I am grateful.

 
If you are wondering what the poor people are doing today, they are writing their weekly blog, even from California while on a break! I guess that is why I am a true pastor; even though I am to be resting and recharging my proverbial batteries, my heart is still back there with all of you. So, I thought I would begin with a brief reflection today on being grateful. Yes, I said grateful.
 

You see, there is a difference between being thankful and being grateful. At Thanksgiving, we pause, even if only in an often-cursory way to consider what we’re thankful for. Usually, however, we’re more interested in turkey with the trimmings, football games, holiday parades, and shopping than in the practice of deep gratitude. Isn’t it odd how on the one day set aside to give thanks for all we have, so many use it for a mad shopping rampage for yet more stuff? But I urge you this year to stop and give gratitude a try. Take a few moments tomorrow before your day begins to reflect on what you’re most deeply grateful for.  Most people’s lists are kind of short. Mine would most likely include my family, friends, parishioners, my ministry team, my diocese and leadership of my church, my priests and deacons, my friends on our parish board, health, material comforts like my home and warm bed at night, my CrossFit family, our nation (yes, even as it sits in some turmoil), our beautiful parish, the children and educators of our school, the historic cemetery we care for, and Tucker and Friar, too, of course! That about covers it.

But I would like us all to try and go deeper this year. If you’re being thankful for something, say, our parish of Saint Miriam, be thankful for the whole thing, not just your favorite parts. I know that I am grateful for Saint Miriam and God’s providence that led us to create her from the ground up! She is a miracle in only about nine years! I am grateful for all the varied people – all the kinds of people – all the races, all the ages and shapes and lifestyles and perspectives, all the colors and sexualities, and the varied versions of family that we embrace, the heroes, the lost, the lonely, and the ones who struggle. Everybody. And, if you are grateful for your family, give thanks for the whole dang crazy lot of them that make up your family tree stretching back as far as it goes! Give thanks for Uncle Hubert who ruins every holiday by getting drunk and Auntie Em who likes to pick on everyone’s spouse! Embrace the cheats and the losers and all those misfits that make your family, well…your family! Pause to thank God each and every one of them, for if it were not for them, you wouldn’t be here! If you are grateful for your health, thank God for your body, this amazing creation that may be older and weaker than you wish, but it keeps you alive. If you have a few health struggles like I do, thank the Lord we are still around to fight them! Be grateful that this created, magnificent machine of a human body knows how to move, bend, lift, heal and feel! Show your gratitude that your organs know how to digest food, fight germs, and heal itself! Even pain is a necessary gift, so take a pause and thank God for all the pain because it has made your body – and you – stronger and who you are today!

In the Gospel appointed for Thanksgiving Day we find the story of the ten lepers. We begin with ten men who have the worst disease of their day. The physical ramifications are horrendous. Leprosy attacks the body, leaving sores, missing fingers, missing toes, damaged limbs. In many cases, the initial pain of leprosy gives way to something more terrible than that – a loss of sensation in nerve endings, leading to more damage to more body parts. The disease can take 30 years to run its course, and in that time span, entire limbs can simply fall off. It is, assuredly, a most horrible disease. We have nearly an impossible task in trying to fathom what it was like 2,000 years ago, when medical treatment, as we know it today, was almost non-existent.

And then there is the emotional pain of a leper, which must have been even worse than the physical pain. He was removed from his family, from his community. There could be no contact, whatsoever, with her children or grandchildren. None. Immediately removed. His wife would not be allowed to kiss him goodbye. No one would have allowed it, for fear that she, too, would become afflicted.

Then, comes this Jesus who says to these lepers, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” They pause to look down at their broken bodies. The hands of one man are still mangled. Another man looks at his leg, which ends with a filthy rag at the knee. Another looks at his skin, and finds it as repulsive as ever. In other words, these men were no better off than they had been ten minutes earlier, when they had first spotted the famous teacher.
 
But, despite their doubts, they muster up enough strength, hope, and gratitude to head off in search of a priest. And on their way, they were healed! On their way, a hand reappeared, and tingled with new life. A crutch tripped on a filthy rag, as it fell to the ground. The leg was back, healthy, whole, complete. The skin cleared, and the tiny hairs on a forearm turned from snow white to brown. One looked at the other, another looked at the rest, and the screaming started. The smiles broke into cheering, and a sweet madness. They raced off in the distance, not believing that the nightmare was finally over. But for the miracle to happen, these men had to start walking in faith before their circumstances had changed one tiny bit.
 

Is there a more deeply needed lesson for us on this Thanksgiving Day for 2016? You cannot wait until the problems are over to start walking in faith. You cannot put conditions on holy God. You cannot say, “Lord, as soon as there’s enough money, I follow your instructions.” You cannot pray, “Lord, if you’ll just solve this issue in my family, I’ll start to go back to church again.” You cannot put conditions on God! Instead, God places a demand for faith on us, before anything at all has changed and we must begin in gratitude for all that we have been blessed with.

In might sadden you to note that of the ten lepers who were healed that day, but only one gives any gratitude. For most of us, if we are honest, that is us! So, let us change our perspective this Thanksgiving! God might say, “Love me despite the disease in your body.” Or, “Obey me despite the lack of talent.”, or “Love me during the lack of resources.” or, “Follow me now, despite your depression or addiction.” or, “Say no to the temptation, while it still is difficult.” or, “Praise me in the your darkest night, and in the worst of circumstances, because faith in me will yield stores of riches beyond your wildest dreams!”

I was once asked why I sacrificed so much to build Saint Miriam? Why did I endure all the hardships, the public scrutiny? Why did I allow myself to be scourged in the press, beat up by other church leaders? Why did I persevere when ‘they’ said it could not be done? Why did I allow myself to be the object of ridicule and scorn? Why did I contribute all my life savings and my retirement funds and still tithe at a rate that takes away half my income to keep us going? Because none of it was a sacrifice in hindsight. Why? Because I want to understand more and more about our wonderful Savior. I am grateful.
 
A blessed Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones!
 
 


God Hates.

 
So our Church will soon begin the call to love more deeply with the First Sunday in Advent on November 27th, as we adhere to our Presiding Bishop’s call for a “Year of Love”. And, as Christians, we all know that we are called to strive to be as Christ, and love all; not just our friends and families, but those we encounter daily, even if we disagree or find them to be disquieting. We are called to be friendly and helpful, charitable, and forgiving. Deep down, under all of our needs and brokenness, we know this to be true and the heart of the Gospel we follow. However, this year, we come to this very special time in the midst of great certainty and pain and national upset. What do we do with the pain?
 
So let us begin with our core belief that ‘God is love’, and therefore there can be no darkness within Him. God is perfect in His being because all existence is found in God and nothing can be found without God. Everything that was, is, and every will be is found in God because there can be nothing outside of God. So what of evil then, we ask?
 

In Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, a novella by the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson first published in 1886, Sir Danvers Carew, a well-liked old nobleman, a member of Parliament, asks the question of Dr. Henry Jekyll, If we separate the good from the evil, what do we do with the evil?” Jekyll and Hyde are not the only examples of duality found within the prose of the novel, but also of human beings at our core. Even the city of London is also portrayed in contrasting terms, as both a foggy, dreary, nightmarish place, and a well-kept, bustling center of commerce. Indeed, just as men have both positive and negative qualities, so does society. So do we…

As true love is a reflection of God’s nature, the more perfect the love is the more perfectly it reflects God. To the contrary, evil is not merely the absence of God, then, but it is the perversion of love away from God and from a true reflection of God’s intended purpose. One might say that a basic definition of evil is the use of something outside of the purpose for which God created it. In other words, it is abuse.

You most likely have been taught a milquetoast version of God. Christianity today has become a religion for many people that is little different than a ‘feel-good club for the likeminded’, for most folks simply do not understand what Christianity teaches, and some more educated religious people either understand and do not like the teachings, and choose to ignore them, or they are inclined to choose to distort God for personal gain.

God is eternal and God does not change. Ever. As such, the fact that God in the Bible makes is very clear that God not only hates certain actions, but also hates even certain people on account of their actions should make us realize that if we believe in the word of God, and given that this hatred is spoken about in both the Old and New Testaments, it is something that we must take seriously for the sake of our own souls. Perhaps God does hate?

The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. (Psalm 5:5)

The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked, and his soul hates the lover of violence. (Psalm 11:5)

I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau (Malachi 1:2-3)

Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, love what is good. (Romans 12:9)

These and so many other passages are sprinkled throughout the pages of sacred scripture and yet we give them merely a gloss as we head over to find St. Paul’s love passages! It is easier for us to dwell there, then to think more deeply about what we must do, as followers of God. If we are at all perceptive, we will quickly notice that the unifying theme for these passages is that the actions,

or even the person who commits these actions, is a contradiction to the commands of God. If this is put into the discussion about love, then the reason they are hateful is because they do not reflect the love of God. God hates them because they are against who God is love and they – or their actions – pervert God. Harsh? Yes. But how does God love in the face of such blatant and outright betrayal? How can God love those who harm God’s creation? I know this is not easy, but in today’s world, nothing is.

This is why God hates sin, because sin is a perverting of God’s love, and this distorting is not only the behavior, but also the person who participates in it. So if we love God, then we need to demonstrate both sides of love. That is the side which reflects God’s love in one part, and the other which reflects God’s righteous hatred against all that is opposed to God because it is evil.

You almost never hear of a Christian today who speaks about hatred as holy because they have been so taught that all hatred is evil. Good exists, and evil exists, and evil is to be hated, as good is to be loved. But if Christians do not hate that which harms, they place their souls in a state of potential danger, for they will inevitably call evil good and good evil, and evil will be allowed to prevail.

Sins do not happen by accident. While sin exists in the world, it needs to have a person that by choice allows it to work its perverse effects, or worse, stands idly by on the sidelines by their mere inaction or lack of standing up, or by not voicing their opposition to the evil they see.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is an examination of the duality of human nature, as most clearly expressed in the revelation that Mr. Hyde is in fact Dr. Jekyll, only transformed into a personification of Jekyll’s evil characteristics. Here, we witness firsthand, Hyde’s powerfully vicious violence contrasting his kind, gentle, and honorable Dr. Jekyll. In approaching the novel’s mystery, Hyde and Jekyll are the same man, and we find it almost impossible to reconcile their strikingly different behavior. But we see it play out every day.

So, yes, sadly and without our full understanding, there are people who promote and engage in harmful rhetoric and ideals that run contrary to the Gospel, and therefore, to us. I have seen much of this lately within American politics. We have learned that ‘people are policy’ and the leaders of our nation, and especially the President-elect, need to look at who they are surrounding themselves with, as lives are at stake; real lives. And, we  – you and I and all who care and believe in the Lord Himself – we must remain vigilant and raise our voices when we witness the eroding of civil or human rights, or the appointment of people to powerful places that can harm the human nature of others. It is not contrary to hate this form of evil. In fact, we are called to do just that in order to actually find love and to help ensure others find that love, too.

We cannot allow ourselves not to see the evil within our fellow human beings; those that run contrary to the Gospel we are called to uphold and to protect and to defend, even with our very lives. If a man truly loves something, he must hate that which is opposed to it. Otherwise, evil will prevail and we will all lose…

God is not dead, because we live. May the God of Love bless us all and may we never fail to share His love with all those we meet, nor allow evil to remain un-hated.

 
 


The Gospel.

 

Today is a tough day for many. It is a hard day for our nation and our fellow citizens no matter who you supported. It is time to let go of the anger and begin to heal.

I know that this election cycle has been the most divisive and degrading to so many in our history. I, as a priest, will even use the word hateful. Yes, it has undoubtedly been the most hateful I have every experienced and that makes me sadder than any result. There is little to celebrate today, even if you supported the winner. Why? Because we are better than this election has shown. We are not to be a country of division or hate. We are not to be a people who place one life above another.  We are not to be a people who block the foreigner or cause division from within and hate from without. No, we are to not build walls, but hope.

Last Sunday a heroin addict came to our parish. In fact, truth be told, he had been here at least twice already, but this time he came inside. A few weeks ago, he and a couple of fellow addicts tried to steal from us. Then, on another week day, he tried to gain entry to the administration and school entry door to ‘meet with the pastor who told him to come today’. I didn’t, because I did not know of him. Well, not quite yet, and I was not in my office at the time regardless. A full week before, he came to the main church doors just as we started our Morning Mass. He was told that I was celebrating Mass, given $20 and helped along his way. He was rather unkempt, dirty even, had a strong odor of someone unbathed and living without a roof and was very much under the influence. He returned this last Sunday, but this time he was clean and well groomed. He sat in worship with us, followed the Missal and came up for Holy Communion. When he did, I looked into his eyes, as I said the words that so often become almost rote for me, “The Body of Christ”, and when he looked back at me, my soul actually ached. I knew, somewhere, deep down, in that moment that he was a good man in a terrible place. He continued on his way to the sacred Chalice and I noted his long hair and thought to myself, ‘this could be Jesus…’ After Mass, we met with him and his family. Fed them, gave them a ‘doggy bag’ and gas for their car. We prayed for them and with them. I hope and trust we made a difference.

Fast forward to later that same Sunday evening, a parishioner sent me a private message via Facebook. It seemed that her neighbor’s husband, Walter, was dying. He was at home, placed on hospice care, and when they called their local neighborhood parish – one they had attended for so many years until he was too ill, the priest was too busy to come to administer the Sacrament of the Sick because they had not been ‘giving members’ for quite some time. I was asked to go. I did. Later that day, our parishioner placed a note of thanks on our Facebook page. She wrote, “He is what every Priest should be. I’ve known other Priests who would not perform this or any other Sacrament if the person was not a member of the Parish. I’m so thankful that when I went church shopping that St. Miriam was my last stop.”  I am humbled, but with all due respect, it is my job. I work for the One we adore and when I fail to do that job my soul is just as much in jeopardy as those I fail to minister to…

I was sad at all of these instances. I am sad that the President-elect won with fear and hate, bringing out the worst of us as a people. I am sad that addiction is so strong and that our prejudices so extreme that we reject out of hand living, breathing human beings. I am sad that priests have lost their way and need to be forced to go to do what they have been ordained, called, trained and equipped to do: serve God’s sheep.

Why is Saint Miriam is needed today? Why is Saint Miriam different? There is so much anger and so much division and so much strain and emotional upset that we need to continue to build a place that brings hope and light. And…because we know the value of hospitality and the message of the Gospel. Period.

It never ceases to amaze me how my fellow Christians, and so many Catholics, especially this past election cycle trumped so called  ‘Judeo-Christian values’ and yet failed to implement even the most basic. So, yes, we are better than this and while I will pray for our President – no matter who they are or what party they represent – I will also fight against any attempt to fail to serve the least among us. Why? Because I am a Christian first, and I live my life according to the mandate of the Gospel and I know that requires me to use my feet and hands, too, not just my voice or the power of my pen… 

 

 



God’s Hands…

 
I miss my dad. I wish I could come up with words that actually expressed the depth of my sorrow, my pain, my loss, but I cannot seem to find anything other than to say, I miss my dad. I miss him more than I ever thought I could and I miss him more often than anyone could ever imagine, even me. I miss his strength and his love for me and my sister, as his children. I miss his care of those who grieved their own losses as he served his profession as a funeral director for 60 years. I miss the way he had to place one foot on the banister of the bed because his arthritis made it difficult to put on his own socks. I miss his station wagons with that faux woodgrain paneling on the side! I miss the long rides he took me on as he ran his errands given to him every Saturday morning by my mom. I miss his voice and the way he relished the game of football, sometimes watching three televisions and having two additional radios blaring, too, so not to miss single moment of any game on! I miss his gentle wave from his wheelchair as I walked away from his room following a visit in those last few months, confined to that place he needed to call home, but where we felt so much guilt for not being able to bring him back to his real home, but most of all I miss his hands.
 

My dad had the hands of a giant. I used to think that this is what God’s hands must be like! They were so large for a man of shorter stature. I was always amazed at how strong they were, how hard they worked, and what they could build! I used to place my hand up against his and he would laugh so loudly! You could easily place five of my tiny hands to make one of his! And, unlike me, he could build or figure out almost anything! From a deck off the house, to our summer gazebo, to the family room we called a gathering spot within our home, to the small swimming pool he put up every year so my sister and I could wade in the summer sun, it was all built by my dad’s hands; hands that seems so so large to a boy so so small. Yes, I miss my dad. I miss my dad’s hands.

My dad is with me in many ways I know. His photo is right next to my bed and I say goodnight and good morning every day to him. “Good morning, Poppa, I miss you.” I say so often. “Good night, dad, I am sorry I failed today.” I beg in the evening night as my head touched my pillow. He is the tug I feel on my soul when I make a hard decision. He is the voice I seek when I am depressed. His wise words I hear when I am bullied by the world, by others, or even so often by myself. It is the strength and guidance of his hands that keep my ship level and steady, even when I want to sink. I miss my dad.
 

I suppose there is nothing inherently tragic about an elderly parent dying. But, it has changed my life. My dad lived well and long, and burying parents is a principal duty of children in every culture and of every age. And, the selling of a home, even when you give it all away, is not of any noteworthiness, I suppose, to most people. But we feel the loss, even though these losses are natural and normal. We miss our dads, our former homes, neighbors, friends, classmates, school chums, and our pets. We grieve our childhood home, friends who have hurt us, people in authority who have let us down. And sometimes we weep over bigger, truly tragic events — a typhoon’s destruction, children murdered in their school, terrorists and plagues, and a society that seems headed off its proverbial rails.

But all of this is part of life. Real life in all its dimensional glory and sorrow. I am reminded of how the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t hesitate to include loss, tragedy, and fear even at Christmastime. In a very matter-of-fact way, the Apostle says that King Herod slaughtered all the boys two years and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Indeed, in his zeal to show that every event of Jesus’ nativity was a fulfillment of scripture, Matthew writes that even the screams of their disconsolate mothers were foretold.  “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,” he writes. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
 
That could be the parents of Newtown, or the 234 kidnapped girls of Nigeria; it could be family of Robin Williams, or any of the hostages beheaded by ISOL. It could be the families of the victims of the train crash in Philadelphia or the airliners missing in Malaysia. And, yes, perhaps nowhere near as dramatically, that could be you, or me, as we, too, have had many occasions to lament, to weep, to hold our heads in our hands.
 

That is why All Souls Day, The Commemoration of all the Faithful Departed, is so deeply important to me, and should be to you. We gather in our world to pray and hold tight to those who have gone ahead of us; those, like my dad, whom we miss so deeply. We do what the world thinks is silly or even ineffective: we pray, we think, we remember, we light little candles, we hug, and place paper luminaries. Then we turn and leave in our solitude, knowing that we did our best to remember what the world so easily forgets. But in these seemingly meaningless acts, we bring life, build care, endure the world, and string a legacy of love and hope.

We should take solace in what we do; we should be proud of the legacy we are building and continuing together here at Saint Miriam. Tonight, at 6:30pm, we will gather here in our cemetery, a place of refuge for those who wait on their Christ to come again, and we will say a prayer and light simple lights, but in doing so we spread that light to the corners of the earth as we are bold enough to remember.

My dad’s hands are holding me tightly today. I pray the same for you.
 
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them.”
 
 


A Very Busy Time of Pause of Shopping?

 
If you life is like mine, the wall of post notes – if only figuratively – is a reality that we live with every day! There is always something that needs done, or our attention to complete, or folks that want us to be attentive to them. But what of God?
 
Believe it or not it is almost Advent. I know, I know! I can hardly believe it myself. Even though, as a pastor, I am always at least one full season ahead in my planning for liturgy and events, this Advent seems to be coming very fast! I wonder if we, as Christians and practicing Catholics, ever stop to realize that we spend more time on preparing for the holidays than we ever do for the ‘coming of Christ’ through Advent? I wonder if the Church, or God, or our parish, or the work that we do, or the good things we spend our time and resources on ever enters our minds outside of leaving our homes to attend Mass on Sunday? I wonder if this year we might make a conscious decision to change the way we focus and allow God to speak to us and change our hearts and what’s truly important to our lives?
 

Advent is a time where we find God waiting for us to empty ourselves of all that hinders God’s dwelling in us. It must be more than a time we go shopping for presents that are fleeting. God needs a place to call home in this world. God needs a heart open to love without demands or expectations. How will you use the coming holy time of Advent to empty yourself enough to make room for the eternal manifestation of a loving God? How will you honor God more deeply this year?

Being a Franciscan is more than being kind to animals, wearing a strange medieval brown habit, and allowing yourself to give to the point of poverty yourself, but sadly that is what most people think of when they hear the name St. Francis. As friars, we continue this emphasis on work and social justice, but also spreading the gospel of our Lord to all whom we meet. While other religious orders have a charism to a particular ministry, say, education or missionary work, we, as friars, have never had this. Instead, we use the gifts that God has given us to spread the Gospel and to care for the poor, and to build the kingdom of God. But none of this is possible without taking time to be alone with God and allowing the things of this world to fade in the light of the One we worship and adore.

Soon our Sunday Missals will change, the hymns will be reflective with an edge of joyful expectation, candles will be lit, the new Liturgical Year will flip to a new page, and the Lord will be coming in the form of a child, wrapped in a blanket he owned not, found lying in a borrowed stable, nearer to the beasts of the field than to the power places of King Herod.

As a parish, we try and help you prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ every year by offering a free copy of a popular booklet called Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope! During the especially busy Advent and Christmas seasons, this booklet offers brief, down-to-earth reflections that bring prayer and Scripture into everyday life in a thought-provoking and lasting way. This year’s reflections are by Bishop Robert Morneau and provide deeply insightful reflections on Scripture readings from the daily Mass, and everyone who takes the time to sit with God will grow in their understanding of the word of the Lord. This little book will help each of us achieve a goal of enriching our personal prayer life during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but only if we take the time to prepare for the coming of the King. Reserve your copy today.

So as we begin to leave the time of All Hallows’ and set out to turn our attention to the coming winter season, will you make this year different? Will you dedicate more time to God than to the mall and shopping? Will you teach your children and neighbors Who is coming and how important Jesus really is? How will you live the gospel this coming holy season of Advent?

Will you change your life or will this coming season be like any other, one that finds you the same coming out as you went in…tied to the world and where your life has little impact on those who need you?
 
 
 


A Very Busy Time of Pause of Shopping?

 
If you life is like mine, the wall of post notes – if only figuratively – is a reality that we live with every day! There is always something that needs done, or our attention to complete, or folks that want us to be attentive to them. But what of God?
 
Believe it or not it is almost Advent. I know, I know! I can hardly believe it myself. Even though, as a pastor, I am always at least one full season ahead in my planning for liturgy and events, this Advent seems to be coming very fast! I wonder if we, as Christians and practicing Catholics, ever stop to realize that we spend more time on preparing for the holidays than we ever do for the ‘coming of Christ’ through Advent? I wonder if the Church, or God, or our parish, or the work that we do, or the good things we spend our time and resources on ever enters our minds outside of leaving our homes to attend Mass on Sunday? I wonder if this year we might make a conscious decision to change the way we focus and allow God to speak to us and change our hearts and what’s truly important to our lives?
 

Advent is a time where we find God waiting for us to empty ourselves of all that hinders God’s dwelling in us. It must be more than a time we go shopping for presents that are fleeting. God needs a place to call home in this world. God needs a heart open to love without demands or expectations. How will you use the coming holy time of Advent to empty yourself enough to make room for the eternal manifestation of a loving God? How will you honor God more deeply this year?

Being a Franciscan is more than being kind to animals, wearing a strange medieval brown habit, and allowing yourself to give to the point of poverty yourself, but sadly that is what most people think of when they hear the name St. Francis. As friars, we continue this emphasis on work and social justice, but also spreading the gospel of our Lord to all whom we meet. While other religious orders have a charism to a particular ministry, say, education or missionary work, we, as friars, have never had this. Instead, we use the gifts that God has given us to spread the Gospel and to care for the poor, and to build the kingdom of God. But none of this is possible without taking time to be alone with God and allowing the things of this world to fade in the light of the One we worship and adore.

Soon our Sunday Missals will change, the hymns will be reflective with an edge of joyful expectation, candles will be lit, the new Liturgical Year will flip to a new page, and the Lord will be coming in the form of a child, wrapped in a blanket he owned not, found lying in a borrowed stable, nearer to the beasts of the field than to the power places of King Herod.

As a parish, we try and help you prepare spiritually for the coming of Christ every year by offering a free copy of a popular booklet called Advent & Christmas: Waiting in Joyful Hope! During the especially busy Advent and Christmas seasons, this booklet offers brief, down-to-earth reflections that bring prayer and Scripture into everyday life in a thought-provoking and lasting way. This year’s reflections are by Bishop Robert Morneau and provide deeply insightful reflections on Scripture readings from the daily Mass, and everyone who takes the time to sit with God will grow in their understanding of the word of the Lord. This little book will help each of us achieve a goal of enriching our personal prayer life during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, but only if we take the time to prepare for the coming of the King. Reserve your copy today.

So as we begin to leave the time of All Hallows’ and set out to turn our attention to the coming winter season, will you make this year different? Will you dedicate more time to God than to the mall and shopping? Will you teach your children and neighbors Who is coming and how important Jesus really is? How will you live the gospel this coming holy season of Advent?

Will you change your life or will this coming season be like any other, one that finds you the same coming out as you went in…tied to the world and where your life has little impact on those who need you?
 
 


un riposo

 

If you watch the political climate lately you will undoubtedly leave with a sense of dread. There is now even a term for it: Election Anxiety! In 2016, we have seen what we never have before in an election cycle. The worst of the past is dredged up for both major candidates and for us, too. The Democratic nominee has 30+ years of a ‘past’ to overcome and mistakes along the way. She is also a woman and that has built into the process a bias based on hidden misogyny that some don’t even see exists, but can be felt. On the other side, the Republican nominee aspires to implement policies far more extreme than the ordinary candidate’s. He talks of launching a trade war with China, deporting millions of immigrants, ‘rigged’ elections, and enacting a total ban on Muslim immigration and building a gigantic wall of separation. His plans would dramatically alter the lives of far more Americans than the proposals of any other previous candidate in history. All of this is causing great distress and this angina is making its way to therapists’ offices. It is also making social media a weapon, and people are becoming very small and no longer recognize the power of their words and the impact of their hatred.

I believe that part of the issue is that we are focusing on the wrong stuff. We are focusing on the small, the unintentional, the ‘me’ and not the ‘we’. This anxiety is about something bigger than any single election. It is about the way we see the world and our ability – our obligation – to help it to become a better place. I also believe this starts at the top with our leadership – in the world and within our global Church.

Lately I have witnessed as arrogant and self-righteous religious leaders from all denominations strut their power and their political prowess. They are unafraid to dictate who should win and who should get your vote. Their measuring stick is as bias as any other, it is just cloaked in ‘God-stuff’ to make you fear it more, but at its core it is still as broken and as partial and as prejudice as any other.

I have also witnessed bishops of all stripes within our own ranks throwing their power around. They dress the part – often even over the top – and they show off the regalia of their office that is obviously important. They rest on their titles and not their good works, for their works are truthfully few. They hand out titles and decrees and make even more ‘hats’ for more inadequate bishops all to the underserving and only to show off their false power, but in doing so they are really showing how weak, small minded, insecure, and ineffective they really are. Much like politics, it is not about the world, the people, or even their constituents or flock…it is about themselves.

In John Allen’s recent article entitled, Pope’s marching orders for bishops: ‘Be apostles of mercy’, he details what the Holy Father wishes to see in those who represent Christ in the world, his bishops. Bishops from around the globe attend in groups what the world colloquially called a “baby bishops” school to impart a stronger sense of what ordination is and means, and a new appreciation for the staggering variety of challenges the Church faces around the world and what our obligation is to ‘the other’. It also imparts to each a sense of their duty, not their power; their obligation, not their personal desire; their connectedness to other bishops, not their personal cowardice to show off and to be petty.

As a priest, pastor, bishop, and most importantly to me, as a Friar, I try to always get out of my own way! I try to put aside my own stuff and my own needs to be more active – and more effective – within the broader sense of the Church’s life. Yes, I’m a regional bishop, but I’m also a bishop of the worldwide Catholic Church and I have a very small, assigned place, and while there’s something very local about my responsibility, my actions and my words have global impact.

I was given a gift recently by a parishioner. A book. A very small, simple, but humbling gift. It is called, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari: A Fable About Fulfilling Your Dreams and Reaching Your Destiny by Robin Sharma. It is an inspiring tale that also provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance, and joy. The story is of Julian Mantle, a lawyer forced to confront the spiritual crisis of his out-of-balance life, and the subsequent wisdom that he gains on a life-changing odyssey that enables him to create a life of passion, purpose, and of peace.

The parishioner who gave it thought it me because of the way I live already. She said that I was strong and dedicated because I did the things that I fear most. I guess I do that every day, in spite of myself and my often paralyzing anxiety that I will fail; not myself, but others. However, what I also discovered is that I have a long way to go in my journey, and while this book, and its story, mirrored much of my life, I prayerfully hope it will also be where I will end up one day if I continue to allow myself to change and to remain grounded and dedicated to others, not myself.

In the end, being a good pastor, priest, friar, and even bishop is not about the accolades or the power to bestow earned or unearned honorific awards, it is about un riposo, bringing to the world – and those in need – a rest, a rest in the Lord and a rest in something higher, something better, something more worthwhile, something better, something more life-giving – than ourselves.

The universe favors the brave, they say. The brave for me is someone who gets out of their own way and humbles themselves to be a true servant to others.

 
 


Never be in a hurry…

 
A parishioner, and friend, often sends me quotes and short reflections. As a Franciscan he knows I contemplate often and his idioms and writings often propel me along a path for that week.  (Most likely to get back at me for sending him two a week of my own, like this writing here!)  At any rate, his latest was from ‘another St. Francis’, this one from Saint Francis de Sales who once said, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”  How profound for where I was this past week and where we are as parish! God is indeed good and comes to us often through one another.
 
Yes, the world is always in a hurry. So are we. We want instant results, instant gratification, and instant success. Our communication is instant and our technology is even faster than it’s ever been, but still we want faster. Our coffees, lattes, medicine, dry cleaning, and food all allow us to remain safely ensconced in our vehicles, feverishly tapping the keys of our smart phone, while someone else labors for us to give us what we need, instantly. We want instant poll results, instant news, and instant weight loss. We want to be bigger, better, faster, and stronger, but we want it all now, not later, and please, whatever you do, don’t make me actually work for it. We just don’t have the time.
 

This past Sunday, in my Pastor’s Update Forum, we spoke of where we began less than nine years ago. We spoke of how far we have come and how much we have grown. From that simple, 30-seat rented chapel in a Jewish Synagogue to our 12.5-acre campus in the middle of Montgomery County that is home to two schools, a beautiful parish, a friary, and an historic cemetery. We went from zero staff to a team that is now over 18 members strong and from only two parishioners to our current membership that is fast approaching 600. We indeed have been blessed, but it has taken much sacrifice, much work, much belief, and yes, much time. None of this has been instant. We have labored in the vineyard, dedicated ourselves to the work of the gospel, kept our eye on the ball and remained faithful to our call and to our God. And it has resulted in all that we now call Saint Miriam.

Last Sunday we also spoke about the cost of growth: the loss of some parishioners, and even some team members, including a priest, who simply didn’t see the vision and didn’t support the mission nor the ideal to be better than ourselves and our brokenness. I reminded us last week that sometimes growth comes from pruning. It is not only biblical, but I have found it to be the truth. We run a parish, not a prison. So all that we do must be for the good of the parish, the community, the church, and God. When it becomes only about us, or when we cheat the system or push it to grow so fast that we lose our vision – a vision that has brought us so far already – we stand at the precipice of losing so much more, even our souls. It simply isn’t worth the cost, because we have lots of work left to do.

From the time I felt the tug of God’s call on my life, it took me twenty-one years to become a priest; twenty-three to become a trauma chaplain, and twenty-seven to become a professed Franciscan. It was a lot of work and a lot of sacrifice. It still is. It has made me good at all of these titles because they live in my heart, not just my nametag. But I also see every day how someone is ordained to the priesthood without the needed study, work, formation, and refection, or becomes a Franciscan only to inauthentically wear the habit, but is no more a Friar than the person who never even heard of St. Francis. They will do more harm than good.

Being a priest, being a Franciscan, and being a parish like Saint Miriam is more than a collar, a habit, a name, a building, or a location. It is simply something that cannot be rushed. They have a calm spirit about them, an inner peace, one that only comes from a true sense of something greater and perseveres even when the world is upset.

 


Change is Always Coming…

 

In our weekly devotional, Franciscan Moments, this past Monday we spoke of the changing seasons and how it effects every aspect of who we are and allows us to decide to focus more deeply on where we are going. Change does happen. Change always comes. It is a matter of how we embrace or reject change that effects our overall wellbeing.
 
Autumn holds some strange mystery that I somehow always tried to avoid when I was younger, but as I grow older I find such solace in the coming of fall and the changes that accompany Mother Nature this time of year. Spring remains for me a time of hope and of new beginnings, but somehow I have learned to make the mystery of this time of year into a time of hope and reflection. It is a time where I open my heart fully to a season of change and embrace what needs to come and what I need to let go of. The trees teach me a lesson so deep: They don’t seem to mind the losing of leaves as they stand so still, and one by one are willing to let go of each leaf until they lie bare themselves. Then true change comes. The trees know how to be brave and to wait in their emptiness, not knowing what will come, but believing with such certainty that there will be another spring bursting full with the bright green of life. 
 
So, too, it is for the Church. Change comes. Most reject it and wish the field to simply lie fallow, but then growth never occurs. For true change – real change – meaningful, deep change to happen, things must change, constancy must give way to upheaval, and people come and go. To fall back (no pun intended) on my tree metaphor, pruning is needed and then growth comes again.

Over the last year we, at Saint Miriam, have experienced quite a few changes! Our location has changed, our campus is beautiful, our vision brighter, our building larger, our Masses extended in number and attendance, and our children and school are more abundant! We have much to be grateful for in our progressive, inclusive and loving approach to Catholicism and the world. But, with that growth change has come in many forms. We have added parishioners and programs and eliminated some small groups and mass times. We have new faces and some have gone to new places or houses of worship. We have new staff and team members in both our school and parish, and some have transitioned to other places. All of this has caused both joy, feelings of accomplishment, and a little anxiety.

So, this coming Sunday, in lieu of a homily at all three Masses, I will open myself up to a Pastor’s Forum! You will hear directly from me on recent changes of the past and some exciting changes for tomorrow. I will address any concerns and fill you in on some needed transitions, including staff members.

Let us embrace all that we have become, and all that God will help become anew!

See you Sunday!