The End of a Pastor.


“In case you wonder how some of us deal with our vocation; it’s time for people to realize the depth of our pain at times. Rest well Andrew and love to your family.”

These are my words to a prelude post on my Facebook page yesterday that addressed the suicide (Yes, I said suicide) of 30 year old Pastor Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California. He attempted to take his own life last Friday, August 25, 2018, but despite being rushed to the hospital and placed on life support, he died this past Saturday. Andrew leaves behind his wife, Kayla, and three beautiful children, along with a grieving church he once called home and found so much joy in serving as pastor.  

This past August 13th, after a four-month sabbatical from ministry, Stoecklein and his wife openly stated that he had been struggling with depression and the couple was deliberating whether or not to continue in ministry during this sabbatical. “He didn’t want to stop. He would have kept on going and going and going and it probably would have cost him his life,”  Kayla said. She was right. He is now gone, and people are dumbfounded.

I have battled depression for years and I must admit that it has become worse during my tenure as a pastor. It was never this bad, even as a Trauma Chaplain. The horrors I witnessed in the Trauma Bay are often nothing compared to the emotional roller coaster I am daily bombarded with as a pastor.  I am rarely ‘right’ on anything, people leave for the slightest of reasons, I almost never receive any praise for doing a good job or for keep the parish going, but almost routinely get admonished for whatever perceived slight. I miss every holiday with my family and even lost my dad while I was trying to get home after Christmas Mass. My own insecurities and personal demons of inadequacies are heightened, and I have thought about, and even once planned, my own demise. So, I relate to Andrew. I get it.

This past week, as I labored to cover several weddings for a priest who decided to abandon his ministry without any notice, I was deluged with calls, emails, and voices raised at me. No, it wasn’t my fault and the easiest thing for me to do would have been to refund their deposits and walk away. But, I didn’t. Why? Because we are better than that, I am better than that, and ministry and service are more important to me than walking away. It was founded within the vows I took now so long ago as a priest at my ordination. This is the primary reason I chose not to end my life that day last October. But, I fault not Andrew, because I came close and I know what he dealt with his life as a pastor. And if you think him or even myself as weak, let me put this into perspective for you: whatever he was dealing with, whatever he was feeling, it was horrible enough for him to leave his wife, three kids, and a church founded by his own father. Yes, despite him being a wonderful pastor, full of warmth, wit and compassion, the pressures and life as a pastor were simply too much. In the end, anxiety and depression won. Again, I get it.

I have been on the recipient end of hatred often in my life. Some when I was younger and overweight. Later when I was trying to understand my own sexuality. Then, during the ordeal to become a priest and the hardships, and horrors, of a process designed to break you and often even abuse you. And now, as a pastor when so few realize I have feelings – that I am human, too – and cry more often than they will ever know or understand. So, that is why I pray for Andrew and all the Andrews out there like me who sometimes cannot find their balance because every time they do, someone decides to throw water on them and blame them for their lot in life when all we do is serve and give and cry and wonder if it is all worth it.

After my plan late last year and the resultant scare, I  went back to therapy and through the grace of God found my balance by having the constant love and friendship of Sean, finding David Lee and Manayunk CrossFit and then, Katelyn, who accepts me and loves beyond measure. But, I also know that even with all of that on my side, just like Andrew, I could one day fall of the edge and not return to balance. So, we added to our website links to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and a direct link from the navigation bar to take someone right to the Contact us page where the suicide prevention information is listed. You see, I don’t ever want anyone to need help and not find it. Life is too precious, even the life of a pastor.

As in this and every tragedy, we encourage anyone who is hurting emotionally to ask for help. If you or anyone else is struggling, the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK (8255) is a potentially life-saving resource. I also offer a link by Clicking Here on why pastor’s struggle. Perhaps it will help all of us find the grace of God again to be compassionate to others, and yes, even ourselves.
Andrew and his dad, David, are together again. Perhaps, just maybe, their legacy will live on in helping others to live on, too.


True Joy is Always in the Journey!


It has not been a good week for the greater Church. Scandal has rocked the foundation of Peter. Over 301 priests abusing over 1,000 children in one small state alone. It makes one wonder what the real total of harm has been worldwide? Then, this week, two additional priests in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia were removed from ministry as being found ‘unsuitable‘. Really? That is the word they use? And, to make matters worse, yesterday, a 30 year-old Allentown Diocesan priest was arrested for being inappropriate with an underage girl and sending salacious material to her. Truth is, he sought her out and then molested her in the church, but the harm was done with the very first text. The shepherd once again became the wolf.

The church has lost its way, and even the hierarchy has turned its back on this terrible epidemic and done very little. Even the Pope took two full days to release a tepid response until being forced to say something more. But, the truth is, the church has been losing its way for years, decades even. The mission was somehow circumvented by greed and a lifestyle so lavish that even kings would fall into jealousy.  We – as a people of the church – must regain the mission and the focus that Jesus intended. Today, I grieve for Jesus, too, as well as every child and every person harmed by Mother Church. No, we are not perfect, we are all broken, it is true, but none of us have ever been this broken. None of us have ever been that broken where we harmed a child. 

As a parish pastor, I have learned that knowing and embracing a clear mission is critical to any organization – especially the church. Even the Sacred Scriptures give us clear guidance about the purpose of the one, holy, catholic (universal ) Church, and each individual parish must interpret that purpose in its own context. Our mission at Saint Miriam can be summarized in one word: Welcome.  As people who have been reconciled to God through Christ and forgiven of our sins and transgressions, we exist to glorify God and participate in reconciling the world through a strong and fervent welcome and inclusive stance. There is no limit to our love.

In light of the recent scandal that has once again returned upon the Roman Catholic Church, I thought it a good idea to set down, as a reminder, a vision of our core values, and that our Saint Miriam Covenantare all built on this radical inclusive welcome. We have derived our core values over time and they serve as a strong foundation, like stepping stones on which we build and organize our work of building God’s Kingdom. Perhaps Our Vision Statement says it best, “Touch those who don’t know God, embrace those who do, and welcome the marginalized and the forgotten in a way that you wouldn’t expect!” We have made great strides in making such a place – such a parish –a reality, but, there is more work to do.

We have been blessed by maintaining a safe place for all to worship, learn, engage, and enjoy. We also have learned that some will embrace our radical nature of Jesus’ love, and others will reject us out of hand. Some will come and remain, others will stay for a time and then depart. But no matter what, we must stay driven and in concert with our core mission and values. We are a place of welcome and we are always joyful.

To be joyful, you must first know and understand who we are, what we believe, and why we do what we do! If you are a parishioner, a long-term member, or a guest who attends on a Sunday morning, I encourage you listen to the messages via our website, our online sermons, watch our Livestream, engage our social media platforms, talk to fellow parishioners, take home a weekly newsletter and announcements, and engage the materials that are displayed throughout the parish and administration areas, so that you will know this stuff firsthand! Why? Because this is who we are!

During these next few weeks of 2018, as we journey toward the return of autumn and school days and cooler weather, let us work together to honor all the good gifts that God has so freely given us. Let us all pause and reflect how grateful we are that Saint Miriam is a safe place filled with love and hope and inclusion; and, that it even exists at all. Then, let us get back to the joyful work of building and working in union with our Creator: a God who loved us so much that He gave us His only begotten Son, and a place like ours to be good stewards of.  Is there anything more valuable, anything where your dollars and effort should go, anything or anyone more deserving of being placed first in your life?

Yes, God has richly blessed us here. Let us take stock of that and then give thanks for all we are, and all we will one day be, as we remain faithful to the call of being radically loving and true to our mission!

Saint Francis often said to his followers, “What a man is before God, that he is and no more.”  With great humility, Francis had often applied these words to himself. I pray we will always, as well.  So far, we are doing a really good job because we have learned the truth, that true joy is found in the journey together!


So, What Do Friars Actually Do?


When I tell people I’m a Franciscan, one of the main responses I often hear is, “So what does a Friar [Franciscan] do?” Usually I smile and say, “Well… it’s not so much a matter of what we do, as it is who we are and what we give.”

As a Religious brother, we do many different things. Some of us are ordained priests, some brothers, some work in the world or volunteer to make others and their lives better.  Some of us serve as pastors, retreat directors, teachers, professors, missionaries, nurses, administrators, chaplains, campus ministers, social workers, carpenters, cooks, writers, artists, and many other things! But, if pressed, I would have to say our unique and oftentimes overlooked vocation is to be a certain kind of person in this world.  Let me explain…

You see, all of us – as the ‘baptized’ – have been called to a life of holiness and to give witness to Christ in our lives. Whether one is married, ordained, single, or a religious, each person expresses that universal call of baptism in a particular way. For religious, living the vows of poverty, charity, and obedience give witness to the life of Christ, and to the future resurrected life of all humanity in the heavenly kingdom. Consecrated religious are called to be a light within the Church, just as the Church is meant to be Christ’s light in our world!

Therefore, Religious priests, sisters, and brothers all partake in this kind of witness, but each in our own way. We are to remind the Church that we are all sisters and brothers in Christ with the same Father in Heaven, no matter our Order, or even our denomination. Women religious, too, offer their unique gift of sisterhood and make known the feminine experience of God and the reality of a life in Christ. Brothers, as men who live in community, similarly are witnesses to fraternity in a world that is so often divided and in which human relations at all levels are breaking down. Just as religious sisters bring to the Church their unique gifts as women, so brothers, with a somewhat more masculine perspective, offer their gifts to the Church as men devoted to the Gospel.

Herein lies, I think, the distinct perspective that the brotherhood vocation offers. A Religious brother or sister lives out a calling to service in ways that the world does not expect from human beings in the world today. We are not always parent or pastor and some not even a priest, but our mutual vocation is not defined by what we are, but rather who we are and what we give.

At Saint Miriam, we are fortunate and blessed enough to have three Religious Priests, a Religious Deacon, and a Brother Friar, (First Order) almost ready to profess his Solemn Profession. We also enjoy 10 Secular Franciscans, (Third Order), who also live their poverty in sacrifice to others in the world, as First Orders do so within the Church itself.  Together, we also make Saint Miriam and the School and Cemetery run well!  We set up for Masses, prepare for Liturgies, mow the lawn (Yes, we cut grass!), tend to the Angels of Assisi Pet Memorial Garden, set up for Saint Miriam Café’ every Sunday, clean, straighten the pews, order and stock supplies, meet with those in need, run a vacuum now and again, help do routine maintenance and chores, lead Rosary, and yes, we even take out the trash! All of these mundane tasks serve the greater glory of God and God’s holy Church because we serve and do so joyfully and with an attitude of service, not expectation! Oh, and yes, we give financially and generously, too, to help support this wonderful place, because we could not imagine our world without it…could you?

Imagine a world where each of you did the same? Where you came to this place, not wanting anything other than the Lord’s Presence in your life. Imagine giving something – some small task, an extra donation, some hour of volunteer service – some moniker of expression of your joy found in this place of love and God’s abundance of gifts to you. What would the next day look like for you, for God, and for Saint Miriam?

Whatever I “do” as a brother Friar, I hope that I will do it sincerely as one called to be a brother to others, a family man in the Church, and that upon my rest, someone will miss me, not for what I was, but how much I gave…



Come Early, Stay Late, if Not Forever.


This summer has allowed me some down time to think. I know what you are asking yourself, “He needs time to think?!” Well, actually I do!

You see, a parish our size is busy, even in summer, but just in a differentway. Unlike those parishes who are operated out of garage or a living room, we have actual facilities to manage, a campus to care for, people who depend on us for their livelihood, volunteers to welcome, and many more visitors who are stopping in as they travel and seek a place of worship, summer camp for the school, increased maintenance and renovations for cemetery and classrooms (when less people are around and in the way!), and making it all balance when funds are lower due to travel and vacations. Heck, even I take my annual vacation every July, so I get it, but it doesn’t negate our responsibility to keep things here for your return this fall. And, yes, summer also gives me a little more time to read, to pray, and to think.

Yesterday, I was excited about all of the new visitors who have come our way this summer. We were excited, too, because the majority have registered already as parishioners and three have their children already registered in PREP/CCD! The parish, as a whole, is growing and we all have much to be proud of. But it also occurred to me that some of us still dwell on those who leave us from time to time.

Let me segue for a second! I will be the first to admit that I am hurt every time someone decides we are no longer the right place for them. Sometimes it as a result of our growing and adapting to that growth, other times it is their own stuff, or the needs of their own journey, and every once in a while, admittedly it is our fault. We simply failed them somehow. Luckily, those times are very few, and more often it is simply this: We were called to be part of their journey for a season. The length of that season is between them and God, but I am ever so grateful that we had the opportunity to be there for them, no matter the length of time.

Back to my original thinking! So, as I pondered this ‘newcomer becoming a parishioner’ ideal, it struck me: every single one of these people who become a member here, leave some other church! In other words, there is out there somewhere a pastor and a community that mourns their loss, just like we grieve our members who leave, but also who celebrate new people without ever thinking much about the journey from someplace else! Every new person here, came from some other place out there

It takes a lot to run a parish. We cannot possibly be everything to everyone. And, I might put it into your thinking that if we ever did try and accomplish that, place one person’s needs above the community as a whole, we would surely perish. Those who love this place, love it for all it is, not for what it could be just for them. Many of our parishioners come early and enjoy breakfast before Mass in the Undercroft or stay after services to enjoy a warm fellowship with tasty food, too! But most of all, every one of them is here because of you: those who make this place so wonderfully different from other catholic parishes. A safe place where all can stay for as long as they want, or until their journey begins anew.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

Let us all celebrate the community we have, instead of tearing down those parts that are not quite right for our own agendas. Let us be willing to sacrifice a little for the greater good, rather than fall prey to our own human pettiness and selfishness. Let us, too, find a way to build up the great place we created and named Saint Miriam.
Yes, we have so much to be thankful for and maybe that should be in all of our thoughts as we look to the fall return? After all, we are here to stay!

Who Says You Don’t Read My Stuff?!

In one famous scene from the sitcom, Friends, Ross, becomes a member of his college alumni site. When Ross annoys him and Joey, Chandler writes “Ross has sex with dinosaurs” on Ross’ page. So, Ross creates a page for Chandler where he claims that Chandler is  gay. This leads to Chandler posting that Ross is dead after being hit by a blimp! At first, Ross plans to post doctored photos of Chandler being gay, but then mocks Chandler that his fake comments on Ross’ death didn’t get any comments…until he realizes that this means none of his college friends care if he is dead!! The two eventually make up and, with the help of Monica, throw a fake memorial service for Ross, where only two people show up! However, one ends up being a hot girl who revealed she had a crush on Ross. Later, of course, she is appalled when she finds out Ross was lying and that the whole thing was a childish game between the two friends. She storms out, but Ross is giddy over the fact that one of the hottest girls at his college had a crush on him!

That is how I felt this week when my Devotion this past Monday was mistakenly read as a farewell to my being Pastor at Saint Miriam! I was elated that so many felt they still wanted me around! So, as I leave for vacation this week, I will make it short and sweet: I am not leaving as pastor and I hope to return next Sunday after a week off!

I will admit. it was nice to receive such wonderfully warm notes, and one day, if I ever decide to step down (or die!) I will be sure to write a formal, more appropriate letter! (Well, scratch that if I am dead; someone else will do the writing!)

Sorry for the confusion, but it is simply another smaller community I have decided it is time to leave. I had hoped that my devotion would help others move on when the time is right. I apologize for the upset. (Darn, I hate it when Deacon Pat is right!)

See you next week!
Msgr +Jim

Dead on the Inside.


This past week, over several days, I have driven by a parish just down the road and noted how they have carefully cared for their lawn, added mulch and additional landscaping, and then pressure washed their Blessed Mother statue. It turned out beautiful! The exterior is beautifully stunning, but the interior is dark. The problem is that this very same parish is dead on the inside.

As I was about to leave my office for the day this past week, a family member called and explained to me that they needed a priest. Their father was in a nursing home and was refusing to eat until he saw a priest. They contacted his former parish. The priest from there refused to come because he’s no longer an “active member.” So, they reached out to me.

When I arrived that next morning, I found him with his family. I administered the Sacrament of the Sick and I also gave him Holy Communion and prayed with him and listened to his confession. I sat and held his hand and he was very grateful. He reminded me of my dad and was in a very similar condition. His left side was paralyzed, and he wore a baseball cap. His sons doted over him, as I once did with my dad. It took me aback and I almost began to weep, as I have struggled lately with being a bit overwhelmed and longed to see my dad again.

This man is 96 years old and served during World War 2 where he was shot down as a fighter pilot over Germany. He parachuted over 1200 feet to the ground and hid until he was rescued. In all, he flew 47 Sorti Missions, served our nation, protected his homeland, and yet somehow a priest decided he wasn’t worth coming to, even when his family told him that their father was refusing to eat until he saw a priest.

I have to admit that I, too, didn’t wantto go. At least, I was so busy that I wanted to wait, but for some reason I neededto go and I knew that morning it was time. I set aside all that I needed in order to make my way there. I prayed the entire way for guidance. I wanted to do right by him. I once failed someone, today was not going to be a repeat.

I remember that last time as if it were yesterday, how I was called to a hospital room as a Trauma Chaplain at Lehigh Valley Hospital during a 24-hour shift. I was exhausted after so many traumas that evening and I waited to go up for almost two hours, so I could rest a little. The patient died during that delay, I wept at my own selfishness, and now I go every time asked in his memory. I failed that night as a priest; it won’t happen again.

Sometimes you are rewarded for your efforts. Sometimes it takes years for you to see that reward, other times it is instantaneously; like this one. As I was leaving the nursing home, the man I visited asked if he could give me a hug goodbye. I told him he could and bent over to out my arms around him. As I did, I told him that if he needed me again, I would return; just ask. He hugged me tightly, kissed me on my left cheek and whispered in my ear, “I am proud of you, son.”

I know that in some sort of way, my dad was there again. He gave me hope and life and courage to continue on, even in the midst of my weariness. I miss my dad, but now know that he and I will see one another again. That is the gift I needed and by doing something so simple, I was rewarded, too.

I wonder what the world would be like if we, as Christians, actually did the work required? I wonder if we ever fail to see how important, how vital, how life changing what we do is to others? I also wonder if we see how devastating it is when we fail to act when needed, or when we place our own selfish needs first?

There are Catholics in the world who are dead inside. For them it is about rules and regulations. For me, and I pray for you, it is about the love and grace of God. A God who has been there for us and who still comes in the most unexpected of ways.

Saint Miriam is one such place.

An Awful America is Not What I Remember.


Now, I know what you will say to me. “Father, nothing has changed, only your perspective has!” Well, I hope not. After all, I pray to have more than a couple more decades to go and I want to raise a family and build a good life. I want the ‘American Dream’, but I won’t have it if it comes at the expense of others. I won’t take it if it means we become what we always hated. I can’t allow it if it means that others must be rejected and treated like criminals. No, I want to be the America I remembered as a child. I want that America again.

I remember when the 200th anniversary of our country occurred. It was a very big deal! And, growing up in Erie, PA, we only had one newspaper: the Erie Daily Times. Now, to be sure, they wanted you to believe they had competition! That is why on Sunday the newspaper that was delivered to your doorstep at the hands of a young newspaper carrier was called, The Sunday Times News! But, you guessed it, same paper, same publisher, different name!

So, what was the significance of the paper and the year 1976? Well color ink was introduced to mainstream news publishing and this edition – the one that celebrated our country and it is 200th bicentennial birthday was in glowing colors of Red, White, and Blue stripes all the way down Page 1! And yes, above and below the fold! (Like I said, it was a very big deal!)

At any rate, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it! So, when it was delivered, I ogled at every tint of color and at every word and then I found a box, wrapped it lovingly and carefully in tin foil from my mother’s kitchen cabinet, and placed it gently under my bed for safe keeping! I was proud to be an American that day, even as youngster. Today, I am still proud, but I am sorely disappointed. This is not the country I remember. And, what I want to do, is to bring it back to that day on Sunday, July 4th, 1976 when every person swelled with love for a country that had been proud to have its door a statue holding a bright lamp that proclaimed to welcome everyone who was willing to work hard, give back to others, embrace the American dream, and love her, too, just like me…just like you. You see, we were all immigrants, or at least the prodigy of immigrants. This was all of our adopted home. We knew it back then. Today, not so much.

Today, we smug and unabashed. Today, we are unwilling to see others, let alone love them or recognize their inherent humanity. Today, we are arrogant, mean, rude; we are the playground bully on a national stage! Today, we are a nation I no longer recognize.

Before, we embraced where we had come from and the fact that at one time we were the very oppressed seeking a safe harbor. Therefore, we welcomed everyone recognizing their need for safe harbor and community, too. Our hearts were easy to grant asylum and shelter because we knew the pain of being turned away. Today, we just as easily turn our backs on the new ‘thems’ because their skin color is different, or they speak not the same language, or come from a country where a dark-skinned radical terrorist once came from, and we care not for their needs or history or stories because, after all, it is now all about America! It is ‘us first’ not them, no matter the fact that at one time the ‘thems’ were our grandparents and our ancestors. Our histories are replete with stories that are similar to those ‘yearning to breathe free’ today. No, sadly, the difference is not them, the difference now is us.

The image I used today came from a blog post entitled, “If this is America being Great, I’m ready to be Awful again”, on a blog site called, myunexpectedlifesite. It is written by our own Patricia Liguori’s daughter, Vanessa. I urge you to ready her powerful words and then reflect on mine. Maybe, just maybe, we will find America again.

Now, before any reader takes to pen, or rustles up some ‘key board courage’, let me remind you of a few facts. First, I am a priest, and as such I will always err on the side of the downtrodden, the forgotten, the marginalized, the rejected, or the hurting. Second, my parish is a Sanctuary Parish. That simply means we will open our doors – and protectanyone needing such a place. We continue to maintain and believe that God is the giver of this moment, and hand-in-hand with other sanctuary parishes and pastors of all kinds, we are willing to provide refugee accommodation because we follow the One who at His birth needed the same.

I pray we find our way again. I pray that by continuing to err on the side of love and acceptance and inclusion, we will reveal old values, even as it will equip us to claim new truths, and to discover again the Holy Spirit, who broods over the world like a mother over her children. And, yes, immigrants and alien children, too.

After all, the dark-skinned 1st Century Galilean Jewish Mary we honor and adore knows their plight, right?
P.S. Ironically, that protected and cherished newspaper edition I so loved. It is as lost as our nation today. Maybe God knew then that one day I would need to write these words.


We Bought a New Home and Increased Our Giving to the Church.


In the coming weeks, after the legal challenges are rectified, the new Grand Jury report will be released. Lawyers are fighting the Roman Church at large, and a few other individuals with legal standing,  as they try to repress its release. Yes, the sex abuse scandal will once again be firmly in the headlines, and this report is said to be worse than ever expected. A member of the house of representatives, and a good friend to us here and an occasional parishioner, is once again going to side with the victims; as he should. He will receive flack and intimidation, but we will hold him up in prayer, support him, and ensure his support of the weakest is upheld.

In the news not too long ago, a youth pastor was arrested for theft of food cards intended to help the homeless. His attorney said of him that his client used, “colossally poor judgment.” And even former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who led the Archdiocese of Washington while I was in seminary, and a noted political force in the nation’s capital, has been removed from public ministry by the Vatican because of allegations of sexual abuse.

Nationally, immigrants are being detained, children being taken from their parents as they try to cross our border to escape tyranny and poverty, and even non-US citizen veterans – some of whom served in our nation’s conflicts for many tours, are being walked to our nation’s borders and told they are not welcomed here, despite their willingness to die to protect our rights and sovereignty. Some will point to their misdeeds, but in the end, they wore the uniform of the United States of America, and deserve our protection and thanks. 

Even our beautiful St. Francis Statue that welcomes everyone to our campus here at Saint Miriam was destroyed last week by vandals who also decided to make their point known clear when they left – cut into pieces – the sign that read, “Hate Has No Home Here”. Point taken. Love undeterred.

It seems the church, the nation, and perhaps even our world, is falling apart at the expense of the poorest and the most vulnerable. Hate seems to be winning, darkness prevailing, and those with power seem to believe that it is found at the expense of others. Not here. Not at Saint Miriam. We remain, as always, a place of Sanctuary, of hope, of love, and of unconditional welcome!

Earlier today, Katelyn and I closed on our new home. It isn’t all that much and it is wonderfully close to campus! I will split my time between the rectory and personal residence, as needed. But, the Friary will remain a place of lodging for our other priests, visitors, and Friars, as originally intended. We will need to make adjustments to our living expenses to make our ends meet at home, but we decided that God gave us a great gift; one that needs to be recognized and honored. After all, we have a home when many who are impoverished don’t. We have a home, when immigrants struggle to come to a country that once held high its Lamp. We have a home that we will raise a family and welcome friends when many others purchase their home and stop supporting the church. Not us.

So, this week, we actually bought a new home and increased our giving to the parish by $300 more a month. Yes, we added to our already generous giving level, because what we have here at Saint Miriam is worth every sacrifice. Sean, myself, and now Katelyn, too, will live our life as we always have, honoring the scripture, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

I believe that we must all begin to make such sacrifices in order to protect and honor the gift God created with us. We must begin to realize that we are embedded icons, living sacramentals, who sustain grace, and hold together the fiber of our communities, by our willingness to sacrifice and honor God and welcome the stranger into our family. We live in, and are influenced by, the often hateful nature of our culture, but through our taking a firm stand against the hate, we clothe ourselves in truehabits, as we become sacred and living icons to the Gospel we serve.

One day, when people gaze back upon us, and the work we accomplished together, they will see how we imparted hope to the hopeless, and see, too, how we reflected back the Light of the One we worship and adore.  And that, is worth my sacrifice, and I hope yours, too.
Msgr. +Jim


P.S. As I ended my writing in draft form, Lorraine texted me to tell me that one of our families, who admittedly struggles financially, started to give electronically every month their donation of $40.00 per month. That’s right, a family with little has decided to sacrifice so that their pearl of great price is here for others. Together we honor what we are…


St. Francis is Vandalized and The World is Fractured, too.


One of my favorite childhood memories is of long summer days, spent reading and relaxing. We lived in a house in the city, but it was almost rural when first built. The back yard that my mom and dad set up had a gazebo structure and shades you could roll down to keep out the sun. There were comfortable lounge chairs, and my sister and I would load up with all kinds of summer reading materials. When we weren’t out riding bikes or playing in the neighborhood, we were camped out on the porch, reading. Nowadays, I have to fit in my reading for pleasure—or even for continuing education—around my daily work. I long for summer days, filled with the ‘nothingness’ to do. I long for a gentler, quieter time.

That is not where we are today in this country. It is almost a country that I do not recognize anymore. We have become a scared, isolated, mean-spirted nation of people who want a homogenous mix of themselves. We are closing our doors, our roadways, our entry points, our hearts. We are isolating ourselves from the world, needs of others, and one another. We use social media and the bible as weapons. We are rapidly becoming that which we were to hate. We are close to shrouding Lady Liberty, for her words and meaningless in a nation that cares not for the poor, the marginalized, the in-need, the asylum seeker, the refugee, but only for itself.

The state of the church isn’t much better. We are made up of a larger and growing majority of consumer-driven, non-sacrificing, all-for-me, what’s-in-it-for-me, I leave when I am not getting my way, church attendees. I say attendees because true parishioners, true members, true congregants always care more for the others and the greater church then themselves. Otherwise, we are just a social club, and not a real church.

Church attendance is declining. Over 38% in the last two decades alone and 59% of millennials never attend a church at all. If the Republican or Democratic Party had stats like this, they would be freaking out and dramatically changing the way they do things, but instead we just bury our heads and try to appease those who do come to ensure they remain members. At the same time, we sacrifice our moral vision and give up our authority and the church suffers. People suffer. The nation declines. The two go hand in hand. Now we are reaping what we sow. Often, eitherwe simply ignore the decline of the church in America because the patient ‘isn’t sick enough’, meaning that before people start taking things seriously, attendance must reach critical levels. Or, we propose cosmetic changes to our collapsing structures in hopes that brings people back.

According to Harvard Professor Robert Putnam, in the first two thirds of the 20th century, volunteer-based activities were thriving and growing, and local communities were vibrant. People were voting more, churches’ attendance was on the rise, families ate together as a rule, and people hosted one another at their homes. People volunteered more in local community projects, and as much as we can quantitatively evaluate, people behaved in a more generous and trustworthy ways toward one another. But, then “mysteriously, and more or less simultaneously we began to do all those things less often.” This epidemic that has largely collapsed the American community and the church is at death’s door, too.

At Saint Miriam, we are often criticized because we live and love by a covenant. We do so because it has served us well and that means that sometimes we watch as people leave us. Some come because they think they can trample over others and still remain part of us. Others, use their illnesses or brokenness or past wounds as a crutch and weaken us even as we try to help them. Still others use their own needs to harm others or engage in rumor or gossip or are inhospitable. Some allow no room for the differentthanthemselves. And, still others fail to sacrifice for the good of the parish and the greater Church. Rather they hoard their money, or state that giving $50 a month is far too much a sacrifice, as they cut off their minimal donations in spite to make a point, or claim they are wealthy and that somehow their not donating is proof positive that weare failing and they are right! But, in reality, we are not failing them, they are failing God – and themselves – and they wake every morning miserable and mean, and wish us to be so, too. We won’t.Our mission, our love, and our strength are better than this, stronger than their hatred, and bigger than their selfishness.

Yesterday we discovered that the St Francis that welcomes everyone to our campus at our entrance was damaged. It is the image I used for my blog today. Simultaneously, our “Hate has not Home Here” sign was removed and torn in half. The two are not separate incidents and are not only related, but an image of where we are in the nation, not just on the immigration debate, but also with one another and our fellow humans. We are hateful and broken and we better get a hold of ourselves, or the world will suffer, and we will all lose.

This morning, I woke to find a harsh response to an image I posted yesterday on my personal Facebook page. It is not secret that I am a priest. It is no secret that I am liberal and welcoming and accepting of all others, especially those who need a home, because I know what it is like to be an orphan. The response came from a friend and was so filled with rhetoric and hate that I responded, not in kind, but with kindness of reminding them who they are. I am sure I will be unfriended now, but we must all stop being so damn hateful. I share my response to this person, changing his name, of course, and perhaps in doing so I will remind those who think the foreigner amount us must be hated, too, might pause and remember who they are:  a creation wonderfully made in God’s own image to love the orphan, care for the injured and the sick, welcome the stranger and foreigner into our land, feed the hungry, and place a roof over the head of the homeless, all in order to truly live out the Gospel of our Christ.

“I am not sure who posted this response to me, but this is not the John Smith I know. The John Smith I know is the man who thanked me for saving the Zion legacy and who honors our nation and those who served her. The one who I shook hands with many times, embraced and worshipped with – not with common religious tradition, but mutual love and respect for one another. The one whose grandchildren attended our school, and who sat with his wife in my parish’s pew on many occasion. The one who created the most beautiful signs for our campus. The one who I call a friend and never forget to pray for, and whom I thought would also care for and pray for me. That is the John Smith I know and love. Whoever wrote this reply forgot that I am a priest, a friend, and fellow sojourner who never spoke an ill word toward him or wrote anything mean spirited. The person who wrote this hateful reply I do not know at all. Therefore, I choose to think it was penned by another and instead I will cherish the John Smith I know and still love. And, maybe, just maybe, if we can do that together, the world will, too, and every living person – especially the children who are the most vulnerable and weak among us – will find a kinder and gentler nation – with a people who value love above hate and division – to welcome them to a place they can call home, too. This is not an issue of laws, it is an issue for me of morals. Today, I wake to find even those I love somehow different and that makes me sad and breaks my heart. Today I am simply sad.”

I believe that there is enough hatred in this world. I will not pastor a parish filled with such people, nor condone it in my personal life, friends, family, or on my social media feeds. If you feel the same way, I will see you Sunday in a Sanctuary Parish named Saint Miriam that will welcome all. If not, I wish you well on your journey, and I will continue to pray that warmth of some stranger’s welcome reminds you of the way the world used to be when summer meant a time of respite and peace, of reading and loving, and the world welcomed even the stranger among us, not with a sword, but with a homemade apple pie, and a bright lamp at her door that promised a new life and safe lodging at last.