Do We Truly Love?

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said, “Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put into what we do.” It is an appropriate quote to begin this month, for as we turn the calendar page to February it brings a lift to our hearts for two reasons. One is the knowledge that no matter how much the bitterly cold wind chill numbers and icy roads have plagued our daily activities so far in the Philadelphia region, winter is halfway over! The second and more sustained reason for joy is that February is the month of love!
 
As Catholics, of course, we know that true love is always in season. We can look on the celebrations associated with the coming of St. Valentine’s Day, as we do those associated with Christmas— these are ways to reflect God’s great gift of love to us by sharing gifts of affection with those we love. And the women of Saint Miriam this year have a beautiful Valentine’s Gift Basket to raffle off just to be sure you get into the swing of the season, and to also show their love of our parish, too! But we also know that our call to express our love “in word and deed,” in tangible presence and action, is not limited to one day a year. Nor is it restricted to our circle of family and friends.

 

No, we are to love always and in all ways. It is difficult to do, but we are called to be what we want to the world to become. So, we begin February with the Memorial of St. Blaise and the time-honored tradition of the blessing of the throats at all Masses. This is a unique way to extend the love and protection and gift of healing and prayer to those who come to us.

 

So, then, the coming month offers us yet another chance to reflect on the meaning of the love to which we are called. We begin with Scripture, where the First Letter of John puts it pretty uncompromisingly: “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”. Yet there is a world of difference between love as it’s used to describe the commitment of a couple celebrating 50 years of marriage, and love as a fan uses it to describe devotion to a team in the coming Super Bowl!

 

Last week, I spoke of our love to God and I asked us all a very simple, yet very complex question: “Do we truly love and trust God”. This week, I would ask that we think of the many ways we use the word love, and the many ways in which we express love in action. Do we truly love God? Are we willing to trust God enough to place our lives into His hands?

 

St. Valentine reminds us not to take our personal relationships for granted. It is why we give so generously on this special day to those we love so deeply. Perhaps this year we should use February to think about our engagement and commitment – the giving of time and tithing financially – to our parish? How might we better infuse this commitment with love and gratitude?
 
I wish you and yours nothing but love…


Saint Miriam takes Ashes to the Streets!

On Ash Wednesday, February 18th, in addition to two services at the parish at 12:15pm and 6:30pm, Saint Miriam Parish will also be offering “Ashes to Go,” a new approach to a centuries-old Christian tradition, at two SEPTA Regional Railway stations. On Ash Wednesday, Saint Miriam will be located at the Ambler Station – from 7am-9am and 4pm- 6pm, and also at the Norristown Transportation Center Station – from 7am-9am and 11am-1pm and 4pm- 6pm. Participants will include Monsignor Jim, Father Bryan, Deacon Joe, Deacon Pat, Lorraine Cuffey, Sean Hall, and Kathleen Duncan!

Saint Miriam is joining this new nationwide movement, one that has clergy and lay people visiting transit stops, street corners, coffee shops, and college campuses to mark the foreheads of interested passers-by with ashes and invite them to repent of past wrongdoing and seek forgiveness and renewal.

In the Christian tradition, Ash Wednesday marks the start of the holy season of Lent, a time for reflection and repentance in preparation for the celebration of Easter. For centuries, Christians have received a cross of ashes on the face at the beginning of that season as a reminder of mortal failings and an invitation to receive God’s forgiveness. Ashes to Go provides the opportunity to participate in that tradition for people who have lost their connection to a church, or have never participated before.

“Ashes to Go is about bringing the important traditions of our faith out from behind church walls and into the places we need them every day,” says the Rev. Emily Mellott, who maintains the website AshesToGo.org with resources and stories about this ministry. “As people get busier and busier, we need the church in new and non-traditional ways. We especially need reminders of forgiveness in the tough places of our working lives. The people who accept ashes on the street are often people longing to make a connection between their faith and the forces of daily life, and Ashes to Go helps them feel that connection.”

Monsignor Jim St. George, Pastor at Saint Miriam, continued, ”When we heard about Ashes to Go it seemed like a natural fit to our parish and our Franciscan ideals. After all, what is a church if not in the streets? Fewer and fewer people recognize the importance of the traditions of our holy Church, especially in Lent for the need of forgiveness and reconciliation – this is yet another way to bring people back home. As Pope Francis said so well, we, as priests, should be shepherds living with ‘the smell of the sheep,’ and sometimes that means you need to leave the church and meet people where they are.”

Saint Miriam is pleased to be a vital part of changing real lives through outreach, care, and the willingness to bring Christ to the world! Visit the Ashes to Go movement website at www.AshesToGo.org.



Be My Valentine?

How many times have we heard that phrase in our lifetime? For me, it has been associated with times of great joy (like when I was asked by the prettiest girl in class during fifth grade to be her valentine!), and also during periods of what seemed such horrible rejection (like when during third grade when no one gave me a valentine except my sister, my mom, and my teacher!) But, overall, I think that Valentine’s Day has been more joy than sorrow and allows us to think of the grander things in life such as love, friendship, hope, and relationships.

I hope that this year you will be my Valentine. Well, not mine individually, per se, but rather the parish of Saint Miriam! In fact, the Women of Saint Miriam will soon present their annual Valentine’s Day Gift Basket for raffle in support of the parish! If it is anything like last year’s, it will be very grand! So, I would like you to think of making a Valentine’s Day gift to the parish to show her how much you love and adore her!

At each Mass, on Sunday, February 15th, right after the concluding prayer, we will pause for a moment and see if we can 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 that day!

True love is sorely needed in our world today. Our parish really makes a difference in the soup we provide to shut-ins, the utility bills and rent we help offset for the poor, the hope we bring to those at Christmastime with our Mitten Tree Program, and the orphans we support throughout the year with our timely gift cards. Not to mention all the pastoral care and support we provided in many ways every month to those who reach out to us when the world has failed them. All of this costs money, but we are bigger than the need! We…are simply amazing because we love so deeply. I hope you will begin to think about Valentine’s Day today. I pray you will help us help the world tomorrow.

God bless you, my friends, and I will be praying for you and your loved ones this Valentine’s Day, as well as throughout the year. Remember, when you give a gift of love, the ripples are unimaginable…



A Peaceful Parish…

Recently I was given a beautiful, handmade watercolor from one of our faithful parishioners. It was given to me to help me through my grief. It is simply stunning!
 
The image is one of a pink and white Phalaenopsis orchid that seems to grow from the depths of the card itself, towering then into the air. When it was handed to me, the words chosen have stayed with me for days, “Father, this is for you. It is made by a friend of mine and is a beautiful watercolor. It is so peaceful to me. Like the place you have created here with Saint Miriam.”
 

Wow. I was stopped for a moment in mid sentence, in mid thought. Peaceful. I have never thought of Saint Miriam as that, perhaps not so much because it is not such an oasis from the horrible things we find in the world lately, but because I spend such an inordinate amount of time on keep things going, on budget, and on track that it somehow eluded me! But, it was so good to hear. So good to know. So good to ‘feel’ it for myself. Peaceful…

Peace, we know, is more than the absence of conflict. Peace comes about when we, as members of Christ’s Church, respect the dignity of every single person, when we welcome the gifts and competencies of all people, when we respect our inherent differences, and when we work together to build the reign of God. We will work to bring about this continuing peaceful climate where we can assess and respond to challenges of all kinds, and also respect and love one another.

Yes, peaceful. That is what you and I have created. This is what we endeavor to do with the Mass, the Liturgy, the Music, the Pastoral Care, the Outreach, the Café and even the Small Groups. Create a place of peace.
 
We should all be so very proud that as small as we are, our heart is imaginably big.


Of Memories and Bronze Stars…

Today I will bury my dad. It still doesn’t seem real. My dad will not have the tributes of a fallen officer, nor the attendance of throngs lining the streets like a diplomat or lost president, but to us – his family and friends gathered – he is just as important and just as worthy. His memorial will be much like the manner in which he lived: simple, unadorned, intimate, surrounded by those who knew and loved him best. My dad gave me the greatest gift I have ever received because it was my dad that believed in me unconditionally. You see, even when I was at my worst, my dad loved me for the best that I could be. In many ways, my dad saw me as God did, perfect and whole.

When I was in seminary, I had the chance to study aboard, and before I committed to becoming a Franciscan, I wanted to experience the Benedictines. I stayed for a month at a beautiful monastery in Normandy France called, Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec. It was a silent monastery where they prayed and worked for the love of God in the world. They prayed for healing and for our needs and they were self-sustaining in their ‘walled off’ living. They paused seven times a day to gather and pray in a simple chapel with chestnut-colored wooden pews; they lived out the mantra, ‘a day of prayer punctuated by work’ and they did so with such deliberateness and intentionality that one could not but admire their simple prayer life. They wanted nothing in return, they just prayed for others’ needs. They were monks and the life they lived was simple, beautiful, and much like my father, many will never know their names, but their actions will live for an eternity in the pages of the Creator who gave them breath in this life.

Almost every day I would watch as the monks labored in two main efforts to sustain their community: some would create beautiful works of pottery for sale in their gift shop, and others would make some of the best wine I had ever tasted. (I don’t think they mixed the two or the pottery would never have been finished!) My confidant became Brother Aelred. He knew enough English to help me get along and to understand the rhythm of the place where I had been so welcomed, and when he was permitted to speak, I learned much. Again, just like my dad. And since I knew almost no French, this became a great influence to my ability to learn and to grow in my faith and spirituality and to discern what God wanted of my life and me.


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A Christmas Remembering by Our Pastor.

It’s hard to believe that yet another Christmas is upon us! It will be our fifth year here on December 24th. Unbelievable, really! Almost seven years ago, Sean and I sat in a large, cavernous rented space at a Jewish synagogue called Mishkan Shalom in Roxborough. We began with our first Mass the Sunday after Easter. (There was no way we were planning for the Great Easter Triduum our first time out of the shoot, and, truth-be-told, we did not know if anyone would even show up!) At first, apart from a few friends, no one came. Week in and week out, not a single soul. We sat in the windows on the third floor of that sanctuary overlooking the parking lot and the “Ugly Moose” across the way, and no one came, but we remained faithful. We wanted to give up, but instead 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 honored the Celebration of the Mass every Thursday and every Sunday no matter what, and oftentimes it was just the two of us sitting there. We have since invested all of my retirement account and almost half of every dollar I have earned since that day. I regret none of it. I am a priest. This is my parish. I would do it again. My reward is being with all of you and one day, being with my Creator. Until then, I labor as I should.

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