St. Francis is Vandalized and The World is Fractured, too.

 

One of my favorite childhood memories is of long summer days, spent reading and relaxing. We lived in a house in the city, but it was almost rural when first built. The back yard that my mom and dad set up had a gazebo structure and shades you could roll down to keep out the sun. There were comfortable lounge chairs, and my sister and I would load up with all kinds of summer reading materials. When we weren’t out riding bikes or playing in the neighborhood, we were camped out on the porch, reading. Nowadays, I have to fit in my reading for pleasure—or even for continuing education—around my daily work. I long for summer days, filled with the ‘nothingness’ to do. I long for a gentler, quieter time.

That is not where we are today in this country. It is almost a country that I do not recognize anymore. We have become a scared, isolated, mean-spirted nation of people who want a homogenous mix of themselves. We are closing our doors, our roadways, our entry points, our hearts. We are isolating ourselves from the world, needs of others, and one another. We use social media and the bible as weapons. We are rapidly becoming that which we were to hate. We are close to shrouding Lady Liberty, for her words and meaningless in a nation that cares not for the poor, the marginalized, the in-need, the asylum seeker, the refugee, but only for itself.

The state of the church isn’t much better. We are made up of a larger and growing majority of consumer-driven, non-sacrificing, all-for-me, what’s-in-it-for-me, I leave when I am not getting my way, church attendees. I say attendees because true parishioners, true members, true congregants always care more for the others and the greater church then themselves. Otherwise, we are just a social club, and not a real church.

Church attendance is declining. Over 38% in the last two decades alone and 59% of millennials never attend a church at all. If the Republican or Democratic Party had stats like this, they would be freaking out and dramatically changing the way they do things, but instead we just bury our heads and try to appease those who do come to ensure they remain members. At the same time, we sacrifice our moral vision and give up our authority and the church suffers. People suffer. The nation declines. The two go hand in hand. Now we are reaping what we sow. Often, eitherwe simply ignore the decline of the church in America because the patient ‘isn’t sick enough’, meaning that before people start taking things seriously, attendance must reach critical levels. Or, we propose cosmetic changes to our collapsing structures in hopes that brings people back.

According to Harvard Professor Robert Putnam, in the first two thirds of the 20th century, volunteer-based activities were thriving and growing, and local communities were vibrant. People were voting more, churches’ attendance was on the rise, families ate together as a rule, and people hosted one another at their homes. People volunteered more in local community projects, and as much as we can quantitatively evaluate, people behaved in a more generous and trustworthy ways toward one another. But, then “mysteriously, and more or less simultaneously we began to do all those things less often.” This epidemic that has largely collapsed the American community and the church is at death’s door, too.

At Saint Miriam, we are often criticized because we live and love by a covenant. We do so because it has served us well and that means that sometimes we watch as people leave us. Some come because they think they can trample over others and still remain part of us. Others, use their illnesses or brokenness or past wounds as a crutch and weaken us even as we try to help them. Still others use their own needs to harm others or engage in rumor or gossip or are inhospitable. Some allow no room for the differentthanthemselves. And, still others fail to sacrifice for the good of the parish and the greater Church. Rather they hoard their money, or state that giving $50 a month is far too much a sacrifice, as they cut off their minimal donations in spite to make a point, or claim they are wealthy and that somehow their not donating is proof positive that weare failing and they are right! But, in reality, we are not failing them, they are failing God – and themselves – and they wake every morning miserable and mean, and wish us to be so, too. We won’t.Our mission, our love, and our strength are better than this, stronger than their hatred, and bigger than their selfishness.

Yesterday we discovered that the St Francis that welcomes everyone to our campus at our entrance was damaged. It is the image I used for my blog today. Simultaneously, our “Hate has not Home Here” sign was removed and torn in half. The two are not separate incidents and are not only related, but an image of where we are in the nation, not just on the immigration debate, but also with one another and our fellow humans. We are hateful and broken and we better get a hold of ourselves, or the world will suffer, and we will all lose.

This morning, I woke to find a harsh response to an image I posted yesterday on my personal Facebook page. It is not secret that I am a priest. It is no secret that I am liberal and welcoming and accepting of all others, especially those who need a home, because I know what it is like to be an orphan. The response came from a friend and was so filled with rhetoric and hate that I responded, not in kind, but with kindness of reminding them who they are. I am sure I will be unfriended now, but we must all stop being so damn hateful. I share my response to this person, changing his name, of course, and perhaps in doing so I will remind those who think the foreigner amount us must be hated, too, might pause and remember who they are:  a creation wonderfully made in God’s own image to love the orphan, care for the injured and the sick, welcome the stranger and foreigner into our land, feed the hungry, and place a roof over the head of the homeless, all in order to truly live out the Gospel of our Christ.

“I am not sure who posted this response to me, but this is not the John Smith I know. The John Smith I know is the man who thanked me for saving the Zion legacy and who honors our nation and those who served her. The one who I shook hands with many times, embraced and worshipped with – not with common religious tradition, but mutual love and respect for one another. The one whose grandchildren attended our school, and who sat with his wife in my parish’s pew on many occasion. The one who created the most beautiful signs for our campus. The one who I call a friend and never forget to pray for, and whom I thought would also care for and pray for me. That is the John Smith I know and love. Whoever wrote this reply forgot that I am a priest, a friend, and fellow sojourner who never spoke an ill word toward him or wrote anything mean spirited. The person who wrote this hateful reply I do not know at all. Therefore, I choose to think it was penned by another and instead I will cherish the John Smith I know and still love. And, maybe, just maybe, if we can do that together, the world will, too, and every living person – especially the children who are the most vulnerable and weak among us – will find a kinder and gentler nation – with a people who value love above hate and division – to welcome them to a place they can call home, too. This is not an issue of laws, it is an issue for me of morals. Today, I wake to find even those I love somehow different and that makes me sad and breaks my heart. Today I am simply sad.”

I believe that there is enough hatred in this world. I will not pastor a parish filled with such people, nor condone it in my personal life, friends, family, or on my social media feeds. If you feel the same way, I will see you Sunday in a Sanctuary Parish named Saint Miriam that will welcome all. If not, I wish you well on your journey, and I will continue to pray that warmth of some stranger’s welcome reminds you of the way the world used to be when summer meant a time of respite and peace, of reading and loving, and the world welcomed even the stranger among us, not with a sword, but with a homemade apple pie, and a bright lamp at her door that promised a new life and safe lodging at last.
 


A Day for Dad!

 

My image today is of me and my dad. I was quite a bit heavier back then, but the joy on my dad’s face is worth a little embarrassment on my part!

On the day of my ordination to priesthood, just celebrated and honored by all of you this past May 19th, I transitioned from a man known as “Mr. St. George”, to being known as “Father Jim”. I will be honest and tell you that it took some getting used to, as people of all ages were using this title, but somehow it seemed comfortable to me.

When I was ordained, I was delighted when people called me ‘Father’. And, when we opened our school, and then took over Zion Preschool at Saint Miriam, it was an abundance of blessings and gladness when I walked among the smallest here at the parish campus to the repeated outcries of, “Good morning, Father Jim!” However, to this very day, it is not only strange for me, but also I am sure to my relatives who refer to me in this way. My own mother still verbally calls me, “Jimmy”, but her letters and cards always are addressed to “The Reverend Father Jim St. George”! For her, and for many, I am sure it is a demonstrable showing of respect for my state in life.

Well, enough of my spiritual fatherhood, I am grateful, but would like to focus on my dad, whom I miss so deeply, and I call on all of us to place our attention on those men who are fathers, be it biological or adoptive or who have simply always ‘been there’ as our needed stand in! It is to them we owe the greatest of titles and respect. Today, we shall all humbly tell our ‘dads’ in all their varied forms, of our love, thanksgiving, and care for them. In the liturgical language of the Church, “It is meet and right so to do…”

I have always wanted to be a real dad, an actual father to a child. Perhaps, with my change in life, one day I may just achieve that dream (with the help of Katelyn, of course!) It is always amazing to me how God never forgets our dreams and prayers. It may come later than expected, but if it occurs, I will welcome that day and do the best I can to be a dad, just like my dad was to me! I can think of no better role model. I want to be like my dad, whom I so deeply miss this day above most days.

I wonder if there is anything that really prepares one to be a father, or is it mostly “on-the-job training?” Reading and studying about it isn’t necessarily a true representation of reality, I am sure! Is it helpful to have a resource to turn to and explore what wisdom and insight those who are grandfathers could impart? After all, life experience is the best teacher.  If so, then my dad is always here and ever present; I pray yours are, too.

Father’s Day is our annual opportunity to pause to congratulate and give thanks to these men who have accepted the commitment to be a living example of love and faithfulness in this role. Let us all pause and give thanks and show them all our love and thanksgiving!

I suppose to end my Blog today, it would be wise to add a prayer of blessing for their continuing journey. I ask St. Joseph, to be their helper and guide. I know he has never once failed me.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you! A special wish to my own dad, one of the greatest gifts I ever received, I love you and miss you, poppa, and I thank you for being a great dad…

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 5, 2018

 

I will use my Devotion this week also as my blog post. Why? Because there is nothing more exciting for me to tell you than what is about to happen this Sunday! I would be remiss if I diverted your attention from the fact that we will make a new Franciscan.

Actually, the man who will make his Solemn Profession into Religious Life as a Franciscan has been in the making since birth. I believe that God chose him to be a Friar long before he knew even what one was. God new his heart and his heart was worthy.

Father John Francis has been with us for some time and has already endeared himself to the parish and our life as a Franciscan-led congregation. We embody the spirit of St Francis in all that we do here at Saint Miriam. Father John Francis does, too.

This Sunday, at the Family Mass, after he has knelt and professed his vows, he will receive a knotted cord as a symbol of his promise and then sign the Book of Life. One of the most moving parts of the day will be when the newly professed brother offers up intentions for those in attendance, for the sick and dying, and for spiritual guidance in his journey as a Franciscan. In this humble act, he will tell the world that he is not only unworthy, but in need of their love, support, and prayers. I pray you will attend.

Pope Francis has been dubbed by the press as the “The Franciscan Jesuit”! Pope Francis (the first Jesuit from the Americas to be made Pope) was once simply known as Father Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a Jesuit. But, throughout his public life, Pope Francis has been noted for his humility, emphasis on God’s mercy, concern for thepoor and the marginalized.

Jesuits and Franciscans are both Catholic, but they do represent different forms of Catholic spirituality. In times past, the Jesuits and Franciscans have also had their share of disagreements over such matters as mission territory, over involvement in secular affairs, and over the finer points of theology. 

Jesuits are celebrated for their complexity; Franciscans are admired for their simplicity. Jesuit spirituality values discernment and deep decision-making, and a prayerful consideration of possibilities and choices. It is a way that emphasizes detachment from the passions. Franciscan spirituality, however, embraces an ethos of sharing, a sharing not just of possessions, but also of love and experience. It is a way recognizes our reliance on the mercy of God.

The founders of both orders, St. Ignatius and St. Francis, often received “the gift of tears.” This phrase has often referred to St. Ignatius’ spiritual diary, in which he describes having an overwhelming sense of the consolation of God. The saint often became tearful while celebrating Mass because he was overcome by the beauty of the worship and the profundity of God’s love. His tears arose from his relationship with God, which was deeply intimate.

Some people, I’m sure, consider becoming teary a sign of weakness but I think our faith tells us otherwise. Very often, tears are a sign of something else – empathy, compassion, and vulnerability.These are often attributes lacking in the world today, but I know that Father John Francis shares my love of God and is often moved to tears, just as I am, when we realize how broken we are, and yet how loved by a grace-filled God.

Author Matthew Schmalz noted in a written narrative on Pope Francis how many were moved to tears when Pope Francis recited the Our Father and the Hail Mary with an assembled crowd and then asked for their silent prayers. It was an act that combined simplicity with a powerful openness to divine and human love. It was a scene that was both Jesuit and Franciscan because it was so deeply Christian. It was a moment when Pope Francis reminded us how much we need Jesus, and also how much we need one another.

I pray that Father John Francis will do the same. I have little doubt about that…

How will you use this time of profession to make your own vows to God to become a better Christian? Will you sacrifice something to make the world – and your life – better?
 


A Living Space For God: Corpus Christi

 

This Sunday, the whole Church honors Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Few will come. Why? Well, it’s summer already, and our secular lives, and secular holidays, and secular commitments always trump God and going to church. We have already witnessed the ‘summer slump’ of church attendance. The pews are emptying, and crowds diminished. God, and all things church, have already been relegated to a place that we will begin to place a priority on later, after our summer fun is over.

We should, however, give more reverence to the power of church attendance, receiving the Holy Eucharist, beginning our week within a community of faithful, and engaging in the power of prayer. Recall that St. Peter tells us, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and even St. Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”But, do we really believe evil exists? That the powers of darkness abide on earth?

Once, Simon Peter, who was also known to be impetuous, an often acted before thinking, cut off high priest’s servant Malchus’ ear. Jesus’ response was to admonish Peter and to say, “That is enough.” Jesus healed the ear. Jesus always heals, even His enemies.

Peter acted beforereceiving word from Jesus. Sometimes prayer is like that. Some will ask God what they should do, but already have their minds made up as to what they will do. Sometimes we ask to justify our already intended actions. While we may excuse Peter to some extent, because of the pressure of the circumstances, I would imagine that he would not have been so quick to act violently if he didn’t have a sword. How about you? Do are you armed with a sword, a van, a weapon, or are you steeped in prayer and in all things God? Where does your strength come from? The world, or from your pew?

The first step toward a more mature and living faith is the desire and willingness to put God first in our lives. It seems so simple, and yet most of us realize this is a challenge of Christian living in today’s world. Some might say it is a challenge not worth the sacrifice of a delaying a trip to the beach. But, then comes illness, injury…then comes terror, and we are left without hope.

Consider the prayer attributed to St. Francis, but this time read it aloud, as a dialogue.

We ask, “Where is injury?”

The prayer answers, “There is injury”

Remedied by, “Pardon.”  

We ask, “Where there is despair, hope”: 

The prayer answers, “There is despair”

Remedied by, “Hope.”

The bread we eat and the cup we drink is truly Jesus Christ. It is his real presence. Jesus is present to us in many ways, if only we are willing to let Him in; if only we make room for Him, even in summer.
 


The Feast of Sorrow…

 

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

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

This weekend, we will join the nation as we sorrow over the dead who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We will never know their faces, but we will know their heart. We may never be willing to give the price they paid, but we shall forever honor their willingness to die for our freedom. We may never know where each is laid to rest, but we shall honor them in our simple way this Sunday by pinning a simple ribbon on our cemetery gates and saying a prayer and hearing a rifle volley. Yes, sorry shall come, but then morning, the next day.

These past few years I have endured the greatest challenges in my priesthood by way of transitions. The loss of good friends, the death of my dad. The illness and aging of my mother. The burying of Monsignor Joe. The transition of Priests, Bishops, and Archbishops. The letting go of my home, and even the loss of my aquarium that I had cared for now for some 7+ years (some of those fish were a mere quarter inch and now, as they left my door for the last time, were upwards of almost 10”!) I know, silly, huh?  Well, for some, but for me it is yet another image and perhaps metaphor of letting go and allowing sorrow to mold me into a better human being. A stronger priest. A more compassionate pastor. At least, I try very hard. 

Our Sacred Scripture confirm that the world is often full of pain and sorrow and misunderstandings, misgivings. The innocent suffer, the needy go hungry, the good die, and the wicked often seem to flourish, and there are no ready or healthy explanations to satisfy us. But I still hang on to hope none-the-less.

In the end, the Son of God, the One whom we follow, the Broken Lamb will make all things right and good: hatred will cease, animosity and us not getting along, too. Gossip and backstabbing will be a thing of the past, and every soul shall feel loved as they are, as God made them. Broken relations will be mended, and the human race shall flourish where love finally prevails. Therefore, I hold onto those famous words from the Book of Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

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

This weekend we begin by remembering anew. It is not just about picnics or travel or amusement parks, it is about us.

It sounds like heaven to me.
 


The Changing Face of the Priesthood: An Anniversary Faux Pas.

 

This weekend I will celebrate another Jubilee, the anniversary of my priesthood on May 19th. Father John and I share the same week, albeit his a bit earlier, and we all rejoiced with him, as we should. Mine, however, is weighed down by a bit of unintentional controversy, which I accept full responsibility for, as I never thought anyone would think so ill of me. That said, it speaks to something deeper for me: we still place priests on pedestals.

I have always fought against being placed so high stating that it is farther for me to fall! I have always been honest about my mistakes and never once shirked responsibility for those things I did that have been wrong, sinful, or harmful. I have made plenty of mistakes! I have spoken openly about my past mistakes, my time incarcerated, and my battle with my sexuality. I have been open with all of you about my depression and the place it drops me like a weighted anchor. And, I have been more than honest about how much I miss my dad and the ensuing depression that never seems to leave me completely. No matter what I do good, I am never good enough, handsome enough, or worthy enough. It is my internal struggle and most likely will always be. Yes, I have tried to be honest to help others see that even as a priest, life is not always easy. But, I have never lied, and I find myself now being thought of as someone who has, and it is very painful.

When I was about 17 years old, I was helping my dad at our family funeral business one summer during school break when we were waiting for Father John (a different one!) to come to the car to make our way to the cemetery. He was longer than usual delayed, and we couldn’t figure out why, so I went into the Rectory only to find him existing the bathroom. I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God! He actually pees!” Yes, even as a young adult, I never once thought of my priests and pastors to be human! Now, after being a priest for as many years as I have, I know better. We are all too fully human and come with all the foibles and baggage that being human brings.

Pope Francis is struggling with the changing face of the priesthood, too. The average priest is 68 years old and the population is diminishing as fewer and fewer men are going into the priesthood. This has opened the door to begin a needed ad realistic dialogue on married priests, non-celibate priests, women priests, and increasing the role of deacons within the greater church. The sexual abuse scandals and gay priests within a non-gay culture (supposedly) has also deepened this discussion and peppered it with anger and hostility and false vitriol all the while people go unserved and die without a priest. It is as if we have put politics ahead of humanity; but, for me, it is as much with the whole church. You see, we are rapidly becoming a “consumer church” now, far from the days where we attended because we should adore and worship God, we go now only when convenient, and at the first sign of discomfort, we run to dinner.

Recently, the Quakers at their annual get-together reportedly are thinking of dropping God from their “guidance to meetings”. The reason, said one of them, is because the term “makes some Quakers feel uncomfortable”. I feel that God makes us all uncomfortable, especially when He is trying to move us, change us, or tell us we need to grow!

Look, Jesus called us to go into the world and proclaim good news, that is news of liberating love for everyone, not just those we like or fill us with good feelings all the time. We are to make disciples, or in other words, invitepeople to follow in the example of Jesus, too. If we actually would take time to remain uncomfortable and emulate the life Jesus lived, and worked to create the world he dreamed of, our life would be nothing short of spectacular! Easy? No. Spectacularly gratifying? Yes!

Do you see the irony in all this? The religion founded by a man who was murdered by the empire for being opposed to the oppressive ways of the empire, has become a religion endorsed by the empire and lost on the followers He died for. We all need to get back to worrying less about ourselves and our comfort levels and more about mountains being lowered and the valleys being lifted, so that those in the valleys feel like those on the mountain tops.

So, back to me and my obvious faux pas. I have tried to assuage any misconceptions with an open letter to all of you. You may read it here by Download, or pick up a printed copy this weekend after Mass. Love me, accept me, condemn me, I am a priest, but I am also human. No matter your choice, I will do what I can do to continue to be a good pastor, but to ask me to never be happy is cruel and inhumane. After reading the letter, if you still have questions, my door is open. I pray we can all move on to continue to be a shining light and follow Jesus’ example: we open our door, we set a table, we invite everyone in to sit, and we listen. We learn. We welcome and then we act on their behalf. And that is a true gift.

 



A Love Worth Giving To…

 

Mark Estes said it best when he wrote, “We spend half our lives putting down cash or swiping our pieces of plastic for absolutely everything we consume. Yet, somehow, we have this notion that church should be a place where we can get entertained, cared for, taught the Word of God, and served when we have trouble – but it should all come free. True, some churches, do a lousy job of the “ask,” or rather, the “check-out line.” But if a church is wise, it will point out that giving a part of what you have back to God (who gave it to you anyway) is actually a way to thank Him for His provision.”

I hate to be the bearer of this news, but a church can’t continue to thrive and carry out its mission without funding. That’s why we are still in stewardship: we have not met the needs of the parish yet. Like any company or even non-profit, it needs resources to sustain it. The church is also unusual – it’s the only organization that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet members! Think of that. So, if the church is to take God’s message to a hurting world and reach out to thousands who need Christ, the members – the family- have to help make it happen. That means you and me, and all who attend, and sadly, $5 doesn’t cut it. We do this by sharing what God provides to us as individuals and showing that we care by giving so that the money can be used for God’s work of building the Kingdom. If we do not give joyfully, we miss God and we miss what true living is all about.

Now before you decide if we are worth your money, let me give you one pivotal example of what makes us so special. Each and every week you may note a Mass Intention, given by a parishioner to honor the memory and life lived of Diamond Williams. Now, let me be clear when I say that this parishioner never met Diamond and knew her not. What he did know was that she was a transperson, rejected by her family and murdered at the hands of another. That moved him so deeply that he has paid to honor her life with the sacrifice of the Mass each week without fail since her burial in our cemetery.

Today, take a moment to read the letter from two fellow parishioners, Nicole and Rob Peirce, and then go ask Rick Freed why he loves this place so deeply that he not only remembers his beloved wife, Louise, every week, but also the soul of someone he never met. Why? Because no other Catholic parish would do what we do and that is worth our giving. 

What is the most important thing in your life? Is it Christ and God’s will, or is it something else, such as money? Is this place worth you caring for her?

Only you can answer that question.

 



Life Behind the Rectory Walls: A Place of Rest for all People!

 

As we fast approach summer, it is a good time to reflect on what we have, and all that we have accomplished together. This fall, we will all gather and honor our 10thanniversary as parish and the 200th anniversary of the land and building we now call home; both of these are monumental!

This past year, our latest project was completed when we built a home for our clergy. Some have called it “Father Jim’s home”, but it is far from that! I remember when I studied abroad, and we had the opportunity to visit the home of the Dean of Canterbury Cathedral in the United Kingdom, someone remarked, “Everyone loves to visit the Priestery!” Well, I am not so sure about that around here, but the doors are always open to those who wish to visit!

You see, a rectory is the housing that a church provides for a minister or priest to live in. Most rectories are conveniently close to the church, although privacy is always concern. After all, even the clergy need their own space! Similarly, a Friary is a Monastery of friars, especially of the mendicant order like ours, and we were lucky enough to design both into our present dwelling place!

Since we dedicated the Friary Rectory back last September, we have enjoyed many guests and clergy who found hospitality here! Sr. Eleanor Francis, myself, Sean, Father Bryan, Bishop Gregory, and his son Thomas, my mom, Monsignor Ken and his wife, Janet, and Sean’s family have all found refuge within our walls. In fact, Bishop Mel was to stay here with us through this coming summer, but never quite made it, but his spirit dwells here just the same. Even our Board President, Momma Lorraine, once used a room to recover while ill!

Oh! And we also use the space for Franciscan Meetings and a place for private gatherings, too. (We also drink a lot of wine!) So, as you can see, it is not just a place for the pastor to stay, but a place of hospitality for many, and one day soon, a place of formation for others who wish to adopt the Franciscan lifestyle. No, it’s not just for me; it never was.

Since the very beginning, priests have always had to contend with many hardships and challenges. This place we built is to help ease some of them, so that they might serve us better. Our lives, as clergy, consist of a tug-of-war for the hearts of parishioners, struggling against the overwhelming forces of a secular and pleasure-seeking world, and so many who see the church as a last option when there is nothing else going on in their lives. Further, we deal with lack of vocations, fewer men following in our footsteps, vast amounts of administration time, and those who feel our personal lives are their business, too. There is just not enough time to do all that needs to be done, let alone doing it while being miserable.

Also, many fail to realize how operating a church and school is an extremely expensive undertaking. Salary of teachers and staff, utilities and special-needs programs such as services for immigrants and the needy, must somehow be counterbalanced by tuition (that for the average working-class family can be crippling), donations, events and festivals and, maybe, a weekly fund raiser or two. As tough as finances are to begin with, things get even worse when one is confronted by a large building assignment with an added historical cemetery that is almost 200 years old!  

I love the fact that we have such a beautiful place for visitors, clergy, and friends to dwell. It is a safe space and we designed it with simplicity, but love in mind. We also recognize that it can be a safe place where we, as clergy, might need to escape to now and then, but it is not – and never will be – a prison designed to keep them ever present. We have enough pressures, and so a place to dwell, to rest, to pray and to serve is what we have built, and I am forever grateful.

So, despite the pressures of my life, I am grateful to God for my vocation and my time here at Saint Miriam. I’ve learned, often the hard way, to trust God more fully, to pray more frequently, and to be of a faith community that struggles to be faithful to God, to the Gospel, the Church, and to one another. I have learned that being generous is far more rewarding than hoarding riches. And I do believe that God loves us, and yes, even me, despite how broken I am. I also know that God will continue to provide us all with numerous blessings as we continue to praise Him.

One day, I will be called away from this place and whatever awaits me then, I pray will be as fulfilling as my time has been here with all of you. Then, whomever comes after me, will find a warm home here, just as welcoming as when it was designed for me, and those who have stayed within her walls.  A place of rest for all people.
 
Sometimes God’s greatest gifts are the humblest and most simple.
 

 

 



We are Living Monstrances!

 

Adoration, rosary, prayers, The Hail Mary, Our Father, Hail Holy Queen, Benediction, Solemnities and Feasts, rituals, symbols, incense, bells, liturgy, sacraments, and the Mass. These are just a few things that, as Catholics, move us beyond ourselves to a sense of something greater, but there is nothing that informs us more deeply, is more substantive to our life, nor informs our social teaching and our way of being more than the recognition that Jesus is truly present in the Bread and Wine.

This Sunday we will watch as our children make their First Holy Communion! This day reminds me of the call to our continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness, but at Saint Miriam, we recognize that our inherent beauty is not found just in rules, but the grace and love of God. Each one of us who bears the name Christian are to become more like the One whom we love and in whomwe live. Jesus comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are, then, like “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is the center of every person! When we retreat back from receiving Holy Communion at Mass, we proclaim that the Lord continues to come into the world through the Church, and through our Baptism, and that in us, God takes up residence so that we can change the world! We carry Him into the real world, within very ourselves. 

I wonder if we get it? Do we actually believe it? You know, that Jesus really comes to us?  Last year I wrote a blog called “Jesus Stuck Between Hymn 809 and 810″! I told of how we had just prepared to leave out of the church following the conclusion of Mass for Corpus Christi last year when one of our acolytes opened a hymnal to sing the recessional hymn and stuck somewhere between Hymn 809, I Received the Living God, and Hymn 810, Come to the Banquet, was an actual host! Yes, someone had taken what was obviously once a wet host and stuck in between the pages of a hymnal. Jesus was stuck between Hymn 809 and 810.  My heart sank.

Now, I can imagine how this happened. Perhaps someone had a child who grabbed the Blessed Host from their hands and stuck in their wet mouth and reacting quickly, the parent removed the host. Or, someone dropped the host, or it became wet somehow after receiving. But however it happened, it should not have happened and it was not only disgraceful, and thoughtless, it was wrong and a disgrace to our Lord.

That is the reason that we mandate children wait until they are prepared by way of their First Holy Communion to receive: So that they understand that what they receive is not just mere bread and wine, but Bread and Wine; the very real and very Present Body and Blood of our Christ. To stick God between the pages of a hymnal, like some discarded trash is beyond my imagination, and yet it happened, and it occurred on my watch as pastor, and I was sore ashamed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we see this in varied forms all the time, and we have witnessed the Blessed Host fall to the ground through our error as priests, or the error of others. We have seen those who ‘snatch’ Jesus from our hands and turn away without nary a word. Or those who say, ‘Thank you’, instead of the proper affirmation of,  “Amen.”  Or, those who take the host and look at us in such a way that we wonder if we should have them consume the Presence in front of us before returning to their pew! But, in all my years, I have never found Jesus stuck in a hymnal! I have never found Our Lord pressed like a leaf between pages of a book!

In the Nicene Creed, we profess together at every liturgy, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”.  These are the four marks of our Church. They are inseparable and intrinsically linked to each other. Our Lord Himself, in founding the Church, marked it with these characteristics, which reflect its essential features and mission. Through the continued guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church fulfills these marks and there is no better way to receive the Spirit than at Communion.

The “oneness” of the Church is made visible here. As Catholics, we are united in our Creed and our other teachings, the celebration of the sacraments, and the hierarchical structure based on the apostolic succession preserved and handed on through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, and in our valid reception of the Blessed Eucharist. This coming Sunday should remind all of us – from the youngest to the oldest – what we believe, why we believe it, and what gives us the ability to carry Jesus to others in the world.

We have the beautiful gift of receiving the Bread of Heaven, so let us become what we consume. Let us be sure to teach out children and remind one another that we are all living monstrances!