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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Soles of Our Shoes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Standing Together…A Holy Week!

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

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

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

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


Where Will You Be This Week?

 

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

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

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

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

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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