Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 05, 2019

The image I used today was a note sent from a dad to his son, who, if I remember correctly worked very hard to elect Secretary Clinton and obviously, he was feeling very down after the election of 2016.

Now, I really don’t care if you are a President Trump supporter or not, we must all agree that the vitriol and hatred and the animosity in this nation has risen during the last few years and that we can do better. We must do better.

I would hope and pray that if the tables had been turned, and the election results were different, that I would not be gloating or rubbing it in other people’s faces, but rather still remain the same person committed to the love, inclusion, and the safety of others. ALL others even the ones I may not always agree with.

While it is no secret and I am not a supporter of this Administration or its policies, especially around environmental protections, immigration, seekers of asylum, women’s issues and minority rights, I pray that during tonight’s State of the Union speech the President of all the United States – and of all of her citizens – will rise to the occasion and try to heal some of what has been so sorely broken. I pray it is not irreparable. 

However, no matter what occurs, perhaps we will all finally recognize it does not matter, because what does matter is who we are as a people, not who resides in any White House or Congress. It is rather what lies within each of us; the words that come out of our mouths, the way in which we choose to use Social Media platforms, and the actions – or inactions – we knowingly make or neglect.

So, maybe today we can all begin to do what this short and heartfelt note suggests? Do not gloat, be not so proud that you become conceited, recognize that we are all wrong from time to time, and that we are also all human and deserving of dignity, love, welcome, and respect; protect the marginalized and the vulnerable, welcome the hated and the downtrodden, be extra moral, inspire others, be a good person. As someone once said, build a longer table, not a taller wall, around our nation, around our homes, and most importantly, around out hearts.

St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”  The world will get better, or the world will become worse, not by any single Administration, President, or even nation, but rather by the people of the earth and their willingness to be a good people.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 14, 2019

This coming Thursday I will have the honor and duty as a priest to be present for a couple I married almost ten years ago, but this time it will be to help a young widow bury her husband unexpectedly. I remember with great joy the day of their wedding; this week, I will celebrate his life and those moments over the last ten years that will now be all she, and their young son, will have to hold on to. I will be honored, but I will be mournfully sad, too.

I have sat at many a death bed and seen a living, breathing, hoping, loving person become a lifeless body. The person has gone. And I have often said a simple prayer from the Canon. After all, these are the things most dying people are longing for. One of my favorite parts of the Eucharistic Canon includes these words, when I say the prayer for the Departed and ask God that they be granted a place of “refreshment, light and peace”. It is what I hope for George this week, but also for all of us as we depart from this to whatever is next.

Death is not scary to me, but dying is. So, by refreshment, what we usually mean as a new start or at least a new look is important to me. Refreshment can mean a cool drink on a hot summer’s day, or a quick shower after a hard sweaty job, but my wish – my prayer – for the departed is always for my own longing of the refreshing sight of a new life. One where I – and they – will finally behold the very face of God. 
 
The manger, the ‘Christmas crib’, we have just left behind once again as a church, and a gift of St. Francis to the world’s devotion, is a great symbol of a great mystery! For the crib, and the cross, were the two loves of Jesus’ life founded as the mystery of the Incarnation of the eternal God, and the mystery of His giving up that life for the likes of sinful us.
 

We, as Christians, are often so busy proving that Jesus is God that we sometimes deemphasize the fact that he is also truly human, with all the feelings and experiences, joys and sorrows of our human life. When we say that He had no sin, we somehow feel that He was exempt from emotion, temptation, limitation, problems. The baby in the crib found that day so long ago in Bethlehem’s stable is a statement of the goodness of human life and that we – just like the God we love – are fully human and will weep in times of transition, but that a place of “refreshment, light and peace” is on its way.

So for me, this place of refreshment, light and peace sums up perfectly my belief in God. And that’s just the beginning, until the trumpet sounds and the rest period is over, and the great Resurrection raises us all to a new life of love beyond all telling.

I pray this week that you will remember how fleeting life is and that you will build up for yourselves the things that last and matter. For I know if I were to ask this grieving family what was truly important to them now, it would be the stuff of family, love, and church and nothing of material wealth or possessions.  

In the end, we have no adequate words to describe what is to come, well except perhaps the word, ‘Heaven’…

How will your life end? What will people remember about you? If you were stand at the edge of your own grave and reflect back at your life, did you do anything, support anything, sacrifice anything that truly helped God build the Kingdom you are so hopeful to enter?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 7, 2019

St. Francis once said, “Look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

There is a yearning in our land for a renewal. Young people are lost into electronic ‘smart devices’ and meeting relationships. Parents are entwined in an overloaded work schedule and many find themselves enmeshed in a deteriorating marriage. Church and worship and the altruistic love and caring of our neighbor are things of the past, with very little value. Our borders are walled in, and our hearts are placed behind barbed fencing. And yet, the richer we become, and the more isolated we find ourselves, and the deeper the focus is on ‘me’ and not ‘we’, the poorer we find our souls. Whatever it is we thought  would work,  simply isn’t.

I believe what we really desire is God. Not the God of our coloring book images, but the God who cared so much that he humbled Himself to come as one like us, to save us. That God! As a brother Franciscan so eloquently put it, what we really desire is a date with God!

What would your life look like if you dated God? What would your most important desire then be? How would your daily focus change and who would you desire to tell of your new relationship with One who could love you like no other ever would/could? Would you allow yourself the needed time, dedication, focus, and excitement to learn all about your new-found love?

To truly follow Our Lord and to engage His Gospel, you must first be in love with Him. You must abandon yourself in order to find yourself again. Our love affair with God began as infants at our Baptism, but somewhere along the courtship we lost interest because we never really loved Him all that much. We rather fell in love with the things of the earth that hurt and are fleeting. But now comes a humble priest and friar and I am asking you to give God a try again. Let Him love you as He truly wishes and allow yourself to not be so afraid to be loved.

The heart of the Gospel of Jesus is relationship. It is also the centerpiece of my life as a Franciscan. We just left the season of His incarnation among us. Will you now let yourselves be in relationship with the One who came for you and see how your life might change…how you might actually be found?

How will you find yourself with God this week? Are you willing to try something new and date the One who loves you beyond measure? Will you let go of devices and people who harm, and find a life renewared by the grace-filled One of all?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 17, 2018

 

We are once again coming to the conclusion of the beautiful Season of Advent – the time of waiting for Christ to come. What does this waiting mean to a world that waist for very little? What are we waiting for to a people who look to instant gratification? 

With all of the terrible things we see on the news every day; the gun violence, politics gone awry, immigration crisis, drug epidemics, etc. it is extremely easy for us to think the world is on a downward slope. It is so easy to turn on the television, or scroll on our social media platforms, and see so much negativity, that we feel there is simply nothing we can do. Whether it is Christmas or not, the world and all of humanity, seem doomed. So perhaps now is the best time to stand up and continue spreading Jesus’ message of love. Maybe this is how Christmas will come again? Maybe our voices, joined together, will create a needed chorus of love that will bring about St. Francis’ light to extinguish the darkness of our times?

Yes, Advent is more than our waiting, Advent is God waiting for usto empty ourselves of all that hinders God’s dwelling in us. God needs a place to call home in this world. God needs a heart open to love without demands or expectations. God needs the good, the honest, and the holy in a world that so often knows Him not. God needs us.

The medieval Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, captured the meaning of Advent when he wrote, “What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the Divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son, if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.”

May you and I be God’s dwelling place so that Christ may be born anew.
 


Franciscan Moments @Saint Miriam: December 3, 2018

 

For me, especially during the early winter, the earth seems to be dying. As I walk around our campus, the once beautifully green and lush foliage now finds trees that have lost their bounty; the grass has withered and brought the mowers to a standstill. The beauty of colored flowers have given way to the emergence of the only things that stand to retain their hue: the evergreen. The wind has increased from its more northerly direction and frost appears daily upon the cars in our parking lot. Even the sunlight is less, the darkness more and the nights seem longer, deeper, darker, and sometimes more foreboding. In just a few weeks, we will come to the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year, with the year’s least amount of daylight. Symbols not to be lost or overlooked. These changes remind me of the impermanence of this world and that I need to always focus on something greater that will always be present, always sustaining, always giving, always feeding. It is during this time of year; this very specific time of year that God has deemed to grant us the wonderful opportunity called Advent.

A few years ago, I don’t remember where, I found a short video posted online. It was called something like, “The Advent Conspiracy.” It was a grassroots movement that was started by a few Christian churches to bring some sanity back to the season we now find ourselves within. It hoped to bring more worship and less consumerism to Christmas, to “give presence.” Its four principles were rather simple, ‘Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.’  I wonder what would happen if we all made a concerted effort to just that this season; if only for a month?

This gloriously simple season is a time to be challenged as a world, as a people, as Christians, and as practicing Catholics, but more importantly, inside ourselveswhere God most certainly dwells and where the tensions of the world seem to be at their strongest. We are called to pause and reflect on what needs to be changed in the world and deep within ourselves. What is broken, damaged, in need of repair, and Whodo we want to help effectuate those repairs? Are we willing to allow the change to even happen?

St. Francis once said, “Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.”  He knew that conversion was never found in a singular moment, but rather is a continuous, lifelong journey. So then, Advent is our season and our chance to change and to become better people, but to do we must focus on others and on God, and just for the briefest of time in the grand scheme of things, let go of our own selfish needs.

Will you help me save Advent this year?  Will you allow Advent to change you for the better?  What will January look and feel like with a you that is less focused on self, and more on others?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @Saint Miriam: November 26, 2018

 

Well, it looks like after a very contentious election, we find ourselves back at the border. Our eyes, as a nation, are fixated on the women, men, and children fleeing poverty and cartels and the lack of food and work and the kind of ‘hell’ we could never concoct in our wildest American imaginations. But, sadly, we have made it another ‘political football’, akin to gun control and regulation, rather than the severe humanitarian crisis that it is; and one, as must be noted, that we as a nation helped create.

It never ceases to amaze me what grabs our attention as a people who claim to be founded on the ideals of a Judeo-Christian foundation. For instance, Fire-frazzled Northern California, dealing with the raging Camp Fire blaze that has left a staggering toll. The fire has cost us at least 85 people’s lives, with over 249 listed as missing, and has consumed nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes. But, nary an outcry from the people, and little more than rhetoric from the politicians. It just isn’t juicy enough.

Today, I was blasted on Facebook when someone inquired of my post that showed my personal utter dismay and shock that we would tear-gas women and children at our border, where are all the priests, clergy, and pastors at the border? Really? I thought. Where are all of you, the people who claims to be God-fearing? Where are you bibles today?

If you want to disrupt a beautifully harmonious dinner party, all you have to do is bring up the radioactive issue of immigration. There might not be a more heated political topic in contemporary American life, save gun control. Even we as Pastors show a deep wariness to discuss the issue may stem from the politically charged nature of the national dialogue on immigration, or from the fear that by addressing the issue they will inevitably offend some in their congregation, putting attendance, tithes, and offerings at risk.

The issue of immigration is actually a very common theme in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word, gare— which most English translations render “foreigner,” “sojourner,” or “alien,” but is best translated as simply “immigrant” — appears in one form or another some 92 times in the Old Testament. Most often, we find the immigrant referenced in a positivesense. In fact, God sets the standard for the Israelites that the immigrants who come to dwell among them should be treated “as the native among you”. We are far from that in our own debate. We are on the verge of hate.

Now, to be clear, I am not – in any way – proposing that we directly apply these rules for Israel to our nation or demanding or advocating for open borders with no regulation, but God’s love for immigrants – and others who are vulnerable– is unchangingand should guide our contemporary response if we truly believe.

As I stated in my Facebook reply, there are no easy answers, but I know that hatred and rejection of another human being fleeing to us for safety and a better life will never be among them. And, this is not just a priest or clergy issue to handle. It is a humanitarian issue to be solved through love and action together, absent hate.

Perhaps we should get our favorite version of the bible and this time use it for good, rather than as a weapon of mass destruction, and realize that the borders we should really be praying about are the ones around our own hearts.
 
How will you pray away hate and isolation?  Do you see the Devil uses isolation as a chief means to the destruction of all of us and of God’s created?  Do you truly believe in the inherent dignity of the human person, even when that dignity is extended to the migrant and the foreigner?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 12, 2018

 
The Psalmist moves my heart. In Psalm 62 we read, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; From Him comes my salvation. He only is my Rock and my Salvation, my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be greatly moved.” 
 
I have found that the rhythms of life and death move through our being. Life blesses us when we are grateful and as we wait to experience the stillness where we can lash on tightly to God’s love in. However, in our busy world, we are so lost to silence. The alarm wakes us, the smart devices unstill us from slumber, the constant beeps of the modern world’s gadgets irk us deeply, often without knowing their full potential to unsettle us at our very core. We are modern creatures, but we were never meant to be so; we were meant to be God’s highest creation, His life achievement, in us, God was to move and have His being in a world so lost without Him. But, alas, the alarms and sounds of our modern contrivances distress us to the point we barely have time for a meal, let alone a place of waiting, of stillness, of fulfillment. 
 
Today, I waited for God to speak to me somehow so that I might find a place to write. I sought silence, but it would not come easily today. Telephone calls, voice messages, the gym, text messages, emails, dropping off Katelyn to work, traffic, the radio, news broadcasts, social media, and the needs of visitors plagued my existence from my waking. Even in my life as a priest, I can lose touch with God so easily. I thought perhaps God would not come today, but then a box arrived with our latest order of Saint Miriam Holding Crosses.
 
I had lost the ability to use mine daily in prayer when I gave it away to someone in dire need. I willingly let go of something that I cared about for another; but, isn’t that what we all should so more easily? I forgot how it felt sheltered in my hand. I forgot how God could come so easily if only I waited in stillness. 
 
I have found that the use of a holding cross is a personal process. Through your sense of touch and reflection, you express your love of Christ and your need for him. By holding onto something inanimate, you find the ultimate Animate in sense, touch and prayer. Sometimes I find myself reciting a familiar prayer by rote memory, such as the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, but sometimes no words are needed at all. Simply holding the cross silently in my hand during quiet meditation is the prayer – the being – I so longed to feel again. 
 
I pray that you might find God’s peace in the stillness you make your own by intentional prayer. Perhaps a Holding Cross is the symbol you need, but however, or whatever you must do, find the peace of Christ again. You – and the world – are both severely in need of the good, the honest, and the holy and all of this comes by first being still. 
 
St. Francis once said, “Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world.”  
 
How will you humble yourself and see we are nothing apart from God? How will you make way for the Lord? How will you be still to find God in your life? How might making intentional stillness today, be a way to a greater and more satisfying life? 
 
May God’s peace be yours this day.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 5, 2018

 

One of Francis’s other biographers, Friar Thomas of Celano, tells us that Francis “did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.” This is why I am voting tomorrow: I am in hope of newness and I pray we can begin again to be a better nation.

To cast a vote may not seem like a religious pursuit, but when you consider that actual lives are at stake, and the policies that will determine who lives and who dies, or the edicts that could come from various government agencies, actors, or courts that will impact real lives, and the decisions that will be made with ‘heart before cost’ or ‘cost ahead of life’, or the structures, laws, mandates, and executive orders that will impact who can breathe free and who might die in a dessert – or at the base of a wall – in their attempt for a better life, it is above all else a duty and a prayers that someone else might have a better life.

To vote, to cast your voice, is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Those of us who reap the benefits of living in a democracy should play a part in upholding democracy. Not voting is a form of voting, as it will influence the outcome. We need to take responsibility for our actions, as well as our lack of actions. As Catholics, we hold to the words of the Confiteor at the start of every Mass wherein we recognize our own brokenness:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,

in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints,

and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

And there it is, the power of action or inaction wherein both can be sin, “in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”

I think that St. Francis knew of the excitement that comes with beginning a new project, and also of the need to reform structures which no longer meet our needs. So, tomorrow, on November 6th, ironically within the walls of a local Episcopal Church, I will take his lead and I will vote my conscious after deep prayer and reflection. However, I will not be alone in that voting booth, for I will take with me all those rejected based on nothing but discrimination and hatred; those who were never allowed to vote, those killed or maimed as they tried, those bloodied and beaten for even thinking themselves whole enough – or worthy enough – to pull a lever of such power. They will hold my hand as I pull and pray and cry over each decision.

Tomorrow, I will pray for a better nation, a more compassionate people, and grace to fill our lives once again.
 
How will you voice be heard?  How will your will coincide with the voice of God?  Will you bring compassion to the world, or simply use your power to uproot the love and grace of God to the last among us?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 29, 2018

 

“I’m Scared, too.” This was my reply to two parishioners who emailed me to tell me that they would not be coming to church this past Sunday because they feared for their family. They were afraid that if it could happen to the warm, wonderful group of faithful Jews in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, gathering to worship the very same God we do, why couldn’t happen here to us? My reply was simple, “Stay Home, I’m Scared, too. See you next Sunday.”

Misogyny, racism, prejudice, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, anti-Semitism, nationalism, nativism, White Supremacy, Anti-immigrant, and so many other ways to hate and divide. That what this week has shown us. Our answer? Buy bigger guns, of course. (No, friends, that is not the answer!)

This week has uncovered something very vile about the America we live in. That so many people would support such despicable ideals is not news to those hurt every day by racism, sexism, xenophobia, et al; we know it’s alive and well in our country. Some of us have been dealing with it our whole lives. But to see this hatred on such flagrant, unapologetic display is something else entirely.

If this hatred continues – if the ‘in-crowd’ gets to define who is ‘out’ again, what will happen to women’s rights, not just at a policy level, but in schools and in homes? How much more afraid will immigrants and people of color have to become that they’ll be ripped from their homes, or killed on the street, by the very people tasked to protect them? Part of the problem is that we already know the answers to these questions because the truth is, we’ve been living them.

The past 72 hours in America brought us three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects. From Kentucky to Utah to Pittsburgh, to a neighborhood near you. Hate is abounding. Darkness is alive and well. And a whole lot of do-no-good rhetoric that just serves to inflame the already unstable is the primary course of action points.

St. Francis once said, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light…”  If this is ever to be true, we better get to work, because there is a lot of work to do…

I thought that chilly, cold night in Wyoming now some 20 years ago when Matthew Shepherd was slain and hung with barbed wire on a fence to die simply because he lived his life as a gay man and sought a nice break at a local pub one evening, was the worst, we as Americans, could do to one another. I was wrong.
 
So, as we approach All Hollow’s Eve, it is no longer the ghouls and goblins I am afraid of, it is us.
 
How will you bring light into a world so bent on hate and division? Will you choose love, finally? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 22, 2018

 

This past Sunday, we had the honor of baptizing four new Christians into God’s holy Church. I am always overwhelmed at the prospect of doing everything just right because of the importance of the day! We are blessed to be in a parish large enough that we baptize over 60 children and adults annually, and every one of them is accorded the ritual and respect they deserve. After all, we are about to wipe away original sin and make them a part of ‘Christ’s own forever’!

Our Baptism Sunday Mass is something extraordinary to behold! Our liturgy was designed from the ground up and includes singing, a special beginning Introductory Rite, a grand procession, and a ‘baby procession’ after the baptisms! We sing, pray, throw water, anoint with oil, and celebrate with our entire being because this is a miracle day in the life of every parish community, and in the life of God’s church, too!

As I reminded everyone yesterday, the solemn procession from the Bell Tower entry doors into the Sanctuary is a reminder of the baptismal vocation of every Christian, to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ, through His Church, until He returns. Interiorly, this also symbolizes the universal call to holiness for each of us and toward each of us to others. We who are baptized are called into communion with God and with all of God’s created. God comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are invited to become “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is, in biblical language, the center of the person. Then we are called to carry Him into the world of our daily lives.

That is why the recent denial of human rights to journalists, reporters, and immigrants, gay and lesbians, as well as the abuse of police officers and those of different race or ethnicity, and the administrations current love affair with hate by considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, is simply wrong and is deeply abhorrent to me. It also should be to each of us, as Catholics, because IF we believe in the Inherent Dignity of the human person than that dignity is found in all of God’s created, even those we may not agree with, dislike, or perhaps in our greatest weakness, even despise.

A good friend and fellow priest, Father Daniel, wrote to me this week on Facebook asking me to ‘help us to walk in compassionate love with one another, Lord!’ This is my attempt to bring our attention to the fact that inherent dignity and personhood are inescapable from the covenant founded at adoption of Baptism and continues in the manner in which we view and treat others.

As the years have unfolded in my life, and my age has brought the richness of deeper reflection and temperance to my mood and stride, the true beauty and profound symbolism of our Catholic customs continue to capture and invigorate me. There is such richness and beauty in the experience of our liturgy, but none has meaning absent respect for all life. As we march with the Body of Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic Host, enthroned in a “monstrance” or gently encased in our own hands at Communion next Sunday, let us remind ourselves that worship not only occurs in the Church sanctuary, but is intended to spread out into the “city streets” of the entire world in all whom we meet in our journey. In this act of public procession we are reminded that God still loves the world so much that He still sends His Son even to those we abhor.

St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” 

Do you hold all of God’s children in your heart or do you live a life of superiority and exile which is contrary to the Christ we follow?