Hear No Evil…

 

A married couple sits down at the breakfast table. The man, reading the paper, says: “Honey, listen to this news item: A study was done that shows conclusively that women speak twice as many words as men! I told you!” Wife: “Well, that’s because we women always have to repeat ourselves because you men never hear us the first time we say something.” Husband: “What did you say?”

Listening is never easy, is it? All of us are so easily distracted — even in church! When someone gets up during one my sermons, perhaps to go to the bathroom, (that is what I always pray they are doing anyway!) at least 1/3 of the eyes in the sanctuary follow the person out the door — ensuring, I suppose, that the person gets there okay? Many of us will listen for a while, and then realize that for the last five minutes we’ve been thinking about our plans for the afternoon, and haven’t heard a word that has been said. On other occasions, when we are in a conversation with someone, we’ll hear a point we want to respond to and begin to formulate our own response — not hearing anything else the other person says. It happens all the time. I guess it is all part of being human!

The development of good listening skills is important in many aspects of our lives: academics, the workplace, families, and yes, at church, too, where our spiritual community is to be found — our skills in listening to the word of God, and to those who gather in prayer with us, and those who shepherd us, are of greatest importance. In fact, in many passages we consider in our yearly lectionary cycle of readings, Jesus has much to say about our doing more than letting the word of God go in one ear and out the other, or worse…falling on rock hard ground.

I have always tried to communicate effectively and completely with all my parishioners. As pastor, there is so much going on so much of the time that sometimes I know that things fall through the proverbial cracks. Moreover, we should try to remember that I am here at our parish almost every day and most parishioners are here at most once a week, and then only for a few hours when they do come. So, there are bound to be things that are going on that end up getting ‘missed’ by some ears! Perhaps that is why every parish has a pastor. After all, it is the pastor’s job to look after the parish and the parishioners alike.

Over the past few months we have been on quite a ride! The transition from Blue Bell to our new home has been a feat of daring and occurred rather quickly! And some have obviously missed important updates. I felt that in those moments they would reach out to me and sit down and ask questions and get filled in on important updates before forming conclusions. Sadly, some have simply made up information to fill in the empty blanks. This has caused unnecessary and unneeded anxiety for many, including me.

That is why beginning this week, you will be receiving a detailed letter that includes a lot of information including an overview of where we have been and why we made our decisions, where we are now, and the intended plans for tomorrow. I pray this will enlighten and solace those who are a little anxious. I also pray that you might stop and consider that we have a strong pastor and an even stronger parish board to help guide that pastor. It is because of their ability to get along, pray, and make good decisions that we have this beautiful new campus. Perhaps a little trust that these fine people, called to a life of dedicated and sacrificial service, have your best interests at heart would go a long way, especially since these are the very same people who stand side-by-side with all of you to make what we have actually possible.
 
We have so much to be grateful for, so much to praise God for, and now a wonderful and beautiful place to worship and become better Christians and stronger Catholics. We should all stop long enough from the rush of the world to consider how much we truly have and settle into a place of thanksgiving.
 
As always, my door and my heart remain open to anyone wishing to visit.
 
All of us have ears. May we hear, and may the word of God dwell in us richly.
 


The Needs of the Many…

 

When I was younger I greatly enjoyed the movie and television series named Star Trek. While I never have considered myself a Trekkie, officially, I have always found them to be of great interest and enjoyment.

In 1982 the next in a series of made for theater versions was released called, The Wrath Of Khan. In one very moving and poignant scene, a long time and valuable character meets his end after a selfless act of saving the spaceship, but posing himself to deadly radiation. Spoke, played by Leonard Nimoy, engages then Admiral James T. Kirk, his longtime friend and colleague, and admonishes Kirk not to grieve for him, as his act was ‘logical’. The scene goes like this:

Spock (begins): “The needs of the many outweigh…”

Kirk (finishes his sentence): “The needs of the few…”

Spock (completes the thought): “Or, the one.”

That is really a good place to think about all that we do, the decisions that we make, and the changes that have occurred, and how we are called to live in community. It is also a great place to reflect on my ideal of the priesthood, too, and the way and manner we must be willing to serve. This is why our ideal for our leaders in our parish are so important. A priest must be willing to lead by example.

A priest, in my humble opinion, must die to self every day. It is not easy, trust me, I live it. But, that is the life we have been called to. When those first disciples were greeted by our Lord on the beach that day, they dropped everything and followed Him. Everything. They abandoned all they knew for a life of uncertainty and eventually, yes, even death itself. Every day, they died “little deaths” until the larger transition occurred for them. In the middle of those two events, they served. I am sure – quite sure – they often were confused and hurt and frustrated and wishing to simply run away, but they stayed and they served and they did what they were called to do – called to be.

You see, it takes great sacrifice to build a parish and even more dedication and perseverance to keep one going and thriving. We have all dedicated so much and now we are pushing to another dream: stability and growth as we become even larger, but allowing us maintain those ideals that brought us together. God has been good to us. We must be good to God and honor our call as priests, as parishioners, and a community.

Selfless, kind, sacrificial, giving, caring, open, inclusive, loving, and willing to die for another. These are the hallmarks of a good Christian. They are the marks of our character. These are needed for me, and my fellow brothers, to be a good priests, and you to be good parishioners. We are in this together.

I urge you as we make the continued changes and transitions ahead that you think about my words here today. We may not like or even understand each and every change, but we are called to trust that God has a breath in it all.

I don’t know about you, but I feel the warmth of God’s breath every day, even when I am unsure of where I am going.

 



Remembering 911: A Special Reflection

 
“I did not see the devil’s face at Ground Zero. I saw the face of God in the people working, caring, sweating, crying, rescuing, recovering and being very spiritual in their very humanness.”
 
These are the words of Franciscan Father Joseph Bayne, chief chaplain of New York Emergency Services, and they represent for me what I would like to remember this year as we honor this historic tragedy today, yet again. As a follower of Francis of Assisi, and a Priest, Pastor, and Trauma Chaplain that witnessed firsthand the worst humanity can dole out to one another, I’m often challenged to bring joy to a broken and sorrow-filled world. I lived through 911 in Washington, DC and I saw the US Pentagon ablaze, people on fire, destruction, the wounds that resulted and the death, and a city locked down as if in war. We were at war that day. In many ways, we still are.
 

On September 11, 2001, upon learning that the World Trade Center had been hit by the first of two jetliners, Father Mychal Judge, a brother Franciscan Friar and a Chaplain with the NYFD, without any hesitation, rushed to the site. Father Mychal administered the Sacrament of the Sick, “The Last Rites”, to the bodies of those victims who fell to their deaths from the tower above him. He then proceeded inside of South Tower where he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured, and the dead. At 9:58am, when that tower collapsed, it unleashed a barrage of debris that killed many inside, including Mychal. He was struck in the head while heard praying aloud by a firefighter, “Jesus, please end this right now; God, please end this now.”

Father Mychal’s body was found by a NYPD Lieutenant and he, two firefighters, and an EMT, with the aid of two civilian bystanders, carried his body out of the Tower. That iconic photograph was captured and printed in almost every daily newspaper in the nation. His body was laid before the altar at St Peter’s before being taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office that day. It is still considered the American Pieta. Mychal Judge was designated as “Victim 0001”, and thereby recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Friar Mychal was number one.

This experience changed us as a people in some ways. It changed our naiveté as a nation and it changed – in many ways – our ability to be joyful and carefree. This experience also changed me in some ways. I’m still a sinner, still a bit of a workaholic, still at times trying to “save the world, with my never-ending messiah complex.” But this tragedy and the humbling opportunity to minister as a priest made me reflect more deeply on the gift of life, relationships, on making every day good in some way and using the opportunities and gifts God pours upon us. It made me be more conscious of trying to “not to sweat the small stuff” and make the simple things matter most. Life is so precious and yet so fragile. A hug, a smile, an embrace, a kind word, a strong or gentle handshake – all of these small things took on new meaning for me after 911. It is why I give so much to this parish. Why I work so hard even without a salary. Why I care for all of you and pray you care about me. I have learned that we are all but a flickering flame and in the end we are so very fragile.
 
I am not sure if I understand this event now any better than I did that very morning when it occurred; that beautiful, crisp Tuesday in September, as I made my way to seminary. I still remember how beautiful a day it was; how those white clouds seemed to loft in the sky above Washington, DC forever; how the temperature was so perfect, no humidity, just the most perfect day. I still remember how scared I was and how our families could not get a hold of us for almost a full day. I still can feel that fear as I tried to pray but did not know what to pray for. I remember how quickly the streets of our Nations’ Capital became militarized as Humvees and soldiers set out to protect our national interests and those in leadership. Planes were diverted, The President was taken to a secret location, and Congressional leaders were entombed underground bunkers: our nation was attacked. I do not understand how several men could believe that killing people whom they don’t even know, people who certainly didn’t hate them, people who were simply going about their normal lives – thinking about their families, attending to the tasks of daily living and work, running into work a little early, or perhaps a little late, grabbing that quick cup of coffee before the day fully began – I do not know how they could kill these ‘others’ in the name of God. But, what I do know is that because of good and holy people like Father Mychal, evil will never win. God is good and kind, even when we fail to understand this world.
 
They say a saint is just an ordinary person that does extraordinary things. That is Father Mychal.
 
“In this hell I found grace”, said Father Mychal’s friend, Father James Martin. Rest well, my brother Friar; rest well all those who died that day, and all the days since at the hands of such evil. For the Light is upon us and we are His hands and feet. There is much work for us to do until we become number one, too.
 
 
 


The Laughter of Children…

So today we had our first day of school at our newly renovated Zion Preschool at Saint Miriam. We also had a luncheon with our faculty, all tenured educators who have dedicated their lives to teaching these little ones, some for over 29 years! We are proud that we were able to retain 100% of the staff in our recent transition. It was a great day to be with them and I am proud to have them on my team.

I was able to catch the glimpse of a few of the children, too. Their faces were all aglow with the laughter that comes so easily with this age. It was so contagious that even their parents, much like many of us, weighed down with the worries of the world, also showed signs of letting go and laughing along with their little ones! They all seemed to bounce down the walkways of the parish, some even holding hands and others twirling like tops in the September sun!
 
It is a time of transition for all of us: a new church and the changing weather, leaves about to turn color and going back to school, letting go of our children as they go off to college and begin new lives; a time of firsts and lasts and everything in between we call life. A time of pigtails, new clothes, book bags, and notebooks. A fleeting time that can escape us if we do not take care and stop long enough to see it: to see the stuff of life that truly matters.
 

During weddings, one of the time-honored ways to end a ceremony is with a blessing. One of my favorites is an old Irish wedding blessing and a central line reads, ‘may the laughter of children grace the halls of your home.’

The laughter of children does grace the halls of our new home now.

We have much to be proud of, so much to honor.



Today is MY Birthday!

Today is my birthday. Today is my birthday. Today, I was born! That, for some, is a blessing. For others…well, let us all forget that for today’s reflection!

Well, I guess I was not literally born today. What I mean is, today is my birthday; way back a long while ago – many years ago – I was born. I was fashioned together by a God who knew I would be loved by the best family ever. And, I now have two: one who has been with me from the start, and the other…all of you, my parish family. And tonight at 6:00pm, I will do what I have done every year: I will celebrate Mass, but at this time in our brand new church home in Flourtown! I pray you will give me the gift of your presence as I bring to you the gift of His Presence.

As I write, my body is now finishing its 49th year of life. Wowsie!

Breathing, walking, beating, thinking, moving, eating, drinking, trusting, fearing, loving, laughing, singing, wondering, seeing, hearing, touching, teaching, talking life.

I’m reminded on this, my birthday, of a favorite passage in the book of Psalms from the Bible.

Psalm 139 says:

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.

That is how I have tried to live the first half of my life; I pray I get another shot at the second. I have praised God, given generously to the work of His holy Church, tried to be a good and faithful servant, loved beyond measure, and made a few mistakes along the way. But, no matter what…I have lived. I pray you have lived, too.

Your Story is my story, our story is God’s story, and to live it large and well is our greatest dream.

Today is my birthday. My birthday wish, just support the work of God’s church and say a little prayer for me.

Thank you everyone for bringing me to life!

 



Stripped Bare and Yet So Beautiful…

Yesterday I was on campus again at our new location helping to ready the new parish and friary building. I have to admit that I was exhausted – really exhausted – and really tired of painting! There was lots to do and lots of people to help, but each of us was working really hard to meet the deadlines. The space is coming along and will be so beautiful. It will be so worth it!
 
About half way through the day, the carpet was removed from the sanctuary. The floors were ‘laid bare for all to see’ and I sat and watched as the sunlight sparkled from the stained glass – “the Good Shepherd” panels above the chancel area – even against the old floors that had been covered for so long. It reminded me of each of us, scars and brokenness covered by often beautiful outer coverings, and yet our souls remain the same. I was reminded of how some used my past to try and hurt us, as they do to others. I was reminded how even Jesus was laid bare for all to see as He hung upon that cross to save the likes of you and me. Then I was reminded of how – despite our brokenness – we are all so beautiful! So radiant! How the sun (read…Son?) still flashes its warmth on us. Yes, the rain and the sun fall on the just and the unjust alike…
 
It reminded me of that old welcome we read and loved. So, as we begin a new phase of our journey…here it is again! Welcome home – to a new home – but one where the heart remains the same!
 
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
 
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
 
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
 
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
 
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”
 
That is where our true life comes from – our radical welcome of everyone who seeks us.
 


A Time To Celebrate!

It is time to celebrate soon! We gave, we prayed, and we supported. We encouraged one another with the joy of what we have become at Saint Miriam: a place of hope, laughter, song, and worship. We have built a Catholic Parish where everyone is welcome regardless of where they came from, who they are, what mistakes they made, how they are living now, who they love, how many times they have failed, how they self-identify, or how many times they have been rejected by others in the world. Yes, we have built a place where all are welcome at the Lord’s Table, in our hearts, and through our doors! We built a place from love. We have been selfless. We are Saint Miriam! And that, my friends, is a lot to say!

Over the last few years’ things have not always been easy. As we have struggled to build this place, there have been many times we all felt we might not make it. But we prayed and remained constant – congruent – in our living example of a loving God and we have been blessed. We are blessed because we have always reminded the world that it truly is the least of my people that God has asked us to hold up – to lift up – to heights they never felt possible. We are selfless in a world where that has little meaning. I am proud to be your pastor. I am proud and honored to walk this journey with you. We are Saint Miriam!
 
The next two weeks will be filled with great joy, some sadness, a little anxiety, and a lot of work! We need to pull together – as we have in the past – and make this next dream a reality. Please volunteer to help with the move, assist with the needed repairs at our new location, and whatever else you do, give generously to be part of what makes us great – we share the burden together. As I have always stated: we do not ask for equal giving, as that would be unfair, but we do ask for equal sacrifice.
 

For those who give $250, or more, by the 30th of August, you will receive a private tour and celebration invite via email for Thursday, September 3rd for our first Mass at our new location. You will see our new home before anyone else and you will be thanked for being among the first to help support us on our way. This day will also be my birthday, and I could not imagine being anywhere else than with you!

We are a story that should not have happened. We are a story of redemption. We are a story of love. We are a living Gospel story of the inclusive love of all of God’s created. We honor the inherent dignity of every human being. We have a lot to be proud of!
 
“Under God’s wings we shall rest…”


Another Fleece Story!

Our patron for the diocese, Bernard, was a French abbot, author of many beautiful hymns,  and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order. He was born in 1091 in his fa­ther’s cast­le at Les Fon­taines (near Di­jon), Bur­gun­dy. He died on Au­gust 21, 1153, in Clair­vaux, France. Hence, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Bernard’s fa­ther, Te­ce­lin, was a knight and vas­sal of the Duke of Bur­gun­dy. Ber­nard was ed­u­cat­ed at Cha­ti­llon, where he was dis­tin­guished by his stu­di­ous and med­i­ta­tive ha­bits. He en­tered the mon­as­tery of Ci­teaux (the first Cis­ter­cian in­sti­tu­tion) in 1113. Two years lat­er, he was sent, with twelve other monks, to found a daugh­ter mon­as­te­ry in the Val­ley of Worm­wood, about four miles from the Ab­bey of La Ferté, on the Aube. He rose to em­i­nence in Church po­li­tics, and be­came em­broiled in the pa­pal schis­ms of the 12th Cen­tu­ry. He was well known in Rome, and found­ed 163 mon­as­ter­ies through­out Eur­ope! The Ca­tho­lic En­cy­clo­pe­dia car­ries a large ar­ti­cle on him. He was a major reformer who believed that Church could be – and do – better!

As you know, I am always looking for signs that we are doing our best for God. And, as we approach our final move dates, I find myself deep in prayer. It was in a moment of reflection that I remembered the story of the fleece and Gideon in the Book of Judges! It goes like this:

After death of Joshua, the Israelites turned away from God, and served idols. Therefore the evils came upon them of which they bad been warned by Moses and Joshua. But at different times God, seeing their distress, raised up “judges” to deliver them from their enemies, and to judge over them. The first of these judges was named Othniel. He was Caleb’s nephew. The last was Samuel. One that lived about one hundred years before Samuel was named Gideon.

The Israelites at this time were in great trouble. They were hiding in dens and caves because of the Midianites, who had conquered them and overrun their country. When their corn was ripe these enemies came and destroyed it, so altogether they were in a sad plight. One day Gideon was threshing wheat in a secluded place, so as to escape the notice of the Midianites, when an angel from God appeared to him, bidding him to go and save the Israelites from their foes. Gideon obeyed the command: but before commencing the battle he much desired a sign from God showing that He would give the Israelites the victory. The sign Gideon asked for was, that when he laid a fleece of wool on the ground, if the victory were to be his, then the fleece should be wet and the ground dry.

He placed the wool on the ground, and taking it up the next morning found it wet, although the ground was dry. So he knew God had answered him as he desired. But he was not quite satisfied. He begged God for a second sign. This time the ground was to be wet and the fleece of wool dry. God gave him this sign also: and then Gideon felt sure that the Israelites would be victorious over the Midianites.

It that not like us? We ask for a sign, get it, and then ask for another! Let us be satisfied that we have grown to where we can move into a new location and honor a legacy of the former congregations that occupied this land.

And, lastly…how about one more sign? Saint Bernard was a man of ex­cep­tion­al pi­e­ty and spir­it­u­al vi­tal­i­ty. Mar­tin Lu­ther, some 400 years lat­er, called him, “the best monk that ever lived, whom I ad­mire be­yond all the rest put to­ge­ther.”

Later this month, we move into a former Lutheran parish to carry on their mission to love and serve God….is that not worthy of your support?



“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots…”

So its journey included attending a beautiful wedding in Germany, and having its portrait painted in the Netherlands, then it began its exciting saga in the United States beginning in the inviting and scenic coastal New England town of Marblehead, Massachusetts on July 17th, and it even made it enjoy a Boston Red Sox game! The child-sized robot, named, “HitchBOT”, made it across Canada and parts of Europe, but then, in the City of Brotherly Love, HitchBOT was vandalized beyond repair and its journey is ended, at least for now.

Two weeks. That’s all it took. Two weeks to destroy something that was imaginative and joyful! In a statement from the creator team, they sadly reported, “HitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City, unfortunately, HitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.”

Yes, it’s true! This is why we can’t have nice hitchhiking robots in our country. This is why the world is in need of the good, the honest, and the holy! Sometimes bad things happen to good robots and to good people, too! This is why we are building a new church!

Frauke Zeller, one of HitchBOT’s creators, recently said the robot’s “family” was disappointed by the incident. I am, too. Not because this computer-driven entity had a soul, but because we – as human beings – can so soul-lessly destroy anything created!

You see…the deeper lesson is that HitchBOT was entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers. It traveled by itself and couldn’t move on its own, but actually required friendly humans to take it from place to place; to allow it to have a journey to begin with!

I guess the real story of this robot is as a sort of ‘grand social experiment’, intended, in part at least, to test our human psychology when confronted with a technological novelty, but for me, the deeper lesson is one of morality: We would rather kill than assist someone else in their journey.

Please…join me in building a place where all are welcome and loved and embraced. Yes, even HitchBOT.