You Can Go Home Again.

Novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote a lengthy novel called You Can’t Go Home Again, which was highly acclaimed when published in 1940, after his death at the age of 38. It was required reading in my Pros and Fiction Literature course at college my very first year after high school, but honesty I only read excerpts and relied on a synopsis in the event of a test. (This obviously was a reflection on me at the time and not on one of the literary giants of the 20th century!)

Actually, I was always intrigued by the meaning of the title, if not the 720-page paperback novel, for in my youth I always assumed that you could always go home again, but as I grew older and became plagued by my mistakes of growing up, it was harder and harder for me, for there, back home…I was always only 9 years old and always “little Jimmy who seems to never make good.”

The book’s title obviously became a worn out saying and cliché. I believed it simply because it was written in the psyche of our culture. But, these last few trips home, especially after my father’s death, have shown me a new way to look at ‘home’.

Whether your “home” was a college dorm, or your first apartment, where a set of adoptive parents held you first, the condo you purchased, or the longtime family homestead in some small away town you grew up in, or whatever it looked like or felt like, those “homes” don’t appear to be the same when you revisit them; it is simply true, and there is no denying it. However, I have found that it is we who change and that it is a good thing. We become stronger as we are filled with more life experience. We let go of our youthful fantasy of what home is supposed to be and realize that home is truly where our heart is. Today, as I write this weekly reflection I am home and would not want to be any place else.

Yes, I have learned for me that the same water and sand and beach and sky are still here, it is my memories, now wound together with my past wrapped in the knowledge that I have gained through experience that make me whole. As I crossed the threshold to my family home this past evening – and my yesterdays and tomorrows blended into each other – I noted how perfectly our lives are composed of innumerable memories. The bad fade, the good linger, and the fondness grows. God’s generous gift to me and to you.

The thought that things change as you age and look back is an elusive matter. So, yes, you can always go home again because all your previous “homes,” even including some unpleasant memories, always dwell in your heart where grace abounds.

Today, I am home…

Living Tiny…Living Large…Giving More!

As you may know, we sold our home. We did in order that we might be able to give the equity we earned to Saint Miriam to help us build a new church. No, the decision did not come easily or lightly. It took a lot of prayer and a lot of arguments (‘er, ah, talking! Ya talking!) But, we made the decision, sold our furnishings to an auction house, destroyed ten years worth of old records in storage, and made the choice to live in a ‘Tiny Home”. It’s like being on a tiny adventure!
The National Association of Home Builders reports that single-family homes are getting bigger, averaging 2,434 square feet in 2005 compared with 983 square feet in 1950.
Tiny houses buck that trend, and there are cable TV shows such as my favorite, Tiny House Nation, and a wonderful documentary called, Small is Beautiful, and while I was always fascinated with the idea, I never really – deep down – thought that I could do it. But, I have. And now, after a few weeks of getting used to it I must admit that I love it!
The tiny-house movement is all about living large in a small space. Remember the aforementioned 983-square-foot 1950s home? It’s big enough to contain several tiny houses, which can be as compact as 80 square feet and rarely exceed 500 square feet. Our home is approximately 362 square feet. (Yes, no misprint!) And, yes, it take some getting used to, but you quickly learn how to move and get along with everyone living with you! Even Tucker has finally settled in and since there is no room for his kennel any longer, he has taken to sleeping in the tiny bathroom (I guess, truth be known) it is a bit smaller than his previous kennel! So, we all made it work.
Why? We decided that our lifestyle is one of conscious choice:  We choose to live connected to the land, our food, our God, and each other. We also choose to live a zero-debt lifestyle in order to give more to help build a church and to allow God to use us and allow us to be less burdened and less in debt. No, we are not debt free, but the goal is one that will not elude us if we stick with it.  And, there is something comforting of letting go.
In order to move into our home, we had to let go of a lot! No extra books (all on an iPad now), no extra clothes (reduced and down to a few of each needed item), no extra food (minimally stocked cabinet and smaller meals make better choices for living in small spaces, no more changing things around (I used to love to rearrange the furniture on a monthly basis! No more, the decision was made when the space was built!), and the new rule that ranks right up with “Worship only one God”…anything new IN means something old goes OUT! So, storage is minimal, decisions minimal, and space minimum, but the reward has been living large. How?
I have more time to dream, to think, to pray, to sit, and to just be me. I have a new relationship with my partner, my dog, my family, and my God, and yes, even with myself! I worry less and I have learned to live more simply.
Do I ever yearn for my previous life and the McMansion I once owned? Never. Why? I have things far more valuable and they take up no added space.


For Less Than Porta Potties….

Quod igitur conspicuum fuit Salvatoris Nostri in sacramenta transivit, orloosely translated, “What has been visible of our Savior has passed over into the sacraments”.  It is the essence of why we honor the sacraments, and why we place so much emphasis on the way and place we worship. It is not ‘good enough’ for us to simply place a podium in the middle of a room filled with chairs and add in a band. No, it is much deeper for us, as Catholics, and this is why the building of the new parish is so essentially part of our very soul. Why? Because we believe the Eucharist is essential to the life of the Church, and nothing outshines it.

As we learned in the Franciscan reflection earlier this week, they say that one of the most significant and formative experiences in the life of a parish is the process of building a new church. Saint Miriam is in such a process and it is very exciting and we well on our way! During this process, and even before it was announced, we have endeavored to remain faithful to the Church’s teachings and our liturgical theology, coupled with our parish history, to bring about a plan that would allow us to grow and continue a legacy of love and hope – our ‘radical welcome’!

As Catholics, we believe that from the altar of the cross, Christ accomplished our redemption, forming a holy people, a “temple of God built of living stones, where the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth.”  The eternal hymn of praise that Christ places within our heart, and on the lips of the entire holy Church, will be sung at the end of time in all its fullness, when all the members gather at the wedding feast of the Lamb in the heavenly Jerusalem! And that is why this should be a time of coming together, of great joy, and of personal sacrifice, as we build something that very few people can ever really claim to do in their lifetime: build a brand new house of worship for the God of the universe!

Just as the term “Church” refers to the living temple, God’s People – us – the term has also been used to describe “the building in which the Christian community gathers to hear the word of God, to pray together, to receive the sacraments, and celebrate the Eucharist.”  Such a house of prayer must be expressive of the real presence of God and suited for the celebration of the sacrifice of Christ, as well as a reflection of the community that celebrates there. That is why we are putting so much effort into the plans to build a beautiful place for all to come, and dwell, and reflect on the very God who gave us life itself, eternal life.

Churches, then, should never be “simply gathering spaces”, but rather signify and make visible the ‘living Church’ and thus itself becoming “a sign of the pilgrim Church on earth and reflects the Church dwelling in heaven.” Our new parish campus will be a place to encounter God, as well as a point of departure on the Church’s unfinished journey toward the reign of God, as we come and go – but always with Christ in our hearts and on our lips.

I have noted how everyone is so very excited about the Papal visit. Soon the City of Philadelphia, and the surrounding area, will be inundated with millions of visitors. The Archdiocese has a budget estimate of well over 45, 000,000 (45 million dollars), and part of that cost, well over $2,000,000 (yes, that’s two million!) will be spent just on Porta Potties! Some are also taking advantage of the lack of enough hotel rooms by offering their one bedroom apartments for upwards of $10,000 for the week. They say they are not taking advantage, but that is exactly what they are doing. It is simply un-Christian! And, in the end, what will they have to show for it?

Look, I am excited about the Holy Father’s visit, too. I still hope to have the opportunity to meet him. But, after a few hours and a Papal Mass on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, he will be gone, and so will 45+ million dollars. We , on the other hand, are going to build an entire church for less than 1.5 million and it will last lifetimes, many over, many generations to come.

And so at the new Saint Miriam Parish, we will continue the traditions of washing and anointing, breaking the bread, and sharing the cup, raising our arms in blessing and imposing hands as visible signs by which Christ manifests and accomplishes our sanctification and salvation in the Church, and we will do it all for less than the Archdiocese will spend on Porta Potties.

Where will you place your support?

That’s Heaven to Me…

“There is sorrow. There is always sorrow.”  That is the firm teaching that one of my oldest and wisest mentors once told me, as I prepared to finish my seminary education and transition from ‘laity’ to ‘ordained clergy’. He was not trying to be harsh, or demeaning, or even scare me away; he was being honest – brutally honest – in order that I might somehow be prepared. I wasn’t. I was not until I endured it, until it became the pattern of my life.

My transitions, the accompanying sorrow, have never really stopped from the moment when Archbishop Gundry laid his hands upon my head and breathed over me the power of God. In some respects it has even gotten a little more intense with the passage of time. I often say that being a priest is always saying goodbye. At times, it has called me to stay put in a place where I disdained greatly, or to leave a place that I loved immensely, or to bid farewell to someone I loved deeply. You see, I have learned that God’s time is almost never our time.

These past few months I have endured the greatest challenges in my priesthood by way of transitions. The loss of good friends. The death of my father. The illness of my mother. The burying of Father Joe. The transition of Archbishop Cass. The welcoming of Bishop Gregory as Presiding Bishop, and back home to Bishop Ken as part of our ministry team. The letting go of my home, and even the loss of my aquarium that I had cared for now for some six years; some of those fish were a mere quarter inch or less and now, as they left my door for the last time, were upwards of almost 10”! Silly, huh?  Well, for some, but for me… it is yet another image, and perhaps metaphor, of letting go and allowing sorrow to mold me into a better human being. A stronger priest. A more compassionate pastor.

I suppose there is nothing inherently tragic in losing a fish tank or even about an elderly parent dying, but for me they are reminders of significant loss. Yes, my dad lived well and long, and burying parents is a principal duty of children in every culture and of every age.  And, I know that the selling of a home, even when you give it all away, is not of any noteworthiness I suppose to most people. But we feel these losses, even though they are natural and normal. We miss our dads, our former homes, neighbors, friends, classmates, school chums, and our pets. We grieve our childhood home, friends who have hurt us, people in authority who have let us down. And sometimes we weep over bigger, truly tragic events — a typhoon’s destruction, children murdered in their school, terrorists and plagues, and a society that seems off its rails.

But all of this is part of life. Real life in all its dimensional glory and sorrow. I am reminded of how the Gospel of Matthew doesn’t hesitate to include it even at Christmastime. In a very matter-of-fact way, the Apostle says that King Herod slaughtered all the boys two years and younger in Bethlehem and its vicinity. Indeed, in his zeal to show that every event of Jesus’ nativity was a fulfillment of scripture, Matthew writes that even the screams of their disconsolate mothers were foretold. “Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah,” he writes. “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”  That could be the parents of Newtown, or the 234 kidnapped girls of Nigeria; it could be family of Robin Williams, or any of the hostages beheaded by ISOL. It could be the families of the victims of the train crash in Philadelphia, or the airliners missing in Malaysia, or the Ebola victims and Emanuel Nine. And, yes, perhaps no where near as dramatically, that could be you — or me — as we, too, have had many occasions to lament, to weep, to hold our heads in our hands.

Our holy and sacred scripture confirms that the world is often full of pain and sorrow and misunderstandings, misgivings. The innocent suffer, the needy go hungry, the good die, and the wicked often seem to flourish, and there are no ready or healthy explanations to satisfy us. But I still hang on to this hope: In the end, the Son of God, the One whom we follow, He who we worship and adore, the Broken Lamb, that One…HE will make all things right and all matters good. I hold onto those famous words from the Book of Revelation: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain.”

You, me, all who ever were, those yet to be, and those who simply are…together, face-to-face with God. That makes all of those losses worth it. It brings renewed joy to my letting go, and hope to my sorrow. It sounds like heaven to me.

Giving It All Away…

When I was young I asked Jesus to come into my heart to live. I always went to Mass with my mom and dad every Sunday. My poppa knew that one day I would be a priest. I grew up knowing Jesus, learning all of the Bible stories and even memorize a few them! As I matured into adulthood, there was something missing in my heart. The peace I thought was supposed to be there wasn’t. I started seminary, but then left for the lure of the world and money. I tried to fill that void with spending lots of money, buying houses, fancy watches, and cars, sexual experience, alcohol, and friendships that were demeaning. It had gotten to a point, where I was emotionally out of control and felt I had nothing left inside. I finally ended up on the wrong side of a set of bars and knew that I needed to find my true path. It was not about money or fame, it was about something more.

One night, after losing everything except the love of my family, I realized how empty and out of control I was. I poured my heart out to the Blessed Mother and surrendered my life to God. I told God how I felt, and how I had messed things up, trying to do it my own way. I asked for forgiveness and promised God, that if I lived another day, every breath I took and every day I lived would belong to Him. I couldn’t do it my way anymore, so I had to let go and give God charge of my life. I wanted to go back to seminary, but was sure that it would never happen.

A year later, I sold everything and moved to Washington, DC and started a 12-year journey to the priesthood. I was ordained a transitional deacon with only three people invited because I though for sure the bishop would change his mind and not ordain me at the last minute! A year later, I was finally a priest. Today, I am a bishop and pastor of this wonderful parish. Has it been easy? No, quite possible it has been the hardest journey of my life, and…somehow, the most fulfilling.

I told myself I would never lose it all again, but this past week, I sold my home, moved into a 350 square foot RV, auctioned off my home furnishings downsized what was left, and with the support of my family, became a nomad again. Yes, I lost it all, again. Why? Because this parish, and our new building project, and the legacy it will leave behind for the next generation is worth any loss. You see, I have learned this simple truth, my happiness is found in you – those I share my life and ministry with – not in things that fade.

I lost it all twice in my life: once by me making foolish decisions, and now by my own faith in giving it all to a God of love and hope. I am happier than I have ever been.

I hope you will join me and sacrifice something. I am not asking for you to do what I have done, but we all can do something to pave the way to that which lasts beyond this life. Visit the building campaign site, make a pledge, and show the world what makes us so special.
In everything give thanks, even when you give it all away!

We CAN do this!

God has done great things through Saint Miriam and our wonderful community. This is apparent and we can see it, and feel it, each time we walk through the doors of our parish. For the past eight years now, God has been forming us into a people of grace with our renowned ‘radical welcome’ where people, young and old, rich and struggling, gay, straight ,or transgendered, divorced and united, ex-offender, or just lost or alone, can continue to come to know Jesus; a God of love and hope.

Today, God is calling us to mobilize this unique gathering of people, with all our amazing gifts, talents, passions, and resources for a new and broader vision for outreach: a brand new church! To see a growing community, working together to make Jesus known, inviting and inspiring others to follow Him, and honoring our Franciscan identity and heritage, is simply overwhelmingly beautiful! Yes, God is calling us to rebuild the churchliterally!

Our Capital Campaign was officially launched last Sunday and has been met with an overwhelmingly positive tone. People are excited. Really excited! It is now time to gather our harvest and give generously and with great joy to God to make this dream possible. As I stated at the end of the presentation last Sunday, “We CAN do this!”

This past Tuesday, the moving trucks came to move our large furniture pieces to auction. It was hard for me to watch it all go out the door. Tucker was confused, and I was a little teary-eyed, to be honest. It was a ‘mark in the sand’, if you will, a point of no return. In fact, as I write this very message, I am doing so from the lone chair that occupies an otherwise empty condominium! I am scared and excited simultaneously, but I have no doubt that God is good and we will do this…together.

You see, we did not want to pay storage fees and we knew that we would be somewhat nomadic for a few years with the selling of our home. So we decided to auction off the furniture and help even more by giving to this vital stage in our growth. Yes, we sold our home and will donate the proceeds, all the equity we built up over these years – some $50,000 in fact – to this campaign. And, yes, we will help even more with these new proceeds, too. To be clear: we do not want your pity or praise, rather – we want you to see how much we are willing, with love and joy, to give what we love most, because we love you – and this parish – even more. Neither Sean nor myself could imagine our lives without Saint Miriam.

I want to challenge all of us to invest in the work ahead. I would like us to be joyful! When you, along with all the other fellow servants in our parish community decide to commit financial resources to this important goal for our continuing ministry, we will undoubtedly share in the blessing of seeing God’s work multiplied all around us.

These are exciting times! Invest, invite, inspire, together!

I will end with a few things about what we will and will not do for this project. First, we will not pressure anyone to give and we will not beg anyone to support us. Each one should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, but with a smile and trust, for ‘God loves a cheerful giver’, as St. Paul reminds us in the pages of scripture. The reality is that unlike God’s call to our general tithing, a building fund is made up entirely of over and above giving (in other words, monies donated in addition to your tithe) to the Lord. In this kind of giving especially, the attitude of your heart is paramount. We must be joyful and excited!

What we will do and without apology is show how everyone can give something to make this campaign a success. It is a myth that some people can’t give anything (cf. Mark 12:43). There are many ways to give if one is willing to give. Even those with no cash can make a commitment to give. And, yes, we will ask people to sacrifice. The simple truth is that you cannot become like Christ without learning to sacrifice, and certainly the Body of Christ is worth sacrificing for. Ultimately, everything we say and do is done to the glory of God … our parish is God’s, bought and paid for through the life of His Son, Jesus, for all of us!

So, if you believe in what God is doing here at Saint Miriam, if God has used it to grow you, if you have seen God’s impact on others in this wonderful place, if you want to see that impact continue for another generation of believers… then we pray that you will give joyfully, and be blessed by it. But please, and I give you this permission directly: please don’t give with a negative spirit, or I can also promise you this … you will reap seeds of destruction and that never makes any sense for any of us. For it is true…we always tend to reap what we sow.

Off we go now, joyfully and full of hope and life, to see where God leads us next! Visit the Campaign pages today by Clicking Here and give joyfully and watch what can do when we work together!


A Sunday Like No Other!

As the first anniversary of my consecration and installation as your bishop has now come and gone, my heart is filled with gratitude to the faithful of our diocese for their warm welcome and kindness the past 12 months. I truly feel at home here, thanks to the goodness of so many, beginning with the College of Bishops who chose to listen to the working of the Holy Spirit, despite my all-to-human protests! Thinking back to this time last year, I remember how gracious Bishop Cass was as I prepared to begin my episcopal ministry here. His kindness and graciousness have continued throughout the year. And, now, I am grateful to continue my work with Bishop Gregory; we are, as they say, ‘thick as thieves’!

I am deeply grateful to the priests, deacons, and religious of our diocese who are my wonderful coworkers in pastoral ministry. I have enjoyed every presbyteral gathering and also my frequent encounters with our clergy in our parish and in parishes throughout the diocese. These hardworking and faithful servants of the Lord have been a great support. I am very grateful to our ordained ministers for their commitment to Christ and His Church. I also thank our seminarians and Secular Franciscans who are also an inspiration through their faith and devotion. They remind us all of our call to holiness in following Christ along the way of the Beatitudes.

I am deeply grateful to all the dedicated laity of our diocese and all who work in our parishes, schools, and other institutions. This cohort of workers serves the Church with much zeal and commitment. And there are many others who are very active in the Church in volunteer capacities, unselfishly sharing their time and talents in serving others. I often and reminded that the work of the Church would not continue if it not for these fine people!

During this past year, I have met so many who have also kindly welcomed me. I thank all of you for your example of faith, for living the Catholic faith through active participation in the Body of Christ, the Church. Now we begin yet another journey together – an exciting journey – and this coming Sunday will be the first of many stepping-stones! I ask for your presence – do what you must to be with us – as we make the most exciting announcement in the history of our parish and diocese. Please…show me your continued love and respect and join us at 10:30am this Sunday, June 14th 2015?

So, to humbly conclude, in thinking of one word to describe my feelings on this first anniversary, I would have to say “grateful.” I thank all of you for your kindness, goodness, and love.

See you this coming Sunday with great joy as we gather for a Sunday like no other!

Our Radical Vision: So This IS love!

Well…it is finally here! The biggest most fantastic announcement of our lives as a parish! Yup! It is finally here! Well, almost!

Next Sunday, June 14th, there will be one Mass only, but to entice you to come – not only will there be a HUGE announcement, but there will be a FREE Saint Miriam Café experience with special drinks (yes, both kinds!) and the annual Blessing of the Seersucker and yes, I will don on my finest summer apparel! Really! You don’t want to miss this one!

So I have been thinking…what makes this place so special? Well, lots of things really – but YOU are the main reason! Each of you bring others by your invitations, your kindness, your joy, and your welcome. A radical welcome that makes Saint Miriam refreshing to almost everyone that comes through our doors.

A recent article entitled, Seven Things Church Members Should Say to Guests in a Worship Service, written by Thom Rainer tells of those things that successful churches always do well:

1. “Thank you for being here.”  It’s just that basic. I have heard from numerous church guests who returned because they were simply told “thank you.”

2. “Let me help you with that.”  If you see someone struggling with umbrellas, young children, diaper bags, purses, and other items, a gesture to hold something for them is a huge positive. Of course, this comment is appropriate for member to member as well.

3. “Please take my seat.” I actually heard that comment twice in a church where I was speaking in the Nashville area. The first comment came from a member to a young family of five who were trying to find a place to sit together.

4. “Here is my email address. Please let me know if I can help in any way.” Of course, this comment must be used with discretion, but it can be a hugely positive message to a guest.

5. “Can I show you where you need to go?” Even in smaller churches, guests will not know where to find the nursery, restrooms, and small group meeting areas. You can usually tell when a guest does not know where he or she is to go.

6. “Let me introduce you to ___________.” The return rate of guests is always higher if they meet other people. A church member may have the opportunity to introduce the guest to the pastor, other church staff, and other members of the church.

7. “Would you join us for lunch?” I saved this question for last for two reasons. First, the situation must obviously be appropriate before you offer the invitation. Second, I have seen this approach have the highest guest return rate of any one factor. What if your church members sought to invite different guests 6 to 12 times a year? The burden would not be great; but the impact would be huge!!

The greatest sin in all of sacred scripture is the sin of in-hospitality. We will never be accused of that at Saint Miriam!

See you next Sunday!

Reflections of Thanksgiving by Our Pastor…

Steve Maraboli, in Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience, once penned, “There is nothing more beautiful than seeing a person being themselves. Imagine going through your day being unapologetically you.”

I can think of no more fitting tribute to apply to our Monsignor Joe Klemas! He lived a true and authentic life; one that healed the world in small ways all the days of his life. He was a good priest. What more needs to be said?

To all who helped, set up, called, cooked meals, answered phones, visited Father’s family, sent cards, offered support, gave to his memorial fund, cleaned, prepared the grounds and garden, parked the hundreds of cars that came, set up the sacristy, loved us, grieved, sat vigil with Monsignor Joe’s body for those 25+ hours so he would not be left alone, and traveled many miles to be with us over the three days of his funeral tributes, I am grateful.

To the funeral directors at Boyd Horrox Life Celebration Home in Norristown, PA, especially their supervisor, Richard Falicki: thank you for the manner in which you cared for Monsignor Joe and his family – and us here at the parish. There were many times you could have simply went back to the funeral home, but instead chose to stay with us longer so ensure we were all ok. You went beyond what any funeral home ever has done and it was noticed.

To my parish family: there has never been a more committed, authentic, and loving group of people. You are hospitable to the demands of the sacred scripture! You stayed your plans for the holiday weekend and instead worked, loved, and grieved together. You put together a food event to save the family the cost of a restaurant and it was beyond measure. You cleaned, worked, and continued to do what we do best at Saint Miriam: you loved one another and all who came through our doors. You should be proud!

To all of our church clergy: the bishops, priests, deacons, and subdeacons who attended the Funeral Mass, and to her leadership, especially our Presiding Bishop, Gregory, who traveled more than 16 hours to be with us as we grieved simply to hold us close: thank you. Thank you for showing the world that you can be Catholic and loving simultaneously.

There were so many faces and so many hands that pulled together to make this event possible. It allowed us to grieve better and to say farewell to Father Joe. I wish that I could thank every one of you personally, but I would surely miss someone and that would break my heart. So please….please accept this admittedly inadequate and humble thank you from your pastor who loves you beyond measure.

In the end, we honored Monsignor Joe beautifully. He deserved that very much and all of you who helped to make it possible deserve my sincerest and heartfelt thanksgiving.

Know of my love,