Please keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth!

 

Once again I received an email that told me all the ways in which I am the most awful priest in the world. Once again I was told that ‘droves of parishioners have left and several more are pulling their support because of the way I run Saint Miriam.’ Once again, it is simply gossip and rumor and sadly, wrong.  What a way to end a year!

I suppose I would be used to it by now. After all, I get a few of these every year, especially when someone does not agree with a decision (even if I did not make it!), but I’m not. And it still wounds me deeply, especially since I have tried to build this parish with a focus on love and hope and welcoming others – all the others that the world so easily rejects – even the broken like me. We also center on ‘staying in the water’, even when we feel like running the other way, because that is often how God works, just like within a family. We often feel like leaving, but we stay, and low and behold, good comes, and God comes, tempers change, learning happens, and growth surpasses our own human selfishness. That is how I built our parish –  with love and patience and unconditional support – this is also how I hoped we all would be to one another.

Now, I will admit that I make mistakes, but not one of my mistakes was so horrible that I deserved that email. And, I work hard, take no salary, give to help support our life together, and I think that overall I am a pretty good pastor. I will admit that when I received this email, I felt like just going away. It takes a lot to keep us moving forward, and there are a lot of moving parts now that we have grown to the size we are; I am finding my personal time to be even less, and these type of words simply deflate me. 

The biggest mistake the ‘emailer’ made this week was they chose to send the email on Monday, the anniversary of my dad’s death, and I was simply in no mood, so I called them! (They were at first dumbfounded I guess, but it felt right until the phone was answered!) I then was rather insistent to know ‘who’ was leaving and ‘why’. They refused to tell me at first and then after my persistence, they offered two names. Now I can tell you that I knew of the first because they had done the wonderful courtesy and came to speak to me. They offered the reasons and some were sad, but understandable, but their leaving had nothing to do with the parish or the way ‘I run things’. The second, was news to me and so I called them, too! And, once again, the reasons given had nothing to do with me, or the parish; in fact, they were very sad and even unsure about the whole thing. They told me how they had moved during the past year and with a young family were struggling to travel the distance needed to get to church on time. So, they are going to another parish closer to their new home, but they admitted it was not the same. I trust they will be back one day. I left them with the words I leave everyone, “our home is always your home, whenever you need us, we are here…I run a parish and not a prison.”

Perhaps, as we begin a new year, this may be a good time for us to all  pause to make a new year’s resolution to our parish family, too. Maybe we can say to ourselves, “Father is always there for us, his door is always open, he makes himself available, when we are sick or in need, he always shows up; instead of casting dispersions on all the work we do together, let me go talk to him; maybe I don’t have all the details? Maybe that is why he is my pastor…”

One of the more under-rated categories of sin are the sins of speech. There are many ways we sin, but perhaps the most common way is by our speech. Too easily, almost without thought, we engage in gossip, idle chatter, lies, exaggerations, harsh attacks, uncharitable observations and remarks. With our tongue we can spread hatred, incite fear, maliciousness, spread misinformation, cause temptation, discourage, teach error, and ruin reputations. We can surely cause great harm with a gift capable of such good. So, maybe we need to simply pause and to honor one another more deeply.

Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew (18:15-17):

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the Church; and if he refuses to listen even to the Church, treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

Therefore, discretion must also give way to some transparency in given circumstances, and communities may need to address some matters publicly and clearly. But we never should engage in hurtful speech or uncaring emails. We should pause before we hit that ‘send’ button and think about the person on the receiving end. We are better than that…

When I was in seminary, one of my fellow seminarians had a wonderful turn of phrase that he often said when frustrated by himself, it went like this: “Help me, Lord! Please keep Your arm around my shoulder and Your hand over my mouth! Put your word in my heart, so that when I do speak, it’s really you.”  Ahh, I try to live by that simple idiom even to this day. Yes, I often fail, but I always try. Will you try it, too, this new year to be kinder to others in your words and speech?

So, the lesson here? Be kinder to each other, and to me, (pretty please)? Rumors, gossip, innuendo are not only against our Saint Miriam Covenant, but they are the very things that often break a church apart.  And God appoints pastors to lead, guide, and admonish sometimes, too (even themselves!). Show up, honor the Mass, be with God and each other, even when you don’t feel like it and your life will become better and your faith more solid…
 
The world is hard enough; wouldn’t it be that much harder without Saint Miriam and one another? I shudder to even think…
 
Happy and Blessed New Year to all of us, and one of good spirits and nice folks who love one another always!
 


Christmas 2015 Reflection: Our Journey that Began with God.

 

It is hard to believe that yet another Christmas is almost upon us! It was only about eight years ago that found Sean and I sitting in a large, cavernous rented space at a Re-constructionist Jewish synagogue called Mishkan Shalom in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia. We began with our first Mass on the Sunday after Easter.  At first, apart from a few friends, no one came. Week in and week out, not a soul.

We sat in the windows on the third floor of that sanctuary overlooking the parking lot and the “Ugly Moose” sign across the way, and no one came. But, we remained faithful. We dug in, prayed, and paid the rent from what little savings we had left.  When that money ran dry – we resorted to credit cards and bank loans. (We even learned that Beneficial is not so beneficial!) We honored the Celebration of the Mass every Thursday, followed by Rosary, and every Sunday no matter what, and oftentimes it was just the two of us sitting there. Yes, we did a lot of crying, and a lot of soul searching, but somehow we knew that one day, God would bring people who needed such a place…a place like Saint Miriam.

In time, we began to grow and came to need a space of our own, and in December 2009 we celebrated our first Mass in Blue Bell. The construction wasn’t even done yet; the construction workers were leaving out of the one door and we were moving in through the other! We didn’t have a fellowship space or a sacristy, and no library existed. We had no signs or lighting in the parking lot and the restrooms were barely functional. But we had God, and each other, and we forged ahead.

I remember that night as if it were yesterday because it was Christmas Eve! I remember coming in with Sean and Alan and Joe and so many others that gave up their day to help us move in. I remember walking in and seeing so many ends not wrapped up that I could hardly stop myself from crying out in worry and fear. I remember thinking about the large lease payments and the huge cost of moving in. I remember walking in – one by one – each with a chair in hand as we made our first makeshift Sanctuary. I remember how exhausted we all were as we left here that day; soon it come to pass, our first Christmas Eve Mass together, and in a brand new home for Saint Miriam.

As God continued to call Saint Miriam into being, we have completed hundreds of Masses and special services, and performed countless baptisms. We have much to be proud of, much to remember. We are creating a legacy for future generations yet to come – a place of light, happiness, and peace. And now we celebrate once again, but this time on a beautiful new campus that encompasses our beautiful parish, along with a vibrant preschool, cemetery, friary and more and more parishioners all rolled into one very busy life!

Now, I am not suggesting for a single moment that we have not had our share of difficulties.  However, none of these difficulties – the money issues, the floods, the staffing issues, my sojourn through the press, the people who have come and gone, the dead we have buried, and the lost we have found and then somehow lost again – in none of that has God been far off. No, God has remained as we have remained, and look at what we have built! I can think of no greater gift that we could have all received, save the birth of our Christ. Our journey began and remains always in God.

I pray that long after I am gone, others will remain to carry on what we have all begun; what we began on that cold March morning back in 2008 in that rented space that now seems as foreign and as far away as Bethlehem itself.

I pray that people will support us and realize what it takes to keep us alive. I pray that we will all remember what it was like before this place even was, and I pray that God will continue to bring others to us in hope and in love…joyfully to our doors as we welcome them into our hearts and new parish home. I pray that God will give the gift He so graciously gave to all of us gathered here…the gift of one another…the gift of love beyond measure.

Until then, we are quite a group, and I am proud to be part of you!

For unto us a Child is born…

Peaceful Christmas journey always,
 
Monsignor +Jim,
Pastor

 

 



A Very Merry Franciscan Christmas!

 
In Franciscan spirituality, poverty and incarnation are inextricably linked. The Incarnation is an important event for it is then that the great gift of our Father in Heaven, that His Son, Jesus Christ who, out of Love, through His own poverty, becomes one with us. It is a complex sentence, and even more complex gift!
 
At Saint Miriam, as pastor, I have always tried to invite people to move beyond the merely sentimental and ‘coloring book’ understanding of Christmas seen often as waiting for the baby Jesus, or Santa Claus, to an adult and more social appreciation of the true message of the Incarnation of God found in Christ. As a Franciscan, I join others who have always believed that the Incarnation was in fact Redemption, because in Jesus’ birth into our world, God was already saying that it is good to be human, God is here, and God is on our side, always.
 
Therefore, we should not allow this great feast of Christmas, and its preparation found in this holy Season of Advent, to be watered down in any way. We should stand firmly, as Catholics, on our vision for the world: one where the inherent dignity of the human person is not only understood theoretically, but felt practically in every home, under every tree this Christmas.
 
We must open ourselves to the leadings of The Word of God within our hearts, and the promptings of Jesus found in the words of sacred scripture this Advent at the edges of our ears, to move us beyond the temptations of the commercialization of this season to become better people and to foster in a better world. God always confronts, converts, and then consoles, and always in that order. The suffering, injustice, terrorism, illnesses, and devastation on this planet are too great now to settle for any cute, romanticized version of the infantile Jesus. We need more. We need the real Jesus.
 
For St. Francis, the Incarnation was a time of great joy. Bethlehem spoke of the love and poverty of God. It was by the example of that very God, the Word made Flesh, that Francis embraced poverty to begin our way of life found centuries later, still going strong for the life of the world. And, it was in the year 1223, in a small Italian town of Greccio, as a deacon, that he built a ‘new Bethlehem’ in the crèche we honor, bless, and adore every year at this time.
 
So, today, more than ever, the goal of every Franciscan – and every Christian – and all of us who make Saint Miriam their home – should be to make every city, every place, a  new  Greccio, where Jesus, the Christ, becomes a real, living experience. But, we can never create the new Greccio if we do not experience poverty. For it is in poverty where we flee the emptiness of the world and seek the fullness of life in Christ. It loves little things, and is content with the mundane and ordinary things of life that others so easily take for granted. When one is poor, one can possess nothing but God. It is in that form of poverty to the world, where we do not let things enslave us so that we become closer to the Incarnational Jesus and actually begin to change things for the better…
 
Please take a moment to look at our Christmas Season Calendar of events. There you will find, beginning tomorrow morning, many ways we bring Christ home; from the children of our preschool this Friday with their annual Christmas Pageant, to ‘the greening’ of the parish on Sunday after the 11:00am Morning Mass, to the The Longest Night Service on Tuesday evening, to our expanded Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Masses. Yes, we are Christians. We are Catholics. We are Franciscans. We believe in a real and loving Jesus who came into this world to save us all without merit, without test! 

May the Peace of the Lord be with you this Christmas. May you have a very merry Franciscan Christmas with us at Saint Miriam. 

God bless you and yours, as we welcome in the Child who redeemed the world through His Incarnational Presence among us!
 


Tying Memories Together.

Tonight at 6:30pm I will remember. I will be in Norristown at Life Celebrations to speak at the annual tree lighting and memorial. And, I  mean I always remember, but tonight it will be to help others, too. At least I pray so. I will remember where I am, why I am here, the season we find ourselves, and my dad. Tonight, I will remember.
 
As I will say tonight, over the last several weeks, as a priest I find myself struggling. I have always loved Advent. I love the colors and the smells, I love the penitential aspects of the season that call us to pause and to reorder our lives. I love the candles and the prayers. But last year, on Christmas, I lost my dad. It seems so strange to me to say that “I lost him”, but that is what happened. One moment dad was there and the next he was gone; lost. And I have been lost ever since, too. Now, I have done my best to be a good priest. I have buried others and supported my parishioners in their losses, I have buried the dead and anointed the dying and visited the sick and the lost. But deep within me, where those silent prayers dwell, also lives a buried pain of the loss of my dad. I lost my dad last Christmas. There, I said it again, but it doesn’t seem any more real.
 
I am sure that there are many like me. Those who are trying to get into the spirit of the season and join others, but who simply cannot. Try as we might, we are in bereavement. That is why I am going tonight and I why I pray others join us on December 22nd for the Longest Night Service. You may not need it, but those of who do…we need you, too.

 



Adoring Christ.

 

Waiting is difficult because we’re forced to admit that we are not in control—God is – that is the heart of the Advent message. This is why we chose to honor our Lord with a time of Adoration. I pray you will join us to clearly show the world what is within our hearts.

It all begins with an Opening Mass and Adoration on Thursday, December 3rd at 6:00pm. This should be a simple way for all of us to gather, to place our secular plans on hold, and spend some time with our Lord. Is God not worth 45 minutes this Thursday evening?

While the exact origin of the Forty Hours Devotion is not known, the first clear attestation for its celebration comes from Milan in 1527. In its inception, it was celebrated as reparation for the sins of the community and was motivated to offer prayers to God for protection during the crisis of war. In our troubled world today, I can think of no finer way than to seek the solace of God than to gather in His Presence as a community of faith and love.

How it all works is rather simple: Traditionally this 40 hours will begin with a celebration of Mass. At the end of this opening Mass the Blessed Sacrament is exposed and over a period of a few days the faithful are given the opportunity to assemble in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament. The form of prayer to be prayed can be done in diverse ways. The celebration then will end with the celebration of Mass at 9:00am on Saturday, December 5th.

The Forty Hours Devotion will be an opportunity to gather as a community before the Blessed Sacrament and to pray before the Lord in solemn adoration. It will give us time to deepen our appreciation of the importance of the mystery of the Eucharist in our lives. As the community gathers in prayer before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, it witnesses to our deep and earnest belief, as a Church, that what is before us is bread no longer, but truly the Body of Christ.

I will look for you to join us. As Catholics this should be an easy one.
 


Bart, Us, Thanksgiving & God.

 

In one episode of The Simpsons, young Bart sits down with his family to a meal. When it’s his turn to pray and give thanks, he says this: “Lord, my dad earned the money to pay for this food, and my mom worked for hours to cook it. What did you do? Thanks a lot for nothing.”  Bart Simpson may only be a cartoon character, but he states very bluntly what a lot of the world has to say about thanksgiving – the holiday and the act itself – many people have no feeling of giving thanks.

You see, real thanksgiving takes place when we focus on God. Real thanksgiving takes place when we share with the needy. Real thanksgiving only comes when we recognize that we live in this world, and yet, somehow, we are not of it. Best of all, real thanksgiving takes place when we yield our hearts to God; when we acknowledge that all that we have came from someone greater.

I heard the story about a man in Asia who was caught in a terrible storm. He promised God a sacrifice of 20 oxen if he survived. As the storm quieted, the winds died down, and he realized that he was to survive, he thought: “Why be so foolish as to give oxen? Why not nuts instead?” So, he restated and offered God nuts. On the way to offer the nuts, as the seas were now calm and he became hungry, he ate the nuts. In the end, all that he ended up offering to the God of all, was a handful of empty shells as his sacrifice. Empty lives and empty promises seem to go hand-in-hand. Some people do not feel what we feel on this day. Thanksgiving is a foreign concept to them and it is why so many of our lives seem, well, so empty.

The Hebrew people had spent forty years wandering in the Sinai desert after escaping slavery in Egypt. They are now standing on the borders of Canaan, the promised land. Moses is an old man and is about to die. And he gives them instructions for how they are to deal with this new phase of their existence as a people. These instructions, written so long, could very well be directed at us here today.

Read carefully a portion of Moses’ words to his people:

“For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land a land with brooks, streams, and deep springs gushing out into the valleys and hills; a land with wheat and barley, vines and fig trees, pomegranates, olive oil and honey; a land where bread will not be scarce and you will lack nothing; a land where the rocks are iron and you can dig copper out of the hills. When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God . . .”

Doesn’t that sound like it was written for us? As our gold and silver increases, as our power and might becomes substantial, as our storehouses become larger and larger, we have less room in our lives for God. “When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God . . .”

This past year, God did something miraculous in the lives of the people of my parish of Saint Miriam – a community that is less than eight years old, but one that thrives and grows every week. God brought us to a new land, a land in Flourtown just down the road from this very place, where we own, and care for, and are good and strong stewards, for a church building and cemetery and preschool that was once cared for by the people of Zion and then of Union before them. Why? Because we are always grateful. We are a people of peace. We never lash out, even at those who hurt us. We remain focused on the One we follow. A man named Jesus who turned out to be the Savior of the world.

In an address delivered at Northwestern University in 1977, Jewish writer Elie Wiesel said to his audience: “I belong to a people that remembers . . .”

It is what Thanksgiving is all about. It is what gives us wings to soar.
 
Wishing you and yours, a blessed Thanksgiving of remembrance and hope…
 


The Heart of a Trucker…My Sadness for the People of Syria.

 

When I was a young boy, my dad and I would go for long rides together. Sometimes we had no real agenda, or destination in mind. Other times we would simply hop in his station wagon and run errands that my mother gave him. There were also those rare summer evenings when my dad would load us in the car and we would go to the edge of the airport and watch the runway lights and planes taking off and landing! Oh how exciting those days were for my sister and me! It seems like a simpler time, a more compassionate time, an easier world.

About once a year, my family would also load up that old station wagon,  with the fake wooden sides, and head someplace on vacation. The open road was ahead of us and we enjoyed the trip, almost as much as arriving at the destination. I remember my dad telling me the best way to travel on the highway was to follow a trucker. They knew where the roads were to avoid, they slowed down when there was police activity, and most of all they were the most courteous drivers around. If you were in trouble, they would pull over and help. They could fix a flat, help diagnose an engine issue, and were the first to flash their headlamps to allow you to merge safely. They were the heart of the road because they had the heart of a trucker!

I have been told many times that what makes me a good priest is that I have the heart of a pastor. I never really understood that until I looked back in hindsight and see how I view the world. I have an open heart to the world’s marginalized. I welcome in the rejected. I hold open my doors and my parish to those without a home or who have lost God in their daily lives. I know the the little things I do make the world a better place to someone. I am proud that together we have cultivated a place of hope, love, and true inclusion. We welcome everyone and we mean every word. We have the heart of a trucker!

In order to have such a heart, such an openness to others, you need to see the world differently. You need eyes for injustice and for pain. You cannot just sympathize with it; you must have full on empathy for it. It hurts you as much as those the object of it. Many run from it because it is too painful. Many simply close their eyes to it. Most make up a rational excuse why they – or why we – should not be so open to those fleeing their pain. Yes, it is easier to reject, to join the crowd of those who close themselves off, then to be open and to share the blessings we have with those who know not those blessings – who know not peace, not safety, nor a soft pillow, or even a safe home.

This is how I view the Syrian refugee crisis. We point to them and call them terrorists. We point to them and say they will bring spoils to the country or even our planet! They will destroy our way of life. They are responsible for our sad lot in life! Then, we rationalize our rejection with mundane arguments like, “We should take care of our poor first!”, “What about our homeless?!” or my favorite, “We should honor our veterans first before these people! They fought for our country!”

Really? What have you done lately for our poor, our orphaned, our homeless, or our vets? Really? Have you opened your home to them, provided shelter, or food? Worked for Habitat for Humanity, or even gone to church regularly to pray for them?

Living the gospel imperative, one that demands that even slave owners and masters become friends is never easy. It isn’t meant to be. “The gate is narrow,” Jesus remind us .  It is less-easy when we live in a world of ‘me-first’ – ‘damn-them’! All the ‘thems’ of the world. Protect me, save us, keep our way of life open and lovey and let their flowers fade and die all round them. We will simply close our eyes and move on. It is easier.

Violence rules our way of life. We are either the cause of it, or our apathy allows it to flourish. Governor Jack Markell of Delaware says he and his state, like Pennsylvania, will accept refugees. In a recent interview on CNN, he tells of how we are doomed to repeat a terrible era of history.  In 1939, just before the German invasion of Poland that started the Second World War, 1,000 German Jews approached the coast of Florida, aboard a ship called the St. Louis. They had already been denied entry to Cuba and hoped to receive sympathy from our country because they felt that we knew of the severe discrimination they faced at home. Instead, our government enforced the strict quotas in place at the time and forced them to return home. The result? Over 500 of these refugees were trapped by Germany and about half of those died in the Holocaust…men, women, and children, too, were sentenced to death camps because of we denied them a safe harbor, a safe home. As reported by CNN in the article referenced above, ‘immigration reminds us of what the abolitionist Lydia Maria Child so eloquently said: “Law is not law, if it violates the principles of eternal justice.”’ 
 
On my last trip to teach at the university this past Tuesday, as I tried to merge to enter the EZ Pass lane onto the PA Turnpike, I could not seem to get anyone to allow me in the lane. It was rush hour and me-first was the deal of the day! Then, I saw a trucker coming and I knew that I was safe! That soon I would be allowed to merge and be on my way! As the front of his massive rig came within a car’s length, I began to move in the direction of my turn signal. The trucker? He stepped on the gas and almost cut off the side of my car.
 
Where are the truckers with hearts of truckers? Where are pastors with the heart of pastors? Where is the nation I learned to love for their empathy, and not their misplaced vitriol and hate toward a people in crisis…a people with literally nothing?
 
I can assure you, if they show up at my parish doors…they will be welcomed, embraced, given refuge, and yes, even protected because we have the heart of a pastor.
 


Seeing Red: Oh, Starbucks, Please Save Our Church!

 

So Starbucks is the first major retailer to cause an uproar this holiday season and the gift came early! The company’s designers went for a minimalist look, as they self-described it, “with a bright poppy color on top that shades into a darker cranberry below” and Christians everywhere went nuts! The absence of holiday symbols is making people furious. The Christian Institute’s Simon Calvert, says, “Haven’t they heard it’s the most wonderful time of the year, and the season of good will to ALL men? They should get involved and stop being scrooges.” And a Facebook video posted by a Christian evangelist, Joshua Feuerstein, criticizing the lack of explicit holiday messaging on Starbucks’ seasonal cups recently went viral overnight. And, yes, even Donald Trump got in on the action by calling for a possible boycott of the coffee retail giant.

Starbucks has featured holiday-themed coffee cups in their stores since 1997. In years past, Starbucks’ festive cups have come adorn with designs of snowflakes, ornaments, reindeer and other symbols often associated with Christmas. (Note: Jesus or the Cross was never on a cup at Starbucks!) This year, however, Starbucks is opting for a subtler look without any holiday images.

So the ‘War on Christmas’ seems to come earlier and earlier every year, and nothing says The Most Wonderful Time of the Year like people becoming hostile when you wish them a simple “happy holidays.” How dare you offer me the wrong well-wishes, they retort. Do you actually hate Christians? But…what about us?

Now those who know me well will already know that I find this whole thing a little ridiculous and even more heartbreaking! I doubt that Starbucks’ red cups are going to destroy either Christmas, or Christianity for that matter. Seriously, the secular modern movement has failed, the Roman Empire couldn’t do it, and they couldn’t even kill us off with all those lions in the Coliseum, so, please people…calm down! I don’t think Starbucks implemented the death penalty when they changed their cups to a modern hue of red, save Santa.

But what’s even more ridiculous to me is the timing this year. I’m kind of baffled because it’s still early November! Here we are, barely out of Halloween, and not even to Thanksgiving – fast approaching the holy season of Advent – and it seems to me that a people of faith should be more keenly aware of the grace God has given us to remain focused intently on the importance of the season, and perhaps pausing to say “thank you, God”, rather than making hay about some red, disposable paper cups. And, as difficult as it is to hear, many of the same folks who are posting their outrage on social media toward these Christian-killing cups aren’t even going to church every Sunday.

I see many of them post on their Facebook pages, (Yes, often on a Sunday), where they are…like at a mall, or a movie, dinner or the beach; all doing something ‘fun’, but all too secular and obviously with no time for God. I wonder if they ever stop to think what they are teaching their children, or what their worship absence and lackadaisical attitude toward the Creator tells their friends and informs their family about how much, or how little, they value God?

I also have sadly experienced those who perplex and hurt me the most: those who use the church. And it is they who seemed to be some of the first – and loudest – to grumble at these all too plain, Christmas-less red cups. Recently, a parishioner stopped their monthly giving after their child got into a prestigious school telling me how they could no longer afford both! Really? Remember, while they needed my reference to show how wonderfully committed Christians they were, they were everywhere and at every event! But, once with the acceptance letter in hand, they have not been to Mass since, never served once at the altar of God, nor tended to any duties they had previously volunteered for, and yes, now they cut their giving and complain about…Starbucks? Why, you ask?

Well, I can only surmise that what they did not need was Jesus, and I guess what they needed more was money; perhaps to buy all those lattes housed in those bright red cheery, but alas, Christmas-voided cup. I guess the cups are very much like them: devoid of Christ-mas…
 
Well, off I go…I need a latte!
 


Showing Gratitude or Flipping Off a Priest?

 
I recently had a conversation with a fellow priest who had great insight into human nature. He said, “Have you ever noticed that wherever we go everyone finds something to complain about?”  If we travel, we can complain about lumpy beds and crowded airports and late buses. But if we stay home, we complain that we never go anywhere interesting, or that there’s never anything good on television. We complain so often about crowded highways and cold food, and so on, that we never get to appreciate all that is good in our lives. He is right.
 
In the Japanese language there is a beautiful and haunting term known as, ‘on’.  The meaning of ‘on’ often includes a sense of gratitude combined with a desire to repay others for what we have been given. It’s not just that we feel grateful, or that we express gratitude, but that we actually experience a sincere desire to give something back. We might think of it as appreciation that stimulates a sense of obligation! Not an externally imposed obligation out of guilt, or any negative emotion, but rather from a sense of obligation that arises naturally within us, as we recognize how we have been supported, loved, and cared for by others.
 
I travel every Tuesday morning to teach at university this semester.  I enjoy teaching and get up every Tuesday with a sense of gratitude that I can touch the future.  This past Tuesday, I did as I always do and began at Starbucks for a Pumpkin Spice Latte and a breakfast sandwich that I enjoy on my route that takes me some 45 minutes or so. The traffic to the location was rough, the people abusive, then the gal at the counter could care less that I was standing there and she made my sandwich cold! My latte was not right either. I was perplexed and quickly became irate, but never said a word.  As I tried to enjoy the broken breakfast I had on my lap, a driver refused to let me merge safely on the on ramp to 276; I ended up having to go into the berm of the road because of his aggression! Then…the finger came up! The driver of that very expensive SUV,  looked over at me as I approached a mile down the road and once again…gave me the finger. He looked over, saw a priest, and flipped me off none-the-less. I had never met him, did nothing to deserve it, never met his abuse with another abusive gesture. I just sat, drove, focusing on my lack of a good breakfast and the terrible traffic, and now his middle finger…I found myself quickly becoming sad and ungrateful. That was when it hit me…this is life more often than I care to admit. How sad I thought. How rough. No wonder why folks give up. We all focus on the wrong things and then wonder why we have so little joy.
 
I began our parish some almost eight years ago and very few have ever thanked me. I guess deep down it would have been nice, but to be honest, it was not expected. Then I gave my retirement funds to keep us going, worked hard and still never took a salary…no thanks. Finally, I help to negotiate a great deal to purchase the beautiful life-filled and very busy campus  we now call home and sold my own home to help get us over the goal needed to make it all happen. No thanks, not one. Then, two weeks ago, I moved to campus in my RV to be closer and to help more. Still nothing, not a single word of thanks. That was when it hit me… He lived only thirty-three years, preached actively for less than three, was disowned, dishonored, gave up his family and his friends, never had a home of his own, never even owned anything of earthly value, was falsely tried and convicted for a crime he did not do, sentenced to death, hung on a cross, and saved us all by doing just that… all with no thanks, no gratitude, not a single applause line.
 
Have we become so focused on ourselves that we gallantly flip off priests, hate baristas, and fail to realize what we have been so generously given, despite our human condition? Have we failed to be grateful? To be thankful? Have we become so accustomed to getting things that we fail to see the real gifts? As we enter this coming season of Thanksgiving and Advent…can we actually change? Do we really even want to?
 
I don’t know if there is penalty for flipping off a priest in rush hour traffic, or for not being grateful to the baristas who make so little wages, but I do know that I am glad I show appreciation to those who love, help, and support me and our parish life. I am glad that I enjoyed my cold sandwich and off-kilter latte, still the same. I am glad I kept my middle finger on the steering wheel. I am pleased that I honor God and thank Him every day for saving the likes of one like me. I am grateful that God made me, well me!
 

I am grateful, too, for our parish, and for all of you, in my life. I am grateful for those who toil with me to make Saint Miriam what it is.

How about you?