Are We Living to Please God, or Merely Just Living?

 

Today we begin our journey deeply into the formation of Christ’s Church with Divine Mercy Sunday, in the Season of Easter!  In these next 40 days, Jesus spends His days teaching, being, revealing, and performing miracles until He gives the Apostles (and thereby to us today) ‘The Great Commission’ and the holy Church of God is formed.  
 
We see a change in the Lectionary, too, as we lose – just temporarily until mid-May – the Hebrew Scriptures to allow for the New Testament to come alive as our first reading in the Acts of the Apostles. The purpose of Sacred Scripture is to teach us about the faith, to provide to us what the Church calls “divine revelation.” It is a time for us to reveal to God, too, what we think and believe of his Church and our part in it.
 
So there is a strong connection between the “Easter Mystery of the Redemption” — in other words, the suffering, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, followed by the sending of the Holy Spirit — and this Feast of Divine Mercy, the Octave Day of Easter, which fulfills the grace of atonement as lived through by Christ Jesus and offered to all who come to Him with trust. That is why Stewardship is so important: it is a time for us to deepen our trust and faith, too, after experiencing the Pascal Mystery.
 

Our Second Reading this Sunday comes to us from the Book of Revelation and provides insights of which we need to be aware. The name of this Book – Revelation – is derived from the very first words of the Book, which are “The revelation of Jesus Christ…” Written in Greek, the word translated as “revelation” is apokalypsis, meaning “unveiling” or indeed “revelation.” As indicated in today’s reading this book is written by “John…on the island called Patmos.” Our Catholic tradition tells us that this is John the Apostle, although scholars sometimes disagree with that assessment and conclusion. We do nonetheless know what and where Patmos is.

The Island of Patmos was the Roman Empire’s version of Alcatraz Island, a place where some were exiled and forced to work in the marble quarries found there. Ten miles long and six miles wide, Patmos has been described as lonely and desolate. Yet, for John, it does not separate him from God, nor from his fellow Christians. He describes in today’s narrative the revelation which came to him there, but to experience such a revelation he had to be aware and open to the Words of the Lord.

We may at times feel just as exiled, just as lonely, but if we remain open and conscious of God’s presence, we, too may find solace and comfort and instructions. That is what being a steward is all about — being attentive to what God is saying to us. That is why I ask you to support our mission this year and commit to our annual appeal. Why? So we can continue to bring the world’s lost and rejected to an ‘island’ of safe harbor at Saint Miriam.
 
Are we willing to give so we can truly begin to live?
 
 


Come Blessed Easter…Come.

 

‘Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night, in which our Lord Jesus passed over from death to life, the Holy Church invites her members, dispersed throughout the world, to gather in vigil and prayer. For this is the Passover of the Lord, in which, by hearing his Word and celebrating his Sacraments, we share in his victory over death.’

So begins the preface to the Great Vigil of Easter! The most beautiful of all Masses in our Christian year and it it will soon be upon us once again. This beautiful liturgy includes the mystery of salvation in the Resurrection of Christ is celebrated. The church is dark; its lights are dim. Then the great verses from Isaiah 60 are read: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you”, at which point the lights are suddenly turned on. The dramatic, joyful candle-lighting ceremony and the Gloria – which has been on hiatus throughout all of lent – is then proclaimed by voice and organ alike!

I have been reflecting on this wondrous passage from our liturgy, one that dates back hundreds of years to the Armenian Orthodox Catholics, where they have preserved the original length of the traditional gospel reading of the Easter Vigil, i.e., from the Last Supper account to the end of the Gospel according to Matthew. So, then, while the secular world is set upon bunnies and baskets and eggs this time of year, I am already finding myself excited to soon behold the sights and smells of the Easter liturgies! The path to Jesus is truly found in following His steps, beginning tomorrow, where we will find Him washing feet to teach the greatest lesson of them all:  greatness is always found in the meek that herald the coming of God quietly in service to others. 

I have learned that every now and then it is good to stop and take a look at the ingredients that Jesus taught to be the essentials of a spiritual life. You start with meditation, which simply means going within to contact that Silent One whom we can’t always hear because of the noise in our lives. Then we can rebound into contemplation which means we start reflecting on the truths whispered in the quiet of our soul.  Soon after will come revelation as we begin receiving spiritual insight into our lives!

For each of us, this is the true journey that Easter brings us! It is – at its deepest self – a time of personal renewal, rebirth, and enhancement of our covenant with God. We can feel this renewal in our hearts and souls, and we see it in the world around us, with the blossoming of flowers, trees and green grass symbolizing the beginning of a new cycle of life.

As we pause to reflect and pray, might we become more aware that we actually need to ask for higher guidance to stay on our spiritual path?  Perhaps if we set aside the din of noise from the world this week, this Holy Week, we might just hear the answer from God through His divine grace, which will flow into our open hearts!  And soon, because we have placed God first, we will be participating in divine love; which will increase our faith and help us believe in a higher reality and do good things in a world that needs it so…

It is nice to realize that our salvation is safe and secure in that higher reality. Our unity of becoming one with God becomes a fact of our existence once we realize that nothing stands between us and God. That is Easter. Blessed Easter, come.

 



The Journey to Life Begins!

 

As a Church of God, and in particular as the Parish of Saint Miriam, we are about to enter the holiest time of year. Our complete and expanded Holy Week Schedule is ready to receive you, and those you love! So come!

Are you ready? Have you decided – really decided by making a conscious effort and decision – to attend the events that commemorate what Jesus did so that you and I would have salvation? Or, will you be like the rest of the world and simply say, ‘I’m too busy this year to be bothered.’ Or, ‘there are simply too many times to go to church this week!’ What would of happened to us if Jesus said the same?

We will begin this coming Sunday, on Palm Sunday, where we will gather to commemorate Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem before his crucifixion. As Jesus rode into the city on a small donkey, the Jews gathered around him, throwing cloaks and palm branches on the road and exclaiming praises as he passed by. So at Palm Sunday Mass, there is a blessing of palms in our garden, which the faithful hold as they process into church. The blessed palms are later kept in the home as a witness to faith in Jesus Christ. During our Palm Sunday Mass, the Gospel account of the Passion of Christ is proclaimed, and this year we have a beautiful rendition to engage and inspire you!

This Sunday’s events sets the stages for a beautiful and complicate week a priest. Literally hundreds of hours of preparation and coordination of both animate (fellow humans) and inanimate (candles, incense, palms, and other items to properly proclaim a week of Easter) needs has taken place! But for me, in all of that business, it really all comes down to one question: Who is God?  That answer will not come easily, for it involves sacrifice and death to self.  There are no shortcuts; there are no “techniques” to learn. However, as we often proclaim in word and deed, “Be not afraid!”  For Christ himself has died for us.

Come, set sail on the journey of the interior life of grace and the experience of God’s presence within with us and come and support the life of Saint Miriam – a place of God’s love which is always there for you. We pray you will be there with us and honor all it takes to bring Holy Week to life!

Blessed coming Holy Week!
 
 


The Sadness of Darkness and Unknowing…

 

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for me, as a pastor, is to get people to see the value in being involved in church life. It is difficult when you consider the amount of attention the world demands of them. They are pulled in a million directions: from school, to children, appointments, travel, work duties and functions, to holidays, financial dilemmas, health issues, aging parents, family needs, et al, the list is endless and so church is moved further down the list.

The truth is that I get it! I really do! I live that dilemma, too. Most folks don’t ever stop to think that I suffer the same issues that plague them, but I also try to remain focused on building and maintaining a parish so that it is there when they need it. I give abundantly of everything I make in the world to further our parish, I was not at my dad’s bedside when he died because I was here serving Mass for all of you, I have missed birthdays and celebrations and life at home with family and friends; I do not regret one moment because I am a priest and I am proud of our life here together. Look around you the next time you visit our campus and see what God has done!!! But, I do pain and my hurt is when they don’t need it, they often don’t come. That is where the sadness of darkness and unknowing comes in!

You see, programmatically, the parish of Saint Miriam is a very complex organization; we have a parish, school, cemetery, wooded lot and grounds, and a friary all on 12+ acres in the middle of Montgomery County. We have playgrounds and building projects, parking lots and a maintenance garage, small groups, and committees; we have sick people, ‘well’ people, and just plain folks in need. We have staff, ministry team members, parishioners, cleaning crews, volunteers, bookkeepers and accountants, lawyers and consultants, children, and educators to care for. We have building needs and growth needs and financial issues, just like you. We have over 18 jobs that would be no more if we failed. Yes, we are highly complex, lots of moving parts, but most of the work that is done is known only by the relative few who are directly involved in any given project. For many parishioners, the path they walk through their engagements at Saint Miriam is fairly narrow — determined often by who they know and what they want from the church, by the interests and passions they pursue, and by the far greater number of habits they have outside the church alone. Few are driven by mission, but rather by need alone.

This is the beauty and the challenge of the church. It is always more than it appears to be. There is no adequate way to provide a comprehensive picture of all that we are and do. And, correspondingly, conveying the whole nature of our ministries — in all the ways our presence and programs offer and proclaim good news of Jesus to the community and world around us — is simply impossible. There always remains a vast majority of things unseen. And if unseen, they are unappreciated or, most commonly, taken for granted.

Yes, the greatest task facing Saint Miriam today, and most impressively and importantly in the next twenty years isn’t any of the popularly debated topics, like secularism or atheism or even conjuring a vision of God that feels relevant to our own times. It is apathy.  Even Jesus, in the Book of Revelation, reminds us, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I am about to spit you out of My mouth.”

Yes, our own awakening needs to begin today; to welcome and embrace the Creed of the Apostles we follow and hold close, to value liturgy, and make time for God and His Church, to rearrange our schedule and our finances so God comes first, not last. To allow our appreciation for those who have given and suffered so that Saint Miriam might even be here when we need her; to fully apprehend what the church, and we as the Parish of Saint Miriam, accomplish — for and among ourselves, for the greater community, for the world at large, in the preservation of the memory of generations past, saints yet to come, children who yet know not of us, in sustaining hope and promise for the future, and in gathering all things, from beginning to end, within the providence of God.
 
This is the sadness of the church for me. Today, you have the opportunity to prove me and the world wrong by just Clicking Here, and offering your support, your dedication, your life to a parish God built from nothing but employing the most powerful force on earth and heaven: Love.
 
Do it today, and watch your life change and the darkness go away…
 
 


It’s Time to Think Spring and Reflect.

 

Spring break provides rare time for reflection. As the warm weather finally breaks into the bleakness of winter, we find an ideal time to reflect on what lies ahead for our parishioners, ministry team, students and staff.  While snow and cold may be still lingering at the beginning of this month, soon the warm weather will manage to get here in time for outdoor activities and travel to be enjoyed.  I trust that all will return refreshed and energized for a strong finish to the cold weather and allow God to come in His fullness as this year’s early Easter helps us to renew our faith.

As we begin to think of warmer weather, your ministry team and leadership boards have been busy planning for spring events! You can learn all about them in a post card that will be handed out and mailed to your homes! (If you wish for an early preview, just visit our communications site by Clicking Here!) As we bring about the many plans, we also now need to pause and think about what the parish means to us and how we can support the work and mission of God’s holy church. So, we fully begin Stewardship this week! A time of reflection and thinking in the midst of Lent and a time of commitment to Christ for all we have been so generously given.

On Sunday, in our Second Reading, we will hear once again from St. Paul where he reminds us, “So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.”

There are two important points intended for us in those two sentences, especially during our time of Lent and stewardship. First, we are to be “ambassadors on behalf of Christ.”  Then, as now when Paul first spoke these words, an ambassador was one who represented a ruler, at that time most likely a king, in dealing with others. Paul’s meaning is simple: we are called to represent our King, the Lord, here and now in our dealings with others. We represent Jesus!  As such, we need to recognize both that fact and the responsibility which goes with it. It is what being a good steward means — someone who is placed in charge of gifts which come to us from God and which are to be used in God’s behalf. That should be part of our Lenten efforts.

The second sentence reminds us that we need to be reconciled with God. Note that it does not say that God is to be reconciled with us. This duty lies with us and needs to be precipitated by us. At this time as Easter approaches, reconciliation-confession is important and necessary. At a recent general audience Pope Francis declared, “I can’t be baptized two or three or four time, but I can go to confession often and regularly, and when I go to confession, I renew the grace of Baptism.”

Join us this Sunday as we begin another exciting journey – together – and watch how God brings us home to something more exciting than we ever could dream!
 
 


As Critical and as Precious as Blood.

 

I am away. I am supposed to be relaxing and finding a way to strengthen myself so that I can continue to lead. Everyone needs a little down time to rejuvenate their batteries and become whole and energized again. Instead I am worried about how giving is off and contributions are lower than expected. It is not only unconscionable it is sad. Look at all that we have; all that God has given us and we should all be running forward to support the work and mission of our parish. We are living within an actual miracle and yet so many hold back and fail to see what is right before them. This might even make some sense if it were not for the fact that we have been talking of stewardship for the last two weeks. Plenty of time to get your house in order, say a prayer, figure out your giving level, and get to the work of setting up an eGiving weekly or monthly donation to support the work of God and the Church.

In my absence this Sunday, you will hear in the Old Testament Reading, for the Third Sunday of Lent, the beautiful narrative of Moses and the Burning Bush. Like many readings which we hear throughout our lives, this is an image and a story with which most of us are familiar, but we can find through Moses’ experience a stewardship message for each of us.

You see, as Moses approaches the bush, God calls out “Moses, Moses!” The fact that the Lord repeats Moses’ name gives the situation a sense of urgency. Perhaps God feels the same sense of urgency in relation to each of us. God calls us, and He calls us by name, but too often we do not hear, or we do not pay attention. Probably most often we are not even listening.

The second aspect of stewardship indicated in this passage from Holy Scripture is found in God’s next statement, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”  Removing sandals was an act of respect, a sign of humility. To fully live lives of stewardship requires these traits from each of us — to be alert and aware that God is speaking to us, but we must listen, and to live our lives, especially our stewardship lives, with a sense of humility. That is, after all, how we really show love for our God and for one another.

While I am away, take some burden away and make a donation to support us and set up your eGiving account for our annual stewardship campaign by Clicking Here.

Your giving is as critical and as precious as blood to the life of the church.

 


We Are Lent. We Are Stewards.

 
Each liturgical year, on the Second Sunday of Lent, our Gospel reading recounts what we call the Transfiguration of Christ. On the First Sunday (last week) we heard one of the accounts of Jesus’ temptations in the desert. There is a reason we hear the Gospels in this particular order. Last week we were informed of the temptations that await us, especially during this Holy Lenten period, and this week, together on Sunday, we will once again encounter the way to overcome these temptations.
 
The word “transfiguration” comes from the Latin trans, which means “across” and figura, meaning “form” or “shape.” It signifies a change of form or appearance, and this is exactly what happened to Jesus as His appearance changed and became something glorious.
 
The description of the Transfiguration occurs once again in all three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). This is yet another proclamation of the Lord’s divinity and each of us is invited, just as Peter, James, and John were, to become a part of the experience. We are called to conversion and to be living witnesses of the truth.
 
I believe that in the end, that is what Lent should be all about for us. A time of transfiguration and change, where we should become something different at the end of the Lenten journey. That is also the point of stewardship message that we began last week: we all need to strive for conversion, for grasping the hope offered by Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote, “At His Transfiguration Christ showed His disciples the splendor of His beauty, to which He will shape and color those who are His.” This Lent, we should all pause and ask ourselves, “Are we really His?”
 
In her famous poem, Messenger, the poet Mary Oliver writes: “My work is loving the world.”  And that is why these forty days of Lent provide us all with a marvelous opportunity to reevaluate the nature of our life’s “work.”  Being reminded to take a meaningful and substantive spiritual “pause” in our lives for forty days is a gift in itself! Sometimes, we all have good intentions to improve our lives, but we often put it off.  Lent begins by reminding us of the brevity of our lives, and then presents us with the immediacy of forty days to focus more intensely on our life in Christ. This is the first critical step toward embracing Christian stewardship as a way of life. We now, once again, have the wonderful opportunity to examine our lives and vocations, as well as our strengths, weaknesses, needs, desires, and temptations and place it all at the for of the One who can actually make the changes we need permanent, lasting, and life giving!
 
For us, as Christians, bringing Christ’s loving presence into our work and daily lives is necessary in order to live in the world as disciples of the Lord. It is not enough to simply bring ourselves to Mass on Sundays; there must be more. The Gospel mandate is the key to living the Christian life in our world today. The very word “work” connotes a certain dedication and commitment, indeed a certain obligation. This rings true in Oliver’s simple line. As Christian stewards, we have a fundamental obligation to love and embrace the world as ambassadors of Christ and that includes the way we give and honor God at our parish. The season of Lent provides us with a singular opportunity to examine how well we’re doing and to make an even greater commitment to exercising good stewardship of all the Lord has entrusted to us; all that He has given to us so freely…
 
In last week’s Gospel, the devil presents three temptations to Jesus; the devil tempts Jesus to use His power to appease His hunger; he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would worship him, and finally he tempts Jesus to test God’s promise of protection. Jesus resists all because He trusts in His Father in Heaven. Jesus fasts, and He is hungry, but He is filled with the Spirit and that strengthens Him to resist and to trust completely.
 
In this modern era, we often have the opposite experience — our stomachs are full, but we have empty spirits and empty lives. One of the major purposes, then, of our Lenten journeys is to empty ourselves and allow our hearts and souls to be renewed with the Spirit of God. Are we able and willing to learn something new this Lent?
 
St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “At His Transfiguration Christ showed His disciples the splendor of His beauty, to which He will shape and color those who are His.”
 
This Lent, let us ask ourselves with honestly, “Are we His?” Then look at what you do for God and God’s holy church and ask, “Do I do enough? Will I allow God to break open my heart and my pocket book to make this world – and my life – better and more fulfilling?”
 
I wish you a blessed, and life-changing, Lenten Journey.
 


A Heart Journey Like No Other…

 

On your next visit to the parish, hopefully tomorrow for Ash Wednesday, you will notice a few changes to our parish decor, as Lent is to be a different time of year, to remind us of our journey in this holy season: First, all of the statues are draped in purple, the crosses are covered, the bells are removed from the pews, the Sacred Chrism Oil Ambry is covered, and the Risen Christ statue in the Bell Tower Entryway is draped, too.

All of our St. Francis Holy Water Fonts are filled with sand and present this note, as well:

“As was customary in the past, there is no Holy Water in the Church receptacles until Easter. May the sand remind us of our Lenten journey in the desert as we prepare to celebrate the joy of Easter. As we await the blessing of water at the Great Easter Vigil, may we prepare to renew our Baptismal promises from our hearts.”

Another of the more popular customs we embrace is the ‘legend of the bells’! As you know, we use bells as symbols of the joy of our Patroness, Mariam, who used bells and cymbals to dance with joy to the Lord, even in her poverty, her being stricken with leprosy, and her journey that – like her brother, Moses – did not permit her entry into the Promised Land. So bells are part of our ethos and life at Saint Miriam!

In that tradition, there is an old universal children’s legend that the bells “fly to Rome” after the Gloria of the Mass. In Germany and central Europe, the children are told that the church bells make a pilgrimage to the tomb of the apostles, and then they visit the Holy Father (The Pope, as the Bishop of Rome) to be blessed by him, after which, they then sleep on the roof of St. Peter’s Basilica until Holy Saturday morning when they make their triumphant return to every parish! A twist with the story in France is that the bells fly to Rome to fetch the Easter eggs that they will drop on their return into every house where the children are good and well behaved. Ala Easter Baskets!

Following this ecclesiastical custom on bells in Lent, the bells on farm buildings are silent in Germany and Austria, and dinner calls are made with wooden clappers, just like we use at Masses during Lent. In rural sections of Austria boys with clappers go through the villages and towns, announcing the hours (since the church clock is stopped). These youngsters (called Ratschenbuben) sing a different stanza each hour, in which they commemorate the events of Christ’s Passion. Here is the traditional text of such a song, for nine o’clock at night on Holy Thursday:
 

We beg you, people, hear and hark!

It’s nine o’clock, and fully dark.

O, think of the pain which Christ has felt,

When, praying for us, in the garden He knelt.

In agony fretting, Blood and water sweating,

He suffers in darkness Who is our Light:

Remember it, folks, at nine o’clock night!
 
Are you searching for a deeper sense of purpose? Perhaps a clearer understanding of what God’s plan is or your life will help? What matters most and what matters least might be a good place to start? Use Lent as a time to rediscover Jesus. The Holy Church of God is replete with traditions that surpass each of us. A great deal of effort has been made by our team to prevent holy and meaningful Lent. Why not make an extra effort to allow them to bring change to you this season? Why not join us and make this Lent matter? 
 

Don’t just give up chocolate, instead may your hearts be changed as we honor the journey that cumulated in the greatest gift ever given! 

May this Lent be different. 

 



Setting the Pillars Firm!

 

Your parish board of directors and myself and our ministry team did what we do every year: we sequestered ourselves away for a couple of days and prayed, thought, processed, planned, and made plans for the coming year! It is always a welcomed time, but one that is trying at times as we ensure the growth, safety, and well-planned stewardship of the parish, school, cemetery, and our undeveloped land.  We did great work this trip and I would like to give a bring overview of what is to come!

First, the broad stroke take away here is that the state of the parish is good! We are growing, adding numbers to the parish and school, reducing expense, and leveling on a solid budget. We are beginning to work together better to secure ourselves financially and our staff, team, and board are on the same page and working as a unit. We have much to be proud of!

Over the coming weeks, you will see some of the agreed to updates and changes. They include the following:
 
– Our 4:30pm Mass is now the 4:00pm Mass and the final exterior lighting will be added to the walkway on Feb 18th!
 
– We will launch our annual Stewardship Appeal in March! We did not engage the parish in a formal appeal last year as we were busy moving and looking to the building fund. Now it is time to get back to the work of caring for one another in a determinative manner.
 
– We will begin the 2016-2017 budget process! This is a major task as we now have four entities to work on together!
 

– The Saint Miriam Café will begin to use it proceeds in a new way! Stay tuned!

– We will be launching, under the guidance of Father Joseph, a brand new and exciting way to communicate! More to come soon!

– Speaking of Father Joseph, he has accepted the Parochial Vicar positon as he nears the end of his first year as an Ordained Catholic Priest and will begin a year of working closely with Monsignor toward the goal of becoming our Associate Pastor! He will be on campus a minimum of three days each week now.

– We have begun a search for a Youth Pastor. Please let anyone on t he team know if you have a candidate. The person to lead our youth does not have to be Catholic, but must come from outside of the parish community and be well equipped to grow a brand new program.

– We will expand our Friary Rooms this year to engage more Franciscans and care for our current priest team.

– We are expanding our school to include ages 2-7 and Pre-K through K with an ideal toward Pre-K – Grade 6 by 2018.

– Install a new outdoor “farm to table” planting and veggie garden as well as a garden walkway to the summer camp forums! The cost of this project will be onset by a donation brick option! Stay tuned for this exciting project!

– We will begin to work on making the entire lower level handicap accessible. This will be a multi-prong, multi-year project!

– We will be installing a backup hot water tank system to ensure we are able to run the facilities without shutting down due to a broken water tank.

– The Union Cemetery will undergo major repairs and the introduction if new gates at the Route 73, Church Road side.

– New cemetery regulation signs will be installed by the end of March for the coming season. Lots will begin to be sold in April!

– We have begun to clarify the new building lot, choose new designs for an outdoor cemetery cremation mausoleum and chapel, a lower school and parish building, and an outdoor wedding chapel! All ambitious and all that will take a few years to complete. Bear with us, it will be done in parts as to create new revenue streams first!

So, once again we push our shoulder to the plow for we know there is no turning back! We press on because God has blessed us so, we press on to welcome many more to our fold, we press on because our mission is to welcome everyone!
 
As always, my door remains open for anyone who wishes to learn more, engage the projects, or support us! Just reach out at anytime, or email me at Father.Jim@mySaintMiriam.org. You may also call me at 215-836-9800 x 703.
 

God bless us in 2016! What an exciting place to grow in faith!!