And A New Baby Makes “Circumdata Varietate” Come to Life!

St. Thomas Aquinas once said the church is “circumdata varietate”, that is, surrounded by variety, a variety bound by charity and truth that only the faithful can see clearly. (Behold the image I used, the old and the new together in service to God’s Church!)

Controversy is abounding again the Roman Catholic Church where Pope Francis is looking at whether they should ease its policy of celibacy for priests, a 1,000-year-old precedent. Mind you, this is not doctrine, just practice and can be changed with the consent of the Holy Father. A Vatican document has called on the church to consider the far-reaching move as a way to overcome the shortage of clergy in the Amazon region and to try and fill empty seminaries worldwide, as vocations are at an all-time low. As aging priests retire, there are few to take up their place.

A recent survey found that almost 9 in 10 Catholics wanted priests to be allowed to marry. Some have argued that celibacy may contribute to the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults by priests, although others point out that many pedophiles and abusers are not celibate. And, our brothers and sisters in the Eastern and Oriental Catholic Churches have continued to allow priests to marry and have thrived. And all protestant churches allow for married clergy.

The tradition of priestly celibacy developed into a practice from the 11th century onward among Latin Church Catholics and became a formal part of canon law in 1917. But, until then almost all were married with families, including St Peter himself.  

Although the proposals to be considered by the Vatican concern the ordination of married men in specific communities, the opening up of debate at the highest levels of the church will boost those arguing for a general relaxation of the celibacy rule. However, the possibility of such a profound change to almost a millennium of tradition is causing great angst among conservatives, even though the almost 300 married Roman Catholic Priests have continued to serve their communities well. (Most were Anglican and then incardinated (transferred ecclesiastically) into the Latin Church, but maintain their vows to their wives and children.)

This recommendation is being discussed at a synod of bishops from the Amazon taking place at the Vatican and a working document for the event says the possibility of ordaining “viri probati”  – Latin for “men of proven virtue” – should be discussed.

Pope Francis has previously said that he would be open to allowing married men to be ordained in areas where there is a scarcity of priests, while maintaining the requirement for most priests to be celibate. He has also spoken about “allowing space for women in the church at all levels”.

This past Friday, I was surrounded by my family and friends as Katelyn took my name. I worked hard for the church before that day, and I am still working hard after; nothing has changed as I remember the wise words of my mentor, Father Henry Kryder,“James, always remember that God will never ask you to give up one covenant to make another!” And, so God has been good to me and allowed me to live a life fulfilled, and still a life of service. And it’s a sacrificial life, one my whole family lives, my new wife probably most of all. Yes, she recognizes that our life together calls for Katelyn to also give up many things being my spouse, but we entered willingly into this covenant knowing that I will still be a priest and she will still be a nurse, and that together, we can still serve and love, too.

Now, to be clear, there are a few who believe that calls to change the discipline of celibacy are forgetful of what the church calls the “spiritual fruit” of celibacy, something largely incomprehensible in this libertine age, but which is nonetheless still true and essential to the work of the church. I can understand that view. But, for me, being in a relationship of love has certainly helped my priesthood, and my emotional wellbeing, as I have gained insights and sympathies gained as both husband and soon to be father! (Yes, coming by next summer, we are pleased to tell everyone that we will all meet our new son, Jameson Michael, and while I have been called ‘Father’ for many years now, I will soon hear the words my heart has so long for…‘Dad’!) Applause, please!

I know that there will always be very few, of course, who will refuse to accept me. Hardened idiosyncratic traditionalists who think they know better than the tradition itself and call me a heresy. This of course is nonsense if you knew the history of the church. But I am prepared to hear and feel their stings, something – sadly – I am accustomed to. Most of the time, however, people see me as some sort of ‘agent of change’, that proverbial thin edge of some wedge to a more enlightened, more modern Catholic church. The uncomfortable truth is this: Laity have no real idea of what the priesthood entails, and most priests, sadly, have no real idea of what married family life brings to bear on the average couple sitting in their pews. I have the luxury of knowing both; I pray it will help us all grow into a better, loving and accepting community.

Even before my own marriage this past weekend, I have openly stated my favor to the ordination of married men to the priesthood. Now, I am not opposed to the celibate priesthood in the Church, but I simply believe that the Church benefits from having both. Some are called to be celibate, others are not; why not just let the Holy Spirit guide and choose and call. We have other work to do!

The next time you see me, or another married priest, think about the sacrifices he made for what he believes to be the truth. Think about our Christian unity, not just focus on the ‘change’. That’s what I pray people will think of when they see me and my family. And that my job simply is to be as good as I can be at those titles of father, husband, priest, and faithful Catholic, as I can be. I know that I will both succeed, and I will fail at it every day; probably more times than I can count, just like you.

Perhaps, we should simply be more intent on listening; something we don’t do well as human beings anymore. God may – just as He has in my life – be calling us all to something new and wonderful!
 


Pumpkins, Change, and Us!

Well, the pumpkins have arrived, and the garden is overturned. Today, Father Frank and Brother Sean and I got all the final ghostly touches done and put up the Pumpkin Tree, too! The Pumpkin Patch is officially open!  The kids are also all back at school and folks are returning to a rhythm in their routine as their weeks quickly head toward cooler weather. Fall is my favorite time of year for many reasons; a time when the trees show us how magnificent they can really be even in the midst of what looks like an emptying. Emptying only to be filled again in the Spring following the quiet, empty stillness of a winter.

I love the smell of burning leaves or a good fire in a stone fireplace, the taste of apple cider, warmth of pumpkin coffee, and the sound of a neat pile of leaves dispersed by a sudden and raging wind. I enjoy walking outside with hoodies and hot chocolate and watching all the beautiful colors that are present and I love the rustling sound as the leaves swish and crunch under my feet as I walk along a path. The Fall is always filled with keen sounds, smells and memories. Yes, I love the autumn and this year, I have another added bonus as I take on a wedding, too!

Those changing and colorful leaves had to learn to let go; it was time to release from the tree that held its life for the season, but time had passed, and change was needed. It is a reminder to me that I have to do the same, too. Change is never particularly easy for some, but I embrace it because I know good things are coming. I know all about the importance of change in my life, and I know that it is the only way that we grow, but sometimes I hate giving up all the leaves of my life.  I’m comfortable with what I have now, but I need to learn to rust Something greater. I need to let Him embrace ne and tell me when it is time to let go. To change. To become something new. 

I don’t know if I’ll get another chance to enjoy what is all around me right now, in this present moment, but I know that I should inhale deeply, love profoundly, and laugh loudly because change is coming. Change is always coming.

I want to be brave in my season of change. I want to be bold enough to say, “Bring It On! I’m ready”,  but I am not always that strong.  Sometimes, deep down, I wish things could stay the same. The leaves could just hang in place and remain a deep hue of green until it is spring again. Why do they, and so much of the things I love – outside and inside of me – have to fall and die and leave the tree so bare and so alone; so vulnerable?

Perhaps it is God’s way of changing something in me that needs changed?

 I wish you, in my absence, God’s peace as change comes and we become renewed.

 



Squaring the Circle on the Issue: I will be Married, we will have a New Associate Pastor, the Parish is Safe, and Our work continues.

The Synod on the Amazon, the three-week summit of bishops this week at the Vatican, has been overrun by the idea of German Bishop Fritz Lobinger of ordaining “elders” to the priesthood in order to provide local communities regular access to the sacraments; “married priests” is back on the table! Well, at least in discussion and disagreement! The Amazon region suffers more than most with the lack of vocational priests, with many priests forced to travel by canoe to reach isolated communities. And, of course, there has been strong resistance to the idea of abandoning the rule of celibacy for priests in the Latin Rite. These “elders,” although technically ordained, would not even be called priests and would work under a series of limitations and would also be ‘guided’ by the seminary-educated, celibate priests. (Similar to US permanent deacons.)

Of course, most of the Eastern Catholic Rites and Old Catholics have married clergy, and hundreds of clergy converts have become married Catholic priests in the Latin Rite, and in the ecumenical circles, Catholic clergy see their Protestant counterparts living and ministering with their spouses with no issue. So, in the end, while Lobinger is trying his best, I wonder why we would want to create a sort of caste system among priests? Perhaps the last thing Rome needs is another division between laity and clergy.

Experts say as many as many as 200+ Catholic priests in the U.S. are married. That’s largely because of a policy change made by Pope John Paul II in 1980, which offered a path for married Episcopal priests to continue their ministry after converting to Catholicism. And Eastern Catholic Churches have allowed the ordination of married men as priests for centuries. Of one thing we are very clear—the first Pope, Peter, was married. And, in Peter’s denial of Christ not once, but three times, in his very human weakness in walking away from Jesus at times of His greatest need, in his falling asleep and becoming so angry at times lashing out in violence, Jesus may have given us a greater insight into this issue: if you really wish to follow Me, it matters not if you are married or gay or celibate or straight; it matters if you can do it the way I taught: by loving God, loving everyone, and sacrificing everything. I think we got you covered.

It is true that in the early Church, some of the Apostles and priests were married.  But very early on, the Church was keenly aware of the wisdom of this discipline of priestly celibacy. This discipline was formally instituted in the early 300’s. Unlike the doctrines of the Church, which are the actual teachings handed down by Jesus and His Apostles and cannot change, Priestly Celibacy falls under the category of discipline in the Latin Church. Disciplines are teachings are guidelines put in place by the Church (through her good judgment) and by the authority given by Jesus to “bind” her teachings “on Earth” (cf Mat 16:19 and Matthew 18:17-18). They are given for the pastoral good of the faithful and must be faithfully observed. Many believe that Priests are “conformed to Christ” in many ways.  Included in this is following Jesus’ example of taking up a celibate life that more closely and perfectly parallels the heavenly life we are preparing for while on Earth. But the truth is we don’t know if this is actually true. The real, earthy, historical Jesus remains as much hidden today despite protestations to the contrary.

In the end, I am not sure how the greater Church will resolve this issue, but I equally know I don’t care, because we have so much good work to continue to do and what we want at our helm are priests that are content and happy and fulfilled so that they can serve us better.

Therefore, this coming Sunday we will take on a new Associate Pastor in Father Frank Souza, a Franciscan like me and dedicated to the Church as much, too. And, who has – like myself – never taken the vow of celibacy. In fact, in seminary we both left at that critical juncture, not because we knew we couldn’t be a good priest, but that we knew we were not called to be celibate, and yet somehow, Jesus still wanted us in a life of service. Then, the following Friday, Katelyn and I will be surrounded by those we love, standing in front of Bishop Gregory, as we marry and promise to die together. My heart leaps with joy and I know that God would never ask me to give up one covenant in order to form another. So, I know He will be there smiling, too.

In all of that I know, beyond any shadow of a doubt, in both instances I know that I will be married, we will have a good Associate Pastor, the Parish of Saint Miriam and the greater Church are safe, and our work will continue.
 
Monsignor +Jim
 
PS I have been told by many that Katelyn makes me calmer, nicer, and easier to get along with. I think we better keep her around!
 


St. Francis Would Be Proud.

Fall is officially here, and the weather has turned to usher in the beauty of autumn. It is a time when soon we will bless our animals in honor of St. Francis Day this coming Sunday, unload our pumpkins and open the great pumpkin farm, mid-October witness families and children getting their photos taken in the pumpkin patch, enjoy a haunted and historic tour within our cemetery, and marvel at the community that we have created together! It also should be a time for us to pause and ask ourselves if we are trying. I mean really trying. Trying to be a better men or women, better friends, better Christians, better Catholics, better parishioners, but most importantly to become better people.

As we come to the Feast of St. Francis, I am reminded that Francis of Assisi lived a model life of humility, compassion, and love, while consistently striving to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Shunning materialism and worldly affirmation, Francis lived a virtuous life of simplicity, and sought to honor the dignity of everyone – especially the vulnerable, and the outcast. He embraced his own imperfections and allowed God to grow into a world that so often rejected God. He was humble, unpretentious, and welcoming. We strive to do the same at Saint Miriam.

Together, we have built, and live within, a community that enjoys hospitality as its hallmark. It is why we offer Franciscan Moments, our weekly devotional; dedicated to living our Franciscan faith. It is why we have a school, re-envisioned and growing rapidly based on Francis’ ethos and devotion to every living creature being treated fairly. It is why we welcome everyone, care for one another through pastoral care, honor the living with a custom birthday card and a simple Cake Pops and candles the first Sunday of every month, wrap the ill and lonely in prayer shawls made at the hands of our own, baptize the newborn without litmus test, bury the dead the world rejects, honor and pray for the living and in all its wondered and beautiful forms: the gay, straight, divorced, Black, White, Indian, and Asian, too; the transgendered and the homeless, the addicted and the lost. Our welcome – and our love – has no bounds, no limits, no test, no end. All are welcome. Period. Francis would be proud.

As the leaves turn toward winter, and life becomes dormant to live again in the beauty of a springtime renewed, St. Francis is asking us again, as fellow Catholics, to live “authentic Christian lives.” Through his writings and life, he has repeatedly called for the Church to be “poor” and “persecuted”, NOT to be poor in spirit ourselves nor to persecute others or to demean them – or the world around us – with our words and actions. We all need to understand that dancing with the cultural, political, and social norms of our day doesn’t square with faith in the living, risen Christ.

Therefore, join me and let us pause and reflect on our lives honestly and ask ourselves if our words and our actions reflect the Man encountered in the Gospels. Do you not only get the Gospel’s message, but do you actually live it authentically?

I believe in the Jesus who ate with tax collectors, and prostitutes. I believe in a God of welcome. I believe in a God of second chances who rescued again and again the like of someone so broken as me. And if I’m not mistaken, deep down, we are more determined to do the same, despite our past…

Open the windows, and let the fresh Autumn air in. St. Francis is here again!

 

 



The Real Francis.

As we approach his feast day, I wonder if we are any closer to knowing the true St Francis than we are the real Jesus? At Saint Miriam, we try to avoid what is often called ‘birdbath Franciscanism’.  You know, the sweet, sappy stuff of a man leaving his wealthy family and abandoning not only his fancy clothes and status, but the world, too, to live in a harmless brown habit and make friends with the animals in some idyllic countryside setting. It is a story line that draws many into read more, but alas, one that is often untrue and lacks the substance of what it is to be a true follower of the saint we know as Francis.

St. Francis is so often idealized; he is made into an almost cartoonish character made ripe for hippies and those who seek a carefree life away from a complex world. But the vignette that has become Francis is far from what is it is live out his ideals; it is unreal at its deepest self. I can tell you as a Friar, it is not easy to be what Francis was, nor is it easy to follow him today.

Francis lived in two worlds: he looked always toward heaven, but his feet were firmly planted on the earth where his work was needed. He was grounded where the Church did what it did, but he knew there was something more and so he reached always toward God with a thirst that few could contain. He lived out the gospel life; one that was hard and dusty and often unsure of its destination in this life but was solid in where it would lead in the next. One that changed the world but was not the stuff of fairy tales or for the weak hearted or those who wished to simply play with Franciscanism. Francis knew that the even the holy Mother Church needed to change and return to a path closer to the true road of Gospel of the Christ he loved and adored.

Christian Wiman once said, “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.”  This is what Francis strived for: the core values of a gospel-centered life, an honest experience of the life of Jesus lived out in the world in a way that would change it for the better. He knew what we all must learn: one must die every day into your own life in order to truly find a way to live.

We must love our life enough to lose it, and then, after having found the reality of joyfully losing it, we find the heart of the gospel…one that changes the world and recognizes that all of life is one continuous movement that begins and ends with our creator.

In all my years now, I have never found anything that fills my life more than my priesthood. It is also the one thing that I often cry about and ask to be removed so often. Then, evening and morning comes and God, too, and Francis sings a new song. Then, I get back to the work God has for me to do. After all, I know no other way.

 

 

 



I Stand Firmly with Father Martin.

Yesterday, as I entered Front and Palmer for a wedding ceremony, an elderly lady came over to me and greeted me almost immediately. She began with, “Hello, Monsignor! I am so happy you are here! Emily is my granddaughter! My only wish was that she was married by a Catholic Priest and here you are! They told me so much about you and they love you very much! I told my parish priest in Pittsburgh that you would be coming, and he remarked that you were most likely an ‘Order’ priest. He said, ‘Order priests always go where they are needed; they keep the Church afloat!’. I understand you are a Franciscan and I am so grateful you are doing this for us, it’s how I know they will stay in the Church!”

And so, we do. Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians, Carthusians, Salesians, Carmelites, and Jesuits like Father James Martin. We continue to focus on the needs of the world, and we keep our eye on Jesus to bring healing, love, hope and peace. I often say that at Saint Miriam, we grow – not because we do all things right, or don’t make mistakes, but rather because we experience the grace of God in our errors and God blesses us as we bless others. When you are a vehicle of healing, God helps because the world needs more of us; less rules and regulations and more grace and love.

This past week, Fr. James Martin, SJ has been embroiled in a conflict with Archbishop Charles Chaput. Since he and I have gone at it a few times over the years, I know some what of what Father Martin is up against. Martin is the author of “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the LGBT Community Can Enter into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion, and Sensitivity,” and speaks frequently on issues pertaining to homosexuality and Catholicism. He spoke recently at Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s University.

It seems that was enough to enrage the Archbishop! “Due to the confusion caused by his statements and activities regarding same-sex related (LGBT) issues, I find it necessary to emphasize that Father Martin does not speak with authority on behalf of the Church, and to caution the faithful about some of his claims,” Chaput wrote. He was joined in by a chorus of other conservative bishops, like Bishop Rick Stika of Knoxville and Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, who wrote further that “Father Martin’s public messages create confusion among the faithful and disrupt the unity of the Church by promoting a false sense that immoral sexual behavior is acceptable under God’s law..” Really? God’s law, you righteously proclaim while you spew division and hate?

All of these bishops state clearly that while people with same-sex attraction are created and loved by God and are welcome in the Catholic Church, they need to “guide, encourage, and support each of us in the Christian struggle for virtue, sanctification, and purity.” That is code for ‘change or get out’ and that is not imago dei, the hallmark of our Catholic Christian faith wherein we believe that all are created in the image and likeness of God. All of us. Yes, Gay, straight etc. – all means all.

“One of the reasons that I don’t focus on same-sex relations and same-sex marriage, which I know are both impermissible (and immoral) under church teaching, is that LGBT Catholics have heard this repeatedly. Indeed, often that is the only thing that they hear from their church. What I am trying to do instead is encourage Catholics to see LGBT people as more than just sexual beings, to see them in their totality, much as Jesus saw people on the margins, people who were also seen as ‘other’ in his time,” Martin added.

Amen. Right? Those of us who are – or ever have been – on the margins, or rejected, or vilified for whom we are, know of what he speaks. And, we also now know why we exist at Saint Miriam.

Chaput wrote back in anger to Father Martin that, “The point is not to ‘not challenge’ what the Church believes about human sexuality, but to preach and teach it with confidence, joy, and zeal. Biblical truth liberates; it is never a cause for embarrassment.” There is only one embarrassment here, and it is not Father Martin lifting high the mandate of the Gospel.

You would think listening to those church leaders who object to Father’s inclusion of gay and lesbians that somehow God is only for straight people. How sad that we would reduce God to such a small box: straight, white-only, ‘good’ Catholics? That will make heaven a very small monolithic, boring place!

Father Martin is a member of the Jesuits, the Society of Jesus. I guess in the end, all of us who serve as priests shouldbe. Perhaps Archbishop Chaput needs to go back to re-learn why he became a priest in the first place.

As for me, I stand firmly with Father Martin.

 

 

 



To Block or To Allow.

“I did not see the devil’s face at Ground Zero. I saw the face of God in the people working, caring, sweating, crying, rescuing, recovering and being very spiritual in their very humanness.” These are the words of Franciscan Father Joseph Bayne, chief chaplain of New York Emergency Services, and they represent for me what I would like to remember this year as we honor this historic tragedy. As a follower of Francis of Assisi, and a Trauma Chaplain that has witnessed the worst humanity can dole out to one another, I’m challenged to bring joy to a broken and sorrow-filled world. I lived through 911 in Washington, DC and I saw the US Pentagon ablaze, people on fire, destruction, the wounds that resulted and the death, and a city locked down as if in war. We were at war that day. In many ways, sadly, we still are.

Today is another anniversary of 9/11. Sean and I were actually living in Washington, DC: I was in seminary and in formation to become a priest and a Friar. I still recall, as if it were only yesterday, how the Today Show was preempted as reporters tried to make sense out of that day. In the end, some 2,977 innocent persons and 19 terrorists – in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA – lost their lives that day. It began at 8:46 in the morning when Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center building. 102 minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. At 9:02 a.m., Flight 175 struck the South Tower. 56 minutes later, it, too, collapsed; the total length of time that these two massive towers took to fall was less than 12 seconds. By 10:03 am that same day, two more planes, at the hands of those terrorists crashed and took many more lives. In the end, some 3,051 children lost parents, 115 nations lost their nationals, and over 1,117 families, to this very day, have yet to receive any remains of their loved ones to bury and our nation was changed forever; the world was changed.

I am not sure if I understand this event now any better than I did that very morning when it occurred; that beautiful, crisp Tuesday in September. I still remember how beautiful a day it was; how those white clouds seemed to loft in the sky above DC forever; how the temperature was so perfect, no humidity, just the most perfect day. I still remember how scared I was, and how Sean and I, and our families, could not get ahold of each other for almost a full day. I still can feel that fear. I remember how quickly the streets of our Nation’s Capital became militarized as Humvees and soldiers set out to protect our national interests and those in leadership. I remember how I stood with my fellow chaplain-residents in a Level 1 Trauma Center for a ‘Mass Casualty Alert’ to receive the victims from the Pentagon, but few came; you see, most were already dead. Planes were diverted, The President was taken to a secret location, and Congressional leaders were entombed underground bunkers: our nation was attacked. I do not understand how several men could believe that killing people whom they don’t even know, people who certainly didn’t hate them, people who were simply going about their normal lives – thinking about their families, attending to the tasks of daily living and work, running into work a little early, or perhaps a little late, grabbing that quick cup of coffee before the day fully began – I do not know how they could kill these ‘others’ in the name of God. Perhaps that is why I follow St. Francis today and why I work so hard to be ‘poor’ in this life so others can taste the true God, too, at Saint Miriam?

Yesterday, I had a parishioner tell me they would not return to our parish. He stated that ‘our religious beliefs ran contrary to his political beliefs and that it caused his children to question why he voted for the [current] President.” Today, too, I blocked a good friend of mine on Facebook and reported her post. She posted an image of ‘laughing’ Muslims around the Twin Towers in New York City. The caption read, “My people” did something!” No, you are both wrong. Hate – in any form – has no place in church, political, or American life. And, until we learn that simple truth, that love is always greater than hate, we will be doomed to repeat the lessons unlearned from our past.

So, today, while I grieve the loss of anyone who decides the Gospel runs up against their politics, or friends who have decided it was a particular faith group that committed such a heinous act of terrorism, the one thing I will not do is change the mission of our parish, or my life as a priest, or give into join them and hate anyone. We are Catholic Christians, and as such we are obligated to follow the Gospel of the Christ we follow, worship, and adore. That means that Jesus really did not come to bring peace, but truth, and sometimes that truth is, well, very hard. It is always easier to hate and blame than to recognize the plank in our own eye.

How do we survive this anniversary of the single most horrific attack in our nation’s history? By allowing the fire and airplanes slamming into concrete and steel to fade, and remembering the light and the lives who gave up theirs so we might not become what we hate the most; by becoming the people the terrorists hated the most: a people of freedom, respect, love, acceptance, and peace. By blocking hatred in all its forms to usher in an era of new light.

I don’t know about you, as for me and my house we will follow the Lord…

 



How Our Journey Works!

“Every spring, and well into fall, Tucker and I begin a journey out into the neighborhoods around our home in Philadelphia. We travel anywhere from a mere few blocks up to several miles, sometimes six of seven miles in a single day! Along our route, we pray, think, reflect, ponder, and yes, even talk! (Well, I talk, and he just glares as if to say that I am somehow disturbing his walk!)”

The image, and that prologue, is how I began my 2015 version of the annual calendar that I made every year with my dog, and my best friend, Tucker. You see, we walked every day and shared our life every morning more intensely than any other part of the day. It was, as they say, ‘just him and me’.  He became my best friend, constant companion, and confidant. It was Tucker who was there for me when the world abandoned me. It was Tucker who would gaze into my eyes, as he trotted so happily next to me and in those eyes, I knew I was loved unconditionally. Tucker saw me as I wish I truly was; a good and honest man. Tucker never saw my brokenness; he just saw me – the human he fell in love with and made his companion. He trusted me, and I trusted him. It was how our journey worked.

When I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was undergoing treatment, it was Tucker who waited for me to come home. After my surgery, it was Tucker who laid by my side, day in and day out, for some two weeks as I healed; only to disappear briefly to eat or use the bathroom. Then, back to my side he would come. It was Tucker who journeyed with me every week for some eight weeks to visit my dad as he was dying. He sat in the car for the often 7-hour journey to Erie and never once complained or showed discomfort. He somehow knew these journeys home were needed. And, when my dad finally died, and I was left a partial orphan, it was Tucker who knew first and simply sat at my feet and cried, too.

Perhaps the greatest tale I can regale is when my depression got so deep and so severe that I felt the only way out was to take my own life, it was Tucker who saved me. I sat in the empty garage in my car with the engine running. There was no way in or out save one and yet, there he was at my car door begging to be let in. How he got into the garage, I will never know; no one will ever know. But I could not take him with me, so I emerged and wept and he licked my face with the thousand kisses he always gave me or Sean when we were near him. Tucker saved me, perhaps with a little help from the Holy Spirit, neither of them were ready for me to let go. I had work still to do.

It was Tucker who laid at Katelyn’s feet last Friday, as she worked on the mural of St Francis that will adorn the entry to our new building renovation. His eyes aglow with his love for her now, too. And, it was Tucker, just two days later who looked at all three of us to say, ‘it is time; you are all ok now. I must go.’ And go he did, with us surrounding him, loving him, all as unconditionally and unselfishly as he did us for the last 12 years.

Timothy Braun said of his dog, ‘She knew how to manage her own life, and she made me make changes in mine.’ No truer words of Tucker, too, could be spoken. It was Tuck’s love and those beautiful eyes that allowed us all to heal and to move forward. It was his love that allowed us to let go this past Sunday when his work here was done.

As a parish, we have never known Saint Miriam without our Tucker. He was 6 weeks old when we began in that rented synagogue space and he has been at every location ever since. This place, we now call our home, was his home for the last five years. We will all need to let go, but not forget. We will grieve for a time, but never surrender to that grief, because a beautiful Golden Retriever named Tucker taught us to live better and dream more boldly than that.

I will leave you with the words of A.A. Milne from Winnie the Poor, that I used when we first announced our loss. “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

Rest easy, Tucker, we will always love you deeply, but never as much as you showed us all how to love unconditionally, too.

 

Monsignor +Jim

 

P.S. If anyone can help offset the expenses of the last few months, now some $8,000, we would be grateful for any assistance. A check or PayPal to jimstgeorge@aol.com would be appreciated. Our grief is complicated enough without the added financial pressure. Any amount would be helpful. 

 



Just A Boy and His Dog.

I’m selfish. Oh, I know I’ve sacrificed a lot and I’ve given a lot, and I’ve even sold a lot of my possessions (including my own home) in order to further the growth of our parish. I even lived in an RV for three years until we built the Friary-Rectory. But deep down, where I don’t let very many people in, I’m inherently selfish.

This past weekend, if you were at Mass, you would’ve heard me plead that somehow God would allow my best friend, Tucker, my 12-year-old Golden Retriever, to be around a little bit longer. He has lymphoma. I know there’s no cure intellectually, but in my heart, I pray every day for a miracle. I know Sean and Katelyn do, too. This past weekend he took so severely ill that he had to be rushed to the animal hospital and he remained there until yesterday afternoon. Literally thousands of dollars later he is back home and he’s doing OK for a dog as seriously ill. I know that part of me is grateful that I was willing to give so much to bring him back home and to afford him the chance at a longer life, as long as he is comfortable. And, I know that Sean and Katelyn agree that it was the right thing to do, but I also know in my heart that I’m simply being selfish; I wasn’t ready to let him go.

I think part of my anticipatory grief is that I am remembering my dad and those words now so famous from Nancy Reagan when she was bidding farewell to her husband, President Ronald Reagan. She called the process of dying to his disease, “The long goodbye”, and that’s where I am once again in my life: getting ready to say goodbye, again.

There is no easy way to deal with grief, and there’s certainly no easy way to let something you love, no matter how long you’ve had it, slip away into the vastness of what we do not know, but somehow I’ve taken comfort in the fact that knowing what I know today I still would not have changed one day with Tucker. He has been part of the journey of Saint Miriam from its very first day some 12 year ago. He was there through my brain tumor and recovery and when I lost my dad, it was Tucker – with his head on my lap – that grieved, too. Ironically the liturgy from this past Sunday where I found my solace, at least temporarily. When I found my heart breaking in all of the unknown of the crisis that we found ourselves in, it was the Sacramentary that reminded me that God is God, and I am not. It was in the simple words from the Opening Collect that read, “O God, who have prepared for those who love you, good things which no eye can see…which surpass every human desire.”

And so, here I am today, with my ‘best boy’ back at my side for as long as that very same God will allow, and I am grateful. I know that in my heart, I’m still very selfish, but I will continue to work on that sin until that day when I would join Tuck to wherever he is going, next to my dad, whom I miss so much today, too.

When Mass was ended this past week, I did what every priest does, I reverenced the altar with a kiss and as I turned to leave, I noted our Blessed Mother staring intently at me. I took one single flower from the vase in front of the altar and I went over to her, and I laid that flower at her feet and wept, I begged her for a little more time with him. I remember weeping in much the very same way as my dad was dying and the answer came just as quickly. Our Lady gave me a little more time and for that I am grateful, but because I am selfish it will never be enough; it never is.

The words of our catechism ring true that faith without works is dead. So in perhaps my humanness, and in my selfishness, I am broken, but in my displayed willingness to give without hesitation to God‘s holy Church, He gave me something that I cannot even imagine yet.

I wish each of you the same.
 
PS Lorraine set up a Go Fund Me to help us with the great expenses that we incurred. If your heart wishes to help, here is the link