Reflections of Thanksgiving by Our Pastor…

Steve Maraboli, in Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience, once penned, “There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a person being themselves. Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you.”

I can think of no more fitting tribute to apply to our Monsignor Joe Klemas! He lived a true and authentic life; one that healed the world in small ways all the days of his life. He was a good priest. What more needs to be said?

To all who helped, set up, called, cooked meals, answered phones, visited Father’s family, sent cards, offered support, gave to his memorial fund, cleaned, prepared the grounds and garden, parked the hundreds of cars that came, set up the sacristy, loved us, grieved, sat vigil with Monsignor Joe’s body for those 25+ hours so he would not be left alone, and traveled many miles to be with us over the three days of his funeral tributes, I am grateful.

To the funeral directors at Boyd Horrox Life Celebration Home in Norristown, PA, especially their supervisor, Richard Falicki: thank you for the manner in which you cared for Monsignor Joe and his family – and us here at the parish. There were many times you could have simply went back to the funeral home, but instead chose to stay with us longer so ensure we were all ok. You went beyond what any funeral home ever has done and it was noticed.

To my parish family: there has never been a more committed, authentic, and loving group of people. You are hospitable to the demands of the sacred scripture! You stayed your plans for the holiday weekend and instead worked, loved, and grieved together. You put together a food event to save the family the cost of a restaurant and it was beyond measure. You cleaned, worked, and continued to do what we do best at Saint Miriam: you loved one another and all who came through our doors. You should be proud!

To all of our church clergy: the bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons who attended the Funeral Mass, and to her leadership, especially our Presiding Bishop, Gregory, who traveled more than 16 hours to be with us as we grieved simply to hold us close: thank you. Thank you for showing the world that you can be Catholic and loving simultaneously.

There were so many faces and so many hands that pulled together to make this event possible. It allowed us to grieve better and to say farewell to Father Joe. I wish that I could thank every one of you personally, but I would surely miss someone and that would break my heart. So please….please accept this admittedly inadequate and humble thank you from your pastor who loves you beyond measure.

In the end, we honored Monsignor Joe beautifully. He deserved that very much and all of you who helped to make it possible deserve my sincerest and heartfelt thanksgiving.

Know of my love,

+Jim

 



Moonlight Memoirs.

“Two mice — one black and one white, 
Follow each other on a cold, lonely night. 
What are they up to? 
Where are they going? 
They hurry through shadows 
Under the moon’s silent glowing.”

So begins the delightful children’s book, Moonlight Memoirs, described by the publisher as “an enchanting, award-winning tale about the everlasting love of family and friends.” It certainly is all that.

This book has been featured on Lifetime Television Network, Moonlight Memoirs – Remembering that Family and Friends are Forever, and is an award-winning picture book written by teen author Maggie Mei Lewis and illustrated by Melody Lea Lamb. It is an exquisitely illustrated story about two curious mice who venture into a moonlit winter’s night. Their outing becomes a life-changing event when they meet an old mouse who beckons them to follow. This mouse – along with several other animal friends – teaches the two mice a comforting lesson about love’s eternal nature. This beautifully written story offers comfort, hope, and everlasting love to individuals of all ages who are reaching for a shining light in the darkness of grief.

I have been touched by the darkness of grief this year: a grief so deep that at times, even still, I can barely catch my breath. So have several other families of those we have loved, grieved, and buried as a parish. Now we prepare for another, one that cuts deeply, but one that we must remain vigilant in hope and trust in God.

“Our past, our present, our future– 
Each birth, each life, and each death– 
In the stars, the story of life is kept…Like light from the stars, We’re here and we’re there. We watch those we love…With such tender care.”

Tonight, if weather permits, look up to the sky and find peace. Pray for the sick, the injured, the dying, and the dead. Pray for Monsignor Joe. Pray for all those you love. Tomorrow, go online to http://www.moonlightmemoirs.com/ or make a visit to your local library or bookstore and get your own copy of Moonlight Memoirs. It’s magical thinking at its most poignant. It will help you, as it helped me, to find peace and growth even in despair.

“So, whenever you feel alone or in doubt — 
Never fear. 
Simply believe, know that your loved ones are always ever near.”



From Eastertide to Pentecost: A Season of Birth!

In just a mere few of days we will begin to turn away from Easter and look toward the birth of the Church, as Christ leaves His earthly realm for Heaven; where one day, we will all join Him! So, I thought that I would begin to prepare us as a parish by looking ahead and tell a little story with a valuable lesson entwined withon!

One day a priest was giving a lecture to a group of students about the Ascension of Christ, when three students stood up and asked him three different questions. The questions were: What does the Ascension mean to Jesus? What does Jesus do in heaven? Where does that leave all of us?

What does Ascension really mean to Christ? For Christ, His Ascension means that His work, sufferings, and sorrows as a mortal man are over. It means that His Humanity has been united with His Divinity. It means that by His Ascension, the way toward heaven has been opened up, and our journey to the Kingdom has begun, too!

What does Jesus do in heaven? In the Apostles Creed, we say, “He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of His Father …. And He will come again to judge the living and the dead.” It means that He, the Father, and the Holy Spirit now enjoy watching what ordinary eyes have not seen, ordinary ears have not heard, and ordinary man never imagined i.e., to be present in everything that we do and wherever we go in creation. There’s nothing that can be hidden from God.

Where does this leave us? In the Ascension story, in the Acts of the Apostles, it says that two angels appeared and told the followers of Jesus, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

The question was supposed to move them to carry out their mission. For the Ascension of Jesus to bear fruit, His followers must continue the mission of Our Lord and be witnesses to His truth. When Christ ascended into heaven he said, “You will be my witnesses”!

As Christians we can never live our Christianity only ‘in our head’, we must use our hands and feet and lips. We can never sneak comfortably into heaven without bearing witness for our Christ. As Catholics we must attend Mass weekly, honor the Social consciousness of our faith, and bring our faith to others, as invite others to live with us by being faithful. It is about sacrifice, but no sacrifice could ever be as great as the gift Jesus gave to us.

If we want to follow Jesus in heaven, we have to keep His word and He will guide us through life and point us in the right direction.  Let us not just talk about loving, but show it through our works and the manner in which we live our our faith by loving everyone: It is what we call at Saint Miriam, our radical welcome!

We are God’s witnesses to the world and we welcome everyone to our doors and in our hearts. As we wait for the second coming of Jesus, we will be confronted with the world and its demands, but we are to remain faithful to Jesus.  So we must be brave in standing by our beliefs and religious convictions and honor our faith and traditions. We must take the Gospel into the world, but we cannot do any of it if we stay away from church.  Our sustenance comes from our gathering together every week.

One day, after a dangerous filming session of the movie “Quo Vadis”, a story of the persecutions of Christians in Rome, a TV reporter asked actress Deborah Kerr, “Were you afraid when the lions rushed you in the arena?”  She replied, “No. I have read the script and I knew somebody would rescue me.”

We already have been rescued, now let us honor our Lord and the gift of one another by being faithful to all that God has given us at Saint Miriam.

 



She has my ear, and my heart. Forever.

Motherhood is a very high calling. What relationship could ever replace the love of a mother and a grandmother? It is essential for women to realize that the love, guidance, and influence they provide to their children are distinct and invaluable. It should be celebrated and honored, not just on Mother’s Day, but everyday. For once it’s gone, it changes the man or woman left behind, forever.

George Washington once said, “My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.” And Abraham Lincoln spoke similar words when he said, “All that I am or ever hope to be, I owe to my angel Mother.”

I agree. I wish to tell you all about my mom, but where do I even begin?  The task is arduous and complex. There is no simple place to start. After all, it’s been 48 long years since she has been my mom! How could I possibly due her justice in one simple post? It isn’t possible, but I’ll try my best.

It is my mother and her love for me that allowed me to come out of the darkest hours, the worst mistakes, and the deepest sorrow. It was the love of my mother that taught me to love others with the same passion, opened my heart to the world, and to those stuck on her margins; to give and to do so generously and without desiring or expecting anything in return. It was at my mother’s table that I learned the meaning of abundance, love, openness, family, and welcome. It was my mom that taught me how to be a strong pastor, a good leader, and (at times!) a wonderful priest. It was mom who first loved me, first kissed me, first held my hand, and first told me that she loved me beyond anything in the world. It was my mother, by her own example, that showed me how to forgive and mend and to let go. It was my mother who raised foster children, adopted orphans like me, and opened her home, and her heart, to the elderly with no place to go. It was my mother that welcomed the lame, the hurting, the ill, the handicapped, the transgendered, and the outcast. My mother knew what a home was supposed to be and she worked hard to give my sister and I one every day. I owe everything that I am to her and the unconditional love and acceptance she showed with every action, every breath, every word. I could not have asked, nor created, a better mom. She has my ear, and my heart. Forever.

Perhaps the most amazing fact about my mom is that she grew up with virtually nothing, and yet gave so much away. She lost her own mom at the tender age of nine, and yet still became one of the best mother’s in the world. She lost her father just three years later at the age of 12 and was taken in by her aunt, and yet she opened – without any reservation – her own home to others without thinking even twice about it. She taught my sister, Andrea, to be a good mother, too, and she, in turn, has raised two more beautiful boys and I am proud to call her my sister and Stephen and Matthew, my nephews. They all have good and honest hearts because my mother taught my sister and me how to love with wild abandon! Yes, my mother is a miracle. Her life has the deepest legacy available to anyone: a wonderful mother. She has my ear, and my heart. Forever.

And since my mother taught me to honor all women, and gave me the love of my Blessed Mother, I would be remiss if I did not also thank all the women around me today. I am very grateful for the hard work and dedication of the women in our parish, especially the mothers who coddle me when I am away from my own mother. They can sense my sadness and they reach out without questioning. I know that if it were not for the love and dedication of these fine women, this parish would not exist. And, when I am missing my mom, I know that one of them will reach out to me – selflessly – and give me the courage and hope to continue to serve as pastor here. That’s is, after all, what a mom does!

This year, for the first time since we founded our parish, I am not with you this Mother’s Day. Instead, I needed to be home. Since the death of my father, I have felt the tug of home almost every day. My grief is so very deep and I simply knew that I needed to go home. I needed to be with my mom and to feel her near me. And so, allow me from across the miles to wish you a blessed Mother’s Day. Allow me to give each of you my thanksgiving. And to the moms of the parish, consider yourselves hugged from my home to your home. I leave you with the words of Washington Irving:

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”  

Yes, my mom has my ear, and my heart. Forever.

 



Mass is TOO long! The Distance is TOO far! The….

 

Here is a concern, or perhaps one might even consider it a complaint, that I fielded this past week, and then another voice from a parishioner with a family from a few weeks ago follows. It is so often difficult to pastor in a world that wishes for expediency in all things. I urge you to remember that faith formation and fellowship within a parish community is not an area that can, or should, be done with an eye on ‘getting it done fast’.

The issues: “Monsignor, I do not understand why much of the Mass is sung and that it lasts more than an hour! Also, when it comes time for the readings, the lector walks all the way up from a pew in the congregation, bows, reads, and bows again! Why?! That just creates further delay! Then there are those minutes for silent reflective time after the readings and homily, which I find tedious.”

And then, the second one: “My family and I travel almost 30 minutes to come to Mass every week. We have two children in tow, too. It is simply too far and I think we need to find another parish that is closer. We love everything about Saint Miriam, but the distance is too far and the special Masses are way too long, too. That is why we will not come for First Holy Communion and why we will not come to the May Crowning, and why we avoid all Masses with a baptism, too!”

My reply:  While I understand these concerns, we must realize that we are talking about he God of the universe here! The reverence, the pause, the bows, the holy water, the sign of the cross, and the silent prayers we make all show our devotion, love, and respect of that God. Too, everything that we have, all that we enjoy, including our family, children, and this very parish; the car we drive to get here, or not get here, the liturgy, the music, the musicians and ministry staff who give and sacrifice, and even the mind we use to formulate a disdain for long liturgy: it all comes from God!

I will be honest and direct here: it always irritates me when folks complain about the length of the Mass when we offer THREE in varied formats. If you want a ‘family oriented Mass’ come to the 9:00am Family Mass and you will be out in under 50-60 minutes. If you want a beautiful ‘liturgy and music focused’ Mass, enjoy the 10:30am Morning Mass and you will find that it will only last between an hour and an hour and a half on average, even with several baptisms. Finally, if you want, or need, to be expedient with God, come and sit in the Late Mass at 5:00pm and within 30 minutes or less, you are on your way.

My biggest concern is ‘what does this teach our children’? What does it say about us? What does it show the world when we willingly will go a mile away to the Plymouth Meeting Mall and enjoy a film and dinner, and add in a little a little shopping and drop $450 before we make it back home (a home given to you by God, by the way) and yet we will moan about spending time with God that averages about an hour as we leave a small gift (tip?) of $5 as make our hasty exit?

And what of our Baptismal Covenant? Do we all not remember that we made a promise to God to raise our children with the mandates of the holy Church, honor the sacraments, and make good Christians? How do we teach our children those very eternal-life-giving foundational elements when we show them by our actions that going to the mall is far more important than going to see God? Or that a 30 minute drive is simply too much of an inconvenience? And maybe we should all take a breath and remember that those people you are avoiding, the ones at Baptism and those at First Holy Communion, or Ordination, or Confirmation…they were there for you and your family. That is what a community is all about!
 

Read more...

The Soles of Our Shoes.

What a wonderful week together! Together as a family and as a community of faith, we welcomed a brand new priest and two brand new Christians, as well as our (not so ‘new’ but lovely none-the-less!) Archbishop to the open doors of our beautiful parish once again! We felt the love of God in many ways this past week, and God confirmed His love for us once again in many ways, too!

Two guests, present for the ordination of Father Joseph, took me aback on Saturday. They were friends who, during the beautiful reception at the Hilton, sat with me and confided that they had come with ‘preconceived notions’. They resented the Catholic Church and felt its oppression and hypocrisy were not the ‘ideal’ and they came with the determination to prove we were all ‘just the same’ no matter the polity. In other words ‘a Catholic is a Catholic is a Catholic’ and none are very good.

While I was a little stunned, I was not at all fully in disagreement! After all, that is why we built Saint Miriam to be different. We hold firmly to the history, the liturgy, the Apostolic Succession, the best of what a Catholic is, but we practice our Catholic Social Values with an eye always on a life of service, recognizing we are all in need of God’s grace, and care for the marginalized and the forgotten. Always. We are hospitable. To everyone. No exceptions.

In our conversation, we spoke of history and direction and love. The couple also confided in me that they were amateur art collectors and had a warm spot for religious art! (Ironic, but lovely!)  Then it happened! The wife says to me, “Bishop, what did it for me was when Joe prostrated before the altar. I had never seen that before. When Joe lay down and was flat to the floor, I was stunned and then I saw it. The soles of his shoes! All I could focus on were the warm words from your homily and those soles. I cried like a baby as it clicked for me: that was what a life of service was all about. The soles of your shoes!”

Wow! How wonderful an image for us! You see we recognize that our priests are human and  we work hard for others. We wear out the soles of many pair of shoes! We willingly get the soles of our shoes filthy, as we stand in the muck with others in their pain and toil. We lay down before the altar of the God of the universe with dirty, cracked, worn, and broken soles and yet we sing our song, Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Yes, a perfect image for a priest. A perfect image for what happened to me, and to Joseph just this past week, and to all who serve as good and honest priests in God’s holy Catholic Church…the soles of our shoes…

Fast forward to Sunday and we did it again! We welcomed two new Christians! Two beautiful baptisms were had! Archbishop Cass reminded us to be like ‘little children as we come to the Father’ at the 9:00am Family Mass, and then at the 10:30am Morning Mass, we were again confronted with more little ones! God reached down from Heaven and welcomed them into His fold at Baptism. Forever!

But in the back of the church – unbeknownst to most – there was a little bit of a ruckus. Two guests within our parish who came for the baptism of one of the little ones decided that we were not ‘a real  Catholic church’! They made Kathleen cry, and they told others around them not to go to communion! They sat with the arms crossed and their voices silent in a sort of protest. They refused to offer the Sign of Peace to others around them, nor did they recite The Lord’s Prayer with all of us, and then, they did the unthinkable! As I passed by and offered my hand in welcome, the man shook my hand, but his wife – oh no – she turned her back to me! I stood silent and shaken inside. I was wounded and hurt and deeply at that. I did not want to cause a scene, but this was simply unimaginable; unacceptable. How could anyone refuse to shake the hand of another; the most basic of human courtesies?

Read more...

Like Peas in a Pod…We Do a Lot of Good!

 
A wise person once said, “If you ever find the perfect church, don’t go there … you’ll ruin it!”  Well, we are not the perfect church so you’re welcome here! We’re just a group of ordinary people who have been overwhelmed by the outrageous love, grace, and mercy of God expressed in the good news of His Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
 
In response to the wonderful welcome from our God, just seven years ago we imagined and grew a community that shares that same love, grace, and mercy and now we share it with others anyway we can! It has allowed us to be sustained and to grow into the wonderfully warm parish that we are! We call it “making a difference in this world”, and we do a lot of good! Why? Because we believe in a better way. We believe that we can always be a better parish!
 
So, this week we prove it again in our welcoming yet another new priest! And, as Catholics, we should pause and embrace the inclusive love of God, as we do! We should marvel that a faith like ours could be so open, loving, inclusive and embracing of such diversity! We should give thanks to God who so graciously helped us form a community of faith and hope that models for the world what it can be one day if everyone would just pause long enough from division, and embrace each other as we are created: wonderfully in the image and likeness of God!
 
I often tell you that I leaned how to be a good priest – not in seminary, or through my twelve years of formation, although they were powerfully important – but rather at my mother’s dining room table where I learned firsthand how to love and be open to the world’s complex diversity. Yes, at her table we loved and welcomed everyone…just like here at Saint Miriam!
 
So, what makes a church a home? I know that it is not often the most perfect place, or the place that makes us feel joyful all the time, but compared to the rest of the world, she ain’t that bad, as they say! What makes a church a home is hard to define, but I know that there is something that calls me here every week. I also know that in those times where I feel like giving up, or running away, or not showing up, something inside of me beckons again, and I come. And, once here, I am glad that I did.
 
So, admittedly, Saint Miriam is not a perfect place. It isn’t meant to be. If you thought that this parish was to be perfect, please keep looking and know that I wish you well in your search. Because the truth is, it will never be. I will never be. You will never be. But…deep within my soul, this is home and it is where we know – and honor – our adage that ’God’s light shines brightest through our cracks.’
 
So, no, I do not know what makes a parish perfect, or even a good one at that, but I do know what makes a great priest: one who is willing to show up, even when at their worst; one who never stops to think of themselves first, one who gives even when it hurts, and one who is present for others, even when they wish themselves on a deserted beach somewhere. In other words, a good priest is someone who selflessly ministers and recognizes that they are the hands and feet of our Christ in the world today. They show up, time and time again. I have little doubt that today you will witness one such as this take on the mantle of priesthood in the order of Melchizedek.
 
Welcome to the table, Father Joseph! Pax et bonum!


Standing Together…A Holy Week!

I have now had a few days to reflect on our Holy Week and Easter experiences together as a community of faith. I was grateful that so many scheduled their lives to be with the Lord this year! Our attendance for the five primary days of Holy Week (Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, The Great Vigil of Easter, and Easter Sunday)  was up significantly over the last few years and those who attended felt renewed and truly witnessed (and experienced) firsthand what it means to be a Catholic during the holiest time of our year. It was a blessed experience and I am grateful to all who worked together to make the days happen and seem almost flawless!

There are many hands – from ministry and liturgy, to worship music, buildings and grounds, from set up to take down, to planning and cleaning, to those wonderful food events, and to those who attended, too – so many – too many to thank by name – but the most important thing to appreciate is that God knows who you are and saw your love for Him during these days of Holy Week.

Throughout sacred scripture we hear that God calls us to a new life, one that more closely resembles the life Jesus led. St. Paul explains that we are called to “put on a new self.” Not only will our outward actions change, but also our inner transformation will recreate our entire being! We will become, not merely better versions of ourselves, but a completely renewed people of faith! Through acts of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, by us gathering for Holy Week and celebrating the Resurrection, through patience and the showing of abundant and unreserved love, we become more like our Creator.

I am proud of the parish we are, the growth we are experiencing, all because we stand together.
 
 


Where Will You Be This Week?

 

As Christians we are a community that is often shaped by stories – the stories of our forefathers, the stories at the feet of our grandparents, the stories of our family history, the stories of our youth, and yes, the stories of God’s love, which called us, along with all of creation into our very being. It is what we know as Salvific History and it was God’s promises to be with us and deliver God’s people throughout history that allow us to move forward, even when we feel we cannot go another inch.

Each weekend, we as a community of faith come together to reflect on the stories found in the pages of Sacred Scripture. We then gather around the altar of God to re-enact one of those primary story events of our faith, but, in no other week in our liturgical year is the story as clear as it will be this week! This week is Holy Week!

We began this past Sunday by blessing palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” And now, before this week is over, we will find ourselves – the very same people – shouting with the crowd for the release of the one names Barabbas, a murderer, and to Jesus…we will demand one thing, “Crucify Him!”

I wonder if these stories mean anything to us anymore? Like many of the stories we hear throughout the year, from the voices of our grandparents and friends to those in church, this story, sadly, seems to lose its impact, and its ability to grab our attention, or to shock or even startle us. We have relegated it to folklore and pay it little heed in our modern lives. And yet, when this story is proclaimed, we are invited and challenged – not to just hear it – but to enter into it and to think of ourselves – not simply as someone listening to some ancient and mundane retelling of something familiar, but to ask ourselves, “Where do I fit in this story? With what character do I identify?” “What would I have done?”

Read more...