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Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 24, 2017

 

Even St Francis, himself, knew that the rule we would follow, and still do from the year 1223, is one based on the rule of ultimate love. Now, for sure, those of us who follow the ideal that St. Francis laid down in his rule know the bar is very high! To put into practice such a rule, as Friars, and to live as one of his companions, and to live perfectly according to that standard is nearly impossible. The difference between us and the world, though, is that at least we try, and we try very hard to do just that!

By way of example, in one chapter St. Francis deals with penance to be inflicted on any brother who has sinned. In some cases, they must return to their ministers, who “should beware lest they be angry or troubled on account of the sin of others, because anger and trouble impede charity in themselves and in others.” In other words, one cannot be charitable, or hand out a proper penance, if one is angry and does not have love. That applies to all that we do as humans: no love, no charity is possible.

These past few weeks, I have been the recipient of much mis-directed anger. So much so that I needed to take last Sunday away and pray and find God elsewhere. We are in another growth stage as a parish and friary, and much is happening! Rather than to be excited about the good things that are taking place around us – all the good things that our loving God continues to give to us as we closely follow His Son – some people would rather dwell in the past. I have been blamed for people leaving, accused of never meeting with parishioners, being angry, pushing people out of the parish, and being less than fraternal on my leadership. One person even began by telling me how much she disliked our new pulpit and that she felt we could have gotten a better from IKEA! I would not rebut her cruelty, misinformation, or words of anger, even though I knew then, and trust now, they are all based on falsehood, gossip, and innuendo. Instead, I listened and walked her to the door and gave her a hug and sad goodbye, reminding her the door to Saint Miriam is always open. I loved in the face of hate.

As pastor, I sometimes make hard choices, but I have always maintained an ‘open-door policy’, and my door and heart remain open. I listen to everyone who has an idea or course of action to share, but I do make final decisions, and I recognize that some you may disagree with some of them, but that comes with the job as pastor. Additionally, I have only terminated the employment of one individual in my nine years as pastor, after which I disclosed it publically and stated clearly why he had to go. I have always gone where needed, sacrificed more than anyone, and loved beyond measure, even those who ridicule me. I believe myself to be a good pastor, and I am as transparent as any single pastor I know, and still some of you hate me. I am blamed for things I do not do, did not dream up, never put into place, and I can count on one hand how many ever came into my office to talk, or ask, instead they gossip, they hate; that destroys. You see, when that occurs – those folks have no room for love – and so all that happens is more hate. St. Francis was right, and I follow his rule to love more and rid myself of my own brokenness. Do you?

This past Lent, many of you gave something up. Despite my urging to instead add something wholesome to your life, and rid those things that were harmful, many felt it easier to not eat meat on Fridays! I asked you to care less about chocolate or fast food, and more about loving people and God.  Attend Mass weekly, give more to others, pray more, worship in Adoration, volunteer at the parish, anything that would help you to become a better person, and us a better people. Few did, but I would like to end with one family who did just that and cared for me in the process.

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

How did you love? Do you love enough now? How will you show someone that does so much for you that you love them, truly love?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 17, 2017

 
I am admittedly tired. I am so tired that I wasn’t sure what I could even muster to think about today after a busy Holy Week and Easter, let alone place those thoughts to paper for my weekly devotion. Then, on Facebook this morning, one of the faithful from Saint Miriam, Liz, wrote to me, “You carried quite a few of us for 40 days and ending with a splendid celebration. Rest easy Poppa.” And in those words, God came. 
 
St. Augustine once said that “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” From His famous encounter with that woman at the well, through our recent Holy Week and Easter Day celebrations, Jesus is always inviting us to give up the constant search for things that cannot fulfill, and to turn to the only one who truly can: Himself. He is the living water that quenches thirst. He is the true “Lord” that will never leave us. He is the One who carries us, even the most broken like me, and He wants us to turn to Him. 
 
Liz is correct in her belief that I tried to carry the parish through Lent and into Easter. It is my job, as her pastor, to do just that. Many came, some didn’t. Some were changed and moved to a deeper place of service, and some thought the whole affair meaningless. I tried, but I know now that I wasn’t alone in my effort. Jesus was there, too.
 
You see, I didn’t have to do it all alone. I never had to go it alone, I just thought that I did through all those years of feeling alone and frustrated. As my ministry and belief has deepened, so has my trust in Jesus.  
 

And here is the amazing part: Jesus wasn’t alone either. When Jesus was in that desert, God was there. When Jesus was in the garden in great despair, God was with Him. When studying ‘trial’, God stood side-by-side with Our Lord. When the death sentence was handed down, God accepted it, too. Even when Jesus was carrying His cross to Calvary, God was there. Yes, He have had those Roman soldiers whipping and mocking Him all the way to Golgotha, but He also had companions that gave Him strength, like Simon, and so do I, and so do you!

I once heard a story that may help you, as it helped me: Imagine for a minute that you are on a mountain with Jesus. You’re both having a great time, Jesus is telling some hilarious jokes, and you feel like you’re on top of the world! The view is magnificent… but then you fall. For some reason, you were walking too close to the edge and now you’re plummeting into a downward spiral. As you are falling you’re remembering your mountaintop encounter: your relationship with Christ, the beautiful view, and the joy in your heart. You’re upset that you’re falling, but despite your descent, you manage to whisper the name, “Jesus”. Then, immediately Jesus stretches out His hand and tells you to have confidence in Him because He knows what it feels like to fall. 

You see, the greatest of what Jesus gave us this Lent was the gift of being able to fail and get back up! His gift tells us that we are not wed to being perfect, or being always on point, or running without rest. No, we can fail, trip, sin, become tired, overwhelmed, fall, and then – when we can no longer get up with our own strength, or muster to carry ourselves –  Jesus is there to place us gently on His back and together, we move forward. 

This week, allow yourself to have a personal encounter with the Lord, and remember Jesus dropped His cross, too.

Lord, help me to see You in all the facets of my daily life and work. Help me to find rest, even in my striving for perfection, until I can simply rest in You and accept my imperfections, as my own prayer of life.

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 10, 2017

 

We had a good week. We cared for children who were blind and included them with sighted children, and together, they enjoyed a beautiful Easter Egg Hunt. For one child and his also blind father, they saw for the first time what a loving parish can do and bring to the world. (You can see it by Clicking Here.)

Palm Sunday was also specular this year! The palms raised high, the parish adorned in red, larger crowds gathered, and a folks excited to gather for the start of Holy Week!

I also met with Father John who is discerning a call to our parish as Associate Pastor. Father John’s life, much like mine, is replete with rejection, hardship, and perseverance to follow a call that some in the world saw, and others rejected immediately. Father is a contemplative at heart, much calmer than me (no comments!), and with a deep spirituality. He is Roman Catholic Church trained, spent time aboard, and in two monasteries, as well as serving at parishes in Philadelphia and Camden and now within hospice ministry. Then, he met a woman, fell in love, and thought he would be forced to abandon the priesthood forever, but God brought him to us…at the start of Holy Week, to show him God’s love is eternal, and that God would never require us to give up one covenant for another. A new start may just be awaiting John.

While our focus is always on Jesus at Saint Miriam, and as the greater Church, this week we will focus on the human-form Jesus first. The Jesus that is like us, save sin. The One who is still vulnerable, weaker, emotional, but ever obedient. His Father’s will demanded of Him one thing, the Roman Empire saw Him in another way, the Jews another, and the people still another, and those disciples, they saw Him differently, too; but for Jesus it was always about His Father’s will.

Jesus was not killed for any theory. Jesus was killed because of His all-encompassing commitment and obedience to God, His Father in Heaven. 

From that single death; that death on that cross, through Paul and Philip, the two Sons of Zebedee, Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Nathanael, James, Thomas, Thaddeus, and Matthias, down to through the millennia of the holy Church to us today, the lives of the best followers have exemplified a willingness to self-empty, to follow, to be obedient, always in congruence with the Christ we all follow.

How about you this week? Will you walk with Jesus during Holy Week? Will you be obedient and follow Him wherever He goes; however He asks? 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 3, 2017

 

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 have used 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, have once again missed this opportunity and instead wallowed 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, whom they blame, and turned the innocent against their favorite  “imagined enemy”, but never once stopped to see themselves in the refection that has become their pain. Lent created the space, but they failed to use it as a cocoon for growth; for change. They have been selfish to the world, and to others, and that selfishness has prevented 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, timeworn 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 is abandoned once again, and we emerge unchanged.

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, God doesn’t send a team of angels to save you from yourself, and the hate that you created within your brokenness. Instead, God is a long-term God. A demanding, relentless, long-term God of change and 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 final days of Lent to allow the needed change to come? How will you allow the space that God created in Lent to help you do just that? Can you let go of your own selfishness and allow God to come at all? Are you willing to let go of, “Yes, but”, a phrase that shackles you to your present reality of pain, and enjoy the gift of God’s, “Yes you can!”, words that allow you to sing freely again?

Lent creates space. 

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 27, 2017

 
In my seminar yesterday, we covered the topic, “Evangelism in the Catholic Church”. Yes, I said evangelism! We started with a quote from St. Francis, himself, who once said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or chilling look.” In other words, we all have met people, even within our own parish, that look so miserable, so unhappy, so self-absorbed. How sad that when given such a gift as parish like ours, they forfeit it for a life of disdain and misery and never tell a soul about the ‘pearl of great price’ they found? And that is what evangelism is: The willingness to joyfully give away what you now possess! 
 
During our time together, we appreciated a brief introduction as to how many churches are failing; some 4,500-7,000 churches close every year according to the latest Pew statistics. We also looked at some of the primary reasons why most parishes never survive, most new parishes never grow, and why so many folks find religion does not merit their attendance on Sundays at any church.
 

One of the most prevalent ideas of stymied church growth is their lack of willingness to adapt to change. It has been a topic of mine for several weeks as we use Lent as a time to look at ourselves, our parish, and where God is asking us to make changes to allow for growth. We have all agreed that as difficult as it is, sometimes a tree only grows with pruning.

God comes. That is what I always say, and, yesterday was no different! There we were, sitting and discussing this topic in the library, when one of the participants was not sure that a church needed to change. We allowed the discussion to continue until the point was made and then, one of the other participants reminded us that she was a member of Zion, the church that was here before us, and that they dwindled down to less than eight members with not a single new visitor in years. As she ended her point so eloquently, “Those statistics that Father quoted at the start of today, that was us.”

When I was a young boy, I learned that I had been adopted. Now, I loved my family and was never treated any differently and was loved very deeply. I felt different, though. I knew that I had been an orphan and being an orphan meant that you were not wanted. At least that is how I saw things then. One day, my mother taught we a little song to sing every morning. It made me laugh and reminded me that every day I should begin with a song, because every day was chance to begin again, begin anew, begin fresh, and sing!

My song can now be your song. My song can be your chance to let go of fear, allow change, welcome transition, and watch God grow in your life. A new song can be your way of protesting against the way the world is, and be your refusal to accept the present world – as it is – and permit change to come and make things better! A song sung today can usher in a place where you realize that perceptions can be wrong, stories have two sides, gossip harms, and not supporting the church wounds real people.

I have learned in my years as a priest that the holy Church is always at its best when it is the most daring, most risky, most dangerous, and when it is free to sing a new song! For it is in that new song the power of the Gospel of our Christ forces the world – and every parish in every church scattered throughout the world – to recognize that it must change or die, and in that change God’s power is finally brought into the present tense!

Can you dare to sing a new song today? Will you actually allow God to bring change where it is needed to reach more people and bring wholeness to others? Will you let go of your own selfness needs and help God in times of transition to bring the boldness of true love to others?  

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 20, 2017

 

Lent is a time of self-reflection and self-discovery. It is true for laity and clergy alike. It is true for me. I once penned in a Blog post that the hardest thing I endure as a priest is always having to say goodbye. It is most especially true when you pastor a growing parish.

I used to think, in my younger and more naiveté days, that as the parish grew more and more people would come and simply stay. I have learned that is farthest thing from the truth! As the hold southern saying says, ‘folks come, and folks do go, but one thinks for sure, they surest go!’ I suppose if we operate a parish and not a prison, that will always be the case, but it is something I will never get used to; I mourn every person that leaves our fold, but I also know that in many cases we grow when God prunes.

Now, folks leave for all kinds of reasons. Some are disgruntled staff members who find the work too difficult. Some leave because the time required is too exhausting or demanding. Some leave because their commitment is less than what is needed to engage in true active ministry. Numbers of gifted persons and organizations have studied the phenomenon of the church “back door,” (the metaphorical way we describe people leaving the church), but all the research studies of which I am aware, including my own analysis, return to one major theme to explain the exodus of church members: a sense of some need not being filled. In other words, these members have ideas of what a local parish should provide for them, and they leave because those provisions have not been met.

Certainly, we must pause to recognize there are many legitimate claims by parishioners of unfulfilled expectations. After all, we are a human institution and we make mistakes! It can undoubtedly be the fault of the local parish and its leader team that people get hurt and leave. But, more of than not, many times, probably more than we would like to believe, a church member leaves because they have a sense of self-entitlement. In other words, the main reason people leave a church is because they have an entitlement mentality rather than a servant mentality.
 
Psalm 23 contains that wonderful line, “Surely goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life…” Perhaps we ought better to think of God as Thompson’s famous poem, “The Hound of Heaven” where we are pursued! As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and unperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by God’s Divine grace. We are being chased by God so often in our lives and yet we try to escape. We run from God’s powerful love. We, deep down, fear God’s grasp because we know it will require change. It will demand we give up something or someone. We distrust God and God’s generosity toward us. We think we are better suited to control our destiny, rather than the God who created us and sustains us and loves us and saved us
 

So, then, perhaps Lent is a time for pruning after all. We prune ourselves of things that need to be let go of; the parish prunes folks who no longer wish to help us grow, thrive, and serve; and the Church prunes to allow the gospel to be spread to the four corners of the earth by servant-hearted people who wish to remain and wish to become better than themselves; better they could have of dreamed of, if only they truly trusted God and let go.

Lent is about noticing our blindness and seeing differently. For some of us it is about seeing clearly for the very first time in our lives…

How will you allow God to pursue you and bring about a new way that allows you to see past your old ways, your old anxieties, your old wounds, your old self-control, your old greed, your old fears, and become a member of God’s home where unencumbered joy is to be found?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 13, 2017

 

I know, I am late. I am actually intentionally late in writing this devotion. You see, I was away this past weekend to make a Pastoral Visit to St. Padre Pio in Summerville, South Carolina. They also had five individuals, one adult and four children, who were prepared for Confirmation! They needed me to come and as their bishop, and I went. As you know, I rarely “inhabit the habit” of Bishop Ordinary, unless there is a diocesan or liturgical reasons to do so. I am a pastor in my heart, but being Chief Pastor comes with its needs, its advantages, and its joys, too. So, as I said, I went where needed and made my visit there this past weekend.

Now, to be honest, I did not intend to write late. I had every intention of getting up early on Monday, before heading back to the Charleston International Airport for my flight home and penning a devotion, as I always do. But with the intensity of all the events, the work that was needed and the coordination, too, as well as that time change thing, I was totally wiped out! Then, on my flight home, I realized that one of the main reasons I was so tired was that I was out of my normal routine and away from my own home; I was out of my ‘comfort zone’. I was ‘out of my element’ for several days, away from the normal people who inhabit my life, but in that time God came and taught me a few lessons. A few lessons for Lent that even the most tenured of priest and layperson alike could use to deepen their own faith journey. I share them here today…

First, you must always go where called. I went to where God needed me and where God’s people needed me. I did not want to go. It is hard to leave here with all our busyness and the myriad of stuff to do, but I promised. So I went. I learned and was overjoyed. I am grateful God took me to St. Padre Pio. They are a people of light and overwhelming love. They welcomed me. Many even kissed my ring several times, despite my protestations. They wanted me to know of their respect and love. I learned that I desperately needed theirs, too.

Second, you must be willing to give your all. I was not at home here at Saint Miriam. I was there in a place that knew me not. I could have skimped on the liturgy, my dress, the certificates, the way I celebrated the Mass, the homily, or in any number of areas. I could have arrived later and left earlier. I could have celebrated the Mass where I was definitely needed, and then skip out right after and missed enjoying their hospitality that was optional. I could have skipped engaging them in conversation, learning their stories, or hugging the confirmandi. But if I had done even one of those ‘misses’, my life would be less fortunate. I would be less a man and certainly less a pastor and shepherd.

Thirdly, you must go beyond yourself and welcome all God’s people. A more diverse group of people you could not find than at St. Padre Pio! That would be my summation line for my experience there during my visit. I noted their highly diverse statures: a tall skinny man, a very well-dressed lady and her husband, a poorer looking man who wore clothing more tattered than the rest, an older more plump lady, a bright-eyes child, a baby cradled in his mother’s arms, the New York City cop with his stern face and a beer in his hand at fellowship (that he brought with him!), the learning-disabled man who cried as he kissed my ring, and the very, very energetic woman who could never stop telling me how much she loved this parish, next to her very quiet husband who simply smiled at me a lot; to that recovering addict who stated clearly, “Bishop, thank you; this place saved my life”, and the erratic gentleman who was obviously on medication who welcomed me as best he could, to the refined folks who simply sat and smiled at me, but who – one could easily tell – were comforted by my presence and enjoyed my sense of humor, especially when I began my homily with, “Who hates bishops as much as me?!” Yes, their diversity was evident in the color of their skin tones, their ethnicity, their age, and their dress, but they were the same in their faith and love of their parish and of our Lord.

Jesus reached beyond His own people. He reached beyond the perceived mandate and beyond His own comfort to seek and to find ‘the others’. In Chapter 15 of the Gospel of Matthew, we find Jesus reaching out beyond perceived societal norms to welcome the ultimate stranger in that Canaanite woman. The woman sought Jesus out, even as He withdrew from people, and she was persistent in her need because her own daughter was possessed. As Walter Brueggeman says so well, ‘She was the ultimate outsider and she comes to the ‘Ultimate Insider’ and instructs Him on His true and greater mission! Through the persistent faith of this woman, Jesus finds His larger vocation as the Messiah of all peoples. Jesus learns that being faithful often means reaching beyond one’s comfort zones to gather, embrace, welcome, and care for the others in our world. I learned that lesson again, too, this weekend at St. Padre Pio, and I am grateful.

Thank you, gracious God, for allowing me – a sinner and yet still a servant of Your holy Church – to learn the lesson of continued true servanthood. Gather us all, dear God, and draw us where You might call us. In this holy Season of Lent, make us better people by allowing us the fortitude of mission to welcome the stranger and embrace the outsider.

How will you see that in many ways you are the ‘other’ to someone else? How will you go beyond your own comfort zones this Lent to find a better, more compassionate you?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 6, 2017

 

Change is inevitable. It always amazes me, however, how much we rebel against it. How much we disdain it. How much we become anxious and almost petrified of change. Then, change comes, newness springs forth, and the world is anew again and we learn – but only briefly – that change is good.

Ponder these words of Walter Brueggmann:

the world waits for newness; 

settled wisdom knows nothing of newness;

settled wealth knows nothing of newness;

settled power knows nothing of newness.

This is where Lent lovingly guides and deeply disturbs us simultaneously. This is where we must go and sink and learn in order to become something new in Christ. We must let go of false, bad ways and learn to embrace new, life-giving ones. We must let go of things that rob of us our joy, and engage these that bring freshness to our being. We must discard bad habits, and delight in ones that will be worthy of what we are: a temple of the living Holy Spirit.

Because God is God, there are things that make God happy and there are those things that displease God greatly. God chose what is foolish to help us become wise in living better; in being better people: more compassionate, more caring, more loving, bearers of the Gospel of His only Child.  We know these things to be true, but to make them different requires change and we are afraid of change.

When we began our parish some almost nine years ago, no one could have told me how many times I would witness change. How many times I would need to say ‘goodbye’ to friends I took into my life and heart as family. No one could tell me how many times I would say goodbye through death, relocation, change in life circumstances, and yes, even through disagreement. No one could tell me how many times, in my role as pastor, I would need to even hold the door myself and wish them well for the good of the whole community. And no one could tell me how many times we would change. But, we have, and we have grown because sometimes to grow you must first prune. Sometimes that pruning is intentional, sometimes by mistake, but always at the hands of God to help us on our way, to bring growth through change.

We have been here together on our new campus and witnessed much growth and much change in our almost two years here, the end of this coming summer. In my blog this week, I will spend some time with you on more change that must occur to allow us to grow. Change will come in board direction, structure of operations, and staffing changes, too. I ask that you begin to approach these changes with one eye in to the past, and one toward tomorrow. The eye of your past should look back to our beginning with only two people in a rented chapel in a Jewish synagogue in the Roxborough section of Philadelphia, and then flash forward to today on 12+ acres in Montgomery County with a vibrant parish, school, a historic cemetery, too, and a community that knows Jesus and lives by a strong Covenant to love one another, even in our goodbyes. The eye to the future should relish the fact that with every change, growth, stability, and new folks in need of that love and seeking our type of welcome and compassion have been brought to our door; a door that would not have even existed if not for change.

“It is believed that St Francis refrained from eating out of reverence for the fasting of the Christ, who fasted forty days and forty nights without taking any material food; and thus, with just a half loaf of bread, he kept from himself the poison of vainglory. After St. Francis had sustained this marvelous abstinence, God granted many miracles through his merits; for which cause men began to build houses there, arid to inhabit them; and in a short time there was built a large and prosperous village…and to this day the men and women of the village have great reverence and devotion for the spot where St Francis made this Lent.”

Lent is a time for change. We must remember the adage, ‘feelings do not have intellect’, and when we become anxious in times of change, we must honor prayer, one another, our community, and the gift given to us by God above, the very Spirit of God, Who sat with Jesus in His 40 days of temptation, and never give into bias, hatred, innuendo, or gossip, but rather move ahead, as one people of faith, to see where God will bring us next!
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 27, 2017

 

Last evening in Hollywood, California, Mahershala Ali became the very first Muslim actor to win an Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role.  Ali gave a humble speech, thanking those in his life who helped him achieve such a deserved feat. He said, 

“I want to thank my teachers, my professors,” the “Moonlight” actor began. “One thing they consistently told me […] was that it wasn’t about you. It’s not about you, it’s about these characters, you are a servant. You’re in service to these stories and these characters.” 

It’s not about you.  There is it! That is the secret to what makes a Christian a good Christian. It is why Catholics, who are to believe in the inherent dignity of all persons, should welcome and love them beyond what the world thinks wise. It is what makes a priest a good priest. It is what makes a person humble and worthy of making real change. It is about finding where true happiness lies. It is where forgiveness is hatched, and true love is born.

I have always been intrigued to learn the derivations of words. The etymology of a word can give insight into its use and function and deeper meaning, often hidden in a world so busy as ours in this modern ‘always-on’ century. One such word for me was ‘minister’. I learned the meaning in seminary and it stuck with me all these years. It is what I have become by first learning to let go of myself! The word minister comes from around the year 1300 and means ‘to render service or aid’, but derives directly from the Latin word, ministrare meaning ‘less’.  You see, you cannot serve, attend, render aid, or assist; you cannot minister unless you are willingly able to be less than the one you serve. I could think of no better way to begin to prepare us for a deeper and more meaningful Season of Lent.

The disciples watched with supreme indignation, and were completely astonished, perhaps even embarrassed, when the Lord became a servant and took a towel, a simple basin, and some water and began to wash dirty feet. Their indignation soon turned into anxiety when they heard Him say, “Do you know what I have done?” The disciples, who should have by now learned so much from Him replied, “Yes, you washed some feet.”  The Lord turned and said to them in reply, “More than that; for if I your Lord and Teacher have washed feet, I have now set an example that you should do as I have done.”

To be clear, it was based on that introduction, that later the Lord gave us the Great Commandment, to love one another! You cannot truly love unless you get out of your own way, let go of your own fears, your own hatred, your own vengeance, your own pride, your own hypocrisy, your own arrogance, your own mean-spiritedness, your own self-serving attitude, your own inhospitality, your own lack of welcome, your own unwillingness to forgive, your own malice, your own…way.

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

How will you let go of your hypocritical, divisive, hateful side – one given to you by the world – in order to find peace and a life of joy-filled service to others, given to you by the very grace of God at your own Baptism, and perfect it even more fully during this Lent?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 20, 2017

 

Ease is harder on progress and enlightenment than hardship. Yes, you read that correctly. Ease makes us soft and unlikely to make much progress toward spiritual growth, the desire to help others, and deepen our love of God and our desire to make our way toward our true life where we behold Him face to face. 

It is a primary reason to attend Mass, go to church, and be one with the community. For it is only there that we remind ourselves of the story – The True Story – the life-giving, life-changing, world-altering story of the One who saves us all by taking on our wretchedness and bringing us to the grace of new life in God. Undeserved. Unmerited. Unrelenting.  It is within the community of faith – our parish – where we personally, collaboratively, socially, and ecclesiastically engage the story because the world is too harsh, too busy, too cynical, too anxious, too preoccupied by self- interest, and too much in denial to do the same.

The cloudy darkness and opaque thickness of pain ultimately brings healing by making us more receptive to others, bringing knowledge of true-self, renewing a depth to our faith, and granting us the gift of true empathy and compassion in order to love all, even those, and that, which we despise so deeply.

But, remember that the remarkable revelation of our Christian faith is that God, too, was in torment. God, too, hurt with a depth that even God could hardly bear it. Like two parents loving a delinquent teenager where that love must at times simply learn to be a form of toleration, until a breakthrough occurs and change happens. So, in His own pain, God saved us – you and me, undeserving, terrible human beings, you and me – and so many others like us – to bring us to eternal life. 

So, then, it is true. Love always wins. Love triumphs through alienation, and pain, rejection, and silence to bring us to newness! That is the Story we celebrate. Remember that in the end, it is only death that brings new life

How will you tell the story with your own life and actions? Will you live into it this coming Lent in a different way than years past? Will you allow yourself the time away from the world in which we live to focus on the life yet to come?