Stripped Bare and Yet So Beautiful…

Yesterday I was on campus again at our new location helping to ready the new parish and friary building. I have to admit that I was exhausted – really exhausted – and really tired of painting! There was lots to do and lots of people to help, but each of us was working really hard to meet the deadlines. The space is coming along and will be so beautiful. It will be so worth it!
About half way through the day, the carpet was removed from the sanctuary. The floors were ‘laid bare for all to see’ and I sat and watched as the sunlight sparkled from the stained glass – “the Good Shepherd” panels above the chancel area – even against the old floors that had been covered for so long. It reminded me of each of us, scars and brokenness covered by often beautiful outer coverings, and yet our souls remain the same. I was reminded of how some used my past to try and hurt us, as they do to others. I was reminded how even Jesus was laid bare for all to see as He hung upon that cross to save the likes of you and me. Then I was reminded of how – despite our brokenness – we are all so beautiful! So radiant! How the sun (read…Son?) still flashes its warmth on us. Yes, the rain and the sun fall on the just and the unjust alike…
It reminded me of that old welcome we read and loved. So, as we begin a new phase of our journey…here it is again! Welcome home – to a new home – but one where the heart remains the same!
“We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you!”
That is where our true life comes from – our radical welcome of everyone who seeks us.

A Time To Celebrate!

It is time to celebrate soon! We gave, we prayed, and we supported. We encouraged one another with the joy of what we have become at Saint Miriam: a place of hope, laughter, song, and worship. We have built a Catholic Parish where everyone is welcome regardless of where they came from, who they are, what mistakes they made, how they are living now, who they love, how many times they have failed, how they self-identify, or how many times they have been rejected by others in the world. Yes, we have built a place where all are welcome at the Lord’s Table, in our hearts, and through our doors! We built a place from love. We have been selfless. We are Saint Miriam! And that, my friends, is a lot to say!

Over the last few years’ things have not always been easy. As we have struggled to build this place, there have been many times we all felt we might not make it. But we prayed and remained constant – congruent – in our living example of a loving God and we have been blessed. We are blessed because we have always reminded the world that it truly is the least of my people that God has asked us to hold up – to lift up – to heights they never felt possible. We are selfless in a world where that has little meaning. I am proud to be your pastor. I am proud and honored to walk this journey with you. We are Saint Miriam!
The next two weeks will be filled with great joy, some sadness, a little anxiety, and a lot of work! We need to pull together – as we have in the past – and make this next dream a reality. Please volunteer to help with the move, assist with the needed repairs at our new location, and whatever else you do, give generously to be part of what makes us great – we share the burden together. As I have always stated: we do not ask for equal giving, as that would be unfair, but we do ask for equal sacrifice.

For those who give $250, or more, by the 30th of August, you will receive a private tour and celebration invite via email for Thursday, September 3rd for our first Mass at our new location. You will see our new home before anyone else and you will be thanked for being among the first to help support us on our way. This day will also be my birthday, and I could not imagine being anywhere else than with you!

We are a story that should not have happened. We are a story of redemption. We are a story of love. We are a living Gospel story of the inclusive love of all of God’s created. We honor the inherent dignity of every human being. We have a lot to be proud of!
“Under God’s wings we shall rest…”

Another Fleece Story!

Our patron for the diocese, Bernard, was a French abbot, author of many beautiful hymns,  and the primary builder of the reforming Cistercian order. He was born in 1091 in his fa­ther’s cast­le at Les Fon­taines (near Di­jon), Bur­gun­dy. He died on Au­gust 21, 1153, in Clair­vaux, France. Hence, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux.

Bernard’s fa­ther, Te­ce­lin, was a knight and vas­sal of the Duke of Bur­gun­dy. Ber­nard was ed­u­cat­ed at Cha­ti­llon, where he was dis­tin­guished by his stu­di­ous and med­i­ta­tive ha­bits. He en­tered the mon­as­tery of Ci­teaux (the first Cis­ter­cian in­sti­tu­tion) in 1113. Two years lat­er, he was sent, with twelve other monks, to found a daugh­ter mon­as­te­ry in the Val­ley of Worm­wood, about four miles from the Ab­bey of La Ferté, on the Aube. He rose to em­i­nence in Church po­li­tics, and be­came em­broiled in the pa­pal schis­ms of the 12th Cen­tu­ry. He was well known in Rome, and found­ed 163 mon­as­ter­ies through­out Eur­ope! The Ca­tho­lic En­cy­clo­pe­dia car­ries a large ar­ti­cle on him. He was a major reformer who believed that Church could be – and do – better!

As you know, I am always looking for signs that we are doing our best for God. And, as we approach our final move dates, I find myself deep in prayer. It was in a moment of reflection that I remembered the story of the fleece and Gideon in the Book of Judges! It goes like this:

After death of Joshua, the Israelites turned away from God, and served idols. Therefore the evils came upon them of which they bad been warned by Moses and Joshua. But at different times God, seeing their distress, raised up “judges” to deliver them from their enemies, and to judge over them. The first of these judges was named Othniel. He was Caleb’s nephew. The last was Samuel. One that lived about one hundred years before Samuel was named Gideon.

The Israelites at this time were in great trouble. They were hiding in dens and caves because of the Midianites, who had conquered them and overrun their country. When their corn was ripe these enemies came and destroyed it, so altogether they were in a sad plight. One day Gideon was threshing wheat in a secluded place, so as to escape the notice of the Midianites, when an angel from God appeared to him, bidding him to go and save the Israelites from their foes. Gideon obeyed the command: but before commencing the battle he much desired a sign from God showing that He would give the Israelites the victory. The sign Gideon asked for was, that when he laid a fleece of wool on the ground, if the victory were to be his, then the fleece should be wet and the ground dry.

He placed the wool on the ground, and taking it up the next morning found it wet, although the ground was dry. So he knew God had answered him as he desired. But he was not quite satisfied. He begged God for a second sign. This time the ground was to be wet and the fleece of wool dry. God gave him this sign also: and then Gideon felt sure that the Israelites would be victorious over the Midianites.

It that not like us? We ask for a sign, get it, and then ask for another! Let us be satisfied that we have grown to where we can move into a new location and honor a legacy of the former congregations that occupied this land.

And, lastly…how about one more sign? Saint Bernard was a man of ex­cep­tion­al pi­e­ty and spir­it­u­al vi­tal­i­ty. Mar­tin Lu­ther, some 400 years lat­er, called him, “the best monk that ever lived, whom I ad­mire be­yond all the rest put to­ge­ther.”

Later this month, we move into a former Lutheran parish to carry on their mission to love and serve God….is that not worthy of your support?

“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots…”

So its journey included attending a beautiful wedding in Germany, and having its portrait painted in the Netherlands, then it began its exciting saga in the United States beginning in the inviting and scenic coastal New England town of Marblehead, Massachusetts on July 17th, and it even made it enjoy a Boston Red Sox game! The child-sized robot, named, “HitchBOT”, made it across Canada and parts of Europe, but then, in the City of Brotherly Love, HitchBOT was vandalized beyond repair and its journey is ended, at least for now.

Two weeks. That’s all it took. Two weeks to destroy something that was imaginative and joyful! In a statement from the creator team, they sadly reported, “HitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City, unfortunately, HitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.”

Yes, it’s true! This is why we can’t have nice hitchhiking robots in our country. This is why the world is in need of the good, the honest, and the holy! Sometimes bad things happen to good robots and to good people, too! This is why we are building a new church!

Frauke Zeller, one of HitchBOT’s creators, recently said the robot’s “family” was disappointed by the incident. I am, too. Not because this computer-driven entity had a soul, but because we – as human beings – can so soul-lessly destroy anything created!

You see…the deeper lesson is that HitchBOT was entirely dependent on the kindness of strangers. It traveled by itself and couldn’t move on its own, but actually required friendly humans to take it from place to place; to allow it to have a journey to begin with!

I guess the real story of this robot is as a sort of ‘grand social experiment’, intended, in part at least, to test our human psychology when confronted with a technological novelty, but for me, the deeper lesson is one of morality: We would rather kill than assist someone else in their journey.

Please…join me in building a place where all are welcome and loved and embraced. Yes, even HitchBOT.

Trusting God. Every.Single.Day.


I have tried to read biographies about inspiring people who place a kind of radical trust in God. Now, to be clear, by “radical” I don’t mean reckless or imprudent, but am referring to the difficult, very counter-cultural act of recognizing God’s sovereignty over every area of our lives. These true stories are about people from all walks of the Christian life, not just Catholic or Protestant, but Hindu, Indigenous, and Islamic, too. These examples have been consecrated religious and many lay people, both men and women, too. And yet they all have distinct similarities in their approaches to life and their view of the God they worship: God comes first, even when the waves are coming over the edge of their very tiny boat.

I found it fascinating to see what common threads could be found in the lives of these incredible people who placed so much trust in the Lord, especially as I have been navigating the seemingly insurmountable pressures of the move we are about to undertake: from banking and exhaustive meetings, to fundraising and appeals, to planning and logistics, to lawyers throwing their weight around, and dioceses and synods trying to stick their noses into matters that do not concern them, to subcontractors and needed township approvals, to budgets and trying to honor people’s emotional needs and still keep everything afloat! It has been a trying time for me as a pastor and I often find myself alone in my day seeking the solace of God. So I look to these ‘others’, too, to help me stay filled with hope and strength. It is not easy. I am broken.

While there are many common threads to these people of God who have gone before me to give me a glimpse of hope, one attribute that has helped me immensely during these past few months is that they all have a daily appointment with God. In fact, I have never heard of a person who had a deep, calm trust in the Lord who did not set aside time for focused prayer and conversation with God every day. Both in the books I’ve read and in real life examples, I’ve noticed that people like this always spend at least a few moments, and even up to an hour or two if circumstances permit, focused on nothing but prayer and talking with God, every day. For many of these people, they also tend to do it first thing in the morning, centering themselves in God above before tackling anything else the day may bring.

I’ve also found through enough of these stories of people praying for something very specific, then receiving it, that I started to wonder if they were psychic, or if God just liked them more than the rest of us or something? What I eventually realized is that their ideas about what to pray for came from the Holy Spirit in the first place, because they spent so much time seeking God’s will for them, day in and day out. I hope to learn to trust like that…

A story is told of Mother Angelica who had a satellite dish delivery person at her front door who needed a check for $600,000, or he was going to take the dish, thus killing her plans for the new religious station, EWTN. She ran to the chapel and prayed in earnest, and a man she’d never met randomly called and wanted to donate to her cause…you guessed it! He donated $600,000! Her prayer wasn’t answered because she had a personal interest in television and just really wanted it; No…her prayer was answered by God because she had correctly discerned God’s plan that she was to start a television station on this particular day.

So, I have spent my days trying to ask for God to help me decide what I should pray for and I hope (and pray?) that it comes from the Holy Spirit. I wonder what we could all do together if we just prayed for what God wanted and trusted that God was active in our lives, every, single, day?

You Can Go Home Again.

Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote a lengthy novel called You Can’t Go Home Again, which was highly acclaimed when published in 1940, after his death at the age of 38. It was required reading in my Pros and Fiction Literature course at college my very first year after high school, but honesty I only read excerpts and relied on a synopsis in the event of a test. (This obviously was a reflection on me at the time and not on one of the literary giants of the 20th century!)

Actually, I was always intrigued by the meaning of the title, if not the 720-page paperback novel, for in my youth I always assumed that you could always go home again, but as I grew older and became plagued by my mistakes of growing up, it was harder and harder for me, for there, back home…I was always only 9 years old and always “little Jimmy who seems to never make good.”

The book’s title obviously became a worn out saying and cliché. I believed it simply because it was written in the psyche of our culture. But, these last few trips home, especially after my father’s death, have shown me a new way to look at ‘home’.

Whether your “home” was a college dorm, or your first apartment, where a set of adoptive parents held you first, the condo you purchased, or the longtime family homestead in some small away town you grew up in, or whatever it looked like or felt like, those “homes” don’t appear to be the same when you revisit them; it is simply true, and there is no denying it. However, I have found that it is we who change and that it is a good thing. We become stronger as we are filled with more life experience. We let go of our youthful fantasy of what home is supposed to be and realize that home is truly where our heart is. Today, as I write this weekly reflection I am home and would not want to be any place else.

Yes, I have learned for me that the same water and sand and beach and sky are still here, it is my memories, now wound together with my past wrapped in the knowledge that I have gained through experience that make me whole. As I crossed the threshold to my family home this past evening – and my yesterdays and tomorrows blended into each other – I noted how perfectly our lives are composed of innumerable memories. The bad fade, the good linger, and the fondness grows. God’s generous gift to me and to you.

The thought that things change as you age and look back is an elusive matter. So, yes, you can always go home again because all your previous “homes,” even including some unpleasant memories, always dwell in your heart where grace abounds.

Today, I am home…

Living Tiny…Living Large…Giving More!

As you may know, we sold our home. We did in order that we might be able to give the equity we earned to Saint Miriam to help us build a new church. No, the decision did not come easily or lightly. It took a lot of prayer and a lot of arguments (‘er, ah, talking! Ya talking!) But, we made the decision, sold our furnishings to an auction house, destroyed ten years worth of old records in storage, and made the choice to live in a ‘Tiny Home”. It’s like being on a tiny adventure!
The National Association of Home Builders reports that single-family homes are getting bigger, averaging 2,434 square feet in 2005 compared with 983 square feet in 1950.
Tiny houses buck that trend, and there are cable TV shows such as my favorite, Tiny House Nation, and a wonderful documentary called, Small is Beautiful, and while I was always fascinated with the idea, I never really – deep down – thought that I could do it. But, I have. And now, after a few weeks of getting used to it I must admit that I love it!
The tiny-house movement is all about living large in a small space. Remember the aforementioned 983-square-foot 1950s home? It’s big enough to contain several tiny houses, which can be as compact as 80 square feet and rarely exceed 500 square feet. Our home is approximately 362 square feet. (Yes, no misprint!) And, yes, it take some getting used to, but you quickly learn how to move and get along with everyone living with you! Even Tucker has finally settled in and since there is no room for his kennel any longer, he has taken to sleeping in the tiny bathroom (I guess, truth be known) it is a bit smaller than his previous kennel! So, we all made it work.
Why? We decided that our lifestyle is one of conscious choice:  We choose to live connected to the land, our food, our God, and each other. We also choose to live a zero-debt lifestyle in order to give more to help build a church and to allow God to use us and allow us to be less burdened and less in debt. No, we are not debt free, but the goal is one that will not elude us if we stick with it.  And, there is something comforting of letting go.
In order to move into our home, we had to let go of a lot! No extra books (all on an iPad now), no extra clothes (reduced and down to a few of each needed item), no extra food (minimally stocked cabinet and smaller meals make better choices for living in small spaces, no more changing things around (I used to love to rearrange the furniture on a monthly basis! No more, the decision was made when the space was built!), and the new rule that ranks right up with “Worship only one God”…anything new IN means something old goes OUT! So, storage is minimal, decisions minimal, and space minimum, but the reward has been living large. How?
I have more time to dream, to think, to pray, to sit, and to just be me. I have a new relationship with my partner, my dog, my family, and my God, and yes, even with myself! I worry less and I have learned to live more simply.
Do I ever yearn for my previous life and the McMansion I once owned? Never. Why? I have things far more valuable and they take up no added space.


For Less Than Porta Potties….

Quod igitur conspicuum fuit Salvatoris Nostri in sacramenta transivit, orloosely translated, “What has been visible of our Savior has passed over into the sacraments”.  It is the essence of why we honor the sacraments, and why we place so much emphasis on the way and place we worship. It is not ‘good enough’ for us to simply place a podium in the middle of a room filled with chairs and add in a band. No, it is much deeper for us, as Catholics, and this is why the building of the new parish is so essentially part of our very soul. Why? Because we believe the Eucharist is essential to the life of the Church, and nothing outshines it.

As we learned in the Franciscan reflection earlier this week, they say that one of the most significant and formative experiences in the life of a parish is the process of building a new church. Saint Miriam is in such a process and it is very exciting and we well on our way! During this process, and even before it was announced, we have endeavored to remain faithful to the Church’s teachings and our liturgical theology, coupled with our parish history, to bring about a plan that would allow us to grow and continue a legacy of love and hope – our ‘radical welcome’!

As Catholics, we believe that from the altar of the cross, Christ accomplished our redemption, forming a holy people, a “temple of God built of living stones, where the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth.”  The eternal hymn of praise that Christ places within our heart, and on the lips of the entire holy Church, will be sung at the end of time in all its fullness, when all the members gather at the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem! And that is why this should be a time of coming together, of great joy, and of personal sacrifice, as we build something that very few people can ever really claim to do in their lifetime: build a brand new house of worship for the God of the universe!

Just as the term “Church” refers to the living temple, God’s People – us – the term has also been used to describe “the building in which the Christian community gathers to hear the word of God, to pray together, to receive the sacraments, and celebrate the Eucharist.”  Such a house of prayer must be expressive of the real presence of God and suited for the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ, as well as a reflection of the community that celebrates there. That is why we are putting so much effort into the plans to build a beautiful place for all to come, and dwell, and reflect on the very God who gave us life itself, eternal life.

Churches, then, should never be “simply gathering spaces”, but rather signify and make visible the ‘living Church’ and thus itself becoming “a sign of the pilgrim Church on earth and reflects the Church dwelling in heaven.” Our new parish campus will be a place to encounter God, as well as a point of departure on the Church’s unfinished journey toward the reign of God, as we come and go – but always with Christ in our hearts and on our lips.

I have noted how everyone is so very excited about the Papal visit. Soon the City of Philadelphia, and the surrounding area, will be inundated with millions of visitors. The Archdiocese has a budget estimate of well over 45, 000,000 (45 million dollars), and part of that cost, well over $2,000,000 (yes, that’s two million!) will be spent just on Porta Potties! Some are also taking advantage of the lack of enough hotel rooms by offering their one bedroom apartments for upwards of $10,000 for the week. They say they are not taking advantage, but that is exactly what they are doing. It is simply un-Christian! And, in the end, what will they have to show for it?

Look, I am excited about the Holy Father’s visit, too. I still hope to have the opportunity to meet him. But, after a few hours and a Papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, he will be gone, and so will 45+ million dollars. We , on the other hand, are going to build an entire church for less than 1.5 million and it will last lifetimes, many over, many generations to come.

And so at the new Saint Miriam Parish, we will continue the traditions of washing and anointing, breaking the bread, and sharing the cup, raising our arms in blessing and imposing hands as visible signs by which Christ manifests and accomplishes our sanctification and salvation in the Church, and we will do it all for less than the Archdiocese will spend on Porta Potties.

Where will you place your support?

That’s Heaven to Me…

“There is sorrow. There is always sorrow.”  That is the firm teaching that one of my oldest and wisest mentors once told me, as I prepared to finish my seminary education and transition from ‘laity’ to ‘ordained clergy’. He was not trying to be harsh, or demeaning, or even scare me away; he was being honest – brutally honest – in order that I might somehow be prepared. I wasn’t. I was not until I endured it, until it became the pattern of my life.

My transitions, the accompanying sorrow, have never really stopped from the moment when Archbishop Gundry laid his hands upon my head and breathed over me the power of God. In some respects it has even gotten a little more intense with the passage of time. I often say that being a priest is always saying goodbye. At times, it has called me to stay put in a place where I disdained greatly, or to leave a place that I loved immensely, or to bid farewell to someone I loved deeply. You see, I have learned that God’s time is almost never our time.

These past few months I have endured the greatest challenges in my priesthood by way of transitions. The loss of good friends. The death of my father. The illness of my mother. The burying of Father Joe. The transition of Archbishop Cass. The welcoming of Bishop Gregory as Presiding Bishop, and back home to Bishop Ken as part of our ministry team. The letting go of my home, and even the loss of my aquarium that I had cared for now for some six years; some of those fish were a mere quarter inch or less and now, as they left my door for the last time, were upwards of almost 10”! Silly, huh?  Well, for some, but for me… it is yet another image, and perhaps metaphor, of letting go and allowing sorrow to mold me into a better human being. A stronger priest. A more compassionate pastor.

I suppose there is nothing inherently tragic in losing a fish tank or even about an elderly parent dying, but for me they are reminders of significant loss. Yes, my dad lived well and long, and burying parents is a principal duty of children in every culture and of every age.  And, I know that the selling of a home, even when you give it all away, is not of any noteworthiness I suppose to most people. But we feel these losses, even though they are natural and normal. We miss our dads, our former homes, neighbors, friends, classmates, school chums, and our pets. We grieve our childhood home, friends who have hurt us, people in authority who have let us down. And sometimes we weep over bigger, truly tragic events — a typhoon’s destruction, children murdered in their school, terrorists and plagues, and a society that seems off its rails.

But all of this is part of life. Real life in all its dimensional glory and sorrow. I am reminded of how the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t hesitate to include it even at Christmastime. In a very matter-of-fact way, the Apostle says that King Herod slaughtered all the boys two years and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Indeed, in his zeal to show that every event of Jesus’ nativity was a fulfillment of scripture, Matthew writes that even the screams of their disconsolate mothers were foretold. “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,” he writes. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”  That could be the parents of Newtown, or the 234 kidnapped girls of Nigeria; it could be family of Robin Williams, or any of the hostages beheaded by ISOL. It could be the families of the victims of the train crash in Philadelphia, or the airliners missing in Malaysia, or the Ebola victims and Emanuel Nine. And, yes, perhaps no where near as dramatically, that could be you — or me — as we, too, have had many occasions to lament, to weep, to hold our heads in our hands.

Our holy and sacred scripture confirms that the world is often full of pain and sorrow and misunderstandings, misgivings. The innocent suffer, the needy go hungry, the good die, and the wicked often seem to flourish, and there are no ready or healthy explanations to satisfy us. But I still hang on to this hope: In the end, the Son of God, the One whom we follow, He who we worship and adore, the Broken Lamb, that One…HE will make all things right and all matters good. I hold onto those famous words from the Book of Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

You, me, all who ever were, those yet to be, and those who simply are…together, face-to-face with God. That makes all of those losses worth it. It brings renewed joy to my letting go, and hope to my sorrow. It sounds like heaven to me.