The Boy Who Ate a Hotdog and Almost Died!

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


If Your Dreams Don’t Scare You…

 
Hanging on the wall, in one of the restrooms, of the Crossfit box I go to almost every day during the week is a plaque that reads, “If your dreams don’t scare you they’re not big enough!”  
 
I always thought it strange that Coach David would place it in a restroom at CrossFit Manayunk. Then, I realized that it has become a focal point for me, especially when I don’t feel like working out, or when a movement is going to occur that day that I will undoubtedly – at least in my head – fail at, or when I am at my weakest, emotionally or physically. If it wasn’t placed there with intention, then God’s hand was certainly in it, because it is where most of us go for a brief respite, a mindless retreat, or a place to simply cry for a moment and let it out to get us back on track. It has become a place of regenerating my soul to allow me to get back to the tasks at hand; to get back to work. 
 
Undoubtedly, you’ve heard this saying before. But how much do you wholeheartedly believe in it? I wondered the same thing about myself, until I realized that I have been constantly scared for the last ten years now! It all started for me with a dream, as I sat in my new apartment in Allentown. I was scared then, too. I had just been ordained and moved to a new town to begin my journey to become a Trauma Chaplain at Lehigh Valley Hospital. I wanted to stay in Washington, DC, but God, and the bishop, had other plans. So, I yielded and went, as promised by my vows. I was in my new place and began to dream. I was also very scared. 
 
I dreamed, because I had been hurt so often by the ‘institutional church’. A place that seemed to only care for itself and its own preservation. God’s Church, at least to me, had become a place of oppression, hate, and division; I was frightened. I was scared, then, too, but not in any good or productive way. I was scared because I was always being told how bad I was, how worthless, how unworthy, how broken, how unwanted. The church, for me, had become a place of horrors, and I believed that was not what God had in mind when He sent His Child to dwell among us. I believed in something different.
 
So, I set out! One day, I abandoned all that I knew and set out on a journey to discover that place. I packed up my relics, icons, religious images, seminary books, and degrees, and I set out to on a journey wherein I visited literally hundreds of churches, synagogues, and mosques. I met with countless religious leaders and read many books. I prayed, too, but in admittedly spits and spats. I was seeking something of the lost ‘pearl of great price’, and I was scared again, but this time, determined, too.
 
During these outings, I kept a journal and listed on the left side of the page all the things I would end up liking about a particular visit to a house of worship. On the right side, all the things that I despised, or that made me uncomfortable, or unwelcome. When I was done, I compiled the list and set out to design something that would harness the best of these, but all in one place. It became Saint Miriam.
 
She took shape in my mind’s eye initially, then pen went to paper and a parish began to emerge! Finally, I placed her on a website and she had a landing pad to grow into reality. That is why to this very day, our digital footprint is always bigger than our parish! She is always growing into the next shape, the next edition, the next way that God wants her to grow and care for others. 
 
My dream, that day so long ago now, was that I could help build a parish like no other. One where all folks would find a home, where dreams would be shared, where the vision would be common, and where hope would abound. I wanted a parish that welcomed  everyone, through its doors and to Jesus Himself at the altar, but not at the expense of a single soul. I wanted a place where we could love God, love one another, endure our pains and trials, lift one another up when we fell, share the financial burdens, and still walk away in love and joy every week with a renewed sense of hope. I also wanted to do it where a collection during Mass was never needed, and where even the most broken among us would find a comfortable seat. 
 
I was scared back then when I began to dream. I am scared to this very day. Surely, others who dream fear their dreams, too? But that didn’t stop them. It fueled them. It did so for me, as well.
 
I have learned that at the very heart of any successful person’s goal, is a plan. That plan needs to be acted upon daily, and not simply set and forgotten about. It’s easy to give up along the way rather than suffer through the torment and pain of one failure after another. We have had our share of pain, and I have made many mistakes, but the one thing I never did was give up. We never gave up.
 
It’s been said that it takes an average of 3.8 failures before a dreamer achieves success in whatever endeavor they’re after. That’s just what it takes. The thing that sets a dreamer apart from the average person is that big dreams always scare them, but they are persistent
 
So, then, it’s not just about having big dreams that scare me; it’s about having the wherewithal and an immense capacity of persistence to see those dreams through. We have done that together at Saint Miriam for almost ten years now. Many of you have joined me in being scared, most have stayed, some have left he dream, but in and through it all God came and waited for us to stay strong, find our bearings, and keep building. We have been truly blessed. From that small rented chapel in a synagogue, to that leased space in Blue Bell, to our present day vibrant campus, our dreams have become a reality because we kept our eye on the ultimate proverbial ball – Jesus – even when we were most scared!  It didn’t happen overnight, but with constant dedication, in came to be. 
 

You never actually know how close you are if you give up. We never did, and that is why next Sunday is so important! On September 10th, at 10:30am Morning Mass, we will realize another dream come true, another promise kept, another way to serve God with the blessing of our Friary Rectory and the literal resurrection of a broken, water damaged parish building into something even better! God is indeed good, even though, in my humanness, I will always be scared.

I will end with another quote from Francois Rabelais, “Everything comes in time to those who can wait.
 
How true…
 


Rules for Loving God.

 

Well, we are almost there! In just about two weeks we will hold another dedication and blessing; this one for our new Friary Rectory! Another dream come true, another project completed, another promise kept. Welcome Saint Miriam 5.0!

It may not seem much to the world at large, especially against a background of million dollar deals, a PowerBall Lottery over 700 million, arms negotiations, terrorism, not to mention the plague of white supremacy, but I can assure you that what we do here is a very big deal to God. What we do here is heal gaping wounds, bandage lost hope, bring renewed strength, worship a loving God, and save real lives. We do: here we save lives for those who wish to place themselves last and honor God first.
 
The world does not much like being last. Everyone wants to be first, have the best, live the finest. God then breaks through these clouds of falsehood to remind us that our Creator is always on the side of the poor, the marginalized, the impoverished, the forgotten. God comes, but always when least expected, not in the raucousness of life or your newest acquisitions, but in the din of solitude in the quiet places like Saint Miriam. What we once dreamed, then realized and built, now continues to create is nothing short of a dream come true. A place where God dwells and love is shared. A place like few others when it comes to Catholic parishes.
 
The image for my blog today is where we began. This is the small, rented chapel at Mishkan Shalom in Philadelphia where Saint Miriam was birthed. This is where we began as a community some 9+ years ago, but in truth she began long before that day, in the hearts of a few who dared to believe and dream, and who were willing to sacrifice so much to get us to where we are today.
 
As we turn the page on another dream fulfilled, and as we fast approach March of next year when we officially become a ten-year-old parish, I have been doing a lot of reflecting on how far we have come in such a short span of time. I sat with my mom at lunch yesterday and for the first time she looked across the table at me and said, “Son, you should be proud of what you have built. Think of how far you’ve come; it’s beautiful!” She’s right. Mom always is.
 
You see, mom was there when we began in that Jewish Synagogue. She, and ‘mom Carol’, too, have been there in the struggle, the growth, the joys, the tears, and the sorrows. They, along with my dad, now gone, supported us with their prayers and their financial gifts, but most importantly they instilled in me the gift of never giving up, sacrificing what needed to be sacrificed, to build what we have now. Even when the world said it is a fool’s errand, they believed. Their gift is in my learning there are no short cuts to success.
 
When we left Blue Bell for Flourtown, I thought it would be a time of great joy for everyone! We all had given so much, prayed so hard, and our time in that location was fast becoming a place of ‘used to be’s’. We were all so excited, and yes, terribly frightened, too, when God led us here to this vast 12+ acre campus. We knew in our hearts, though, that we were ready! A former parishioner came to this new campus one time only, and after our first Sunday Mass, came up to me and said, “This will be our last time here, this was your dream, not ours.” I was stunned and hurt, but then I reflected in my tears that followed, and in doing so, God brought to me some solace. Here are a few a few lessons that I have learned over the last nine years together.
 
  1. It takes a willingness to dream to build one.
  2. Nothing is ever built without sacrifice.
  3. Not everyone will understand what a pastor does or sacrifices.
  4. It’s ok! Not everyone is called to be a pastor.
  5. You cannot listen to the naysayers; they are always plentiful.
  6. Keep your eyes focused on Jesus; always!
  7. Amid your darkest storm, God is always at the helm.
  8. People are broken and will leave you.
  9. People are broken and will find you.
  10. People will come and go; we run a parish, not a prison!
  11. Some people will never put God first. Do not be like one of them.
  12. Folks break promises all the time; don’t let it eat at you, or you will become like them.
  13. God and church are somewhere toward the bottom of people’s ‘to do list’. Refer back to #6!
 
And, my most important lesson learned is the last one: #14. Those who ‘stay in the water’ over the span of time, have the deepest dedication, the most prolific love of God, honor the Lord’s day weekly, are the most generous to the Church and one another, and have the deepest joy because they embrace the most valuable thing of all: there is nothing more valuable than a relationship with the Creator and that is what we have built in this dream we named Saint Miriam!
 
I wish to end on a note of thanksgiving. To those who dared to believe a ridiculously crazy dream and supported me, even when I tripped along the way, especially to those who recognized the sacrifice and were willing to dig a little deeper to make a dream come true…thank you! If I am doing anything close to what God wants me to do, it is because of you!
 
See you in September when we witness yet another miracle come true!
 


Hate has a name, it’s me.

 

A hard reset. That is what it needed. For the world. For our nation. For the hate-mongers. For the defenders of injustice. And, yes, for our President, too. We are falling apart, our moral compass is not pointing due north any longer, we are becoming devoid of our values, losing our way, and causing fear where fear was thought once diminished.
 
I was sitting at home last evening, watching the latest news to find myself literally sickened to my stomach. I could not figure out what was happening to me. At first, I thought it was just the Charlottesville terror and hate being reviewed before me that stirred within me these awful feelings, or the sadness in hearing the words that were given by my President, or the infighting between the Administration, the media, congress, and the world at large. But, then, somewhere deep down, I knew I needed to get out and walk. I did. I began to weep almost uncontrollably.
 
When I was in high school I came out to my family. It was a very difficult time for them and for me. I was not sure at that point why I had the feelings that I did, and I was never convinced if God, or anyone else for that matter, would ever understand me or love me again, but I knew for sure that I was different.
 
Growing up in a strong and faithful Catholic-Italian family, and me, being the first-born son – the eldest of only two siblings – made it even harder. In this type of family, you simply did not come out! Instead, you got married, settled down, and had babies, so mom could become a nana! I failed. At least that is what I was carrying around with me, and trust be told, I still do in many ways. And, I was afraid.
 
I had a few good friends who did not abandon me. And I had many who just stayed away from me. But perhaps the worst were the few that came at me to threaten me, denigrate me, and cause me harm. They were the very few, but their voices and their actions were the loudest and most powerful; so powerful in fact, that after all of these years, in my living room, yesterday, they came back to me with a freshness that only the injured could ever understand. Yesterday, I was afraid all over again.
 
One time, I wanted so desperately to be part of anyone’s ‘in club’ that when I was asked to go to a football game with a group of boys I knew vilified me, I went. They picked me up, got me drunk, beat me up and left me at the side of a road some 9+ miles away from home. I was alone, hurt, afraid. I know how those who heard the President’s words feel. I am one of them, if not to their degree. We are one, and we are afraid.
 
I will never forget those feelings. I will never truly get to a place where I am not afraid. I thought that we, as a country – as a people – were doing so much better. But under the splendidly politically correct surface, we hate. Yes, Veronica, there is an under belly and it is us! Now hate is free to roam the streets again, but more terrible, to roam in the lives of those of us who fear and tremble when no one else is looking.
 
In our parish, we have many good and loving people. I can safely say that all our parishioners, who call Saint Miriam home, are good and honest and caring folk. We also have some ardent President Trump supporters and I have honored their beliefs because we are family. But I can also safely say that today even they are discouraged, bewildered, and non-supportive of these last few days. None of us want hate to thrive. We are Christians first.
 
Over the past weekend, a white supremacist rally erupted into violence, leaving three people dead and many more injured. There will never be room in our society for Nazism. That is the raw, unfettered, unvarnished truth. It happened in this country. The violence, the rhetoric, the intolerable speech, the inciting of hatred, and the harming of others must end.
 
Unlike many who will not state the name of a killer, in my homily last Sunday I stated the name of James Alex Fields, Jr., who murdered, out of nothing but pure hate, 32-year-old Heather Heyer. I told you to remember his name. Why? Because hate always has a name, and the victims of such hatred always have a face.
 
In the end, hate doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Those who destroyed lives last weekend were not born with hatred in their hearts. Those who, so many years ago now, took me on their ‘joy ride’ to beat me, embarrass me, and demean me did not learn that hatred on their own. Those who strung lives from a tree for no other reason but the color of their skin learned to hate. Hate is not born in us. It is always taught.
 
St. Francis once said, “May all through our gentleness be led to peace.”  May it be so, and may it begin with me.
 

 



That which we take for granted, often disappears.

 

One of my all-time favorites is dead. Glen Campbell, known for his well over six-decade career, winning four Grammys and selling over 45 million records, died yesterday morning. He touched many of us who loved him with his romantic and sentimental country-pop hits, driven by his smooth tenor, and a touch of that twangy guitar! His memorable hits included “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Gentle on My Mind,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “Southern Nights,” “Try A Little Kindness,” and “Galveston.” But for me, the most moving was his last composition, released in 2014 and produced with the help of his friend, Julian Raymond, entitled, “I’m Not Gonna Miss You.” It was Campbell’s most intimate song and it chronicled the great singer’s battle with Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis he announced to the public back in 2011.

He wrote this final song for his loving wife, Kim. The ballad’s devastating lyrics detail Campbell’s struggle with the illness, but juxtaposed with the music video, which utilizes personal home video and performance footage from throughout Campbell’s life, the result is a truly poignant experience.
 
To compose this song, Raymond kept a journal of things Campbell said to him, which formed the basis for the lyric. Campbell had input on the words and melody, but Raymond guided him through the process. The song ended up capturing Campbell’s fleeting thoughts, even as his memory failed. The song was recorded in 2013 after Campbell completed his final tour.
 
For me, the most poignant aspect of this song is how it applies to all of life. We really do not know what we have until it is taken away, or we willingly walk away in our brokenness, without ever trying to keep the pearl we found.
 
In as many weeks, two priests that we know have announced the closing of their parishes. It has been a devastatingly emotional week for one, whom I spoke to yesterday. It always saddest to me when a parish is forced to close due to the inability to afford the needed expenses. There simply is no reason for it. After all, we live in a world where we think nothing of paying thousands of dollars for a flight to Europe, upwards of $4 for a latte at Starbucks every morning on our way to work, but still we only ‘tip’ God a measly $5 bucks when we attend a place to worship Him. The airlines, coffee companies, and vacation destinations get millions a year; God gets a tip.
 
Even here at Saint Miriam, we have had people walk away in their own ‘stuff’, as they blame us for their lot in life, even though – in reality – they put themselves ahead of God. We have had people fail to honor their building pledges, never sign up for giving, and not even think of adding their name to such wonderful projects that we have accomplished, and yet take full advantage of all the we have created. It seems that in our modern-day society, God comes only when we want God, and only on our terms, and with discount at that. We fail to sacrifice anymore for God, our holy Church, or the world at large. We always come first.
 
I sat in a Marriage PREP/PreCana session last Saturday for several hours. I listened intently as couples shared their joy of finding one another. Their stories were replete with the allure of one another, the attraction, the funny things that happened along the way, and their discovery of the strong desire to marry. It is always an exciting time! Then, one couple asked me the million-dollar question! “Father, how do we stay together for the rest of our lives in a world where divorce is so high?”  
 
I explained to them that the national divorce rate actually peaked in the 1980’s at about 42%, but has been declining ever since. The still very difficult statistic, however, is that every new marriage still has only about a 50% chance of lasting ten years. Why? Because we are never encouraged to put ourselves in any other positon but first, and marriage is always about the other.
 
I have learned a few things as a priest, but more so as a man: the grass is rarely greener on other side of the fence, great things take great sacrifice, it is always best to ‘stay in the water’ rather than abandon people who loved and cared for you, there are no short cuts to happiness, we will never agree on everything, but we love still, and in the end, when our life is about done, we desire not things, but the people who loved us the most, and a God who will love us as we are.
 
If someone journaled my life, as they did Glen Campbell, I know Saint Miriam would be listed among the places I loved most. A short, but most meaningful line, I often say at wedding ceremonies is apropos to end my message today,
 
Do not take each other for granted, for that which we take for granted, often disappears.”
 


Coming Home.

 

It has been an exciting and very emotional few months. The start of the new Friary Rectory brought it with it the trepidation of an increased mortgage, the expense associated with a building project, and the unexpected ‘stuff’ that occurs in the proverbial phrase, “contingency”!

We have had a lot of contingency. The expenses have been higher in some areas, and lower on others, raising funds has been terribly difficult in these summer months while many are travelling and away from the parish, and the added insurance coverages, while needed, were a burden. Then, we need to also note the miscalculations that led to a triple-flooding event over four days that expanded the construction to all levels of the parish and part of the school and administration wing. And, in addition to just keeping things running as normally as I could, I have also been involved almost daily with the multitude of complex decisions related to this effort. I have a new profound depth of respect for construction workers, site mangers, general contractors, and especially for Greg Tomeszko, David Olson, and Lew Salotti. Yes, contingency has taken on a whole new depth!
 
Yesterday, I arrived back to campus after an errand only to find the completion of the exterior stucco work. The building finally began to look completed; it began to look like a home. My heart melted as I parked and I sat in my car and wept. I was overwhelmed and completed the poem shared at the end of this blog. It was as if I was coming home.
 
I have not had a home for almost three years now. Living in an RV is not as glamorous as some think it to be. It is cold in the winter, difficult to cool on hot days in summer, and the maintenance issues are complex. The daily chores add to the burden and run the gamut from adding drinking water to emptying the waste tank! No, it has not been easy. It has not been home.
 
I have not lived at home since I left for college and my very first degree at age 17, but I have always gone back home every chance I got. Home has always been very important to me and no matter where I was, I always made myself a home; someplace to go back to at the end of every day. A place to call home, and most importantly a place to feel at home. But, for several years, no home has been found, none felt. My soul, in a very real way, has been homeless.
 
Now, to be sure, home has changed over the years. It changed when I left Erie and began to go to school. It changed when I went into seminary in Washington, DC. It changed again drastically when my dad died, and then again when my mom moved here and the family home I knew went to my sister and her family. Home changed when we sold the condominium in Philadelphia and gave the proceeds to the parish in order for us to close on the loan that made all that we now have at Saint Miriam possible. And, I thought I could dwell here, in this RV, and still find home, but I never could. It was never home.
 
So, a few days ago when the staircase to the new Rectory was installed, the builder called me and asked me to come and see it. I was not sure what I expected, but I surely did not realize the impact it would have. As I approached the newly formed staircase that would lead many to a place we could call home, I literally broke down in tears and had to sit down on the first step. All I could do was look up and cry. I felt like, for the first time in many years, I may just be going home again very soon.
 
So, while many were away for their summer breaks, here we are, on the verge of completing another project for the good of the parish. Another promise kept, and lots of hard work and sacrifice of many, but for me it is much more… I am coming home.
 
 

 

A humble stair

A humble stair

 

to a humble place

 

a dwelling really

 

not much more

 

but to those who lodge here, it is home

 

a home we share

 

                        and dine

 

                                    and weep

 

                                                and worship

 

                                                            and praise

 

            and argue, too

 

a home, like your home, but perhaps something more

 

God is here

 

            not every day noticed, to be sure

 

but here, none-the-less

 

in all our mess

 

that is us, He comes

 

            and dwells here, too

 

 


Saint Miriam is Closing!

 
At least that is the rumor I came home to after my annual week away. Well, that one and several others. It always amazes me how fast false news travels. It surpasses bad news at twice the speed of sound within a parish and is often made up out of whole cloth! The worst part of rumors is not their falsity, but rather how much they hurt the fabric of who we are and what we have created; and, how deeply offensive they are to those who sacrifice so much to build and maintain this wonderful parish. So, let me be direct: this is perhaps one of the stupidest rumors I have ever heard in my almost ten years as your pastor. No, Saint Miriam is not for sale. Yes, I am tired and the past few months of construction and water damage and planning have made me a bit tired (and at times, cranky, admittedly, too) but no, I am not leaving as pastor. And yes, I am human and deserve your support, not your rumors.
 
If you would define a pastor using words, they would likely include leader, spiritual guide, chief executive, confidant, administrator, confessor, preacher and many more. I, however, have also learned that those who hold this sacred post are also kind of like your dad, Santa Claus, and the Tooth Fairy all rolled into one: we always find out what you think and say, even when you believe we will never find out; and that includes rumors!
 
Part of my job as pastor is to correct wrong or hurtful spiritual and community behavior, so let me use this time to address rumors. Rumors are destructive at their core. They offer no support to the overall mission of an entity, they are based on personal observations absent fact, and tear at the fabric of an organization. They also go against others, are hurtful, and make a parish someplace that no one wants to go to; they can actually ruin parish life. Rumors also triangulate others. Rather than going to see the person we are having an issue with directly, or finding out facts, we create rumors and place our own spin on them and then pull in others to play along. In the end, this hurts everyone, breaks confidences, causes people not to trust you, and is against the Saint Miriam Covenant  we all agree to abide by to make us healthier and stronger. So, let me use this forum to fix the rumor mill one more time and to get us all back on track.
 
First, I realize there is a lot going on. We are under construction for our new Friary Rectory and we are repairing water damage, installing a new fence, and upgrading handicap entrances and restrooms, too. We are preparing for the fall, our final changes to our liturgy with the Mass of St. Francis, the additions to Small Groups, and the Saint Miriam Café updates, too! A few new students will begin their journey to study for the deaconate, a revamped PREP/CCD program and revitalized preschool begins. We also welcomed recently our new Associate Pastor, Father John, who is finding his ‘sea legs’ again with us! It is a busy place and we all should be very excited and pull together. Instead, last Sunday, in my absence while trying to find some rest, the rumor mill was brewing that we were closing, which I have now addressed, and these next few surfaced, too. Perhaps the most hurtful was that I did not deserve a vacation, and that my new car and the statue for the Friary that I purchased was evidence that I ‘cry poor’ but live well, and that they would not, therefore, support the parish building project with their donation. 
 
So, I will state this very publically, I know who made these comments and they are hurtful, not only to the community, but more so to me as a priest, your pastor, and someone who sacrifices more that you will ever know to keep us alive and well. I do not deserve the rumors and I resent them. I am hurt. With that said, I offer my forgiveness and my ear; my door is open should you decide to come and sit and restore our fellowship.
 
My replies to the recent spate of rumors:
 
The parish is closing: false, answered above.
 
My new car: I pay for my own car. I lease it and keep my budget to under $390 a month. I use that car to safely travel to weddings, funerals, etc. that benefits the parish. I lease new every 36 months so that I have no unexpected expenses because, while you think I cry poor, I am on a tight budget and could not afford a major repair. Last year, my car was used to travel almost 12,000 miles for parish business; on a 15,000 mile a year lease, it is almost all about the parish, just like my life.
 
Vacation: I take one week a year. I deserve it. I should probably take more time! This year’s vacation was paid for by my mother. Please go see her and tell her how ashamed you are that she afforded me time off.
 
Napkins: Apparently my authorizing the purchase of napkins with the Café logo has once again proven to be abut of an issue. I purchased 5,000 personalized napkins for a total cost of $421.95 with shipping (less than .084 each), and when you do that quantity the logo is FREE, and the company also gives us 10% off for being a non-profit. These napkins last approximately 14-15 months. That saves us from worrying about inventory, running to the store and purchasing at full retail, wear and tear and gas on someone’s vehicle, prevents us from running out unexpectedly, and gives us branding (by way of marketing), and a superior product. But, perhaps the most egregious part of this rumor is that the person failed to know that we also receive a donation of $400 a year from a patron to offset this cost so our total expense was $21.95. (By the way, we purchase over $200 in toilet paper and another $240 in paper towels and not a word is said. Why would these napkins be such an issue?)
 
Statue:Yes, I purchased a St Francis Statue for the Friary. Total cost was $225.68, minus my gift card from my anniversary that made the new total $185.68, and the total charge is on my Discover Card. I bought it, not the parish.
 
In the end, for those who think what I give, my personal sacrifices, and how I support or how I lead is not good enough and not deriving of your respect and donation, you may write to request my removal directly to Bishop Gregory. I will honor your voice; I expect nothing less because I earned that much.
 
Folks, these examples should make us all take note on how wrong it is to give in to our own brokenness and spread falsities around this beautiful parish. It takes me away from my spiritual work that is greatly needed, and it is a disservice…to me, to our ministry team, to one another, our visitors, but mostly to God who sees even more than I do as a pastor. 
 
Please stop it. This is not Saint Miriam.
 


Serving Broken.

 

In an era when many in the greater Church prefer the narrow path of severity and condemnation, at Saint Miriam, we hold to the ancient teaching of the medicine of mercy. It is what we have built upon. It is what allows us to endure the hardships, share the work, and grow the parish. We keep our eye on Jesus and mercy, justice, and an inclusive welcome to all emerges as its fruit.

I am not a good man. Many believe that I am simply because I am a priest. And, to be honest, I thought once I was ordained that the ‘bad’ parts of me would somehow disappear, but as I remind the world (and myself often) they did not go away, and I am just as broken, just as sinful, just as lustful, just as arrogant, and just as covetous, as the next man. What I have learned to do, however, is to always try to put myself second, in a world that demands me be first– always, in all ways, even at the expense of everyone and everything.
 
Many who call themselves Christians could not live as I do. They could not survive in my Franciscan worldview, or at the very least, they would not even want to try. In my world, I see pain and injustice before my own needs. My world demands I attend to prayer and to worship daily before I even eat. In my world, only a handful of Sundays permit me to miss my Mass obligation. It is a world that says I must tithe, and give to the Church and the work of God, first – even when hungry or when there are personal bills to be paid. In my world, the parish and her parishioners come first, my needs are often sacrificed and ‘regular work hours’ are a thing I do not know comfortably. Even while on my annual one week off, I am working. I know not any other way.
 

At an age and time in my life when most of my peers are enjoying many weeks off for vacations and time off, and are making the height of their salary ranges, I am at my poorest, working longer and longer hours, and still take only a week away. Yes, I am at my poorest and yet somehow, I am the richest I have ever been. That is the paradox of my life in service to the church, and a God who has remained faithful to me, even though I am so broken and messed up that I deserve Him not.

Perhaps I toil so hard and give up so much as a form of penance for my sinfulness. Perhaps God is using me as a symbol of what a broken man can build and dream and do if you keep Christ in the center of your heart. Perhaps, I am just delusional. But if I err, I pray I err on the side of mercy and empathy. I pray that my work and effort are worth it. I pray to see, as the new Missal reflects, ‘the light of God’s face’ one day. I pray when I am laid back into the earth that someone, somewhere remembers me fondly and without disdain.
 
Yesterday, I posted a photo of myself and family on the beach. I was so excited to be near the ocean again! I used a satirical line in my posting that read something like, “If you’re wondering what he poor people are doing, we are on the beach today.” A Facebook friend called me out and admonished me for ‘rubbing it in everyone’s faces.’ Yes, even here I cannot just be me; even here I am reminded of my most broken side and feel vulnerable. Even here, I am often friendless.
 
In his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, that is the ‘Joy of the Gospel’, Pope Francis reflected, “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”
 

I do, too. I pray I serve her well. I pray others will continue to join me, as we make the world a little bit better before our time is done.

 


Finding Ourselves, Even Devoid of Some Gluten.

 

The Holy Father, Pope Francis, recently walked into it again. He decided to err on the side of gluten; well, at least some gluten!

A recent church directive emphatically states that the wafer known as the host must contain gluten. Catholics cannot use gluten-free versions of communion wafers to participate in Holy Communion. Pope Francis said, in a letter issued this past weekend, that only unleavened wheat bread can be used. Hosts that are completely gluten-free are invalid matter for the celebration of the Eucharist. The bread must be “purely of wheat.”

The issue that comes to us, of course, are those folks who are affected by Celiac disease, or suffer other gluten allergies. Not to worry! We are permitted low-gluten substitutes! If there is enough gluten to make it still actual “wheat bread,” a requirement for the sacrament, than all is well. At Saint Miriam, our low-gluten option, rare as it is requested, is valid matter.

Why is this important? Well because we, as Catholics, believe Communion is the actual body of Christ and is the center point of our liturgy: us being able to receive Jesus. The Eucharist, which we celebrate, transforms us little by little into the body of Christ and spiritual food for our brothers and sisters; it is what allows us to serve, and to be generous, and to ‘move and have our being.’ 

I recall the heated debate in the Synod of Bishops, back in late 2015, regarding the possibility of divorced or remarried Catholics receiving Holy Communion. This was an important discussion, especially because it brought to the forefront the relationship between mercy and justice; between charity and truth. After all, how can these seemingly opposing principles be lived out by the Church in the real world if we first do not understand why we live to begin with, let alone how we should serve?

For myself, especially myself as a priest and pastor, all my strength is derived from the Eucharist and my belief in the transforming love of Christ. It is how I survived my mistakes, my sin-filled life, my hurts, my griefs, my wounds, my betrayals, my jail cell, and my desire to be covetous of so much and of so many. It is through Holy Communion, and Jesus willingly coming into this broken vessel I call my body, that I am altered – I become a better human being, a stronger Christian, an improved Catholic – and I know others will be, too. 

A few weeks ago, I penned a blog right here entitled,Jesus Stuck Between Hymn 809 and 810.  It told of how I found a consecrated wafer actually stuck within the pages of a hymnal. It was a turning point for me. How could anyone walk away from a priest, having received communion, holding the very Essence of God in his/her hands and then stick it to a book so callously? That moment began an educational quest for me on a ‘right understanding’ of who we are and what we believe. It continues now, and we will embrace the directive of Pope Francis to help guide us into fuller communion, literally.
 

The Eucharist, and the liturgy that surrounds the Sacrament, is so vital to us that we have spent many months re-shaping our masses and revitalizing our music. Our Liturgy Committee and Ministry Team have worked tirelessly to bring to us a new missal and increase our respect for the Eucharist that we believe contains the living Presence of the One we worship. Jesus is found at Mass, true, but also at Adoration and the way we serve. We must renew our respect of the Giver of Life so that we can offer the gift freely to others. We know that what we do at the Altar is without meaning if we meet others with resistance, resentment, or callousness at our doors. 

We find this belief respected and taught in our greater Church history. St Ambrose once wrote, “If, whenever Christ’s blood is shed, it is shed for the forgiveness of sins, I who sin often, should receive it often: I need a frequent remedy.”  So, this is how Jesus was; always compassionate, always thinking of others – it must be with us, too. The determination of the people, who are afraid of being left alone and abandoned, is striking, and it is through Communion with the Lord, as Francis, once said, too, that leads us to solidarity with others.

We believe that living in communion with our Christ, and respecting the Holy Eucharist, puts us in relationship with others. It allows us to offer all who come to us a concrete sign of the mercy and attention of Jesus. Our compassion and love, as human beings, is frail and flawed, but with Christ in us, we have the ability to forgive more quickly, to friend more concretely, and to love more deeply.

Perhaps, then, the Eucharist is not a gold star on the forehead of “good” Christians, but rather a true and undeserved gift – much akin to Grace – that strengthens us as pilgrims as we stumble along through life, but firmly and intentionally fix our gaze on heaven itself.

In 2015, Pope Francis regained his insight on the power of the Eucharist and being more open to Jesus coming to everyone, when, on Corpus Christi he said, “We will be His eyes that go in search of Zacchaeus and of the Magdalene; we will be His hand who helps the sick in body and spirit; we will be His heart that loves those in need of reconciliation and understanding. … In this way, we understand that the Eucharist is not a reward for the good, but rather strength for the weak, for sinners. It is forgiveness, the viaticum that helps us on our way”.

We, as a Christian community, are born and continuously reborn from the true effects of our Eucharistic Communion and our desire to realize God in us. And, we who receive and believe in the Eucharistic bread, are urged by Jesus to bring this love to others, with the same compassion. This is the path we must follow; anything less would be less than Catholic, less than Christian.
 

So, I invite you to join us, beginning this September, when Saint Miriam introduces the Mass of St. Francis of Assisi at its 10:30am Morning Mass with Choir! We are grateful to composer Paul Taylor for working with our Director of Music, Charles Masters and making this possible!

This fall, the Mass takes on an entirely new spirit! This fall, others will know us by our fruit!