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Franciscan Moments

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Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 14, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA – AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

I saw hate this weekend. I saw it, and it looked remarkably like me. Perhaps, if truthful, it looked like many of us. That is why I am going to do something I normally never do in my reflections. I am adding an image. The image of hate. The image of you and me.
 
I am not going to even try to say that there are sides to this issue. There is no way to reconcile, to build bridges, or to rationalize hate. You cannot ‘meet hate in the middle’, or ‘soften hate’. Hate is hate. Plain and simple. Even as a priest, a pastor, and one called to a peaceful way of existence as a Franciscan, there is no way to love systematic segregation, white supremacy, terror, exclusion, suppression, and bigotry. We cannot, and we must not, try to meet hate it in the middle or compromise our fundamental stance on our care for the poor, the ostracized, the different, and the marginalized. To do so, at least for me, would be to comprise on the very Gospel itself. I would rather not live. Sometimes an ideology is so violent, so sickening that one must not try to even understand it. As a Friar, I will always love my enemies, I will endeavor to pray for them, even those that hate, but I will not befriend them. 
 

So, what do we do besides sit in a dark room, weep, or rail against the hated? How do we help those who are the victims of such hate? As Christians, we are called to love and to continue to build the kingdom, even when surrounded by hate on all sides. St. Francis said, “Where there is hate, let me sow love.” He never said it would be easy, and I would surmise that even he would find Saturday an almost impossible venue to sow anything but sadness and disappointment in humanity. But then there was Heather.

Heather Heyer tried to sow love and help; she was killed for her trouble in Charlottesville, but what Heather did was to give up her life for others. She was a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was said by her friends to often be moved to tears by the world’s injustices. She may not have known that car – driven by hate – would end her life, but she took a risk to save others, fight for injustice, and she gave up her life for another. That is martyrdom. That is the greatest gift known to anyone, even those who hate so deeply.

This past Sunday, my parish was filled with the most number of African Americans we have ever had at the parish at one gathering; at one Mass. We baptized Micah Milligan. Black and white, Protestants and Catholics, parishioners and visitors alike, everyone together in our pews, side-by-side, all stripes, all colors, all faiths. What did it look like? It looked like a church!

The kingdom of God is many things, but it cannot be filled with hatred and bigotry. It must not be allowed to include racism, sexism, or any form of homophobia, or xenophobia. It cannot endorse or even allow to flourish any form of systemic hatred, bigotry, exclusion, suppression, violence, or terror. against another. The church cannot hate. It cannot allow hate. It must always be love.

So, in the end, perhaps the only bridges we can build, in good conscience as Catholic Christians, is one that helps our fellow humanity to be free from the destruction and evil all around them. The only true bridge for us to consider is one that brings our oppressed safely out of harm’s way.

I will end on a very personal note. Today is my dad’s birthday. I miss him more today than I can tell you in words. The pain of my loss is only tempered by the fact that my dad loved me, loved others, and taught me how to love everyone. His legacy today, in the face of such ominous hate, is one of love.

So, maybe, that is a good place to end, as I remind you what those who hate have taught us this weekend. They have taught us once again that love is always more powerful than hate, light shall prevail against the darkness, and that while the pain of loss and destruction may linger, the grace of God – a God who is always love, as we were reminded at the baptism yesterday – freely opens the door to our heart and our vibrant and inherent ability to love.

How will you sow hope and love this week? How will you seek to root out hate in your world?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 7, 2017

 

We are so busy! Busy with family, friends, going out, meeting new acquaintances for a drink at the local pub, making money, caring for children, aging parents, or those grandchildren, too! Yes, we are so busy in our twenty-first century modern, instant-communication world taking care of all the issues and people right in front of us that we often fail to enrich our relationship with God.

St. Francis in his own very busy world of teaching, working, writing, and re-building the Church of God, found the only way for him to be truly sustained and to balance the rest of the world’s activities and demands, was to be in a regular pattern of prayer. For St. Francis, this was his essential sustenance; for many of us in our modern day, it is almost an inconvenience to even think about doing on a regular basis.

The psalmist once wrote, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:8) The psalmist knew what we must learn: prayer is our gateway to a God who adores us. A God who calls us each by name. A God who knew our name before we were born. A God who loves us so much that He writes our name on the palm of His hand, and gave us the gift of eternal life by sacrificing that which was most precious to Him, God’s own child, Jesus.
 
In liturgy, we learn that some of the most powerful moments are found in what I call, ‘the gift of the pause’; when actions and words cease, and the Holy Spirit can flourish and come and direct our thoughts and be fully present to us. In a similar way, our intentional actions, our intended pauses for prayer, our words or moments of divine silence, invite us into a deeper dialogue with God, who so desires to be in communication with us. God calls us to be in an ever-deepening relationship with Him because He loves us so much. 
 
At Saint Miriam, we know that building a relationship with God takes time, commitment, and a regular rhythm. So, we offer many opportunities to deepen our relationship with our Creator. Through Small Groups that enhance our spirituality and prayer life, to Adoration and Benediction, our devotion to our Blessed Mother through the rosary, to the Mass itself. We know the vitality and importance of putting God on our daily or weekly calendar, just like we do for any other friend. Yes, God comes. Our part is to remember to simply make time to invite the God who gave us life itself.
 
How will you make time this week for God in your life? Would your best friend, occasional workmate, or watchful neighbor be able to discern that you are a Christian and love God by your actions or words this week? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 31, 2017

 
When St. Francis was in his early twenties, he rode off to battle against the nearby state of Perugia. There, Francis was captured and held in a prison for over a year. After his release, he returned home, but was very ill and spent the next year virtually bedridden. Francis finally recovered from his illness, and spent time simply wandering around the area, praying in abandoned chapels, walking in the woods of Mount Subasio, spending time in caves listening first to the silence, and then finally to the very voice of God.
 
I know that the presence of God during times of illness may seem foreign to some, but to those of us who have encountered illness and God in a very real, but different way at these times, we are changed. Our priorities are changed and our desires, too. Perhaps it is a sense that this is all so very fleeting, or at least impermanent. Yes, there’s something about a serious illness that forces us to confront our mortality and then to question our priorities. Many of us reprioritize without even knowing it and then enter a life of service and giving; we try to make a difference here, knowing something better to come there.
 
Recently, Senator John McCain voted a very prominent and highly publicized ‘thumbs down’ to his colleague’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. John Fund, of the National Review, wrote recently that, “…this is a perfect example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the better”and condemned McCain for his vote.
 
I do not see this issue as clearly as Fund. I see a man, a very human man, who in 1968 sat more than 8,000 miles away, in a tiny, squalid North Vietnamese prison cell. The Navy pilot’s body was broken from a plane crash, then starvation, botched operations, and months of torture followed. He returned to serve this nation, and to fight his own skin cancer, and now glioblastoma. Now, to be clear, I and Senator McCain differ on many issues politically, but this is not a political fight to me. In fact, my insights today are anything but political. Rather, I see a man on the verge of change because his worldview is about to shift yet again.
 
St. Francis is not the first saint to have encountered God during an illness. Like many of us when we are young, St. Francis had longed to be a knight, or a soldier, and to do great deeds on the field of battle. When he lost that opportunity, he had a choice between spending the rest of his life depressed at his ill fortune, or listening to the plans God had for him and making a difference with what time he was allotted here, before his eternal reward there.
 
An old story is told of the man who returned home to find his house ablaze. His terrified wife was standing outside pointing up to a window where the son was crying. His father shouted up to him, “Jump, son! Jump!” The boy cried, “But Daddy, I can’t see you.” “I know,” his father answered. “I know, but I can see you!” 
 
As Christians, we know that we do not go through our trials and tribulations alone. God sees us. God knows our name. John McCain jumped. I once jumped, too. 
 
How about you?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 24, 2017

 

i sit

at my window

I seek, hard

what I found

me and god

nothing else, just us

and finally, that is enough

it only took a week

            away

but now, i return

please, lord,

stay.

 

I write this opening poem, that I have entitled,“i sit”, and my reflection for this week from my last morning as a man on vacation. I peer out the window of my RV and watch as a group of birds float by on the surface of the water like it was all they were meant to do; perhaps it is.

We, as a society, take down time for granted and often push it aside for ‘busier things to do’. The stuff of being productive and making money often outweighs the pleasurable substance of life and is often rewarded by praise. I am as guilty of this as I am anything else that is broken in our humanity. But, this trip – this time away – was about intentionally trying to let go and let God come and not worry so much about what I needed to do. It was as much about me as that which I never let time for in my day, like a break, the gift of silence, pondering, recharging, and a bit of relaxation. It was not easy, but God came, summer settled on my soul, and rejuvenation, too. I am a bit more whole today than a mere seven days ago…
 
I noted how so many of my team at my parish tried their best to protect me from all that I normally handle as a pastor. I was struck by their intentionality in caring for me by proxy and allowing me this annual break. No, I was not free from it all, and at times the world, as it is, still managed to break through in a needed text message, telephone call, or email, but by and large, I was away and on a break from it all.
 

Perhaps the hardest part of being away was wrestling with my own brokenness. I did a lot of reflecting on my own imperfections. I weeded out the parts of me that I dislike the most and examined them and prayed during this time. I asked the Father in Heaven to make me a better pastor, priest, man upon my return. In the middle of this time, a fellow priest, was said to be undermining me, calling attention to my every fault and speaking ill of me. Now, I have never hidden my sinfulness, nor ever once claimed not to be broken, but this was particularly hurtful. I was deeply saddened, but then the voice of God struck my heart in reflection of Matthew’s text appointed for this past Sunday when Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? 
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them. 
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”

And there it was! Yes, I may be as bad as my fellow priest says and certainly unworthy of the office I hold, too. I may even be a weed, but I have the chance to be redeemed. I am, as they say, ‘a work in progress’.  Therefore, the better course for this priest, and all of us who follow Christ, is to be careful not to become a weed ourselves and damage the harvest of God, for that would be a greater sin. Even St. Francis wrestled with his own demons and felt so broken, but served so well. His life was once one not to be very proud of, but in it, and though it, God came. He still does.
 
The other two men who were crucified with Christ that day so long ago were Dismas (sometimes, Dysmas) and Gestas. Now Dismas was the robber who was crucified on Jesus right side, and Gestas on his left. The names do not come from the New Testament, but rather from pseudepigraphical materials not included in the closed canon. As a result, whether these were the actual names of the two men crucified at the time of Jesus is unknown. The greater point is this: Dismas was the name associated with the ‘good’ thief who asked Jesus to remember him in paradise, while Gestas was the one who taunted Jesus along with the crowd. Dismas was canonized as a saint and his feast is celebrated every March 25th.
 
I will end with another quote from my beloved Francis, “I am the herald of the Great King!”  
 
So is Dismas. So am I, and so are we all imperfect as we are, we carry on the cross, redemption assured, our weeds and all.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 17, 2017

 

So, I am away. I am at the shore and watching the waves. The sun is hiding a bit behind the clouds today, but the weather is warm and the wind mild; a beautiful day to be alone on a beach. I am grateful.

I am grateful, not for just that which I have, but also that which I lost or was never given despite my pleadings. I realized that we say that a lot as human beings, “I am grateful.” but I wonder if we actually mean it, deep down, where gratefulness originates in the soul given us by a God who is always love, always giving, always loving? I wonder if we see that we should be grateful for things never realized, too? I wondered, as I gazed at the massiveness of the ocean this morning, if I give enough thanks for all the wonderful things in this life that come to me daily at no cost, save paying attention? I mean, normally when I turn to God, it is because I am broken, or in need, or in want, but today, I am just being grateful.

Surely gratitude has more depth than the surface words we use — the ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ that seem so incidental, our polite acknowledgement, even if unconsciously processed, of our interdependence on each other. This reminds me of the story about Jesus that describes the time he healed ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel. He tells them to go and bathe in the river. Ten of them go and are healed, but only one of them returns and thanks him for being healed. Why did nine of the lepers healed not bother to return and thank Jesus for the miracle of their healing? Were they not grateful? Did they not recognize the healing that had just come so freely to them?

I have been grateful for a lot in my life, but I have more often felt gratitude when enmeshed in the most difficult of circumstances; for those hard lessons that I needed to experience to make me a better person. They needn’t all be on a beach or in the sun; but they all did need to be with the Son. Of course, we suffer, as human beings. And there is no reason to be grateful for evil or when in pain, and we may not see it as a gift, but we should note that eventually it transforms us. It gives us new empathy, and the sunsets and the sunrises take on a new essence of beauty, and our gratefulness a new depth of gratitude.

Life is a good gift.  We need to pause and remember that, even if it is only while sitting on a beach and seeing God anew. St. Francis once said that “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 am grateful today for all the things I don’t have, all the things I was denied, all the ways I hurt, all the anger, the betrayals, the brokenness, the sicknesses, the losses, the stupidity in my judgements, the pains, the misunderstandings that allow me to see the beauty of God and what truly matters today.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 10, 2017

 

Yesterday, I arrived early before the 7:30am Early Mass, as I always do, to gain some quiet time with God, set up last minute items, and to just ease into my very busy Sunday. I spent a few minutes with Father John, as we discussed how to navigate our day. He is becoming more and more a brother, far more quickly than I had anticipated. He is fitting in well at Saint Miriam. It is a blessing.

After our chat, I walked back into the corridor, directly outside our beautiful sanctuary, and noted how I have begun to ‘get used to’ the chaos and the brokenness around me. The missing ceiling, the hanging light fixtures, the one-third cut sheetrock, the support walls, and all the other things that go with being in a construction site. It bothered me for a few moments and so I stopped and sat in the long pew in that hallway and talked with God. Then, with no answer, I was about to get up when the Holy Spirit said deep within me, “It’s is not all chaos.” I sat back down and instantaneously saw how striking the light reflected off the floors. How the color of the previously removed floor, coupled with the old glue and light made an almost golden glow! It dawned me almost immediately, there is beauty in brokenness. That was God’s message to me. I sat and pondered and left more joyful; more whole.

I have recently finished reading Bryan Stevenson’s, Just Mercy. Stevenson, a lawyer, defending the poor and the wrongly accused, tells of the young men who become trapped in the dark corners of our current criminal justice system. Near the end of the book, he is feeling quite overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem. His pondering struck me in a renewed way yesterday, sitting on that pew, in my broken parish. He writes: 
 
“I suddenly didn’t want to be surrounded by all this anguish and misery…I realized my life was full of brokenness, broken people, broken systems, people broken by war and poverty, sickness and disability…and they were judged by people broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice. I realized that after 25 years, I don’t do what I do because it is required, or necessary, or important. I do what I do because I am broken too…. Being broken is what makes us human…but our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, healing, and meaning. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion…simply punishing the broken, walking away from them, or hiding them from sight only ensures that they remain broken, and we do too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity” (Ref: pp. 288‐291).
 

Those who know me, and those I live with, can tell you, I’m no angel. I am broken. In fact, I am more broken than most people. Perhaps it is why I live within a religious community. I am protected from myself, the temptations are more limited, and my daily existence – the prayers, the Office, spiritual direction, Mass, confession, meetings, decisions, liturgy, reading, reflection, community – all end up being a reinforcement of the false persona of the ‘bad boy made good’, and help me feel secure and safe. Deep down, I know I am broken, and without God, I am beyond repair.

My surrender came a few years ago when my entire life was dumped at my feet. My life-in-shambles was shown to the world in living technicolor and loomed large in the press. Every mistake, everything that was bad about me, was right there for all the world to see. Every mistake, every wound, everything that I had repressed was dug back up and presented to the world anew, and I was made to feel even more a failure; more unworthy. A fraud.
 
I was almost ready to take my brokenness and hide again. To take my past with me and go back to a place where no one could see me, be with me, hear me, love me. Then, in my darkest moment, one where I almost exited this life by my own hand, I felt forgiveness from the inside. Those sins that others said were too deep to be forgiven, the sexuality immortality, the lying, the cheating, the jail term, the worst of my past life was all laid in the press, all in the public square, yes, it was true! But, they were also laid at the foot of a Cross that was too large for me to climb over on my own, and that is how Jesus came.
 
The Cross exposes all the bits of myself I’d rather keep hidden from people. And, it also, exposes my inability, to be perfect. God came and shattered the illusion that I’m meant to be perfect; or that, in my human state I can be perfect. I know that I can’t, but with God, I can still serve and still make a difference. My brokenness, allows me to use my inner gifts to empathetically help others, and just like the golden glow of the broken parish hallways that I now serve, extend that insight to all who come and think themselves imperfect and unable to serve, too. In the end, it was not my strength that brought me to this place, it was my ability to love others in their brokenness, because of mine. I recently posted on Facebook that ‘Forgiveness is a gift you willingly give to heal yourself.’
 
St. Francis once said, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man.”  Not here, not with me, not at Saint Miriam.
 

How will you refrain from doing what the world so often does and not poke your thumb in the eye of those who are broken around you, those who hurt you, those who – in the fullness of their being human – harmed you, or transgressed you, to fully live into be a Christian and show you believe in the power of the Cross, too?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 3, 2017

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These are the beautifully simple, yet complex words written by Thomas Jefferson, seated in the second-floor parlor of a bricklayer’s house right here in Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on Monday, July 4, 1776.

Those words, written now almost two and half centuries ago, still resonate in the depths of our hearts, as Americans. These words are not some far off lofty ideals for which we find ourselves compelled to strive, but rather they compel us to always try to be better and help all our brethren attain and enjoy human fulfillment in complete freedom.

Lately, it is easy to fall into despair. We look around our nation and see blight of major cities, and the freedoms erode for some, while the wealthiest continue to prosper. We see the horrors of increased negativity, the rise of white supremacy, the rhetoric of the political landscape, even at the highest office of the land, we find the ostracizing of the few, rejection of the different, and the fight against basic human rights like heath care. Yes, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is being eaten away, sometimes by direct attack, other times by covert manipulation of public trust, and often through the dissemination of some false counterfeit notion that basic human freedoms belong and are controlled by the few and granted by their control to the fewer. This is not the America I know. 
 
Just as Thomas Jefferson wrote of this ideal toward ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ by throwing off a despotic British government in favor of an independent nation for all who would come to her shores, we, too, as Catholic Christians, are called to call out, to be the voice of the hurting, to heal, and to elevate those elements found within our country that run contrary to the Gospel. We must stand up for the rights of all, and treat our brothers and sisters – all of them – with the inherent respect due them as fellow Americans, and more importantly, as fellow children of the same Creator. For in Him there are no Jew or Greek, slave or free, black or white…
 

There are those who are fond of saying, “freedom isn’t free”. And they would be right. Freedom is never free, but it is also not freedom when relegated to only the few. We see it in the cost of the lives of our brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform, but it’s more than that. Freedom on which this country was founded – in those famous words of Jefferson and the 55 others who signed their name to the document that guides this country – is not the just freedom for the thoughts we love and agree with; it must be freedom for the thoughts we hate the most, and those we may not agree with in how they live their lives, the way they dress, whom they love, or the color of their skin, or the God they worship. That, too, is a cost of freedom, which must be paid by everyone if a nation is to be truly free and brave.

St. Francis of Assisi once said words as impactful when he stated, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”  Tomorrow, as we pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifices made to build this great nation, it is important that we remember our role in ensuring all are free, all are valued, and all are found to be equal in treatment and respect. Anything less rejects these famous words and erodes the very character of our nation. “All are welcome” at Saint Miriam runs deeper than a trite statement, it is our heart…our soul.
 
How will you enshrine the words of our Preamble within every action, every thought, every vote, every nuance to make our nation a place for all of God’s created, even those you may disagree or dislike? 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 26, 2017

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

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

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 19, 2017

 

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

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

Gnégnéri Yaya Touré, famed Manchester City and Ivory Coast footballer, declared after the presumed attack, the world needs ‘peace and togetherness.’ He is a Muslim. And, yes, we need peace, but how?
 
Yesterday, the greater Catholic Church honored Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Few came. Why? Well, it’s summer, and it was also Father’s Day. Our secular lives, and secular holidays, and secular commitments always trump God and going to church. We have already witnessed the ‘summer slump’ of church attendance. The pews are emptying and crowds diminished. God, and all things church, have already been relegated to a place that we will begin to place a priority on later, after our summer fun is over. 
 
We should, however, give more reverence to the power of church attendance, receiving the Holy Eucharist, beginning our week within a community of faithful, and engaging in the power of prayer. Recall that St. Peter tells us, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and even St. Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  But, do we really believe evil exists? That the powers of darkness abide on earth? Just ask those in London last night.  
 
Once, Simon Peter, who was also known to be impetuous, and who often acted before thinking, cut off high priest’s servant Malchus’ ear. Jesus’ response was to admonish Peter and to say, “That is enough.” Jesus then healed the ear. Jesus always heals, even His enemies. Peter acted before receiving word from Jesus. Sometimes prayer is like that. Some will ask God what they should do, but already have their minds made up as to what they will do. Sometimes we ask things in prayer to justify our already intended actions. While we may excuse Peter to some extent, because of the pressure of the circumstances, I would imagine that he would not have been so quick to act violently if he didn’t have a sword. How about you?  Do are you armed with a sword, a van, a weapon, or are you steeped in prayer and in all things God? Where does your strength come from?  The world, or from your pew? 
 
The first step toward a more mature and living faith is the desire and willingness to put God first in our lives. It seems so simple, and yet most of us realize this is a challenge of Christian living in today’s world. Some might say it is a challenge not worth the sacrifice of a delaying a trip to the shore. But, then comes illness, injury…then comes terror, and we are left as a people without hope. 
 
Consider the prayer attributed to St. Francis, but this time read it aloud, as a dialogue. 
 
We ask, “Where is injury?” The prayer answers, “There is injury” Remedied by, “Pardon.”   
 
We ask, “Where there is despair”:  The prayer answers, “There is despair” Remedied by, “Hope.” 
 
The bread we eat, and the cup we drink, is truly Jesus, Our Christ. It is His real presence. Jesus is present to us in many ways, if only we are willing to let Him in; if only we make room for Him, even in summer.
 
How will you enjoy summer and still honor your life as a Catholic?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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