Meatless Fridays…Stronger Catholics.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



The Ratio Between Dollars and Dimes!

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

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

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

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

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

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Cheering for the Other Side!

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

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

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

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

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

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

How will you spend your Lent this year?



Did You Remember to Love What You Already Have?

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


The Gift of Grief…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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.