Praesertim Oboedientiam.

 

“praesertim oboedientiam”  that is what was written, literally in stone, across the transom passageway from where we lived and where we ate together in the refectory at my seminary when I began my journey to the priesthood. A journey that would take some twenty-one years to complete. It summed up, at least for me, what the Church expected of me – and the other men in formation – strict, unadulterated, and unquestioning obedience above all; nothing less would do. I failed. Many do. Here are three tales and I will still end these brief sagas of woe in a spirit of peace and with a lesson of hope.

This past week I met with a woman who left the church because of something that happened almost 28 years ago. Since that time she has been struggling to find a place of refuge; a spiritual home that would – could – fill her needs, embrace the diversity inherent in her family, inspire her, give her hope, light…peace. She has failed many times. Despite the many churches, denominations, and even a synagogue that she has attended and tried to ‘fit in’, she had yet to find her way to a place she could feel ‘at home’. Then she walked into Saint Miriam one Sunday and ‘felt more love and care than in all the other churches I ever went to combined!”, she said. But, is it a ‘real’ Catholic Church, she inquired of me? That was her struggle. After nearly three decades away from the Roman Church, she is still struggling with what she had been erroneously taught so many years ago.

The week before this appointment, I met with a gentleman who demanded an appointment with me. He entered my office, almost angered, because he visited our parish website and discovered that we do not use the “Extraordinary Form” of the Mass. I explained to him that we do, but only at the 7:30am Early Mass; that the later Masses use Novus Ordo Missae, which literally means the “new order of the Mass” or the “new ordinary of the Mass” as promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970. He was not amused.

A brief history: For a long time, we referred to the new liturgy (or the Missal of 1970) as the “new rite”, and the older liturgy (the most recent version of which is the Missal of 1962) as the “old rite.” In his July 2007 letter, however, Pope Benedict XVI said that we should instead think of these Missals as being two forms of a single Roman rite, rather than as two separate rites. Thus he prefers that instead of “new rite” and “old rite,” we now are to call them, “Ordinary Form” (his name for the Missal of 1970, or Novus Ordo Missae) and “Extraordinary Form” (the Missal of 1962, or the traditional Latin Mass). In other words, the pontiff (ref: motu proprio Summorum Pontificum) declared that the traditional liturgy of the Roman rite, which he said was never abrogated, was officially available to all the Church’s faithful alongside the new liturgy of Pope Paul VI. OK, back to brass tacks!

So, with all that in mind, I gently reminded this obviously irate man, now almost ready to rip my throat out, of the words of the Holy Father emeritus, in a letter he wrote to bishops explaining his decision are but an elegant expression of common sense: If the older liturgy was sacred in the past, then it is sacred now as well. He said, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place.” Makes sense, no?  Apparently not, as the man ended with the fact that a true and effcaious Mass has not been celebrated in this area since 1570! Then, he stormed out of my office. “Thank you, Jesus”, I said under my breath…

Fast forward – or actually, backwards – to yet another human struggle within the greater Church. This one is a young man who is in seminary at present and struggling because, in his heart, he knows he is not called to be a priest within the Roman rite, but within his mind…he is stuck! He knows – deep down where let few people in – that his personal views, his God beliefs, the way in which he sees the word and feels the Holy Spirit is not in keeping with the rules, regulations, and hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. But, here he is, now literally within a mere few months of ordination, and finds himself in quite a quandary! (I have been there so I know the depth of his struggle.)

Yes, there are many who leave the Catholic faith because of trauma, the priest abuse scandal, theological disagreement, or some other event that either destroyed their faith in one fell swoop, or ate away at their soul bite by bite. Almost everyone I speak to has that one proverbial, “final straw that broke the camel’s back” moment and poof, they’re gone!

Unlike me examples here today, most cannot point to any specific thing in the Church that is keeping them away, and unless that thing is changed, they will not return, but they know it is not home anymore. How sad for me to hear, but I know of what they speak. For the average ‘Catholic’, there is little we can do to remedy these situations because the thing is often well outside of our control, and no matter how much hope Francis has brought to them, they are quickly realizing, nothing of substance will soon change; praesertim oboedientiam.

So, no, we can’t change theology, we certainly can’t undo the past, and we can’t take away the pain that they feel, whether imagined or actual, but there is something left for us to do: in the words of Father John Dear, “We can listen with the ears of our heart.” In many ways, the best we can do is to simply live our faith with patience and hospitality for those struggling, and listen well.

But, I also wonder with so many people leaving, and so many people disaffected by their experiences of God as brought to them by the holy Church today, isn’t it time that we are forced to evaluate what we do, how we do it, and how we make it relevant to them again so that we get back to the work of the Church and save real souls, rather than make more pretty outfits for us clergy to wear, and archaic rules for people to follow, as we blindly lead them to the precipice of hell? Is there something wrong with a Mass that leaves so many unfulfilled, empty, struggling, sad? And if so, what can we do to make it better?

Oh, wait…we have! She is called Saint Miriam…
 


You Can Go Home Again.

 
A few years ago, Monica McGoldrick, a family therapist and Director of the Family Institute of New Jersey, wrote an interesting book that caught my attention from the moment I read the title: You Can Go Home Again: Reconnecting with Your Family.
 
Beginning with the premise that understanding your personal family history is essential for making informed choices, she offers an innovative method of combining genealogical research with self-awareness that leads to understanding one’s family patterns. This new understanding makes it possible to connect with one’s ancestors and to recreate better family relationships for oneself. Although the writing is a bit dry at times, as it is apparently targeted to the educated lay reader and professional, the causal readers will find that this book is very helpful in researching and understanding family information and patterns of behavior. For me, the greatest take away was ‘those who learn from the past are not condemned to repeat it’! Oftentimes, a family’s history of estrangement, alliance, divorce, or even suicide, reveal intergenerational patterns that prove more than mere coincidental. It was insightful and I needed to know that I can go home again.

 

This past week, I did just that; I went back home, but this time with a focus on just being present and not trying to change anything or anyone; including myself. It was a wonderful time, and in many ways a very sad time, as I sat in the front yard of my family home – a home I had known since I was less than 5 years old – and listened to my mom reminisce about the days now gone. I went back in my mind’s eye to the day we moved into this new neighborhood, one that was so brand new that most of the lots were still covered in mud or trees, the road was barely there and one could find lots with only new foundations poured for a future home to be built upon them. Those homes, now fully built and aged some 45+ years, are now almost all owned and occupied by ‘others’, all but one – my home – is all that holds one of the original occupants from so long ago.
 
A generation has since come and passed through the walls and lived on this street we so warmly called home, Clayton Avenue. I stood in our front yard, holding my mom’s hand as we walked back into the only home that I can really remember well, and as I turned I saw the two long rows of homes, one on either side of this simple, one block long street, and remembered the faces that once were, now vanquished only to my memory: my father, Alton, Mr. & Mrs. Longley, The Spencers’ and Miller’s, The home of the Mr. & Mrs. Dedad and my fist best friend, David, Joanne, the single woman down the street, and Foy and his wife Marie, my mom’s best friend in all the world. Tony, called “T”, and his wife who was one of the last, Marianne, just gone this past month now and resting next to her husband; a husband she missed so dearly. The Flatleys’ and Grandma DeDad and that long-time wooded lot we affectionally called, “The Woods”, where I built my first ‘fort’ with David and our friend, Robby. Yes, the rows stood the test of time, but the people, they are now all gone…all gone, but one now, my mom.

 

Later, we visited my dad’s grave at Laurel Hill Cemetery. My family and I stood there and then after a prayer and a few tears, we got down on our hands and knees and cared for the chores of weeding, edging, and then placed mulch and flowers capped by one U.S Flag to mark my father’s care of us and his nation in WWII. We stood together – as a family held together through the years of love and pain, disagreement, illness and being frightened, misunderstanding, agreement and hope and let down, through moments of great joy and heartache – and then we held hands and wept for the one not there among us, at least not the way he once was; the way we wish he still were…
 
Then, we gathered our composure and I wiped my eyes dry and looked up and down and saw two rows – standing strong – but this time, not of homes, but of tombstones marking the graves of those now held as part of my life and legacy and the manner in which I see the world today: my father, Alton, Mr. & Mrs. Longley, The Spencers’ and Miller’s, Grandma DeDad, T, and now Marianne; my Uncle Jim and his wife Hazel, their son, Richard, one day me. Yes, it was insightful and I needed to know that I can go home again.

 

We built something so wonderful here at Saint Miriam. It is a home to many of us, just as strong and as needed as that one I grew up in on Clayton Avenue so long ago now. And that is where I will focus what days I have left on this earth, because that is now home for me and is the most valuable asset I have to care for in all the world.
 


Anything For God is Worth the Effort.

 

The Greek word leitourgia derives from two root words – ‘laos’, the people, and ‘ergas’, a work. But the popular definition being that “liturgy is “the work of the people,” can be highly misleading. Leitourgia was never actually used to mean “the work of the people”. It was, rather, a word that described acts of public service, usually initiated by a private benefactor. So, by way of example, some wealthy person might build a temple and foot the bill privately, but the work itself was for the community. Likewise, any public work done in service to “the gods”, but that would also benefit an entire community, would qualify as leitourgia. It’s work, yes; but, it’s always about the people. So let us be clear:  it’s not the people’s work, it’s work “for the people”, and transformative of the wider world. It is for me, like the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, the phrase found in the Mishnah, a body of classical rabbinic teachings, a Jewish concept defined by acts of kindness performed to perfect or repair the world. In other words, by our actions we heal a broken world. That is liturgy to me.

So, with that in mind, liturgy at Saint Miriam might legitimately said to be our work for God; a work and act that transforms the world for the better, and benefits people. But liturgy isn’t mine or yours. In short, it’s never just about me, or you, it is about God and the community. Liturgy and attending Mass heals. Sadly, many Catholics don’t see it that way. Rather, it is viewed as a must, or an obligation, and joy is thereby removed from our attendance. You derive much less joy from being forced than from attending something by our own will. That is why I relish celebrating the Mass! It is a beautiful and moving experience where I become closer to God and my week is better off for it. My joys heightened, my sorrows diminished, my strength improved. However, since few agree, we come to another ending…

The 4:00pm Late Mass will be ending this month. June 26th will be its last day. Why? No commitment. No participation from our parishioners, and declining attendance make the Mass a hardship on our clergy, and to be honest, there is nothing more depleting for our priests than to invest all the time, energy, and planning to make our liturgies so beautiful and meaningful and then to have few show up.

Now, let us be clear here: it was not any of us in parish leadership who created the Late Mass out of whole cloth; it was many of our parishioners who asked us for it. “We can’t always come in the morning, so we would be able to still meet our Mass obligation.” And, our last parish wide survey results regarding the Mass times question added a, “later afternoon Mass” as the number one request. So we did what you asked and we were met with resistance when it came to helping us to serve, read, and greet. So it failed. Ministry is not a priest-only sport!

Humans have a terrible time taking information that they haven’t directly experienced and turning it into feelings in our hearts, wisdom in our minds, and action in our hands. There always exists a great divide between what we “know” and what we “feel” remains. We “know” that we can be forgiven our sins and walk with Christ to the promises of Heaven. But do we really understand what that means, what that entails? The Church is good about turning lofty ideals into tangible elements that we can experience. That is why attendance at Mass and fellowship with the community of the faithful is so important.

Let us, then, work in our hearts and minds to ever try to realize – truly realize – what God has done for us, what He wants for us, and how we can do His will on Earth. Let us begin to attend Mass as a joyful act – together as a family – because, regardless of what we think we “know”, it is in that small act of participation that we make the truth real and we truly become closer to God.
 
Anything for God is worth the effort; just ask Noah.
 


The Honoring of Commitment.

 
Do you trust yourself? Do others trust you? Do you follow through with promises you make to yourself, your family, your communities, and others? Or, do you let yourself and others down on a regular basis like skipping your workout, not making time to eat well, going to bed late, saying “yes” to one more project you don’t really want or expect to do, allowing others to ‘pick up the slack’ where you left off or just walked away, not attending Mass weekly? Are repeatedly feeding your mind with “I’m not worth it,” or “Other people’s needs are less important than mine.” If so, then this week’s message is for you.
 
You see, I already used it for myself. I do every anniversary to my priesthood, which is tomorrow. I stop, think, look back, pray, reminisce, and often cry. I look at my failures, my successes, my ‘should have’s’ and ‘why did I do that’s’! I use my anniversary as a time to gauge how well a Christian I am; how good a Catholic priest. I am not always the best, but I always give my best. I know how to commit, how to follow through, and how to love abundantly. I do so, often with the harsh words of some, the disdain of others, and a few compliments now and then, too. I continue on because I made a promise some 30+ years ago when I decided to begin a journey to ordained life. I renewed it as a Deacon, then a Priest, a Friar, and then a Bishop. I am not proud of every moment, but I am proud of my journey overall.
 
This Sunday we will mark another journey as we dedicate the new beautiful iron gates for our cemetery. It may seem like not much at all until you realize that these gates were dreamed of, fashioned collaboratively, planned for, and then made reality through work, dedication, and commitment. The funds came from the Cemetery Trust – it is only there because people we never met gave generously to create it so we would not have to worry about the care of the cemetery property. These gates also follow on the heels of many such projects: purchasing this property we now call home, the extensive renovations, lighting, painting, land development, tree removal, numerous upgrades and interior renovations, the school and offices, new kitchen and appliances, the St. Francis statue that greets us, and soon the pet memorial garden and new St. Francis Section F with a beautiful new Joliet Francis Statue there, too! All of it resulted from deep and generous commitments, mine and many others, who have honored their promises to God and to one another. But some of our parishioners have not done so. Some of have failed to support us on a weekly basis through stewardship, some have already neglected to keep up on their Building Campaign pledges, some are not showing up to serve Mass, as promised, to read, serve as acolytes and Eucharistic Ministers, and some do not even attend Mass weekly. In other words, they have failed to honor their commitments.
 

St. Francis of Assisi was a man without covetousness, without anger, and without delusion and a person who committed himself to the special ministry of “healing wounds, to uniting what was falling apart, and bringing home those who have lost their way.” Through his commitment, his legacy has lasted down through the centuries to us here today. Think of this: none of what we have, none of the great gifts we recognize and honor and live our lives by would exist if he just walked away and failed to keep his promises. From the famous Prayer of St Francis, to our school that cares for so many children, our parish, our cemetery, down to our beautiful campus today; from my own vows as a Friar to our welcoming everyone – none of this would be here for we would not be here because here would not be.

This week we build yet again on the legacy we started just a mere nine years ago or so with our coming together to bless these new cemetery gates, but by doing so we do something more: we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice, who served this nation without running away whom we call Veterans, and something deeper: we honor commitment.

I am a man of honor and commitment. I am not perfect, but I have never once failed you. You may think me too hard, but I never ask of you more than I double on myself. I have worked for you without pay, while being treated for a brain tumor, and without sleep for days’ end, and I give half of my income to the parish. I expect the honoring of commitments for those who call Saint Miriam home. While I do not expect that you will sacrifice as much as I do, I do expect equal commitment to the care of this parish. When you fail to keep your promises, fail to show up to help, fail to give to support us, someone else must pick up that promise, fill in, or dig deeper. That is not only unfair, it is not Christian.

At the core of Francis’ spirituality was the belief, “My God loves me.” And so he reduced his prayer to “My God and my all.”  Therefore, I will look for you to attend Mass more regularly, honor your stewardship and care of this parish community on a regular basis, and love one another through the keeping of your commitments and promises to our building fund and one another and all who come to visit us. Why? Because as your pastor that is my job to remind you – and myself – when we are failing to honor God. We are better. We are Saint Miriam.

 


We Keep Our Eyes on Jesus.

 

In our culture today, everything has become increasingly caustic to human and human dignity. Words have become more volatile, communication instant and devoid of feeling, rhetoric more hateful, vehicles armored, guns with larger magazines more deadly, social media is harsh, communities less caring, politics more mean-spirited, international relations more and more hostile, and yes, even Jesus has become weaponized.

Church and religion are nothing more than vehicles to promote hate, separation, division, and a culture of inhumanity and hatred. Scripture is used to divide and to falsely condemn. From the Vatican to the compound of Franklin Graham to a church near you. They are more like inclusive, invite-only clubs than parishes where who is in and who is out is often determined by the strongest – the Pharisees and Sadducees of the day –  rather than than those who are in need of inclusion and love. In other words, the weakest are once again on the outside looking in, being further oppressed and marginalized, as the insiders – the rich, the powerful, the in-crowd and the often white and rich and non-struggling – are being warmed by the glow of their own denial of the true gospel, as they worship their non-Mexican, non-poverty ridden, non-Afro-Asiatic, non-inclusive, and weaponized version of Jesus.

And, to be clear, this construct of Jesus is an equal opportunity hater. The list is endless but includes the non-patriotic, the non-white, the non-straight, the divorced, the female, the immigrant, the bullied, the non-Catholic, and oh, ya, the non-believer, too, because after all they are of the devil, right? It seems lately that God is far more concerned with gender identity, who wins the Whitehouse, and proper restrooms for folks to use based on some archaic interpretation of the lawgiver, than on war, poverty, genocide, and lifting valleys and bringing down hills, huh?

The lines in the world have been drawn more clearly now. In this information age of instant communication and instant results, we are awash with a variety of means to determine how formerly called ‘cute quirks’, or differences, can be turned from pride to sources of shame. We are not permitted to beat our children now, so we do worse: we shun when our sons say they want to be princesses, or force our daughters to wear pretty flower-print dresses when they want to wear pants or play with fire engines. We reject out of hand those whose views are different rather than embrace individuality.  In our brave new world, their is no welcoming God; there is just us.

This new weaponized God, whose greatest concern in the universe, is making sure that gender norms are strictly enforced is a projection formed by our need for an uncomplicated world. God’s love is threatened by today’s freaks so we must ban together to deny them ever flourishing as human beings. We create new priests and pastors and other religious leaders who are cut from the same cloth as us, and who will inform and direct and deny the life-giving Gospel to protect our version of the Church so as to enable us to freely hate under the cloak of religious freedoms. Today’s Christians are not interested in love, but rather a Neanderthal image of a God with lightning bolts who strikes out if they should ever fully know Him and they would rather retain a first century anthropology than welcome everyone under their theological tent.  How sad, or worse…  

Why would we think that God would love everyone – even those society deems as different – all of God’s created, all of them God’s children, and include their families, their parents, their communities, and even us, those who dare to embrace them; could God not love us as God once did our ancestors whom He led from the harshness of oppression and slavery through the sea and desert alike? Why would we ever think – and worst, project unto others – that God would give them a snake when they ask for a fish, or a scorpion when they ask for bread?
 
Not here. Not at Saint Miriam. Ever. We believe and follow the one true God, our Jesus, the Christ of the world and all that is; the loving God who died with arms outstretched so that all – every.single.soul – might live.
 
We keep our eyes on Jesus…
 


“Social Meania”

 

So when I drove by this sign stuck lazily in the ground by the side of the road, insisting I “invite someone to church this month,” all I could do was shake my head in wonder and dismay. That lawn sign for me, with its tone of religious obligation, was an all-too-accurate metaphor of American churchianity. Stuck in the ground so half-heartedly that the person couldn’t even bother to push it in all the way.” So begins an article by author, Stephen Schmidt, entitled, ‘Please, Stop Inviting Your Friends to Church’, and so begins my sojourn into why we demand us – we who make up the face of Saint Miriam – be different!

Pause just for a moment today and visit your Facebook page and you will see what I call “Social Meania”! Every mean thing that can said, shared, posted, and turned into a ‘meme’ can be found on 30 square inches of computer screen! Yes, ‘keyboard courage’ is alive and well, especially in God’s Christendom. Ironically, we then sit back and ask why more folks just don’t come to church! Really?

Three out of five people who use social media say at least a few times a month someone is rude to them. And the rudeness doesn’t stop online. In fact, technology was blamed by more than 80 per cent of people surveyed by Insights West as the root cause of our growing incivility, making it the No. 2 reason (behind parents not teaching their kids manners) that people think we are becoming less civil to each other. And, when it comes to online incivility, younger people seem to suffer most. It is no wonder they don’t want to sit through a sermon on how the world is evil, Mexicans should be left at border, gays must be damned, and don’t forget that divorced folks are not welcomed here either! Why go?  Hell, I don’t want to go to a place like that, do you? No!

The current mass exodus from being Catholic isn’t because people aren’t showing up for Mass on Sunday, and it’s not because some of us don’t invite our friends and family either. It is because there is no relevance to the way they see the world; a world already filled with enough division and hatred toward their friends, family, and coworkers. In other words, it’s because we are showing up, and not giving the visitor what they need: a real connection with this guy we have romanticized away into an almost coloring book version of Himself, and who is certainly no longer present on Facebook, His name is Jesus, and He is who we actually follow at Saint Miriam. But, sadly we are more and more alone.

Folks are scared. They see your social meannes and the insensitive crap that you share on your various social media pages, and then when you invite them to come to your ‘wonderful church’ they are afraid; afraid of you, afraid of what they might be hit with, and mostly afraid by what the newest church goers are: walking away just as empty as when they walked in, or worse, being re-hated or having their own self-doubt re-tweeted within themselves.

At the pastor of this deeply wonderful and engaged parish of Saint Miriam that I have the honor of pastoring, we walk the talk! Our radical welcome is gospel-based! We care for children, the homeless, those in need; we support parishioner and stranger alike who can’t make ends meet; we bring coffee to the man in our parking lot when his car broke down as he waited in the cold rain and snow, we offered shelter to a family of refugees, and I even married a couple who was literally hours away from being deported while the ICE agents waited in the parking lot! We cloth the ill and sorrowful with prayer shawls for comfort, hand-knit by our own hands, we pray for the sick, the injured, and the dying, we honor the dead, anoint the fading, and hold hands of the survivor. We make homemade soup for our shut-ins and offer social groups to bring folks together. We honor our Blessed Mother with the rosary every week, because we know our lives are in need of support and intercession. We marry folks where they want because they need to know that their priests are willing to actually come to them. And, we baptize a lot of babies and a few adults, too! (Man, do we baptize here!) Yes, we have a strong social component to our parish, and even a Cafe‘ to feed us and those who visit, but the main life blood for us is that we believe – with all that we are – in the One named Jesus.

And because we know Him, we must welcome everyone – the black and white, yellow and red, the gay, divorced, and questioning, too, the interracial couple, the widow and the orphaned, different-sexed and same-sexed families, the lost and the sinner, the immigrant and the foreigner, the ex-offender, and the marginalized or forgotten, the bullied and the whole, the straight, the wealthy and the needy, and yes, even those who cannot sing! Everyone is welcome through our doors, within our hearts, and at our altar. And, we must be willing to go to them  – wherever they might be – when needed, too! We must visit the shelter, the hospital, and the prison, the club, the home, shelter, or nursing home alike. We must because Jesus often met those in need ‘on the road’ to where they thought they were once going…

As I often remind you, the one great lesson that I learned a long time ago at the hands of my mentor, Father Henry Kryder, while I was still a young seminarian (Yes, I was…I know what you are thinking!), is this: “A home-going priest makes for a full church.”  This applies to you, too. Think of that next time you go to hit ‘send’ on that keyboard of yours, or post that next obnoxious meme that degrades someone.

Would you want to go to church with you?
 
 


The Reality of a Young Parish: Meeting Christ at the Entry Doors.

 

There were two events on the life of our parish recently that may have slipped your notice. First, last Sunday we dedicated and blessed our newly-renovated church doors, and secondly, in the same week, we updated our Facebook banner image.

Now, normally I do not write about each time we update our Facebook page, or we would be hearing about it every week! But, this week, it is rather significant in that the image is entitled, “There are Rules, Then there are People.”   The image contained the following narrative:

“We began only 8 years ago in a rented space in a synagogue in Philadelphia and have grown to a campus that includes a beautiful parish, a caring community of Franciscans, a wonderful school, and an historic cemetery. Many people ask us how and the answer is always the same: we know how to love. Yes, there are rules, but then there are people!”

You see, that really is the essence of our hope – a hope that we bring through our radical welcome every week here at Saint Miriam. It is also why those doors are so important to us and why they took so long to complete. I asked Ed Worthington to design his architectural work to tie in the created door pulls to our Altar and other liturgical furniture in the Sanctuary that he had previously completed. Why?  Because what we do in the Sanctuary is meaningless if we neglect the robust welcome at our front doors. And, what we do at the front doors, is only completed when we welcome others – all the others who come and wish to to find Jesus – to receive the Body and Blood of Christ at our Altar. It is amazingly simply and drastically complex; and it is needed.

For eight years now, Saint Miriam has been sustained by a small number of persons who give very generously, often filling whatever revenue gap remained after pledges were returned. I myself have forgone receiving a salary so that we might continue to grow and reach where we are today, but this has placed a tremendous hardship on me now. Our economic demographic has changed now, too, and our present and future financial stability depends on greater generosity from the whole parish. That is why I am informing you that we did not meet our 2016-2017 budget goals in this year’s stewardship appeal, and if we do not raise the median pledge level, and receive stewardship pledges from those of you who have not yet given, we will begin to make cuts and the first cut will be staffing. That is correct, you will see less of the people who care for you and more of the burden will shift to me. Once I break, I am sure the parish will not flourish. This is not egotistical; it is simply the reality of a young parish.

Now, the solution is rather simple: everyone should share the burden of the budget. As I often say, I am not seeking equal giving, I am insistent, however, on equal sacrifice. It is what being a good steward is all about. You may be interested in knowing that it takes an average of $27.50 per week, per person to keep us here. So, if your giving is less than that, others must make it up. If you cannot give that amount, I understand, but everyone can give something and everyone can give regularly, especially using electronic means to help us remain healthy and vibrant. If we were able to raise the median pledge — if many were to give a bit more — our pledge base would increase easily and significantly. The 2015 median pledge was approximately $1,200, and what we need is only $1,340, or just over $11.00 more per month, per person. I think that is very doable. I know that it is.

Do the open doors and our radical and inclusive welcome also include those who give so generously, too? I think Saint Miriam is worth the effort and the support.
 
Please complete your pledge form by Clicking Here today.
 


“Staying in the Water: It’s Always About the Journey”

 

God proclaims at the end of our Second Reading from the Book of Revelations, “Behold, I make all things new.” That is a good thing to remember on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, and as we honor a life of service in our priests. In the opening verse of this reading from Holy Scripture, John also says, “I…saw a new heaven and a new earth.” The Easter season reveals this newness to us, and we must always keep it in mind.

The Greek word used for what is translated as “new” is kaine.  As is normally the case, that particular Greek word has multiple meanings, one of which is “fresh.” We are not speaking of a heaven and earth, which did not exist before, but of a heaven and earth that are fresh in their newness!

This is not just a “new” perspective, then, but a better one. If we strive to live out our lives as disciples of Christ, if we make a complete effort to be God’s disciples, we inherit this new heaven. In it, as also indicated in our Second Reading, God expresses His desire to be in close fellowship with us, and we in turn must desire to be God’s people. Being a disciple should be the whole purpose of our lives. That is not easily achieved, nor is it without obstacles and hurdles for us, but it is what our purpose should be.

This past Monday evening, around 9:30pm, I had just gotten back from our fundraiser at the Fireside Bar & Grille and found a homeless man sleeping next to our bronze Jesus statue located on the front steps to our parish. I asked him if he was ok and he jumped up and said “I’ll leave I’m sorry”! I said ‘no, don’t I just wanted to make sure you’re ok’ – (Truth be told, I actually was making sure that he was alive, as first all I saw was two feet sticking out!) he was apparently walking to Lansdale and was tired so he pulled our new door mat over and used his jacket as a pillow. We talked for a bit before I turned in and I learned his name was Steve. I handed him a $20 bill before beginning my shirt walk home, but he almost wouldn’t take it until I told him I’m stubborn and wouldn’t let him sleep on my parish steps if he didn’t take the offering. I said, “We are in this journey together, Steve.’ It is not pity, it is sharing.” 

‘Staying the in water’, is one of my favorite phrases. It means that the journey is not always easy; it isn’t meant to be, but to those who stay in the water and remain faithful, change comes, growth comes, joy comes, God comes. God often comes in such small and imperceptible ways, whatever you do today don’t miss Him, or your chance to make someone’s life a little better, or to help make all things new  by your own life of service!
 
Thank you, to Father Joseph, and all my fellow priests and religious, for staying in the water even when the journey gets hard; and thank you, Steve, for visiting and for reminding me why I remain a priest.
 


Stand or Fail?

 

It is not easy being Christian and Catholic in today’s world. It simply isn’t and that is the hard truth. Our society, because of the critical nature of the media in large part, tends to view people of faith and morals with some distrust. And, sadly, many folks who follow the Christian faith, use it as a weapon against others. That is a challenge for us, but one that is not insurmountable.

I spent last week being a pastor. I took a stand; a hard stand on inclusion within our school and parish. I stated, rather empathically, that as long as I am pastor there would be no hate practiced at Saint Miriam. I meant it. We lost one parishioner who stated that I needed to exclude divorced people from Communion. No. I will not. There is enough hatred and divisiveness in the world today. I want us to be better than that, to become what the world is to be under the reign of our loving God; not a place of hate. We will learn to love by loving. Yes, there are rules, but then there are people. That is more important. No, it is not easy being Christian and Catholic in today’s world.

Paul and Barnabas this week experience something similar in Sundya’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles. The people of Antioch in Pisidia “expel [them] from the territory.” No one likes or appreciates rejection. It is humiliating and discouraging. There may be times in our own lives when we follow firmly our Catholic beliefs and experience something similar. However, like Paul and Barnabas, we need to become even more determined in our desire to be a Disciple of the Lord.

In their case, they moved on to Iconium and continued their ministry and their firm message of love and hope. In fact, Sacred Scripture adds, “The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.”  We, too, need to seek that joy and to understand that we have been blessed and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

This past week, I pleaded with all of you, as my fellow parishioners, to stand up for what we believe in and support the good of of our parish by pledging to our annual stewardship appeal. We have grown in many ways since our move to this beautiful campus by almost 19%! And, 11.2% of those new folks signed up to give a regular and recurring donation every week. Sadly, 78% of others have not. This is not only unacceptable, but we cannot make budget. If this is your will, we will fail. It is as simple – and sad – as that. Perhaps, after all, I am not the right leader if I cannot even encourage us to do the bare minimum as Christians and support the work of the church… 
 
The redwood trees of northern California coast are the tallest trees on earth. These skyscrapers reach over 350 feet in height, a scale that is difficult to comprehend until it is seen first hand. What most people never know is that the root system of the redwood tree is surprisingly shallow, especially given the great height the mature tree attains. There is no tap root and the other roots may reach no deeper than a mere ten feet. Even the major roots are less than one inch in diameter and they typically spread 50 to 80 feet. These roots grow so shallow and yet they need to support a tree that is the height of a football field! So how are these shallow roots able to do their job?  Well, one way in which the trees are able to remain upright for millennia is by growing close together with other redwood trees, intermingling root systems. In other words, they stand close and hold on to one another and that gives them the strength to withstand storm and age…
 

Blessed Mother Teresa once said, “Give yourself fully to God. He will use you to accomplish great things on the condition that you believe much more in His love than in your own weakness.”  Like Paul and Barnabas, and Mother Teresa, we need to seek and utilize God’s strength and support the work of the church. In other words, we need you, too.

Today, it is your choice.  Click Here and pledge today. 

Stand or fail?