Palms of Hope, Hearts of Faith.

 

The blessing and distribution of palms takes place on this coming Sunday known as Palm Sunday, or Passion Sunday, and altar decorations feature palm branches, rather than flowers. The palms are solemnly blessed by our priests, and each worshipper holds the blessed palm during the singing of the ancient hymn, Gloria Laus (“All Glory, Laud and Honor”) and during reading of the Passion. It is quite lovely!

This year, we will also be trying something a little different when it comes to the reading of the long Passion Gospels, and a lot of time and effort has gone into this year’s Holy Week: the period of time during the last two weeks of Lent through the Great Vigil of Easter. Our thinking was to find a way to tie-in the journey to the cross that Jesus took directly with the Triduum itself, and, of course, to capture your attention and imagination to make it ‘real’ and meaningful! Therefore, we broke the gospel journey into ‘segments’ that match the intended focus of each of the four principle days of Holy Week, as follows:

1: Jesus’ Entry into Jerusalem, His Ministry, Jesus Clearing the Temple [the start of His troubles with the high priests] will occur on Palm Sunday.

2:  The Betrayal of Judas, and The Last Supper will occur on Maundy Thursday.

3: The Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus’ appearance before Pontius Pilate, and The Crucifixion will occur on Good Friday.

4: The Resurrection will occur at the Great Vigil of Easter.

It all begins this week with palms! The palms we will use this coming Sunday to begin our journey together are sacramentals, that is, they are signs of Christ’s grace, which help Christians in the practice of their faith, and – as they are associated with Christ’s triumph –  the palms symbolize victory over spiritual danger and death. As the blessed palms are such sacramentals, then Catholics keep them in their homes, customarily placing them behind a crucifix. (The ashes used next year on Ash Wednesday will come from the burning of blessed palms this year!) Will you join us for the most solemn and intense period of worship in the Christian faith? It begins this Sunday – Passion Sunday – or, Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before Easter.

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A Great Litany!

 
[Pastor’s Note: I am posting my weekly blog article early to perchance create a strong desire in all of you to join me this Sunday at our 10:30am Morning Mass for the Great Litany. Yes, the reading is a little longer, but the point of it all is to guide us ‘true north’ and I pray you will read it and grow from it. Please…a lot of work has gone into its thought and execution. Won’t you join us at Saint Miriam for something rather deeply moving?]
 
 

This Sunday is a special day. We will honor The Great Litany at the 10:30am Morning Mass. Now, before you go all off on ‘Oh dear God, another long Mass!’ Let me remind you that the Litany will occur at the beginning in procession and after its conclusion we go right into the readings. Therefore, no added length, so please calm your fears and continue to read on!

Now, though I am a priest, and although many don’t believe it, I am still very human and grew up just like you! So, I also get it, I understand why some avoid longer Masses, but I assure you that is far more out of habit than want. If you stop to think about how little time we spend with God each week, this time of Lent is when we can come and move more deeply into the mystery of God, willingly and joyfully, without much added time.

I recently visited with my sister on the telephone and we recalled as children having a certain dread for those Sundays where we knew the Great Litany was coming! We used to secretly look through the ‘upcoming events section’ in the parish newsletter at St. Paul and try to talk our parents into another Mass! (You do know that I realize many of you do that, right?) But, in the end, after being forced to go, the redeeming factor on the Great Litany was that there would be no sermon! Now, while that has changed, it will be much shorter and I promise, you will get something special out of joining us without much more time!

Church, for my sister and I, was filled with mystery and awe! The way the priest came out of that hidden door, and the glorious scented smoke that bellowed forth from that brass censor, the movement and the majesty, and the reverence to our God, whom we came to worship and adore! THAT was what Mass was all about! I learned it from my parents through their admiration and appreciation to what it took to make a liturgy happen. Once each month, my mother invited our pastor to dinner. Why? Because she realized how much he did, how hard he worked, how much went into keeping our parish going and she wanted him to know that she knew…and appreciated him. Yes, I learned in all those subtle ways that God was alive and well and that became the foundation of me becoming a priest.

The Great Litany can cause great puzzlement in the minds of our modern creations — as much puzzlement, I would imagine, as why should we attend the upcoming Triduum! The words can feel dense, crowded, and outdated; and yet, if you allow yourself to learn of the majesty and history of this great litany – IF you allow yourself to move more deeply into the bosom of God as you pray with the priests – they can be heartfelt, they can move you, they can create a kind of awe and respect of the One who cared for us when we were yet unformed in the womb.

I know that often, as youngsters, we attended as a family, every Sunday Mass without question, just like many of you. There was no regret or discomfort – there was no planning anything else or hesitation – in fact, just the opposite, it came first and then we allowed ourselves time back in the ‘regular’ world. We put God first, always. Attending Mass together as a family was like the family eating around a table at mealtime every evening. (Another forgotten necessity in today’s fast-paced world!) We ate all family meals together, we went to church together, we prayed together, and yes, sometimes we did not like the spinach. But in our heart of hearts we knew that even the spinach was good for us.


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What Holy Week and the Triduum Means to Me…

 

“Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy.” So begins the introduction for the coming Holy Week in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Soon we leave the starkness of Lent behind once again and enter the brilliance of the liturgical season known as “Triduum” that our holy Church says is “the culmination of the entire liturgical year”! I invite you to join us for these three beautiful, symbolic, and life-changing days!

I know, I know…you are thinking… three days in a row at church? Maybe it sounds like a miserable time when you were six years old, but this year you’re much older and wiser! And much more importantly, you have gotten to know the person of Jesus Christ in a real, new, and wonderfully deepened spiritual way this Lenten season at Saint Miriam. So there is no better, or more fitting way, to commemorate Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, and your new found way of doing church, than by participating in the Easter Triduum of Holy Week!

The word “Triduum” comes from Latin roots that mean, essentially, “the three days” or “period of three days” as in tri- = three, -dies = days. It is a glorious period of prayer that typically precedes a feast day. The Easter Triduum (or Paschal Triduum) is, then, the three days of prayer that precede the celebration of Easter. These three days see the celebration of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, a Good Friday service that recalls the passion and death of Jesus Christ, and finally, the three days culminate in the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection at the Great  Vigil of Easter, after nightfall on Holy Saturday, but before dawn on Easter Sunday.

Christ redeemed us all, and by doing so He gave Himself for us as perfect glory to God principally through his paschal mystery: in His dying He destroyed our death, and in His rising He restored our life. Therefore, the Easter Triduum of the Passion and Resurrection of our Christ is the culmination of the entire liturgical year. In the simplest of terms, it is the most glorious and most profound of three days as Christians!

Now, to be clear, it is a fact that most only attend Easter Sunday Mass. I know that growing up as a child that’s all we did, after, of course, hunting for eggs and few ‘sweet treats’ at mom’s kitchen counter! Now that I am older, I reflect back on how sad we missed out on this for so many years; how sad so much of the world doesn’t even know what it means, or that it is even occurring! And, now as a parish pastor, I think how even more sad it is that we do not instill in our children the beauty of such a time of year as we honor our Christ who gave us eternal life. Yes, it is true, that a change has occurred with the placing of value of historical events as something we somehow attach ourselves to and draw upon when and only if we want. The Easter Triduum must rise to the heights it was meant and should be in every Catholic’s faith life. This year, we pray that you will try to join us and discover what you have been missing all of these years.

So, I have included a brief synopsis of each day and time. The Triduum is basically one long Mass with two long pauses…Pray, come, discover!

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A Transecting of Events to Change Hearts…

Tomorrow, at the 10:30am Morning Mass, we will honor our Elect, those preparing to be baptized and confirmed later this year. We will use a very simple prayer that will add less than two minutes to the overall length of the Mass, but may just change lives of those gathered.

Ironically, or perhaps by God’s design, we will also be in the midst of the 50th anniversary of the events Selma, Alabama, a small riverside town where “Bloody Sunday” occurred back in 1965 when police attacked marchers demonstrating for voting rights as they walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Police beat and tear-gassed marchers at the foot of that bridge on March 7, 1965, in an ugly spasm of violence that shocked the nation.

Today, we recognize that Selma still struggles to overcome its legacy, and our nation still struggles with race relations and prejudice of many sorts. The future will be our children. I urge you to join us tomorrow, to honor and support our youngest, who will one day carry on the mantle of what being a Catholic really is.

Is there anything more important in your day tomorrow?

Blessed Lent,

Monsignor +Jim, Pastor



Meatless Fridays…Stronger Catholics.

 

So…here we go again. I have already heard many parishioners ask (with a slight tone of indignation), “Monsignor, do I really need to abstain from meat on Fridays?” Well, my reply is always ‘yes and no’!

There are several reasons why the holy Church embraces this discipline, a tradition that now dates back hundreds of years. Some believe that it was the churches effort in supporting the dying fishing industry when times were tough. The church was trying to keep fishermen ‘afloat’! (Oh, come on, that was cute!) There is strong historical evidence of this claim all the way back to the second century.

Others say it was simply safer to eat fish than meat; a sort of dietary prophylactic, if you will. Everyone knew when it was safe to eat fish, but some people tended to test that time frame with beef. Again, there is some historical evidence this time back to the seventh century.

And, finally, some point out that hundreds of years ago only the very wealthy could afford meat. Fish was the “poor man’s meal”. It was inexpensive, plentiful, and a very modest food that one could even catch themselves.

So, I guess in the end, there are many reasons to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. It may help you to better focus on the humility of Christ, or to have a consistent reminder that we are in the midst of Lent, or simply a way to self-deepen your Lenten experience by trusting God enough to give up a ‘regular’ food item for one that may take a little more thinking.

I prefer that we look at it in a more meaningful way: If we really believe that Jesus is the Christ, and we truly maintain in our deepest longings that Jesus is our Lord and Savior, then we must also believe that He gave up his own body, His own flesh – His own meat – that Good Friday millennia ago now, and He did for me, and for you, and for the world. Jesus went through the pain of that day, giving up Himself and focused completely on the will of God His Father in Heaven.

So, I think that I can do without meat this Friday…



The Ratio Between Dollars and Dimes!

Last Sunday we began our journey to be extraordinary! We began to use this holy season of Lent to look at ourselves more deeply in order to discern if we really trust God. We also began to look at our relationship with our human weaknesses and temptations, as we once-for-all decided to look with ‘honest eyes’ at our relationships with fear, trust, and money.

Our Stewardship Campaign was officially canceled for 2015, but the unique insights that our Dollar & Dime 90 Day Challenge will bring to all of us will be revolutionary in large and small ways for our families, our parish, our world, and ourselves!

Last week in my homily, I addressed the word and descriptions of Covenants: the one we heard of in the sacred scripture lesson from The Book of Genesis about Noah and the covenant that yielded a rainbow, to the one in the Book of Psalms used as the Responsorial, to the one renewed at our Morning Mass by our long-term parishioners, Donna and Chester Mack, celebrating 30 years of Marriage!

And, we also looked the Miriam Covenant! Yes, we too, live by a covenant here at our parish. Twice annually (At our Fall Ingathering Mass and at the spring, Great Vigil of Easter) we gather all of our new members, those who registered, transferred their baptismal records, and completed our Walk Beside Me Program and present them with their own Saint Miriam Bell and a personalized copy for the Miriam Covenant! Just visit our new website and you will read its preamble: “We live by a covenant. One is with God, and one is with each other. Why? Because it makes for stronger community and stronger Christians and even better Catholics!” The Miriam Covenant is strong and worthy of our attention, because it brings about a better parish, as we serve the living and one true God.

That is why we cancelled the annual Stewardship Campaign. It is not enough to just complete a pledge card and give a little money now and then; it must mean something, too. So, we decided that the ‘ask’ this year was not worth the effort, especially if it cost us our souls. We wanted something more. Something that would continue our new direction started some two years ago with Make Church Matter. This year, we wanted every parishioner to know what tithing was and the blessings that can come from it. We wanted every parishioner to know about God’s promises and to examine their lives in this Lenten season. We wanted every parishioner to sit down and spend as much time figuring out what they give to God, as they do calculating a tip for a server at their favorite restaurant. This year, we wanted to be blessed, but to have every member blessed, too.
 

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Cheering for the Other Side!

This past week I received a copy of an article entitled, When Cheering for the Other Side Feels Better than Winning, by Richard Paul “Rick” Reilly, an American sportswriter and long known for being the “back page” columnist for Sports Illustrated. It is the strange story of a strange game of Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School wherein the fans from the other team cheered for the opposing team. Yes, you read that correctly!

Reilly wrote, “They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas…. It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through. Did you hear that? The other team’s fans? They even made a banner for players to crash through at the end. It said, “Go Tornadoes!” Which is also weird, because Faith is the Lions. It was rivers running uphill and cats petting dogs. More than 200 Faith fans sat on the Gainesville side and kept cheering the Gainesville players on—by name.”

The story all started when Faith’s head coach, Kris Hogan, wanted to do something kind for the Gainesville team. You see, the Faith Team had 70 kids, 11 coaches, the latest equipment, and very involved parents, but those from Gainesville had a lot of kids with convictions for drugs, assault, and robbery — many of whose families had disowned them and they wore seven-year-old shoulder pads and ancient helmets. Why? The Gainesville Tornadoes are from a maximum-security correctional facility some 75 miles north of Dallas. Every game it plays is ‘on the road’, and after every game, 12 uniformed officers, handcuffs at the ready in their back pockets, march the players back to their bus for the long, quiet, ride ‘back home.’

But not this time. This time, as those Tornadoes walked back to the waiting bus, each was handed a bag for the ride back to the prison: a burger, some fries, a soda, some candy, a Bible, and an encouraging letter from a Faith player. They knew now what it was like to be loved and cheered for and now they had food for their journey, too. Yes, Faith had faith. Now, so did the Tornadoes.

During the game, all were startled as the fans in those stands that day began yelling ‘DEE-fense!’ even when their team had the ball. The Tornadoes wondered, ‘[Why are] they cheerin’ for us?’

Why? Because they are children of God,  just like those of the Faith team. Just like you. Just like me. Just like those who will come to seek us out this year…

How will you spend your Lent this year?



Did You Remember to Love What You Already Have?

A few weeks ago I wrote to say that at each Mass on February 15th, we will pause for a moment to allow each of us to bring a card with a gift for the parish in it! How amazing it would be to have an altar filled with Valentine’s Day Cards for Saint Miriam! What a blessing of profound hope we can all bring to the parish on the day we honor God!
 
Did you remember? Did you care enough to place it in your memory, or on even your calendar? I know that many thought that I was just trying to make a point, or that I was not really being serious. But, I am. Why? Because I have learned the simple and profound truth, “that which we take for granted often disappears.”
 
The coming season of Lent is often viewed in terms of what we do, but that is only half the story.  If the Lenten life of our Church is mainly based on what we have given up or we have done, then we are wasting the Lenten season. The key to a strong Lenten season of change is in our attitude.  It is an attitude that trusts God to act in this world, and in our lives, and to do so in a way that is far superior to our own. That’s the point of Lent and we will be using the Sundays before Lent to bring us into that mindset. The things we give up are only symbols of our own brilliant ideas that often go astray, and seek instead the ideas and work of God.
 
So today we launched our Dollar and Dime Challenge. It also means that this year, this parish, will NOT be doing an annual Stewardship Campaign. That’s right, no stewardship this year! No pledges, no cards, no sermons, no pledge commit weekend. None of it. Instead, the burden is placed where it should be: on each of us as God’s chosen. On each of us as God’s child. On each of, as a member of this parish. We will each decide if we truly trust God. After all, if not us, than whom?
 
And to help, we will commit with you. Remember that instead of standing at the front, we are in the pew, too. We are you, and you are us. Together, we will change the way we do church! Together we will trust a God who has given us so much…


The Gift of Grief…

I’ve been in deep grief for several months. I guess, if truth be told, it has been for years. I first began with what they would clinically call, ‘anticipatory grief’, and now I am in bereavement. My dad is gone and I feel his absence every day; even on the brightest of days, the sun is so much dimmer to me.

Recently, a friend sent me a card that read, Grief is the gift of awareness. He went on to write that because of [my] your loss, you are made keenly aware of the value and meaning of your life. You know how fragile life is and how quickly things can change – leaving us shaken and feeling alone.

My initial reaction was one of disdain and disbelief. How could grief be a gift? I sat with the card and his words for a very long while. I needed to ‘hear’ what he was trying to tell me. I needed to find the still small voice of God in this brief, but powerful interaction with a friend who knows me, and knows me very well.

I have noted that as I look around at the grocery store while shopping, or while on line at the local post office for stamps, I have a natural new-found empathy for those around me because I know that hardship is all-too-common. I now often look at the faces around me and wonder deep down, “Are they, too, hurting like me?” I am all too aware now of how very difficult being human can sometimes be.

Let us all stop for a moment this coming week and ask ourselves these same type of questions: Could the next step be to see each person around us as an opportunity to change the quality of life for another? Do we see someone in our wider circle that we could reach out to today and make a difference in their life? Is the person we so easily pass in line, or at the office, or at the rail station, or even at church someone whom we could make areal difference if we only stopped to care?

Last Sunday, Patricia Liguori gave me a small bag and told me it was something ‘simple just for me’. In this beautifully gift-wrapped bag was a card with a lovely hand-written sentiment to help me with my grief, along with the framed saying that I used as my image here today for this blog post. It reads, “God will cover you with His feathers, and under God’s wings you may trust.” It is from Psalm 91, but it is really from her heart. It helped to heal a small crack in mine this week.

Truly, helping a fellow human being, even if it’s a stranger you’ll never see again, while inconvenient at times, has lasting and humble advantages. It may just make being a Catholic more Christian