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.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 5, 2018

 
The Sin of Prejudice.
 

So, last week, I did something I never did before in my weekly devotion, I used an image. This week, I am called to do something new, once again, I am writing a devotion and a blog! (Hence the title, too!) You see, I had an entire devotion written and ready to post. Then came the call. I scrapped it, and now this will serve as both my devotion and my blog. Yes, it is that important.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a woman who left me not one, but four voicemail messages, then subsequently called me on my cell phone two more times, and ended with an email. I called her back, despite my reservations. It went to voicemail! Enter aggravation.

The woman began her messages by stating she was ‘the mother of a bride.’ These never go well. You see, I have learned that brides and grooms need to do their own work, make their own way, and place family and friends out of the main commerce lanes when planning their wedding. When a parent calls me, it is normally because they are interfering or intervening! In either case, not good, and my antenna goes up quickly! Enter this woman yesterday.

In my voicemail to her, I began by thanking her for the voicemails (all six of them!) and stated clearly that Mondays are normally my full day off. I thought, perhaps, she would take the hint and leave me be. I was wrong. She returned my call.

The woman was very nice and began to explain that her daughter came from a very Catholic family, but decided to marry someone this coming July (yes, this July!) and that they could not find a priest to officiate the wedding ceremony. She gave me the date and I began to discuss this with her when she then dropped into the conversation that her daughter was “no longer practicing and had not been to Mass since her Confirmation”, and, to make it even more complicated, she was marrying a confirmed atheist! I told her I understood and that ‘love is love, but to have a priest present where not only one, but more than likely both parties would not view the sacrament, was probably not a good idea and something that I would have to pass on. She then began to literally beg me to change my mind and told me that she discussed it with her daughter and ‘all would be well.’ I almost relented when she then began to discuss the differences between the Roman Church and us.

She berated me that we accepted gays and lesbians and then told me that we should not allow people to marry without being sure they are committed and go through PreCana. I rebutted by reminding her of Pope Francis’ own words on loving and accepting gay and lesbian people, as well as him marrying a couple, impromptu, on an airplane! She replied that he was just wrong on that and she was sure he regretted his actions, and then told me that she and her husband have two gay friends and that they “understand because they are ‘not normal’ they can never be Catholic.”

Needless to say, I told her that I found her words to be not only hurtful and unchristian, but ignorant. She has bigger issues! After all, I reminded her, she has a daughter about to marry an atheist on a beach in New Jersey!

I will never understand prejudice. I will never get hate. I will certainly never get both coming from a Christian, and a practicing Catholic. It is against everything we are called to be. It is contrary to to the Gospel. It is a shame. Jesus wept yesterday, and I am sure that if He had been in this woman’s home, as He was last Sunday throwing tables over inside the temple, there would be not a dish unbroken!

Part of our sinful nature includes a false sense of pride and it is the sin of pride that we find working in much of our prejudices. We find it very tempting to exalt ourselves in order to be thought well of, or accomplished, or better than the normal person. This is a sin that must be dealt within ourselves and with God’s Spirit in us; but when we shoot harmful arrows at others (either in our thoughts or vocally, as this mother did), categorizing them as “less than ourselves” and that they will surely reap God’s judgment, we all fail. Perhaps we think that God will never deal with us, as He has to deal with others because we feel our prejudices not so bad. But this is our old nature and God accepts nothing of our old life. He is removing from us everything of our old life and it is part of our growth in Christ to see that our prejudices are put to death by becoming more Christ like. This woman, and many of us, have a long way to go.

Faith tells Christians that God is at work at every moment in an individual’s life and at every moment of human history, and to reject this truth is to harm others, and that is not only not Christian, it is inhumane.

Women and men suffering from leprosy were perhaps the most universally despised social group in St. Francis’ day. The Lord led St. Francis to recognize them as his brothers and sisters. His respect for them as equals in God’s creation brought peace to these afflicted ones.

Peace is a gift from God. Human actions that cooperate with God’s grace promote peace in the world. Those that reject the godliness of others, harm the very fabric of God and humanity. That is something I will never accept at Saint Miriam, while I am pastor. I pray you will not either.

This is Lent and a time of change and introspection. Let us pray that what happened to me will not happen to others. Let us pray for those who harbor hatred in their hearts, because that is not of Jesus. It is not of us here.

And, no, I will not be celebrating this wedding.

 

 


From Seed to Growth.

 

Few times in our Christian year call us to reflect on transformational change like the Season of Lent leading us all as one community toward the sunrise of a new Easter. Springtime is lush with rebirth, new beginnings, and new growth. Too often, however, we want to race to Easter, and the Resurrection of Christ, without fully embracing the Lenten process that leads there. That is why I have been asking all of us to take time to slow down, to pray, reflect, and to allow for change.

You see, Lent reflects the forty days that Jesus wandered in the wilderness, as He was tempted by Satan in readiness for a ministry destined to end in tragedy. Few of us can relate to the level of sacrifice and commitment that Jesus displayed in those forty days, and yet, that is exactly what Lent provides each of us: an opportunity to deepen our spirituality by engaging in regular discipline from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday. The wilderness — the desert days of Lent — is the true path toward spiritual transformation and inward change.

This process of change and reflection must also be done by the greater Church and each and within every parish. That is why, at Saint Miriam, we are making some changes, too, after much prayer, reflection, and discernment. We decided to look at what has been working, what resources are being expended, where there is a noted lack of participation or engagement, and which are bearing little fruit. These changes are a continual movement toward bringing to you those things that deepen your spiritual life with us.

Therefore, starting March 1st, we have revamped the weekly schedule and some of our small group opportunities. Please be mindful of these changes as we move into March and beyond.

  • Mass times on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 12:15pm are eliminated.

 

New Thursdays Schedules:

  • Confession will be Thursdays from 4:00pm – 5:00pm
  • Rosary will be Thursdays at 5:15pm
  • Mass will be Thursdays from 5:30pm – 6:00pm
  • Adoration and Benediction will be Thursdays from 6:00 – 7:00pm
  • Stations of the Cross (Lent only) at 6:00pm with no Adoration during Lent (outside the 12/24 Hour Devotional)

 

Small Group Changes include:

  • The Women of Saint Miriam, Second Sunday at 10:30 am in Undercroft Fellowship Hall
  • Imperfect Spirituality Group, Third Sundays at 12:00 Noon in Betsy and Walter Dinner Room
  • First Encounter Prayer Group, Second Monday at 6:30pm in Betsy and Walter Diener Room

 

We will be introducing a time to pray the Rosary to our Blessed Mother on Sundays after we get through Easter, too, with the help of Deacon Pat. And, Father John Connors will be balancing his time at the parish as well as pursuing his Chaplaincy certification. That means he will be spending a little less time at Saint Miriam during the week, but his weekend hours and Mass duties will remain the same as Parochial Vicar. Also, I have granted Father John Francis Trubina my blessing to form a ‘mission parish’ of Saint Miriam in Wilmington, DE, as well as continuing to build a new ministry for us entitled Sacred Space, an outreach to the homeless population! He will still remain as an Assisting Priest with his current duties for First Friday Mass and two weekends each month at Saint Miriam, here at our main campus. These are very exciting times for us and we will impact more and more people with the love that we are as Saint Miriam!

There is a compelling metaphor I came across that may help us all to embrace needed change and prevent us from pushing so quickly toward Easter. It is the metaphor of the seed. You might remember that Jesus began his teaching ministry with the parable of the sower in the Gospel of Matthew, and referred to seeds, fruit, and branches, throughout His ministry. To see the metaphor of Christian growth contained in a seed is to learn valuable lessons about change and transformation. Growth is not the purpose of a seed, but a means to an end. Unless seeds give rise to new seeds, they fail to fulfill their God-given purpose. Transformation never happens for its own sake. Change happens always to lead us to a new place and renewed purpose. Growth occurs that we might not only know more, but that we might do more. Seeds are judged, ultimately, on the fruit that they bear; and so shall we.

I pray that the lessons of the seed help us see Lent, then, not as an awful or dreary time of sacrifice and denial, but as a time of preparation, anticipation, and needed change. This preparation will make us better equipped for the work to which God calls us and anticipation of the fullness of life that God promises.

Off we go toward Easter, but first we dwell for a bit on the work of change in order to prepare our hearts and strengthen our mission.
 


The Temptation to Hate, Even in Lent.

 

Someone close to me received a text message from someone now removed from their life that read that our parish is home to ‘murderers, thieves, conmen, and rapists’. Yes, I agree, and I am proud of that fact.

Look, to be clear, I am not aware of anyone – other than myself, of course – that has transgressed the law or found their way to the wrong side of a set of jail bars over some youthful stupidity. But, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care. Yes, that’s right! I don’t care who did what or when or even to whom, as long as they sought forgiveness, repented, and became better creations to work for God and the Kingdom to come. I don’t care who is divorced, or gay, or unwanted, or rejected. I don’t care who was ever homeless, or immoral, or inadequate for others. I don’t care who they sleep with or who sleeps with them. Jesus was the One who was always preaching about love, tolerance, and forgiveness. In that, I follow His lead, and in doing so, I now know that God often calls the most unlikely, the most broken, the most rejected to lead the change needed to become better followers, a better church, a better faithful people.

To prove my point, we must all pause in this holy season and ask ourselves, ‘why’? Why do it this way? Why choose the broken and not the famous? Why choose them from before birth to be an apostle of Christ? Look at Paul! God allowed him to sink into wicked and violent opposition to Christ, a tax collector and an abuser of profit, and then save him dramatically and decisively on the Damascus road! Why? Because God often acts in ways that are not our ways. God is in control. God calls. God builds. That is good enough for me. It should be good enough for you, too.

I have been the object of ridicule, scorn, gossip, innuendo, backstabbing, misunderstanding, verbal assault, and outright abuse. I have also been the recipient of overwhelming love, unconditional support, and the most amount of respect I have ever received by those of you who call Saint Miriam home. That is not something you find in most parishes, if any at all. That is worth celebrating. You see, we follow Jesus; plain and simple. And, as we do, we love others, even ‘murderers, thieves, conmen, and rapists’, and yes, people like me.

So, here we are in the beginning of our annual Stewardship Appeal. It is time to ask ourselves why. Why support this parish and no others? Why do we welcome even the most broken? How does our radical welcome and warmth betray the world’s confidence and understanding, but simultaneously follows that radical example of Christ, whom we follow, worship, and adore?

We often say that we believe that “God’s light shines brightest through our cracks.” Don’t let that love fade. What we have is simply too limited.

Blessed Lent.

 



Shall We Journey to Be Better People…On Our Knees?

 

Today we begin our Lenten Journey. Today, we should look to become better people. Today we ask God to help us to be more merciful and loving, just like our Father in Heaven and the way our Lord, Jesus, taught us to be as a people of faith.

You see, mercy doesn’t have room for hatred or resentment; neither does love. Mercy asks us to forgive, even when we believe the person doesn’t ‘deserve’ to be forgiven, and love asks us to love, not because someone has ‘earned’ our love, but because we are dedicated to making love a part of our character. Even the most unlovable should be lovely to our hearts. This means we are to love even when someone is difficult to love. But, because we are human, to be merciful and loving is difficult to understand, and even harder to put into action. Enter Lent.

During this Lenten holy time, let us each take a serious look into our lives. Are there people in our lives we have not truly forgiven? How about ourselves? Have we been able to forgive ourselves for a past action or event or hurt? If so, let us ask God to take these relationships in our lives to reshape our hearts into hearts of love and mercy, even when it needs to be directed inwardly. Let us also ask ourselves this question: Have we hurt someone and not asked for forgiveness? Although we are called to have mercy and forgive those without being asked for forgiveness, saying ‘I’m sorry’ never hurts. It is never too late to apologize. Finally, let us recommit to God a portion of what we have been so generously given for this year’s Stewardship Appeal.
 
How might we support the work of this parish and God’s holy Church better this time of year? Do we recognize that what we have, we never really owned in the first place?
 
Our Lenten Prayer…
 

Dear God,

As we begin our Lenten journey, create in us hearts of mercy and love. Help guide us in acknowledging people in our lives whom we need to forgive. Help us to forgive even ourselves. Help us also recognize those whom we have hurt. Give us the courage and strength to not only give forgiveness but to also ask for forgiveness. Help us to be more generous toward others, toward You, and toward our parish.

In your name,

 Amen.

 


Of Chocolates and Ashes: What to do this Valentine’s Day!

 

 

Yes, it is true! Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the very same day this year, something that has not occurred since 1945!

So, how do we address the conflict between the joy of St. Valentine’s Day and the somberness of Ash Wednesday when the observance of Ash Wednesday requires fasting in many traditions, and Valentine’s Day is a time for celebrating love, often by eating out and giving candy?

As Catholic Christians, Ash Wednesday begins the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. Liturgical fasting during Lent emphasizes eating plainer food and refraining from “pleasurable” foods such as meat, dairy, and eggs. Many people “give something up” during Lent, as a way to prepare for Easter.

And, how can we forget St. Valentine, a priest in Rome during the reign of Emperor Claudius II. Claudius was having difficulty enlisting enough soldiers for his army, which he attributed to men being reluctant to leave their wives and families, so he banned marriages and engagements, but Valentine defied the edict and continued to perform marriages. And, in good Catholic tradition was summarily arrested, beaten, and beheaded! He was executed on Feb. 14, in about 269 A.D., according to church tradition.

And so, now comes wisdom from on high! The Magisterium says that Catholics should fast on Ash Wednesday and celebrate Valentine’s Day dinner either on Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”) the last day of allowable heavy consumption before Ash Wednesday fasting begins, or on another day when penitence is not required. I say phooey!

Rather than looking for a bridge, a compromise, or even the denial of one over the other, the combination of Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday may be better framed as a welcome contrast for us to dive more deeply into our feelings and hopes. You see, next Wednesday the holy Church observes the ultimate and unconditional love of God, which calls us, in turn, to a time to self-denial, fasting, and repentance in the face of our own denial of God’s love in our lives and the reality of our mortality. But for us to ignore the secular would seems out of touch to me! Rather, story of St. Valentine is one of sacrifice, of witness, and of a changed life! (That all sounds pretty Lenten to me!)

The hope of the Lenten season is that we will find our lives transformed by the many ways we encounter God’s Word, by the richness of the Scripture readings chosen to encourage, to challenge, to confront, to comfort. Focusing only on the end goal would cause us to miss so much along the way. I would much rather have you observe Ash Wednesday in the daytime, and the love of another in the evening. Or, why not attend Mass together and then go to dinner to honor your relationship? Then, rather than worry about the denial of some pleasure, add something meaningful to your lives as a couple! Promise to attend Mass every Sunday, go to Stations of the Cross on Thursdays together, bring your children to Lenten observances or Adoration, or why not increase your gifts of time, talent, and treasure to the work of the parish and God’s holy church!? This way, this Lent, will have lasting impact, rather a fleeting pleasure of your boasting about not eating chocolate!

As penance finds its way into our lives next week, instead of giving up things like chocolate, Netflix, or alcohol, choose wisely and pray and reflect on the hope of the season ahead.