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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 9, 2018

 

This past Lent, a friend posted an image that asked people to pray for all priests against the Enemy. It spoke to the deep belief that during Lent, the holist season of our Christian year, the Great Demon is fighting for every priest to fall.

Now, normally I never post things like this, or share them on social media, but this one was different for me. It’s not because I do not believe in evil, but because I often try not to think that Satan is any more concerned with me, than with anyone else in the world. But for some reason, this image spoke to me deeply, as it went on to say that when we use language to criticize our priests and pastors, we join in fighting for their failure. I find that to be true more than this year than ever before.

Perhaps it is because I am more tired. Perhaps because we have survived so many attempts to close us down because of our radical and unconditional love found in few Catholic parishes. Perhaps it is because I am feeling more vulnerable, as my personal life changes. Whatever the reason, and whomever is plotting to harm me, I feel the evil ever present this year; more than in years past.

Last month, Pope Francis called for the wording of the Lord’s Prayer to be changed so that it blames the Devil, rather than God, for “leading us into temptation”. He said the prayer had been badly translated from the Greek used in the New Testament and the new version would better reflect its true meaning.

The Holy Father frequently refers to the Devil in his homilies. He uses various terms to refer to the ‘Prince of Darkness, including Satan, the Evil One, the Seducer, Beelzebub and the Great Dragon.’ A lot of people in today’s world are uncomfortable with the idea of evil being real, but anyone who knows the spirituality of many order priests will not be surprised. What may be surprising to some is that oftentimes we feel the presence of evil. We know people want us to fail. Every time we fail, Satan wins. Every victory for Satan brings chaos.

Whatever is to happen, I am reminded that I should not fear. That God is in control. If Saint Miriam is ever to fail, it will never be the work of someone, or their gossip, or harmful and selfish words, but the failure of good people to hold onto a gift from God.

The life of a Christian is a continual battle against evil, that is what the Pope has said. And St Francis reminded us all when he spoke on darkness that “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”Perhaps some of the evil I feel will win, but only if we fail to light the dark with our light.

How will you allow evil to win this week? Are you willing to simply be complacent and allow someone to destroy good? Do you pray for those who serve God every day?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 2, 2018

 

“Listen…”

I listen for a living. I hear from others all day, every day. I listen to their concerns, their problems, their personal issues. I listen to their confessions and desires and regrets. I listen to their hopes and dreams. I listen to ensure our parish is relevant to their lives, and in the lives of their children, and families. I listen to hear deep griefs unresolved, and nuance for insights into how we can help them to be more fulfilled. But, the one thing I find exhausting is listening to myself.

All professionals must continually grow in order to stay relevant. They do so by listening and reflecting on their “own stuff” to become better at their craft tomorrow; this is especially true of those in the helping professions. Personal reflection provides everyone with benefits, while focusing on individual experiences. Personal reflection enables all of us to process and make meaning of all of the great (and not so great) learning and working experiences we’ve had. Everyone stands to gain from engaging in some type of reflection.

Boud, Keough, & Walker, 1985, says that “Reflection” is a generic term for those intellectual and affective activities in which individuals engage to explore their experiences, in order to lead to a new understanding and appreciation. But I like the writer of Psalm 42 who actually preaches to his own soul in a moment of self-reflection, self-listening, and self-discovery. This is one of the most important lessons in life. Verse 5: “Why are you downcast, O my soul?” (So, he’s talking to his soul!) “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

I find that given the way I’m hardwired, much of my self-talk is very defeatist. I tell myself all kinds of bad news and I promise myself that I am never quite good enough. I can imagine my bad self, saying, “You’re supposed to be giving me good news. But all I’ve heard is the bad news.” And I team up often with my old self and say some more bad news. It’s no wonder I get discouraged and thought my life was to always be unhappy. Do you do that? 

Both St. Francis and Buddha were men of deep prayer. St. Francis had in common with the Buddhists the importance of nonviolent love and commitment to peace, in practice as well as in theory. That’s a crucial lesson here, learn to preach to yourself. Learn to listen to yourself. Learn to find hope within and change will come; happiness, too, but one must do so with a nonviolent love and commitment to peace to self first.

Are you listening to yourself, or talking? What do you do when no one else is watching? Who are you when you are alone?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 26, 2018

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”  This is the famous line from John (John 12:21) and it is also the plaque that will be affixed, beginning Easter Sunday, to the pulpit at Saint Miriam. No, you will not be able to see it, unless of course you make your way to the ‘priest-side of the ambo! (Which, by the way, you are always welcome to do!) I have included an image of the engraved brass plaque that bears this line and that will soon make its way to a new home to remind me, and all who serve you what it means to be a priest, what it means to be a servant of others, and what our goal and ambition should always be.

We are not to be police officers, therapists, politicians, or egomaniacs; we should not bear down upon your life in such a way that makes you want to run away, and we should never use our position of authority to abuse you. We shall never, at least here at Saint Miriam for as long as I am pastor, use the furnishings to proclaim God’s love as a ‘bully pulpit’. No, we are to be bearers of the Christ to you and to the world. We are to be ministers and bring you Jesus every week. Together, we are to be bearers of light!

“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Yes, what a remarkable passage to look toward Easter! “Some Greeks,” John writes, came to Jesus’ disciple Philip and said: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” When Philip told Jesus about this, he responded: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

Let us all die to the things of this world in order that we might serve and glorify the One we worship and adore. And may we find ways to bring to life anew this wonderful line from scripture.

How will you use the coming Easter light to bear that light to others? Is Christ, the Light, within you? How would someone be able to tell? Are you willing to bring light to others?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 19, 2018

 

It is almost here! Passion Week, Holy Week! In a mere few days, we will gather for Palm Sunday and then launch into a week of remembering and growth as Christians! To do so, we must make it our every intention to attend services, reflect, and honor the fact that those very same people who passionately welcomed Christ with waving palm branches, were many of the very same people who demanded His execution just days later…

This three-day celebration (known as The Triduum) begins with the Holy Thursday Mass and continues on Good Friday with the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. At the end of this liturgy, we leave the church in silence, waiting to celebrate the glory of our Lord’s Resurrection. Then, on Saturday at sundown, it is finally here! The Church re-gathers to celebrate the final, and most grand moment of the Triduum: The Resurrection of our Lord!

On Holy Thursday, we experience the washing of feet. Humbling, awkward, displaying visible weakness, and yes, oh so needed in a day and age when these attributes are often replaced with power, stamina, and strength. It is a ritual of service that sends the message that the Eucharist is how we treat one another as it also reminds us of our call to treat others – all others – with respect, with dignity. It is, at its heart, far more than mere ritual, but an openness to recommit to be one with each other, and to recognize and support one another and to serve one another with our exception.

On Good Friday we gather to remember the Lord’s passion and death. It is always about the Cross of Christ. We gather and focus on the redemptive aspect of God’s suffering for our sins, but also on Jesus’ effort at reconciliation. You see, it was and remains Jesus, who willingly gave up by His life, through the Passion that shows us how hard it is to work toward reconciliation and unification. And yet, every year, we do just that as a Church of God, as we honor that Cross and humble ourselves to sit and dwell and relive that which gives us eternal life.

Then we arrive at the Great Easter Vigil! On Saturday, as night falls across the earth, we gather in vigil and hear the amazing news that Jesus is THE Christ, but also our companion, and our brother, Who is no longer dead, but is risen from the grave! We no longer have to fear the empty tomb. It is here where we gather in darkness to listen intently on the words of Salvific History and then, in a blink of an eye, candles, lights, and trumpets respond the splendor of the King! He is Risen! And with Him, we gather in joy to another Easter!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters have been celebrating Passover remembering the events leading to their release from slavery in Egypt and we, too, will gather these three days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday to celebrate ‘our Passover’ from death to life in Christ! It is a time of remembering the triumph of God’s love over darkness and death. It can change our hearts deeply, but only if we allow it.

In the coming week, we gather to celebrate that God is present and always working in our lives. May we each experience the joy of new life in our own way this Easter Season, and may we begin with an intentional dedication to observing the Passion of the One Who loves us still…
 
 
Reflection questions for Holy Week:

 
What does the death of Jesus mean to me?
 How has God interceded in my life? 
Have I honored God in my life? Will I take a few hours out of my week and honor Christ? After hearing the Resurrection story, what events do I see in my own life that are in need of resurrection?
 How can I carry on the story of the resurrection to others this coming year?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 12, 2018

 
This week, on Thursday evening at 6:00pm, we will once again gather for the Stations of the Cross. Only a few will show up; it is far too burdensome to actually plan to sit with Jesus as He dies for our sins. After all, Thursday evenings are for other things that make us more excited, right? We have dinner, drinks with friends, working late, going to the gym, or seeing a movie. But…to sit with Jesus? To journey with the Lord who gave us eternal life? To walk the path that he took before dying on that cross perched a hill called Golgotha for all to see? No, thank you very much, but I think I will decline again. After all, I have more important things to attend to…I will worry about my soul on another day.
 
The Stations of the Cross depict 14 events in “the Passion”, (In Christianity, the Passion is the short final period in the life of Jesus covering his entrance visit to Jerusalem and leading to his crucifixion on Mount Calvary, defining the climactic event central to Christian doctrine of Salvation History) of Jesus Christ, beginning with Jesus being condemned to death by Pontius Pilate and ending with His body being laid in a tomb. The pious practice of praying the Stations of the Cross originated in medieval Europe when pilgrims were unable to visit the Holy Land, so instead “visited” these Holy places through prayer in their local parishes all around the world. People took great comfort that they actually paused along enough every week of Lent to walk the journey and give thanks to Jesus for dying for us. In our modern era, not so much.
 
St. Francis of Assisi authored Stations of the Cross that popularized the devotion throughout the world. Today, you’ll find Stations of the Cross in almost every Catholic Church, but some, like here at Saint Miriam, are available throughout the year for meditation and reflection.
 
Jesus carried the cross (weighed between 80 to 110 pounds) an estimated total distance of four kilometers over 1.5 hours, as He was flogged and scourged and disrespected. We only ask that you join us for 15 minutes in the comfort of our sanctuary and carry nothing but your thanksgiving for what Jesus did for us.
 
Christ’s Passion started long before Calvary. And so, will ours…
 
How might you make time for Jesus this week?

 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 5, 2018

 
The Sin of Prejudice.
 

So, last week, I did something I never did before in my weekly devotion, I used an image. This week, I am called to do something new, once again, I am writing a devotion and a blog! (Hence the title, too!) You see, I had an entire devotion written and ready to post. Then came the call. I scrapped it, and now this will serve as both my devotion and my blog. Yes, it is that important.

Yesterday afternoon, I had a woman who left me not one, but four voicemail messages, then subsequently called me on my cell phone two more times, and ended with an email. I called her back, despite my reservations. It went to voicemail! Enter aggravation.

The woman began her messages by stating she was ‘the mother of a bride.’ These never go well. You see, I have learned that brides and grooms need to do their own work, make their own way, and place family and friends out of the main commerce lanes when planning their wedding. When a parent calls me, it is normally because they are interfering or intervening! In either case, not good, and my antenna goes up quickly! Enter this woman yesterday.

In my voicemail to her, I began by thanking her for the voicemails (all six of them!) and stated clearly that Mondays are normally my full day off. I thought, perhaps, she would take the hint and leave me be. I was wrong. She returned my call.

The woman was very nice and began to explain that her daughter came from a very Catholic family, but decided to marry someone this coming July (yes, this July!) and that they could not find a priest to officiate the wedding ceremony. She gave me the date and I began to discuss this with her when she then dropped into the conversation that her daughter was “no longer practicing and had not been to Mass since her Confirmation”, and, to make it even more complicated, she was marrying a confirmed atheist! I told her I understood and that ‘love is love, but to have a priest present where not only one, but more than likely both parties would not view the sacrament, was probably not a good idea and something that I would have to pass on. She then began to literally beg me to change my mind and told me that she discussed it with her daughter and ‘all would be well.’ I almost relented when she then began to discuss the differences between the Roman Church and us.

She berated me that we accepted gays and lesbians and then told me that we should not allow people to marry without being sure they are committed and go through PreCana. I rebutted by reminding her of Pope Francis’ own words on loving and accepting gay and lesbian people, as well as him marrying a couple, impromptu, on an airplane! She replied that he was just wrong on that and she was sure he regretted his actions, and then told me that she and her husband have two gay friends and that they “understand because they are ‘not normal’ they can never be Catholic.”

Needless to say, I told her that I found her words to be not only hurtful and unchristian, but ignorant. She has bigger issues! After all, I reminded her, she has a daughter about to marry an atheist on a beach in New Jersey!

I will never understand prejudice. I will never get hate. I will certainly never get both coming from a Christian, and a practicing Catholic. It is against everything we are called to be. It is contrary to to the Gospel. It is a shame. Jesus wept yesterday, and I am sure that if He had been in this woman’s home, as He was last Sunday throwing tables over inside the temple, there would be not a dish unbroken!

Part of our sinful nature includes a false sense of pride and it is the sin of pride that we find working in much of our prejudices. We find it very tempting to exalt ourselves in order to be thought well of, or accomplished, or better than the normal person. This is a sin that must be dealt within ourselves and with God’s Spirit in us; but when we shoot harmful arrows at others (either in our thoughts or vocally, as this mother did), categorizing them as “less than ourselves” and that they will surely reap God’s judgment, we all fail. Perhaps we think that God will never deal with us, as He has to deal with others because we feel our prejudices not so bad. But this is our old nature and God accepts nothing of our old life. He is removing from us everything of our old life and it is part of our growth in Christ to see that our prejudices are put to death by becoming more Christ like. This woman, and many of us, have a long way to go.

Faith tells Christians that God is at work at every moment in an individual’s life and at every moment of human history, and to reject this truth is to harm others, and that is not only not Christian, it is inhumane.

Women and men suffering from leprosy were perhaps the most universally despised social group in St. Francis’ day. The Lord led St. Francis to recognize them as his brothers and sisters. His respect for them as equals in God’s creation brought peace to these afflicted ones.

Peace is a gift from God. Human actions that cooperate with God’s grace promote peace in the world. Those that reject the godliness of others, harm the very fabric of God and humanity. That is something I will never accept at Saint Miriam, while I am pastor. I pray you will not either.

This is Lent and a time of change and introspection. Let us pray that what happened to me will not happen to others. Let us pray for those who harbor hatred in their hearts, because that is not of Jesus. It is not of us here.

And, no, I will not be celebrating this wedding.

 

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 26, 2018

 

So, I begin this refection with an image; something I rarely do. Now, let me explain!

In Philippians we read, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

I have to be honest, I’ve never been good at any of that! Oh, sure, I’ve tried and tried, but I am almost always what I call, ‘baseline anxious’! I simply worry about everything.

Now some would say that is good for what I do as a priest and pastor, but my primary care doctor disagrees! We all need to find peace and quiet and without it, surely, we will die earlier than we should. So, I decided to use this Lent to try and change things and to take just a little more ‘me time’, but also to be a little calmer. Enter John Carty!

John’s best friend lost his mother recently, and John, being a good man, went to be there for him in his time of loss and grief…all the way to Israel! A journey so long that afterwards, he spent some time to visit the Holy Land and even thought of me. That is one of the images he sent to me: The actual Sea of Galilee!

As I reflected on this simple image, I saw the beauty and serenity in its simplicity. “Jesus walked here!” I thought. I can walk with Jesus now, too. As Jesus once walked on those long and arduous days, and when he needed rest, this is where He went. I can go with Him now, too, even from here!

As I walk with Jesus in my mind’s eye, I am calm and loved and cared for. It matters not what the world thinks of me, I am loved and whole. I am at peace.

St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” I pray this Lent, it will be so for me, and for you.

How might you find peace this Lent with Jesus? Will you allow Jesus to come to you and walk hand-in-hand with Him by the sea?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 19, 2018

 

So it is here. We are now firmly into Lent. Lent creates space. It creates space for change, renewal, focus, growth, and regeneration. Lent creates space, but only if you allow it to.

Some folks will use our Lenten journey for good; to allow God to harvest out the bad, uproot the harmful attributes of ourselves, and replace them with good things, glorious, fruitful, life-filling things. Others, however, will once again miss this opportunity and instead wallow on social media about their plight and raged their fists against the blackness of the night that pervades even their days. They flood themselves, and the internet, with all their woes, gossip, whom they blame, and turn the innocent against their favorite  “imagined enemy”, but never once stop to see themselves in the refection that has become their pain. Lent created the space, but you must not fail to use it as a cocoon for growth… for change. Many will find that they have been selfish to the world, and to others, and that selfishness will prevent them from being kind even to themselves. 

Troubled times can drive one back into one’s own mind somehow hoping that solace is to be found there, but what resides back there is often old memories, colored-truths, dishonest falsehoods, and dusty ways, that impinge on one’s ability to reach their God-intended future. During these times, time-worn memories and familiar actions of blame cause enormous destruction, enormous fear, enormous greed, and enormous despair to self and to others. We succumb to the age-old reality of never changing self, but rather we rail against the world, as our chaos and doubt deepen, Lent will end up being abandoned once again, and we emerge unchanged.

So, yes, Lent creates space for us to think about the true meaning of repentance and seek fresh ways to let Jesus into our closed-off, walled-off attics of self-pity, anxiety, and defensiveness, and actually change for the better. God is not a ‘short-term God’, as the world expects. God doesn’t come to save baseball games from your favorite team losing, nor does God stand next to you to pick the winning numbers for the Powerball Lottery. No, our God doesn’t send a team of angels to save you from yourself, and the hate that you create within your brokenness. Instead, God is a long-term God. A demanding, relentless, long-term God of change, of hope, and love. God’s miracles take time and effort, but they bring into existence that which never existed before! God creates within each of us the capacity to grow beyond our own fabrication, self-imposed misery, and isolation. We make, God creates.

How will you use these days of Lent to allow needed change to come? How will you allow the space that God creates in Lent to help you do just that? Can you let go of your own selfishness and allow God to come at all? 

Lent creates space. Are you willing to use it for good?

 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 12, 2018

 

We are about to enter the holiest season of our year as Catholics; Lent is upon us once more. So, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what I would like to become after Lent this year. In other words, rather than me concentrating on giving up chocolates or meat or some worldly good, I want to be a better person when Easter arises again.

After much thought, I turned to at my Seraphic Father, Francis, for guidance and stumbled upon this writing of Thomas of Celano who wrote,

“Francis burned with a great desire to return to his earliest steps toward humility; rejoicing in hope because of his boundless love, he planned to call his body back to its original servitude, although it had now reached its limit. He cut away completely the obstacle of all cares and silenced the noise of all concerns. When he had to relax this rigor because of illness, he used to say: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.” He did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.”

So, I decided that this year I will become something better; a new creation at Easter! I hope you will join me! Let us ask God to give us hearts to praise more and voices to proclaim more often! Let us pray that we have the courage to work for a world of justice, love, and peace, especially for those without a voice to raise or a seat at the table. Let us ask God to give us the true spirit of prayer and contemplation to pray the world into a better place of being! And, finally, let us all use this time of Lent to turn our minds and wills completely over to God and pray that whatever we are at Easter, after this year’s Lenten Journey, we are better, more loving, and more conscious of our role in the world as Christians than what we are today.

Come Maranatha, Come!

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 5, 2018

 

“Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.”

These are the ominous, prophetic, and yet somehow encouraging words spoken by St. Francis at the time of his death. St. Francis wanted those who followed him to be encouraged to adhere to the rule of life they had worked so hard to build together. He wanted them to remain without a strong ego in order that they might lead a life of service to others. He also recognizing the dangers of what would happen if the order, and their rule, became too institutionalized.

This is what happens in many parishes and even within the greater Church itself. Rules dominate and old visions became ingrained without merit. Many do not know why they follow, they just do so blindly, and when questioned, they become arrogant or defensive. Sometimes even mean. In other words, they lose the Gospel.
 
That is why at Saint Miriam we are a Gospel-centered parish in word, sacrament, and deed. We do not put rules above people. We love with wild abandon and love like the Gospel of our Christ.  We recognize that in our own brokenness God comes and if it were up to us, as a broken people, grace would be meted out to only those we approve. Then, what a sad place the Church would be. So, instead, we allow God to be God and we follow the best we can. If anything, we err on the side of love.  We think that Jesus would like that…
 
Perhaps that is why Francis is such a popular saint! Like us, he remained true to the Gospel, true to the vision, true to the rule, and close to Jesus through it all, even at his own peril. Francis lived out the teachings of Christ and so inspired many who follow in his steps thousands of years later. It was more than just charisma; it was about authenticity and simplicity. Francis was the ultimate, incarnate, symbol of letting go of everything that might distract one from finding God.
 

One of the commonly heard words this coming Ash Wednesday will be, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust that shalt return.”  But there is another permitted sentence, it states, “Turn away form sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

How will you spend your Lent this year? Will you continue to invest in all that will die and turn to dust, or will you commit to build that which lasts into the life yet to come, and follow the Gospel?