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!
 


It’s Always About Stewardship!

 
This Sunday we will care for Mother Earth as we honor Earth Day 2018! We will hear about God’s creation and our call to be good stewards of all that God has given us. We will also learn more about our newest Small Group, Caring for Creation! But, we must also be mindful that our care for God’s gifts extends to the Earth and to our parish, too.
 
God commands us to keep and care for the earth, but God’s edict to have dominion over the earth doesn’t mean to have domination and exploitation of it. Pope Francis recently said that we are “Stewards, not masters’ of the Earth.” Do we believe this, or do we believe that we actually have more power than we really do? After all, you can’t love God and ignore the earth, right? So, this Earth Day is the perfect time to make a positive change in how you treat the environment, and your parish, too!
Throughout Scripture, we are challenged with many things that Gods expects of His children, and one that’s commonly discussed is the call to be good stewards of all of His resources.St. Luke reminds us that someone ‘who is faithful with a little thing will be faithful with much.’ So, if we are honest and do the right thing when no one is looking, we will be able to be trusted when people arelooking! What do you spend your money on when no one is looking?
 
For many of you, your view of stewardship is the Old Testament Scriptures version: You simply take your 10%, give it to your local church, and believe that you’ve in-fact been a good steward of the resources that God has provided you.But is that really all that’s expected of us by God?You see, being a good steward involves far more; it involves everything!
 
As God is sovereign over all things, we can quickly grasp that stewardship must involve more than the 10% portion we’ve chopped off and said, “Okay God, I’m being a good steward. Here is 10% of what you’ve given me. I know you owned it to begin with, but it’s mine now!”
 
It can be easy to forget that God created the world we live in, and us as well! God created the air we breathe, the sun that warms the earth, and plants and animals for food. God is the one that gave us our brains to think, He placed different gifts and skills in each one of us and gave us each a unique personality. It is only because of His great mercy that He doesn’t just prove to us how dependent we are on Him when we start to think that we accomplished something on our own! As we understand that, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”So, we must remember that we are born with nothing, and we take nothing with us when we leave. It all just gets passed on to someone else! The amazing thing is that we have the opportunity to “store up for ourselves treasures in heaven” by giving some of those items that we temporarily possess down here. As stewards we have a responsibility to use what we have been given wisely.
 
As Catholics, our stewardship is always connected to Jesus Christ. There is no faithful steward who is not in a faithful and intimate relationship with God. Even the creation we manage is looking for the revealing of the true stewards. All creation watches, eagerly awaiting this. It is an important principle of our stewardship that it is only properly done in a loving relationship with God, and that the giving of this stewardship is to bring us, and others, into that relationship. We, too, are part of the creation and are called to care for it.
 
The Holy Father said that “We encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, and especially to the poorest of the poor.” This is what we must all guard against. We must serve one another, care for another, and be good stewards of what God owns, not us. Recently a parishioner not only did not complete his Stewardship Pledge, but actually cut off his giving because he bought a new house and needed to ‘cut back.’ I was almost ashamed that he told me that, as I have struggled and given and continue to give, even as pastor here to ensure this place remains, but I cannot do it alone. And, if this place means that little to us, I assure you that we will all fail. How does one cut off giving from God and yet expect that abundance will one day follow?
 
I remind you this week that good stewards can only serve one master.I have found from my own life that my decisions about money reflect who I am serving. At the most stingy and greedy moments of my life it was painfully evident who my master was. I tried to convince myself that I was serving God, but in truth my decisions were made on their financial impact rather than on my faith in God. I ended up in jail. I wonder where others will one day end up? It’s one of those areas that we will all have room to grow in, but only if we remain faithful to God always and firstly.
 
There is a tricky balance between not being wasteful like Jesus talks about and not living with a poverty mindset. It is easy to fall towards one of the extremes, and it is challenging to walk in the balance. That balance is what we should be seeking in the practical areas of being stewards of our finances and God’s earth. The choice is yours this week. Give generously or watch something that God called you to care for fail.
 
Today, I encourage you to think differently about His possessions. Being a good steward goes well beyond giving the Lord 10% of your income. It is about God and us recognizing that we will leave here one day empty handed and then face our Creator…
 
Then what?
 
 


I’m Not Perfect. Please Don’t Ask.

 

Almost forty-two years after founding one of the nation’s most influential evangelical megachurches, Rev. Bill Hybels told his congregation this past Tuesday night that he would step down from the helm of Willow Creek Community Church, which boasts more than 25,000 worshippers every Sunday, after it was disclosed that Hybels had been the subject of inquiries by church leaders into claims that he ran afoul of church teachings by engaging in inappropriate behavior with women in his congregation, including employees, allegedly spanning decades.

This is just the latest of many pastors who preach one thing but do another. I think one of the hallmarks of Saint Miriam is that I have never claimed to be perfect and, in fact, we don’t ask anyone else to be either. While we do protect our children, staff, and parishioners from inappropriate touching and harassment, etc., we also do not preach against others for past sins and mistakes. We believe we are called to be better, not that we are better now or without mistake and flaw. I am living proof that someone who has been sinful can still find their way to God’s grace. However, the one thing I never do is say that I am sinless. No one is, least of which me. No, I’m Not Perfect. Please Don’t Ask.

Since our founding, we have advocated that God loves us, sinful and broken as we are, and that through His Son, we have found a way to salvation. That salvation does not require that we are sinless, it requires that we are dedicated to God’s love and acceptance of ourselves and others, too. We do that well here at Saint Miriam by our radical welcome of people like myself; those who have made mistakes and yet are trying to become better people.

I began my life in a wonderful family. I made several mistakes along the way, many of which have become public. All of which I am ashamed of, but strive every day to be better and to do better. I have never been perfect, and my broken parts and sins sometimes amaze even me, but through it all I have prayed and tried to be a better person, more loving pastor, and living example of how I might show others that God is always love and always in love with us, despite our sinful ways.

Some 2,000+ years ago, Jesus launched the Church before His Ascension. It was messy and led by deeply flawed leaders. The early church began in a time where the culture was shifting, political and religious leaders didn’t agree, and the fledgling churches had their own internal problems and the moral landscape was suspect. (Sound familiar?)

I once read an article about the owner of a landscaping business who often remarks that the garden is just as beautiful in the winter as the summer. I’ll admit that it is sometimes difficult to see and appreciate that fact. The landscaper says, “Nature isn’t perfect but it’s still beautiful.” I think the church – and those of us who lead them – are similar. It’s not that we are perfect, but it’s still beautiful because we allow God to come through our cracks. I see that in the church as a whole. People are not perfect; none of us. I’m not and you’re not. But the beauty in each person, in each creation, is still there. And we all see what we look actively for, so maybe we all need to look for God, and not harm one another with gossip, or seek a proverbial greener lawn that never existed.

A few years ago, I found this welcome version. I loved it then and I will use it to remind all of us of who we are and how we should welcome. (ref: link)

All are welcome here. But, we extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, lesbian, transgender, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

“We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

We endorse all people, but we make it a point not to promote any particular politician. If you need a church that does or a minister who screams and yells from the Ambo about how everybody who doesn’t believe as he believes (or, she believes) is going to hell… well, you’re probably not going to like this church. Here, you can be Democrat, Republican, Independent… heck, even a Socialist. You’ll understand, we’re sort of struck with Jesus and, especially, his teachings. The way we figure it — if we follow his teachings, the world will be a happier and healthier place for everybody. Healthier and happier, too, for those not interested in religion, not even ours.

If you blew all your offering money last night at the dog track, tough luck for us. You’re still welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … In short, we welcome you!”

We do, too, here at Saint Miriam. Why? Because you were willing to welcome someone as sinful as me to be your pastor and look – look! – look at what we have done together!

No, I’m Not Perfect. Please Don’t Ask.
 


The Hole Within.

 

A few years ago, I visited a fellow priest, a good friend from my seminary days while studying in Washington, DC. After a wonderful dinner in the rectory, we went to visit his parish. I could not help but notice a sign that could very well be placed in front of Saint Miriam (and, one day will!). It read, “Bring me your wounded and bleeding.”

I think that the church at large communicates this very same message, or at least it tries to; wants to?Even within our own parish, we have a disproportionate number of people who come in as a last and final attempt to restore what is often a terminalrelationship.

Sometimes these terminal relationships, and their “last ditch efforts” are an attempt to repair a relationship with God, the Church itself, a past wound or scandal, or some past hurt that has finally become unbearable. Oftentimes it is a terminal relationship with another. We should always be willing to extend grace to the others that find their way to us. If we fail at the imparting of this needed grace, and rather hand them a gossip stone or cold shoulder, we are no better than many other churches that stand on their moral superiority, while folks bleed to death at their door?

Recently, many have noted that my personal life has changed. Truth be known, it has been changing for many years. The creation of all that we hold dear here at Saint Miriam has taken a very large personal toll in ways never imagined upon my personal life. I have lost a lot, given up a lot, and missed out on a lot of family and personal times. It was only a matter of time until some change would need to come. And, it has.

I don’t know what it is like for you to come home at night, but for me, as a priest and pastor, it has often been lonely and discouraging. This past Sunday, by example, I noted how quickly a packed house of parishioners vacated for family dinners, friends, and the accompanying companionship that comes with a holiday! I, for the last ten years, however, often retreated to an empty apartment, or mobile home, while my family was hundreds of miles away. So did Sean, and for us, it was nevereasy. It is what I can only explain, as the image I used today does so well, a hole within.

Subsequently, before some of you continue to take potshots at my personal life, or continue to make things up out of whole cloth, let me be clear that all is well. I am fine. Sean is fine. We are all fine. We have and will continue to work – side by side – for the good of this place we have given so much for. But, things change. People change. Growth is often found in the hardest of such change. We love one another enough to accept that change has come, but we remain as we once were, only somehow different. And differentis not always bad, and in our case, we are good.

I have always believed that one of the blessings of our corner of Catholicism is that we honor the ability of our clergy to marry. Sometimes we are called to a life of celibacy, but oftentimes we are called to a life of companionship. Either is a callingand must be honored as such. We also each have a personal life and the tragedies and joys that come your way, come to us, too.

As a greater church, we believe that even though God created mankind to enjoy an eternal, intimate relationship with God, He also saw fit that during man’s time on earth, we should not be alone. Because none of the created order was sufficient to meet man’s need for companionship, we are told from the pages of Sacred Scripture that God took out of Adam’s side that “bone of man’s bone” and “flesh of man’s flesh” to create a companion. The intimate relationship between the two was meant to last until they were parted by death.

Here at Saint Miriam, we believe that two people are called together to love, and we honor those mutual pairings here in many a varied form without judgment, pretext, or condition, and we honor each couple knowing that none are defective because love is never wrong.That said, we, as human beings, are often broken, and relationships change, and yes, some sadly end.

That is why I think divorce is always a great tragedy for all of us. It is not only the ripping apart of the fabric of two lives once intricately woven together, but it also is the dissolving of the relationship that – next to one’s relationship with God – was intended to be the most intimate. And, we always hope for the best! Divorce hurts and is part of our human condition, but as humans, we will never be fully whole until we are fully perfected in the life to come. So, we suffer, but it is how we sufferand how we separateand how we change that is as much importance than the fact that it happened. There is no need to make another suffer. Divorce and separation need not always be a terrible, hateful thing that plays out on a public stage, or in a court of law. No, that is not what happened in my life at all. Love still rings true and makes all things well, just different.

I have noted that while, as a church, we have largely moved beyond our judgment of divorce as the unforgivable sin among the laity, we are often embarrassed and uncomfortable with divorce among our leaders. We would rather have our clergy stay together to look good. Many stay together to keep things ‘looking good’ even though they are miserable. As a result, we have created a system where dysfunctional people, who happen to wear clerical collars, and have nowhere to go for help except to a bottle of Gin or the end of self-made noose. That is probably why I have always shared glimpses into my depression, my griefs, my mistakes, and my errors. I am not called to be perfect, I am called to be a priest, and neither is incumbent upon being flawless in life, nor in all things.

I do not have much privacy being a pastor, but I reject the idea that I owe anyone an explanation of my personal life. I willingly share much with you, but I will not give my personal laundry the light of day when it serves no good. Instead, I would hope that I have earned your love and support. I would rather have a hand on my shoulder toward healing, than what I have experienced lately by way of some of some rude comments, innuendo, and false stories that amount to little more than gossip. It is hurtful and against the Saint Miriam Covenant we are to hold true to as members here. I may not gain your understanding, but I doubt I deserve your disdain after all I have given so freely for this place. As one parishioner told me recently, “Father, we love you and have seen firsthand how sad you have been this past year, all we want is your happiness, especially for what you have given to us.”

Pope Francis recently said that the final words at Mass — “Go in peace” — are an invitation to Christians to proclaim God’s blessings through their lives, notan opportunity to go outside and speak ill of others. Through the Eucharist, Jesus “enters in our hearts and in our flesh so that we may express in our lives the sacrament we received in faith,” But if we leave the church gossiping, saying, ‘Look at this one, look at that one,’ with a loose tongue, the Mass has notentered into our heart. How sad.

So, let us model the change we need to be this Easter season. When divorce occurs, as it has within our own ranks many times over ten years. When someone does finally let go of the rope of marriage, and we read about it, or hear all the gossip that always erupts after it, let us withhold our criticism, and instead bathe them in prayer, support, encouragement, and love.Let us give bread to wounded pastors, too. No differently than when we would give it to another from within the flock of this parish.  I pray that it includes me, too.

I will end with the words of the Holy Father again: “May our lives always be in bloom, like Easter, with the flowers of hope, of faith, of good works,” he said. “May we always find the strength for this in the Eucharist, in our union with Jesus.”

Amen to that.
 


Becoming Something Better.

 

Last Sunday, we entered the holiest of weeks of our Christian year, as we triumphantly processed into the Church as Jesus marched into Jerusalem. It was then that we should have been reminded where our earthly pilgrimage will ultimately end up: at the cross.

Hearing the whole story of the Passion proclaimed, for those who were eager enough to set aside their own stuff and disdain for long stories, it was made clear to those gathered why Jesus entered Jerusalem and what the focus of the entire week would be…It is always about the Cross and the grace that followed from a God who loved us so much, despite our unworthiness, that He gave up the most precious thing of all: His only Son.

And so, it is true, that our long journey to the font culminates in the three days that make up the Easter Triduum. These next three days draw us into the mystery of our salvation. These three days begin tomorrow with Holy (Maundy) Thursday and we are to begin our final fast.

This next fast will not be from food. This fast will be even more important. It may be the fasting from our normal work, from seeking ways to be entertained, from our normal television evening routines, or from anger and harsh words. No matter the type or focus of our fast this year, in all of these ways, we will pass from liturgy to liturgy: from Holy Thursday, to Good Friday, to the Great Vigil of Easter, and then move triumphantly – finally – to rise to a glorious Easter Sunday!

I will end my encouragement for your attendance to these three days by focusing on the ritual we will experience on Holy Thursday. We will gather and allow Jesus to wash our feet. Each of us needs to feel the resistance of Peter. We will be uncomfortable and uneasy, but we must let Jesus wash our feet, we must let Jesus give Himself to us; let Him be our servant. In the ritual, Jesus, too, gives us a final “mandate.” He gives us the one commandment of the gospel, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” 

It is important for us to taste our resistance tomorrow, not only to the washing or the touch, but also to the love. Just as we resist getting our feet washed by another, we all too often resist true love of another. Intimate, deep, moving, emotional, and oh so needed if we are to become changed and awake on Easter as something better.
 


Ten Years. No Room for Hate.

 

Next Monday, we will be a whole ten years old. That’s right, our parish – the one that almost no one believed would make it, the one that everyone tried to say couldn’t work, the one that almost every person and adviser said wouldn’t be able to raise enough funding if we never ‘guilted’ people by taking a collection during Mass, the one that the Archdiocese tried so hard to destroy, the one that conservatives said couldn’t possibly welcome everyone and still remain validly Catholic, the one that even I wondered if we had bit off more than we could chew – that one, this one, our parish, will be ten. years. old!

It is almost unimaginable, even to me as your pastor, that we have made it this long. Against all odds, and so many naysayers and even unbelievers, we have endured and grown. From a small mission parish in a rented chapel on the third floor of a Jewish synagogue in Philadelphia, to rented space in Blue Bell, to our campus home today. We have made it last and we have more than endured.

In our time together, many have come, and some have gone. We have been a place of temporary respite for some, a point of transition for others, and a home to many who call our parish their spiritual home now, and we have always maintained our focus on Jesus, and a radical welcome that knows only one limit: we will not tolerate hate.

I have been doing a lot of reflecting lately. I wondered if my time as pastor should end. After all, I have been at her helm now for the full ten years! I wondered if all my guidance was finally coming to a completion; after all, all things must. I always ask myself if God wants me to stay, or if I should move on to a new mission. I always want what is best for Saint Miriam. I suppose, in the end, that is what makes all of us so good for this place that has been so influential and so wonderful: we are always willing to hold up the ideals that allowed us to grow, and the focus remains on what is best for others, never ourselves. My own discernment is always on the greater good for Saint Miriam.

I also believe that there is one other element that has been critical to our success. We have learned how to love unconditionally. You see, our families and the individuals here at Saint Miriam come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and complexities. Some are singles who are raising children on their own. Some are multi-generational families struggling to get by. Some are divorced, or have been abused at the hand of another and are still wounded from a past that never seems to leave or get better. Some are couples without kids, but lots of pets! Some are more ‘traditional families’ raising their children in an inclusive manner. Some are gay, lesbian or transgender who sought a place of acceptance and found us here. Some are alone, lonely, depressed, or recovering. Some are still finding their way at all. Some love someone that the world does not accept so readily, or their relationship simply fails to meet the defining of another. Whatever they are, or whomever they love, and whomever loves them, they are welcome here. You see, some of us understand the truth that we have focused on for some ten years now: love is never wrong. Love never fails. Love comes in many forms, and all that matters is that they love. And, it matters not to us who they are, only that they are and that they found us.

Perhaps, admittedly, from my own brokenness I have pastored in a way that would create a place for my own respite. Perhaps I needed a place where I could be loved. My own personal life, which I do not engage often publicly, and where I try to maintain some boundaries, so I can also remain a person, a man, and a human being, even as I pastor as a priest, has undergone many changes over those ten years. At every major turn, from the loss of my dad, and the selling of my home, from job transitions and losses, to public humiliation and unimaginable and unexpected sources of support, to the morphing of one relationship and the discovery of another, to the places where I called home, to the struggles that still plague me, and those that I have triumphed over, from bouts of depression and doubt, to those fleeting moments of great joy, all of them have been made easier by the unconditional welcome and love of this place we have named Saint Miriam. My prayer is that it has been for others, too, and will remain so after I am but a memory.

Over the last few months, I have been hurt by a few who have decided that I am not worthy of my position. They have harmed me with their words and hurled their insults freely and openly. They have questioned my fitness and my morals. They have stalked me on social media and placed memes that wounded me deeply. They have caused me to doubt myself in ways that I felt I were finally healed and caused old wounds that I was sure were long gone to resurface. They have stood, blind to their own brokenness and rather than look at themselves with any honesty, have decided to use me as an object of ridicule, rejected me, and tried to make me less than human by assuming a self-appointed positon of authority and superiority to make themselves feel better and secure. I have wept in the darkness of many nights, and cried in the office of my therapist, and wept before a God whom I try to serve so well, despite my own numerous and admitted failings. I almost gave in, and I almost left, and then…it struck me.

These people have never built anything. Instead they constantly destroy and demean. These people have never been truly loved or truly happy, so they are bent on the destruction of anyone who is. These people have never once gained the unconditional acceptance of others, so they hate it when others have a place that does so and does so well. These people have never sacrificed for anything or for ‘the other’, so they know not what we have and will never experience what we have come to know. These people are not members here at Saint Miriam because they do not know how to truly love. But, we do. We love. And we know that love is never wrong. It is just love and the world needs more of it. 

Here’s to the next ten years!

 



Being Born Anew in Lent.

 
Leaving the Land of the Dead. I think this is where I have been in my reflections this Lenten season, particularly as I look at myself and encourage you to look deeply at our life, too. For those who read my blog, you will note that I have done a lot of soul searching this season to try to make myself a better person. To let go of old wounds. To find happiness again. To lessen the need for the harness I know as depression. I have tried to be a better man, a stronger priest, more loving and more lovely.  It hasn’t been easy, and I know when the Easter sun flushes my face again, I will have failed to complete this year’s goals, but I also know that I will be a somewhat better person, at least to some small degree for all my effort and introspection.
 
So, this is what the Season of Lent is about for me, at least for this year. It is about being born again, to steal a phrase from my Protestant friends. It is, at its core, about following the path of death to resurrection, about actively participating in Jesus’ passion and what the world sees as His final journey, but those of us who know Him well, also know it can not and will not be the end.
 
It is about becoming somewhat more concrete in our thinking and actions, as some of us may need to die to specific things in our lives in order to find the Christ again, such as a behavior that has become destructive, or to a relationship that has ended or gone bad, to an unresolved grief or hurt, or to a stage in our life that it is just time to leave.
 
Look, I am living proof – and my life has always been – that it is possible to leave the land of the dead and find life anew. So, yes, the journey of Lent is always about being born again; it is about dying and rising, about mortality and transformation, about the willingness to change, to let go, to find God, and to live as something new.
 
I love the image today. It reminds me of my own tears and the rips in the fabric that has become me. But, then if you notice, there is present the One who mends me. His hands making me stronger and more beautiful, as He binds my wounds, and balms my deep gashes, and then I discover, even with the imperfections of my scars, that I am better because of my past. Therefore, that I live and celebrate and embrace the scars of my past, and in doing so, I am whole because of the One who made me and leads me to change, as He loves me all the more…
 
May we all use these final days of Lent to experience all that internal transformation that is at the center of the Christian life to welcome the experience being born again.