I Need You, Too.

 

When I was a child my friends and I used to find daisies in the large field near our homes and pull off their petals, one by one, to figure out if the boy or girl of our recent infatuation loved us or not! I am sure all of you did the same at one time or another! Well, I may have grown up now, and may not have a daisy in my hand, but I wonder if you love me enough to hear me this week?  We now begin to turn – ever so slowly – to fall! I know, I know, but we must! And it is a busy time for parish life! That is why I am asking for your help.

I’ve been at the helm of Saint Miriam now for almost nine years. I have never left you and I have been there – side by side – for many life events and wonderful moments, from weddings and baptisms to birthdays and births to those anniversaries and receiving that good news that you are now cancer free! I have also been there to see you through some of those worst times of sorrow, illness, divorce, and life transitions in so many forms. We have grown together from a 2-person church in rented space to a parish of well over 500 families and still climbing in a building and grounds that we actually own now! A miracle in and of itself, but also a testament to the will, devotion, sacrifice, and prayers of those who guide and support her! We have a beautiful updated parish, an historic cemetery, a beautiful campus, a wonderful school, new iron gates and statues to welcome people, and soon a new friary and outdoor wedding garden. We have added meditation areas, a pet memorial garden, and our new St. Francis of Assisi Green Memorial Section F is soon to be opened, too. We have much to be proud of, but it takes a lot of work, a lot of care, and a lot of my effort to pastor it all, and, to be direct:  I am tired.  That is where you come in! I need your help with three primary objectives. They are:

(1) This coming week we will host a gathering of our clergy and bishops. Some twenty-five of us will gather and pray and make decisions that will impact the greater church for years to come. I hope you will pray for us, but also attend the Ordination of Brother Jeffrey Wolfe on Wednesday the 17th of August at 10:30am, and also the consider joining us for a special Sacred Meal Dinner Group that same evening at 6:30pm! I know you will have to adjust your schedules and make room in your life, but I do so for all of you every day, and I hope you can do this for me to show the clergy our love and support of me, as your pastor, but more importantly, our parish.

When we drafted this year’s annual budget, we did not add a salary for me once again. Now, to be honest, it was at my direction and urging. But, as we have now experienced so much in the past eleven months, I have noted that I cannot endure all of this pastoring and continue to teach and officiate at as many weddings as I do and still remain healthy. (2) I am asking for you to consider increasing your weekly giving to allow me to receive a modest salary of $25,000 a year. It will take all of us together to make that work, as I do not wish to cut from an already streamlined budget. I also need you to attend fundraising events (like the Hawaiian Luau coming on Saturday, August 20th!) and to volunteer to help us around the parish and campus. More hands make less contractors that we need to hire and eases the burden on our overall budget.

(3) Finally, I need you to pray for vocations. You have all noted that I cover most of the masses at Saint Miriam. Father Joe’s health issues with colitis have prevented him from fulfilling his obligations and traveling the distance to our parish, and he has only been on campus one or two days every month and I need a priest who can be here more. Too, as many of you are aware, he has a small mission church that he would like to tend to close to home near New York. I have agreed and that parish will fall under a new bishop for missions. And, our own Father Bryan also travels quite a distance and does everything he can to support me and the work of our parish, but he has a few health issues that prevent him from increasing his workload. Father Ken is also on the team and will begin to fill in where needed, but also has a few health issues to tend to first. And, the fall season is coming quickly and soon we will have more folks attending mass, more children filling the halls of our school, and more visitors and newcomers and those who need us. For all of this to work, they – and you – will need a strong pastor. And that pastor, well, I need you, too!

Soon the autumn will bring back our InGathering Mass, Small Groups, and so much more! We have created a new brochure to help with these and also a brand new walking tour map for you to enjoy our meditation areas and historic figures buried within our cemetery, too! All of this and so much more, is always being worked on by your parish team. A team that loves to work for you, but needs and deserves your support.

Please think again about your commitment to us. Please pray for us and attend fundraisers and special events to let us know that they matter to you! And please consider increasing your giving and adding a pastor’s pledge today by Clicking Here.
 
Why? Well because I need you, too!
 


Something Greater than Pokemom.

 
 

The world is a horrible place. I know. A priest shouldn’t feel that way, but I do. Cops being ambushed and killed, mistrust, ISIS, terrorism, mass murder in night clubs, stolen valor, gutter politics, tropical storms that kill, missing jet liners, Gold Star families being dishonored, Black Lives not mattering (not really), beautiful hot air balloons not being so beautiful after all, and let us not forget Zika, bullies, people not attending church, human trafficking, road rage, hackers, the proliferation of assault weapons, cults, riots, prejudice and hatred, politicians who are no longer honorable, bridge collapses, texting and distracted drivers, North Korea, cancer, and how can we fail to remember we all have Facebook, too?

For those of you who worry about these things, and many more, I want you to know that you are not alone. I worry, too. I often feel exactly as you do, and perhaps that makes me qualified to answer why these things happen, or perhaps it makes me especially unqualified to answer that longing question we all hold within our hearts, ‘why?’ And, I know beyond any doubt, that whatever I say here today will be wholly insufficient and unsatisfyingly incomplete and perhaps even exhausting.

The first step in defeating fear, reducing anxiety, and trusting God is by using something we call prayer. I know, I know! You seem to feel that as a priest it sounds like the ‘easy out’ or trite answer, and to a certain extent, it is just that! It’s the Christian equivalent to the encouragement we so easily give to that teenager after she breaks up with her first boyfriend: “Oh, honey, there, there now…there are other fish in the sea.”  Both are offered almost as an innate, automatic reflex, and often not for sincerity, but for lack of us having anything better to say.

Yet, in the end, both are also very true. There are plenty of other boys in the world, and we all have gotten over heartbreak and somehow seem to meet that ‘someone’ else; AND prayer remains the best way to trust God and fight fear and become better people. Our battle plan as followers of Christ is more than futile if it does not include vigorous and frequent prayer.  I know this for sure because I live it every day.

Sometimes, I will admit that in my weaker moments, when I am exhausted or troubled most deeply, I’m tempted to look at all of these things that I listed at the beginning of this reflection and think that God has just given up. Somehow, God just tore up the human blueprint and ran the other way without looking back. God just sat back, looked at the world and said, “Well, it was a good try, but these creations of mine are weak, mean, stupid, uncaring, unlovable, and with the capacity to love and I can’t take it anymore!”

The truth is that God knew what challenges we would face before we even faced them. He knew where our society would be before we were born into it. He knew of the despair, violence, terror, sadness, and misery before we felt it. God knew that our time would call for warriors, and so He sent us. He gave us the radical document to follow; simple in its intent, but complex in its execution. It is called the Gospel of Our Lord.

This might be a very dumb question for a world who seems to have forgotten how to pray, but have you asked God for help in trusting Him? Have you asked Him to help you fight the fear and loneliness? Have you gone to Him – I mean really gone right to God and asked Him to help – not just you, but all of us in the world today?

Our journey, in the end, will be meaningless and futile without hope and trust in something greater than Pokemom. The world is a horrible place without hope and love, and you and I are in it for a reason.

 


God Rocks! (But We Need to Help, too!)

 

I know. I think the same things often, too. How can God be good when the world seems so bad? War, conflicts, terrorism, global warming, politicians who seem not to care about much other than advancing their agenda, shootings in night clubs, police being hunted and slain, gang wars in the inner-city, and now Daesh has slain a fellow priest, Father Jacques Hamel, while he was celebrating Mass, as he had done for over 50 years now, in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France. And while I abhor what happened, I will not fall into fear or allow terror to win. We – together – simply can’t allow it.  We all must recognize that their intent in going after such a provocative target as a Catholic priest is to trigger a backlash against Muslims in France, and around the world, and thereby to drive Muslims into the recruiting arms of the Islamic State. We can change that process by us being more involved right here at home. Yes, you and I can help change the world dynamic by being steadfast to our faith, supporting our church, and praying for the world while we openly love and embrace Muslims, and other religions of the loving God, we gather to worship every week as we have without fail for some nine years now. We can show others how to love, even in the moments of dark shadows, until the light beams brightly again for everyone.
 
So, yes, God still rocks! He truly does, but we need to help God make His way through us into the world. Now, perhaps more than ever, the church is needed, but a church can’t continue to thrive and carry out its mission without funding and support. We have been falling short this summer and it surprises me after all that we have built here and been blessed with by God. I thought for sure that this year, of all years, people would give more to build more, but it simply is not happening.
 
Like any organization we need resources to sustain us. The church is also unusual from most businesses in that it’s the only organization that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet members! Think of that!  If the church is to take God’s message to a hurting world and reach out to thousands who need Christ, the members – our family- have to help make it happen. That means you, and me, and all who attend Saint Miriam must be willing to give to support her, and no, the days of giving $5 a week simply doesn’t cut it (Just look at all the closed parishes around us). In order to sustain, we give the minimum, but in order to grow, we give from our abundance to build something greater. And, we do this by sharing what God provides to us in the first place as individuals, and showing that we care by giving generously – and first back to God – so that the money can be used for God’s work of building the Kingdom and shed light, and sprinkle salt wherever it is needed. Like in France. Like in Center City. Like in so many places who depend on places like us.
 
Would it surprise you to know that, as a pastor and priest, I don’t think people should be “talked into” giving money to God’s work? That is why we do not take up a collection at Mass, and we limit our verbal appeals. We should all want to give to show our joy and thanksgiving, and to ensure our parish is here next week, next month, next year. We have proven to be good and solid stewards of your donations. The Bible says we should give because we want to, and “not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”, but I find that most need to be begged. This is a sin. Plain and simple. Even Jesus’ little band of disciples had a treasurer, and the Bible mentions several women who “were helping to support them out of their own means”.  In our own ministry, we have always tried to make people aware of the opportunities we have before us, and encourage them to support us as God leads them to do so. I can’t help but wonder, in a world so in need, and in a place like ours so vibrant and loving, why you would not want to help us remain secure?
 
Mark Estes said it best when he wrote, “We spend half our lives putting down cash or swiping our pieces of plastic for absolutely everything we consume. Yet, somehow we have this notion that church should be a place where we can get entertained, cared for, taught the Word of God, and served when we have trouble – but it should all come free.”   At Saint Miriam, we always point out that giving a part of what you have back to God is actually a good way to thank God for His care and provision of all that we have; giving should always begin with joy.  The world needs more joy; it really does.
 
My question for all of this week is this: What is the most important thing in your life? Is it Christ and God’s will—or is it something else, such as money? Yesterday, in France, the battle between dark and light, played out during the Holy Mass. The Church is now sadly and unbelievably joined to the pain and horror of this absurd violence. How will you help to ensure that we can all continue to be a beacon of hope and light?
 
 
 


Those who hear not the music think the dancer mad.

 

I CrossFit. I do so normally six days a week, and yes, often even when I am a bit sick. I even schedule my calendar and meetings around my workouts so to ensure that I rarely miss. When challenged about the intensity of the workouts, or that we should ‘take a break’, we often reply with the notorious response, “It’s a CrossFit thing, you wouldn’t understand!”
 
And, there is a lot of truth it that statement. Those who have not done so, or engaged in something like CrossFit that really fulfills them, changes them, provides a community and support system to fulfill dreams and goals, is deeply moving to them, and has changed their life in some deeply moving way, would not understand why anyone would do it. 
 
This is how I have come to see parish life. Those who stand at its periphery and never really get involved, or attend Mass regularly, or engage the wonderful Small Group opportunities that we provide, allow their children to learn in PREP/CCD, volunteer to help us grow, attend our numerous special functions to meet new friends and old, support fund raising events, contribute generously to ease her mission, and pray for one another, especially those who guide and shepherd us, often fail to understand why we do what we do. They simply fail and leave. They hear not the music…
 
I had a woman who recently left the parish. I never really understood why people felt the need to tell me they will be leaving, as if I am some toll collector upon their exit until I understood the music! You see, when you don’t hear the music, when you think the dancers mad, when you don’t yourself engage and are always on the outside looking in, you feel the need to run away, but as you do so – just like you’ve done so many times before – you want to feel that you are once again doing the right thing; you need to be affirmed in your choice that will again peel you away from a community of hope and support. So, you spew at the pastor and hope he will tell you it’s ok; you’re right!  Well, you’re not right. Sorry.
 
Being a member of a parish is like being part of a community, a family, a support system, a place where you go to find cool water on a hot day, refreshment when the world says it’s not available, a source of pride and nourishment that sustains and uplifts by the very food she offers you when needed the most. No, you will not always agree or identify with everyone, but is that not the way it is supposed to be? When will people learn it is far more important to stay in the water, than to run away and miss what’s coming? And it doesn’t come by mere osmosis, it comes only by being involved, and becoming part of that something wonderful. It also is a commitment to participate and engage even when you disagree with others, because sometimes – oftentimes – learning and growth come when our outer shell is broken enough to let the light in. Change and growth never happen sitting at home railing against the darkness while we are all alone and once again dreaming about what could have been with the shades drawn closed. 
 
CrossFit has changed my life. It has made me stronger to endure more and challenged me to do more than I could have done on my own. I am more fit, almost sixty pounds lighter, and for more willing to stretch and to believe in myself than ever before. I would never have done it on my own, it took others who believe in the community to bring me along, even when I was at my weakest. And, at the beginning, when I felt like quitting,  I never did.  That is why I am where I am today.
 
Come to think of it, that is the very same thing I can say about Saint Miriam.  I hear the music and it is grand!
 


The End of an Era (Another…) & Lessons Learned.

 

Since I lost my dad a little over a year ago so much has changed. I have moved twice in that time, sold my primary home in Philadelphia to help enable my parish to purchase the beautiful campus we now call home, and I moved into what the world calls ‘tiny house living’ in an RV at the edge of that same campus. We rescued a failing congregation and restored hope to a school and re-envisioned an historic cemetery and added a friary, too. Yes, a lot has happened in a short few ten months time.

Now, we have a parish that is growing, a school that is engaging, a summer camp that is the most successful in its history, and a staff of nineteen fine folks – and many more volunteers – who make the dreams of so many come true. Our Saint Miriam Cafe’ is a hallmark of our hospitality and stewardship, our Small Groups engage people where they are and fill them with renewed faith, our Mass schedule reflects the needs of those who come, and we continue to improve our facilities to make it more comfortable for everyone, just witness (and feel) the new air conditioning systems installed this summer in our Sanctuary! Yes, a lot has changed. We have much to be proud of.

This past Wednesday, in anticipation of my mom moving to be closer to me in Flourtown this past holiday weekend, I called home like I had done countless thousands – if not millions – of times before over my now fifty years of life. But, this time, the call ‘could not be completed’.  The number was disconnected and I fell into a heap of tears. I wept so hard that I had to pull my car over to the side of the highway, as I traveled back from my medical appointment near Allentown on I-476. I just sat at the edge of the roadway – as hundreds of cars passed by without every knowing – and I wept – I wept tears of sorrow and change – I wept tears of things lost – I wept in my continuing bereavement for my dad and this one last earthly connection I maintained, and yes, selfishly cried for myself and all that I lost – all that I gave up by becoming a priest. The time I lost with my family. The income I gave so willingly. The time I will never make up for. The vacations I never could afford to take. The pleas that I make to other parishioners to help us financially at the parish so we don’t lose what we have together; pleas that sadly almost never get answered. It may have seemed just a telephone number, but for me it was a lifeline. A standard. A constant in my life whereby no matter where I was, what was happening – good or bad or indifferent – I always had a home and this is how I got there when far away…

Then, in my despair, it dawned on me: that is why Saint Miriam is so important to me. She has become my lifeline now. My constant. My home. She is where I go to build and to play, to work and to cry, to mend and to grow, to worship and to laugh, to make mistakes, but to be uplifted in them despite my human frailty. She is where I find people who once felt like they could never fit in, and now finally fit perfectly. She is where those who thought they could never pass the ‘Catholic litmus test’, do and do so well! She is where all are welcome and where we prove that simple adage every single day. Yes, she is worth fighting for; worth keeping, worth the struggle. No, you may not always like me, the manner in which I pastor her, or even agree with the way I ‘build’  for tomorrow, or the decisions that I make, but you must admit she works, and for the most part, she works so well.

I learned how to do that at home. At home in Erie, Pennsylvania, on a small street called Clayton Avenue, in a small white house with red shudders numbered 128, and that bore the telephone number of 866-0950 that is now no more…
 

I sit at my home as I began the first draft of this week’s reflection. It has been my home for as long as I can remember now. We moved to this home when I was less than age five, and no matter where I was, or what I was doing, when someone asked me where ‘home’ was, this is what immediately came to mind.

 
So, yes, the phone is gone, and the address changed, but the lessons learned here?
 
Well, they have built a legacy called Saint Miriam.
 
 


Things I have learned in diapers keep me alive and well…

 

In the end, I am a mama’s boy. Self-admitted and very proud of it as I grow older! I will be moving my mom closer to me this coming weekend. I am both excited and little nervous, too! I hope it is for the good – good of her, not just for me. I am more and more irrelevant. I guess that is why I am a pretty good pastor: you need to be less relevant or there is no room for those who actually need you. 

I’ve read studies that higher than some 80 percent of male pastors say they are much closer to their mothers than their fathers. So, I am not alone! But, this has a lot of implications, and it explains why those of us who are momma’s boys are more likely to play an instrument than fire a gun, have coffee with a friend than watch a good ball game, or read a book than restore a vintage Corvette! So, when you’re dealing with me in the coming weeks, keep in mind that because as a momma’s boy I will likely to speak the language of nurture over discipline, collaboration over competition, forgiveness over punishment.

These aren’t things I’ve learned in seminary; these are things I have learned in diapers.

This is also why I worry a lot more than is wise, and am sad when you stay away from the church that I have given my soul to build. I literally have nothing left, own almost nothing anymore, it is all here, all within the walls and grounds of this campus we call Saint Miriam. In fact, if I died tomorrow, you would all be receiving a panicked phone call from Alan to help raise needed funds to even bury me! (Thank God we own a cemetery, huh?) I know it’s summer, but I still need God and I still need you. I hope you still need me and each other, too.

I also know enough to realize that we are not alone. As the weather warms up all across America, churches empty out and attendance drops dramatically. At Saint Miriam, we are down by 40% already and it’s barely July! There are many reasons people give me for not coming: No church school, they have a shore home or a boat or even a standing 9am Sunday tee time, they go on weekend trips, or just stay home to enjoy the weather. But, as a member of Christ’s holy Church, do we not need to also honor God and those things we learned from the time we were in diapers? You know, caring for one another, uplifting one another, supporting God and the church, praying, remaining strong spiritually, being present so others are there when we need them, too? I know that there are many reasons not to come to church in the summer, but there are many more really important reasons to show up. So, I leave you with a story…

A member of the church, who previously had been attending services regularly, stopped going. After a few weeks, the pastor decided to visit him. It was a chilly evening. The pastor found the man at home alone, sitting before a blazing fire. Guessing the reason for his pastor’s visit, the man welcomed him, led him to a comfortable chair near the fireplace and waited.

The pastor made himself at home but said nothing. In the grave silence, he contemplated the dance of the flames around the burning logs. After some minutes, the pastor took the fire tongs, carefully picked up a brightly burning ember and placed it to one side of the hearth all alone then he sat back in his chair, still silent.

The host watched all this in quiet contemplation. As the one lone ember’s flame flickered and diminished, there was a momentary glow and then its fire was no more. Soon it was cold and dead.

Not a word had been spoken since the initial greeting. The pastor glanced at his watch and realized it was time to leave. He slowly stood up, picked up the cold, dead ember and placed it back in the middle of the fire.

Immediately it began to glow, once more with the light and warmth of the burning coals around it.  As the pastor reached the door to leave, his host said with a tear running down his cheek, ‘Thank you so much for your visit and especially for the fiery sermon. I will be back in church next Sunday.’

We live in a world today, which tries to say too much with too little. Consequently, few listen. Sometimes the best sermons are the ones left unspoken.

I know it I summer…but please allow me to help keep the fires aglow?
 


My Heart Goes Out To You; Does Yours To Me?

 

The quick thinking of a Target Store manager, and his employee, saved the life of a 72-year-old woman who went into cardiac arrest at their store last Saturday evening. Manager Brad Dickerson and Austin Snelling found the woman face down. Snelling began CPR and Dickerson brought and used an Automatic External Defibrillator on her chest. The AED was used, CPR was re-applied and the woman woke up. By the time emergency responders arrived, the woman was conscious and speaking. It all happened in less than 6 minutes after the 911 call was placed. She as saved. She lives today. Yes, life is about choices.

Life is about choices. You can attend Mass to honor God and build your stamina as you become part of a family of hope, or stay home and relax and hope that trouble never finds you. You can sacrifice a little more to help God build a church, or you can go to the movies, or buy that new pair of shoes you want to add to an already large collection of shoes rarely worn. You can help a child fund an education they could not get on their own, or you can buy that Grande Latte at Starbucks again this morning on your way to the office. You can save a life, or let someone die. Yes, life is about choices.

Target and its employees made the right choice. So did Saint Miriam. A few weeks ago we began to ask folks to donate to allow us to purchase and install our own AED (automated external defibrillator) so that we could – if called upon – possibly save the life of someone we love and care about, or a visitor with an unknown heart ailment, or a child in our school with a diagnosed heart condition. We asked. Only eight of you responded at all, and one in a bigger way, and that is the only way we were able to finally achieve our goal. Only eight in over hundreds of parishioners who call Saint Miriam home felt this was worth your giving. Yes, life is about choices.

When easy-to-use heart defibrillators came onto the market two decades ago, they were billed as a way to save the lives of tens of thousands of victims of cardiac arrest each year. But today defibrillators are still few and far between. And, they often sit in back rooms or lockers, shuttered away from public view (Our AED unit is located in the Connecting Corridor between the parish and school/admin wings. It is clearly marked by several signs and easily accessible.) These devices are small miracles! They are ‘smart’ devices that allow anyone – even those not certified in CPR to save a life. The AED devices are designed to restart an individual’s unbeating heart through electrodes placed on his or her chest, and the devices are programmed not to shock an individual with a pulse. The version we installed even speaks to you, and tells you step-by-step what to do! The device determines the needed charge and delivers what is needed to save a life. There are no liability concerns, no one can sue you, and studies show that every minute it takes before a defibrillator is placed, your chances of success decrease by 10 percent. To have a mere 50-50 chance of survival, you have less than five minutes to get the defibrillator in place and the shock delivered. But, that means you need the device and the willingness to use it. Yes, life is about choices.

Statistically, when you dial 911, the average emergency response time for first responders is 8 to 12 minutes. Every minute that defibrillation is delayed, the chance of survival is reduced by about 10 percent. Experts estimate that improved training and access to AEDs could save over 50,000 American lives annually. At Saint Miriam, we felt that worth the investment. I am glad 8 of you agreed with me.
 
Yes, life is about choices.
 
PS The links are still live if you wish to help us, just Click Here. Remember, the life you save…may be your own.
 


In the end, love won. It always does.

 

“If I would have known my son was in the club, I would have gone inside myself and put him on my back, and carried him to the trauma center.”

These were the words that finally broke me. They are the words of Christine Leinonen. She is the mother of Christopher “Drew” Andrew Leinonen, only 32 years old, and she spoke these words after his name had been added to the list of the dead. She had waited some 30+ hours after the murders in Orlando, holding a small sliver of hope. It was not to be.

I have been almost stoic – in many ways too stoic – through much of the Orlando tragedy. Why? I just can’t take it anymore. I could not allow myself to grieve, to weep, to hurt, to allow my innards to break through the surface of my skin and feel the outside hurt of the prejudice, hate-filled air again. I couldn’t. But, I finally did. These words broke through to a place where I do not let many people in, and I grieved deeply. I am sad; terribly sad.
 

I knew the moment would eventually come. It had to in order for me to heal, and to begin to think of how to help. It came. Finally. Christine’s words, a mom in a place she would never have imagined when Drew was born and placed in her warms all those years ago, did it for me. I broke wide open, like a fragile vase fallen from a narrow shelf where it had been precariously perched for years gathering dust. This was not how it was to go for her; how the ending was to come. But it has, and as a compassionate person who often wears his feelings on his sleeve, the tears came so overwhelmingly as I held her close, though the distance great between us; so close that in my empathy, I could hardly breathe. I hate hate. I do. I don’t hate much, but I hate hate.

I hate that people hate gay people. I hate that people hate those who are poor or on the margins. I hate that people hate immigrants and those  feeling persecution and war without a single thought to their own ancestors who most likely did the very same thing. I hate how many of the affluent and the privileged have no time for the indigent, or the different, except to hate them or enslave them by low wages and menial jobs. I hate that people hate based on religion or God.  Like Roger Jimenez, the Baptist pastor in California (I use that term loosely) who refused to mourn these murders, but instead filled the airwaves with the hatred from his dark soul as he proclaimed that “Orlando, Fla., is a little safer tonight” because “50 pedophiles were killed today.” and then added, “The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!”

And, if you think Jimenez is alone, try Steven Anderson, of Arizona, who is well known for his violability an hatred from the pulpit if his tiny church, Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, who actually celebrated the shooting rampage, by stating: “The good news is that at least 50 of these pedophiles are not going to be harming children anymore,” Anderson added, “The bad news is that a lot of the homos in the bar are still alive, so they’re going to continue to molest children and recruit people into their filthy homosexual lifestyle. The other bad news is that this is going to now be used as propaganda not only against Muslims, but also against Christians.” 

No, God is not hate. That I know. I guess, in the end, that is enough to know, but now we must continue to act for the God we know, the God of love.

If you don’t think what we do at Saint Miriam is important, stop today and think of the 49 killed and the 43 injured and still fighting for their lives. Think of how we fight against hated in all its varied forms. Think of how we have succeeded in building a place of light and love and hope, despite being hated ourselves. Think of this place we have built together; a place to allow everyone to worship. To be loved. To be welcomed. To be Catholic without all of the bullshit that normally comes with that word.

I need your help today. I rarely utter those words, as I usually just do things myself, but today I need you to support our work. Why? Because I recognize that try as I might I cannot do it alone. Because it is that vitally important, even more important than ever before, because hate is about to win and we cannot allow it to happen. No, not on our watch. Not now, not here, not ever. I fight every day to help others feel loved. Join me and make a donation in memory of time killed, honor Drew, to help us change the way people are hated within the church. Let us prevent more hate. Let us continue to grow a place that knows not one single boundary on our ability to welcome and to love. 

“If I would have known my son was in the club, I would have gone inside myself and put him on my back, and carried him to the trauma center.”

That is what we do every day at Saint Miriam. We carry many to this place we have built together, as we care for those who are sick of hate, too, harmed by the greater church, and those who claim to be followers of a God of love, we help repair those who have been  maimed – or now even killed – by religious prejudice. Christopher would like that, I am sure. 
 
Christopher Leinonen’s boyfriend, Juan, was killed with him. They died side-by-side. They will be buried together this coming Monday. I think they would have liked that, too. In the end, love won. It always does.
 


Praesertim Oboedientiam.

 

“praesertim oboedientiam”  that is what was written, literally in stone, across the transom passageway from where we lived and where we ate together in the refectory at my seminary when I began my journey to the priesthood. A journey that would take some twenty-one years to complete. It summed up, at least for me, what the Church expected of me – and the other men in formation – strict, unadulterated, and unquestioning obedience above all; nothing less would do. I failed. Many do. Here are three tales and I will still end these brief sagas of woe in a spirit of peace and with a lesson of hope.

This past week I met with a woman who left the church because of something that happened almost 28 years ago. Since that time she has been struggling to find a place of refuge; a spiritual home that would – could – fill her needs, embrace the diversity inherent in her family, inspire her, give her hope, light…peace. She has failed many times. Despite the many churches, denominations, and even a synagogue that she has attended and tried to ‘fit in’, she had yet to find her way to a place she could feel ‘at home’. Then she walked into Saint Miriam one Sunday and ‘felt more love and care than in all the other churches I ever went to combined!”, she said. But, is it a ‘real’ Catholic Church, she inquired of me? That was her struggle. After nearly three decades away from the Roman Church, she is still struggling with what she had been erroneously taught so many years ago.

The week before this appointment, I met with a gentleman who demanded an appointment with me. He entered my office, almost angered, because he visited our parish website and discovered that we do not use the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass. I explained to him that we do, but only at the 7:30am Early Mass; that the later Masses use Novus Ordo Missae, which literally means the “new order of the Mass” or the “new ordinary of the Mass” as promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970. He was not amused.

A brief history: For a long time, we referred to the new liturgy (or the Missal of 1970) as the “new rite”, and the older liturgy (the most recent version of which is the Missal of 1962) as the “old rite.” In his July 2007 letter, however, Pope Benedict XVI said that we should instead think of these Missals as being two forms of a single Roman rite, rather than as two separate rites. Thus he prefers that instead of “new rite” and “old rite,” we now are to call them, “Ordinary Form” (his name for the Missal of 1970, or Novus Ordo Missae) and “Extraordinary Form” (the Missal of 1962, or the traditional Latin Mass). In other words, the pontiff (ref: motu proprio Summorum Pontificum) declared that the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, which he said was never abrogated, was officially available to all the Church’s faithful alongside the new liturgy of Pope Paul VI. OK, back to brass tacks!

So, with all that in mind, I gently reminded this obviously irate man, now almost ready to rip my throat out, of the words of the Holy Father emeritus, in a letter he wrote to bishops explaining his decision are but an elegant expression of common sense: If the older liturgy was sacred in the past, then it is sacred now as well. He said, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” Makes sense, no?  Apparently not, as the man ended with the fact that a true and effcaious Mass has not been celebrated in this area since 1570! Then, he stormed out of my office. “Thank you, Jesus”, I said under my breath…

Fast forward – or actually, backwards – to yet another human struggle within the greater Church. This one is a young man who is in seminary at present and struggling because, in his heart, he knows he is not called to be a priest within the Roman rite, but within his mind…he is stuck! He knows – deep down where let few people in – that his personal views, his God beliefs, the way in which he sees the word and feels the Holy Spirit is not in keeping with the rules, regulations, and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. But, here he is, now literally within a mere few months of ordination, and finds himself in quite a quandary! (I have been there so I know the depth of his struggle.)

Yes, there are many who leave the Catholic faith because of trauma, the priest abuse scandal, theological disagreement, or some other event that either destroyed their faith in one fell swoop, or ate away at their soul bite by bite. Almost everyone I speak to has that one proverbial, “final straw that broke the camel’s back” moment and poof, they’re gone!

Unlike me examples here today, most cannot point to any specific thing in the Church that is keeping them away, and unless that thing is changed, they will not return, but they know it is not home anymore. How sad for me to hear, but I know of what they speak. For the average ‘Catholic’, there is little we can do to remedy these situations because the thing is often well outside of our control, and no matter how much hope Francis has brought to them, they are quickly realizing, nothing of substance will soon change; praesertim oboedientiam.

So, no, we can’t change theology, we certainly can’t undo the past, and we can’t take away the pain that they feel, whether imagined or actual, but there is something left for us to do: in the words of Father John Dear, “We can listen with the ears of our heart.” In many ways, the best we can do is to simply live our faith with patience and hospitality for those struggling, and listen well.

But, I also wonder with so many people leaving, and so many people disaffected by their experiences of God as brought to them by the holy Church today, isn’t it time that we are forced to evaluate what we do, how we do it, and how we make it relevant to them again so that we get back to the work of the Church and save real souls, rather than make more pretty outfits for us clergy to wear, and archaic rules for people to follow, as we blindly lead them to the precipice of hell? Is there something wrong with a Mass that leaves so many unfulfilled, empty, struggling, sad? And if so, what can we do to make it better?

Oh, wait…we have! She is called Saint Miriam…