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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 11, 2017

 

Last Saturday, we gathered to prepare. It was just a handful of us really, not more than five or six. We prepared the Sanctuary for the Second Sunday of Advent, we set up for the Saint Miriam Café, which happens every Saturday for a couple of hours, and then we also geared up for the coming snow storm. Once the snow began to fall, Chet and Keith were here to treat the surfaces, clear walkways, and get ready use of the UTV’s to clean off all snow accumulation to make Sunday happen safely.

On Sunday morning, bright and early (well, actually dark and early, it is winter after all!) they arrived back and cleared the snow, treated all roadways, and made the sidewalks and stairs safe for all of us to attend Mass.  

We finished our Masses after the 10:30am Morning Mass, enjoyed fellowship, and then an entirely new team broke everything down from the Café and set up for UnCorked Artists! The doors to the parish reopened for a prompt 2:00pm start and over 40 of us gathered to paint ‘Christmas at City Hall in Philadelphia’! We had such a wonderful time! We painted, enjoyed food and desserts, drank wine and beer and other beverages! We laughed and walked around and enjoyed one another’s company! Then, we took a group photo after we were all done, our new artwork in hand, had a final raffle of Christmas baskets, and then departed back into our private lives. It was, all in all, a glorious two days at Saint Miriam!

And if you think this place isn’t so special, think of my friend Kate who was visiting her family in Connecticut and who departed them early enough on Sunday morning to drive back to us and worship at the 9:00am Mass! An over three hour’s journey just to be home here with us again!

So, what makes this all so special? Why would someone travel to be with us when others stayed home and were so much closer? Why does this all reflect Advent so well? How could coming to ‘work’ and ‘set up’ and ‘sojourning’ make us a better people? Because we did so – all of it – as a community of hope and love; one that honors God and one another. A group of people who love this place so much that we are willing to give up some of their money, time, and talent to make it even better, every day, in small ways and grand ways! A people that recognize the more you come, the more you are involved, the more the love of God is found anew. That is Advent.

St. Francis once said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” That is what we did together by gathering in this humble parish. We became a candle that the darkness of winter could not extinguish and that the chaos of the world could not defeat. We are light. We are the new shepherds gathering on a cold winter’s night looking up at a star and saying, “He is here.”

Christ was once nestled in the belly of his mother, Mary. Now he remains within each one of us.
 
How will you honor the coming of the Christ child this week?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 4, 2017

 
Today, as always, my life will change. I will somehow endure this change; a change I do not want to make, but will, because it is part of living. The older I get, the more I find myself not wanting change. I find comfort in the status quo, even when it is not the ideal, simply because it is, or always just was. And, if it were to change, I know that change always brings fear and anxiety, but change must come to make us better. Change is the chrysalis of new and better life. So, yes, change is part of life and it must come.
 
At the beginning of Advent, we are reminded once again to look deep within ourselves and seek the change that we need to make our lives better, and to trust the changes God calls us to make. We are also reminded that Christ will come again and make all things new, safe, and fulfilling. Even within our liturgy, after the Our Father, we pray that we await this coming as “the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” (I liked the previous translation even better, which had us waiting “in joyful hope.”) In either case, we should never wait in fear or gloom, we should wait – and change – in joy and anticipation of greater things to come.
 
Our waiting, therefore, should be an ‘active’ waiting; a participatory one. We should seek, not passively live into, what we shall become on the other side of the crib this year. We should, as the Wiseman did, follow the great and bright star displayed for our own good use and allow ourselves to discover what awaits there when we are greeted by the Child, and we embrace the new version of us.
 
The image of little baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, is a nice one, and indeed an important one to the season we now live into, but we cannot imprison Him to Bethlehem alone. The Christ Child desires to be born in us anew, not only as we commemorate His birth on December 25th, but on each day of our lives with Him. 
 
How will you use this Advent to embrace change? How will you seek the Child of Christ to bring you hope? How will others see manifested your belief in the Lord of all? What shall you become after this season of expectation is behind us?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 27, 2017

 

Well, it is almost here! The time of waiting for the Christ child to come. If you are like mean, you are still trying to figure out how to adapt to Daylight Saving Time, yet now we are almost to Christmas! Perhaps we should do well to use this time to slow down, focus on what is right and what needs mended? In this glorious and holy time of year, we can let go our “adult version” of God – the judgmentally harsh One; the One that holds us as weak and sinful only, and move closely to the Christ child in the crib. For it is here where He is the most non-threatening, least judgmental, and all encompassing His welcoming. 

As we will discover as we move next Sunday more deeply into Advent, there are many saints whose lives were entwined within the fabric of this holy season. Saint Francis of Assisi, in fact, had a special place in his heart for Christmas and the days leading up to it. In the Saint of the Day, we read, “[St.] Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to create the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby, hay upon which to lay him, an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town. At the appointed time, they arrived carrying torches and candles.”

Listen to those last words, again, “At the appointed time, they arrived carrying torches and candles. “How will you arrive this Advent? Will you arrive at all? Will you be able to place the holiday cheer and shopping and all the secular activities aside – at least for Sunday mornings – and attend Mass faithfully, greet fellow parishioners, and engage in the life of a community of hope? Or, will you rather give your hearts freely to the world where surely hurt and disappointment will follow, because only Christ can be our true light. 
 
Advent is God waiting for us to empty ourselves of all that hinders God’s dwelling in us. God needs a place to call home in this world. He needs a heart open to love without demands or expectations. The medieval Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, captured the meaning of Advent when he wrote, “What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly but does not take place within myself?” 
 
Advent challenges each of us to slow down and let God speak to us in a special way over the course of just a few weeks, to let ourselves be ready, for once, for what is about to happen. St. Francis found the ideal spot for a manger within a cave. Perhaps this season, the ideal spot will be found within you? May you be God’s dwelling place so that Christ may be born anew. 
 
What will you do?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 20, 2017

 
I have been thinking a lot about finding my strength again lately. How does one fight the insidiousness of depression and still find hope? When will the balance return to my life and mind? The days right now seem so dim, and yet there are fleeting moments where I feel the love of God pour into me like an empty vessel. Yes, my thirst is abundant, but where to turn? 
 
I think I often forget that I pray almost relentlessly. I don’t mean to be pious sounding (those who know me well, also know that I hate false piety); What I mean by relentlessly is that I often find myself reciting certain prayers over and over again in my subconscious, in those ‘quiet’ parts of my mind, even when I don’t realize I am doing it. Often, these recitations go to my Blessed Mother. Perhaps, it is she that comes to me when I need support the most, like my real mother always did. 
 
One of the most important figures in Christianity is Mary, the mother of Jesus, our Blessed Mother. Many biographers of St. Francis of Assisi state that his own relationship to Mary was one of “indescribable love” because ‘she made the Lord of majesty to be our brother.’ How wonderful to recognize that it was Mary’s fiat of ‘Yes’ that allowed God to act and come to dwell with us as our brother in His human form. I think we all take for granted that fundamental component of our faith: Jesus – God incarnate – dwelled here and still does, because of Mary. 
 
That indescribable act of love is what brings me hope when I am most dark. Like me, St. Francis would have prayed to Mary numerous times a day and his writings often referred to her as a “holy mother” showing his love and connection. As he built relationships with Mary, he also 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. He showed me how to try to develop more of an active relationship with her in my life. Now, when I am in need again, she comes to me in the silence of my own mind to help bring solace, care, and some hope that things will get better. 
 
Our relationship with Mary on earth, during this pilgrimage, can show us a way to deepen our love of all things and bring hope to a world in need. St. Francis encourages us to be just as faithful to God as Mary. Although we might not be tested as much as Mary, we can do the little things in life to strengthen our faith and help others find theirs again, too. 
 
How will you deepen your faith to Mary this week? Will you join us for rosary and pray for the needs of others? Will you join me in quietly saying a Hail Mary or Hail Holy Queen for someone like me who is need of someone like you praying for them?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 13, 2017

 

As I sink deeper into fall, and turn my reluctant gaze on the approaching cold of winter, I find that I am also sinking deeper into fighting my depression. My days seem colder in many respects and I have an admitted, and noticeable, ‘less pep in my step’.  Yet, I also realize that somewhere deep within me, resides the gift of faith and hope that things will change and the ‘sun’, in all its varied forms, will shine again.

When I returned to the parish from the Poconos yesterday, after a very long day, I completed a few tasks in my office and made my way back toward the Friary. As I passed by the Sanctuary, I peered in briefly, noted the nuance of the light bouncing through the stained-glass windows, and how the Altar Cross was washed aglow in the light of the fading day. I rejected the thought to remain and turned to the doorway to go upstairs when something urged me to stay. I went back, sat with God for a little while, and my time was a brief conversation about how broken I feel and how out of sorts I am right now. No answer came, but my faith remained intact.

Faith is an interesting thing to me. Where does it come from? How do we receive it? Why do some hold tight to it, and other reject it so easily? Why does it seem it ebb and flow and sometimes, even leave for a time? Much has been written about faith and its resilience, sometimes defined as the capacity to handle chronic and acute stress with internal resources that have been built up on a foundation of meaning. When I read articles on resilience, I am reminded of what spiritual literature calls ‘joyful hope’. It is what I am trying to live within every day. It appears that resilience is the product of meaning (faith?) and learned optimism that is rooted in a worldview that is large enough to withstand setbacks, sadness, and failures (hope?). In Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, we read, “In hope we are saved.” Its ultimate and truest form is a hope that rests in God. I have learned firsthand, that in a storm, nothing is quite as reassuring as trust in God’s grace.
 
But, for hope to be robust enough to weather emotional hurricanes, as I am dealing with now, it must be developed and nourished like a muscle. We must work at it, and endure, even when we feel we no longer wish to endure. Perhaps that is why God beckoned yesterday evening for me to sit and to be still for a time. Silence and prayer protect fortitude and perseverance from calcification by making possible the necessary acceptance of change and loss and their accompanying emotion. These become beginnings, as well as endings. This is the spirit of living within the Resurrection life, that is the mark of our true hope. 
 
How will you find God today? How will you strengthen your ability to remain robust even in the midst of change? Where will faith and hope be found for you today? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 6, 2017

 
We live in a world of grays. Oh, I know, it would be so nice if the world was strictly black and white. But, it isn’t, and neither are we. And, now, into this already complicated world comes two dozen more people murdered at the hands of a gunman dressed in black, but this time – this time – in a church of God.  
 
Already there are those who are jumping to protect gun rights, and there are those on the other side jumping to limit them. A fight; another fight! But just as the abuse women suffered at the hands of Harvey Weinstein was not just about lust or sex, but rather about power and the abuse of being a good steward of such power. So, too, the massacres in Las Vegas, and now even within a small Baptist church in Texas, are not just about gun laws, but are also about the lack of accessible mental health care, about the lack of care for those who are different, and about the ostracizing of those who are not in the majority. We live in a country that perpetually claims itself to be the most powerful country in the world; if that moniker fits, we must care for the least of our own in all ways, including treating mental health without stigma, welcoming the minority as a blessed part of the majority, and adjusting not just our gun laws, but also our moral laws, to ensure that all persons feel a sense of safety and welcome. 
 
St. Francis once said, “No one is be called an enemy, all are your benefactors, and no one does you harm. You have no enemy except yourselves.” Our world seems to label everyone as an enemy. The gun slinger, the North Koreans, the mentally ill, the Army deserter, the Transgender, the ‘other’ denomination members, and so many others. It seems our list of enemies is endless, but our ability to pray, to open ourselves, to engage and grow, to become a better people, and to love is limited and damaged. 
 
In the Book of Zechariah, we read this haunting line, “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’” 
 
Who would follow you and grab your hem, as a person who so obviously loves God?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 30, 2017

 

Author Stephen Schmidt, wrote in his article entitled, “Please, Stop Inviting Your Friends to Church”, recently the following words,“So, when I drove by this sign stuck lazily in the ground by the side of the road, insisting I “invite someone to church this month,” all I could do was shake my head in wonder and dismay. That lawn sign for me, with its tone of religious obligation, was an all-too-accurate metaphor of American churchianity. Stuck in the ground so half-heartedly that the person couldn’t even bother to push it in all the way.”

Last week, the pastor down the street at another local Catholic parish decided to attack us and say we are not worthy of the title ‘Catholic’. Then, Father John received a Facebook message that said he should stop calling himself a ‘real Catholic priest’ because he isn’t any longer. Both attack us with no valid reason. We, as parish, are proud to be Old Catholic and to allow everyone to walk through our doors and find Jesus – in one another, at our Altar, and through the Sacraments. Father John, who served Christ well and even suffered by living on the street as homeless, found his way back to the church by the voice of God working in and through him and he serves well. Neither deserve to be reviled, but the naysayers love to cause trouble because they are so unhappy that we are, well, happy!
 
Stop for a moment today and visit your Facebook page and you will see what I call “Social Menia”. Every mean thing that can be said, shared, posted, and turned into a ‘meme’ can be found on 15 inches of computer screen! Yes, ‘keyboard courage’ is alive and well, especially in God’s Christendom.
 
The current mass exodus from being Catholic isn’t just because people aren’t showing up for Mass on Sunday and it’s not because some of us don’t invite our friends and family. It is because there is no relevance to the way they see the world; a world already filled with enough division. In other words, it’s because we are showing up, and not giving the visitor what they need: a real connection with this guy we have romanticized away into an almost coloring book version of Him, and who is certainly no longer present on Facebook, His name is Jesus, and He is who we follow at Saint Miriam. But, sadly we are more and more alone. 
 
Folks in the world are scared. They see your social ‘mean-ness and the insensitive and divisive stuff that you share on your various social media pages and then, when you invite them to come to your ‘wonderful church’ they are afraid; afraid of you, afraid of what they might be hit with, and mostly afraid by what the newest church goers are: walking away just as empty as when they walked in, or worse, being re-hated or having their own self-doubt re-tweeted within themselves. 
 
The world is harsh enough. We do not need to add to it by making it worse by being our worst. 
 
St. Francis once said when you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be sure to have it within your heart first. 
 
Are you a good representative of this parish we call home? If I visited your Facebook page, would I find Jesus in your words and memes? How can you become a better ambassador to the One we worship and adore?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 23, 2017

 

Life is hard. I know. You know. Deep down, it is our greatest fear, absent dying. We fear being penniless, poor, without a home of our own, money to pay our bills and take vacations, and most importantly, the control to control it all. We fear being poor.

This past week was hard on me. I had to deal with my own ‘stuff’, my healing continues from my leg injury, a family in grief needed me to help them through their own loss, and memories came flooding back for me and my dad. Then, the normal scheduled plans came to bear on my already tired body, too! Three weddings, a wedding rehearsal, and a funeral, plus Sunday Mass, the Youth Mass, and our Secular Franciscans once again joined the Laudato Si Small Group. Yes, life is hard. I was tired, but I endured and finished the race, as St. Paul once said, for the better of others; for the glory of God. Sometimes you must give when there’s nothing left. Sometimes you must act even when afraid.
 
As a Franciscan, in an age of unbridled materialism and consumerism, I actually live without. I do not own my own home, lease my car, and have few material possessions to speak of. Franciscans live their vow of poverty, even as the world tries to amass more and more material gains. Our ancient medieval habit stands as a stark reminder against the backdrop of all that is new, that we are called to live – and to be – different.  
 
Poverty is usually defined as lacking money or material possessions and has a negative connotation. So why do the Friars vow it and have it as one of their major ideals? I can state with all clarity that poverty to a Franciscan Friar is not about simply saying no to  things, but rather eliminating all worldly things that are not Christ-like. We try to live lives more simply so that we can relate to the lowest people who are not as privileged as even the average citizen. It takes a lot of courage to choose to give up all you have and live a simple life serving the Lord. But, as Franciscans, we choose to have a life of poverty to focus on putting not things, but people and the needs of others, especially the poor, before everything. Our form of poverty includes both material and spiritual poverty. Our collective vow to poverty calls people to look at life changed.
 

St. Francis grew up living a luxurious life style, the son of a wealthy merchant, but this all changed when he became very sick. Francis prayed for his health and survived, but soon after, he gave up all his possessions and became a beggar. He was mocked and ridiculed by his friends and by his family, too, but he was content with his decision. After this experience, Francis never looked back and now – with hindsight of history – we see what he has become; look at how he changed my world, and can change your world, too. Are you ready?

St. Francis used to say that the only thing he owned were sins and vices, everything else was a good gift from God. I know that to be true myself. I am not a good man, but I try to become better every day so that one day, I may be worthy of the habit I wear.

How about you? Is money or wealth or things more important to you than God? When was the last time you freely gave to the needs of the church? When was the last time you took from your limited resources and said to God, “Today, Lord, I give from what I do not have and trust You to make me whole beyond my wildest dreams.”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 16, 2017

 

I took a walk yesterday afternoon. Yup, I took time to go for a simple walk, all alone. I walked around our campus here at Saint Miriam and I was struck by all that we have done here in such a short amount of time. From the new parking lots to the fence, from the Friary that juts up into God’s sky, to the refurbished Bell Tower, from the manicured St Francis Section and Angels of Assisi Garden, to outdoor Stations of the Cross. Even the maintenance garage is now stunning! It all reminded me of how so often we take things for granted, especially when they are right under our proverbial noses. Together, we have created beauty.

So yes, our campus is beautiful, and the interior of our parish is simply stunning, and the best part is that those who come here find it to be a place of welcome and hope. We are growing, enduring, and loving. We have much to be grateful for, even when the world is not perfect.

Sometimes it’s easier to think of all the bad things that grab the bulk of the headlines: terrorism, kidnappings, bombings, murders, mass shootings, illness, and misfortune. There are so many bad things that dominate the news that our hearts are attuned more to the bad in world than the good things. But, we must realize that there are good things, even in difficult times, for which we can – and should – pause to give thanks.

Anne Frank, the young Jewish girl whose diary put an actual face on the Holocaust, demonstrated her ability to give thanks for the simplest of things when she wrote, “I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy.”  It is worth noting that she penned those words from her hideaway while Nazis literally exterminated people below. Even in the worst of circumstances, she found a way to give thanks and I cannot help but think it was people like Anne that brought that horrible chapter of human history to a close.

Yesterday, as we baptized three new Catholic Christians, and so many gathered to worship our loving God, I was struck by the beginnings of a cornucopia growing before our altar! The lovely display was made up of pumpkins, squash, leaves, and burlap. Individually, the items not all that unique or all that wonderful, but together they are the beginnings of something to remind us of all that God has given us through His generosity. And, to remind us that, even in the midst of troubles of the earth, we have so much to be thankful for.

In this coming season of thanksgiving, how will you pause to observe the good things of life? How will you remind yourself to take a moment and be grateful? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 9, 2017

 
Our name is a powerful thing. A name has importance. A name distinguishes us, one from another. A name has power. A name is unique. The first gift that we are ever given is our name. That is why next Sunday we will begin our Baptismal Liturgy with that one question of immense import, “What name do you give to this child?”  It is also why we read every single name of the 58 names of those murdered in Las Vegas yesterday at the Morning Mass. A name has importance, and God knows us each by name.
 
Take the famous scriptural reference, by way of direction from the Book of Jeremiah, “And the Word came to Jeremiah saying, ‘…before I formed you in the womb, I knew you…’”  Yes, God knows and values each of us. Even the name “Jesus” was given to God’s only child to be a sign of salvation, and the means by which we might know – and always remember – God’s loving kindness and mercy. A name is a sign of a person. It represents that person to us. A person’s life and character is symbolized by a name. A name brings with it a history, as others have borne that name. We receive a name, our name – our own name – in the presence of our Creator at our birth and baptism, and in doing so, God, and all the world, will remember our coming among us no matter the length of our days. Yes, a name is a powerful thing. 
 
Names are words that identify us, and they are ‘worn’ on everything from our personalities, to passports and licenses, to neatly filed documents in a doctor’s office. Our names often appeal to our ear, may be a living memory of a loved one now gone, or a tribute to the ancestor we share our home. Some of us love our names from the get-go, and others need to grow into a name. Some of us like the way our name rolls off the tongue, and some just get used to the sound in time. There are a few, too, who decide that they just don’t fit, and change their name, or allow the invention of a nick-name or moniker. Whatever we are called, ‘we are who we are’, and that is good, and blessed, and God knows us, and calls us by name, and will never let us go. 
 
My mother used to only use my full name when I was in trouble. I would hear, “James Michael St. George…” and I knew I was in trouble! But, as I have now grown older, and perhaps a little wiser, I recognize that my name is used by God to call me to places I may not always want to go. God calls me now to wade into ever deeper water, to help God in creation, to be a co-creator with Him in reminding the world of God’s love and His remembering us, no matter where we may be, will never change. God always loves. Sometimes we are called by name to play in joyful times, and to share in God’s beautiful creation, but sometimes we are called by name to toil for ‘such a time as this’, but whenever we are called, we are named, and our name is a powerful thing. 
 
In our Eucharistic Liturgy, we hear these words almost every Sunday, “Remember, Lord, your Church, spread throughout the world, and bring her to the fullness of charity…” Our Lord at the Last Supper prays that through our unity, the world would believe that He had been sent by the Father. Our Lord prayed, too, for a unity characterized by charity and love, as we now follow Jesus. The Church spread throughout the world is a testament to the love of God and of love for all humanity. We not only to share communion with God, but with each other. We spread throughout the world, then, to share the gift of the love of God. That love has proven much stronger than evil, no matter how hard the evil times are. And all of that begins with a name. 
 
How will you use you today? You, who have been given a powerful name known by God daily – to change the world, to honor others with names, to remember the lost by name, and to ensure that harmful names never spill into the lives of others?
 
A name is a powerful thing…