Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 23, 2020

I lived my formative life in seminary in Washington, DC. It was the loving and open friars at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land who first introduced me to Franciscan life. It was also there that 59-year-old John-Sebastian Laird-Hammond, the first known person with the COVID-19 virus in the District of Columbia, and a Franciscan friar, died after battling the disease for just under a week. None of us are immune.  All of us must make changes to afford life to everyone.

Saints Francis and Clare, the founders of the Franciscan tradition, acknowledged God as creator and all humankind as made in the divine image. This is sometimes troubling when we are faced with uncertainty. And, yet, we remain a people of hope. St. Paul reminds us that we only see ‘as through a glass dimly’ but one day, we shall see Him, our Creator, face-to-face. Until then, as Friar John-Sebastian now knows, we live our walk in faith alone.

Nourished by our lives of prayer and reflection we must focus on the example of Jesus. In this spirit, we are invited to be persons of diverse faith backgrounds but embracing and living a set of Franciscan values that include caring community, inclusive love of all people, a reverence for creation, and a desire for peace.

We must remember that our true Franciscan spirituality is always communal, emphasizing the “we” over the “I.” This is why we adhere to those demands placed on us by our government and healthcare leaders, because we do for us what we want for others communally. A Franciscan communalism has a calming insight whereby we can choose our friends, but we cannot choose our brothers and sisters. In the larger society, Franciscan communalism is always for others. We exist for them. We live because they live, too.

So, then, perhaps we change now for a better us tomorrow. So often, people complain that they don’t have enough time for family, lunch with friends, or the novelty of just chatting with another. This respite – forced as it may be – is an opportunity to catch up with how our children, our spouses, and family members are dealing with confinement, but more importantly to share our lives and our journey again. Then, after a bit of rest, prayer or meditation, we will return to work or chores, but until then, let us light a candle and meditate, ask for forgiveness, look inside the self and cleanse the soul. And if nothing else, let us all just ask God for mercy.

After all, it is still Lent, and we’re finally in a time of forced downtime that allows for ample reflection as we ask our God, who is never far away, for those things that only heaven can provide us.

Rest well, my brother. Rest well from a journey replete in hope and a life of service. May we all be so remembered.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 16, 2020

I used to spend a lot of time worrying about how other people judged me. How I acted. What I said. Was I too angry? Too mean? What I wore, was it appropriate, did it fit right? Am I too fat? Did I say too much? Or, did I say too little? This person must think I’m too intense. And that person must think I’m not very fun at all. Does he like me? Does she really deep down despise me? Are they looking at me? If so, why?

And the thoughts were worse at certain times, especially when I was feeling depressed or anxious, or when I was presenting in a parish meeting, or sometimes when being out at a social event. It was so distracting and difficult to stay in the present moment, because I had a whole inner monologue going on in my head about how much I thought someone else though of me. I assumed every facial expression and every comment from others meant something. And there were always specific themes and beliefs. Universal truths about myself that other people surely thought. I’d hone them and shine them like a pretty little marble and then keep them in my pocket. It was exhausting. I work on myself every month in therapy. I try to harness all of the ‘little devils’ that speak to me, but I still do this today; almost every day to a certain extent.

Certain beliefs about ourselves are hard to break, I know that. We are all broken to some extent, but at least I am now able to recognize the pattern and reframe my inner dialogue. And, now I understand the truth about most people. The truth that has been shown in research over the years, but lately all the more during this health crisis: Nobody is thinking that much about me. Because we mostly think about ourselves.

We aren’t as nice as we thought we were, huh? I mean, look at the fights in parking lots, and the empty shelves at grocery stores now devoid of sanitary wipes, hand sanitizer and even toilet paper. Many large chains are out of food and fresh produce. It seems that the few purchased more than they need our of their own fear, and that left the many with nothing. But, isn’t that the way it is?

Look at the man who reportedly took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from ‘little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods, as one newspaper reported. Then, he was left with it all after Amazon and eBay prohibited the sale of such items to combat price gouging. He claims he was in the right to make a profit. But, really? Now?

St. Francis was clear when he said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”  There ain’t much giving going on right now. Fred Rogers also once gave us a moving futurist look at the good that could come during times like these when he said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

 I am looking. How about you? Or, perhaps you are actually one of the few.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 9, 2020

Lent is here and we are still seeking to be comfortable. As creatures of comfort we try to avoid pain whenever possible, both physically and emotionally. Even the most avid adrenaline junkie has soft spots. We cling to what’s secure, safe and feels good in our circumstances and relationships, naturally seeking to protect ourselves. A lot of times, that’s a good thing. We were designed to value life and preserve ourselves and there are covenants to uphold. On the other hand, if we hold ourselves too tightly, we keep ourselves from following God with our whole hearts.

I have discovered that God often asks us to get out of our comfort spots and set ourselves aside for His glory. God wants us to trust him, but we can only do that when we let go and obey and follow. I know it is difficult for me, and even for other priests, too. You would think we can obey and follow, just like those fishermen so long ago who dropped their nets so willingly. But, I wonder, did they? Did they just drop and run or did they first weep and struggle and debate?

One of my favorite stations during the Way of the Cross or, Stations of the Cross, is Station V, Simon Helps Jesus. More than likely, Simon had other things to do that day rather than get personally involved in Jesus’ scandalous crucifixion. I am sure his plans and agenda where interrupted when he was given an order to carry that bloody cross for Jesus. It was hard work, bloody, dirty, and humiliating, but he carried the cross for Christ and walked with him in his most difficult hours. In doing so, he became part of the greatest story to go down in history. 

How about you? Will you become part of the greatest story by letting go of what you think you need and allow God to show you the truth? Will you let go to follow Jesus, just like you promised so long ago?
 
Simon, let me become like you.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 2, 2020

So, how do you feel about our church, or any church for that matter?  I imagine you have some pretty solid opinions on the subject. If I asked you to tell me about it, you might mention the children’s ministry or the mass times. Perhaps you’d tell me it’s not as important as it used to be. Or maybe you’d excitedly share about your small group, one of our meaningful outreaches, or your favorite priest even (maybe it’s me!?)! Truth is, if we posed that opening question to a roomful of Christians, the answers would probably be as varied as the number of people in the room. That is exactly what happened yesterday at our Annual Town Hall Meeting.

We gathered, in the midst of Lent, and our pastors allowed everyone to be heard. (That, in and of itself, is a minor miracle for a Catholic parish!) Most often, no one asks, inquirers, or even cares about your opinions. It is all about the priest. But, not at Saint Miriam and yet, sadly, for much of the time – even after hearing all the great things God has done, and is still doing, at Saint Miriam – it became quickly all about me.

Lent is tough, I know. The Devil (and the devils) do their best to destroy what God is doing. And, truth be told, the more you do to serve, the larger the attack. I have been preparing for it because it happens every Lent. We lose some people, and we gain some, and some are hurt and mostly it is because it becomes all about me.

Church is not all about a single person. It’s not about me, as the pastor, or the greeters, or the perfect music leaders. And truthfully, church isn’t even all about you! Church is bigger than one person because Christ called the church a body. A body of believers who gather together as family! A group of Christians who choose to be in one place so they can worship Jesus together, focusing on Him. That is what we try to do every day, every week, and every year God allows us to be here. But, in our brokenness, it is often not about the collective, but us as individuals.

We spent an inordinate amount of time this past Sunday debating pews vs. chairs and almost no time seeing the greatest financial gifts we have every received from some amazing and generous donors; One who gave us a property worth somewhere around $600,000, and another who is repaving roadways that would cost us over $100,000. Instead of being awed and grateful, it was about pews. Wooden, inanimate, utilitarian objects that we sit our butts on, not to be comfortable, but to worship God and see one another. It became all about us.

He used to praise God the Artist in every one of God’s works. Whatever joy he found in things made he referred to their maker. He rejoiced in all the works of God’s hands. Everything cried out to him, “He who made us is infinitely good!’ He called animals “brother” or “sister,” and he exhorted them to praise God. He would go through the streets, inviting everyone to sing with him. And one time when he came upon an almond tree, he said, ‘Brother Almond, speak to me of God.” And the almond tree blossomed. That was St. Francis. For us, it was better to argue over benches that we once never owned.

I guess it really is Lent.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 24, 2020

Over the years, I have come to know Jesus in a variety of forms. He comes to me, but sometimes – in my humanness and in my brokenness and in my busyness – I miss Him. I have seen Jesus in the nurse who cared for me after my brain surgery, in my mother who rubbed my back until my asthmatic spasm ceased to rob me of breath, in the priest who gave me wafers to ‘play priest’ as a child and by doing so instilled in me a life of service, in my dad who never taught me to hate, but to love even the most unlovable, in Sean who has never wavered in his devotion to the church, despite our personal wounds, in the volunteers who spend countless hours at the parish making her what she is for so many, in Katelyn who bears my child without complaint and loves me in my most unlovable forms, and in all the grooms I have had the honor of standing with when their brides turned the corner and stood at the end of a long walk, as they began to weep in pure joy, in those who challenge me to become better, and see God’s goodness in me – in all my brokenness – and yes, even in those who reject me because of my past mistakes, and in those who love me all the more, because of those same past mistakes, and yes, the man at the height of being homeless who asked me my name and by doing so taught me to ask for theirs first.

Lent for me is a time where I finally understand what it means when we say, ‘Jesus is the Word made flesh’. He is God made visible. Jesus is the Divine showing Himself in human terms. God adapted Himself to be one like us, save sin, in all of our brokenness, so that we might still have hope. Jesus was broken, scourged, lost, alone, in pain, smelly, and all without a home…so that when we are, we are not alone ever.

Lent is a way to change us so that we might become better people. The Risen One – The Christ – may no longer be visible, audible, or touchable in human form or in one body; now comes in bodily form of many bodies, many human beings, even the most unlovely of them among us and into that Sacrament we call Divine.  It is now God’s holy Church that must bear the light and say, “We see YOU! Among us here, YOU are part of us as we see Jesus, we see YOU!”

How will you see Jesus now? Will you use Lent as a time to change WHO Jesus IS to you? How will you find the Risen One among even the world’s most unlikely?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 17, 2020

“Quaresima” or Fortieth, translates in English to Lent. Lent is when we, as Catholics begin a pilgrimage of fasting and penance and observance of things inside and out. Lent is a period of small sacrifices. In Italy, where St. Francis was born, these Lenten sacrifices are called fioretto, which means little flower. One may decide to enter Lent by giving up their favorite food, limiting meat dishes, or candy or watching TV, but self-denial is ultimately a personal principle. As the world, and even churches, become increasingly lackadaisical about these small things of traditional Lent observances, it is up to each of us, by our own piety, to find our way back to meaningful Lent. Lent must change us, or Lent is not truly Lent. 
 
It is said that St. Francis loved Lent so much that that he observed two more: the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday and later the 40 days before the September 29 feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. St. Francis sometimes observed these ‘little lents’ at LaVerna, a mountainous retreat in Tuscany, or in an isolated spot. In a sense, St. Francis lived Lent year-round. During these times of prayer, St. Francis explored three questions at deeper and deeper levels: Who Is God for Me? Are we God’s Creations, or His Competitors? And, Who Am I Before God? 
 
St. Francis once told his friars, “What a person is before God, that he is and no more.” Honest and persevering prayer will eventually expose our blind spots, lead us to be more grateful to God, and more compassionate toward all God’s creatures, including ourselves. 
 
How will this Lent help us each live more integrated lives; not apart from God, but within Him? Can we dwell on the three questions of St. Francis and see where God will take us by Easter?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 11, 2020

It’s almost Lent. Get ready! No, not to give up something you care very little about, but rather to give in to something greater. A greater sense of your Christian faith. A greater way of being a Catholic. A greater sense of mission and a life of service. It will soon be Lent, and God will ask you, as God does every year, “What will you give me this year?”

Sadly, most of us will turn away from that prompting from God. We would rather not confront our own weaknesses and our own unwillingness to actually be a source of good in the world. We would rather not look at the ways we fail to serve; it is, well easier, right?

Lent is a time of purging and a time of rebirth. Brother Sean reminded me the other day that every Lent we lost people who simply cannot confront themselves or let go of the things of this world. But, as a parish, we remain undeterred. It is the job of every good priest to confront and to love in our transitions. But, if we are unwilling to transition, or to change, it is also our job to admonish and remind again. Lent in and Lent out; every year.

Last year, we were home to the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS Project. Those signs, written at the hand of a borrowed pen of those experiencing homelessness changes us and deepened our practical and spiritual commitment to serve more. Our Blessing Bag Outreach and Scarves with a Purpose, and soon the development of our campus are all the fruits of our willingness to look within deeply and to change and serve more. But we lost a few parishioners, too. One who said we were too liberal and another who said we welcomed ‘unsortly’ (sp) types, and another who wished not for her children to be exposed to the ‘dirty homeless people’. So be it. Sadly, so be it.

Three years ago, in Lent, I asked if you were planning to give something up. Despite my urging to instead add something wholesome to your life, and rid those things, that were harmful, many felt it easier to not eat meat on Fridays! I asked you to care less about chocolate or fast food and more about loving people and God. Attend Mass weekly, give to others, pray, worship in Adoration, volunteer at the parish, deepen your giving to this parish that gives so much to you, ensure your children are at CFF every Sunday and honor those who plan and sacrifice to give them a quality education, anything that will help you to become a better person, and us a better people. Few did, but I would like to end with one family who did just that and cared for me in the process.

The Cuffey-Mitchell Family decided that since I live in small quarters in that RV before our Friary-Rectory was built, had no stove, and sacrificed so much that they would make me a full meal every week of Lent. And so, for six full weeks, every week, delivered to the door of my RV was a full meal for me and my family. Every single week of Lent, when the Devil was at his worst and spiritual warfare was at its greatest height, when many were hating me and talking about me behind my back, this one family brought me a warm meal, with all the trimmings, and reminded me what true love is.

As in year’s past, this Lent’s focus will be nothing short of deeply meaningful and will cause some to fear change or refuse to abandon their prejudice at the door. But we will remain undeterred and focused. After all, Lent is a time of change, of introspection, of purging and of new beginnings. St. Francis once said, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Will it be for you? How do you love? Do you love enough? How will you show someone that does so much for you that you love them, truly love?  

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 4, 2020

I know.  The world seems to be falling apart, right? People hate so easily; others that are different and deep down themselves and their lot in life, terrorism abounds despite our best efforts, planes unexpectedly crash into empty fields, our own government kills on foreign soil with impunity, airplanes carrying beloved basketball players and family friends slam into mountains in dense fog, princes of royalty become commoners and leave a life of luxury, we have earthquakes, global warming, and no longer sleeping volcanos erupting, not to mention Coronavirus and modern politics where Caucasus no longer caucus and only breeds ancient hatred, animosity, and division, and people go to church less because…well, why go? Look at the last list!

In the thirteenth century, St. Francis rebelled against a Catholic Church that had become fixated on its own pomp and hierarchy; he renounced worldly goods, and lived in a simple cave, where he found God in nature. He wrote and believed in a God revealed to him in figures such as ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and Sister Water.’ St. Francis was entirely intuitive in a world that knew how not to be so. Later, Franciscan theologians gave mass to St. Francis’ holistic universe by tying it to scripture. This is lovingly found in a passage of the Letters to the Colossians, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” This, you see, is evidence that God is present in the natural world in ways we cannot – must not – understand in our human form. Otherwise, well, we would have no need of God, because we would be gods.

Father Richard Rohr, the seventy-six-year-old Franciscan Friar gave this presence of ‘God in all things’ a specific name: The Cosmic Christ! For Father Rohr, the Spirit that is embedded in—and makes up—everything in the universe, and Jesus is the embodied version of that Spirit that we can fall in love with and relate to. (Wow, I know, right?!)

In his book, Father Rohr describes the Cosmic Christ as a kind of mirror, in which we can see the form of all of creation. He writes, “The Christ mirror fully knows and loves us from all eternity and reflects that image back to us.”  

I wonder, how might the world look to us if we reflected the Christ back toward us and to those we meet in our journey? What if we did what we do every week at Saint Miriam and welcome everyone; the poor, the needy, the ill, the dying, the unwanted, the marginalized, and the disposed? What would happen of we welcomed the sojourner and the lost and the wicked, too? Or embraced the leper of today and even those you think not too highly of?

Maybe it isn’t the Church that is failing us after all, maybe it is us?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 13, 2020

Yesterday was a busy day, so I woke up late today. I don’t often get much past 7am, but today it was pushing 9am! We had meetings, and Masses, and prepared for two more new students to our school, a Dinner, Church meal this Wednesday and PreCana couples on Thursday. Plus, the school team cleaned and decorated and prepared! It was a late night for many of us. After waking, I knew I would not make it to CrossFit classes today, so I decided to go for a run at Ft Washington State Park.

I love to run at the park. I am not a runner, and most of the times I actually kind of abhor it! But, for some reason, I like to trail run in the park. I normally try for somewhere between 4 and 6 miles; today I split the difference at just a little over 4.2 miles. Then it happened!

Just as I rounded my third major trail head, and turned sharply to the next trail emerging, I saw it! A huge, long-armed white barked Birch tree! She was majestic! Her twisted branches shot high into the air above me, and I couldn’t understand how I had never seen her before? It dawned on me then that normally in the summer or fall months she is surrounded by a fence of green trees! Ahh! That is why! She is normally covered by the foliage of other fellow trees, but not now in the simplicity and serenity of a dormant winter.

I looked and beheld for a just a quick moment, admiring her beauty and elegance, and pushed my right foot deeply into the earth to continue my run when suddenly and sharply a voice came to my consciousness, “James, Stop! Stop and behold!” So, I did. I looked up beyond her branches into the sky and then I saw it, Saint Miriam! I have never seen our parish from this angle before in all my runs at the park, beyond the majesty of the wooded forest upon the hill heightened above the Pike on the far side of the road! But there she was! I wept.

I wonder how many of us neglect to use times of shallow leaves and color-lacking to see anew? How many of us miss the things we love because they are covered by obstacles and things of fleeting life? How many of us will use this time of less leaves, and less color, and less to do and find the things within that we need to change or love more?

St Francis once asked, “Lord, give me eyes to see!”  I pray the same for you and for me.
 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 7, 2020

The single word “Friend” is one of the most frequently found words in virtual communication. When Jesus speaks of his “friends,” he speaks of true friendship that involves an encounter that draws me so near to you that I give something of my very self.

In today’s instant communication, social media driven age, we know very little about true friendship. Most of our ‘friends’ are mere acquaintances and nothing more. I wonder, how many of them could you call in the middle of the night when something was truly wrong?

Pope Francis recently said that Jesus established “a new relationship” between God and man, freeing friendship from “sentimentalism,” bringing friendship to a relationship that involves a “responsibility that embraces our entire life.”

I recently saw a debate on Facebook between ‘friends’ where one decided that Christianity has become weak and ineffective. That we no longer take the world of God seriously and we should go out and enforce Muslims becoming Christians again. They took fodder that the Holy Father admonished a group of children to not try to convert, but rather be a living reason why someone would ask you your faith! As St. Francis once said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

I guess from the comments I can see that very few recognize that the center of the Christian faith is the doctrine of grace; which sadly, is never as graceful when it goes to those that we disdain, or don’t like very much, or perhaps don’t agree with, or are of another faith. But, as a priest with a vibrant and loving Franciscan Catholic parish that welcomes everyone to God’s table, I wonder where they would find a place to even think of becoming one in communion if it were not for those that you are ridiculing in your sharp words today? Which version of the Bible would you prefer we use to shut the door? Which admonishment would you say superseded the very words of our Christ when clearly stated ‘Love the Lord your God with all your soul and all your strength and all your might and love your neighbor as yourself; on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’…but not here, not in our world today.

How will you be a light to the gentiles of today? Will you come with sword or heart open? How will you be grace-filled?