Bart, Us, Thanksgiving & God.

 

In one episode of The Simpsons, young Bart sits down with his family to a meal. When it’s his turn to pray and give thanks, he says this: “Lord, my dad earned the money to pay for this food, and my mom worked for hours to cook it. What did you do? Thanks a lot for nothing.”  Bart Simpson may only be a cartoon character, but he states very bluntly what a lot of the world has to say about thanksgiving – the holiday and the act itself – many people have no feeling of giving thanks.

You see, real thanksgiving takes place when we focus on God. Real thanksgiving takes place when we share with the needy. Real thanksgiving only comes when we recognize that we live in this world, and yet, somehow, we are not of it. Best of all, real thanksgiving takes place when we yield our hearts to God; when we acknowledge that all that we have came from someone greater.

I heard the story about a man in Asia who was caught in a terrible storm. He promised God a sacrifice of 20 oxen if he survived. As the storm quieted, the winds died down, and he realized that he was to survive, he thought: “Why be so foolish as to give oxen? Why not nuts instead?” So, he restated and offered God nuts. On the way to offer the nuts, as the seas were now calm and he became hungry, he ate the nuts. In the end, all that he ended up offering to the God of all, was a handful of empty shells as his sacrifice. Empty lives and empty promises seem to go hand-in-hand. Some people do not feel what we feel on this day. Thanksgiving is a foreign concept to them and it is why so many of our lives seem, well, so empty.

The Hebrew people had spent forty years wandering in the Sinai desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. They are now standing on the borders of Canaan, the promised land. Moses is an old man and is about to die. And he gives them instructions for how they are to deal with this new phase of their existence as a people. These instructions, written so long, could very well be directed at us here today.

Read carefully a portion of Moses’ words to his people:

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God . . .”

Doesn’t that sound like it was written for us? As our gold and silver increases, as our power and might becomes substantial, as our storehouses become larger and larger, we have less room in our lives for God. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . .”

This past year, God did something miraculous in the lives of the people of my parish of Saint Miriam – a community that is less than eight years old, but one that thrives and grows every week. God brought us to a new land, a land in Flourtown just down the road from this very place, where we own, and care for, and are good and strong stewards, for a church building and cemetery and preschool that was once cared for by the people of Zion and then of Union before them. Why? Because we are always grateful. We are a people of peace. We never lash out, even at those who hurt us. We remain focused on the One we follow. A man named Jesus who turned out to be the Savior of the world.

In an address delivered at Northwestern University in 1977, Jewish writer Elie Wiesel said to his audience: “I belong to a people that remembers . . .”

It is what Thanksgiving is all about. It is what gives us wings to soar.
 
Wishing you and yours, a blessed Thanksgiving of remembrance and hope…
 


The Heart of a Trucker…My Sadness for the People of Syria.

 

When I was a young boy, my dad and I would go for long rides together. Sometimes we had no real agenda, or destination in mind. Other times we would simply hop in his station wagon and run errands that my mother gave him. There were also those rare summer evenings when my dad would load us in the car and we would go to the edge of the airport and watch the runway lights and planes taking off and landing! Oh how exciting those days were for my sister and me! It seems like a simpler time, a more compassionate time, an easier world.

About once a year, my family would also load up that old station wagon,  with the fake wooden sides, and head someplace on vacation. The open road was ahead of us and we enjoyed the trip, almost as much as arriving at the destination. I remember my dad telling me the best way to travel on the highway was to follow a trucker. They knew where the roads were to avoid, they slowed down when there was police activity, and most of all they were the most courteous drivers around. If you were in trouble, they would pull over and help. They could fix a flat, help diagnose an engine issue, and were the first to flash their headlamps to allow you to merge safely. They were the heart of the road because they had the heart of a trucker!

I have been told many times that what makes me a good priest is that I have the heart of a pastor. I never really understood that until I looked back in hindsight and see how I view the world. I have an open heart to the world’s marginalized. I welcome in the rejected. I hold open my doors and my parish to those without a home or who have lost God in their daily lives. I know the the little things I do make the world a better place to someone. I am proud that together we have cultivated a place of hope, love, and true inclusion. We welcome everyone and we mean every word. We have the heart of a trucker!

In order to have such a heart, such an openness to others, you need to see the world differently. You need eyes for injustice and for pain. You cannot just sympathize with it; you must have full on empathy for it. It hurts you as much as those the object of it. Many run from it because it is too painful. Many simply close their eyes to it. Most make up a rational excuse why they – or why we – should not be so open to those fleeing their pain. Yes, it is easier to reject, to join the crowd of those who close themselves off, then to be open and to share the blessings we have with those who know not those blessings – who know not peace, not safety, nor a soft pillow, or even a safe home.

This is how I view the Syrian refugee crisis. We point to them and call them terrorists. We point to them and say they will bring spoils to the country or even our planet! They will destroy our way of life. They are responsible for our sad lot in life! Then, we rationalize our rejection with mundane arguments like, “We should take care of our poor first!”, “What about our homeless?!” or my favorite, “We should honor our veterans first before these people! They fought for our country!”

Really? What have you done lately for our poor, our orphaned, our homeless, or our vets? Really? Have you opened your home to them, provided shelter, or food? Worked for Habitat for Humanity, or even gone to church regularly to pray for them?

Living the gospel imperative, one that demands that even slave owners and masters become friends is never easy. It isn’t meant to be. “The gate is narrow,” Jesus remind us .  It is less-easy when we live in a world of ‘me-first’ – ‘damn-them’! All the ‘thems’ of the world. Protect me, save us, keep our way of life open and lovey and let their flowers fade and die all round them. We will simply close our eyes and move on. It is easier.

Violence rules our way of life. We are either the cause of it, or our apathy allows it to flourish. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware says he and his state, like Pennsylvania, will accept refugees. In a recent interview on CNN, he tells of how we are doomed to repeat a terrible era of history.  In 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland that started the Second World War, 1,000 German Jews approached the coast of Florida, aboard a ship called the St. Louis. They had already been denied entry to Cuba and hoped to receive sympathy from our country because they felt that we knew of the severe discrimination they faced at home. Instead, our government enforced the strict quotas in place at the time and forced them to return home. The result? Over 500 of these refugees were trapped by Germany and about half of those died in the Holocaust…men, women, and children, too, were sentenced to death camps because of we denied them a safe harbor, a safe home. As reported by CNN in the article referenced above, ‘immigration reminds us of what the abolitionist Lydia Maria Child so eloquently said: “Law is not law, if it violates the principles of eternal justice.”’ 
 
On my last trip to teach at the university this past Tuesday, as I tried to merge to enter the EZ Pass lane onto the PA Turnpike, I could not seem to get anyone to allow me in the lane. It was rush hour and me-first was the deal of the day! Then, I saw a trucker coming and I knew that I was safe! That soon I would be allowed to merge and be on my way! As the front of his massive rig came within a car’s length, I began to move in the direction of my turn signal. The trucker? He stepped on the gas and almost cut off the side of my car.
 
Where are the truckers with hearts of truckers? Where are pastors with the heart of pastors? Where is the nation I learned to love for their empathy, and not their misplaced vitriol and hate toward a people in crisis…a people with literally nothing?
 
I can assure you, if they show up at my parish doors…they will be welcomed, embraced, given refuge, and yes, even protected because we have the heart of a pastor.
 


Seeing Red: Oh, Starbucks, Please Save Our Church!

 

So Starbucks is the first major retailer to cause an uproar this holiday season and the gift came early! The company’s designers went for a minimalist look, as they self-described it, “with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below” and Christians everywhere went nuts! The absence of holiday symbols is making people furious. The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert, says, “Haven’t they heard it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the season of good will to ALL men? They should get involved and stop being scrooges.” And a Facebook video posted by a Christian evangelist, Joshua Feuerstein, criticizing the lack of explicit holiday messaging on Starbucks’ seasonal cups recently went viral overnight. And, yes, even Donald Trump got in on the action by calling for a possible boycott of the coffee retail giant.

Starbucks has featured holiday-themed coffee cups in their stores since 1997. In years past, Starbucks’ festive cups have come adorn with designs of snowflakes, ornaments, reindeer and other symbols often associated with Christmas. (Note: Jesus or the Cross was never on a cup at Starbucks!) This year, however, Starbucks is opting for a subtler look without any holiday images.

So the ‘War on Christmas’ seems to come earlier and earlier every year, and nothing says The Most Wonderful Time of the Year like people becoming hostile when you wish them a simple “happy holidays.” How dare you offer me the wrong well-wishes, they retort. Do you actually hate Christians? But…what about us?

Now those who know me well will already know that I find this whole thing a little ridiculous and even more heartbreaking! I doubt that Starbucks’ red cups are going to destroy either Christmas, or Christianity for that matter. Seriously, the secular modern movement has failed, the Roman Empire couldn’t do it, and they couldn’t even kill us off with all those lions in the Coliseum, so, please people…calm down! I don’t think Starbucks implemented the death penalty when they changed their cups to a modern hue of red, save Santa.

But what’s even more ridiculous to me is the timing this year. I’m kind of baffled because it’s still early November! Here we are, barely out of Halloween, and not even to Thanksgiving – fast approaching the holy season of Advent – and it seems to me that a people of faith should be more keenly aware of the grace God has given us to remain focused intently on the importance of the season, and perhaps pausing to say “thank you, God”, rather than making hay about some red, disposable paper cups. And, as difficult as it is to hear, many of the same folks who are posting their outrage on social media toward these Christian-killing cups aren’t even going to church every Sunday.

I see many of them post on their Facebook pages, (Yes, often on a Sunday), where they are…like at a mall, or a movie, dinner or the beach; all doing something ‘fun’, but all too secular and obviously with no time for God. I wonder if they ever stop to think what they are teaching their children, or what their worship absence and lackadaisical attitude toward the Creator tells their friends and informs their family about how much, or how little, they value God?

I also have sadly experienced those who perplex and hurt me the most: those who use the church. And it is they who seemed to be some of the first – and loudest – to grumble at these all too plain, Christmas-less red cups. Recently, a parishioner stopped their monthly giving after their child got into a prestigious school telling me how they could no longer afford both! Really? Remember, while they needed my reference to show how wonderfully committed Christians they were, they were everywhere and at every event! But, once with the acceptance letter in hand, they have not been to Mass since, never served once at the altar of God, nor tended to any duties they had previously volunteered for, and yes, now they cut their giving and complain about…Starbucks? Why, you ask?

Well, I can only surmise that what they did not need was Jesus, and I guess what they needed more was money; perhaps to buy all those lattes housed in those bright red cheery, but alas, Christmas-voided cup. I guess the cups are very much like them: devoid of Christ-mas…
 
Well, off I go…I need a latte!
 


Showing Gratitude or Flipping Off a Priest?

 
I recently had a conversation with a fellow priest who had great insight into human nature. He said, “Have you ever noticed that wherever we go everyone finds something to complain about?”  If we travel, we can complain about lumpy beds and crowded airports and late buses. But if we stay home, we complain that we never go anywhere interesting, or that there’s never anything good on television. We complain so often about crowded highways and cold food, and so on, that we never get to appreciate all that is good in our lives. He is right.
 
In the Japanese language there is a beautiful and haunting term known as, ‘on’.  The meaning of ‘on’ often includes a sense of gratitude combined with a desire to repay others for what we have been given. It’s not just that we feel grateful, or that we express gratitude, but that we actually experience a sincere desire to give something back. We might think of it as appreciation that stimulates a sense of obligation! Not an externally imposed obligation out of guilt, or any negative emotion, but rather from a sense of obligation that arises naturally within us, as we recognize how we have been supported, loved, and cared for by others.
 
I travel every Tuesday morning to teach at university this semester.  I enjoy teaching and get up every Tuesday with a sense of gratitude that I can touch the future.  This past Tuesday, I did as I always do and began at Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte and a breakfast sandwich that I enjoy on my route that takes me some 45 minutes or so. The traffic to the location was rough, the people abusive, then the gal at the counter could care less that I was standing there and she made my sandwich cold! My latte was not right either. I was perplexed and quickly became irate, but never said a word.  As I tried to enjoy the broken breakfast I had on my lap, a driver refused to let me merge safely on the on ramp to 276; I ended up having to go into the berm of the road because of his aggression! Then…the finger came up! The driver of that very expensive SUV,  looked over at me as I approached a mile down the road and once again…gave me the finger. He looked over, saw a priest, and flipped me off none-the-less. I had never met him, did nothing to deserve it, never met his abuse with another abusive gesture. I just sat, drove, focusing on my lack of a good breakfast and the terrible traffic, and now his middle finger…I found myself quickly becoming sad and ungrateful. That was when it hit me…this is life more often than I care to admit. How sad I thought. How rough. No wonder why folks give up. We all focus on the wrong things and then wonder why we have so little joy.
 
I began our parish some almost eight years ago and very few have ever thanked me. I guess deep down it would have been nice, but to be honest, it was not expected. Then I gave my retirement funds to keep us going, worked hard and still never took a salary…no thanks. Finally, I help to negotiate a great deal to purchase the beautiful life-filled and very busy campus  we now call home and sold my own home to help get us over the goal needed to make it all happen. No thanks, not one. Then, two weeks ago, I moved to campus in my RV to be closer and to help more. Still nothing, not a single word of thanks. That was when it hit me… He lived only thirty-three years, preached actively for less than three, was disowned, dishonored, gave up his family and his friends, never had a home of his own, never even owned anything of earthly value, was falsely tried and convicted for a crime he did not do, sentenced to death, hung on a cross, and saved us all by doing just that… all with no thanks, no gratitude, not a single applause line.
 
Have we become so focused on ourselves that we gallantly flip off priests, hate baristas, and fail to realize what we have been so generously given, despite our human condition? Have we failed to be grateful? To be thankful? Have we become so accustomed to getting things that we fail to see the real gifts? As we enter this coming season of Thanksgiving and Advent…can we actually change? Do we really even want to?
 
I don’t know if there is penalty for flipping off a priest in rush hour traffic, or for not being grateful to the baristas who make so little wages, but I do know that I am glad I show appreciation to those who love, help, and support me and our parish life. I am glad that I enjoyed my cold sandwich and off-kilter latte, still the same. I am glad I kept my middle finger on the steering wheel. I am pleased that I honor God and thank Him every day for saving the likes of one like me. I am grateful that God made me, well me!
 

I am grateful, too, for our parish, and for all of you, in my life. I am grateful for those who toil with me to make Saint Miriam what it is.

How about you?
 


Happy Anniversary to Me and God.

Today is an anniversary for me. It is one that many priests forget, but one that I maintain on my calendar and within my heart. Today I was ordained, so many years ago now, as a deacon. It was the day that reversed the course of my life, literally. 

You see, before my deacon formation and ordination, I went about my business without much care or regard for others: I went to work; went to Mass on Sundays (most weekends); and prayed (occasionally, especially when I needed something!). However, I always had a nagging feeling that something else was expected of me, or worse, that something else was missing from my life. There was a hollowness, a missing piece that I could not put my finger on. I felt like I was supposed to be doing more with my faith life and for God. That nagging emptiness left after my ordination to the deaconate.

Since my deaconate ordination I go about doing God’s business willingly: I pray the Liturgy of the hours daily, celebrate (or concelebrate) at an average of three to five Masses per week, preach regularly, baptize babies, anoint the dying, bury the dead, bless the living, witness marriages, write a weekly blog, visit the sick and shut in, work with the hurt and lost, do all the required and often tedious administration at my parish and friary, our preschool, and cemetery, and I teach at the university. I live my life by keeping the ‘ears of my heart’ open to the needs of others.

I guess if I look at the list of what I do now, as compared to prior to my ordination as a deacon and then a priest, I have never been busier in my life! At the same time, I have never felt more fulfilled, more whole, more loved, more capable. I am more in love with God than ever, and I pray that my love affair with my Creator will grow older and finer as I age, too. I have a stronger faith and deeper love and appreciation of others and life. I care more deeply, let go more easily,  love more honesty, and respect more intensely. Most importantly, my ordination changed me, and by changing me, God changed the world for a little bit better course. No, I have not cured cancer, led nations, ended terrorism, healed war, or built large monuments. Instead I serve in my little corner of the world and try to bring what my Jewish brothers and sisters would call Tikkun Olam, kindness performed to bring healing and repair to the world. Yes, I have a better relationship with God because I am more open to His love and see more readily the great gifts God gives to me, as I honor God more deeply.

Ordination is a gift I do not take for granted. I love being a priest, but in my heart, I am always a deacon first.

Happy anniversary to me and God!



Have you ever invited a stranger in?

 

Over the years I have always found that somehow I concentrate on my failures, and not my many successes. Perhaps it is the same with you? So, I have made a conscience effort to change that and now I have a long list of things that I am proud of! Most would not impress very many people. I guess if I had to place the most important of these things into a single category it would be those that have withstood the test of time and the changing of fads. These would include my family; my relationship with my family have deepened over the years; my friends, some of which date back to grade school; my relationship with Sean now some 20 years and still alive and well; my vocation as a priest and friar, a relationship with God that brings me such deep solace and warmth; my tenure as an Adjunct Professor, where I touch the next generation and hopefully will be remembered fondly; my career time in being a Trauma Chaplain, where countless folks were touched by hands and prayers; and my Crossfit workouts, where I have learned to live and move differently. The common element in all of these areas is my ability to be vulnerable and to not let go so easily.

We live in a world where most of us are always ‘on guard’, where we very seldom let others in, where we hold up an exteriorly different persona than the one who know us best, love most. We do not like to be vulnerable because we can then get hurt too easily. So we harden and shuffle along with a little less lilt in our step and a little less love in our lives.

Have you ever sat next to someone in a park or mall and engaged them into a conversation that was more than just a passing dialogue? Have you ever allowed someone at church to know the real you? Have you ever stuck around long enough in doing anything that it becomes a part of you and actually makes you more whole? Have you ever been touched so gently you had to cry?

In parish life, like much of our common and ordinary life outside the walls of our beautiful community, many tend to let go too easily. A misunderstanding, a disagreement, a wrong look, a bad interaction, a decision we dislike or fail to understand, and then off we go with no regard to what has been so generously and freely given to us in our time there. We walk away without regard to the sacrifices that so many gave freely so that the parish might even exist at all for us to find it in the first place! We also selfishly think that our needs supplant the needs of others. And, finally, we look at the leadership of the parish and perhaps dislike them for a certain decision made, even though we have no backdrop to the whys and wherefores, and never stop long enough to ask them what went into their decision, or to even think that the decision came heavy for them and after much thought and prayer for the good of the many, not just the one. We never pause long enough to think about giving them a hug and telling them how much they are loved and supported. Then we wake up one day and realize we are alone, unhappy, unfulfilled, unloved. Yes, it is easier to run than to learn to stay in the water.

I quickly realized when I began my CrossFit journey that I would never make it if I did not let go of my ego, become part of team, allow myself to fail, stop comparing myself to others, and no matter what – no matter how hard it gets – to never quit.

There’s a lesson in that, huh?
 


Deepening Our Journey with Christ

 

Over the years I’ve heard from many good people who want a closer relationship with God.  They come to me, as a pastor and priest, and say, “Father, I need to get closer to God, can you help me?” But they’re often stymied by what they perceive as God’s silence and by the effort that is required on their part. 

Last Sunday we heard the gospels remind us of the man who wanted a deeper journey, but was unwilling to follow the prescription given him by our Lord:

“As Jesus was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”

So, like the man in the gospel, what most who come to me really mean, often without knowing it, is that they’d like God to do something dramatic in their lives; something with a hint of perhaps Mt. Sinai that proves who God is or that God has grand credentials, but they would rather not give up something to have it happen. And, if God does come, but not in ‘bushes-a-burning’ then it is not good enough for them and they will just continue on their own journey…empty and alone.

But I have learned that God typically doesn’t work that way.  God’s not in the theater business! God wants to be loved as He loves us, but God also wants us to be willing to give something back: to God, to the Church, and to the world God so loves.  So, then, we need to pursue God as we would the persons we love. Relentlessly and with all that we are!

Over the coming weeks we will offer some exciting ways to deepen your life with God. I will remind you – even admonish you – that none of this will work if you are unwilling to make a life change. If you wish to continue in your life of spiritual and/or financial poverty with God, no one – not even God – will rescue you. You, and you alone, must be willing to give more to God in all ways (time, talent, and giving). If you want to sow rewards, if you want God to come, if you want a life of deeper meaning and happiness, it must begin with you.

We already offer a variety of meaningful and beautiful ways to support your spiritual life: Weekly Masses on Thursdays and Sundays, a weekly Rosary on Thursday evenings, Stations of the Cross in Lent, Sacred Meals, and our Imperfect Spirituality Groups, PREP, CCD, and many others. Sadly, like many Catholics, few participate. This is sad and should lave you feeling empty; it does me.

So, as we make our way through these last weeks of Ordinary Time before Advent tries again to draw us in and we must choose between Advent devotions and Christmas shopping in a secularly-bent world, why not stop long enough and ask yourself this question:

“Do I devote enough to God and what would I say to my God if He asked me, ‘What have you done for me after all I have given you?’”

Perhaps then, you might be willing to allow us to help you draw closer to a God who is always love and who has given you so much already?



Is Your Life in Knots?

 

“How do I know if God is calling me to be a Priest?”  This is the question I hear most from those who feel the tug of God in their hearts or on their lives. God still comes, but the route God takes is often circuitous and ill defined! I used to be challenged by this ‘lack of clarity’ but then realized that as one who is called, we must bear some of the work! So, God calls, then leaves us to discern, and then moves in and out of the ‘process’ along the way until the hands of a bishop finds a head!

Next week we will be speaking of discernment, vocation, and calling. We will honor our life as religious and priests and deacons by asking others to join us in the life of commitment to the greater good. Do you know of someone that you feel may be called to such a life? Do you know of a young person, or a retired neighbor, or a former seminarian who may be seeking a way back? This is a wonderful way for each of us to participate in the building of God’s world. Why not ask them to join us, meet a Friar or religious, speak to a deacon or priest, meet the bishop and decide if this journey is their journey?

Our lives are often complicated; they can seem as if they are tied up in knots. I know my life was and I often failed at what I thought I was to be doing! Then, I found my way back to seminary, back to a life of service and obedience, back to the Order of Francis. It was not easy, but the knots of my life soon gave way to the knots of my Franciscan habit and my life took shape, was given form and function, and my heart was molded to what it was to be all the time. I found meaning and purpose.

When Francis embraced the life of poverty he clothed himself in the rough textured garment of the poor and girded himself with a cord. Some say that Francis recognized in the cord a reminder of the ropes that bound his beloved Master, Jesus. And the five knots tied in the cord could graphically signify the five wounds of Christ. These knots remind us that one girded with this cord must also be girded with : 1) charity, 2) obedience, 3) chastity, 4) penance, and 5) detachment.

Take a moment to consider the knots of my life now, then join us next week with a friend or acquaintance in two and let us together build the Kingdom of God!

First knot—CHARITY is patient, is kind; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes in all things, hopes in all things, endures all things.

Second knot—OBEDIENCE bound to the commandments and precepts of the Church. When it comes to the doctrines and precepts of the Church, we must make every effort to form our conscience rightly so as to act in obedience to the Church. Like Francis, hold fast to Christ, knowing that all will turn out for the good.

Third knot—CHASTITY, Francis has shown us that everything we do should be to please God. We should have chastity and modesty in our thoughts, in our words, in our actions and in the way we dress. Also, control our temper, be patience, do not over-indulge in food or drink. Be a peacemaker when we feel like lashing out at someone. In reality, it means to become God-centered like St. Francis.

Fourth knot—PENANCE This knot deals mainly with serving God through others. It is difficult because it involves penance and self-sacrifice. It often means putting the things aside that we have planned for ourselves so that we can help others in need. Dedication to the service of God is not an easy task to perform, but our reward will be great in heaven.

Fifth knot—DETACHMENT- This knot does not ask us to give up all our possessions. But it does require that we curb any undue attachment to our possessions, hobbies and interests which might draw us away from our dedication to serve God. It reminds us to prayerfully persevere if God gives us trials. It reminds us to give generously to the Church to help God live in the world! Trust God, and hold on to him tightly, saying “My God and my all.” Don’t let the ups and downs in life diminish our joyful Franciscan spirit.

 


Joy, Laughter, and Foolishness.

 

I guess, truth be told, I was attracted to what has become known as “Franciscan Spirituality” long before I even knew there was such a thing! I became a Franciscan after seeking something that would fulfill my desire to live better.  I still remember the first time I walked onto the beautiful campus of the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Washington, DC. I was drawn to it one day after class at seminary, as I watched the gentle friars tend to their gardens and visitors at their gate. I was welcomed with open arms and sat for long hours talking and praying and searching with Friar Aelred. It was always a joy. Since those days, I have tried my best to walk in footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. I have tried my best to remain joyful.

Many ask what it was that first attracted me to the Franciscans? I think the one thing that fascinated me most was the fact that these guys in their Medieval brown robes seemed to be really happy people! They had nothing, but seemed to have everything. I couldn’t have explained it then, but over the years as I have learned and grown up a bit, I have come to understand that Franciscan joy is the joy of a people in love , in a deeply committed and loving relationship with their Christ, and a people in a deep personal loving relationship with a God who is, after all, Love itself.  St. Francis of Assisi was so in love with God that he was one of the happiest people who ever lived! I pray that one day I get there, too…

Our Franciscan spirituality recognizes the importance of this very fact: you don’t get joyful all at one time. It is a journey! I guess we might call it, “traveling light.” Taking too much “stuff” can slow one down and get in the way of loving God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength. The stuff can be ‘things’ or it can be ’emotions’, or ‘being unable to forgive’, or so many other things that come with this life of ours and so easily clog the pipes of loving God and loving each other. Francis echoes Jesus from the Gospels:  “Take nothing with you for the journey”.  Today many people find their worth in the value of the many things they possess: the amount of money they have in the bank, the type of car they drive, the size of their home. Franciscan spirituality considers all these things — and acquiring them, protecting them, dusting them off, as mere distractions, or impediments, on the journey to love more deeply.

I noted recently how God has been so good to us as a parish. I have taunted how I believe it is because we have been faithful stewards and faithful to the Gospel and faithful to loving everyone. No, we have not been perfect, but our hearts are always open. But, even with this new gift of a beautiful campus, some still cannot simply relish the joy, the laughter, and the foolishness of just being loved by God so much that all of this is now ours to steward. We have much to be grateful for and much to be joyful about. And yet, there is still much griping and nitpicking. I suppose it is all part of being human, but how sad that we allow ourselves to get in the way of such joy.

It is hard to love someone, or something, when you can’t see it. God does not come in bushes burning anymore, at least I have not seen one! And so the invisible God has given us Jesus as THE visible sacrament of how we are to love one another. And, God loved us so much that He gave us something tangible and real. He gave us this new campus. I wonder if we might stop long enough in our critique to simply relish our love? To revel in our foolishness as followers of a guy who left all behind with reckless abandon and found true love and true happiness?

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The Franciscan mantra is just the opposite: “He who dies with the least toys wins.”

We have each other. We have this beautiful place to worship. We have love. We have God. Is that still not enough to allow us to be foolishly falling over one another in great joy and warm laughter?