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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 18, 2016

 
The foundation of the Franciscan way of life is Jesus Christ – that’s it, no other, nothing else needed. Tough? Yes! Worth it…of course! Anything in life truly worthy of holding onto is never easy and takes great effort and determination.
 
To follow St. Francis’ way of life is to strive with all of ourselves, our bodies, our hearts, our souls, our very lives and spirits to go from “Gospel to life and life to the Gospel”. To begin this incredible journey, we must strive to first know the Gospel of Jesus and to be willing to live our lives according to the radical nature of the document itself. In other words, to know the Gospel, we must first know the Lord.
 
That is where it all begins: knowing Jesus and following closely. A journey that begins with a single decision to simply follow and then we learn and grow and by doing so become new creations. No, we seek not perfection, but rather grace, in order to become vehicles of love and hope. I leave you with “Woman with Flower” by Naomi Long Madgett today. Perhaps a lesson for all of us is that the journey is not to be coaxed, but breathed in deeply and one day, when we look back at what we have given up, and realize that it will be in no measure to the gain received…
 

I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you.
Such watchful nurturing may do it harm.
Let the soil rest from so much digging
And wait until it’s dry before you water it.
The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction;
Give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.

Much growth is stunted by too careful prodding’
Too eager tenderness.

The things we love we have to learn to leave.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 11, 2016

 

The entire Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families, unites all members of the People of God whether laity, religious, or priest, who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

No, admittedly, especially in today’s world, it is not easy, but as Franciscans we strive to reflect in our lives – and in our service to others – our deep belief in the very presence of God, dwelling among us, loving us unconditionally, and calling us in that love to accept the inherent dignity of every human person, as each is endowed with the very life of our mutual and shared Creator. We recognize and affirm, therefore, the personal gifts and talents of each person regardless of their differences to us.

Saints Francis and Clare both focused on creating caring communities through their great love and respect for the dignity of each individual. They believed in, and nurtured and promoted, genuine friendships based on openness, honesty, mutual interest, shared respect, and support. Their outreach was intended to be all-inclusive and they regarded all others as equals. Francis and Clare called men and women to be “brothers” and “sisters”, and they modeled this challenge in their relationships which were always marked by an unconditional respect for the other.

Recently, even within our own area and companion dioceses, we have witnessed first-hand the unevenness of the heavy hand of hatred from those at the top. We have seen how any policy that negatively affects others is not of God and should not be of God’s Church. These policies are not in keeping with our Franciscan ethos and we must pray that they end because any such edicts rob the dignity of the person and lead to death; small deaths by inches like depression or illness brought on by self-hated or loathing, or as we have also witnessed in our nation, large deaths by mass murder at the hand of another radicalized by the institutionalized hate of others. And, when the Church no longer values someone because of their sexual identity, or because a marriage has failed, or for any other limiting circumstance, we fail. We fail to recognize the dignity of the human person and we are no longer Catholic, no longer Christian, no longer following a God who is always love.

I came across a poem entitled, Allowables, by Nikki Giovanni, one of the best-known African-American poets who reached prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her unique and insightful poetry testifies to her own evolving awareness and experiences.  It reads:
 

I killed a spider

Not a murderous brown recluse

Nor even a black widow

And if the truth were told this

Was only a small

Sort of papery spider

Who should have run

When I picked up the book

But she didn’t

And she scared me

And I smashed her

 

I don’t think

I’m allowed

 

To kill something

 

Because I am

 

Frightened

 

Giovanni once wrote, “Writing is … what I do to justify the air I breathe.” 

What will you do this week to help another? What will you do to show you believe in the dignity of every human person,  even those different from yourself? What will you do to justify yourself being a Catholic and following the one known as Francis?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 4 , 2016

Today is Independence Day. Today we celebrate freedom and our nation and what we stand for and most importantly what we believe. We don’t often think of it that way with all the flag waving, parades, and picnics, but we must hold up the nation’s basic treasured value-freedom. But how do we define freedom?

Sadly, we have all witnessed how independence can be reduced to individualism, an over-emphasis on what I think is good for me, and not for the common good of everyone. From our lack of honoring God by regular Mass attendance, to our deeply divided and mean-spirited political process of late, we have placed the emphasis on ‘me’ over ‘ us’.

The Bay of Angels, by author Anita Brookner, may bring the point home for me better than any scripture. When the story begins, the protagonist is a girl in her early teens; the novel takes the reader through the experiences by which she grows into womanhood. A key moment in her maturing process occurs when she falls in love with a young man who proved to be unfaithful to her. At times he seemed to love her, but finally she can no longer deny his infidelity and she comes to the realization that ‘his liberty mattered more to him than whatever affection he might have felt’ for her.

That is often where we find the emphasis: my Liberty trumps your Liberty. However, that is not what our Founding Fathers intended, is it? They had enough of that way of thinking and escaped to build something better, something more inclusive, more appealing, but faithful to the ideals that all humans are endowed with those unalienable rights.

Some people claim that the First Amendment gives them the right to use hate language to disparage others. Some use the Second Amendment to justify what has become a flood of guns in our country with daily reports of lives ended by gun violence and mass murder. The list goes on, too, with increased racism, Islamaphobia, LGBTQ discrimination, misogyny, and so much more hatred and division against so many ‘others’. These assertions are a far cry from serving one another through love and to they fail the American ideal.

A physician this week, on his way to pray at his mosque, was gunned down – ambushed by three men bent on hatred – and now fights for his life in the very hospital he served others simply because he was Muslim. No vigil for him in the streets of Houston for him. 120 lives taken by murderers and hundreds maimed and wounded in Baghdad, but there’s no outrage? Where are the Facebook posts demanding an end to violence, holding out for change, and why is CNN not set up in front of a cafe in Iraq where people once sipped coffee, but now lie in a pool of blood, and where are the colorful ribbons for us to wear on our lapels in their memory?

It is very easy to be like the young man in that novel, and to absorb from our culture the teaching that in order to be true to myself I must be free, and freedom means keeping myself in a state within which my options – with regard to relationships, or anything else that ordinarily leads to commitment – are as open as possible. But what kind of freedom is that? It is a freedom which precludes the possibility of really loving another.

After our 241 years of struggle and sacrifice, we have made great progress in fulfilling the vision of freedom with “liberty and justice for all,” but we have not yet arrived. No, not even close.

St. Francis once said, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love…” How will you join me and actually take the beautiful foundation our nation’s founders gave us – entrusted to us – and make it a reality for all peoples who reside here and all who wish to make this land their home?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 27, 2016

 
The person who first said “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, either lived as a hermit, or was an outright liar. Words can hurt and do hurt. And, words can hurt a lot; so much, in fact, that the pain lasts for years and sometimes never goes away. Words that hurt do a lot more long-term damage than any puny stick or stone.
 
There have been studies that show the lasting impact of harmful words on children. Children, who receive constant criticism about their looks, or their brains, or abilities, grow up believing the words thrown at them. Some of you reading these words of mine today are spending your adulthood with the sound of “dummy,” “fatso,” “geek,” “airhead,” “loser,” “you’re not good enough”, “you’re ugly”, “fairy”, and so many others, echoing in your ears. Yes, words can stunt spirits. Words can break hearts, and yes, words can even end lives. We cut each other’s throats with our tongues and the blood lost often can never be replenished. 
 
Pope Francis recently uttered words. He said that the church needs to do more apologizing, “I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended,” he said, “but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.”  Yes, I admire the Holy Father for his words, but sadly, often during the time of his pontificate, he has said a lot of things that haven’t changed a single thing. This past week we saw the hatred of the church in action – the unconscionable letters and threats by the Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania against our state legislators to not pass a law to protect victims harmed by sexual abuse, and the statements made that the church must be protected, even at their expense, are where we see the true desires of those currently in charge. So, no, the doctrines of hate are firmly in place, even though the words of rhetoric are a bit softer.
 
We live in a tooth-and-claw culture of criticism and hate. We use words as weapons and people die. Oh, sure, perhaps not as quickly as with knife or gun, but they are dead just the same. Just as dead. But we learn in the gospel that the kingdom Jesus is gradually revealing won’t be brought about by the world’s versions of power and might. So people need a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners; they need to feel the welcoming love of God. They need to use words that uplift, not break down. Perhaps that is why St. Francis is attributed to saying, in varied ways, “Always remember to preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”  Whether or not he actually did matters not to me, the intent is the same: do something for God, preach the real gospel, do not just give it lip service.  And, whatever you do, allow your words to match your actions…
 
I heard a story once of how Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina was founded. The monks who started that college were wondering along a road and came upon a crossroad. They came upon an interesting huge rock; a flat piece of granite and they were very intrigued by it. As they talked to neighbors in town about it they were told that the rock was a major selling place for slaves in that sad time in our history. Men, women, and children would stand on that rock and be sold into a lifetime of slavery. So the monks decided to have it moved to their new monastery, and they dug out a well at its center, and made it their baptismal font. On it reads an inscription,“Upon this rock, people once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, people become free children of God.”
 
Carl Henry said it best, “The divine mandate is to beam light, sprinkle salt, knead leaven into an otherwise hopeless world”.  Perhaps this is what Pope Francis wants.
 
Now, if we can just get the rest of the church to agree and follow…
 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 20, 2016

 
There is a famous meme (a humorous image, video, or piece of text that is copied and shared to spread rapidly by Internet users) going around on various Facebook pages that I find quite humorous. Now, unlike many that are mean-spirited, or political, this one is funny and also contains a bit of ironic truth! It reads, “I saw a guy at Starbucks today. No iPhone, no tablet, no laptop. He was just sitting there. Drinking coffee. Like a Psychopath!”
 
The bit of irony is that many of us – yes, even Friars – are often found “plugged in” all the time! Perhaps too much! Often, when we allow ourselves to be so engrossed in the technological world, we miss the Christ in our midst. We miss the opportunities to visit with humanity and to uphold and to spread the Gospel. We simply miss life in general, and perhaps our chance to help someone, or just ‘be’ with them and change their lives; change ours, too.
 

There are two adjectives applied to God by Franciscans: goodness and humility. Hardly any of us would think to call God humble, but Francis did. He fell in love with the humility of God because if God emptied himself and hid himself inside the material world, as in Jesus, and remains as God waits so patiently for us to grow up, then God is very humble indeed.

In fact, St. Francis fell in love more with Jesus’  humanity than he did with His divinity. It was Jesus’ humanity that Francs wanted to draw close to and imitate. Only in a humble state, and among the humble, could Francis easily and naturally see God. He even loved humble creatures like worms, and crickets, and little lambs because they more truthfully revealed the Mystery of Jesus in their simplicity.

Last night, after a long day, I watched the newest episode of “Alaskan Bush People”, a reality-documentary series that brings us the Brown family – Billy, wife Ami and their seven grown children. They live together, far removed from civilization, and often go six to nine months each year without seeing an outsider. They refer to themselves as a “wolf pack” and, perhaps due to isolation, have their own unique accent and dialect. The Browns live in the Copper River Valley, where temperatures can drop to 60 degrees below zero and in last evening’s episode the father, Billy, tried to get them to ‘begin to do things together’ again and enjoy one another’s company.’ He was concerned because, after getting a generator for their cabin, everyone began to do things apart from each other, not as a family. In other words, technological advances began to separate them. The show ended with the generator running out of fuel and the Browns sitting around a candle filled dining table talking, laughing, and enjoying one another. They found each another by simply being with one another.

Christ chose for himself a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly, away from modern distraction. Now imagine yourself living a life with such attentiveness. How might your world change? How might you change the world?

Live today without television, or the tablet and smartphone so firmly in hand, and simply spend more time in thought and prayer and with one another, or the world at large, even at a local coffee shop. Unplug the technological gizmos that fill every waking moment. See what happens.

Perhaps God is there, waiting still…
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 13, 2016

 

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, almost two centuries ago, wrote in his famous Death’s Jest Book, this famous line: “then would he know that Life’s a single pilgrim / Fighting unarmed amongst a thousand soldiers.” 
 
That is how I feel today after learning of yet more atrocities across our nation. Death has come and this time, and death has come large. At 2:02 a.m., this past Sunday morning, near closing time at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida the music ended for some 50 souls who lost their lives at the hand of a man claiming to be in kindred spirit with the God of all. It is an outright lie. There can be no truth. And now, in our disillusionment, doubt, and renewed fear, how do we go on and still believe? 
 
Every year in October, we, as Franciscans, celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis, and one part of the observance is a service on the evening before, known as the “Transitus,” or “passing”. Most never attend, except the few devout. It’s a simple time of storytelling, prayers, and reflections on the man known as St. Francis and how, at the moment of his death, Francis called out “Welcome, Sister Death!” 
 
The death of St. Francis may give us all a model to follow in reflecting on death, both our own and of our loved ones, and like the kindred we now grieve without knowing them personally from Orlando. One version of Francis’ passing, written by Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano, tells us that when Francis knew he was actively dying, he “exhorted death, terrible and hateful to all, to praise God.” I’ve always thought that phrase captured eloquently how most of us feel about death: It is “terrible and hateful”, yes, as it ends our day-to-day relationship capability and rituals, but at the same time, it marks our passage to a new life with God; we then will know God’s love fully.
 

For me, the hardest part of this terrorist attack is not believing the dead are now somehow safe. No, for me it is forgiving the terrorist himself, and not allowing him to make me even more bitter. Proverbs 24 reminds us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, or the LORD will see it and be displeased…”

Reflecting on these horrible deaths is strengthening my resolve as a Franciscan to redouble my efforts on being peaceful: domestically, internationally, and within the walls of my parish, and deeper within my heart. I will try and foster further communication, increased love, an unfathomable trust in God, and amplified reconciliation within the trials and separation that exist, recognizing that we are all baptized into the Resurrection of our Christ. And, such reflections, I pray, will help bring healing to the myself, my community, the world.

Directly before the Late Mass yesterday, I had the honor of sitting and catching up with Bishop Ken, who would celebrate the next Mass. We consoled one another, and our human doubts, that this incident in Orlando brought to surface yet again. He made a stunning comment, almost without noticing. He said, “We, as priests, are like the little Dutch Boy who put his finger in the dike to prevent the horrific flood.”

Yes, we all are, just that. All of us. May God help us to hold on until understanding comes.

I began with a quote from Thomas Lovell Beddoes, I will end my reflections today with one, too, in honor of those who have died so tragically…

“I am a ghost. Tremble not; fear not me. The dead are ever good and innocent…”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 6, 2016

 

I changed my perspective recently. It is amazing what happens when you do! This change was rather mundane, perhaps irrelevant to many, but it was remarkable to my soul and transformed my energy. I changed the side of the table I sit at every morning as I begin my day. Yup, it was that simple and that life-altering.

You see, as many know, I reside on the property of my parish. I currently live in approximately 340 square feet and quarters are tight, especially with three other beings sharing that very same space! But, such is the life of a Friar, as we wait to complete the new friary next year. So, I have carved out a little space of my own. A small table with a single lamp, my iPad and MacBook laptop, a file folder with stuff to get to, a place for my coffee, a small icon, a pen, and a gift from a Buddhist friend of mine, a ‘laughing Buddha’ statue! The table sits north and south. It has since the time I moved onto the property; for almost ten months now, I have faced northward.

Over this past Saturday, however, I cleaned my ‘tiny house’ and removed all the furniture, and the carpet runner that Tucker and Friar, my two Golden Retrievers, seem to think they own, and when I placed the furnishings back into place, I decided to sit on the other side of the table.

Radical, huh? I know. A small, almost meaningless act and yet this morning, as I sat at my small table, in the very same chair, with the very same objects on that very same small table…my perspective changed in a colossal way and so did my energy, and my life, and my focus. For you see, by facing southward today, the rays of the rising sun enveloped the parish, which sits now on a hill in front of me, and I beheld it for the first time as if anew, bathed in the morning light of the sun. I sat back, sinking into the back of my chair cushion, and I paused and thanked God for my life, the gifts so graciously given, and for my new perspective. Then, I asked God to let me use these gifts for good, for others; for Him.

How will you change your perspective, your focus, your life today and use it – and your talents – for the good of a God who loved you so much that you woke today anew yourself?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 30, 2016

 
Today’s reflection was not hard to decide on. Today is Memorial Day. Today while many prepare to go to the beach, enjoy a picnic, or stay at a resort, visit with family and friends, or go to an amusement park or dip their toes in the first cool waters of spring, many of us will also include a visit to a local cemetery where tears will flow as if they were as fresh as the day the loss first occurred. Yes, while we are a people who grieve, we do so as a people who have hope, but the loss is the same; the pain as deep. Today we will remember so that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Throughout history there have been great men and women who died for a noble cause, something greater than themselves that was worth laying their life on the line and literally walking away so we might live. There are far too many to list here, but a few to set the stage of my mind’s eye would have to include Nestor Makhna of the Ukraine, Emiliano Zapata of Mexico, Augusto Sandino of Nicaragua, Martin Luther King, Jr closer to home. And what kind of priest and Friar would I be if not to mention the likes of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assistanated while saying Mass in a small hospital chapel in San Salvador for daring to stand up for human rights, and of course, the One I follow and adore, Jesus, the Christ of the world, who died for all, that no matter how sinful we are in our daily lives, we might one day behold the light of heaven.

But what of the lesser sung heroes? You know, the ones who die and not nary a mention occurs in the news, or that their loss is so distant from us that we we feel not the impact directly, but their dying bridges us to them in ways not always seen. Like Jeff Taylor, Michael McGreevy, Michael Murphy, Daniel Crabtree, Joshua Hager, Jason Lewis, Mark Carter, Joshua Whitaker, Nathan Hardy, Randy Simmons, Ryan Hummert, Erin Doyle, Josh Harris, Daniel Sakai, Jerry Patton, Arnie Quinones, RJ Cottle, and so many more that we, who are practicing CrossFitters, remember during our many “Hero WOD’s” (Workout Of the Day) every year? We do so in order to never forget; to never allow those who died for us to become one of the forgotten.

Yes, we often fail to remember that these deaths allowed us to live and breathe free. So I will end today with a list of numbers; numbers that may or may not inspire you to ask yourself today, “Have I forgotten these souls?” Or, worst, “Is there nothing that I am willing to die for?”

American Revolution – 217,000 deaths
War of 1812 – 286,730 deaths
Indian War – 106,000 deaths
Civil War – 2,213, 262 deaths
World War I – 4,734,991
World War II – 16,112,566 deaths
Korean War – 5,720,000 deaths
Vietnam War – 8,744,000 deaths
Gulf War – 2,322,000 deaths
War on Terror – through 2012 – 1,468,364 deaths

The Tomb of the Unknowns: 4 from WWI, 2 from WWII, 4 from Korean,; guarded 24/7 since 1937.

Yes, to date, we have lost more than 42,892,128 service men and women who have given their ultimate sacrifice so we might enjoy our picnics today.

Never forget.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 23, 2016

 

Yesterday, I met three joys! First, I celebrated Mass, that is always the lifeblood of any priest. How we relish presiding over the celebration of the Mass! Then, we made good on our commitment to honor the dead as we blessed our beautiful new cemetery gates and honored the veterans who gave so much so to our nation, so that we might all remain free. Finally, I sat with my Third Order, The Secular Franciscans, and we spoke of a deeper understanding of St. Francis and the life of a Franciscan. We had a beautiful day at Saint Miriam, because it was all about joy found in honoring our commitments.

You might notice that myself, and the Friars who visit our campus, wear a rosary hanging from their knotted cord. You might be surprised to know that it is not the rosary one uses to pray at our devotions on Thursday evenings, but rather it is called the Franciscan Crown Rosary, or the Franciscan Rosary. You see, when folks pray the traditional rosary, they focus on the different mysteries of the life of Jesus and there are five sets with each of ten Hail Marys prayed. However, when one prays the Franciscan Crown, there are seven sets focused on the seven joys that Mary experienced in her life: The Annunciation, the Visitation, the birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding of the Christ Jesus in the Temple, the Meeting of Christ after the Resurrection, and the Assumption and Coronation. After this seventh ‘joy’, two more Hail Marys are said that bring the total number of Hail Marys recited to the number seventy-two, which is believed to be the number of years Mary spent on Earth! 

The tradition associated with the formation of this devotion is inspiring. It reminds me, as a Friar, that commitment is about – and brings into being – joy!  While many people today shy away, or even run, from committing more to God and the church and fail to enhance their spiritual life, I find that my greatest joys are always found when I commit more to God and to God’s holy Church. The joys I find in the secular world are always fleeting and never last; the joy I find in God is eternally renewing and fulfilling. It is only God that makes my life complete.

The Franciscan Rosary legend is said to come from a young Friar before joining religious life used to enjoy making crowns of roses to adorn a statue of Mary in his local hometown. Honoring Mary was a hallmark of his life, but his new life as a Friar made it difficult. One night while considering if he had made the right choice in becoming a Franciscan, he felt the very presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Our Blessed Mother gave him instructions on how to make a new “crown” for her. She told him that rather than weaving crowns from flowers, he should weave a spiritual crown of prayer just for her. Mary told him to use the seven joys she experienced during her time on earth and the young Friar did as Mary instructed and created an instrument of prayer that was modeled on the common Rosary, The Franciscan Crown Rosary!

So you see, the rosary helps us to be reminded that Friars do not focus on what we need in this life, instead we focus on life itself and how we should live out our own way honoring our commitments and the joy we find in Christ by following the life of St. Francis himself. No, it is not always easy, nothing worth living ever is…

How might you find greater joy this week as you find ways to strengthen your own journey and more closely follow Jesus and find your greatest example in the life of a humble man now known as St. Francis of Assisi?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 16, 2016

 

I received an email during the night that changed the reflection I was going to give today. Why? Because it seems that we – as a society and as Christians – are drifting away from the hard reality that life is not easy, decisions not always apparent, and that simply being a follower of Christ, or even wanting a life of dependence on God, makes it so by wishing for it. It takes work and time.

Case in point is the narrative of this young woman who reached out to me as a Friar and pastor. She is about to enter her formation period to fulfill her desire and apparent calling in becoming a Carmelite nun next year, but she has an addition to pornography. She writes, “It is very hard for me to stop this addicting habit, especially since I am planning on becoming a Carmelite nun next year. Every time I sin I fall into despair because I believe God has a higher standard for me (wanting me to become a bride of Christ). I don’t know what I should do about this horrible sin that I want to get rid of once and for all right now. I am reaching out to you because in reading about your life, I hope you might be kind to me and help.”

My longing for the Ordered life began in early 1991 when I first stumbled upon my connection with a religious Order while in formation to be a diocesan priest. I was seeking an outlet where I could inspire others through a life of service, prayer, and love, but also that would take me in all my brokenness and allow me to serve the God I came to love and adore. Unfortunately, I discovered I could no longer continue in my quest within the my diocese, as I struggled with my own depression, addiction, and confusion over my sexuality. Needless to say, my search for religious life continued until the day I met a Franciscan and my life, as they say, was forever changed, but not immediately. From the day I first began to fulfill my discernment to priesthood to the day I was actually lying in front of an altar in Washington, DC with Archbishop Richard over me was almost twenty-one years! Yes, God’s time and my time were different, but the end result was a better formed priest and a healthier servant of God.

My religious formation was difficult at times, but at all times necessary. It challenged me and loved me at the same time. I found that the key is to remain open to any of the possibilities for change both in myself and in my relationships to those around me. The most significant lesson I learned during my initial formative years was about integrity and congruence. I needed to be both – to the world, to my Order, to my bishop – but most importantly to myself. In order to be healthy, I needed to love me, even in my brokenness and with my darker side intact, too. I am human. I am broken. But I am loved still!

Yes, it is not always easy to be honest with others, but it is even more difficult to be honest with yourself! This lesson of integrity was a huge learning curve in my personal and professional development, spilling into almost every facet of my life, and I failed miserably many times; one time it landed me on the wrong side of a set of jail bars in my early twenties. As scary as it was to face my demons, I came out every time knowing God’s grace and abundant and unconditional love for me. Now I share that with others as a pastor, a Franciscan, and an ordained priest. I love my life, however, it was not ‘instant’, and in fact, it is still ongoing. Nothing in life worth having, or worth living, ever is.

So, I continue on my own journey and I do the best that I can, even in my imperfect life! My ongoing challenges to become an even better priest still exist: developing a deeper prayer life, becoming more patient with self and others, and limiting my cursing! But my life as a Friar continues to excite and inspire me, because I am living proof that God can call anyone to a life of service and prayer.

Oh, ya, and my response to this young woman? Simple: “Dear Mary [Ed: not her real name], I am sorry you are so troubled and we all have our addictions and worldly pain; we are only human. However, God sees your beauty and loves you beyond measure! The process of discernment and formation will guide you to were you should be, allow it to happen, unfold, and you will flourish. I will be in prayer for you. Please, pray for me a sinner, too, but whatever you do, do not give up on God. God surely is not giving up on you!”

Formation welcomes us to stay more fully connected to a God of love and hope, not a God of vengeance or rejection. I could have easily done what many priests did to me and discouraged this your woman from a life of service, but I did not because I know the truth now…God does not ask us to be perfect, and certainly perhaps not even Catholic! (I know, I know, stay seated!) God asks us to be faithful!

How will your life, your actions, your written and spoken words, change someone’s decision or life today? How can you inspire someone today, and will that inspiration include you?