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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 28, 2016

 

As  we begin the new Liturgical year, we also, as a church, begin the “Year of Love.” This emphasis is not anything new, for we, as Franciscans have also held a deep affection for the love of God, and of all God’s created. Pope Pius XII once said that Franciscan spirituality is a doctrine ‘where God is holy, great, and good, but above all God is love.’ 

I guess for someone as broken as me, especially when I first came to the church to begin my discernment toward the holy priesthood, when I felt so unworthy to even start my path forward, this inclusive love found with this fraternity is was what saved me. When the world said I was too broken, God said no, I am whole through His grace. When the world hated me because I violated its laws in my youth, my brothers of the friary said no, you are as us, like us, and welcomed as one of us. When the world said I could not serve as a priest because I was gay and therefore sexually perverted, the Franciscans were there first to say no, there is only love here and love is never wrong. 

You see, the Franciscan spirituality is one where God is love because the emphasis is on His love in abundance. God created all that there ever was, is, and will be out of this abundant love. God saved us, His created ones, through the One he called His Son, out of that love, too. And, for those like me who the world rejects is easily when they see the deeply flawed and torn cloth of my life, it is God who makes things holy, for love abounds and continue the legacy of grace. Yes, God is love.

The preceding paragraphs may seem to you as nothing new; after all, every Christian believes the fact that God is love, right? But for we who call ourselves Franciscans, in order to follow the little friar that we do, it means something deeper, far greater, far more life changing and life enriching because it means that we are active participants in this radical love of God and the one called Francis. 

How do we exemplify this love? By our life of broken threads weaving around others like us without limitation. By our showing the love of God to anyone who comes without bias or rejection, nor even a second glance. By being full in communion with Christ, the poor and crucified One we adore. By our call to continually welcome our own conversion, and the conversion of others on their own time. By our constant life of prayer in private devotion, adoration, liturgical celebration, and communal sacrifice. By us being true instruments of peace in a world that so often, and in so many ways, knows it not. 

So join me in this brand new year, in this new beautiful season of love, as we begin our Advent journey anew and ask yourself what a God of love means to you, and what are you willing to do to worship, honor, adore, and bring to life that love in your own world, in your own way.

Welcome to Saint Miriam. Welcome to a world of love. Welcome to a church for today that knows not how to do anything else, but love!
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 21, 2016

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I will do two things brand new today! I will write from a different place and add an image to this week’s moment to make my point clear. I begin this week on the shore of the Pacific Ocean near Carlsbad, California. I am with my family for the Thanksgiving holiday week and it is the first time I have ever been away from my parish, and my duties as pastor, twice in the same year. I needed a break. I am both glad and blessed to be here. It will be a time to reflect, pray, be present to those I love, and give thanks. It also reminded me of how beautiful our nation really is. 

Over the last months we have become what we feared most: a nation of hate and vitriol. We have become a people without compassion, exemplifying hated toward others in their inherent differences. We allowed prejudice to show its ugly face and run almost rampant and unimpeded. We have become the enemy we always feared and loathed and are moving toward becoming a country we said we never would become. In fact, we are fast becoming that which our founders feared and left at great personal sacrifice. 

Being here, on the shore of one of the most beautiful creations of our God, I am reminded how a little change in perspective can make all the difference. I am reminded that if you sit and wallow in your own stuff, the mean stuff of Facebook images and posts, the 140 characters or less of a pointed Twitter, and allow hate to ensue us, we will soon become what we fear most. But, if we rise above it, we change our attitude, our outlook, ourselves, and the world, too.

The words found within the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy seemed apt to me today,

“It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and invisibly endowed, eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation, present in this world and yet not home in it.”

Jesus is the word made flesh. He is God made visible. He is God showing Himself in human terms. We, as His followers, are, too. Francis knew that and acted that way despite great opposition to stop.

Let us begin to act like it, too.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 14, 2016

 

I liked a Meme. That’s all it took. I liked an image that I thought I was funny. It was a tongue-in-cheek image of the Queen of England and James Bond 007. I thought it was humorous, I pressed the Facebook ‘haha’ button and the next thing I know I was lambasted, ridiculed, called a hypocrite, and made to feel like I just shot JFK. And, not only did this create a flurry of activity by causing folks to rally to my defense, it went on for almost two days! Think about that for a moment: a simple image was found to be funny and someone pressed ‘haha’ and the world turned upside down.
 
The entire incident not only hurt me, perplexed me, created a feeling of inadequacy, but also made me realize that we, as humans, are often quick to judge, deeply unfair, and think little of the consequences of our actions. Yes, many fine people came to my defense to laugh. ‘No, Father, you are not a bad priest.’ ‘Yes, Father, you have the right to see things as funny!’ And many, especially those who knew me well, also defended my true honor with, ‘Don’t come after Father Jim after all he has sacrificed.’ ‘He has given us so much and you call him out publically for liking an image on Facebook hat you yourself said was funny?!’
 

It is now two days later. I have found most of my balance back after my high school friend called me out for liking on Facebook. Yes, he knew me back then when we were but teenagers and stayed in touch off and on, but with little contact until the recent public lashing. I delivered a homily yesterday to set the course for tolerance for those I guide as a pastor in the face of an election and a people in our nation still angry and hurting. I did that while I, too, was being flogged. We don’t need to wear any safety pin on our lapels. We need more tolerance. We need more love.

To be God is to be love. To share God’s life, then, is to love like God, and indeed love all of God’s created. The essence of our faith is to love like God as our Christ did for all of us. St. Francis loved just like this. Beyond measure. He practiced not just poverty, but an unabashed and deep love of the poor, marginalized, and forgotten. He freed people who were hurting from their ‘poverty’ – in whatever form it took on – so as not to spoil their possession of the very love of God in their own life. Francis was a messenger, an ambassador, for God and for the truest Love found only through God.

I feel that most often those who lash out are hurting themselves. When I hear anger or anger is displayed against me, I am able to now sit back and ask myself, “What is this person so frightened about?” More often than not, it is not me, or my liking a Meme, or even what I say or how I live, but their own dis-love of themselves, or their being scared about their own situation that is at play. They cannot love others when they have not yet learned to love themselves.

Many people in our world today find themselves owning the greatest handicap of our time by thinking themselves ‘less than’ or worthless. And because they feel this way, and the world in their eyes confirms the same to them on a routine basis, they have nothing to offer others so they lash out in their broken anger and become what love cannot co-exist with: angry, hateful, and intolerant. After all, we cannot love ourselves if we fail to see one must first go out of themselves to love others genuinely. We cannot truly love if we fail to see that value in the neighbor or family member or even foe, too. The inherent dignity of even those ‘theys’ in our world – those who hurt us, lash out, or call us out – must be deeply felt within us where our heart is, or we will fail to truly love and yes, the world will fail, too.

Love is the center of our lives as Christians because it is the highest manifestation known of a living, loving God. How will you show you love God today? Think back at your last few posts on social media and ask, ‘do these images or posts show the world that I love them and myself’?

When was the last time you saw beauty in the eyes of the leper?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 7, 2016

 

 

We lack a sense of civility lately, especially as a nation. I remembered when national elections, especially for the Presidency, was a time of excitement! Now, it is a time of derision and scorn. We have become what we feared most: a nation unkind.

A genuine love of God implies directly and implicitly that we will take that love and apply it to self and to neighbor; all neighbors, even the foreigner.  Even the most vindictive, mean-spirited, domineering person we are to love with a love of God and see God in them – as all of us are created – in the image and likeness of that God and consequently have we Catholics call ‘inherent dignity’.

Beneath their skin and ugliness that the world has helped fashion, are attributes of God waiting to be set free. Sometimes, the freedom to express that innate love has been enslaved or clouded, but that person you dislike or even hate is full of the potential to love and deserves dignity, kindness, and respect. If we believe in Christ then we believe Christ dwells in others, too.
 
Sometimes we feel that only Jesus was love made visible. But, in fact, Jesus did not change humanity, or add anything special to us when he ascended. Rather, Jesus made visible the love of God that never changes, never is corrupted or muted. God is love. Always. Period.
 

Therefore, every human being is clothed in that love of God and marked to be made perfect; a human nature like that of Christ Himself. God’s intention is to fulfill that promise in heaven and until then we toil, yes, but we also love.

If I had to sum up the ideal at Saint Miriam and tie that standard to scripture I would say, “But I say to you that listen, Love you enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, offer the other cheek to those who strike you, and for anyone who takes away your cloak, offer them your shirt, too. Give to those who beg, and love with wild abandon.”

St. Francis once said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”  How will you be kind today to allow the light of God to enter the world?

Instead of posting that next divisive Meme of Facebook or making that volatile Tweet, why not just stop and pray this prayer today and then find someone to love and be kind, too, and watch how the world changes this week…for them, and for you!

“Teach me, Lord, to look deeply into others whom I meet today. Allow me to look behind the grumpiness and awkward words or even meanness and see Your face. Then, allow me to be kind.”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 31, 2016

 
St. Francis said that “All brothers ought to preach by their actions.”  That is why living the Gospel should change us and the world and what we believe should be seen in what we are
 
We sometimes fail to realize the impact we have on others. After all, we reason to ourselves, they pay so little attention to us. We fall into a false complacency and think our actions or beliefs or attitudes or words have so little influence. But, in reality, they carry a wave of impact and change on their heels that impact generations yet unborn.
 
All the goodness we possess in ourselves comes from the grace of God, yes, but it also is derived by the kindness of a good example from someone else. We are today the result of the influences of those silent people from our past. For good or ill, they live within us to this very day. But more often than not, it is the good influence, the kindness, the love of those who have gone before us that endures. That is why we honor them on All Souls’ Day this week. 
 
These silent witnesses taught us that we must fight against sinfulness. We must not withdraw from conflict, but stand as a stead witness of hope and love. When we join and become more involved in the world, but maintain the steadiness of the Gospel, we shed light. We bring peace. We are love. The spirit of Christ can only endure, as He has in the past, through the love of others. Those who have gone before us, those who remain, those who will yet come after you and I are gone from this place and all that will remain is what remains of those we honor this week with All Soul’s: a legacy of love and a belief that we are better together living the Gospel of love even in a world that so often knows it not.
 

So light a candle, pray, think, and remember, but take your love – and theirs – into the streets, the home, the theater, the washroom, and the supermarkets. Bring God’s love into the office and the hospital and the restaurant and the college classroom. We must follow the example of St. Francis and in all circumstances we must do what He would do; we must be what we want to see…

Who has been a great influence on you and the way you live today? How will you honor them this week? In your life? How will your living today carry on a legacy that began years before your own birth?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 24, 2016

 

To be strong. That is what the word believes is what makes right; not in humbleness and trust, but with might and girth. Just watch the political climate in this year’s presidential campaign and you will see it is about ‘me’. The ‘me’ that can fix things. The ‘me’ that make things right. The ‘me’ that can make us great again. The ‘me’ that can fix all things and make them good again. But we have learned that one human being – male or female – van never make all things right. Only God can do that. And, when we get so haughty that we believe it is in us, that power to make all things right, we lost God in the process and thus we lose each other and our direction to truly care for the other.

Small yet strong in the love of God, is how we should make our compass, for that is our true North. Just like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples, too. We are called to do this by being one together, and exercising our talents for the good of the whole, in tandem with the whole, not as a leader that is above all creation, but one that is humble enough to see that God is in all. True leadership comes from within, and that within must trust the God from without whom we would not be.

That is why we created Saint Miriam to be a place where we believe that we are most effective in our care for one another, because God is alive and well in our midst, even when we are most broken. We deeply believe in St. Paul’s admonishment that power is made perfect in weakness. So, then, we prefer a Church which is admittedly bruised, hurting, and a little dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security safely ensconced in the beauty of its own sanctuary. We know that if we do not fling wide open the doors, we have no ability to welcome at the altar…

Pope Francis calls himself simply, ‘Francis Bishop of Rome’. In his humility he has shown the world what it is to be a gracious leader who believes in a living God. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium“, we find the opening line of that very title, “The joy of the Gospel …” 

How will you this week try to be such a leader among the people you come into contact with and become a person that is encouraging others to recognize that they are something special…and so are you?

By doing so, you will be a Gospeller…someone who spreads the good news among men and there is no greater joy than that…
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 17, 2016

 
I have to admit that I have been struggling lately with my faith. Well, maybe not so much my faith as my determination in the face of uncertainty and struggle. You see, I have noticed how bad people prosper and good, hardworking, ‘give-it-all-we’ve-got’ folks seem to wither. I saw recently where a former priest took on the Franciscan Habit. It almost destroyed my will because of my deep love and significance of the habit we wear as Franciscans. Everyone knows that the Franciscan habit is a powerful symbol. I think of it every time I place it over my head. I think of the years I spent in formation, the hardship, the giving up of everything that I own – one-thing-by-one-thing – until it was all given back to the Creator again. I thought of how my life is more and more about others and less and less about me. I thought about how this simple piece of fabric is cut into the shape of the Tao Cross to remind those who are Friars that we must die every time we put it on. And then comes along someone who knows so little about the Franciscan way of life and simply wants to use it to take advantage of ‘the system’ and I almost crumbled. It is almost ironic that we are fast approaching Halloween.
 
Yes, the habit we wear is more than dress or simply some type of outer garb, it is us and represents our very soul exposed to a world that may often reject it, but we must go on in our life of dedicated service. And while everyone may not know exactly what it is, the habit universally speaks to religion, peace, and approachability. That’s not a bad thing to be recognized when meeting people on the street, or within the walls of our parish or on our beautiful campus, especially when someone is looking for prayer or guidance. But it is not something to be taken lightly or abused.  So, I keep asking God why, but no reply seems to come; at least not one that I noticed as of yet. I have prayed about it, spent time in Adoration with our Lord, begged Him, and even sat with my Spiritual Director to try and find a sense of calm and direction, but to no avail. Nothing. No whys, no ‘hang in there’, no response at all. I wanted to give up.
 

Then yesterday’s Gospel came about the unjust judge and even after writing a homily, God sent the holy spirit to change my mind and rewrote an entire sermon to reflect my sense of hope. There is not enough hope in the world. We speak of it more often than we actually believe in it. Hope is not a strong word for us. It has more to do with “wishing” than “expecting.” It has the sound of resignation, an inability to bring about, influence, or even believe that a desired event or goal might ever come to be. “Well, I hope so” we say almost sarcastically! Hope, as we understand it, is not a word of excitement and expectation. It speaks more often of resignation and helplessness…even for those of us who wear a collar or habit.

Then it hit me! When I was a seminarian, I was afforded the wonderful opportunity to live and work abroad on the cloistered grounds of Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec, in Bec valley, which is midway between the cities of Rouen and Bernay, in Le Bec-Hellouin, France. And, while a Benedictine Abbey, they, too wear a habit and I have maintained my friendship with Brother Aelred. So, last evening, in my desperation, I emailed him and he returned my email with profound words of strength. You could tell that he actually listened intently to my struggle and to my deep sense of dread and my ‘lost-ness’ and then, he wrote back: “My dear brother, I will give you in French what I wish to say to you in English if only my diction was better! You will then go and translate and live these words, as you always have, and pay no need to others who thwart the work of God. Imposters are always abound, my friend; you know this! Your job is not to correct them, but to live your life of prayer, punctuated by daily work, all for God, not for you.” Then he ended with, “Remember, ‘L’habit ne fait pas le moine.’”

Ahh! There it was! In those simple words, my life and direction was handed back to me. “The clothes do not make the man!”  You see, St. Francis never considered a separation between our corporal and spiritual life. For him, all is united in God, the creator of all. Our daily lives, then, in his footsteps, must constantly challenge us to give a faithful response to the Franciscan way of life, even when it is most hard. Even when we feel we cannot go on. For it is only then that we find the illusive hope, for ourselves, but more importantly for the world!

How will you show the world your true habit today?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 10, 2016

 

They say to receive everything, one must open one’s hand and give. But that is paradoxical to the way the world lives, isn’t it? In today’s world it is about ‘me’, not ‘us’ and certainly not ‘them’?

Think deeply today: we, in our modern instant communication world, we think ourselves always so busy! So busy making money, being parents, running errands, caring for children, being students and caregivers that we fail to recognize that when our gaze and efforts are so close to where we stand, we fail to make room for God. We fail to even see that we are always so busy caring for ourselves that there is little room for any other, let alone God. We must make time to deepen our relationship and spiritual journey with God before it is too late.

Even St. Francis, in a world that he was in, but never apart of fully, was busy teaching and preaching and writing, but never failed to stop to pray to make room in his life for God. Francis found that as he deepened his closeness to God, it was his substance and strength to endure whatever came his way. Francis knew that through his taking time to be in a real relationship with Jesus, his life would have more meaning and be more fulfilled.

How wonderful for all of us to remember that God calls each of us by name, every day, to be closer to Him. Our names are written on the very palm of God’s hand and we should take time – make time – even schedule time if we must, to be closer to the One that truly sustains us.

God wants to be close to us. He wants to be so close to us that He sent His only begotten Son to be with us,because He loves us so deeply. Our part is simple: we need to just make time for God. In doing so, we find our world changes and our life enriched.

How will you make time today for God to be closer to you? 

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 3, 2016

 

Well, the pumpkins have arrived and the garden in overturned. The kids are back at school and folks are returning to a rhythm in their routine as their weeks quickly head toward cooler weather. Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons; a time when the trees show us how magnificent they can really be even in the midst of what looks like an emptying.  Emptying only to be filled again in the Spring following the quiet, empty stillness of a winter.

I love the smell of burning leaves, or a good fire in a stone fireplace, the taste of apple cider, warmth of pumpkin coffee on my tongue, and the sound of a neat pile of leaves dispersed by a sudden and raging wind! I enjoy walking outside with a warm hoodie and mug filled with hot cocoa as I watch all the beautiful colors that are present! And I love the rustling sound as the leaves swish and crunch under my feet as I walk along a stone path through the woods! Yes, the Fall is always filled with such keen sounds, intense smells, and longing memories. 

But those changing and colorful leaves had to once learn to let go; it was time to release from that tree that held its life for the season. Time had passed and change was now needed. It is a reminder to me that I have to do the same, too. Change is never particularly easy for some, but I embrace it because I know good things are coming. I know all about the importance of change in my life, and I know that it is the only way that we grow, but sometimes I hate giving up all the leaves of my life.  I’m comfortable with what I have now, but I need to learn to trust Something – Someone- greater. I need to let Him embrace me and tell me when it is time to let go. To change. To become something new.  

I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to enjoy what’s all around me right now, in this present moment, but I know that I should inhale deeply, love profoundly, and laugh loudly because change is coming. Change is always coming.

I want to be brave in my season of change. I want to be bold enough to say, “Bring It On! I’m ready”, but I am not always that strong.  Sometimes, deep down, I wish things could stay the same. The leaves could just hang in place and remain a deep hue of green until it is spring again. Why do they, and so much of the things I love – outside and inside of me – have to fall and die and leave the tree so bare and so alone; so vulnerable?

Perhaps it is God’s way of changing something in me that needs changed…

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 26, 2016

 

In The Little Flowers of St. Francis, Brother Masseo once inquired of St. Francis, “Why do people run after you? You are not handsome; you are also not deeply learned; you are not of noble birth! So why?!” Francis replied, “Do you wish to know? I know the answer from a God whose eyes see the good and the bad all over the earth. And those most holy eyes have nowhere seen a greater, more miserable, poorer sinner than I, and yet he has chosen me, the most wretched, to do his wonderful work so that all will know his power and virtue comes from him.”

Yes, Francis never took credit for what he accomplished. He was always less than everything around him and always acknowledged the God who did it all, gave him all, and was his all. Humility was literally sewn into the fabric of the Friars. Even the name given,

Friars Minor, means ‘lesser brothers’. We are the same today, as some 800 years ago, the little, unknown, ‘lessers’ of the world who find nobility only in their goodness and desire to help others. We still follow that simple rule, composed by Francis himself, for those first eleven friar followers, the Regula primitive, or “Primitive Rule”, which came from verses in the Bible. The rule was simple and direct: “To follow the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ and to walk in his footsteps.” So we give our all, literally, to the world created by a God of love who called us to service and to love. Pride is alluring, but almost always sinful because it gets in the way of others.

How about you? Where do you place the glory for a day’s work well done? Do you remember God when you stand at the precipice of good fortune, as often as you do kneeling when your world is falling apart? If you have twice the talent of others in any skill such as music or art or accounting, etc., what does God expect of you to do with it?