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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 26, 2017

 
In my homily yesterday, I reflected on the grace of God and how God’s love for you and I is intimate and so unimaginable. We may just be but microscopic inhabitants of a somewhat miniscule planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation, and yet, the God of all creation counts the very hairs of our heads. Wow! What a magnificent picture of the love of our Heavenly Father. The little sparrow never falls beyond God’s watchful eye. Neither do I; neither do any of you.
 
I think my effort in preparing my homily for Sunday amid literal storms (the not one, but three floods we endured this past week, because of the construction we are undergoing and the massive storms that came through the area) juxtaposed against the appointed Gospel from Matthew [10:26-33], changed my view on the goodness of God yet again. No, God’s love does not protect us from life’s tribulations. No, God’s love didn’t protect our parish from being flooded. No, God’s love does not protect us from illness, or car accidents, and the like, but neither are these common problems we endure in life God’s punishment for our sins. It is simply all part of life, and the best parts of life are found in places like Saint Miriam where – even when times are at their worst – we are always at our best, because we love and adore God, and open our hearts to welcome others to experience the love of that God who counts every hair, and knows every sparrow.
 
On Saturday, after the third flooding had been finally contained. I needed a break alone to ask God for sustenance and strength. I retreated to the Sanctuary, but was too easily found. I then decided to go to our Sacristy. I sat there for a few moments, in the dim light that shadowed the room from the single window above me at ground level. I wept and tried to gain my composure, and then I saw it. My cassock.
 
The cassock is the ‘work horse’ of the priest. Simple, black, “ankle-length garment”, bearing 33 buttons, symbolizing each of the earthly years of our Christ. I got up, held it, and wept some more. Later, a brother priest shared with me an article written by Michael Lubowicki on Aleteia, entitled, A cassock: Work clothes, not a dress uniform.”  And I knew God was still speaking; God had never left me in my tears, as I had thought when I returned to the world from my respite in the Sacristy. I just needed to listen more closely to hear His message of love yet again. I place here an edited expert of the portion of Michael’s words that moved me to see things clearly again:
 
‘Wearing a cassock can and should be a form of prayer, but just putting it on isn’t enough. A cassock. Today in your eyes it is more beautiful than a bride’s dress. I can only hope that you will be equally happy when it has come to be what its color implies, i.e. a deadly shroud and a dying uniform. Be as enthusiastic about it when it starts to be your solitary confinement, cage and furnace where God will melt and purify you, an uncomfortable hermitage.’
 
Yes, there it was again! We are not to be promised protection from life’s problems. In fact, as a Franciscan, a priest – and more so as a Catholic Christian – none of us are to think our life is made easier by following Jesus, but rather harder, as we carry the cross(es), too. Crosses: not just ours, but those of the weak, rejected, injured, needy, and sick, too. We should endure, love, and be proud of our wounds, despite the problems of the world. We should not retaliate, but accept the scourging, and ‘be different’ and love everyone, as our Savior; the One we worship and adore. 
 
St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it more fully within your heart.”  You cannot have true peace if it only comes when the sun is shining, bills are paid, debts low, health is good, and all the problems of the world are melted away. It must be found in the thunderstorms of life, while you toil, and yet feel no progress. Then, God comes in unimaginable ways and makes you strong in your faith.
 

How will you find God even as the waters pour from above you and the torrents of the wild stream seem to overtake even your peace?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 19, 2017

 

We wake today to yet another act of terror. As of this moment, one person died, and eight more were wounded, two are critical, after yet another vehicle rammed into people. But this time, it was acted out against Muslims leaving Ramadan prayers in the Finsbury Park area of north London who were the victims.

The suspected driver of the van, a 48-year-old man, has been arrested. Heroically, Imam Mohammed Mahmoud, of the Muslim Welfare House, stepped in to protect the suspected attacker. Yes, I said he protected the murderer.  Eyewitnesses said that a group of bystanders dragged the driver from of the van, pin him to the ground, and began to viciously assault him. Imam Mahmoud stopped the furious crowd by placing his own life in jeopardy and telling the mob, “Do not touch him.”  The Imam’s actions in shielding the murderous driver are said to have quietened a potentially dangerous situation. In the end, his actions helped save lives.

Gnégnéri Yaya Touré, famed Manchester City and Ivory Coast footballer, declared after the presumed attack, the world needs ‘peace and togetherness.’ He is a Muslim. And, yes, we need peace, but how?
 
Yesterday, the greater Catholic Church honored Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Few came. Why? Well, it’s summer, and it was also Father’s Day. 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? Just ask those in London last night.  
 
Once, Simon Peter, who was also known to be impetuous, and who 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 then healed the ear. Jesus always heals, even His enemies. Peter acted before receiving 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 things in prayer 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 shore. But, then comes illness, injury…then comes terror, and we are left as a people 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”:  The prayer answers, “There is despair” Remedied by, “Hope.” 
 
The bread we eat, and the cup we drink, is truly Jesus, Our 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.
 
How will you enjoy summer and still honor your life as a Catholic?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 12, 2017

 
Yesterday, on a beautiful June day, that happened to also be the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, we gathered outside our parish for our third groundbreaking ceremony as a parish! That’s right! In our now almost ten years of existence, we have gathered for three such ceremonies and each one represented one high ideal: We keep our word!
 

Yesterday’s ceremony launched the building of our new Friary Rectory.  And, it was met with great joy and optimism for it represents growth, care, and being good stewards of our shared resources and our finances. It also tells the world that at Saint Miriam we honor one another and our promises. Yes, we keep our word.

There are several ways we measure a person’s worth, or our own worth. Perhaps none other evokes as much emotion as “keeping your word.”  Words hold immense power and emotion for us. That is why liturgy is so important to us as Catholics. The right words brings emotion and history and growth and change. In the right hands, words can start a path toward peace and forgiveness and growth, and even squash a war! But, in the wrong hands, words have harmed, stunted growth, brought hurt and maimed. They can bring chaos and despair and even kill. Words have power that can win the hearts and minds of people to a cause, or send somebody crashing to the depths of depression. At Saint Miriam, we know the power of words. We also know the power of keeping our word.
 

Recently I have noticed how some people have used words to harm others. They spread gossip and rumors and they also fail to keep their word. You might think this just innocent banter, but it harms the fabric of our parish and the people involved, too. Several folks have even failed to keep their pledges for our building fund. They did not keep their word, even though they used our resources and benefited from the projects they promised to care for. That places a burden on others; on us. It is not only unfair, but un-Christian and goes against everything we believe and uphold as a people of faith. Why? Because they failed to keep their word.

Since words hold power, it’s both important to speak words that hold positive intentions and always be prepared to keep your word to others, as they’re a reflection of your intentions and integrity. But keeping our word is not only about respecting others – keeping your word to yourself is all about respecting yourself. Just as people will judge you based on whether you keep your word to others, you also need to keep your word for your own well-being, too. 
 
The fact is, keeping promises to yourself shows you respect and consider yourself as important as others. And that you are just as important as others. It’s not about becoming so self-important that you abandon all others. It is about keeping your word and respecting the inherent dignity of other humans, as you do yourself, and the promises you made. It is about being selfless, not selfish.

When most people think of the essentials of living a Franciscan life there are a few things that come to everyone’s mind: humility, simplicity, fraternity, care for God’s creation, self-denial, service, and an intimate prayer life, to name a few. But, having lived this life for almost ten years within community, I can say that there is one often-forgotten aspect that might be most essential of all: honesty in keeping one’s word.

St. Francis once said that it is ‘no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching’. I have learned that you cannot preach – and have no integrity – if you cannot keep your word.

How have you hurt the fabric of what God created? How have you failed to keep your word? How have you gone against a community or a people that loved and welcomed you? How have you let your broken human nature shine through and break your word, your bond, and harm others? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 5, 2017

 

Pope Francis said recently, “The world needs forgiveness; too many people are caught up in resentment and harbor hatred because they are incapable of forgiving. They ruin their own lives and the lives of those around them rather than finding the joy of serenity and peace.”

That is what I am focusing on today, as the construction crews begin to mark the earth where the pylons will go, and where the new walls will one day stand, and where holes will need be cut and disturbances made within our current structure in order for a new Friary Rectory to rise above the earth for Saint Miriam. No, I am not marveling at the process, nor how far we have come, or the beauty of the architecture we have agreed upon; I am not weighing in my heart the place that will allow Friars to come and serve or those called to our way of life to have a home. Rather, I am in awe of the fact that we build a place that is truly based in the Gospel of the Christ we proclaim to follow. It is a place of unconditional welcome, radical love, inclusive hope, and ultimate forgiveness. In other words, it is a place built on God that the world finds so incredibly difficult to reconcile, as places like this simply are few and far between.

It is one of the reasons it took us so long to call a new Associate Pastor. We wanted someone capable of loving even the worst among us. A person who would exemplify the best of being a good priest, going where needed, and loving who called, and forgiving those who cannot begin to even forgive themselves, like myself. A priest is called to a life of surrender and to model in the world the One he serves. A priest is called to exhibit forgiveness, but more so, he must live that forgiveness always. It is not easy; it wasn’t meant to be.

I think myself as a good priest. I have my flaws and I often remind you that I am far from perfect. I struggle with many areas of being human. Perhaps it is what makes me more accessible. But, the one thing I have struggled the most with is forgiving myself. I hold on to past hurts and past actions and get mired in my own sadness. I lack forgiveness for myself. I know that.

Perhaps it is because the world never lets go of what I have done. Perhaps it is because others around me bring up my errors, or never say those words, “James, I forgive you.” Perhaps it is because I live within a broken prison called my body and never am I able to say those words to myself. Oh, sure, I pass forgiveness on to the worst of the world’s wretched. I have granted forgiveness in hospitals, streets, nursing centers, within the parish, and even in prisons, too. But, no, not to myself within my own prison.

Our lives are never easy. Our lives and schedules demand a lot from us. I once heard somewhere that we are born like a diamond newly pulled from the earth. Through a life of faith, we clear away the dirt embedded in our skin. We are then washed clean in the waters of Baptism, and through the crosses that we bare, through our experiences, through our faith, our lives are cut, and polished, and finally our edges are made smooth and our true inner-beauty is shown bright and sparkling to the world! But, this is the hard work of life, and lessons, and forgiveness. It is a forgiveness that the world so often holds back, and we hold within, and we find it difficult to heal. It is my cross, so I know of that which I speak.

So, yes, we go through sufferings in this life. We are sick, homeless, hungry, hurting, grieving, and a whole host of other crosses that we carry day to day. Perhaps your cross is your job, a family situation, a child, a spouse, someone who withholds forgiveness, or a past hurt you simply cannot let go of, or just life in general. These are the wounds that permanently disfigure us, leaving us with a constant reminder of an injury. Some are deep, like a drunk driver who disables us for life, or a sexual predator who robs us of our self-confidence and self-esteem; perhaps we struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression. Someone hurts our child, and our anger becomes all-encompassing, eating us alive. But sometimes these hurts are much smaller to the world, but still wound us deeply within, because we lack the ability to forgive ourselves, or worse, someone withholds forgiveness to us.

St. Francis of Assisi has always been considered a great man of forgiveness. Why? Because he recognized the power of forgiveness and the impact it could have in healing and transforming the world. St. Francis also lived out this truth in his life.

A story is told where St. Francis met an acquaintance of his who looked very troubled, and he asked him: “Brother, how are things with you?” The man immediately began to rant against his master, saying, “Thanks to my master, may God curse him! I have had nothing but misfortune. He has taken away all that I possess.” 

St. Francis was filled with pity for the man, and said, “Brother, pardon your master for the love of God, and free your own soul; it’s possible that he will restore to you whatever he has taken away. Otherwise, you have lost your goods and will lose your soul as well.” 

But the friend replied, “I can’t fully forgive him unless he returns what he has taken from me.” St. Francis answered, “Look, I will give you this cloak; I beg you to forgive your master for the love of the Lord God.”  The man’s heart was melted by this kindness, and he forgave his master. Immediately, he was filled with joy.

You see, when we pray for those who have offended us, it frees us to love as God loves. God’s grace has power not only to change us, but those who have done us injury as well. I pray that one day I will get better at this for myself. In the meantime, I will endeavor to be a priest that always forgives, and allow others to have the joy of that forgiveness so lost on myself. 

At the end of each day, consider who may have offended me in some way and whom I may have offended. Pray for those persons, forgive them and resolve to ask forgiveness if you haven’t done so. Watch and feel as you become free…
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 29, 2017

 

Today our nation honors and commemorates the service of our brave men and women who wore our Nation’s uniform, of every branch of service, and who died to protect us; to preserve our freedoms and to liberate the oppressed wherever they have been found to reside. Their deaths took place both on and off our own soil, at embassies abroad, on foreign lands and shores, and some have yet to return home. We, sadly and with little compassion in the busyness of our lives, so often take these sacrifices for granted. We barely notice the multitude of wind-driven flags that stand erect and tall, within every cemetery, at every grave, marking a soul who served and gave their all, as we pass by every day in our cars, chatting on our cell phones about the activities of our lives and how ‘worn out’ we are already by our full calendars.

While we, as a people of this great nation, designate two holidays to honor those who have served in our armed Forces — Memorial Day and Veterans Day — we do well at the commemoration of those who volunteered to serve, and at honoring our fallen and dead, but provide too little for our living veterans, and provide too little voice to those who live oppressed, ostracized, rejected, and alone, even within our country’s borders.

It is ironic that a nation that so proudly honors its patriots with not one, but two national holidays, still cannot seem to muster the support to provide necessities for the living service members who survived the battlefields and to ensure their welfare back home. Our warriors deserve better.

It is almost ironic that a nation who has so many that proudly boast we are a ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation, founded on the ideals of a God from above, carelessly rejects those in need and allows such atrocities to happen in that name of the God both here at home on our own soil and in cities around the globe. Our citizens, refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers deserve better, because it was for them the aforementioned, wearing the flag of our nation on their shoulders, died so valiantly.

I am a terrible runner. I admit it every day! My speed is less than average and because of my lifelong fight with Asthma, my lungs literally hurt during a run. But later this morning, as a daily CrossFitter at Manayunk Athletics / CrossFit in Philadelphia, I will participate in the Murphy WOD (Workout of the Day) in memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, New York, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005. This workout was one of Mike’s favorites and he named it “Body Armor”. It consists of two, one mile runs, one at the beginning, and another the end of a WOD, that encapsulates 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats. For the real warriors among us, some of us will also wear a twenty-pound vest, or body armor, or carry a weight on our backs. From the day it was first honored to him, it has been proudly and simply referred to as “Murph“, and is one of the hardest workouts we ever do; but think of what Mike gave for us. I will do so today, in the pouring down rain, along with my fellow athletes, in honor of a focused warrior and a great American, who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is. He did just that. Today, we will again remember, and many of us will cry, too, but the tears will be more than just the physical pain and exhaustion, it will be because we remember our people, and our nation, still have so far to go.

St. Francis once said, “Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these, they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”  This is true of every warrior who died in service to our nation and her people. It certainly was true of Lieutenant Michael Murphy.

Today, as we honor Memorial Day again, I pray each of us will take a moment to honor our fallen heroes. Then, let us begin the hard work of restoring our commitment to our patriots who have sacrificed for us, but still live among us. They deserve so much, and certainly at the very least, respect, jobs, healthcare, and thanks for their labor while in uniform. Finally, let us work together to assist the forgotten and the downtrodden, in obtaining meaningful employment, better access to affordable health care, recrimination against discrimination of any kind, the treatment for both mental and physical wounds, and by rejecting the ‘names’ and any other limiting factor that divides us as humans. As Emma Lazarus reminded us with her infamous poetry, The New Colossus, “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.”

It is what Mike, and so many heroes, died for; they did not die for one, or for one type; rather, they died so all might be free…

Blessed Memorial Day, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, we still remember.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 22, 2017

 

I have been thinking a lot about mercy. I mean real mercy; the kind that has depth and is nowhere akin to the falsity of mercy often given by the world. The mercy that is so deep that the giver forgets it has been given and the receiver is changed and their life can never be the same ever again. That kind of mercy. 
 
St. Bonaventure in The Life of St. Francis saw mercy reflecting in the life of Francis and tells the story of mercy St. Francis extended to a hardened sinner that brought about a man’s conversion. It reads, “A noble woman, devoted to God came to the saint to explain her trouble to him and ask for help. She had a very cruel husband who opposed her serving Christ. So, she begged the saint to pray for him so that God in his goodness would soften his heart. When he heard this, he said to her, ‘Go in peace, and without any doubt be assured that your husband will soon be a comfort to you.’ Then St. Francis added, ‘Tell him on God’s part and my own, that now is the time of mercy, and afterwards of justice.’ After receiving a blessing, the woman went home, found her husband and delivered the message. The Holy Spirit came upon him, making him a new man, and inducing him to answer with gentleness, ‘My lady, let us serve the Lord and save our souls.’ At the suggestion of his holy wife, they lived a celibate life for many years and both passed way to the Lord on the same day.” 
 
This past week alone we, as a parish, offered reconciliation and forgiveness to two individuals turned away from their own parish. We celebrated the marriage of four couples, baptized three babies, and this week we will bury a woman whose grief was so deep over the loss of her son last November that death was welcomed. We buried her son, too, and our priests offered the Sacrament of the Sick before he died, bringing him consolation and hope, despite his own parish priest who would not come. That is mercy. That is love.
 

This past month, we have been approached by someone who some 40+years ago sat in a jail cell after being accused of a crime he did not commit, but was too poor to fight. He pleaded, served his sentence, and returned to raise a beautiful family, enjoy the love of a wonderful wife, live a good life, never harmed anyone, and has been part of our lives, as a parish, too. He is a good man and wishes to see if God is calling him to be a Deacon. If I go by the letter of the law, he should not even begin the discernment process. If I go by the love and grace of God, I would be a hypocrite to say anything other than ‘welcome’. I choose to welcome and to see where God takes us. I pray you agree. That is mercy. That is love.

Yesterday, in John’s Gospel, we were reminded that God promised to reveal Himself to those who keep His commandments, and that He would love us and send us an Advocate (The Holy Spirit) in return to help us. We are all called by God to be a people of  love and mercy. We are called as a parish to pattern our lives on the life of St. Francis, who willingly patterned his own broken life on the life of the Crucified One, and by doing so was so filled with the Spirit that he presented the Stigmata. 
 

How will you show mercy to someone this week? How do you treat others that the world rejects and proclaims them worthless or devoid of value? How will you show the world that you are a true Christian?

Will you allow your heart to be filled with such compassion so as to turn your every act into a Corporal Act of Mercy and unconditional love?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 15, 2017

 

An old adage says that there are four things you can never take back: the stone after it’s thrown, the word after it’s said, the occasion after it’s missed, and the time after it’s gone. But, I also believe there is a fifth, trust after it’s been destroyed.

This past week, I received a voicemail that was not meant for me. Oh, it was meant for someone close to me, and in fact for several close to me, but the actual content was to be far from my hearing and knowing. A simple misdialed number brought deep pain, thoughtless hurt, and the hardship of betrayal to an already tough week. It made me rethink friendships, revaluate standings and positions within my church, and most wounding for me personally, it made me rethink my own ability to discern and to tell virtuous people from the unscrupulous. I was sad, disappointed, and angry, too.

When someone hurts us this deeply, most of the time our initial reaction is anger. We get upset by the fact that something bad happened to us because of another person’s actions or decisions. Usually, if it were a stranger that hurt us, it is easy to let go and we move on. Oh, sure, we might vent about it to our friends or family, and for a time it may even bring us to feeling a bit down for the day, but then we move just on. Lesson learned.

But what happens when the person(s) that has hurt us is someone we are very close to? What happens when this person is someone we trusted with all that we have, and with our deepest confidence? What happens when this person is someone we care about? Then what?

Often, in our brokenness as human beings, we still have the same initial response: we are filled with anger. Admittedly, after my initial dismay last Friday after hearing that voicemail, I cried, but then became filled with anger. You see, this form of anger is not just attributed to the situation alone; it is much deeper and more durable because we feel betrayed. We quickly find that we are no longer upset about the objective portion of the situation; we are more upset at the trust that has been severed. Our emotions run deeper, and our ability to let go of these types of anger moments is far more difficult to simply let go.

Sometimes, if we are deeply hurt after such a betrayal, we allow the anger to take hold of us, to drive our days, and to change our course. If this happens, resentment and hatred for the individuals who hurt us usually occurs. It can consume us and change us. If this happens, they move on, and we become that which we hated to begin with…

Our world demands a ‘tit-for-tat’ approach to such occurrences. We are to hold our ground and seek retribution! But revenge is a legacy of our animal-fighting, prehistoric past. In its simplest form, revenge does what it does in the animal world – it warns the boundary violator to stay away and not cross over that boundary again, or risk escalating and negative consequences. It also tells the other about one’s power and place. The creature that does not fight back, in fact, may be marked as prey. But, we are created in the image and likeness of the Creator! We are to become more meek because of Whom we follow, worship, and adore.

We follow the Broken One, the Scorned One, the Ridiculed One, the falsely accused One, the Betrayed One, the One Who hung upon a piece of tree with nary a sound but forgiveness to the criminal, and we are to follow as closely as we can; Yes, even here today we are to learn and exemplify the love of forgiveness and letting go. The world demands vengeance; God demands we forgive, and let go, and get back to the work of the Gospel.

St. Francis once said, “Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these, they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”

How will you be charitable today? How will you let go of the need to ‘win’ this fight, but instead turn the other cheek to gain Heaven instead?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 8, 2017

 

Most Catholics know the phrase, Corporal Acts of Mercy, but few could name them. There are seven primary acts of mercy and they include feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, burying the dead, giving alms to the poor, and forgiving our enemy.

I have found that forgiveness is the one that most folks struggle with; the hardest work of mercy on the list. In every other work of mercy, we are called to share what we have, but when it comes to forgiveness, it is begins and ends with an individual movement, and we find that our hearts are shut tight. When it comes to forgiving another, we go it alone, are alone, feel alone, and resent the other so much that God can barely get in edgewise. Forgiveness runs elusive for most of us.

Yesterday, I received an unmarked envelope in the mail. It was neatly typed, no return address, and the content was a short, simple letter that brought up the long-ago past mistake of a fellow parishioner who has been with us from almost the beginning of the parish. It seems the letter’s author decided that because of this man’s past mistake – some almost forty years ago – that he should not be permitted to be in the church, let alone volunteer to help us around the campus. The author demanded we ‘get rid of this pervert’ and that ‘we should know better’. It concluded that ‘there are so many fine people at [Saint Miriam] why would you let someone like this among you? And then it was signed, “Concerned”.

“If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours”, these words, found in the Gospel of Matthew, are Jesus’ very precise demand when it comes to forgiveness. It is a non-negotiable for our Lord; it is a non-negotiable for us at Saint Miriam, and the same for me as a priest and pastor.  So, to this author self-identified as “Concerned” let me say the following, as directly, and as nicely as I am able, “Take your lack of forgiveness, your harbored hatred, your embarrassingly cowardly act of an unsigned letter and find yourself a parish that will harbor such hatred and resentment of another, because here – at our home – there is no room for such pusillanimity and there no room for you who has not learned how to forgive, but tries to destroy. We are better than that at this parish because we know how to forgive.”

From the famed “Wolf of Gubbio” to his treatise against war, St. Francis instilled a spirit that sought to seek peace through understanding and acceptance, rather than combating for tranquility through aggression and war; justice in mercy and forgiveness, rather than retribution in violent reprisal, availability to everyone, rather than opinionated distance from those who do not share the same ideas and values, and a way forward with a deep fraternal love of all, even those we dislike or transgress us. He once said that we must be careful not to be angry or disturbed at the sin of another, for anger and disturbance impede charity in themselves and in others. So, if “Concerned” is afraid that by offering forgiveness to another will lower your standards, you’re very much mistaken. There’s no lower standard than self-righteous fear.

Our world today is desperate for forgiveness; too many people are caught up in living in deep resentments and harboring untold hatred because they are simply incapable of forgiving. They rob their own lives, and the lives of those around them, rather than finding the joy of serenity and peace in being merciful. They all themselves ‘servants’, and ‘Christians’, but their lives tell a very different story. They say they ‘love’, and yet they ‘destroy’ by using gossip, story telling, lashing out, social media, and the lack of reconciliation to destroy a people and a place of God. 
 
Some eight hundred years ago, St. Francis restored the little Chapel of the Porziuncola, now housed inside the Basilica at Rome. Francis experienced a mystical vision in the Chapel of San Damiano, some two miles away, in which he heard the crucified Christ tell him three times, “Francis, Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” The saint understood this to mean the Porziuncola chapel, and so he repaired it.
 

This simple, beautifully understated place became the cradle of our Franciscan order, and later the saint obtained from Pope Honorius III an indulgence for all who visited it. That indulgence has been known ever since as, “The Pardon of Assisi”, and can be gained during the first days of August.

If a place, created and repaired by a saint that had once been thought of as a crazy man, and whom people were warned not to follow, can be a place of love, hope, forgiveness, and restoration, then why can we – we who contain the very Presence of the Lord within us, received at holy Communion at every Mass – not be a people of forgiveness and love, too?

Pope Francis once commented, “How truly difficult it is for us to pardon those who have done us wrong!”

“Concerned’s” written cowardice against another among us sadly proves we have a long way to go.

How are you denying forgiveness to another? How are you harming your relationship with a God that demands us all to forgive, to reconcile, to live in hope and love? How are you more like “Concerned” than you care to admit?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 1, 2017

 
It is finally May! The earth is being renewed, the sun is lengthening our days, the winds are no longer harsh, the rain of April, now past, is yielding blossoms of all kinds, and our hearts are being brought from the slump of winter’s depth to a renewed sense of mission, joy, and desire again! Yes, summer is almost upon us; May is here! 
 
Yesterday our children made their First Holy Communion and welcomed Our Lord into their ‘most personal space’! They are now intimate tabernacles for their own Creator! Each will dwell closer with Him, as He draws them closer with every breath! A miracle to be sure and we were all part of it! While the world ate their meals out, watched their movies for entertainment, attended sporting events in lieu of church, or visited their local malls and shopped, we instead gathered in a humble sanctuary and celebrated with our Lord and witnessed a miracle before us! That is what we do as Catholic Christians, we sacrifice to bring God into the world: ever closer, ever deeper. It is why we teach our children the importance of these rituals, so they, too, increasingly spend time with their Savior, and watch as they become better people and make the world a better place. It begins by instilling within them a love of that which they now hold within them: a God of love!
 

May is not just the change of season to warmer weather and the longing for summer vacations, it is also an opportunity for us to grow our depth of feeling God’s love. It is a chance to intentionally pause and give thanks to God for all that we have that enables us to live. One beautiful way to take such a break from our busy world to honor Mary this month, a time set aside to reveal her love to the world and to show how that love might change us even more, if only we let her dwell with us closer. Why not join us one Thursday and pray the rosary this month?

St. Francis’ love for Mary was shown in his prayers and how he lived his life. He used Mary as a model for how he could try to follow Jesus more closely. St. Francis often used loving descriptions to describe Mary and her relationship with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in his writings, he often referred to her as a “holy mother” showing his love and connection to her. Through his devotion and relationship with Mary, St. Francis built personal relationships with everyone and everything around him.

I was surprised how much St. Francis wrote about Mary and it really showed his love and affection for her. Through my devotion to him, as a Franciscan, St. Francis showed me how to try to develop more of a relationship with her in my life. The relationship with Mary can show the same love that I have for my own mother.  Also in these prayers and devotions, St. Francis encourages us to be just as faithful to God as Mary. Although we may not be tested as much as Mary was in her calling, we can do the little things in life to strengthen our faith and to bring to the world the love of our Blessed Mother.

How might you be a little “theotokos’ this month, the ‘God-bearer’ like Mary, to others around you? How might you bring depth to your love of God through a devotion to the Blessed Mother? How can you show others, including your family and children, that praying the rituals of our holy Church will change their lives for the better?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 24, 2017

 

Even St Francis, himself, knew that the rule we would follow, and still do from the year 1223, is one based on the rule of ultimate love. Now, for sure, those of us who follow the ideal that St. Francis laid down in his rule know the bar is very high! To put into practice such a rule, as Friars, and to live as one of his companions, and to live perfectly according to that standard is nearly impossible. The difference between us and the world, though, is that at least we try, and we try very hard to do just that!

By way of example, in one chapter St. Francis deals with penance to be inflicted on any brother who has sinned. In some cases, they must return to their ministers, who “should beware lest they be angry or troubled on account of the sin of others, because anger and trouble impede charity in themselves and in others.” In other words, one cannot be charitable, or hand out a proper penance, if one is angry and does not have love. That applies to all that we do as humans: no love, no charity is possible.

These past few weeks, I have been the recipient of much mis-directed anger. So much so that I needed to take last Sunday away and pray and find God elsewhere. We are in another growth stage as a parish and friary, and much is happening! Rather than to be excited about the good things that are taking place around us – all the good things that our loving God continues to give to us as we closely follow His Son – some people would rather dwell in the past. I have been blamed for people leaving, accused of never meeting with parishioners, being angry, pushing people out of the parish, and being less than fraternal on my leadership. One person even began by telling me how much she disliked our new pulpit and that she felt we could have gotten a better from IKEA! I would not rebut her cruelty, misinformation, or words of anger, even though I knew then, and trust now, they are all based on falsehood, gossip, and innuendo. Instead, I listened and walked her to the door and gave her a hug and sad goodbye, reminding her the door to Saint Miriam is always open. I loved in the face of hate.

As pastor, I sometimes make hard choices, but I have always maintained an ‘open-door policy’, and my door and heart remain open. I listen to everyone who has an idea or course of action to share, but I do make final decisions, and I recognize that some you may disagree with some of them, but that comes with the job as pastor. Additionally, I have only terminated the employment of one individual in my nine years as pastor, after which I disclosed it publically and stated clearly why he had to go. I have always gone where needed, sacrificed more than anyone, and loved beyond measure, even those who ridicule me. I believe myself to be a good pastor, and I am as transparent as any single pastor I know, and still some of you hate me. I am blamed for things I do not do, did not dream up, never put into place, and I can count on one hand how many ever came into my office to talk, or ask, instead they gossip, they hate; that destroys. You see, when that occurs – those folks have no room for love – and so all that happens is more hate. St. Francis was right, and I follow his rule to love more and rid myself of my own brokenness. Do you?

This past Lent, many of you gave something up. Despite my urging to instead add something wholesome to your life, and rid those things that were harmful, many felt it easier to not eat meat on Fridays! I asked you to care less about chocolate or fast food, and more about loving people and God.  Attend Mass weekly, give more to others, pray more, worship in Adoration, volunteer at the parish, anything that would help you to become a better person, and us a better people. Few did, but I would like to end with one family who did just that and cared for me in the process.

The Cuffey-Mitchell Family decided that since I live in small quarters, have no stove, and sacrifice so much, that they would make me a full meal every week of Lent. And so, for six full weeks, every single week, delivered right to the door of my RV, was a full meal for me and my family. Every single week of Lent, when the Devil was at his worst, and spiritual warfare was at its greatest height, when many were hating me, talking about me behind my back, and when my depression and the pressure of my job was at its greatest, this one family brought me a warm meal, with all the trimmings, and reminded me what true love is.

How did you love? Do you love enough now? How will you show someone that does so much for you that you love them, truly love?