Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 23, 2019

You often hear people say, “Christmas is for children”, but Jesus himself taught that unless we become like little children, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. So, in reality, Christmas joy is for everyone.

Even St. Francis’ Christmas at Greccio, with the simplistic beauty of the Crèche, was not only an echo of Bethlehem, but the ultimate expression of individual devotion. I suppose, in the fullest sense, it was the prediction of the future, and within a short few years the Friars had carried it to every country of Europe and to us here this Christmas, too!

St. Bonaventure said that Francis desired this particular celebration “to move the people to greater devotion,” and moved they were to new enthusiasm and new joy. From that moment the followers of the Christ Child are intensified to bring the joy of the Child to others in our world, the Son of God becomes the loveliest of earth’s children, the dear Little Lord Jesus who is everybody’s Brother!

We see the Child Jesus throwing His arms around His Mother’s neck while artists dwell caressingly on the perfect Baby’s body that lies kicking in the straw. We find the ultimate gift of Love in Him as He opens His eyes in delight at the sight of His earthy father, St. Joseph. We find true joy as the angels become lovely dimpled babies, too, singing as they offer Him “reverence and obedience.” We find a new spring of poetic imagination had been released, and at its source stood our Seraphic Father, Francis. In almost all of the finest of artwork found in the age, the King of Heaven in Bethlehem is almost never more than that of a baby a mere hours old; truly we must be as one with the smallest among us – the child – to experience Christmas joy at its fullest!

May the true spirit of Christmas find you and your family and allow your hearts to reach out to a world in need of unconditional love and hope.

Come, Lord Christ, Come Child of Bethlehem, Come into our lives and hearts.

How will you allow the true spirit of the Season of Christmas shine in your family? Will you honor Christ at Mass; the ultimate sacrifice given for you, as the cradle preludes the cross?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 16, 2019

The last few days, I find myself simply falling apart. I can’t hold back the tears another moment. I can’t put a smile on my face and pretend I am doing just fine. I can’t hold in the grief that is filling every inch of my being. Perhaps you understand. Perhaps you too feel as if this year has been a nightmare, destroying your peace and security. Perhaps you feel as if your very life is crumbling, collapsing. Perhaps you can no longer hold in the tears, no longer pretend everything is just fine. And, perhaps like me, you aren’t ready to face the holidays. 

I have not purchased a single gift as of yet, nor even sent a Christmas card. Life has been simply too hard, too busy, and too complex emotionally this year. So, I decided that I will muster enough strength this week to send out just the bare minimum, but then the rest will have to wait. And, that’s ok. Instead, I will just take a few extra moments to pray and sit and grieve and allow God to hold me; to change me.

While studying in seminary, I had the honor of praying in the Howard Thurman Chapel at Howard University School of Divinity. Howard Thurman, an African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, as well as someone whose legacy has impacted my worldview, once penned these moving words,

“There must be always remaining in every man’s life some place for the singing of angels — some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness — something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory — old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”

This is my wish at this time of year for those of us who find it a trying time. As Howard Thurman said, ‘old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting’, and that is so often how God comes to us.

Join me as we gather for our annual ‘Blue Christmas Service’ this Friday at 6:30pm. God’s care and embrace are made manifest by often simple, selfless gifts and by His coming to us at the most opportune and perhaps unexpected moments. It is in these special moments that we are often made whole. Any earlier, these gifts would have been lost in the darkness of our grief; any later it could not have been undervalued or under appreciated. Because what will happen at Saint Miriam this Friday, will help heal us a bit more as we become a bit more whole again. No, I know that we will never be the same, but whatever is left, God will use for good. That I know and that I trust.

Why? Because God’s timing is always impeccable.

Will you allow God to hold your grief and lighten your burden? Will you join us and make time to sit for an hour and see how god will speak to you this Friday?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 9, 2019

 

I know that I have life

only insofar as I have love.

 

I have no love

except it come from Thee.

 

Help me, lease, to carry

this candle against the wind.

 

 –Steve Shoemaker

 

 

My former seminary professor sent this poem to me. He said that he was thinking of me “a lot” this week for some reason and wanted to reach out. It could not have been timelier. It’s been a tough few days.

My emotions run rampant, lots of board business and directional planning for the new year, the business of the season, the anniversary of my dad’s death at Christmas, and now so many pastoral care issues and concerns, including losing one of our oldest, and dearest parishioners. Someone who has become a friend, as well as a member. Yes, I need help in this wind for my candle is willowing down.

Another dear friend spoke this week of the ‘hurry-hurry’ of our lives. Then, one is confronted by our innate, and inherited mortality and all seems so different, so lost, so not as important?

In another poem, The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot writes, “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.”

Although the star of hope shone brightly over that manger in Bethlehem that cold December night so long ago, perhaps it also cast a long shadow, one that we humans live amidst our own limitations, imperfections, and yes, our mortality. But in spite of human foibles and failures, we should cling to the hope that human goodwill, love within struggle, together bound together with God’s merciful love, will bring us safely to our final destiny –- new life with God our Father in heaven.

I pray it so for my dad, and for my dear friend, Ed. I pray it so for so many others. I pray it so for you and me when our time comes, too.

Are we lost in Advent, or is Advent simply lost on us?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 2, 2019

Like St. Francis, I have always loved Advent, but this year Advent has an even deeper meaning for me, as we are pregnant! Katelyn and I will soon welcome a new baby boy named Jameson. He will arrive, God willing, right after Easter! This past week, we had an appointment at Abington Memorial Hospital, and we got to see how we was growing! We saw every bone, both kidneys, lungs, brain, and the four chambers in his heart beating at a miraculous 159 beats per minute! We also counted every toe and finger! At just over 9.5oz he is already fully human! God is amazing! It got me thinking about how Mary must have felt as she waited expectantly for Jesus!

I have always been devoted to our Blessed Mother and have a particular fondness for Our Lady of Guadalupe and the ‘Expectant Mary’ (see image) that now adorns the Bell Tower as you enter our parish for Advent. Mary is the Theotokos. The Theotokos is a Greek title consisting of two words: Theos meaning “God” and tokos meaning “bearer” or “birther.” As Catholics, we rightfully defend the teaching that Mary birthed the whole Person of Christ. Since Christ is a divine person, she birthed God Himself! Hence, she is rightly called Theotokos or “God-bearer”; in Latin, Dei Genitrix!

Think of the miracle…from the moment of the Angel’s announcement He grew in silence – in secret – within her womb. After all, it was Mary’s grace that has attracted God’s attention. And what is this grace? It is what Luke shows us in her conversation and her actions – courage, boldness, grit, ringing convictions about justice. Not submissive meekness. You see, I have learned that Grace is never submission, and the power of God is never meek.

Advent, then, is the season of such a great secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is a season of humility, silence, and growth. In a world that seeks more titles, more recognition, more fame, and ever more power, this central attribute is often lost, even among our church leadership. But here it is, deeply engrained and needed: Christ came in humility to save the world, even those who would rather seek lofty titles and positions that are hallow and fleeting, rather than spend their time serving the poor and doing to the true work of the Gospel.

So, then the holy Season of Advent is a time of reflection; a time to ponder this mystery of our Christ growing in the womb of Mary. Advent is a time of great anticipation and active waiting, waiting to meet her Son. It is a season that we will never experience in the same way again and demands that we pause and recognize the error of our own ways and seek what is truly important.

I wonder, as we ponder, reflect, and pray, on the mystery of the Theotokos, if we also recognize that Christ is secretly growing in us and living in us? Do we even perceive that we are Christ-bearers, too? This is a mystery that we need to allow to unfold in us, just as Christ unfolded in Mary. Jesus grows in us now, and that heightens our need and demands us to become better people.

Mary is the prototype, the finished product of what it means to have prepared for God’s coming to us, and so acts as the ideal Advent figure, “the one who waits with, and for, the Lord’s coming”. Jesus gestating within the belly of woman, Christ gestating within the consciousness of all.

What about us? How will we honor the Christ coming in our own expectation, wonder, and waiting? Or, will we concentrate on worldly good and toys and outings instead and miss Him completely?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 25, 2019

According to a pious legend, one day St. Francis of Assisi had a vision in which he saw his friars trying to reach Christ by a ladder that was red and very steep. After climbing a few rungs, they would suddenly fall back. Our Lord then showed St. Francis another ladder, white and much less steep, at whose summit appeared the Blessed Virgin, and He said to Francis: “Advise your sons to go by the ladder of My Mother.”

Among those devotions rich in Franciscan tradition is a deep devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. St. Francis of Assisi was among the greatest Marian devotees in the history of the Church and, according to Thomas of Celano in his Second Vita, St. Francis had a love for her that was beyond words. “Inexpressible,” he writes of Francis’ love for the Blessed Virgin. St. Francis loved her so much that he chose her as the patroness and Queen of the Friars Minor and exhorted his friars to always possess a true and living devotion to the Mother of God.

Known as the Virgen Morena, or the ‘Dark Virgin’, Our Lady of Guadalupe, has fast become my intimate Blessed Mother! A good friend, and fellow priest, Father Stephen, enabled me to pray to her in the form of a Litany, and my intimacy, and devotion, has grown, as well as the life and ministry of our parish. She is known in my heart simply as, the Guadalupe!

The story is told that in 1531 a “Lady from Heaven” – Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe appeared to a humble Native American at Tepeyac, Juan Diego, on a hill northwest of what is now Mexico City. She identified herself as the ever-virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. She made a request for a church to be built on the site and submitted her wish to the local Bishop. When the Bishop hesitated, and requested her for a sign, the Mother of God obeyed without delay or question to the Church’s local Bishop and sent her native messenger to the top of the hill in mid-December to gather an assortment of roses for the Bishop. After complying to the Bishop’s request for a sign, She left for us an image of herself imprinted miraculously on the native’s tilma, a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay 487 years later and still defies all explanations of its origin.

You will see why I am such a devotee now in the words I will share. They exemplify what we are as parish and a people that welcome the poorest of the poor and serve them without precondition as we welcome the hopeless and the marginalized and the maligned. I have prayed a Litany to Our Mother ever since I was given such a beautiful gift from Father Stephen. I share it with you here in hope that this Advent will be a time we all reach out to find the Christ child in the womb of His devoted Mother, Our Lady, and our hope.

 

The Litany to the Guadalupe

 

Mother of the unborn, pray for us.

Model of hope and new life,

Model of evangelization,

Model of simplicity,

Model of justice for the poor,

 

Mother of orphans,

Mother of the rejected,

Mother of the unrecognized,

Mother of the powerless,

Mother of the oppressed,

Mother of migrants,

Mother of the marginalized,

Mother of the destitute

Mother of the foreigners,

Mother of the immigrants,

Mother of the homeless,

Mother of those considered giftless,

Mother of those who see no value in their lives,

Mother of those who have no political influence,

Mother of those who have no reason to hope,

 

From becoming oppressive, deliver us.

From becoming cynical,

From denying options to the poor,

From becoming opportunists,

From, becoming deaf to the voices of the prophets,

From becoming blind to injustice,

From becoming complacent,

From becoming ungrateful servants,

From becoming arrogant,

From becoming elitists,

 

Model for love and compassion, may we imitate you.

Model of hope and new life,

Model of evangelization,

Model of simplicity,

Model of justice for the poor,

Enabler of the downtrodden,

Example of receptivity,

Example of humility,

Example of sensitivity,

Bridge builder of cultures,

Respecter of diversity,

Mother of consolation,

Mother of these who say ‘yes; to Jesus,

Mother of providence,

 

 

Let us Pray:  Virgen Morena, Dark Virgin, Mother of God, Lady of Guadalupe, we commit ourselves to follow your example, to be life-givers and to be receptive to new life. We will be faithful followers in your love towards the poor, in your desire to give dignity to all people and to treat all the abandoned with tenderness. Let us live with constant confidence that we need not fear when we acknowledge you as our Mother, Mother of God. Grant that we may participate in your plan for new life and give us faith in the daily miracles that you and your Son, Jesus, work in our lives. Amen.

 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 18, 2019

 

Dwight Longenecker reminds us to remember the shadowy side of life when he says, “in this winter season we also ought to face the facts of the grim reaper.”

For people like me who struggle with depression, this is a tough time of year. Our unworthiness increases as the darkness comes in greater length. We find it difficult to see light and hope, and as a pastor these feelings migrate deeper when Advent comes, which I love deeply, but so many Christians relegate it to a time of shopping and are away from the church as we proclaim the Hope that will soon come in the form of a poor infant, in old clothes fashioned of found rags, in a borrowed stable used to feed the lowliest of beasts. So, I wonder…for what are we joyful? For what are we waiting?

While so many are waiting for the best deals on Xboxes, Barbie’s Dream Plane, Zero Gravity Race Cars, and the latest of video games, faithful Christians around the world are also waiting for something quite different. They are waiting for justice, freedom, and peace. They are waiting for food in their bellies and a roof over their heads. They are waiting to be saved from drugs or from the person enslaving them into prostitution. They are waiting for the God who will give them rest from all their enemies, as we hear in the first readings on Christmas Eve in the warmth of our parishes.

Indeed, strange as it may sound to our ears, evil is at the heart of Christmas. We might even ask if there would be a Christmas without evil, or at least if we would have so much cause for joy, because without evil there would be no need for deliverance, no need for hope, no need for God. It is only because we live in a world consumed with wickedness, dwelling in darkness and the shadow of death, that we have reason to seek the unconditional love of the God we adore. This is Advent.

That’s why a true Franciscan looks beyond the shallow joy of the commercialized Christmas, to the hope that lies on the other side of this dark night of evil. St. Francis so aptly reminds us in his own words,  “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” 

So, then let the rest of the world shout Season’s Greetings between ceiling-high shelves of fluorescent-lit plastic toys and decorations of fleeting joy. We have hope and we know that no matter how powerful evil may seem at the moment, however triumphant it may appear in this world, it does not – and will not – ever have the final word.

How will I honor Advent this year? How will I teach my children the true meaning of this season of giving? How will I support the work of my church? How will others see what I truly believe?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 11, 2019

I am beginning to turn my heart toward Advent. It is almost here again. I know we need to get through Thanksgiving, but as a priest, Advent is where my heart longs to be. I need to sit quietly, see the Sarum Blue, and try and feel God again in my daily life.

You see, 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 rather 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 us to 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.”

I want Advent. I pray you do, too, but I am also well aware that many of you will not do the same, but rather succumb to the pressures of shopping and gift-giving, Santa and reindeer, and all that makes the season of Christmas so commercialized. But, maybe, just maybe, a few of you will heed my wish and join me this year and honor one of the most beautiful seasons of our Christian year?

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

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 4, 2019

 

Thomas Merton once wrote that “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

As we enter the season of thanksgiving, I wonder if we are truly ever really thankful? Do we ever stop long enough to see the beauty of the day, the passing sunlight, the drifting snow, the leaves that pile and dance with the wind? Do we see the depth of the love our spouse has in his or her eyes just for us? Do we pause to look deeply into the souls of our created children to allow them to know our love? Do we give charitably to the work of our church, devote time to our parish life, our community? Do we see the homeless as us or a foreigner in need of an eye-dodge? Do we work until we can’t push anymore, day in and day out, only to find years later that all we may have amassed are missed opportunities, long-lost opportunities, lack of experiences, a dismal family or social life? Do we laugh enough, care enough, love deeply enough?

St. Francis once said that “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”  This season, let us pray for the strength to overcome our selves in order to find gratefulness in this time of giving thanks for all we do have, not that which we wish we did.
 
I wonder, in this season of thanksgiving, are we grateful for the things that matter? Really, actually matter?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 7, 2019

It has been written that St. Francis felt a disdain for lepers, like many of his day, and would avoid them at all costs. But, one day, Francis was riding his horse alone in the countryside when he caught sight of a leper walking toward him. Francis’ instinct was to move to the other side to avoid contact but instead, he rode directly toward the leper with parts of his face and hands eaten away by this dreaded disease. Francis dismounted his horse and warmly embraced the man, kissing the leper on his lips.

Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of physical consolation for me. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”  Francis eventually came to realize that he had actually embraced none other than his Lord, Jesus Christ!

I wonder if this is how many of us feel when we encounter the worst of society? I wonder if, as we walk in Center City, we – deep down where we don’t like to admit it – have contempt for the poor and the person experiencing homelessness? I wonder, when I announced this past Sunday that we would be working with Montgomery County to provide a safe home for the rejected LGBTQ and add 35 emergency shelter beds, too, many who heard it thought to themselves, ‘Really? Why help them?’ I wonder if any of us see the ‘thems’ of the world, so easily rejected, ever as the ‘us’?

I know the sting of rejection. I have been ridiculed and scorned. I have been the object of someone else’s mean-spirited fun. I have been bullied and know the feeling all to well as the outsider. I am a single paycheck away from being homeless. I am them; I have never known the joy and comfort of being sided with the ‘us’. 

Francis soon found himself living with lepers and caring for them. We care for the poor, the marginalized and the homeless. We go where they are and tell them we are them. In doing so, freely and with sacrifice of time, talent and treasure, we meet our Christ and know His love.
 

St. Francis’s chance meeting and care of the leper was the best preparation he could have had for the founding of a new order in the Church, whose highest ideal was to serve the poorest of the poor.

How many times have you been asked to help and ended up rejecting your Christ in the flesh?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 30, 2019

 

Well, it is official! Church helps make society better! And, a recent Harvard University’s School of Public Health study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that taking your children to church doesn’t just benefit them, it also has positive benefits for the community at large, as almost 30 percent of kids raised in church were more likely to do volunteer work! Children who went to church were also 33 percent less likely to use drugs in their twenties, were less likely to have sex at an earlier age, and less likely to have a sexually transmitted infection. In addition, people who prayed and meditated daily either at church or on their own reported greater life satisfaction, were better able to process emotions, and were more forgiving.

St. Francis would frequently pray alone during the night, seeking out quiet places. Sometimes the remote caves located in the hills above Assisi were a favorite place for Francis and to this day are frequented by pilgrims seeking the Franciscan way of prayer.

Today, Friars around the globe practice many forms of contemplative and meditative prayer, with Lectio Divina, the prayerful reading of the Word of God, holding a special place in our Franciscan tradition. The Virgin Mary features prominently in Franciscan prayer as well, as do traditional devotions, such as the Stations of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration, like we offer at Saint Miriam every week. And, our Mary-on-the-Go, offers every family a way to pray and bring the family together in a very Catholic-Christian way to help heal wounds – familial and global.

In our world today children are exposed to all sorts of violence, temptations, distractions, false hope, depression, and terror. We, as their guardians, teachers, pastors and godparents are their only means of true learning in a world that doesn’t honor faith much anymore. We are their first teachers and it is incumbent upon us to lead the way to a better emotional and satisfying life. It is not things that will make them happy in the end, it is God and faith and family. Is that not worth skipping a sporting event or practice on Sundays?

St. Francis once admonished us, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”  How will you teach the faith to a child this week? How will you show them that extra-curricular activities are wholesome and fun to do, but church and God are far more important?