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?


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.