Do We Still Seek Him?

 
Christmas is coming to a close. We spent this week preparing our parish for the coming of the Magi. We took down the major Christmas décor and moved the manger scene back to the storage room. We placed the Holy Family and left the angels who must have always surrounded Jesus. And, of course, the three who became known as a collective, ‘the three wise men,’ or magi, whom we identify romantically as Gaspar, Balthasar, and Melchior.
 
However, we really don’t know the names of the magi because the Bible doesn’t tell us. In fact, the Bible is silent on how many wise men visited Jesus. It could have been three or as many as hundreds! We must remember that whole only a week in our time, the scene of the visit plays out some two+ years later and not at the crèche, as we would have it play out in our versions around the Christmas Tree. However, our tradition holds the view that they were Babylonians, Persians, or Jews from Yemen as the kings of Yemen then were Jews, a view held for example by John Chrysostom. There is an Armenian tradition identifying the “Magi of Bethlehem” as Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Gaspar of India. And so, we stick with that version to this very day.
 

These three wise men were men belonging to various educated classes. It is interesting to note that our English word magician comes from this same root derivation. But these wise men were not magicians in the modern sense of sleight-of-hand performers we are so accustomed. Rather, they were of noble birth, educated, wealthy, and influential. They were philosophers, the counselors of rulers, learned in all the wisdom of the ancient East. The wise men who came seeking the Christ child were not idolaters; they were upright men of integrity.

They must have studied the Hebrew Scriptures and found there a clear transcript of truth. The Messianic prophecies of the Old Testament must have claimed their attention, and among these they found the words of Balaam in the Book of Numbers that states,“A Star shall come out of Jacob; a Scepter shall rise out of Israel”. And, I would imagine that they were also acquainted with the prophecy of Micah, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel” and understood the time prophecy of Daniel regarding the appearance of the Messiah and came to the conclusion that His coming was near! So, on the night of Christ’s birth, a mysterious light appeared in the sky, which became a luminous star that persisted in the western heavens, as told to us by the Gospel of Matthew. So impressed with its import, these wise men turned once more to the sacred scrolls. And, like Abraham, they knew not at first where they were to go, but followed anyway as the guiding star led them on their way. And, as we know, wicked King Herod tries to trick these three into giving up the location of the child so he can murder Him. But they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went another way. Again, based solely in faith, these wise men did what was needed to fulfil prophecy, honor Christ, and bring to the world the salvation they would not see yet.
 

There’s an old saying that I love this time of year that says, “Wise Men Still Seek Him.” How true this is! The Wise Men came from far away just to pay homage. They probably sacrificed much to travel the long journey and to see this newborn King of the Jews. It makes me wonder about how much effort we are willing to put out in order to do Him homage…

I remind us all Holy Mother Church expects so little of us, really. Just one hour a week for Mass. Confession once a year. Caring for the poor and those on the margins. Opening our heart to Jesus. Many of you reading this will exclaim and unequivocal, ‘What?!?! Mass every week? Come on, Father!!’  Yet, we find that these three “wise men” made a journey of untold length, just to pay Our Lord a very short visit.
 
Their journey was very long, probably at least two years, and they certainly numbered more than two or three, since such long journeys were usually organized in large caravans for security reasons. Whatever their number, they brought gifts to the Messiah; three gifts, in fact, of gold, frankincense, and myrrh…
 
If only we could feel the same way and bring our humble gifts to Jesus every week, too.
 
 


Broken Crayons Still Color!

 
 

I’m broken. I know that I am. In fact, I tell you often that I am. Whenever someone tries to place me on a pedestal because of my vocation, I wince and remind them that the higher they place me up, the farther the fall for me! Yes, I am just as broken – if not more – than most, but I think I’m a pretty good priest, too. Perhaps because I am broken is why I am also a good priest. After all, it is one thing to give sympathy, it is quite another to know empathy.

When your life is unscathed, you know not the pain of being so. When you do not know what it is like to be so poor that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on day old bread were the staple of your survival, until you could no longer afford the jelly, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never known what it is like to feel so different, to struggle with your sexuality when you were not ‘the world’s desired norm’, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never been ridiculed, ostracized, made fun of, or wept until you somehow fell asleep, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had your reputation besmirched, drug though the mud of the press, or told you were a fraud, when deep within yourself all you were doing was trying to build a place of hope, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had to leave all you ever owned or have known, all the people you have ever loved and called ‘family’, all to follow the call of God, never once being sure it was real, but you went despite that fear, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never stood over the grave of a friend who died of a disease that world hated, and wrongly hated those plagued by it, too, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never questioned your strength to lead as a pastor, to wonder if you are really even doing any good at all, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never experienced the loss of a father, a friend, a soulmate, where the grief is so ever-present that your soul actually throbs and riles in pain, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never had to choose between a medicine for your tumor, or food for your table, you know not the pain of being so. When you have never sat in a dark corner, fighting with the shadows of your depression to ward off the ever-present thought of ending your life, you know not the pain of being so. I have. All those things. I have. And, they have made me a better priest, a stronger pastor, a more empathetic human being, a better man. …Broken crayons still color!

As we begin a new year together, it is a time to reflect on the year past, and the wonder of things yet to come. If you are like me, you pause this time of year to sit with yourself and take stock and see what has happened; where you are going. It is a time for course corrections, acknowledgment of hurts that need to be let go of, and friendships to mend. It is a time to reprioritize your life and what’s important; to let go of what’s not. It is a time to run through the self -litmus test of what your life is giving back to the world, and what legacy you are leaving – and teaching – to your children. It is a time to forgive others, and to do the same for yourself.

I have spent a good deal of time this past week preparing myself for 2017. Wondering if I should remain as your pastor, looking at what we have done at Saint Miriam, and ensuring that I am the ‘right person’ for the job. I have watched as others say they are building a parish, but fail to see that an endeavor such as this takes sacrifice, dedication, and a willingness to give until it literally hurts, not going on yet another ‘retreat’, or on an extra vacation while those ‘others’ remain alone and without a priest to deal with the list of hurt in their life. That is not how you build a church, it is how you launder donations.

So, God came. God came and allowed me to witness to myself in a dream the other night how for the first seven years of our life as a parish, I never once took a vacation, went home to visit my family sparingly, never was ‘home’ for the holidays, and never once missed a Thursday or Sunday Mass, even when so ill folks were afraid I wouldn’t make it through the service. I never earned a salary and yet still tithed, too. I was reminded of what that sacrifice has done: in less than nine years we went from a rented chapel in a Jewish synagogue to a 12-acre campus full of life and giving back. God dwells here because the people who are here dwell with God.

In the first few months of 2017 we will see a new pulpit installed to complete our liturgical set of furnishings; once that has taken a full nine years to complete! A hanging Altar Cross mounted above our Chancel to remind us of God’s presence. And, a new rectory friary will be constructed to allow us to not just house our current pastor (me!) but also to welcome other Friars who need a place to lay their head as they serve the parish, school, and cemetery with all their heart, all their soul, all their life…

We are seeking others – like me – who will reprioritize their life and their giving to make these things happen. Why?  Because we have already seem what giving back does and builds, and because broken crayons still color!
 
 
 


The Experience of Christmas.

 

My mom has been so very anxious lately. I have been perplexed. I moved her here to be closer to us after my dad died, and I thought everything was going pretty well. Oh, yes, there have been some transition issues and some longing for ‘home’, but that was expected and dealt with over the last few months. However, this past month has been an uneasy one and last night we took her to dinner and we discovered the issue: it’s presents!

“There are so many people here!”, she began. “When I lived in Erie I only had to buy six gifts; seven if you count my friend Betty, but here I am already up to fourteen and I am not done!”  And there it as, her anxiety was driven by her inner desire to comply with what society says is the reason for the season of Christmas. It is not about the coming of the Christ Child, it is about the act of giving, but giving the wrong thing.

We, as a society and a people are simply overindulged: the focus of Christmas should be on experiences and helping others, not of gifts. Now don’t get me wrong, gifts, cookies, lights, manger scenes, and all the extras that go with this season are very nice and have their place, but not at the expense of the reason we come together in the first place.

I recently read a Facebook meme yesterday that read, “I woke up. I have clothes to wear. I have running water. I have food to eat. Life is good. I am thankful.” I wonder…are we ever truly thankful, or are we on a wheel that never gets us to our true destination? A place we all so deeply long for and yet, somehow, ironically by our own actions never quite seem to get even close?

My mom always made it her priority to make Christmas as wonderful and magical for her children because she knew what it was like to have nothing. She was orphaned by the age of twelve; losing her mom to Tuberculous at age nine, and her dad to a stroke just three years later. She moved in with her Aunt Wanda and there they did their best to welcome her, but it was never quite the same. I know that is why we enjoyed large Christmas trees, and gifts, and looking at light displays; hearty Christmas dinners, Midnight Mass, and home baked cookies, too! But, none of that is what I remember most; it is the love of my mom and dad – the experience of Christmas – that lives on in me more deeply now than anything else in my life.
 
You see, that experience of Christmas is the greatest gift I ever received from my folks. It is what helped me to even begin to dream of Saint Miriam: a gift to the world from those of us who toil so hard to make a place of unconditional welcome and radical hope. And, it was why to this day, we hold onto the true Christmas message every day of the year! Now, of course, we decorate with beautiful lights, adorned Christmas trees, bountiful wreaths, and glittering ornaments! We carefully place our manager scenes, lighted candles, and that special Nativity crèche by the altar. But the heart if the parish is what we experience by what we give!
 

For instance, this past month, our small and humble parish did the following:

  • We provided warmth of heat by paying for two homes to maintain their gas by paying for the arrears amount and now those two families have heart this during the coldest time of year, and without worry of shut off!
  • We have collected, made, and purchased and turned over some 100+ scarfs for the homeless through our “Scarfs with a Purpose” Project! A little bit of us goes to help them during this cold weather.
  • We helped our three of our parishioner families provide for their own families by our pastor giving generously from his Pastor’s Discretionary Fund. (Did you know that he insists that no names ever be used so that if the record is ever lost, folks’ identities are kept secret and known only by him?)
  • We provided nine full Christmases to local group home residents who otherwise would not have enjoyed a Christmas holiday. And, we even cared for their care-givers, too! Why? Because that’s how we roll!
  • Yesterday, the very excited folks from Guadalupe Family Services in Camden came to collect the gifts we have been collecting under our 2016 Crystal Giving Tree! They asked for 10, we replied that we could care for 100, they thought us to fail, we turned over almost 230 gifts! We rock!
  • And tonight, at 6:30pm, we will gather in our beautiful Sanctuary for our ‘Blue Christmas” service entitled, The Longest Night. A gift to those like myself who are struggling this time of year. We will take time away from our day, to give hope and bring peace and solace. A gift by any measure to be sure!

My mom is one of the greatest, most caring and loving, and sacrificial persons I have known. She raised a son who gives freely and loves abundantly. He is a Franciscan. A priest. A pastor.  He is proud to give more than the world thinks wise and has done so that he is now living below the poverty line, in a tiny house, so he can be readily available to help those in his parish, school, and cemetery who need him.

She raised a daughter, too, who cares for special needs children who others would otherwise readily reject, let alone teach, and who also is raising her own boys to be like us: giving, caring, and sacrificial; not just at Christmastime, but all the time. My sister, Andrea, and I were both adopted. My mom and dad gave us the gift of family.  So, in a sort of irony, my mom saved us from her own fate and in doing so, saved so many others who have been touched by her love. You see, she taught us that our gifts could be given to the world and actually change it for better, but first we had to learn how to open our hands and give. It sadness me that she is so anxious, when she surely has earned the right to be joyful by the ways she has freely given all of her days.

Several years ago, I received a Christmas card with this message: “This Christmas, I wish you Jesus.” On the inside it read: “Isn’t nice to have everything!” In the midst of all our current challenges and concerns, the love of God the Father is made manifest to us in the wonderful gift of His Son, Jesus. With the angels in Bethlehem, our faith moves us to sing: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth!” May we recognize that true peace on earth flows, not from what we own or get, but from our recognition and praise of a God who loved us so much that he gave us – and the world – the greatest gift ever.

I wish you and yours the greatest experience of Christmas ever!
 
 


re·boot

 

Rebooting is a verb defined to mean restart or revive or give fresh impetus to. In computing, rebooting is the process by which a running computer system is restarted, either intentionally or unintentionally. A “reboot” restarts a machine whose software has malfunctioned. Reboots can be either cold (alternatively known as hard) where the power to the system is physically turned off and back on again; or warm (alternatively known as soft) where the system restarts without the need to interrupt the power. 

We often hear of rebooting a computer, or the economy, or world economic balances, or even trying to reboot the world. But, did you know that in cinematic terms, a reboot refers to a particular sort of revision of familiar properties. Characters who have grown tired and typical and situations that have become predictable and self-referential are reimagined in a bolder, more believable style.
 
God once intentionally hard rebooted the world with a great flood, and then promised to never destroy it again by making a covenant with Noah, his sons, and every living creature. He said, “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And, the sign of that promise? Well, of course was God’s placing a rainbow in the clouds to remind God of the Covenant every time He sees it. This has been made into numerous films and children, and yes, even myself, have played with Noah’s Ark figures to much delight for centuries!
 
Another famous film torn from the pages of the bible is Exodus story! But how about the rebooting we find from the 1956 DeMille epic, The Ten Commandments, to when Ridley Scott released a new, rebooted version called, Exodus: Gods and Kings, in 2014? In Demille’s version the hero was Moses, infamously played by Charleton Heston, and presents a man facing straightforward choices between right and wrong, who never doubted his mission. With his arms outspread from that famous scene played millions of times, Heston’s Moses orders the Red Sea to part before him. “The Lord of Hosts will do battle for us!” he cries.“Behold His mighty hand!” 
 
By contrast, Scott’s revision contains lots of ambiguity and subtle doubt. Moses, this time played by the actor Christian Bale, is caught by surprise – as much as anyone – when the waves begin to pull back from the rocky shores of the Red Sea. Here, the famous parting is less than biblical in proportion and is defined – or rebooted – as an unusual tidal, meteorological, or seismic event that could have created a temporary land bridge across a shallow section of sea.
 
Now, don’t get me wrong, I have always loved the story of the Parting of the Red Sea! The Exodus, at its heart, is a story of political freedom and release from bondage, which is why it has inspired so many people who have struggled against oppression, but let us not be naïve, the story is also a story of God destroying an entire society. That is where I always ran into trouble in my faith: how could God once destroy society with a catastrophic flood, promising never to do it again, and then He does so again by visiting numerous plagues on Egypt in order to free the Israelites from servitude? Does the end really justify the means? Was a hard reboot really the only way?
 
See, I have learned not to just blindly believe what I am told, or to act out of impulse. I try to reflect, to learn, to hear the real story, both those given in thirty second sound bites, or in 140 characters or less in a Tweet in order to raise emotions or just to ‘sell newspapers’, but also the back story – often the real story – and then to change me in order to change the world. The world and all its evil will never be changed if good people fail to act, or act on false rhetoric without first looking inside.
 
This is the season we find ourselves in today. A place, and a time, set aside to offer a chance for change – our change – an internal rebooting, if you will, and thereby a chance to change the world tomorrow.
 
God once intentionally hard rebooted the world with a great flood, now He does so every year with a warm reboot that we call Advent.
 


Giving is always about the other, never about self.

 
Two weeks ago, we met a retired Marine at our admin/school entrance who took time from his own life to drop off the annual Toys for Tots collection box, to once again this year become officially a drop off center to help children have a better Christmas.
 
Over a week ago, Sean and Kathleen took an afternoon away from their regular day to put up the 2016 Giving Tree in our library to help children and residents of a local group home in need. Last Saturday, Alan, Sean, and myself put up four beautiful wreaths donated by Tommy Strauss at Petals Florists. Then on Monday, we put up a Christmas tree in the Undercroft space to prepare for St. Nicks pending arrival! He will come to give small gifts to the children of the parish and school for Breakfast with St. Nick this coming Saturday. 
 
Yesterday, Chester went out and brought back four wonderful Christmas trees that we will need to adorn our Sanctuary for the coming of the Christ Child; and later that same evening, our Parish Board and primary staff team members met for a dinner out together; the only time a year we splurge and treat those who give countless thousands of hours to the work of the parish, school, and cemetery.
Tonight, I will take time away again to be with those, like me, who struggle with the Christmas season because of our grief, when I speak at the Boyd-Horrox-Givnish Funeral Home, located at 200 West Germantown Pike, Norristown, for their annual tree lighting and remembrance service at 6:00pm. And let us not forget that our annual Christmas pageant will take place next Sunday, December 18th, after the 10:30 am Morning Mass, when the children of our PREP/CCD classes will show us in living color the story of Christ’s birth. And then, on the 21st of December, we will once again open our doors and hearts as we gather for our annual ‘blue’ Christmas service entitled, The Longest Night. It takes place on the actual Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year, with the year’s least amount of daylight. Symbols not to be lost or overlooked. Oh, and ya, I managed to find time to run errands for my mom, too, and then to just sit and visit with her and talk abut nothing really, but to be present for her for a time. So, what does all of this have to do with the Season of Advent? Giving is always about the other, never about self.
 
Since the recent Presidential election and the great turmoil that it has caused in our country, almost to biblical proportions, causing division even within same families; turning mother against daughter, and sister against brother, friend against friend, etc., I have decided to find other ways to honor God and my faith. I have decided to make more conscious decisions about where to place my time, and to be more deliberate about how I think and when I pray and who I give to.
 
For instance, I have the luxury of Sirius Radio in my car. Did you know that there are almost 400 channels included and only one of which is CNN? I also discovered the same at home! DISH Network has another 300 channels and only a handful are news related so I have found a whole new world to occupy my downtime! Tongue-and-cheek, yes, but the point is, what we watch and where we place our time often becomes who we are…how we think…how we act…what motivates us…the type of posts we make on social media…the level of anxiety that dwells in our souls…

 

Why not look at the list above again and realize that not one of those things, not one of the activities, not a singular focus of any of those agendas had anything to do with me, or us; it is always about the other and there are so many others that need our love and support.

How will you make this week of Advent about someone else? How will you make room for the Christ Child in your life and home before it’s too late?
 
 


Santa did not save the Misfit Toys.

 
Well, it was finally on! That famous 50+ year old, Rankin-Bass original special, stop motion animation, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that debuted on NBC back in 1964, appeared once again last evening on network television! The Christmas season is officially upon is!
 
If you’re unfamiliar with the plot of this special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was based on a poem written for the department store called, Montgomery Ward. The hour-long special revolves around a young reindeer named Rudolph who is the son of one of Santa’s famed flying reindeer, Donner. Born with a shiny red nose, Rudolph is bullied for being different and eventually he runs away, along with a fellow “misfit,” an elf named Hermey who wants to be a dentist rather than make toys, and a young fawn who adores him despite his nose, Clarice. Eventually, Rudolph and Hermey meet Yukon Cornelius, and end up on the ‘Island of Misfit Toys’, where they meet the titular Misfit Toys.
 
Even as a young boy, I was always enamored with the residents of the Island of Misfit Toys, even more than the famous elf, Hermes, who wanted to be a dentist! Under the island’s leader, a winged lion named King Moonracer, who cares for the toys banished here. The first toy we meet is a Jack in the Box named Charlie, a misfit doll (whose ailment is undiagnosed, or at least undisclosed), an elephant with spots, then there’s the cowboy riding an ostrich, a bird that doesn’t fly, but swims, and a squirt gun that shoots Jelly! My two favorite, however, are the Choo-Choo train with square wheels and a boat that simply doesn’t float. Why? Because I could easily fit in with these characters and inhabit their island comfortably right alongside them. My wheels are often square and I don’t always float, and I am always a misfit.
 
It should be noted, too, that while these famous misfits have names and caricatures to go with them (and voices that I sometimes even mimic), there were toys present that you might have missed; many ‘no-name toys’ on the misfit toys island. There’s a scooter with no known problems, except maybe for the fact that no one wants a yellow scooter. There’s a fire engine, a bike, a sailboat, toy soldiers, & a blue bear with wings. Yes, you may have missed them in your excitement over the main toys, but I

saw them, I always do.

Did you know, however, that Santa did not save the Misfit Toys in the originally released 1964 animation? Seems that Santa wasn’t so benevolent until angry letters from children demanded every Misfit Toy be helped to find a ‘forever home’ and a short scene that showed Santa and Rudolf making good on their promise to go back to the island and deliver the Misfits to homes was added, and has been shown this very way, including last evening, ever since 1965.
 
I am a misfit. Always have been, and will most likely feel that way upon my death bed. It is why I work so hard to keep Saint Miriam going. It is what brought her to mind in the first place: a Catholic Parish where all were welcomed and all could love God, and know – beyond any shadow of any doubt – that God loves them, too. Unconditionally. It is why I have given my life to her creation, and why I sacrifice so much to allow her to flourish. It is why I worked for almost nine years without a salary and gave every dime I saved to her establishment. There are some things in life that money cannot buy. There are some joys that money can never provide. There are some things in life we are called to be that no matter the amount of finances we might have in our bank account, we will never achieve the level of happiness that this thing – this one, very social, wonderful thing can provide. That thing is God, and that loving God is found alive and well to all who come at Saint Miriam. 
 
Just like the real Saint Nicholas, who used his inheritance in the third century to help his needy and suffering neighbors thus inspiring the legend of Santa Claus, we are called as Christians to be gracious and compassionate to those who are small in the eyes of others. True compassion does not just notice a need – like I did when I noted those unnamed misfits on that island when I was all but seven years old – it does something about it.
 
When we spend ourselves on behalf of the weak and satisfy the needs of the helpless or marginalized, we will forever change their life story, and ours. At Saint Miriam, we do something about the unwanted, the lost, the misfit every day: we greet them with open arms and a radical welcome of inclusion like no other. If that isn’t deserving of your support, then this isn’t Christmas after all.
 


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…