ and ‘who should be alienated’ is often determined by the strongest voices, the majority color, the richest and the most powerful, the Pharisees and Sadducees of the day, rather than those who offer inclusion and love. In other words, the weakest are once again on the outside looking in, or stuck behind some large immovable wall, being further oppressed and marginalized by words, voices, and mean-spirited memes on social media, all dubbed as outsiders while the insiders – the rich, the powerful, the in-crowd, and yes, dare we speak it, the often white and well-to-do and non-struggling – are being warmed by the glow of their own denial of the true gospel, as they worship their non-Mexican, non-poverty ridden, non-Afro-Asiatic, non-inclusive, weaponized Jesus and build their walls to keep others out. No, that is not the gospel to me. No, that is not Jesus.

Why would we think that God would love everyone – even those society deems as different – all God’s created, God’s children, their families, their parents, their communities, and even us, those who dare to embrace them; could God not love us as our ancestors, too? Why would we think – and worst project on others – that God would ‘hand them a snake, when they asked for a fish, or a scorpion when they ask for bread’?

Not here. Not at Saint Miriam. We believe and follow the one true God: our Lord, and our Savior, Jesus, He Who is The Christ! The Light of the world! The One Who willingly died a horrible death, and took on our sin, so that all of us – every single soul – black, white, asian and native, gay, straight, rich, poor, transgender; the Democrat and the Republican, and Independent, too, those who can sing and those who can’t carry a tune, as well as the immigrant and refugee, the outcast, the lost, and even the found alike; so that all of us might find true life…

Yes, at Saint Miriam, ‘we keep our eyes on Jesus!’  And, we do!
 
 


Apis Mater!

 

That is the name given to the new Paschal candle we recently purchased as we already begin our preparations for Easter. Yes, I said Easter! You see, liturgically we are always a full season ahead of where the congregation is; that is the only way to ensure that all the preparations, needed items, supplies, plans, staffing, music, and the liturgy itself will be ready.
 
Apis Mater literally translates to “Mother Bee”.  She is a stunningly handsome candle designed by Marklin and when those Exsultet praises are sung from the pulpit at the Great Vigil of Easter, and she is lit for the first time, and Christ lights the way once again after a sorrowful and repentant Lent, the work of the bees, those whose work and product actually created the honeycomb wax the candles is hued from, will also be sung in the work of the precious torch of the Paschal candle whose light will also guide our way as a parish for the year to come!
 

So why this particular candle, this year, among all the choices we had to choose from? Because this introspective candle, with the deeply moving name, will shine with the joy of our community’s life, and honor the discipline of hard work, and the love of concealed sacrifice. Apis Mater!

You see, we are a community built on introspection and hard work. We never shy away from the work of the gospel. That became even more apparent this past week when we embraced my response as a Catholic community of faith, and stood up for the rights of the immigrant and the refugee. Oh sure, there were a few who decided to take their own stand and walk away; there was even the one parishioner who removed his financial support in protest, and to make a solid point against me, he took it from his weekly giving toward my salary fund. He literally took bread from my table in order to prove his view that refugees are unwanted. Not here. Not with me. My response was simple and direct: I will lose everything that I have, I walk away from the parish, and even my own life to protect the right of the refugee and to welcome them and give them sanctuary. You can destroy y home, and try and take away my spirit; you can take bread from my table, but you will not take away the Gospel of Christ from me. Ever. I am a priest.

That is why I have directed my team to try and hire a refugee for the two open positions we have within the parish and school currently. If we can locate a qualified refugee, seeking a better way of life, we will do more than just speak to the current anti-immigrant/anti-refugee sentiment, we will welcome, embrace, and give a home filled with the light of love to someone and all them and their family a place of sanctuary and hope.

We are a community built on the radical inclusion of the gospel and resilient and profound hospitality that pervades all that we do. Or, we are nothing but charlatans.

The vibrant honeycomb design that wraps around our newest Paschal candle pays homage to the dedicated work of the bee; it includes rosettes of myrrh and a design that separates it from others as a reminder of who we are as a people of God.

We are a reminder, too, of what God is in the world and how vibrant a people of hope can be when we work together and love all who come to us…
 
Apis Mater!
 


We Have a Great Team of Minor Super Heroes!

 
We really do! The team that runs Saint Miriam, and all of its extensions, is simply a great team! We do not get to say it enough, or appreciate all their work, or what they do, but once each year we should pause to note the achievements of this remarkable community.
 

So why now? Well, this coming Saturday, this team of dedicated persons will gather for an intense day of prayer, planning, discernment, and decisions for our annual “Saint Miriam Board Retreat”. It is not a normal ‘retreat’ where we take a lot of time to sit quietly and reflect, but rather a ‘working retreat’ where we remove ourselves from the world long enough to try and hear what’s going on, reflect on things to come, and wrap it all up with the ‘still small voice of God’. It is not an easy day. It is a day that requires love, and dedication, and willingness to commit and give back even more. It is a day of surrender; surrender to God and to one another. A day of trust. And this year, to save the parish the cost of going away, we will remain on campus and work within our own walls. We are praying that this will deepen our ability to make wise decisions, and better our direction for the coming year. We ask for your prayers.

And, that is where you all come in! We do ask for your fervent prayers, but also your input. If you have any suggestions, ideas, questions, or even complaints or disagreements now is the time to send them to me. Just drop me a quick email and I will discuss with the team this weekend. After all, we take our fiduciary duty seriously, and we have proven to be strong advocates for every parishioner, as well as good stewards of every dime given to further the mission of Saint Miriam. While my door and heart are always open to you, I know that sometimes folks may be a little intimidated to disagree, or bring ideas to me, so here is your chance! Don’t be shy or bashful! This is your parish, too! We welcome your input.

The past year has seen tremendous growth and our leadership teams of dedicated and loving professionals, many who volunteer long hours, have led us to exceed every possible measure of success! Our school has doubled its student population, our parish is growing in numbers and volunteers, our assets have increased, and our giving is going up, our outreach is evolving to help more and more folks beyond our walls, our facilities are cared for and becoming even more beautiful and future is brighter. And, our historic cemetery has opened not one, but two brand new sections in honor of St Francis of Assisi; one for our fellow humans with Section F: the St Francis of Assisi Green Memorial Section, and one for God’s smaller of creatures in the Angels of Assisi Pet Memorial Garden! Why? Because we maintain the mission of the parish from its founding and welcome everyone without reservation, keep our ‘eye on the ball’ we intimately know as Jesus, and maintain a heart that is extremely hospitable!

So, while this team of ours at Saint Miriam may not be real super heroes, at least not in the traditional sense, they give and care like they are, and each deserves a cape of their own! 

There is much more to come, much more happiness to share, much more to be proud of…Thank you for all you do – from the leadership teams to the folks in the pews – to keep Saint Miriam growing and as lovely as ever! God bless us all…

Here’s to 2017!
 
 
 


Leonard Cohen is Dead, But Not Forgotten.

 

On a Monday in November last year, the hugely influential singer, poet, and songwriter – known as the ‘godfather of gloom’ – and whose work spanned nearly 50 years, died. Famed for the sense of melancholy he would weave throughout his songs, he spoke calmly and with lucidity about death during an interview with the New Yorker Magazine,” I am ready to die,” he said. “I hope it’s not too uncomfortable. That’s about it for me.”
 
I have reflected a lot about death and dying these past few weeks. I think it is why my friend Joey came to me this past Monday. If you read my weekly Franciscan Devotion you would know that Joey was murdered many years ago. I loved him so deeply and not an anniversary of that death goes by without me shedding a tear. But, as life has gotten so busy and complex, Joey somehow fell of my proverbial radar. Not this past Monday. He woke me in the middle of the night. I wept. Joey was as close as ever.
While many of you, even those outstandingly involved in parish work, and who read my blog religiously (no pun intended!), have taken care of your own issues, run your own lives, shuttled your children to and fro, moved about the world without much thought to the church and what’s going on here, I, on the other hand, have been dealing with loss, death, grief, and a lot of pain. In almost as many days, I have celebrated the life of three of our own. That’s right – in just about four days, I was the Celebrant at three funerals. The people who died were all connected to Saint Miriam and to our communal life together. Each had a life, a lover, a family, friends, a career, a past and a present, and many who mourned their passing from this life to God Himself. They were not that different in their individual span of years by age either – each only in their 60’s and 70’s – not making it close to four score and seven…Yes,  for the last week, me and death have become, once again, close friends.
 

Our shared Catholic Faith reminds us that while our deceased loved ones are no longer sensibly present to us in this life, they should now be more alive internally to us – in our memories, our meditations, our prayers and in our dreams – than ever they were when still alive in this world. We know by faith that God is pure love and that His love holds us in existence from the very first moment we come into being. We cannot escape God’s presence. If God were not present to us, we would not exist. That is what we believe. That is what we know to be true.

I believe that is why this past Sunday, in the midst of death and sorrow, God brought us a baptism with joy and promise. God wanted us – and I pray especially me in my troubled spirit – that He was still alive and well. God wanted to remind me, and all of us, that no matter the pain, no matter the loss, no matter the worry or anxiety or now knowing, no matter the depth of our grief, God is still here, still present, still holding us.

I know that our Christ identifies completely with our love for each other and our love for him when it is true love. “When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. When you showed love to the least of my children, you were giving that love to me. Enter into everlasting life.” (cf. Matthew 25:35f.).

Three human beings are no more. The body dies, but the soul lives on. That is us, that is what we believe, that is why we work so hard and do so much. That is our mission as a parish at Saint Miriam. We take not our faith, not our work, and not a single soul for granted. Become more involved, give more, live more deeply, love more fully. Honor our Christ and all that He has so generously given us; take not it – or those around us – for granted. For one day it will be too late.

Back to Cohen: The 1984 composition, with lyrics full of stark biblical imagery, called “Hallelujah,” a meditation on love, sex, and music that would become Leonard Cohen’s best-known composition, perhaps is a fitting way to end this blog today. “I’ve always been into self-dramatization,” Cohen once said. “I intend to live forever.” 
 
And so he shall. And so shall the ones we buried this week. And so shall we…
 


This Place is a Hoppin’!

 
 

Wowsie, huh?! We are a very busy parish! I have always believed in the folksy idiom, “if you don’t hear the babies a cryin’, then the parish is a dyin!”  and we have lots of babies, lots of baptisms coming up, and lots of activities, events, and changes!

I know that it can sometimes seem a bit overwhelming, (and you should think of how it is from my desk, as pastor)! But, I wanted to remind you that we have always pushed ourselves to be better, grow more, become better Christians, and stronger Catholics by allowing growth and change to come. Yes, there is always some anxiety in change and growth, but what a blessing we have all experienced in what Saint Miriam has become already! Think of what we will usher in this year together!

Over the next couple of months, you will find the Sanctuary painting completed with a beautiful ceiling! A new pulpit installed to match our liturgical furnishings and properly house of AV equipment, a web broadcast of Sunday Mass, a stunning Altar Cross installed high above the Chancel area, and we will begin to build a Friary Rectory to house our pastor (That’s me!) and a couple of new Franciscans who would like to serve at the parish! Also, our Pastor Fund to finally begin to pay a salary to our Pastor (That’s me, again, wow…huh?!!) is almost there with us only falling less than $5,000 short for this year! (Please give generously?)

We also have some wonderful events, too, to keep you entertained and bring needed support to the parish and school! Our Lottery is back for February, so get those tickets! We have a Crockpot Potluck dinner on the 11th of February, A Night at the Races comes on February 25th and a wonderfully moving Lenten Retreat with Sr. Eleanor Francis is scheduled now to deepen your Lenten experience on March 18th! Learn more right Here!

These are just a few upcoming events and changes in addition to our everyday School, and Adoration, and Masses, and Rosaries, and Prayer, and Outreach, and Small Groups, and so many other groups, activities, events, and people caring stuff that we do as a parish community!

Yes, we are a hoppin’ place! So don’t get overwhelmed, and don’t pull back, and don’t feel that you must support each and every thing that we do, but pause and reflect and remember that we are a community of many faces and many needs and to each of those – our fellow parishioners and more importantly, our friends – these activities and events appeal.

So please pray, welcome, and support the areas that appeal to your heart, then just sit back and watch us hop!!

What a beautiful place! What a beautiful people!
 
Welcome to Saint Miriam in 2017!
 
 


Do We Still Seek Him?

 
Christmas is coming to a close. We spent this week preparing our parish for the coming of the Magi. We took down the major Christmas décor and moved the manger scene back to the storage room. We placed the Holy Family and left the angels who must have always surrounded Jesus. And, of course, the three who became known as a collective, ‘the three wise men,’ or magi, whom we identify romantically as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.
 
However, we really don’t know the names of the magi because the Bible doesn’t tell us. In fact, the Bible is silent on how many wise men visited Jesus. It could have been three or as many as hundreds! We must remember that whole only a week in our time, the scene of the visit plays out some two+ years later and not at the crèche, as we would have it play out in our versions around the Christmas Tree. However, our tradition holds the view that they were Babylonians, Persians, or Jews from Yemen as the kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom. There is an Armenian tradition identifying the “Magi of Bethlehem” as Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India. And so, we stick with that version to this very day.
 

These three wise men were men belonging to various educated classes. It is interesting to note that our English word magician comes from this same root derivation. But these wise men were not magicians in the modern sense of sleight-of-hand performers we are so accustomed. Rather, they were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were philosophers, the counselors of rulers, learned in all the wisdom of the ancient East. The wise men who came seeking the Christ child were not idolaters; they were upright men of integrity.

They must have studied the Hebrew Scriptures and found there a clear transcript of truth. The Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament must have claimed their attention, and among these they found the words of Balaam in the Book of Numbers that states,“A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel”. And, I would imagine that they were also acquainted with the prophecy of Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel” and understood the time prophecy of Daniel regarding the appearance of the Messiah and came to the conclusion that His coming was near! So, on the night of Christ’s birth, a mysterious light appeared in the sky, which became a luminous star that persisted in the western heavens, as told to us by the Gospel of Matthew. So impressed with its import, these wise men turned once more to the sacred scrolls. And, like Abraham, they knew not at first where they were to go, but followed anyway as the guiding star led them on their way. And, as we know, wicked King Herod tries to trick these three into giving up the location of the child so he can murder Him. But they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went another way. Again, based solely in faith, these wise men did what was needed to fulfil prophecy, honor Christ, and bring to the world the salvation they would not see yet.
 

There’s an old saying that I love this time of year that says, “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” How true this is! The Wise Men came from far away just to pay homage. They probably sacrificed much to travel the long journey and to see this newborn King of the Jews. It makes me wonder about how much effort we are willing to put out in order to do Him homage…

I remind us all Holy Mother Church expects so little of us, really. Just one hour a week for Mass. Confession once a year. Caring for the poor and those on the margins. Opening our heart to Jesus. Many of you reading this will exclaim and unequivocal, ‘What?!?! Mass every week? Come on, Father!!’  Yet, we find that these three “wise men” made a journey of untold length, just to pay Our Lord a very short visit.
 
Their journey was very long, probably at least two years, and they certainly numbered more than two or three, since such long journeys were usually organized in large caravans for security reasons. Whatever their number, they brought gifts to the Messiah; three gifts, in fact, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh…
 
If only we could feel the same way and bring our humble gifts to Jesus every week, too.
 
 


Broken Crayons Still Color!

 
 

I’m broken. I know that I am. In fact, I tell you often that I am. Whenever someone tries to place me on a pedestal because of my vocation, I wince and remind them that the higher they place me up, the farther the fall for me! Yes, I am just as broken – if not more – than most, but I think I’m a pretty good priest, too. Perhaps because I am broken is why I am also a good priest. After all, it is one thing to give sympathy, it is quite another to know empathy.

When your life is unscathed, you know not the pain of being so. When you do not know what it is like to be so poor that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on day old bread were the staple of your survival, until you could no longer afford the jelly, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never known what it is like to feel so different, to struggle with your sexuality when you were not ‘the world’s desired norm’, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never been ridiculed, ostracized, made fun of, or wept until you somehow fell asleep, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had your reputation besmirched, drug though the mud of the press, or told you were a fraud, when deep within yourself all you were doing was trying to build a place of hope, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had to leave all you ever owned or have known, all the people you have ever loved and called ‘family’, all to follow the call of God, never once being sure it was real, but you went despite that fear, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never stood over the grave of a friend who died of a disease that world hated, and wrongly hated those plagued by it, too, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never questioned your strength to lead as a pastor, to wonder if you are really even doing any good at all, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never experienced the loss of a father, a friend, a soulmate, where the grief is so ever-present that your soul actually throbs and riles in pain, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had to choose between a medicine for your tumor, or food for your table, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never sat in a dark corner, fighting with the shadows of your depression to ward off the ever-present thought of ending your life, you know not the pain of being so. I have. All those things. I have. And, they have made me a better priest, a stronger pastor, a more empathetic human being, a better man. …Broken crayons still color!

As we begin a new year together, it is a time to reflect on the year past, and the wonder of things yet to come. If you are like me, you pause this time of year to sit with yourself and take stock and see what has happened; where you are going. It is a time for course corrections, acknowledgment of hurts that need to be let go of, and friendships to mend. It is a time to reprioritize your life and what’s important; to let go of what’s not. It is a time to run through the self -litmus test of what your life is giving back to the world, and what legacy you are leaving – and teaching – to your children. It is a time to forgive others, and to do the same for yourself.

I have spent a good deal of time this past week preparing myself for 2017. Wondering if I should remain as your pastor, looking at what we have done at Saint Miriam, and ensuring that I am the ‘right person’ for the job. I have watched as others say they are building a parish, but fail to see that an endeavor such as this takes sacrifice, dedication, and a willingness to give until it literally hurts, not going on yet another ‘retreat’, or on an extra vacation while those ‘others’ remain alone and without a priest to deal with the list of hurt in their life. That is not how you build a church, it is how you launder donations.

So, God came. God came and allowed me to witness to myself in a dream the other night how for the first seven years of our life as a parish, I never once took a vacation, went home to visit my family sparingly, never was ‘home’ for the holidays, and never once missed a Thursday or Sunday Mass, even when so ill folks were afraid I wouldn’t make it through the service. I never earned a salary and yet still tithed, too. I was reminded of what that sacrifice has done: in less than nine years we went from a rented chapel in a Jewish synagogue to a 12-acre campus full of life and giving back. God dwells here because the people who are here dwell with God.

In the first few months of 2017 we will see a new pulpit installed to complete our liturgical set of furnishings; once that has taken a full nine years to complete! A hanging Altar Cross mounted above our Chancel to remind us of God’s presence. And, a new rectory friary will be constructed to allow us to not just house our current pastor (me!) but also to welcome other Friars who need a place to lay their head as they serve the parish, school, and cemetery with all their heart, all their soul, all their life…

We are seeking others – like me – who will reprioritize their life and their giving to make these things happen. Why?  Because we have already seem what giving back does and builds, and because broken crayons still color!
 
 
 


The Experience of Christmas.

 

My mom has been so very anxious lately. I have been perplexed. I moved her here to be closer to us after my dad died, and I thought everything was going pretty well. Oh, yes, there have been some transition issues and some longing for ‘home’, but that was expected and dealt with over the last few months. However, this past month has been an uneasy one and last night we took her to dinner and we discovered the issue: it’s presents!

“There are so many people here!”, she began. “When I lived in Erie I only had to buy six gifts; seven if you count my friend Betty, but here I am already up to fourteen and I am not done!”  And there it as, her anxiety was driven by her inner desire to comply with what society says is the reason for the season of Christmas. It is not about the coming of the Christ Child, it is about the act of giving, but giving the wrong thing.

We, as a society and a people are simply overindulged: the focus of Christmas should be on experiences and helping others, not of gifts. Now don’t get me wrong, gifts, cookies, lights, manger scenes, and all the extras that go with this season are very nice and have their place, but not at the expense of the reason we come together in the first place.

I recently read a Facebook meme yesterday that read, “I woke up. I have clothes to wear. I have running water. I have food to eat. Life is good. I am thankful.” I wonder…are we ever truly thankful, or are we on a wheel that never gets us to our true destination? A place we all so deeply long for and yet, somehow, ironically by our own actions never quite seem to get even close?

My mom always made it her priority to make Christmas as wonderful and magical for her children because she knew what it was like to have nothing. She was orphaned by the age of twelve; losing her mom to Tuberculous at age nine, and her dad to a stroke just three years later. She moved in with her Aunt Wanda and there they did their best to welcome her, but it was never quite the same. I know that is why we enjoyed large Christmas trees, and gifts, and looking at light displays; hearty Christmas dinners, Midnight Mass, and home baked cookies, too! But, none of that is what I remember most; it is the love of my mom and dad – the experience of Christmas – that lives on in me more deeply now than anything else in my life.
 
You see, that experience of Christmas is the greatest gift I ever received from my folks. It is what helped me to even begin to dream of Saint Miriam: a gift to the world from those of us who toil so hard to make a place of unconditional welcome and radical hope. And, it was why to this day, we hold onto the true Christmas message every day of the year! Now, of course, we decorate with beautiful lights, adorned Christmas trees, bountiful wreaths, and glittering ornaments! We carefully place our manager scenes, lighted candles, and that special Nativity crèche by the altar. But the heart if the parish is what we experience by what we give!
 

For instance, this past month, our small and humble parish did the following:

  • We provided warmth of heat by paying for two homes to maintain their gas by paying for the arrears amount and now those two families have heart this during the coldest time of year, and without worry of shut off!
  • We have collected, made, and purchased and turned over some 100+ scarfs for the homeless through our “Scarfs with a Purpose” Project! A little bit of us goes to help them during this cold weather.
  • We helped our three of our parishioner families provide for their own families by our pastor giving generously from his Pastor’s Discretionary Fund. (Did you know that he insists that no names ever be used so that if the record is ever lost, folks’ identities are kept secret and known only by him?)
  • We provided nine full Christmases to local group home residents who otherwise would not have enjoyed a Christmas holiday. And, we even cared for their care-givers, too! Why? Because that’s how we roll!
  • Yesterday, the very excited folks from Guadalupe Family Services in Camden came to collect the gifts we have been collecting under our 2016 Crystal Giving Tree! They asked for 10, we replied that we could care for 100, they thought us to fail, we turned over almost 230 gifts! We rock!
  • And tonight, at 6:30pm, we will gather in our beautiful Sanctuary for our ‘Blue Christmas” service entitled, The Longest Night. A gift to those like myself who are struggling this time of year. We will take time away from our day, to give hope and bring peace and solace. A gift by any measure to be sure!

My mom is one of the greatest, most caring and loving, and sacrificial persons I have known. She raised a son who gives freely and loves abundantly. He is a Franciscan. A priest. A pastor.  He is proud to give more than the world thinks wise and has done so that he is now living below the poverty line, in a tiny house, so he can be readily available to help those in his parish, school, and cemetery who need him.

She raised a daughter, too, who cares for special needs children who others would otherwise readily reject, let alone teach, and who also is raising her own boys to be like us: giving, caring, and sacrificial; not just at Christmastime, but all the time. My sister, Andrea, and I were both adopted. My mom and dad gave us the gift of family.  So, in a sort of irony, my mom saved us from her own fate and in doing so, saved so many others who have been touched by her love. You see, she taught us that our gifts could be given to the world and actually change it for better, but first we had to learn how to open our hands and give. It sadness me that she is so anxious, when she surely has earned the right to be joyful by the ways she has freely given all of her days.

Several years ago, I received a Christmas card with this message: “This Christmas, I wish you Jesus.” On the inside it read: “Isn’t nice to have everything!” In the midst of all our current challenges and concerns, the love of God the Father is made manifest to us in the wonderful gift of His Son, Jesus. With the angels in Bethlehem, our faith moves us to sing: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth!” May we recognize that true peace on earth flows, not from what we own or get, but from our recognition and praise of a God who loved us so much that he gave us – and the world – the greatest gift ever.

I wish you and yours the greatest experience of Christmas ever!
 
 


re·boot

 

Rebooting is a verb defined to mean restart or revive or give fresh impetus to. In computing, rebooting is the process by which a running computer system is restarted, either intentionally or unintentionally. 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 (alternatively known as soft) where the system restarts without the need to interrupt the power. 

We often hear of rebooting a computer, or the economy, or world economic balances, or even trying to reboot the world. 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 He sees it. 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!
 
Another famous film torn from the pages of the bible is 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!” he cries.“Behold His mighty hand!” 
 
By contrast, Scott’s revision contains lots of ambiguity and subtle doubt. Moses, this time played by the actor Christian Bale, 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! The Exodus, at its heart, is a story of political freedom and release from bondage, 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. That is where I always ran into trouble in my faith: how could God once destroy society with a catastrophic flood, promising never to do it again, and then He does so again by visiting numerous plagues on Egypt in order to free the Israelites from servitude? Does the end really justify the means? Was a hard reboot really the only way?
 
See, 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 140 characters or less in a Tweet in order to raise emotions or just to ‘sell newspapers’, but also the back story – often the real story – and then to change me in order to change the world. The world and all its evil will never be changed if good people fail to act, or act on false rhetoric without first looking inside.
 
This is the season we find ourselves in today. A place, and a time, set aside to offer a chance for change – our change – an internal rebooting, if you will, and thereby a chance to change the world tomorrow.
 
God once intentionally hard rebooted the world with a great flood, now He does so every year with a warm reboot that we call Advent.