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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 2, 2016

 

As a priest and friar, I often fall into doubt. No, it goes beyond my normal dismay with the world’s pain, or my attempts to set aside the eye I obviously have that picks up on injustice rather readily. No, this doubt is one that comes from deep within where I ask myself the question that many priests don’t like to ask, “Am I really making any difference at all?”
 
Yesterday, I made good on a promise. You see, a couple weeks ago, during my Children’s Homily at the Family Mass, I asked the children gathered around me to go out into the world and spread the gospel by doing good deeds for others. I used my finding ‘Steven, the homeless man’ at our parish door as my example. To push them even further, I promised that if they did they would be rewarded by God, but also by me with $1.00 for every good deed (signed off on by their parents of course!) They were all so excited!
 
At baptism, whether it’s done as a child – or more rarely in our church, but just as exciting, as an adult – all of us, as Christians, are incorporated into Christ and Christ’s Church by being cleansed of our sin, permanently marked on our souls, and commissioned to live the threefold office of Christ: priest, prophet and king. 
 
Lumen Gentium, promulgated at the Second Vatican Council said this: “These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”  (Lumen Gentium, 31).
 
It is for this very reason that baptism is considered entry into the “royal priesthood” making all the faithful, myself and you included, “priests” in a very real sense! Did you know that you we were priests?!  Obviously different from my brothers with the title “father” in front of their name, but what we are called to is no less significant in the life of God’s holy Church. You are needed, just like me, and yes, I learned we do make a difference!
 

The children arrived yesterday for our May Crowning as we honored our Blessed Mother. Then, before the video announcements, I asked if any had their ‘good deeds’ with them. Many if the children ran forward to present to me their lists! The average was five good deeds and for each I handed them a gold dollar coin! You should have seen their faces from my perspective; it buoyed my soul and spirit! Two little girls, sisters, each had six good deeds and received the corresponding gold coins. Then, we sang and recessed with our Blessed Mother in tow and that’s where I saw it! They each got to the giving box within the transom outside the sanctuary and looked at each other and without pause, placed three of the coins EACH as a donation to the life of the parish we all love and adore. But, more importantly, as stewards – to God above –  as yet another good deed…

Traditionally, the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices to God; this is the case for the Levitical priests in the Old Testament, this is what Jesus did when He offered himself as a sacrifice, and this is what Catholic and Orthodox priests do today on the altar. But, all of us baptized Christians constitute a “priestly people” unto God, a royal priesthood of believers. As such, we are given a special commission to be priests in our world in a way that fits our way of life and promotes good will. However, one does not have to be an ordained minister to make Christ present, and in fact, there are many ways that only someone who is not an ordained minister can do it.

In our final days of Easter, having purified and prepared ourselves during the time of Lent, we are now sent out into the world to begin living this again in a renewed way.  So whether ordained, religious, or laity I ask us all today…

How will you be a priest today?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 25, 2016

 

Have you experienced something like the following? You are friends with someone, or you are in a working strong working relationship with someone, and initially all is well. You enjoy the effort and the communal efforts. Your colleague is supportive, encouraging, complimentary, and there is mutual support, effort, and goals are genuine, but then – almost without explanation – something changes. The other person is no longer supportive, encouraging, complimentary. In fact, soon they are rather absent from your life, or even worse, they remain present, but hurtful. 

Loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, trustworthiness, dependability, and steadfastness suddenly turn to betrayal, unfaithfulness, uncaring, and missed opportunities to remain in constant relationship. Whereas before there was time to nurture the relationship, now there isn’t, and the other person is not interested in taking the time to ensure that both sides are cared for and made whole, despite your effort. You see, a good relationship must be communal in effort, direction, and care. While there are always times when one side must step up to care for the other, there must be a balance to the relationship or it becomes predatory to our heart and emotion.

If you experienced something like the above, you might have a sense how Jesus felt in his life. At one point in his journey the crowds welcomed Jesus with great expectation and excitement! They wanted him to be with them as much as possible. They were loyal, faithful, and trustworthy, but then, something changed, some of his friends even betrayed him, they were unfaithful and disloyal.  The relationship failed.

Perhaps a lesson shall come from the moments, too. Perhaps these situations call us to be reminded that humans are all too frail and that we must be careful, sensitive, compassionate.  To be careful that we do not use others for our own gain and that from every situation a mutual care is employed. To do so, we must stop – several moments of every day – and self-evaluate our actions and words with, “How am I acting today?”, or “Have I been faithful to the covenants around me to self, my community, and others?”

People are not like an old pair of socks; they cannot just be tossed aside for a new pair.  Yet, there may be times that we in some way shape or form, simply toss another person aside. These ‘tossings’ may be direct, or by slight, or mean-spirited word; they might come by our failing to honor the relationship, or showing through actions that it means anything to us at all.

We may speak the words of friendship and covenant, but do our actions prove it?

This Easter Season is replete with reminders that people are holy and sacred, just as the journey of life is holy and sacred. Handle people and life with care. Honor your covenants before it’s too late.

How will we maintain our invitation to handle people and life with care this week? What relationships need restoration as we proclaim the Resurrected Christ?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 18, 2016

 

“Praesertim oboedientiam”, that was the Latin wording scrolled across the transom from the refectory to the meeting room while I was in seminary. It meant, ‘obedience above all’ and I simply asked too many questions! So, my journey took a lot longer than most! But becoming a solemnly professed friar is an intentionally long engagement. My journey began when I was in seminary and thought that I wanted to be a diocesan priest. That changed when I met the Dominicans later while in Washington, DC. But, boy, they had too many rules and those who know me well, know I don’t like that many rules to follow (remember Praesertim oboedientiam?)

Soon, after a brief time with them on Michigan avenue, I crossed paths with the brothers at Mount St. Sepulcher Franciscan Monastery. You see, the Franciscan campus and my seminary campus join together at the south end and I was intrigued; intrigued enough to begin a journey that took almost twelve more years to complete! That’s a lot of time, and all of it was needed.

During this period of discernment, I had the needed time to try on the ‘habit’ and see what life was like as a Friar. I also asked a lot of questions, struggled with many challenges, some personal, some spiritual, and some just me being scared, unsure, lost; broken. I needed to overcome deep doubts and personal fears and my desire for power and prestige that got me in trouble when I was younger in the first place. I needed to let go of the world and find my way to God. Like anything else this time wasn’t easy; nothing good happens overnight.

As a Franciscan Friar, I have found that true discernment, at least in in the broader sense, never ends. I may have moved beyond the initial phase of asking ‘do I really want to be a friar in the first place’, but I will never move beyond some of the deeper and more profound questions of how to live out my vocation in the world. I continue to ask myself almost daily: How am I called to live? Who am I called to serve? What does it mean to be a brother? Is my life as a Friar really making the word better?

This coming Sunday, the diocesan members of our Secular Franciscan Group, will join me in renewing our vows to the Franciscan Order for another year, formally recommitting ourselves to a life of poverty, charity, and obedience in the way of St. Francis of Assisi, our Seraphic Father.

For some, this will be a moment that has required great discernment, evaluation, and preparation to determine that this path was still the one for them; for others it is simply another step along the way towards something that we committed ourselves to a long time ago. And, for some of us, it is a recommitment to be better people, and to help God make the world a better place by sacrificing ourselves daily.

The point that I see in all of this reflection is that is that no matter where we are on the path, our journey to become better people never ends, it only changes in form…

How can you change this season to become a better person and help our Lord manifest in the world; a world filled with need? Are you willing to even sacrifice even a small part of your comfort to help another live more fully?

The World is waiting for you. So is Christ Jesus.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 11, 2016

 
Yesterday, after our Morning Mass, I had the opportunity to visit with two long-term parishioners, both of whom are dealing with serious illnesses. I was struck by how well they looked and how it contrasted to what their course of treatment had been over the last several months. As they reoriented what they had been through, and what was expected next, by all accounts, they should not be so vital, but what they both shared was the single ingredient of hope!
 
It is true that the language of hope permeates our contemporary healthcare literature. People who are hopeful appear to be more resilient to physical and mental illness, and more likely to recover if they are afflicted. As well, many studies reveal that there is a positive correlation between faith and wellbeing. It may be that if faith is an effective medicine, then hope is the active ingredient!
 

Hope, as I use it here, however, is distinguished from the world’s understanding of that word, which is often confused with wishing. The virtue of hope is firmly rooted in the wisdom of faith and the practice of religion. Hope makes healing possible, but it is a hope that transcends all human understanding, “for it is by hope that we are saved.”  Hope trusts and is confident in the adventure of life, in its unseen aspects. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” But I have found that patience is only possible if we take the wishing out of hoping and replace it with the assurance that welfare is a journey, a pilgrimage with, in and to God. In other words, that God has a firm hold on us and will never fail us, even if to the world, we seem to be…

Faith that is based on unsound theology, or poor images of God, is unlikely to produce positive outcomes as far as wellbeing is concerned, but faith that is wholesome yields hope that makes everything possible through peace. The mark of hope is true peace.

How much do you trust, have faith, and hope in our God today? Would you be able to show the world outwardly your faith and hope inwardly felt, even in the face of disaster?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 04, 2016

 

On the approaching Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus instructs Peter to “Feed my lambs,” and “Tend my sheep.” These are instructions for us as well, making it clear to us that we have a responsibility to more than ourselves; we also are called to care for and most especially love those around us.

This Gospel reading from the Book of Saint John tells of Jesus’ appearing to the Apostles for the third time after His Resurrection. In this moment, Jesus seems to challenge Peter by asking, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  When St. Peter assures Him that he does, Jesus says to him simply, “Feed my lambs.” Well, we are His lambs.

It is fascinating to note that not less than three times Jesus asks Peter this question! You might think, and perhaps would not be far off, that Jesus is recalling that Peter denied Him three times on the night before He was crucified. Now Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to redeem himself.

Just as for Peter, for all of us today, following Jesus involves serving His lambs, serving others. If we are truly stewards of who and what we are and if we are stewards in the service of Christ, we, too, will assure the Lord of our love and devotion. That is how we need to respond to the call to “Follow me.”

How strong is your desire to follow Christ? How have you responded to the parish’s call to Stewardship this year? We have now asked directly three times…
 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 28, 2016

 

Christ’s Resurrection is at the firm foundation of our faith. His rising from the dead establishes Jesus as the Son of God and proves that God will judge the world in righteousness. Believing and trusting in this means that “death is swallowed up in victory.” On this day we receive a “new birth into living hope through His Resurrection.”  We, too, are resurrected today, thus our joy!

Perhaps for us, as followers of Jesus, the key then is not just understanding these facts about Christ, but also understanding that we, too, are called by Him (actually commanded) to spread the message and to live in a way that shows our Christian beliefs.

We are expected to live with one another and serve one another. That is, of course, at the very core of our stewardship philosophy. We are gifted, and we need to use our gifts to serve our community, one another. That is part of being resurrected according to St. Paul. Reminding us also that Jesus looked to Heaven, recognizing that was His true home, St. Paul tells us to do the same: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

As the Apostles met and visited with Jesus after the Resurrection, and began to go out and preach, but they never really emphasized the empty tomb. Instead, they stressed His Resurrection and His Saving Grace. That is what we celebrate today, not that the tomb is empty, but that we are fulfilled, and filled with hope.

How will your life display that hope and grace this week?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 21, 2016

 

So it is now Holy Week for Christians around the globe, but will it really change us?

Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem; His gift of the Eucharist; and His suffering, death, and His Resurrection. Holy Week is a time of final preparations and great anticipation! Our long-term preparations of prayers, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent will continue, but this week with greater intensity. Palm Sunday was our doorway into the holiest week of the Church year. The three solemn liturgies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil) are called the Triduum, but sadly, they are the lest attended of the year! Will you pause your life, as Jesus did for you and attend each of these holy times to allow your life to change for the better?

This Holy Week, Pope Francis has encouraged bishops and priests to make themselves the concrete expressions of mercy, as preached by the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, welcoming each penitent with love, understanding, compassion and joy. It is a reminder that goes back to the story of the father of the prodigal son where he offered offering forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope. However, that is the not only the job of clergy, it is our collective continuum if we are to follow the Christ; we are to mete out our love – not in small doses, but abundant blobs! – regardless of whatever sins for which they will ask to be forgiven, we are to offer our hearts, not our aversion. In other words, we are to make the love of Jesus concrete in this life by the actions of our hands, our feet, and our actions and our words…

A man visits and asks a goldsmith in his shop how he goes through with his work in purifying gold. The goldsmith explains how he puts the gold in a container over a fire and makes sure that the metal gets melted evenly as he increases the heat, stirring the metal as it melts. Asked how he would know that the gold has been purified, his answer is simple, “When I can see my image in it.”

How will you make the love of God concrete this week?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 14, 2016

 

During the season of Lent, many Catholic grade school children will make their first confession. We call it First Penance, and our children did so yesterday with me as their pastor to guide them. I was honored, but it reminded me that during this holy time of year when all of us should stop and think about the effects of sin. We are most certainly in the midst of a great season of grace, and there is cause for much rejoicing here! At the same time, there exists a certain degree of frivolity with which many people think of first confessions for children, and it relates more directly with how they carry themselves in the world, too, in general.  Many, for instance, will say to me “What sins can a seven-year-old possibly commit?”  Thus, a first confession is often presented merely as a sort of moral lesson – or rite of passage – in growing up, or perhaps merely as another ‘church hoop’ to jump through on their journey to first communion.

However, if first confession is not really about forgiving sin, and if these children do not really need to be reconciled to God; then we ought to say, “The heck with it. Let’s just end this silly, ancient practice!” Do children really have the ability to direct their heart and mind either for or against God? When we come to the question of first confession, we must point out that it is necessary for the sacrament that the children making their confession have committed at least some venial sin. Confession is always about sin, and without sin there can be no confession.

And, for us, as older adults, we should also pause and remember that confession and communion are intimately bound together. So, it would be most beneficial for our souls if we, who regularly receive communion (say, once a week) are also able to regularly receive confession (say, at least once every other month).  Indeed, if children are not reared in the habit of confession when they are young, what is the likelihood that they will confess as they grow into adulthood? If they are not taught to confess their venial sins, how will they ever learn to confess the mortal sins which are so common to adolescents or adults? Moreover, if, during these formative years they do not learn to make a good confession, it is almost certain that, when they are on their own to college, they will fail to maintain even the minimum spirit of prayer and moral effort to love God and neighbor.

I can tell you that few have come to us, as priests, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this Lenten Season. We have reminded, promoted, prompted, and requested; all to no avail. But, we have received the meanness of pointed words, the harshness of rhetoric and tongue, unforgiving emails, have been told of all the things not liked about how we run things, and summarily been told where we can go. Oh, no, of course not always directly, but rather in what “they have done, or neglected to do…”

How many graces are lost to our children and youth, simply because their parents do not take them to confession frequently! How much of God’s love is lost because we do the same as adults! How many souls are lost when confession is neglected!
 
Yesterday, one young child making her confession naked me for advice as it reacted to her sins. I asked her how many ears God gave her, she replied, “Two!”. I then asked how many mouths she had been given, she replied, “One!” I told her that God would like us to be reminded, especially in these holy days, to hear twice a much as we speak. To think twice as much before we act. To love twice as much as we hate.  Before we enter Holy Week, as a People of God, let us all dwell on these last two questions…
 
Are we on the verge of losing the true faith? Do we need a good and honest confession today?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 07, 2016

 
Our parish is now firmly into the holy time of Lent and our Annual Stewardship Appeal! Both are vital to the life and ministry of our parish community, but also to the world at large. What does it say to the world when they look at us and see the way we give? What does it illustrate of our beliefs and desires and how we view God and Jesus? What does it say about how much we love our parish and all the hard work our ministry team gives to make us remain vibrant and healthy?
 
During my recent time in Florida, I found a gift at the local parish gift shop that truly keeps on giving! It is a framed image with a series of questions. Yes, just simple questions that caused me to actually pause and interrupt my day to answer them. I pray they will allow you to pause and think deeply about us and God as you discern your path in this year’s stewardship campaign.
 

Did I Make a Difference Today?

Did I make a difference to somebody else today?

Did I encourage or uplift another in some way?

Did I share God’s word with anyone at all?

Did I obey his direction or answer his call?

Did I love, forgive or show any grace?

Could Christ be seen in my heart, in my face.

Did I make a difference to somebody else today?

I pray to the Father that I did His will, His way.

When I first saw this wall hanging, my initial thought was, “Oh what a nice wall hanging!” I didn’t spend much time with the words, and un fact, I purchased a St. Francis statue for my office instead. But now, looking back, as I began to actually review these questions – one by one – in the face of my own life and ministry to others and asked myself these questions. They have become more real, demanding, and some even convicting. St. Francis once admonished that we may be the only gospel someone sees today. Are we the Gospel today for someone?

Lent provides us for a wonderful opportunity to regularly reflect on what we are doing with the time, the life, the mission God has entrusted to us. So does Stewardship.

Asking ourselves today, “Did I make a difference today?”  isn’t a bad place to start.

How will you honor God and God’s church this season?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 29, 2016

 

During this Lenten season we pray, fast, and give alms. The holy season is a time of sacrifice almsgiving and prayer, in preparation for our renewal. We participate in our parish Lenten drives, increase our stewardship, learn, pray, and collect our monetary offerings from savings by preparing simpler meals, or making other sacrifices for those living in poverty. In other words, Lent is a time to give joyfully and generously in solidarity with those less fortunate and support the work of Christ and the Church. 

How has God blessed you this past year? How many times have you gone to God in prayer and asked for something? What have you generously given back? It is always easier for us to go to God, ‘hat in hand’, but then – once the blessing is received – to forget the ‘ask’ and move on without ever remembering that we had been helped at all…

Although they lived now some 800 years ago, St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi serve as excellent guides for us who are in the modern Lenten journey. They abandoned their comfortable lifestyles and embraced lives of poverty, humility, and penance to better follow the call to Christian discipleship. Both saints underwent powerful conversion experiences in their lives and by doing so were started a movement that reformed the medieval Church and it continues to influence millions – like us who follow – down to this day. The power of their message was found in the simplicity – and complexity – of tits execution: let go of self and you find God waiting!

In a message given on the Feast of St. Francis last year, Pope Francis said those who are truly poor are the ones who believe themselves to be rich. “This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars,” he said. “The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,” “They close their doors, refusing even to see the poor”.  It is true, some people are so poor, all they have is money.

Yesterday, during my visit to Orlando, I spent time in the beautiful Adoration Chapel at Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. I then stopped on my way out to light candles; one for my dad, one for my family, one for my parish. I said my prayers, dropped my donation into the almsgiving box, and left. I realized as I exited and blessed myself with holy water from the large font located near the doors that not once did I pray for myself. I guess I really am a good Franciscan after all.

Lent calls us to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. It also calls us to become better people.

Let us not waste this season of Lent…