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! 

 


Beyond mountains, there are mountains.

 

“Dye mon, gen mon,” a Haitian proverb means, “Beyond mountains, there are mountains.”  A quote that became famous since it is the title of the bestselling book by author Tracy Kidder, which details the life of Dr. Paul Farmer, who dedicated most of his life to working in medicine in one of the poorest parts of Haiti.

The proverb can be used in both positive and negative styles. For instance, it could be used to describe the number of opportunities there are for a specific situation, but more often it is used to describe the frustration one feels when they get over one problem, only to get a view of several more problems facing them. 
 
Since we began this building project for our new Friary Rectory, I have thought a lot about this proverb. It has led me to think more deeply about suffering and obstacles and how God works in the world. Every time I think we are making headway, another mountain pops up. Sometimes you can anticipate the obstacle, the peak of that mountain sits high above the one you are presently climbing. But most sit quietly in the dark, behind the others – almost hiding – and you can’t anticipate it, don’t see it, and then you are faced with it head on. In my humanness, I often wonder if God works at all in the world. In my faith, I know he does, despite the issues that plague us; that impact me.
 
I have found that the mountains come seemingly relentlessly, and they can rise quickly. I also have found that while you are dealing with the unexpected ones, you still must maintain the normal mountains and hills of your daily life. For instance, while we were dealing with the flood damage and wet-vacuuming the water from our parish floors, I was also dealing with a parishioner in crisis, another in the hospital, and there were those bills to be paid, checks to sign, meetings to be had, and the normal stuff of parish life like liturgies, planning, assignments, and confession, etc. The list was endless, the stuff to do often was overwhelming. I didn’t need another mountain, but there it was…
 
For some of us, too, the summer is not a full break from normal life and schedules. Our weekends are not normal weekends; they are work days. That alone throws us out of sync with most the world. We don’t get to leave every weekend for the shore or woods, and if we could on a day off, most others cannot get off work. So, we find ourselves feeling alone, even in a full room. We try not to become bitter, as we watch others living a life of leisure via Facebook every weekend while we sit and deal with all that calls our attention. Another crisis, another unexpected mountain.
 
I thought a lot about God during this recent project. Truth is, I think about it all the time, but in times like these, I think even more deeply about God and how God works. Why does God, who is almighty and omnipotent, and who is pure love, permit suffering to occur in the world? Why, when we are doing our best to serve Him, does a flood come? Why is little Charlie Gard dying of a rare genetic disease when terrorists run free to inflict harm? Why did 18-year-old Bianca Roberson have to be killed simply for driving her car home from a shopping trip? Perhaps, through our own questioning and our own suffering – our own mountains – we seek to find reasons for the suffering, which seem particularly to make the least amount of sense to us, but then somehow, we are led closer to the God we call out to and find frustration in?
 
I think that is the genius of Jesus and His ministry, we find that the rain truly does ‘fall on the good and the wicked alike’ – even Jesus was not removed from suffering. But, we also learn through His revelation that God uses tragedy, suffering, pain, betrayal, and death itself, not to wound us, but in fact to bring us to God. There are no dead ends in God. There are no meaningless mountains.
 
Sooner or later, life is going to lead you into the belly of the whale, into a place where you can’t fix, control, explain away, or even understand. Sooner or later, like with me, you will have a choice to make as you deal with the mountains that come. That’s where transformation most easily and deeply happens. It is like an incubator, where one rests and finds renewed strength in God to go out and serve better with empathy; changed.  That’s when you’re uniquely in the hands of God, because you cannot “handle” it yourself. It is where strength and comfort abound, but first you must lose yourself and willingly trust God.
 
I think that is why I am a Franciscan. If you follow St. Francis, you learn about a faith in God alone, and in abundance at that, even in suffering. When you follow someone who voluntarily leapt into the very fire of poverty from which most of us are trying to escape, and with total trust that Jesus’s way of the cross could not, and would not, be wrong, then you learn to see the world – and suffering – and mountains differently.  Francis trusted God and did not wait for liberation later, instead he grasped it here and now to better enable him to serve others in their strife. Francis took on the cross and found God.
 
So, perhaps we must suffer. Perhaps suffering is the rent we pay as human beings to live on earth. Perhaps such an ability to really change and heal people is often the fruit of our suffering, and various forms of poverty, since the false self we often show outwardly to the world does not surrender without a fight to its death. Suffering, then, is absolutely necessary to teach us how to live beyond the illusion of control and to give that control back to God. For it is only then that we become usable instruments, because we can share our power with God’s power and this mystery of love can change your whole life. I know it did mine.
 
Now, please excuse me; I must leave you for a time, I have a mountain to take down.

 

 



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.