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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

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?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 17, 2017

 
I am admittedly tired. I am so tired that I wasn’t sure what I could even muster to think about today after a busy Holy Week and Easter, let alone place those thoughts to paper for my weekly devotion. Then, on Facebook this morning, one of the faithful from Saint Miriam, Liz, wrote to me, “You carried quite a few of us for 40 days and ending with a splendid celebration. Rest easy Poppa.” And in those words, God came. 
 
St. Augustine once said that “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” From His famous encounter with that woman at the well, through our recent Holy Week and Easter Day celebrations, Jesus is always inviting us to give up the constant search for things that cannot fulfill, and to turn to the only one who truly can: Himself. He is the living water that quenches thirst. He is the true “Lord” that will never leave us. He is the One who carries us, even the most broken like me, and He wants us to turn to Him. 
 
Liz is correct in her belief that I tried to carry the parish through Lent and into Easter. It is my job, as her pastor, to do just that. Many came, some didn’t. Some were changed and moved to a deeper place of service, and some thought the whole affair meaningless. I tried, but I know now that I wasn’t alone in my effort. Jesus was there, too.
 
You see, I didn’t have to do it all alone. I never had to go it alone, I just thought that I did through all those years of feeling alone and frustrated. As my ministry and belief has deepened, so has my trust in Jesus.  
 

And here is the amazing part: Jesus wasn’t alone either. When Jesus was in that desert, God was there. When Jesus was in the garden in great despair, God was with Him. When studying ‘trial’, God stood side-by-side with Our Lord. When the death sentence was handed down, God accepted it, too. Even when Jesus was carrying His cross to Calvary, God was there. Yes, He have had those Roman soldiers whipping and mocking Him all the way to Golgotha, but He also had companions that gave Him strength, like Simon, and so do I, and so do you!

I once heard a story that may help you, as it helped me: Imagine for a minute that you are on a mountain with Jesus. You’re both having a great time, Jesus is telling some hilarious jokes, and you feel like you’re on top of the world! The view is magnificent… but then you fall. For some reason, you were walking too close to the edge and now you’re plummeting into a downward spiral. As you are falling you’re remembering your mountaintop encounter: your relationship with Christ, the beautiful view, and the joy in your heart. You’re upset that you’re falling, but despite your descent, you manage to whisper the name, “Jesus”. Then, immediately Jesus stretches out His hand and tells you to have confidence in Him because He knows what it feels like to fall. 

You see, the greatest of what Jesus gave us this Lent was the gift of being able to fail and get back up! His gift tells us that we are not wed to being perfect, or being always on point, or running without rest. No, we can fail, trip, sin, become tired, overwhelmed, fall, and then – when we can no longer get up with our own strength, or muster to carry ourselves –  Jesus is there to place us gently on His back and together, we move forward. 

This week, allow yourself to have a personal encounter with the Lord, and remember Jesus dropped His cross, too.

Lord, help me to see You in all the facets of my daily life and work. Help me to find rest, even in my striving for perfection, until I can simply rest in You and accept my imperfections, as my own prayer of life.

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 10, 2017

 

We had a good week. We cared for children who were blind and included them with sighted children, and together, they enjoyed a beautiful Easter Egg Hunt. For one child and his also blind father, they saw for the first time what a loving parish can do and bring to the world. (You can see it by Clicking Here.)

Palm Sunday was also specular this year! The palms raised high, the parish adorned in red, larger crowds gathered, and a folks excited to gather for the start of Holy Week!

I also met with Father John who is discerning a call to our parish as Associate Pastor. Father John’s life, much like mine, is replete with rejection, hardship, and perseverance to follow a call that some in the world saw, and others rejected immediately. Father is a contemplative at heart, much calmer than me (no comments!), and with a deep spirituality. He is Roman Catholic Church trained, spent time aboard, and in two monasteries, as well as serving at parishes in Philadelphia and Camden and now within hospice ministry. Then, he met a woman, fell in love, and thought he would be forced to abandon the priesthood forever, but God brought him to us…at the start of Holy Week, to show him God’s love is eternal, and that God would never require us to give up one covenant for another. A new start may just be awaiting John.

While our focus is always on Jesus at Saint Miriam, and as the greater Church, this week we will focus on the human-form Jesus first. The Jesus that is like us, save sin. The One who is still vulnerable, weaker, emotional, but ever obedient. His Father’s will demanded of Him one thing, the Roman Empire saw Him in another way, the Jews another, and the people still another, and those disciples, they saw Him differently, too; but for Jesus it was always about His Father’s will.

Jesus was not killed for any theory. Jesus was killed because of His all-encompassing commitment and obedience to God, His Father in Heaven. 

From that single death; that death on that cross, through Paul and Philip, the two Sons of Zebedee, Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Nathanael, James, Thomas, Thaddeus, and Matthias, down to through the millennia of the holy Church to us today, the lives of the best followers have exemplified a willingness to self-empty, to follow, to be obedient, always in congruence with the Christ we all follow.

How about you this week? Will you walk with Jesus during Holy Week? Will you be obedient and follow Him wherever He goes; however He asks? 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 3, 2017

 

Lent creates space. It creates space for change, renewal, focus, growth, and regeneration. Lent creates space, but only if you allow it to.

Some folks have used our Lenten journey for good; to allow God to harvest out the bad, uproot the harmful attributes of ourselves, and replace them with good things, glorious, fruitful, life-filling things. Others, however, have once again missed this opportunity and instead wallowed on social media about their plight and raged their fists against the blackness of the night that pervades even their days. They flood themselves, and the internet, with all their woes, whom they blame, and turned the innocent against their favorite  “imagined enemy”, but never once stopped to see themselves in the refection that has become their pain. Lent created the space, but they failed to use it as a cocoon for growth; for change. They have been selfish to the world, and to others, and that selfishness has prevented them from being kind even to themselves. 

Troubled times can drive one back into one’s own mind somehow hoping that solace is to be found there, but what resides back there is often old memories, colored-truths, dishonest falsehoods, and dusty ways, that impinge on one’s ability to reach their God-intended future. During these times, timeworn memories and familiar actions of blame cause enormous destruction, enormous fear, enormous greed, and enormous despair to self and to others. We succumb to the age-old reality of never changing self, but rather we rail against the world, as our chaos and doubt deepen, Lent is abandoned once again, and we emerge unchanged.

Lent creates space for us to think about the true meaning of repentance and seek fresh ways to let Jesus into our closed-off, walled-off attics of self-pity, anxiety, and defensiveness, and actually change for the better. God is not a short-term God, as the world expects. God doesn’t come to save baseball games from your favorite team losing, nor does God stand next to you to pick the winning numbers for the Powerball Lottery. No, God doesn’t send a team of angels to save you from yourself, and the hate that you created within your brokenness. Instead, God is a long-term God. A demanding, relentless, long-term God of change and hope and love. God’s miracles take time and effort, but they bring into existence that which never existed before! God creates within each of us the capacity to grow beyond our own fabrication, self-imposed misery, and isolation. We make, God creates.

How will you use these final days of Lent to allow the needed change to come? How will you allow the space that God created in Lent to help you do just that? Can you let go of your own selfishness and allow God to come at all? Are you willing to let go of, “Yes, but”, a phrase that shackles you to your present reality of pain, and enjoy the gift of God’s, “Yes you can!”, words that allow you to sing freely again?

Lent creates space. 

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 27, 2017

 
In my seminar yesterday, we covered the topic, “Evangelism in the Catholic Church”. Yes, I said evangelism! We started with a quote from St. Francis, himself, who once said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or chilling look.” In other words, we all have met people, even within our own parish, that look so miserable, so unhappy, so self-absorbed. How sad that when given such a gift as parish like ours, they forfeit it for a life of disdain and misery and never tell a soul about the ‘pearl of great price’ they found? And that is what evangelism is: The willingness to joyfully give away what you now possess! 
 
During our time together, we appreciated a brief introduction as to how many churches are failing; some 4,500-7,000 churches close every year according to the latest Pew statistics. We also looked at some of the primary reasons why most parishes never survive, most new parishes never grow, and why so many folks find religion does not merit their attendance on Sundays at any church.
 

One of the most prevalent ideas of stymied church growth is their lack of willingness to adapt to change. It has been a topic of mine for several weeks as we use Lent as a time to look at ourselves, our parish, and where God is asking us to make changes to allow for growth. We have all agreed that as difficult as it is, sometimes a tree only grows with pruning.

God comes. That is what I always say, and, yesterday was no different! There we were, sitting and discussing this topic in the library, when one of the participants was not sure that a church needed to change. We allowed the discussion to continue until the point was made and then, one of the other participants reminded us that she was a member of Zion, the church that was here before us, and that they dwindled down to less than eight members with not a single new visitor in years. As she ended her point so eloquently, “Those statistics that Father quoted at the start of today, that was us.”

When I was a young boy, I learned that I had been adopted. Now, I loved my family and was never treated any differently and was loved very deeply. I felt different, though. I knew that I had been an orphan and being an orphan meant that you were not wanted. At least that is how I saw things then. One day, my mother taught we a little song to sing every morning. It made me laugh and reminded me that every day I should begin with a song, because every day was chance to begin again, begin anew, begin fresh, and sing!

My song can now be your song. My song can be your chance to let go of fear, allow change, welcome transition, and watch God grow in your life. A new song can be your way of protesting against the way the world is, and be your refusal to accept the present world – as it is – and permit change to come and make things better! A song sung today can usher in a place where you realize that perceptions can be wrong, stories have two sides, gossip harms, and not supporting the church wounds real people.

I have learned in my years as a priest that the holy Church is always at its best when it is the most daring, most risky, most dangerous, and when it is free to sing a new song! For it is in that new song the power of the Gospel of our Christ forces the world – and every parish in every church scattered throughout the world – to recognize that it must change or die, and in that change God’s power is finally brought into the present tense!

Can you dare to sing a new song today? Will you actually allow God to bring change where it is needed to reach more people and bring wholeness to others? Will you let go of your own selfness needs and help God in times of transition to bring the boldness of true love to others?  

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 20, 2017

 

Lent is a time of self-reflection and self-discovery. It is true for laity and clergy alike. It is true for me. I once penned in a Blog post that the hardest thing I endure as a priest is always having to say goodbye. It is most especially true when you pastor a growing parish.

I used to think, in my younger and more naiveté days, that as the parish grew more and more people would come and simply stay. I have learned that is farthest thing from the truth! As the hold southern saying says, ‘folks come, and folks do go, but one thinks for sure, they surest go!’ I suppose if we operate a parish and not a prison, that will always be the case, but it is something I will never get used to; I mourn every person that leaves our fold, but I also know that in many cases we grow when God prunes.

Now, folks leave for all kinds of reasons. Some are disgruntled staff members who find the work too difficult. Some leave because the time required is too exhausting or demanding. Some leave because their commitment is less than what is needed to engage in true active ministry. Numbers of gifted persons and organizations have studied the phenomenon of the church “back door,” (the metaphorical way we describe people leaving the church), but all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own analysis, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local parish should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met.

Certainly, we must pause to recognize there are many legitimate claims by parishioners of unfulfilled expectations. After all, we are a human institution and we make mistakes! It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local parish and its leader team that people get hurt and leave. But, more of than not, many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves because they have a sense of self-entitlement. In other words, the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.
 
Psalm 23 contains that wonderful line, “Surely goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life…” Perhaps we ought better to think of God as Thompson’s famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven” where we are pursued! As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by God’s Divine grace. We are being chased by God so often in our lives and yet we try to escape. We run from God’s powerful love. We, deep down, fear God’s grasp because we know it will require change. It will demand we give up something or someone. We distrust God and God’s generosity toward us. We think we are better suited to control our destiny, rather than the God who created us and sustains us and loves us and saved us
 

So, then, perhaps Lent is a time for pruning after all. We prune ourselves of things that need to be let go of; the parish prunes folks who no longer wish to help us grow, thrive, and serve; and the Church prunes to allow the gospel to be spread to the four corners of the earth by servant-hearted people who wish to remain and wish to become better than themselves; better they could have of dreamed of, if only they truly trusted God and let go.

Lent is about noticing our blindness and seeing differently. For some of us it is about seeing clearly for the very first time in our lives…

How will you allow God to pursue you and bring about a new way that allows you to see past your old ways, your old anxieties, your old wounds, your old self-control, your old greed, your old fears, and become a member of God’s home where unencumbered joy is to be found?