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!
 
 


Open the windows, and let the fresh air in.

 
Fall is officially here and the weather has turned to usher in the beauty of autumn. It is a time when soon we will bless our animals in honor of St. Francis Day, unload our pumpkins and open the great pumpkin farm, witness families and children getting their photos taken in the pumpkin patch, enjoy a haunted and historic tour within our cemetery, and marvel at the community that we have created together! It also should be a time for us to pause and ask ourselves if we are trying. I mean really trying. Trying to be a better men or women, better friends, better Christians, better Catholics, better parishioners, but most importantly to become better people.
 

As we come to the Feast of St. Francis, I am reminded that Francis of Assisi lived a model life of humility, compassion, and love, while consistently striving to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Shunning materialism and worldly affirmation, Francis lived a virtuous life of simplicity, and sought to honor the dignity of everyone – especially the vulnerable, and the outcast. He embraced his own imperfections, and allowed God to grow into a world that so often rejected God. He was humble, unpretentious, and welcoming. We strive to do the same at Saint Miriam.

Together, we have built, and live within, a community that enjoys hospitality as its hallmark. In the manner in which we welcome everyone, care for one another through pastoral care, honor the living with a custom birthday card and a simple cake with candles, wrap the ill and lonely in prayer shawls made at the hands of our own, baptize the newborn without litmus test, bury the dead the world rejects, honor and pray for the living and in all its wondered and beautiful forms: the gay, straight, divorced, Black, White, Indian, and Asian, too; the transgendered and the homeless, the addicted and the lost. Our welcome – and our love – has no bounds, no limits, no test, no end. All are welcome. Period. Francis would be proud.
 
Yet, as the season turns, I have sadly witnessed how some of our own parishioners have turned on me and their fellow parishioners. They have become malicious to one another, rejecting the very foundation of who we are, and turned on those who have loved and embraced them the most when no one else would. Those who welcomed them, honored them, loved them, and uplifted them when the world did not. Now their loyalties have turned and their political rhetoric and posted memes have turned mean-spirited and even vengeful. They post on their varied social media platforms in order not to share their lives, but rather to harm and elicit a response, or to make a negative point or worse: to out down and to demean. They have become what we fear moist: the bullies of the world lacking heart or soul. The sadness is that they don’t see it. They have failed to see the harm they do to others, to our parish, and even to themselves.
 

I hurt almost all the time. I have learned to live with betrayal and a broken heart as a pastor. It comes with the job. What I won’t accept is when you harm others or betray them. I will not live in a world so close to mine where you make decisions absent real and honest fact, but rather spew hatred and abuse in your own darkness. Come at me if you wish, my skin is thick and I have endured far worse. But, please, do not harm another of my parishioners. I am their shepherd and my staff and rod close by… 

As the leaves turn toward winter, and life becomes dormant to live again in the beauty of a springtime renewed, St. Francis is asking us again, as fellow Catholics, to live “authentic Christian lives.” Through his writings and life, he has repeatedly called for the Church to be “poor” and “persecuted”, NOT to be poor in spirit ourselves nor to persecute others or to demean them – or the world around us – with our words and actions. We all need to understand that dancing with the cultural, political, and social norms of our day doesn’t square with faith in the living, risen Christ.

Let us pause and reflect on our lives honestly and ask ourselves if our words and our actions reflect the Man encountered in the Gospels. Do you not only get the Gospel’s message, but do you actually live it? I believe in the Jesus who ate with tax collectors, and dined with prostitutes and lepers. I believe in a God of welcome. I believe in a God of second chances. That is the God I reflect in my life…

And if I’m not mistaken, deep down, you are more determined to do the same, despite your past…

Open the windows, and let the fresh air in.
 
 


The Sea is So Large. I am so Weak.

 

The three knots in the Franciscan cord symbolize the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. I live my life by these three simple knots. They are now foreign words to most, and certainly the concepts even more abstract to a world that knows them not. They are as archaic as the habit I wear under them.

For some, especially in our commitment-fearing instant-everything world, the idea of taking vows such as these seems almost suffocating. You mean you have to share everything? You have to do what other people tell you to do the rest of your life?  You place others first, even before your own needs?  That’s one way of looking at it. I, on the other hand, have witnessed and experienced these vows as an actual liberating experience.

For the rest of my life, as the world is lost without a compass, I will stand firm on three guiding principles that will continue to mold me into a better human being, a stronger Christian, a worthier Catholic, a more reliable Pastor, and a deeply spiritual Friar. No, the changes that have come, and those yet to occur, did not happen suddenly; they never do. No, I will not be changed dramatically in front of your eyes, but I know beyond a doubt – any doubt whatsoever –  that I am completely “others-centered”, and that amount of caring will increase and overflow until the day ‘my cup runneth over’ and I behold my God face to face.  

Am I leading a sinless life, free from worry and inhibition? No. Certainly not. In fact, over the last few months I have been contemplating leaving the priesthood. I have sat with my Spiritual Director and cried as I discerned a way out. I sat in the Sanctuary of our parish this week and wept like a baby, as I begged God to allow me to go. I explained to my Creator in no uncertain terms that I am tired, exhausted, and deeply sad. The world is an awful place and folks don’t care, nor have much need for the holy Church any more. They certainly don’t need me. This was evidenced by this past Sunday when so few actually even came to Mass. Folks would rather go to a movie or dinner or to the mall, anyplace other than church, so why should I spend hundreds of hours setting up for Mass, planning liturgy, preparing the perfect sermon, working with my music team, struggling to pay bills when so few give from their abundance, as I give from my all; and do it for those who don’t even care to show up? I told the great I AM that I am whipped, tired, and ready to go. I have given it the ‘ol’ college try’, but I am almost on empty. It is time. God said ‘no.’ I cried.

Instead, God sent me a serious reminder. God had a fellow Friar send me the image of the knots I included here in my blog for this week. A very serious reminder, inspiration, and even blueprint, and no excuse that I gave warranted my departure from a life of service and the vows I made so long ago. 

So I am trying to muster the courage and the fortitude to stay; stay here at Saint Miriam, stay in the water as a priest, and stay true to my vows as a Franciscan.  I feel like it is almost an impossible task lately to stay steadfast to them and also hold onto the worries of the world. Perhaps, one day, all my worries will eventually fade away and I will more deeply recognize the significance of what I’m doing. But, for now, I will struggle, but with a sense that my life is consecrated to God and He will need to help me more now to remain. Yes, I’ll still bear the mark of my sinful human nature. Yes, I will still want to fill my life with things, but I pray the better part of me will emerge. I pray there is a better part.

I ask you to please pray for me, and all who have tied these knots, in our continuing need to be in a deeper relationship with God.

Come, Lord. Come. I need you. The sea is so large, my boat so small.
 
 


The Spider, The Beetle, and Me

 
I am sure that beetle thought itself clever. You know, the way it managed to crawl all the way from the earth below, and then run along the edge of the glass pane at my office window. That is, until it found out that Charlotte had been waiting there, ever so patiently. For how long, you ask? Who knows…but she is very patient.
 
Charlotte, my quasi-affectionate name for the rather large spider that has been relentless in her building of webs that sometimes are so large they engulf my entire view from my parish office window, has been hard at work this early September already. I thought that I had lost her, or that she had gone to perhaps spider-heaven, but no… she is back, and this time with a vengeance! Her web has not just poor Mr. Beetle, but also a few others that haplessly wandered into her path and now find themselves stuck, literally, in her grip of web-stuff. Yes, no matter how clever we think we are, there is always someone cleverer, and more ingenious, and always waiting for us…for good or for ill.  
 

A. Bartlett Giamatti, American professor of English Renaissance literature, in his “The Green Fields of the Mind, once said that “There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it.”  As the days decrease, shadows now lengthen and autumn grows, I find myself observing the word in a different way. I like the rhythm that is happening to my world. There is a regularity that is fast returning, like Charlotte. The preschoolers and kindergarteners once again fill the halls of our schools, the folks who were away all summer are quickly returning to the pews, and soon the children of PREP/CCD will begin to learn about God again. The Season of Ordinary Time will soon yield its greenish hue to the blue of Advent and before you now it, a new year will dawn with the Blessed Virgin on New Year’s Day! Yes, there is comfort in the changing of the seasons and the winding down of life this time of year. A time when the summer winds calm enough to allow the ‘Charlottes’ of my world to build their webs.

For the past few years, it has become my custom in autumn to evaluate what needs to be relinquished in my life. Sometimes possessions weigh me down. At other times, I find that it is all of my character flaws that burden not only me, but everyone who lives with me, or works with me, as well. I look into all of the dark closets of my life that need cleaning out, including that one which contains my heart each autumn and I ask myself, “Is there anything I could surrender that would help me become a better person?” Then, I allow myself to be caught, like that beetle, but instead of by some predatory spider, it is by God Himself, who, too, has been waiting patiently for me all this time.

The older and perhaps a little wiser that I get, I have learned that no matter how cleaver we think we are, there is always someone, or something, all the more clever just around the proverbial corner. How about you?  Will you return to the parish now, engage more deeply, revaluate your commitment, and discover what is truly important, as you become closer to a God who saves? Or, will you remain empty and seeking that which you may already have had all along?
 
Many of us have been working hard all summer long. While you have been away on your summer respites, we have been working long days to keep us afloat – physically and financially – so you have a beautiful and welcoming parish home to return to this season. Is it time for you to take stock of the beauty and the gift that is Saint Miriam?
 
PS I asked Brendan to remove that spider web from my window’s view later today. You see, no matter how wise we think we are, no matter how clever we are, there is always something more clever coming…