Such an Exciting Place!

 

“What an exciting place!”  Those are the words of a priest that called me to see if he might come and spend some time in ministry. A fellow Franciscan and tenured vocational, and one who sees what we do, but has yet to filly experience it! Yes, we are an exciting place!

We have such wonderful outreaches! From Prayer Shawls and Scarves with a Purpose, to Sacred Meals, to Blessing Bags and Sacred Spaces! Soon “Car Safe” will be here and our enhanced versions of Blessing Bags, too! Our Healing Mass on the 2nd Sunday at 10:30am is moving and fulfilling. Our Baptismal Liturgy is something to behold and when you attend you realize how important the Sacraments really are to our life and faith!

Bombas Socks and The Joy of Socks and two new charities I am speaking with now, have all noticed and supported what we do. Soon WE ARE ALL HOMELESS will adorn our walls and strengthen our resolve as the signs of those most weak will touch our often too hard hearts.

If you look ahead in our announcements, too, you will now find Mary-on-the-Go, a Valentine’s Day Raffle, two versions of Sacred Meal, Open Adoration to allow you to come and sit with Jesus, even if only a few minutes every Thursday or via Livestream, too! And just in time for Lent, a new way to honor the Stations of the Cross, FREE Lenten Reflection Booklets, Ashes to Go, and a special Mini-Lenten Retreat, Follow in my Footsteps! There are Prayer Shawls to make, shopping lists to support, Blessing Bags to make, and even the opportunity for you to rename one of our campus roadways! (Like I said, exciting!)

Our Family Mass is becoming better family-children centered and new hymnals will soon adorn our pews! A new sign will be erected out front and new Avenue Banners on our light poles! Two new staff members will be coming on board as part of our team, and we will also have enhanced security and continue our ‘Green Policy’ as we care for one and other and never forget God’s planet, too!

Yes, our parish focus this year of “Meeting the Poor in the Flesh” is well on its way with exciting ways to deepen your spirituality and support this parish that truly welcomes everyone! But none of this will happen without your support and attendance and care. That is why we will be offering a few new ways for you to support our mission, reduce our costs, and enjoy the benefits of being part of an exciting place.

In the coming weeks, you will be presented with the urgent need to increase our monthly electronic giving that we call, eGiving. I will be very clear as your pastor here: This is not something that we should do, but rather something we must do. Everyone who gives can do better if you want to badly enough. I am living proof of that and have been so for some ten years now. If you care enough and find what we do here as valuable to your family, you will give and do so joyfully trusting that God will care for you in return. It really is that simple. You must be willing to step out on faith.

Too, in that same vein, you will also be asked to switch from a credit or debit card linked to your checking or savings account and simply allow us to set up that same giving via ACH (automated clearing house, an electronic funds-transfer system). This will reduce  the fees we currently pay that literally lower your actual giving level and gives part of your donation to the bank and credit card company!

Lastly, you will be asked to get your butts to church! (My mom’s words, not mine!) Attendance has been lacking and we work hard to make the programming and experience and music and liturgy something special, but none of it is going to happen if you don’t get to church, honor God, and show the world that your covenant with something greater is worth the effort.

This really is an exciting place. Now, let’s recognize its value in our lives and give her the care she deserves. After all, with our last breath, I am quite certain we will not be reflecting back and wishing we had spent less time here.

 



WE ARE ALL HOMELESS.

As I announced at the Family Mass last Sunday, this Lent, Saint Miriam will be the next home for the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS project. The exhibit will feature a cross-section of the works from Willie Baronet on two levels of the parish. We will also tie into this exhibit our Lenten experience for 2019. We will sink more deeply into how we live a life of service and care for the marginalized and the lost and the lonely. We will try to deepen our own willingness, too, as we seek the homeless, the food insecure, and the forgotten. From the opening of the exhibit on March 9th to its closing celebration on April 27th, we will become homeless.

The WE ARE ALL HOMELESS project began in 1993 due to the awkwardness its founder, Artist and professor, Willie Baronet, felt when he pulled up to an intersection and encountered a person holding a sign, asking for help. Willie has since purchased more than 1,300 homeless signs over the past 24 years, and he uses this collection to create installations to raise awareness about homelessness. Like many of us, he wrestled with whether or not he was doing good by giving them money or to simply ignore them or avoid their steel gaze. Mostly he admitted the internal struggle with his moral obligation, and how his own choices contributed in conscious or unconscious ways to poverty. Willie struggled with the unfairness of the lives people are born into, the physical, mental and psychological handicaps. In his struggle, he avoided eye contact with those on the street, unwilling to really see them, and in doing so – like most of us – avoided seeing parts of himself. That changed once he began asking these people if they would sell their signs! Willie’s relationship to the homeless has been powerfully and permanently altered and now, so has the world.

I reached out to Willie after his showing at the Jefferson. He was forever changed. As an admitted fall away Catholic since age 17, his mother died some 15 years ago, and he remembered her often wondering if somehow, she failed him, but now he can’t help but feel she is proud of him and that somehow, my reaching out was a sign of her strength to him, even now.

At our front doors, when you first arrive to our parish, you are greeted by a beautiful life-sized bronze statue by world-renowned artist and sculptor, Timothy Schmalz. The piece is entitled, “Whatsoever You Do”, and has been dubbed, ‘The Beggar Christ.’ The sculpture is based on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, and suggests that Christ is one with the most marginalized in our society. It is a strong, visual representation of what our parish represents: an inclusive home, a strong welcome, with deep and abiding hospitality for everyone, without any reservations. We welcome everyone and for us, it is more than a trite motto; it is our mission.

For the last ten years, we have welcomed the rejected and the marginalized. We have endeavored to treat everyone as a living soul with inherent dignity that is deserving of our love and protection and welcome. From being the first Catholic Parish to welcome gay and lesbians to full inclusion, to our extending hospitality to the Transgender and questioning. From our welcoming the immigrant and the ex-offender, to our support groups for families, the addict and the recovering, to our swinging wide the doors of our campus to those mourning the loss of their best friend in our Angels of Assisi Pet Memorial Garden, to our constant reminder of our goal to welcome all, including those seeking sanctuary, we have been a haven to those who seek refuge and the love and embrace of God. We have much to be proud of and more to do.

Because we believe that when Jesus said, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto me,” He was not speaking sentimentally, nor even ideologically, but rather with a depth that only the truly perceptive can feel. It is for us a mandate. Jesus sees Himself in the hungry, the naked, the lost, the marginalized, the forgotten, and the imprisoned… because of that ‘desert experience’, the devil made it so. And that is why we recently announced the addition of “Car Safe” (providing a safe place to park overnight with assistance to transitional housing opportunities and the care of they immediate needs) to ourBlessing Bag Outreach as well as ‘enhanced’ versions to help those homeless with pets, without socks, and now blankets, too. Through our hard work, these efforts reveal the paradoxical upside-down truth that from suffering we are redeemed by the very hands of God…

This Lent, we will focus on these programs and the Beggar at our door. As someone wrote to me recently, “This is a VERY BIG DEAL!” and so it is, but we will use this focus and time to better ourselves and our community by making the world a little bit better.

It should be noted that there have been over 30 art installations of WE ARE ALL HOMELESS since 2009 in the US and UK, including exhibits at NYU, Texas A&M, University of Pennsylvania and the University of Cambridge. In 2016 exhibits came to Philadelphia and Cleveland during both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. In Philly they were part of Truth to Power, a group show sponsored by Rock the Vote, which included artists Banksy, Ron English, and Shepard Fairey. The installations provide an experience for people to explore the humanity of the signs, and questions regarding the nature of home, compassion, and what it means to truly see each other. We are pleased and honored that Willie has allowed us to join such prestigious places to host one of his exhibits.

We will close our exhibit in late April after Easter comes again. We will use this time to screen SIGNS OF HUMANITY, a documentary film where Willie and three filmmakers drove across the country, interviewing more than 100 people on the streets and purchasing over 280 signs that explores inter-related themes of home, homelessness, compassion, and humanity as well as engage ourselves and the community through a Q&A session that will feature Willie, a former homeless man and now advocate, Eddie Dunn, (someone Willie actually purchased a sign from), Tom Costello, founder of the Joy of Sox, and Dr. Rosie Frasso who did the research project at Jefferson University. This will be a spectacular day!

The conversations and connections God brings to us leaves an indelible mark on our hearts, as only God can do, if only we care enough to truly listen. This Lent, let us gather all that we are and give something back to God and leave those who wish to avoid chocolate for Lent to themselves. We have more important things to do and many more lives to impact; and perhaps, even to save.
 
 
PS.  To support this project, and art exhibition, please Click Here to make your generous gift. 
 


“You want answers?” “I want the truth.” “You can’t handle the truth!”

Ahh, the famous (and ironically often misquoted) line from the motion picture, A Few Good Men (1992) the dramatic scene from the court martial with Kevin Bacon’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee and Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessop. This is what we all say we want, but do we really want or even need to know the truth?

Philip Berrigan said, “The Poor tell us who we are. The prophets tell us who we can be. So, we hide the poor and kill the prophets.”  I work hard. I know I will probably never see the seeds that I plant come to full growth. Like the quote used for my image, I can now only visualize in my mind’s eye the shade to come to someone else. So, I toil and pray, but I will not be silenced because I have learned that silence for many is death.

When I accepted my call from God to become a priest; a call that was affirmed by my parish and diocesan bishop, and since then, many times over, I was also called to preach and teach. That means that sometimes I commit myself to saying things that some do not want to hear. While I have never considered myself much of a prophet, I suppose I speak prophetically from time to time as the Spirit calls me to do, and sometimes demands of me to do. I’m supposed to speak for justice in behalf of the poor and oppressed, and equip my congregation for witness and service, and also guide the people of God in proclaiming God’s love through word and deed. Not easy. Never has been, and this included my cry to those young children this past week in Washington DC who attended a March for Life event with their school, but somehow ended up the focus of national attention for what they wore, how they acted, and what they said before, during, and after the incident.

Since my admonishment of them, as a Catholic priest, pastor and someone who oversees a school, I have been called every name in the book and told that religion, and those of us who support religion, are mere Neanderthals and archaic; we are worthless. It’s is no wonder how silent clergy often are, and how much the Church and others try to silence us.

I have learned that if you are speaking out about the right things at the right time, there will always be concern and pain. People get concerned really fast and lose interest really fast, too. But true change and truth always involve pain and self-introspection. This is what is lacking on behalf of those boys. They take no personal accountability nor see how the part they played in the drama that played out was worsened, and now even dioceses are reversing their admonishment under social pressure, but they lay waste the gospel of the church in doing so and relinquish our position as teacher of the faith.

Now, I realize that we were all wrong initially to jump to conclusions; myself included. There were a lot of different people coming out to make statements about what they believed to be true. I am included in that first bunch, admittedly. After all, being human, I get it; it is difficult to watch what we all saw in that shortened version of the initial videos and reports and not become outraged. Especially if you have ever been bullied. As one who has, I have seen those eyes, just like the eyes and accompanying smirky grin of that young boy staring at me, immovable and icy cold as his feet, and I have been frightened. In the end, we were all wrong and all correct, too, depending on the angle you choose to see it from. Literally.

Some of the truth is that what we saw, in either the shorter and longer version of the video, (both of which I have now watched many times) was a clash captured at the Lincoln Memorial between Omaha Nation elder, Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, a teenager Nick Sandmann and a group of his fellow classmates, all white Red-MAGA-Ballcap-wearing schoolboys from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School, and a handful of Black Hebrew Israelites. It was ugly, more so from the Black Hebrew Israelites mouths, as they spewed such vulgarity, hurling racism, homophobia, and worse at anyone and everyone who crossed their path, including these young men. I won’t place it here in written form, but it was vulgar and untamed and almost inhuman. All sorts of commentators at first condemned the students for surrounding, staring down and mocking an older indigenous man of color. Then, only a day later, many of those same commentators began apologizing to the teenagers — and apologizing for them, too. This shift occurred along a ‘queasy sort of redemptive’ arc: People judged, and then they were judged in turn, so they retreated because after all, these were ‘good Catholic boys’ (and white) so surely we must be wrong? The original denouncers, eager to cast these children as the embodiment of Trump-ism, were truth-tellers on Saturday, but somehow, they lost their will and decided the situation – and controversy – too complicated and not worth their effort to dive deeper and protect those things or ideals worth fighting for.

The original story was about how the racist, ignorant superiority that undergirds the Trump ideology (aka the red hats) moved privileged white teenagers to chant “Build the wall,” as Phillips said they did, (and some still maintain is absent fact) at someone whose ancestors were here long before theirs and a history they obviously knew not. The story now is about how the hyper-polarization of today’s society can move Americans to condemn those who do not deserve it. But somehow the truth was lost. Yes, in the end, there was enough wrong to go around on all sides.

The first version was concocted by progressives of influence, but the second from some ivy-league hired public relations firms with political ties that cannot be denied. (Even their statement was copyrighted.) The problem is neither of these versions captures the truth, which is hidden somewhere in all this mess, as truth so often is.

It’s true that the Hebrew Israelites shouted hate at the young people, and it is true that the kids chanted school cheers to drown them out. It’s also true that they chose to wear those hats – political in every form – knowing that someone would probably take offense. It’s true that these boys made ugly comments to female passersby, and even a joke about rape. (Yes, I said rape.) It’s also true that the schoolboys, whether someone else was mean to them beforehand or not, were giggling and childish as they let loose with offensive ‘school war’ chants and dances and wild tomahawk chops while a Native American man beat his drum before them. It’s true this school has a history of racism and racial undertones, including unapologetically wearing ‘black face’ for what they called ‘school spirit’. “We mean nothing by it,’ said one Covington Catholic student, ‘we just showed our school spirit.”  Wrong.  So wrong. It’s true that the school has history of denying openly gay students their voice. It’s also true that many were impacted by them in harmful ways prior to this captured incident. My truth is that they had no business being anywhere near this scene. They were not near the bus loading zone, they had no business in the attire they chose to incite with, and they certainly had no business wearing the clothing of their school as they did, as if to say their journey there was not a true journey for the dignity of human life, but to cause havoc, or at least discomfort for some. The seeming lack of judgment by their chaperones was curious, as well. I would have no problem terminating any of them had it been here in our school or diocese. Why? Because we have lost our moral standing and compass; we are better than this. 

I also know this truth from personal experience. I Marched on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. I stood hand in hand and even tied myself to the White House fence with Act Up. I marched for Human Life, too, with a March for Life gathering, and I stood and wept at the horror of millions of names sewn into a patch work of homemade quilts; those who died from AIDS as the world condemned them for being what they were and how they were created by the very same God we all claim to worship now. And, through it all, I will say this clearly: I was far too young and far too naïve to get it all. I knew the nuances of why I wanted to be there, but as age comes wisdom, I was far too young to actually know why I was there and none of those boys know either. For most, this trip was a chance to get out school and be boys, not champions of pro-life. That was proven in more ways than one.

You can watch the various videos and read the multidtde of statements and see the myriad of new positions from around the world and come to your own conclusions about what happened. It is not my job to tell you what happened. I was not there.  I also know my perspective is skewed by who I am, and what I have endured, and yes, the color that I am, too. But as a person who moves around this world with my white privilege, and as a person who is an ordained Catholic Franciscan Priest, it IS my job to speak out against injustice and to tell people they are wrong; even me. St. Francis once said to show him the gospel, not just preach it (my paraphrase). As white Catholic Christian people, in a world of more privilege than most, we need especially to be more understanding of how much our standing colors our views. Why? Because what we are and what we say, along with our history, replete with the horrors of child abuse and the air of our superiority over everyone and all else that God created is present in these children and will impact the world as long as we give it voice and power.

Mr. Standmann and his classmates didn’t seem to realize the layers of history that exist between white people and yes Catholics, too,  and Native Americans. They did not see their own prejudice and veiled misogyny. How could they in a place where most could not afford to attend and where people of color are so absent, especially in places of power and authority? They did not recognize the anthem song of the American Indian Movement being drummed, or how flippedly we still use derogatory terms like ‘Indian-giver’ or even our President calling another politician Pocahontas, all without a thought to their inherent prejudice. How could they when we hide it so well, as we do all of our Catholic dirty laundry. We have a moral obligation to understand how we carry our violent history of the genocide of Native Americans and the profound traumas of slavery with us, not to mention the way in which we walk amongst other religions with such open disdain. We are the powerful and we should be more cautious.

America is a place where different ideas are to be freely expressed, including ideas that say some people are the problem or even ‘the devil’, like those Hebrew Israelites did that day. A reading of American religious history should acquaint all of these ideas and hearing them shouldn’t be a shock after all these years of being so smug. But, not understanding whyit would appear menacing to be chanting your school’s fight songs loudly with “Make America Great hats” on and moving en masse toward others, vulgar as they may be, and another group who knew nothing of your intentions should not be that impossible to understand, even for these young privileged boys from Kentucky, and especially for those entrusted with their care.

As Marcia Mount Shoop said so well, “When white people walk into a space where black bodied people and Indigenous people are voicing their pain, their perspectives, we carry with us a violent heritage, whether we know it or not.” And so it is, whether we like it or not.

When I was a boy, “Respect for your elders” was a constant reminder from my parents. We used to get literally beat if we treated others with less than the respect due them and their position in life. It didn’t matter whether you knew them or not, whether you were related to them or not, or even if you liked them or not, or what they were saying: as a child you gave way to the adult, always. This was also reinforced during my years in Catholic education. So, for me and many others, Mr. Sandmann’s actions and those of his classmates were those of a bunch of white privileged disrespectful youth toward an adult. No amount of rude, homophobic, racist, anti-Catholic slang from a bunch of hate-filled people like those Black Hebrew Israelites justifies what they did. It simply doesn’t. And it isn’t biblical, pro-life, or gospel-like either. Period.

I will admit that context demands more than watching a single event from all possible angles. We all failed at that this week: the press, the reporters, me, and you. BUT it also means understanding the world where the events happened and our complacency in it all and how shallow and hate-filled a people we really are.

The quarrel over these Covington Catholic boys is not only a story of social media hate-mobbing. It’s also a story of the ‘group think’ tendency to jump off a bandwagon as unthinkingly as we hopped onto it, but there are real problems here in this nation and none of that will be fixed if we give these boys – or ourselves – a solid pass. No one acted heroically here and no one deserves a White House invitation. 

The world we live in is often what we saw play out this past week. If you are a person of color, even more often than not, the pass would not come so easily. Sad, but so true. It is not a world that I want to leave behind. How about you?

 



Re-Remembering What is Truly Important.

It’s been a tough week. I had the honor and sad duty to bury someone I had the great joy of marrying just barely ten years ago. He died suddenly, leaving a wife and two children behind. The funeral this Thursday morning was a stark reminder to me how fleeting life is, how fragile we are, how those things we think are important, in the end, really aren’t that important at all.
 
After the funeral services were completed, I waited for the family and friends to depart. Then I silently walked from the chapel, feeling more deeply the winter’s cold found this particular January day, over to George’s open grave. I cried over the hole that would soon bear his coffin and what remained of his earthly life, I mustered enough strength to bless the earth as I remembered those words, I so often use almost without thinking, “We are but dust and unto dust we shall we return.” Bless this hallowed grave, a sign now made of hope, for it was Christ the first born of the dead that we shall follow. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” George is gone from this life. We live on.
 
I wonder if last Sunday when so many stayed away from Mass using the weather as this week’s excuse, remember what is really important? I wonder if those who will stay away this weekend will remember? I wonder if all those who fight so passionately on social media over politics will remember what is truly important in the end and one day might fight so for all we have here? I wonder how long until I forget, too?
 
I was all but ready to call it a day and give up on all that I thought others would find important. After all, life is so fickle. Then I received a note from one of our parents. She wanted me to know the impact this parish has on their family, and in particular her daughter who attends PREP. I needed this note this day more than anyone will ever know. (I have placed a copy below, with her permission to share.) My image is the actual poem entitled, “Acceptance“.
 
Sometimes God comes when you least expect Him. Sometimes God knows you need to hear that your life is important to others. Sometimes God comes to remind us that together we make wonderful things happen in the world. I needed this reminder after such a tough week for my own selfish reasons of feeling inadequate. I pray this helps you re-remember what is truly important and how imperative our work here is together.
 
See you Sunday.
 

Good morning Fr. Jim!  I wanted to share this with you – it’s a poem that Lilly wrote for her school’s Acceptance Day in honor of the MLK holiday.  She was chosen to read it to the entire middle school at an assembly today.  Your messages of inclusion don’t go unnoticed and I think this should be a reminder for you to keep it up, especially when you’re feeling discouraged.  Our kids (and the rest of us) are watching, listening and absorbing!

Have a great weekend!
Katie Hansen
 


It’s the Little Things that Mean So Much…

We have a vibrant and growing parish, BUT we also do real ministry! By ‘real’ I mean ministry that is more than just lip service. We actually worship God here with a beautiful Mass, and we honor our Blessed Mother with the Rosary, not once, but twice each week, AND we take our prayers to the streets in many ways! Here are a few:

Prayer Shawl Ministry: Each week, while many of us watch television, there are folks sitting and praying as they knit and crochet prayer shawls for those with illness or loss, new parents who will receive a baby blanket, and scarves to be placed in our Blessing Bags for the homeless.

Blessing Bags: Our “Blessing Food Bags” at Saint Miriam is an award-winning outreach to the homeless and food insecure in our area. Our program extends primarily to greater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and suburbs, as well as Camden, New Jersey, Wilmington and Dover, Delaware areas. Our food blessing bags are supported by grant donations and volunteer contributions and are filled with nutritious food and goodies, as well as personal care items and feminine hygiene products for female clients. 

Sacred Space: Through this program our primary mission is to provide spiritual companionship to homeless men and women who seek a non-threatening way to be with others in relationship, in prayer and in community. We are un-housed and housed people called by God into Christian community and ministry for the purpose of transforming all our lives. Our weekly outdoor worship services are for anyone who wishes to attend. Singing, praying, reflection, and the Eucharist are offered. This is followed by opportunities for private conversation, prayer, blessing or counseling, and a light lunch. Sacred Space gathers every Sunday, rain or shine, at 3:00 p.m.

Scarves with a Purpose: We have teamed with Sacred Spaces to distribute newly created homemade scarfs from our wonderful Prayer Shawl Ministry Group for homeless persons in our area! Our warm, made with love, scarfs will be going to those who need warmth the most! Please support this new ministry by donating materials or making a generous donation or joining the group and helping make wonderful strength-giving knitted items for those in need of some pastoral care!

A Sanctuary Parish: Since May 2017, the Parish of Saint Miriam has been designated a “Sanctuary Parish.” The Board took this action upon recommendation from the mission and outreach committee, as well as from the desires of our pastor that we continue to ‘walk the talk’ and affirm our worldview of safe passage for all who come to us. This designation means that we’re committed to providing a variety of support, including, but not limited to, physical sanctuary at Saint Miriam to people who are threatened with deportation or unlawful incarceration or detainment solely based on their nation of origin or immigration status. In making this designation, our Board is saying that we’re going to be in alliance with people who are the most vulnerable.

Why is this all so important?  Because Saint Miriam is a church only when we are present and gathered in this assembly. However, when we leave, the church goes out into the world and makes it just a little bit better.

This coming month, you will learn about several new initiatives that will dovetail with the above programs and enhance the lives of the community, children and others. These new programs will include Buddy Benches, We are Homeless, and Safe Car! Support us and join us…

Just wait until you see who we become next during the upcoming year!
 


Flinging Wide The Doors To Our Hearts!

Last year, Pope Francis spotted a cluster of Italy’s “pitchfork” protestors, upset with unemployment and cuts in social services, holding a banner in St. Peter’s Square that read, “The Poor Can’t Wait!”  Francis, in his unique and unpredictable style, pointed to the sign and exclaimed, “That’s beautiful!”, launching into an extemporaneous sermon on homelessness and how it harms the fabric of human life!

At Christmas Mass this year, The Holy Father laid out the spiritual basis for the social gospel and asked for peace in a ‘uneasy world’. He brought two messages together: peace and action to the vulnerable. By doing so he stressed a special “vulnerability” implied in God’s choice to be born into a poor meager-means family. Yes, to be a Catholic means we follow the inherent dignity of every human person into our awareness, and by due diligence of the social gospel that makes us, well, what we truly are as a greater church!

During one year’s Urbi et Orbi  (“to the City [of Rome] and to the World”) address, a papal address and apostolic blessing given to the entire world by the pontiff on certain solemn occasions, such as Christmas.Francis returned to the same idea. “Let us allow our hearts to be touched,” he said. “Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God. We need his caress.”

That is why I am pleased to announce a very special happening at our parish beginning this coming Lent! For the entire Season of Lent, we will be home to something so special, we cannot contain it just here, and so our doors will be flung open wide to allow the greater community to visit for all of the six weeks of Lent and into Easter! Stay tuned to learn more in the coming weeks and begin to soften your hearts as we boldly embrace the most vulnerable among us!

In the interim, I ask that we all pray on this reflective concern: How might we carry the same message – the deeper message of Christmas – now to those in need, and bring them the caress of a living God, like those first immigrants, the aliens,  we now call, ‘The Holy Family’?

PS. Our Annual Parish Board Retreat is January 19th– I urge you to send us your needs, desires, changes, and concerns as we move into a year that we will soon name as part of our addressing the needs of the most vulnerable!
 


A Blessed Mother, A Blessed Parish, A Blessed New Year!

In the Sanctuary of our beautiful parish, hangs an original oil painting, a gift to us by one of our dearest benefactors who died in 2012, Raymond Leight, Jr. The work of art is entitled, “Oy Vey!” (Luke 2:41) and features Mary standing outside the temple looking for Jesus. She was worried for days as she and Joseph searched for Him. In Ray’s depiction, she finds Him preaching in the temple courts and turns toward the crowd and raises her hand and explains, “Oy Vey!” (A Yiddish phrase expressing dismay or exasperation.) Yes, in a typical Jewish mother fashion!

This coming New Year’s Day, we will honor our Blessed Mother as we gather at 10:30am for the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Then we will once again bestow the next annual award to someone who exemplifies the deep love of our parish, just like Ray Leight did for so many years. We are grateful that the Leight Family Estate has provided us with a means to not only support the parish, but to honor our history and our life together as we, too, remember the life and legacy of Raymond Leight. A friend, a benefactor, and someone who touches us even to this day! I feel his love and strength as I remember fondly his care for this place.

We have built a grand vision for a parish here. A vision that has allowed us to become something very special – a place of love that welcomes so many and now cares for the poorest among us and gives sanctuary to those seeking a better life. Our outreach programs provide shelter for those who seek support from addiction and the coldness of homelessness. Our hearts have provided a means for people to provide a quality, private education to their children, and an historic cemetery to bury their dead near St. Francis. Our Pet Memorial Garden allows for those suffering the loss of one of God’s gentlest creatures to give a place of peace of memorial; a reward for their love that once so freely warmed their homes. Our Blessing Bag Program, Scarves with a Purpose and Prayer Shawls warm others in crisis or need and allows them to feel the love we so often feel here, too.

This coming month, we will announce something very exciting for our parish and community that will open our doors in a brand-new way this coming Lent! We are very excited and look to open our hearts in an ever-deepening way to provide more resources to give to those without faces, a means to be seen and loved again.

We have much to be proud of, but we have learned that it takes a lot of sacrifice and a lot of work to do what we have chosen to do by honoring what God has asked of us. It takes a village full of people willing to do God’s work, despite the world thinking us mad. This Tuesday morning, we will enjoy together once again, for the 10th time in a row, the Nativity of our Lord, Christmastide, an Octave of Christmas, in a brand-new year. We will bestow the Raymond Leight, Jr. Sacrificial Giving Award and we will enter more fully into the winter season with warm hearts.

I pray you well as we move ahead into proving to the world that the music we hear is not from our madness, but from our deep love of a man named Jesus, who have us His all. I pray you will support us with your end of year gift right now and allow us to bring to the world the love of God more fully.  An exciting year is ahead! Just watch!

Blessed New Year!

Monsignor +Jim, Pastor

 



Coming Home, Again.

While studying in seminary in Washington, DC, I had the honor praying in the Howard Thurman Chapel at Howard University School of Divinity. Howard Thurman, an African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, as well as someone whose legacy has impacted my worldview, once penned these moving words,

“There must be always remaining in every man’s life some place for the singing of angels — some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness — something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory — old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”

This is my wish at this time of year for those of us who find it a trying time. Now, to be clear: not all the season is difficult, but when those moments overwhelm us, we need the signing of angels. That is why The Longest Night, our annual ‘Blue Christmas’ Service this Friday at 6:30pm, is so healing and so important for me. It allows me to actually cry at church – my home – and feel my grief and let go of some of my grief tomorrow yet to come. Because of what will happen here this Friday, I will heal a bit more and become a bit more whole again. No, I know that I will never be the same, but whatever is left, God will use for good. That I know and that I trust.

As  Thurman said, ‘old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting’,  and that is so often how God comes to us. His care and embrace are made manifest by often simple, selfless gifts and by coming to us at the most opportune moments, we are made whole. Any earlier, these gifts would have been lost in the darkness of my grief; any later it could not have been undervalued or under appreciated. God’s timing is always impeccable.

It is, in a very real sense how Katelyn came into my life. Any earlier, we would have passed in the night; any later, I most likely would never have made it another year. This beautiful gift is cherished far beyond my mere words here can ever express, for I am a mere mortal and broken man, and yet so loved. But, suffice-it-to-say, God gave me this gift at a time where I was ready to let go of my deepest pain found mired in the tragic loss of my dad – I had to let it go – in order to try and find home again, but this time it was  within me all along.

So, you see, the lesson of Christmas is that home is never a place, it is rather a feeling or a destination that dwells deep within you all the time, even when you fail to know it is there! The Christ has never left me, even when I felt abandoned in my loss and depression, God was still there; Jesus was still holding me waiting for me to have the strength to look beyond the edges of my grief. But it took the passage of time, the softening of my deep grief, and the gift of an angel named Katelyn to remind me that Christmas, too, is not a day. No, Christmas lives all year long.

Merry Christmas, dad. I miss you more with every breath. Merry Christmas, to Katelyn, and all of God’s angels who have watched over me, and worried about me, and loved me at my worst so that God had time to bring me to my best. Thank you for being my true gifts this year and sharing my broken life and making me feel wonderfully whole!

And a Blessed Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

 



Unwrapping the Greatest Gift of Advent.

It is always amazing to me how Facebook can bring me to tears. Several times a month the social media giant sends me a private view of something that I posted from my past. Sometimes it is only a few months ago, but oftentimes, the depiction from several years ago of an image oftentimes forgotten. For me, this week, it was a small Christmas Tree I put up the month before my dad died. I have used it as my image today. It was in the living room of a condominium that Sean and I owned together in Philadelphia. My dad, that tree, our relationship in that form, and the condo are all gone now. Each died to this world as a result of either illness or sacrifice and our mutual willingness to be part of the greater creation of what we now have here at Saint Miriam. For me, this time of year is dreadfully difficult as I grapple with the human aspect of my ministry and life. Advent is my most favorite time of year, and yet it is also one that so often brings me the most pain.

In our recent Advent Series, we have been exploring The Mass. It has renewed my commitment as a priest and my love of Jesus, especially His Presence in the elements transformed for us. Jesus IS the Incarnate Presence. The transformation of bread and wine is not purely symbolic for us as Catholics, it is not merely descriptive, He is the Real Presence and by His willingness to do so, we become participants in the Mass with Jesus. But, in doing so, we also willingly participate in His wounds and sacrifice. Yes, by our longing to sit with the Lord, to dine with Him, we – as His created – also must be willing to sacrifice.

In everything good that has ever been birthed, we learn early on that there can never be true community without painful sacrifice. Sacrifice comes to every life for something greater than that individual life. It has many times for me, and in my learning to see this, I have become less jaded and happier to give up in order to create and to leave for someone else a healthier world; a better place. That is what Facebook reminded me this week. What I gave up willingly, not what I lost, for something greater is the better focus. It is as they say, life-giving. This parish, God’s Church, my future in Heaven, none would be ‘better’ if not for my willingness to let go of that which has been most precious to me. This is my Advent reflection.

And, while I know that our senses are inadequate to inform us of the deepest reality of His coming every week to us, through our deep reverence and belief, we fall into the words of St. Thomas Aquinas when asked what he wanted, and his reply was Domine, non nisi Te,  that is “Lord, nothing except you.”  I pray that every day I have left on this earth, I will fall deeper and deeper in love with the One who loved me first, and still loved me at my worst.

So, for me, and for many others, this fast approaching time of Christmas may be a time of celebration and joy, but this is a difficult time of year for many of us, too. We reflect more deeply and long for much, some of which we know is lost forever. Many of us carry significant weights: grief, loss, depression, anxiety, financial stress, unemployment, uncertainty, aging parents, sick children, recent diagnoses, unknown illnesses, and losses suffered. The public tone of the season somehow does not resonate with many of our private experiences. We seem out of sync and alone.

This is why we created The Longest Night on December 21stat 6:30pm this year. The shape of our worship offered here that evening begins by us gathering in honesty about grief, and loss, and pain undiminished and our willingness in hearing the consolation found in God’s presence and love; with friend and stranger gathered with us alike. Then, we depart back into the coldness of the night, but this time with the joy that comes from memory and a sense of shared peace.

In our gathering together, on the day with the least amount of sunlight, somehow our reflections are eased. The Facebook images became less harsh, the memories less sharp, and the pain of our existence and inner turmoil shared and unloaded to the greater community where the sacrifice of the One who comes to us renewed allows us to move forward to where we might be called.

I pray you join me that evening. If not for you, then for us. Perhaps that will be your sacrifice: a little time in a sacred space where God might be found…that is how we will unwrap the greatest gift of Advent.