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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 22, 2018

 

Yesterday I was on top of my game! Just back from our annual Parish Board Retreat and I was ready to jump in! Began with the Early Mass and threw in the Morning Mass at 10:30am, too! Yes, I was excited and rejuvenated and ready! We had a new mother and two children join us for the Morning Mass; after which I spent a few minutes with her. When asked how she liked the Mass and parish, she responded with, “I cried through the whole thing! It was so war and wonderful!”  Yes, we had a wonderful Sunday together and it reminded me of all the good things we do together as a parish community.

Later in the evening, I felt something coming on and sure enough, by late evening, I was sick! It always amazes me how fragile we are as humans. We go from strength to strength, solving all of our problems and issues, and then, almost without warning, something we cannot even see can take us down to our knees and remind us how vulnerable we really are.

How tenuous human life is on this planet! We exist within a very small range of habitable conditions. I have come to accept that my life is fragile, as are the lives of all those I love. A simple mutation in the genetic code of some cells can send cancer spreading throughout our bodies, or a virus can cause us to become debilitated and dependent in days. As a pastor I have a front row seat to the fragility of human life.  So how do I accept my vulnerabilities and finiteness? I love God and do the best I can with every moment I am given.

Every day is a gift from God. This is a good place to start. Even our inhabitable planet is a miracle. I am a conscious being blessed to live briefly in this thin envelope of life with all of you! It is a wondrous gift. Every moment is an eternity. Every second is another sacred moment that I give thanks for. And those I love, I pray for and am thankful for every day. My life is blessed by love!

 God has given us the ability to be part of the miracle.  So, perhaps, we should always try to be “conscious” of what it means to be created in the image of God. No wonder God chose to be incarnated in Jesus.

I have found that God incarnates again and again in us. Christ in us, the hope of glory. The Holy Spirit living in us and through us. Christ living now in the Body of Christ. God incarnated in a multi-body organism called the Church. St. Francis believed that God peers through our eyes into the depths of the universe, wondering at the fragility of life. In doing so, he loved and embraced all of creation.

How will you honor your fragility with doing more for God this week?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 15, 2018

 

On my way to the gym this morning I saw a Christmas Tree on the back of an old pickup truck. I know, you probably saw many, too, over the past few weeks, but since this is mid-January, I knew in my heart it was being discarded, not being brought on a journey home to be loved and adorned with lights and bright cheery colored ornaments. Yes, Christmas is over.

I think that is why I love Ordinary Time so much. Most folks look forward to Easter or Christmas, or even Advent or Lent, but I look to the Season of Ordinary Time to settle into God, and to allow God to work within me, to make me a better person. It is as if God uses this time to discard my old ‘Christmas trees’ and show me how to be a better person, a better Christian.

Ordinary Time is the season of the Church year when Catholics are encouraged to grow and mature in daily expression of their faith outside the great seasons of celebration of Christmas and Easter, and the great periods of penance, such as Advent and the coming season of Lent. It is a time to deepen one’s prayer life, read the sacred scripture, unite more deeply with the Lord in the Eucharist at Mass on a regular basis, and become more holy, and by doing so, more whole as a person.

I have found that no matter who we are, or how powerful a position we might hold, most of us live rather ordinary lives with ordinary days in which we know our best and our worst self, and everything in-between. We have our days when we are able to bring joy, patience, and gratitude to others, and there are those days, too, when we need hope, trust, and a forgiving heart to put one foot in front of the other. It is in these ordinary days that the extraordinary mystery of God’s faithful love accomplishes saints-in-the-making that is each of us!

And, if one is lucky enough, every once in a while, as I have found, someone comes along to make us feel loved and whole. We are put on a right path and look at the world differently. We are reminded through the gift of another human being, that we are loved and that God loves us. We are shown that our imperfections are minor, and that our heart and soul matter more than any transgression or any broken pieces. This is why I value Ordinary Time; it is in the ordinariness of life that God comes.

For the transformation of ourselves, and of our world, we must live intentionally within the magnificent gesture of God’s saving grace and gifts. The wisdom of our liturgical year, as Catholics, reminds us of this. Our ordinary lives are holy because it is here – with one another – that we experience who we are and who our God is for us.

St. Francis once reminded us, “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received–only what you have given.” 

How will you give back to God for all God has given to you? How will you recognize the gifts that God has so freely given to you this season?  How will you use this final time, before the approaching holy season of penance, to finally realize the gifts you have may just be in your home, in your arms, in your heart already?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 8, 2018

 

Albert Camus once wrote, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Before someone turned the switch to the ‘on’ position for this year’s very frigid winter, I felt robbed by the faltering green lawns and trees around our beautiful campus. It always seems that it takes us all spring and summer long to get them so lush and beautiful, but then – almost in an instant – the growing season ends and winter is suddenly upon us.

I don’t think I am alone in this sentiment, and I don’t think I’m the only one who felt a little hypocritical (or at least ungrateful) for thinking they did not want to see winter’s frosty blanket come again! After all, complaining about long cold winters is what we do best as humans, especially up here in the northeast, and we are almost never cheated out of a good winter. But perhaps it’s not just that after all. Conceivably, too, I have learned yet another new lesson.

This year’s winter that came, almost so unexpectedly in its harshness, has allowed me to sit idle for a few days already. The cold and snow has closed schools, roadways, and entire towns and cities. The shutting down of normal life has allowed me to also shut down my need to move and work and to be doing anything; it opened an opportunity to just sit and listen and learn. This year, for the first time, I have learned to listen to the snow, and by doing so I found the gift of silence and peace.

I discovered that the snow has a pristine and distinct beauty that flowers or warm beaches lack. As a child, I remember stepping out of school and being blinded by the over-exposure of the bright sun reflecting off the ice and snow in Erie. I remember how on cloudy winter nights, the world would maintain a strange glow, as if the lights were on a dimmer and turned down low. I remember working in a city where roads turned to ice and one could see wild animals like deer and wolves moving through the lattice of trees at Presque Isle, unable to blend into the sparse white background of winter’s palate.

Yes, winter became a subtle nudge this year to remind me to reflect on my life more deeply and to recall the past with a renewed emphasis on the joy, not the hurt. I pen this devotion this cold morning to hopefully nudge you into remembering that though we are surrounded by the deep chill in the air of a harsh winter cold, it is also an exercise in cleansing. With each snowfall, we are given a clean slate with the innocence and beauty the white powdery stuff brings.

St. Francis once said, Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.” So, that is where my heart is today: frozen in the wisdom and lessons of a winter’s snow and cold. But, this time, it’s not just the chill beauty of the winter that strikes me, it is how warm everything becomes in comparison! A heated apartment after a long cold wait for the bus or train, the glow of a fireplace against the winter’s dark grey skyscape, or sitting near the heater, as the furnace starts to kick on and the chill of the room is instantly removed! Why not pause with me this cold winter and cease the laments for warmer weather and summer winds and find the message that God wants you to hear so deeply.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the gales of wind whistling through bare trees and loose shingles this season has a song for your soul?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 2, 2018

 

Well, it is here. Another transition.

Transitions are common. I have gone through a few major ones in my lifetime of 50 years now and each brings some anxiety! One when I moved to college, then my transgression, then seminary, studying abroad, then Trauma Chaplaincy and the required moves from hospital to hospital, and then the residence moves from Erie, to Washington, Allentown, Lansdale, to Philadelphia, Blue Bell, and finally to here in Flourtown. In my becoming a Franciscan, then to pastoral ministry at a parish, losing my dad, watching my mom gain age, and overseeing a parish and diocese.

There were smaller transitions, too, but still transitions none-the-less. These came in the form of selling the condo to allow us to buy what we now call our parish home, living in a 200-square foot ‘tiny house’ via the motor home, and then the Friary Rectory, and finding that none of them felt like home. I have found love, friendships, suffered loss, lost relationships, and transitioned from joy, to loss, to love, and back to friendship again; mostly with myself, as God has brought healing and hope in the midst of some desert experiences. Yes, transitions have come, and with each my God becoming stronger and my faith challenged, until I emerged from my crystalis a changed person – better for having endured and grown and became more ‘me’.

I have always tried to present myself, my life, and my priesthood, as an amalgamation of all the good, bad, and indifferent that I have done, caused, and endured. I always protest when people try to place me on a pedestal simply because I am a priest. The higher the pedestal, the farther that fall! I know that I am broken, but through my brokenness I hoped I have used my life to allow God to find others and to bring light into a world that is so often dark. Perhaps the pain caused me at the hands and mouths of others – in their own hatred, misunderstanding, gossip, or complexity of beliefs, I have learned to not allow my life to cause pain, but to try always to bring light and some hope. I have never hated a single soul, tried to never harmed another, never given into back stabbing or innuendo, and never regretted my life experiences. You see, I am who I am, because of what I have endured, lived through, lost, and somehow still found.

Why not reflect with me on what you loved about the past year, all that you accomplished, where you are today, and how you might like to be a better person tomorrow? Do not allow others to say you are of little or no value. This year, know you are so loved and that God has made you perfectly to love others.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 26, 2017

 

I hate to break it you, but ‘Christmas ain’t over’! The season of Christ’s birth stays alive and well until The Feast of the Epiphany on January 7, 2018 this year! But, I wonder if we can make it mean something more, even after Epiphany? Can you and I use the lessons of Advent and Christmas to renew the face of the earth, one soul at a time?

During one Sunday Angelus address last year, Pope Francis spotted a cluster of Italy’s “pitchfork” protestors, upset with unemployment and cuts in social services, holding a banner in St. Peter’s Square that read, “The poor can’t wait!” Francis, in his unique and unpredictable style, pointed to the sign and exclaimed, “That’s beautiful!”, launching into an extemporaneous sermon on homelessness and how it harms the fabric of human life.

At Christmas Mass this year, The Holy Father laid out the spiritual basis for the social gospel and asked for peace in a ‘uneasy world’. He brought two messages together: peace and action to the vulnerable. By doing so he stressed a special “vulnerability” implied in God’s choice to be born into a poor family. Yes, to be a Catholic means we follow the inherent dignity of the human person right into our awareness, and due diligence, of the social gospel that makes us, well, what we truly are as a greater church!

As we return our gaze upon the humble manger scene, the next time you enter the parish, remember that you will be participating in a holy tradition begun by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. According to St. Bonaventure’s biography, to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus and to increase our devotion to Him, St. Francis obtained permission from Pope Honorious III to gather an ox, a donkey, some hay, and a manger, and to bring the people together for a re-enactment of the birth of Christ in a little cave in the hillside village of Greccio. While there, dressed in deacon’s vestments to remind the word of servanthood to others, he chanted the Gospel and preached of the nativity of the ‘poor King’; moved by the tenderness of God’s love, while holding the child-figure, he was unable to utter the name of Jesus. Through tears, St. Francis called him the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’. One can only imagine the overwhelming joy of Francis holding the Incarnate Word in his own hands!

The bare stone where St. Francis laid the very first figure of the Christ Child can be seen to this day below an altar and fresco marking the solemn occasion of that very first nativity play. The Bethlehem manger is a reminder that Our Lord was born into poverty, humility, and simplicity, and it is this radical example of God Himself that can assist us in overcoming the spirit of the world which distracts our gaze with materialism and greed. That bare stone should remind us all of those who sleep on cold streets, barren places, subway steam grates, in the cold and without comfort or aid. We must remember that those who first to receive the message of Christ’s birth were the shepherds, because they were among the last, the outcast. Yes, our eyes and hearts should be moved, as St Francis was, to see the family of Christ in all whom we meet.

During one year’s Urbi et Orbi (“to the City [of Rome] and to the World”) address, a papal address and apostolic blessing given to the entire world by the pontiff on certain solemn occasions, such as Christmas. Francis returned to the same idea. “Let us allow our hearts to be touched,” he said. “Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God. We need his caress.”

How might we carry the same message – that deeper message of Christmas – now to those in need, and bring them the caress of a living God, like those first immigrants, the aliens, we now call, ‘The Holy Family’?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 18, 2017

 

When I was a young boy, I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. Winters were long and filled with an abundance of snow. If there was one thing Erie could claim, it was lots of snow in winter and the ability to clear roadways after it falls quickly and efficiently!

I remember after a newly fallen snow, how much I loved to go and play in it, especially “Lake-effect snow”, a weather phenomenon created when cold, dry air picks up moisture and heat by passing over a relatively warmer lake, such as Lake Erie. It brought huge amounts of the white stuff in a short amount of time! It was so beautiful and little treacherous, too.

I remember one year the snow was followed by a brief thaw and then a quick refreeze. It created a hard coating over the snow and when you walked on it, you would crunch through the surface by your weight alone. If you were lucky (in my opinion as small boy) you would also sometimes sink deeply into a patch of Lake-effect snow that would almost come over your head! It was such fun for a small boy in the middle of winter. My mom was afraid for me, as she feared I would get trapped or hurt, but all I saw was an abundance of outdoor fun. Now that I am a bit older and wiser, I know the truth: we were both right! Breaking through the surface of iced over anything is both dangerous and exhilarating! And that is how God comes.

God came to me these past few months slowly, but steadily. He didn’t come in a huge storm or some gigantic weather phenomenon. No, God came to me through another human being who showed me what unconditional love and acceptance can be, and what joy feels like again. God came to remind me that even in the depths of loss, depression, and feelings of unworthiness, that He is still God, and joy will return, and I will feel the warmth of the sun again. Yes, God came quietly and I feel His presence again.

I have learned that God doesn’t often come to us in a large wind, and God doesn’t come to us in an earthquake, and God doesn’t come to us in a fire. God comes to us in a still, small voice, just as he came to Elijah in the first book of Kings. Like a chrysalis, God breaks into our frozen lives to remind us of the depths of His love. All we have to do is listen.

So, admittedly, I do not always listen well. I am easily distracted in my life by all that needs to be done; all the items to check off of my to-do list, but came anyway.  St. Francis once said, “Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.” That is how God comes, in simple ways to remind us all of His never-ending, relentless love, especially when – while in the flesh – we fail to feel Him near.

For me, God came through the gift of another human being who reminded me of the love and hope that still dwells within me, even when I don’t quite feel it, or know it’s even there anymore. For me, God came through someone this week who, with her own hands, made me a beautiful Christmas gift that summed up in the best possible way to live into my new life this season of hope. The words emblazoned on the gift say it all, “I’ll be home for Christmas”, and because of her, I am.

How can you open up your mind and heart and listen for the still, small voice of God this Advent? How can you push against the doubt of our culture welcome God into your heart? Who has God used in your life to shine light within your darkest places to remind you that you are truly loved?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 11, 2017

 

Last Saturday, we gathered to prepare. It was just a handful of us really, not more than five or six. We prepared the Sanctuary for the Second Sunday of Advent, we set up for the Saint Miriam Café, which happens every Saturday for a couple of hours, and then we also geared up for the coming snow storm. Once the snow began to fall, Chet and Keith were here to treat the surfaces, clear walkways, and get ready use of the UTV’s to clean off all snow accumulation to make Sunday happen safely.

On Sunday morning, bright and early (well, actually dark and early, it is winter after all!) they arrived back and cleared the snow, treated all roadways, and made the sidewalks and stairs safe for all of us to attend Mass.  

We finished our Masses after the 10:30am Morning Mass, enjoyed fellowship, and then an entirely new team broke everything down from the Café and set up for UnCorked Artists! The doors to the parish reopened for a prompt 2:00pm start and over 40 of us gathered to paint ‘Christmas at City Hall in Philadelphia’! We had such a wonderful time! We painted, enjoyed food and desserts, drank wine and beer and other beverages! We laughed and walked around and enjoyed one another’s company! Then, we took a group photo after we were all done, our new artwork in hand, had a final raffle of Christmas baskets, and then departed back into our private lives. It was, all in all, a glorious two days at Saint Miriam!

And if you think this place isn’t so special, think of my friend Kate who was visiting her family in Connecticut and who departed them early enough on Sunday morning to drive back to us and worship at the 9:00am Mass! An over three hour’s journey just to be home here with us again!

So, what makes this all so special? Why would someone travel to be with us when others stayed home and were so much closer? Why does this all reflect Advent so well? How could coming to ‘work’ and ‘set up’ and ‘sojourning’ make us a better people? Because we did so – all of it – as a community of hope and love; one that honors God and one another. A group of people who love this place so much that we are willing to give up some of their money, time, and talent to make it even better, every day, in small ways and grand ways! A people that recognize the more you come, the more you are involved, the more the love of God is found anew. That is Advent.

St. Francis once said, “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.” That is what we did together by gathering in this humble parish. We became a candle that the darkness of winter could not extinguish and that the chaos of the world could not defeat. We are light. We are the new shepherds gathering on a cold winter’s night looking up at a star and saying, “He is here.”

Christ was once nestled in the belly of his mother, Mary. Now he remains within each one of us.
 
How will you honor the coming of the Christ child this week?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 4, 2017

 
Today, as always, my life will change. I will somehow endure this change; a change I do not want to make, but will, because it is part of living. The older I get, the more I find myself not wanting change. I find comfort in the status quo, even when it is not the ideal, simply because it is, or always just was. And, if it were to change, I know that change always brings fear and anxiety, but change must come to make us better. Change is the chrysalis of new and better life. So, yes, change is part of life and it must come.
 
At the beginning of Advent, we are reminded once again to look deep within ourselves and seek the change that we need to make our lives better, and to trust the changes God calls us to make. We are also reminded that Christ will come again and make all things new, safe, and fulfilling. Even within our liturgy, after the Our Father, we pray that we await this coming as “the blessed hope and the coming of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” (I liked the previous translation even better, which had us waiting “in joyful hope.”) In either case, we should never wait in fear or gloom, we should wait – and change – in joy and anticipation of greater things to come.
 
Our waiting, therefore, should be an ‘active’ waiting; a participatory one. We should seek, not passively live into, what we shall become on the other side of the crib this year. We should, as the Wiseman did, follow the great and bright star displayed for our own good use and allow ourselves to discover what awaits there when we are greeted by the Child, and we embrace the new version of us.
 
The image of little baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes, is a nice one, and indeed an important one to the season we now live into, but we cannot imprison Him to Bethlehem alone. The Christ Child desires to be born in us anew, not only as we commemorate His birth on December 25th, but on each day of our lives with Him. 
 
How will you use this Advent to embrace change? How will you seek the Child of Christ to bring you hope? How will others see manifested your belief in the Lord of all? What shall you become after this season of expectation is behind us?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 27, 2017

 

Well, it is almost here! The time of waiting for the Christ child to come. If you are like mean, you are still trying to figure out how to adapt to Daylight Saving Time, yet now we are almost to Christmas! Perhaps we should do well to use this time to slow down, focus on what is right and what needs mended? In this glorious and holy time of year, we can let go our “adult version” of God – the judgmentally harsh One; the One that holds us as weak and sinful only, and move closely to the Christ child in the crib. For it is here where He is the most non-threatening, least judgmental, and all encompassing His welcoming. 

As we will discover as we move next Sunday more deeply into Advent, there are many saints whose lives were entwined within the fabric of this holy season. Saint Francis of Assisi, in fact, had a special place in his heart for Christmas and the days leading up to it. In the Saint of the Day, we read, “[St.] Francis, recalling a visit he had made years before to Bethlehem, resolved to create the manger he had seen there. The ideal spot was a cave in nearby Greccio. He would find a baby, hay upon which to lay him, an ox and an ass to stand beside the manger. Word went out to the people of the town. At the appointed time, they arrived carrying torches and candles.”

Listen to those last words, again, “At the appointed time, they arrived carrying torches and candles. “How will you arrive this Advent? Will you arrive at all? Will you be able to place the holiday cheer and shopping and all the secular activities aside – at least for Sunday mornings – and attend Mass faithfully, greet fellow parishioners, and engage in the life of a community of hope? Or, will you rather give your hearts freely to the world where surely hurt and disappointment will follow, because only Christ can be our true light. 
 
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. He needs a heart open to love without demands or expectations. 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?” 
 
Advent challenges each of us to slow down and let God speak to us in a special way over the course of just a few weeks, to let ourselves be ready, for once, for what is about to happen. St. Francis found the ideal spot for a manger within a cave. Perhaps this season, the ideal spot will be found within you? May you be God’s dwelling place so that Christ may be born anew. 
 
What will you do?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 20, 2017

 
I have been thinking a lot about finding my strength again lately. How does one fight the insidiousness of depression and still find hope? When will the balance return to my life and mind? The days right now seem so dim, and yet there are fleeting moments where I feel the love of God pour into me like an empty vessel. Yes, my thirst is abundant, but where to turn? 
 
I think I often forget that I pray almost relentlessly. I don’t mean to be pious sounding (those who know me well, also know that I hate false piety); What I mean by relentlessly is that I often find myself reciting certain prayers over and over again in my subconscious, in those ‘quiet’ parts of my mind, even when I don’t realize I am doing it. Often, these recitations go to my Blessed Mother. Perhaps, it is she that comes to me when I need support the most, like my real mother always did. 
 
One of the most important figures in Christianity is Mary, the mother of Jesus, our Blessed Mother. Many biographers of St. Francis of Assisi state that his own relationship to Mary was one of “indescribable love” because ‘she made the Lord of majesty to be our brother.’ How wonderful to recognize that it was Mary’s fiat of ‘Yes’ that allowed God to act and come to dwell with us as our brother in His human form. I think we all take for granted that fundamental component of our faith: Jesus – God incarnate – dwelled here and still does, because of Mary. 
 
That indescribable act of love is what brings me hope when I am most dark. Like me, St. Francis would have prayed to Mary numerous times a day and his writings often referred to her as a “holy mother” showing his love and connection. As he built relationships with Mary, he also built personal relationships with everyone and everything around him. 
 
I was surprised how much St. Francis wrote about Mary and it really showed his love and affection for her. He showed me how to try to develop more of an active relationship with her in my life. Now, when I am in need again, she comes to me in the silence of my own mind to help bring solace, care, and some hope that things will get better. 
 
Our relationship with Mary on earth, during this pilgrimage, can show us a way to deepen our love of all things and bring hope to a world in need. St. Francis encourages us to be just as faithful to God as Mary. Although we might not be tested as much as Mary, we can do the little things in life to strengthen our faith and help others find theirs again, too. 
 
How will you deepen your faith to Mary this week? Will you join us for rosary and pray for the needs of others? Will you join me in quietly saying a Hail Mary or Hail Holy Queen for someone like me who is need of someone like you praying for them?