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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 17, 2018

 

Recently we had a visit from a priest in the church from another part of the country. He had never been to Saint Miriam, but left with a wonderful feeling. Later, upon his return to his home diocese, it was reported back to me that he spoke about me, as pastor, with profound respect, and he had much praise for my vision, but loved the people of the parish. In the end, he viewed Saint Miriam as one of the leading Old Catholic parishes in the country. I was humbled.

I’ve thought a lot about his words, and what he witnessed firsthand. Oftentimes, even I take this place for granted. Truth-be-told, we all do in some respects. We have such a vibrant and growing parish, a wonderful and dedicated school, and we care for the dead with our stewardship of an historic cemetery. We even have a pet memorial garden, because – after all – we are Franciscans! And, all of this, has been done with dedication and sacrifice to make sure we grow, care, and outreach beyond our doors, and we do it all without ever once forsaking our mission of a ‘radical welcome’, and by keeping our children and parishioners safe, too.

I think at that is at the heart of our heart: we love beyond what the world thinks is wise, and we welcome because we know what it is like to feel rejected, and we do it all with a joy that is rarely found in churches today! This place of love has been built on the love of Jesus and that is worth celebrating, remembering, and caring for.

St. Francis once said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”  We sure live up to that vision, and perhaps, that is the feeling Father left with after his visit. May it always be so.

How will you care for a place that brings joy to a world often dark? How will you spread the joy found here in your daily loves to others? Do you use the foundation of unconditional love and welcome at your parish, to welcome unconditionally all those you meet in your daily walk? Do you recognize how blessed we are…together?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 10, 2018

 

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. For those of us who suffer from depression, and especially those of us who have actually planned our own ending, we need the world to know that mental health awareness is needed now more than ever, as we are now witnessing some of the highest numbers of depression, suicide, and other mental health issues. I actually wrote on the issues surrounding pastors and suicide this past week with the tragic loss of Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California. (You can read it here, if you missed it.)  And, while it may vary from person to person, any serious shift in one’s mood, actions, or thoughts, warrants talking about; we should all ask and not assume when it comes to our friends and family. Mood swings, sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts or speech, are all signs that someone may be experiencing a difficult time and harboring these thoughts in their mind. Many of us also experience anxiety or panic attacks.

So, what do we do with such an uncomfortable topic? Act! Stop and think for a moment about how our actions or inactions might cause the death of someone we love or know. How will you feel if you were too uncomfortable to ask a simple question and wake up tomorrow to find that person gone? The first thing to do I simple: listen with an open mind to what they have to say and show them you are there to care, not judge. Once you have established a comfortable space for communication to take place, help them seek professional help. Go with them, hold their hand, show them you care. Your simple actions can actually save a real life.  Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those 15–29 years old. Each day a person dies every 40 seconds by suicide, and up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt, and over 800,000 people every year are gone by their own hand.

There is still so much taboo around this topic. That false taboo leads to death. It is time to stop it. We still read that a person has ‘committed suicide’, suggesting suicide is either a sin or a crime; it is neither and we need to see these acts and overtures as a person who needs support and not condemnation.

This past week, even after knowing how much I struggle with depression – and how much they helped me at one of the worst times in my life to want to live again – a community that I cared about abandoned me for no reason. A place where I sought fitness, friendship, and community simply unfriended me, unfollowed me, moved on, and left me alone for no reason other than I moved to another gym. They decided my friendship was not worth their time anymore, even though I had done nothing and tried to remain in concert with our friendship built on over three years of showing up almost every day and becoming a better person. It hurt; it is painful. I wept for a time, but now I realize that they missed the fundamental truth of all truths: God will never ask you to abandon one covenant for another. In doing so, thorough their ‘social-meaness’ they caused me to think again about the value of my life. What if I were more fragile again? 

Luckily, I have someone who loved me through my pain. Who listened to me and allowed me to move on inside myself where often the pain sits – unnoticed to others – but with no end in sight. That person, saves me because of her willingness to ask, listen, and love unconditionally and without judgement. How about you?

St. Francis once said that “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  Are you a candle in someone’s darkness?

On our parish website, we have a list of outreaches to help support anyone in crisis. We pray that our small acts of caring help others, like me, to want to live again in a world that God so lovingly gave to us to enjoy.

How have you helped another? How many times have you noticed someone in pain and did nothing out of your own fear or uncomfortableness? How have your actions caused someone to question their value? What will you do today to change and become a better human being? Will you shed light in a world so dark to some?



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 27, 2018

 

Whatever the reason was that brought me to join the Franciscans, I am grateful to discover that I think God led me here. I recall my first visit with an old steel worker in the hospital intensive care unit in Leigh Valley following an acute and severe heart attack. All of a sudden, while talking about his illness and what it meant to him and his livelihood, we somehow managed to divert into a discussion about the loss of his wife who died several years earlier of cancer, an estranged son whom he deeply missed, and all the feelings of guilt he held onto so deep beneath his leather-faced, hard exterior. Then, without almost any warning, this older man, a virtual stranger, started weeping and held tightly to my hand.

Thinking back, I couldn’t imagine this guy feeling secure and comfortable enough to cry in front of another man, except here I am as a simple priest in a simple brown habit. That was an important moment for me in my ministry. There was such a power in that room that I really needed to honor and use it in a good way; I knew it wasn’t me, it was the One who called me. I don’t think I will ever forget how God used me that day to do so much that the world will never know, except one hard-nosed man who needed me that day beyond anything else.

I truly believe that my vocation came about by the grace of God, but I became a Friar because I resonated so deeply with the founder, St. Francis, and the friars I visited that first time in Washington, DC were always down to earth, and they seemed to enjoy life. Yes, God came, I listened, and one day when I was broken and ready enough, I finally said, ‘yes.”

I wonder what the world would be like if more of us listened and responded, even when fearful about changing directions? I wonder what it would be like if more of us said, ’yes’ to the Lord who needs us to help, grow, mend, and create in a world so filled with hate and doubt and loss? I wonder, is God calling you and have you not heard Him or simply rejected that call out of fear?

 Maybe today is the day when your life might just change, and in doing so, you might just change another who is in need of the one who bears your name?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 20, 2018

 

As I prepared for Mass early this past Sunday morning, I wondered to myself, “Would anyone really show up?” Oh, I know, we are not the church that harmed children, at least not this time. I am sure we have in the past, and I even more sure that somewhere there is a priest that still does or is thinking of doing the unthinkable. It is a hard thought to escape, and perhaps we should not escape it again. Maybe, just maybe, we all should stop and dwell on this fact a little longer before we dismiss the terrible, horrific, details of the Pennsylvania Attorney General Report from this past week. Maybe, just maybe, we all should sit and ponder – as I did early Sunday morning past – and ask ourselves, ‘why am I still a catholic?’

The week had brought to us revelations of horrors inflicted by some in the Catholic clergy, and of the church hierarchy’s complicity in actually covering up their actions and making it all seems so normal. It wasn’t. It was terrible. And that is why I began my homily at the Early Mass on Sunday with the opening salvo, “If I were not a priest, and pastor of this parish, I would probably not be here today.”

The past week stirred a new, darker set of doubts for many of us who have maintained our catholicity despite years of abuse and knowing what men are capable of, even as they wear a collar, or a habit like me. “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing as a priest in this church? Why do I still stay and serve when so many do such harm?”

It was almost an irony, or perhaps Divine engagement, that St. Paul admonished the Ephesians this Sunday with the Epistle, “Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Yes, Paul, they are, but never would I have imagined that the evil would come at the hands of a brother priest. But, it has. No, there is no escaping that fact anymore.

But then, just as I was falling into despair, God came again as I read on to the Gospel passage appointed for Sunday! Read from the book of John, Jesus made the most fundamental of His promises, the one that Catholics accept each and every time we receive the holy Eucharist: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” And there it was! God was still here, just as God always has been. And while it must pain God beyond our mortal imaginations to see what has happened, I know, too, that someday we will understand more. Until then, we should not avoid the discussion, but rather engage, protect, defend, and become strongholds for the church; something the hierarchy has failed to do so dismally, and yes, at the expense of the smallest and most vulnerable. Today I can say, no more, never again. Can you?

I once heard it said that for all the problems that we experience, there is still the presence of God in this place. I find solace in that reflection. I pray you do, too.

How will you ensure the safety of all who come to God’s church? How will you engage your deepest fears, as I have mine this past week, and still remain a catholic?  How will you make this church a beacon of hope, light, and safe harbor?  How will you support this place that has made the safest place possible for all who come?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 13, 2018

 

My cousin works for the National Security Administration, better known as the NSA. They help defend the nation through surveillance and processing of information and data of foreign intelligence; the majority of their techniques are clandestine.

One day, my cousin and I were talking about the national threats and he made a looming comment. He stated, almost too matter-of-factly, “You really don’t want to know what I know; you wouldn’t sleep tonight.” I believe him. I also trust him.

Being a Pastor, and a Friar, often makes me stop and ponder longer in making decisions. I often say that I think more like a woman, ‘globally’, as opposed to how most men think which is more linear. I must think of the whole, rather than just the one. This is why sometimes we let parishioners go, and why often, too, staff must be let go, or at least permitted their own leave, because the whole is always greater than the one.

Franciscan spirituality, then, at its heart is always communal, emphasizing the “we” over the “I.” While each human bears inherent dignity and grace, each human also grows and flourishes withincommunity. Franciscan communalism has the calming insight that we can choose our friends, but we cannot – and perhaps must not– ever choose our brothers and sisters. In the larger society, as Father O’Connell once stated, Franciscan communalism democratizes aristocracy and renders all people as royalty, replacing class warfare with a strong sense of cooperation. Franciscan communalism is always about the ‘others’.

Franciscan spirituality is lesser, humble, poor. This is why we sacrifice so much of ‘self’ in order to offer our life to the greater good. Since Franciscans own very little, or nothing at all, we wear greatness well, and are the true and faithful stewards, always asserting that we have done nothing, and that He who gives us life, deserves all the glory.

In the end, Franciscan spirituality is practical; not fasting more beyond what the Church requires for all, eating of what is set before us, preaching without words, but in actions like feeding hundreds of homeless by noon tomorrow. And, as a pastor, charged with the care of so many, I often, too, need to reflect that even in the midst of storms, I am to remain calm and make steady decisions that enhance the community, not at the sacrifice of them, but sometimes, of the one that must go.

I wonder if, when a decision is made, or someone is let go, or decides to leave, if anyone stops and considers the very real possibility that you really don’t want to know what I know. In other words, the decision that was often made is always for you, and the community at large.

How will we react the next time a decision is made that we disagree with?  Do we ever give credence to the fact that our pastors are called to that office by a God who ordained them to discern for us?  Do we ever say to ourselves, ‘I may not agree, but I also hold no facts to change the choice”  Or, “I trust my pastor for all he has given and so far, in the light of truth, his decisions have been right for us as a whole.”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 6, 2018

 

Recently I saw a bumper sticker that read, “There is No Planet B”. This sticker, an obvious reference to the fact that we care very little for Planet Earth and, without our taking serious environmental initiative and conservation steps, we will surely – one day – cause its very demise. But…what about us?

I spoke on Sunday in my homily about the fact that we all seem to grumble. We are never happy and there always seems to be something better out there for us. When we are given so much, we still wake every day unsatisfied, ill satiated, and wanting the illusive dream that may never actually come. In doing so, we negate the very real gifts we already have! No, it seems the more we have, the more we miss.

In my younger years, when I thought of God’s will, it seemed dark and gloomy to me. I always seemed to identify God’s will as a whole system of laws and commandments that I was obligated to follow if I wanted to please God and avoid damnation. In those years, when I prayed “Thy will be done” in the Lord’s Prayer, I thought of it mainly in terms of responsibility and not love. God was often a gloomy God, or worse, that just wanted so much that somehow, I failed to give. No, God did not love me, God wanted a soldier.

Today, when I think of God’s will, it is something very different. The idea nearly glows with light now! I see God’s will today more as Saint Francis saw it, namely, as God’s desire to love us unconditionally and to lead us to abundant life. As Saint Irenaeus so aptly put it, “God’s glory is the human person fully alive!”

So now, when I pray the Lord’s Prayer and reach the inevitable, “Thy will be done,” part, it has a joyful because God’s will is to bring total healing and happiness to everyone God loves, and I now relish every person, every gift, every touch, every day! God has become a friend and what God gives to me, I accept and seek not much more. In doing so, my life is more abundant and filled with joy. And, it is a joy that surpasses anything I ever dreamed possible when I was far too young to appreciate it. I am blessed…how about you?

How do you focus on the ‘wants’ and miss the ‘gifts’ right in front of you? How often have you noticed the sunshine in the morning, rather than condemn the fact that a new work day is upon you? In the evening, do you thank God for all that was given to you that day, or do you curse the overcooked food on your plate and miss, too, the love that made it for you in the first place?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 17, 2018

 

Often to move forward we need to let go. That is what I have learned in my life. Sometimes, we let go of things. Sometimes, it is people that we must let go of; those who have died, and the grief that buries us with them. And, sometimes it is places, or those who have buried us with their own baggage that keeps us from being whole and feeling well.

Recently, after much thought and deep refection, I have decided it is time to let go of a community I have been part of for several years. The atmosphere is different. The people are changed. Most importantly, the leadership is distant, preoccupied with something otherly, and the family I once knew, well no longer seems to know me. I have tried to remain, but deep inside I knew the truth: “It’s time to go, James. It is time.”

I think it’s important to let go after a time of discernment in order to remain healthy. One must first dedicate time for reflection as part of this process before making any major plans. Reflection plays an essential role in creating steps that feel aligned with your inner dreams. If you’ve been making choices that have not felt right, it’s time to pay attention.

Letting go is a gentle, simple practice of looking back on your day and life, but always without judgment or criticism, and then, making needed change. It is never easy; it isn’t meant to be, but the life on the other side will come and you will blossom again. In these times, always treat yourself with kindness and compassion and know that you wish no one harm, it is simply time. In the end, forgive yourself and others, say a prayer for them, and cultivate patience with yourself and those you once encountered, and those you will encounter anew!

St. Francis once famously stated, “Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.” In my own circumstance, I am ready. I no longer doubt. I have no fear or anxiety. God is well, and in this change, I will breathe again.

Time is short, and life is so fleeting. Our actions today must be driven by the future outcomes we seek, not the past wounds where we so often dwell. If that means letting some things go to get the job done, then I say so be it.
 
What needs to change in your own life? How will you go about letting go in order to find renewed life and vigor? Who or what has been holding you back from finding your true self?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 09, 2018

 

My summer reading list includes a book by California Pastor Chris Sonksen. His book is entitled, “Quit Church: Because life would be better if you did.” I agree.

You see, we all need to rehabilitate our view and love of church, but also its efficacy in our lives. We have become all too casual and far too consumer orientated. Our love is literally dying and so is our ability to do good in a broken world. We place far too many things and people ahead of going to church and because of it, the world is hurting.

It may seem odd that at a time when church attendance is shrinking, a pastor would be encouraging people to quit church, but something has to change.In most churches, Saint Miriam included, 80 percent of the work is being carried out by less than 20 percent of the people. Over the last few years, we have become a church of spectatorsand the ministry staff is getting burned out.

Casual attendance and the belief that others will serve, give what is needed, and share the Gospel are tearing down churches across our country literally brick by brick. As believers, it’s time that we are either all in or we get out. The solution is simple: quit!

St. Francis spent his life rebuilding God’s holy Church. His mission was to be lived and relived over and over by others like us who share his dream. He once wrote, “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.

I wonder what if every believer exercised generosity? What if every Christian fought for loyalty in their local church? What if every believer actually showed up at Mass every Sunday? What if everyone served out their God-given purpose?

In other words, what would happen if we stopped simply believing and started belonging?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 25, 2018

 

This week I have decided that, on the heels of a very informative annual Town Hall at Saint Miriam last Sunday, I would spend a little time today – and also later in my Blog Post for the week – looking at how much we care (Or, how much we don’t care)!

As I stated during the opener to the Town Hall, we live in a throwaway society that doesn’t much like commitment, and certainly doesn’t like the hard work required that caring for the ground to produce lasting relationships entails. We toss away our friendships at first sign of trouble or disagreement, we believe that Facebook ‘friends’ are ‘real’ and we easily discard spouses, and even church relationships when the going gets tough, when our needs somehow become bigger than the God’s needs, and certainly even more easily when we want something, and the only way to get it is to stop caring for the needs of others so we can use more of our money to take care of ourselves; after all, isn’t that the real meaning of living?

To be in relationship – with anything or anyone – often requires that at times we become uncomfortable. It also requires that we not abandon those relationships when we don’t get our way and wait patiently to understand whywe are so uncomfortable in the first place. I have found in my life that it is when I am most uncomfortable that growth is about to happen. But, for that growth to occur, I must be willing to let go of my own ego, allow the presence of another human being to supplant my inner desire to leave, and wait, and pray, and see what God has in store for me in this particular lesson.

Recently a friend of mine sent me a book that he found  by Author Sara Knight entitled, The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving A F&*k. And therein my friends lies our biggest problem… When we don’t care, we only care for ourselves. When we only care for ourselves, we discard the biggest part of truly being alive. St. Francis once said, “For it is in giving that we receive…”

How have you discarded friendships for your own needs? How have you abandoned the care of others because you are uncomfortable? When was the last time you allowed God to make you uncomfortable enough to see your big house and large bank account will never make you truly happy?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 12, 2018

 

I was insulted this past week. Now, I am hopeful, and almost sure, that the person that did so did not actually mean to do it, but I was still very hurt. Then, as God often comes, He came to me in the strangest of ways…a Facebook post! I share it here:

“A man saw a snake being burned and decided to take it out of the fire, but when it did, the snake bit him. By the reaction of pain, the man released her, and the animal fell back into the fire and was burning again.

The man tried to pull it out again and again the snake bit him. Someone who was watching approached the man and said: Excuse me, sir, but you’re obviously stubborn! Don’t you understand that every time you try to get that snake out of the fire, the snake is going to bite you? The man replied: Yes, the nature of the snake is to bite, but that’s not going change mine, which is to always help. So, with the help of a piece of iron laying on the ground near the fire pit, the man took the snake out of the fire and saved its life.

The moral of the story is this: Do not change your nature even if someone does harm to you, and do not lose your essence; only take precautions. Some persecute happiness, others believe it. Worry more about your conscience than your reputation. Because your conscience is what you are, and your reputation is what the rest of the world thinks about you. And, in the end, what other people think is not your problem… it’s their problem.”

St. Francis once said, “We must not be wise and prudent according to the flesh. Rather, we must be simple, humble and pure.”

How will you live into who you are, just as God wonderfully made you? How will you celebrate your differences? How will you learn this week to let go of what other people say, or do to you, and continue to honor God as God calls? Will you be humble and pure as others insult you?