As The World Needs Us More, We Need Church Less.

As the world becomes more caustic and rejects the most vulnerable among us, we are becoming less churched. That’s right. It’s true. As humans reject the most in need of human beings around us, like the refugee, the immigrant, the asylum-seeker, the bullied, the LGBTQ, and even the ill (Yes, our new immigration reforms reject the ill!), we are attending church less. We seemed to have found a way in life absent God.

People who attend church are attending less often. People who used to attend every week are now attending only 3 times a month. People who were around twice a month, often now show up once a month if we are lucky. And those who used to come once a month are showing up only a mere half a dozen times a year. There are fewer and fewer of us every year who feel guilty when we miss a Sunday or have a natural instinct to head to a gathering of like-minded faithful Christians on the first day of the week or miss church when we can’t get there. It’s not just us, it’s not just our church or our faith; it is, well, just true.

As this major trend is happening to those who once valued their faith, church attendance and religion, the “public charge” rule change took effect last week in our nation and we now – literally – block poor or disabled immigrants from seeking better lives. “This rule enforces longstanding law requiring aliens to be self-sufficient, reaffirming the American ideals of hard work, perseverance and determination,” said Ken Cuccinelli, the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. What? Can this be true? The ideals this policy enforces are certainly anything but American to me, let alone Christian. So, who will be affected? Well over 382,000 immigrants per year according to DHS, but The New American Economy, a nonprofit immigration research group, estimates a much higher number at somewhere north of 3.9 million persons! And, if you think this hasn’t happened before, I will gently remind you that this very same rule was used to prohibit tens of thousands of German Jews who were trying to flee Nazi oppression. Ya, that’s right, we closed our doors tight with this very same rule to a people who literally were be slaughtered, all in the name of some ‘American ideal’.

Today, as we welcomed in Ash Wednesday, and with it the holy season of Lent, we also opened our Refugee exhibit, Safe Passage, with our Lenten Focus: Through the Eyes of the Refugee. I think we should all begin here. Perhaps, if we do, and allow God to come again, and attend church more and pray harder, and see those who are fighting with less, we mighty discover the truth that the will and the heart – not the cold, hard cash. We are better than that.  Aren’t we?

 



Lent is a State of Being.

I’ve been getting ready for Lent. In fact, as a pastor, I have been ‘in Lent’ for several weeks already to prepare our parish – and her people – for a journey that is supposed to change us. By the seemingly so far off glorious Easter sunrise by today’s vantage point, we are to end up being different; substantially different. We are to be a new people.

Now, that journey will be easy for some. The some who will choose to neglect to honor the season. Others who will slight it. And still more will treat it no more and no less than the way they treat every Sunday; a place one goes but only when there is nothing better to do in the world. But, to those of us who will sink deeply, reflect, look honestly within ourselves, and who are willing to not only ask God the hard questions, but to allow God to do something wonderful by answering those questions, even if it is painful and requires sacrifice and change, we will all be a different, a better people by Easter day.

This past week, the large box finally arrived by International Post. I gently, and nervously, unpacked the life jackets that came to represent all of those lives who died seeking safety in Lesvos, Greece. As I did so, I began to weep. I wept at the symbolism. I wept at our collective inhumanity. I wept because I knew not their plight, nor cared enough to help. I wept in the power of their imagery; these inanimate objects that once held humanity itself. And, as I gathered with Alan and Sean one evening to fashion them into a cross, I wept with desolate abandon. “It was time”, I thought to myself. “It is time to change the world, or at least for us here at Saint Miriam, because we are better than this; we have to be if we follow the One we say we do.”

In my human and frail hands – the hands of someone who sleeps in a warm bed every night, who is loved by my wife beyond words and faults, and who makes my way in world without much pain considering others who have not these joys, let alone sleeps in a tent within a frightening refugee camps – were actual life jackets that literally stole the lives from the innocent trying to gain nothing more than safety.

Over the past few months, I have worked with such on-the-ground refugee supporting NGO’s as Lighthouse Relief, Project Lifejacket, and Movement On The Ground. These wonderful groups of independent people are responding to a humanitarian crisis affecting literally thousands of innocent men, women, and children forced from their homes by climate change, poverty, and war. A crisis few people care to know about or aid in any way. They are trying to set a new blueprint for humanitarian help worldwide to what has been called ‘the biggest humanitarian horror story of our century’. And, lest we forget, over 60% of these refugees – these who seek the safety of someone’s asylum – are but mere children.

28 September 2019, Greece, Mithymna: Numerous life jackets left behind by migrants and refugees are lying next to some broken boats on a rubbish dump near the town of Mithymna on the island of Lesbos. Five islands in the Eastern Aegean bear the brunt of the refugee deal between the EU and Turkey. (Zu dpa: “Refugee misery on Lesbos: Residents and migrants at the limit”) Photo by: Angelos Tzortzinis/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

And that is why, this Lent, we as a people of God, will look hard and uncomfortably at this humanitarian crisis through a moving display in our own home, and pray for the causes of such atrocities: poverty, alienation, apathy, wrongly applied and inferior and prejudicial immigration policy, and global warming and climate change.

Together, with my liturgy, ministry and music teams, we have set a beautiful journey to come. A moving journey. One that will cause us to weep and mourn, but hopefully one that will also change us; but only if we attend and allow it to become a state of being.

I will end my blog using a section from our adopted Litany to the Guadalupe

From becoming oppressive, deliver us.
From becoming cynical,

From denying options to the poor,
From becoming opportunists,
From, becoming deaf to the voices of the prophets,
From becoming blind to injustice,
From becoming complacent,
From becoming ungrateful servants,
From becoming arrogant,
From becoming elitists,

Model for love and compassion, may we imitate you. I pray – and I trust – that you will join us. I pray and trust that we will never abandon the gospel mission of our parish.

 


The Optics Are Just Bad.

The deadline for the next edition of Convergent Streams is fast approaching. Convergent Streams is the premier Independent Sacramental Movement magazine and its editor is our own Bishop Gregory! While the magazine is geared toward those who identify as Old Catholic, Independent Catholic, and Continuing Anglican, they accept articles from any denomination with a liturgical style of worship. Last week, I submitted another article for publication that will most likely make more than a few clergy a bit angry, as I address directly a decline in following tradition, minimal educational norms, and overriding formation models in order to make more unfit, unqualified clergy.

I have also noted, through the advent and proliferation of social media platforms, an increased uptick in what I call, ‘church envy’. One clergyperson dislikes or envies another, or one parish dislikes or envies another, or one priest tries to make a ‘band of like-minded brothers’ to topple the others who created, yes you guessed it, their own such band! One priest posts some outrageous statement about buying a hotel and turning it into a refuge for those experiencing homelessness when they are barely a parish at all yet, or some grandiose plans to end hunger. I can tell you, as someone who has been at this for a long time now, and built a rather impressive parish with a strong outreach ministry, it isn’t that easy and takes a lot of funding, a group effort of like-minded folks, time, a lot of sacrifice with many sleepless nights, and whole lot of failures along the way! AND, let me clear and direct here when I tell you that – as large as we are – we still  fall short of our financial needs every single month!

It seems that no one likes to remember how difficult it is to run a parish or church of any size, and many clergy fail to remember to do their own ministry so that combined – working side by side, one church by another, each doing some form of good work – we do much greater things to serve God’s Kingdom as a collective. This isn’t a competition, it’s ministry. Isn’t it grand enough that you even dared to start a church in the first place when most of the world is pursuing secular pursuits? Isn’t that enough until you’re more established and stable to see what God calls you to do next? While there is something to be said for dreams and ambitions, the optics are bad when you make statements that cannot be feasible or close to true or possible.

I remember some 13 years ago, we were barley a few months old, in rented space when a parishioner brought in a large container to collect cans for homeless people. I summarily rejected the idea and they were none too happy with me, to say the least! But, as I explained to them, we were barley a church yet and had enough issues with keeping our lights on, let alone doing outreach we aren’t sure God, or our community, even needed. And, large food banks could buy in excess of 12 pounds of food with a single dollar! How, or why, would we compete with that? Instead of using an outreach as an excuse to clean out our pantry, let us wait until God tells us what He needs! We did, and here we are; doing the work we do with children, welcoming the rejected and the marginalized, and serving those experiencing homelessness. And, soon, yet another adventure later this year that just might help thousands more! Why? Because we stopped envying  and listened to God more.

St. Francis of Assisi gave up a life of wealth to live a life of poverty. He grew up leading a privileged life as the son of a wealthy cloth merchant. About the age of nineteen Francis went to battle against the nearby town of Perugia. Francis was captured and taken prisoner and held in a dungeon for over a year before his father paid the ransom to gain his freedom. Francis began to see visions from God that changed his life. The first vision was when he was very sick with a high fever. At first, Francis thought that God had called him to fight in the Crusades. However, he had another vision that told him to help the sick. Finally, when praying in a church, Francis heard God tell him to “repair my church, which is falling in ruins.” He began to repair a small chapel, and then he realized God meant something much more. He gave all he had to the church, but at first it was just him and some birds and animals and a lot of faith. Francis continued to pray and listen and learn what God wanted from him. Then, came a couple of new followers, Leo and Clare, and soon thousands more. In the end, Francis began alone and listened and believed. He waited and suffered until God was ready. It wasn’t about him anymore. Francis became severally ill and spent the last few years of his life mostly blind. He died in 1226 while singing Psalm 141.

“O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. Set a guard over my mouth, O LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips.”

I remember when Joel Osteen led his Lakewood Church congregation into the stadium formerly known as the Compaq Center in Houston. After $95 million in renovations and much political wrangling, the church moved into its new 16,000-seat home on July 16, 2005. Many a clergy, including me, were very envious! Then, in 2017, after the Houston flood, Lakewood Church became a public relations nightmare when reports surfaced that they refused to allow people in. Clergy pounced with moral impunity and social media was a buzz! Smaller churches opened their doors with so little resources to help victims, and here was the largest church in the nation slamming their doors tight! It was a lack of compassion and worse, it was inhospitable and the optics were oh so bad!

Osteen later disputed that report, and we may never know the full truth behind that day when those rain-soaked Houstonians came to the doorstep of Lakewood Church, just the type of people that Jesus told his disciples to look out for, and were told to look elsewhere; just like Jesus’ own mom and dad. In hindsight, from various reports out later, it looked as if the Lakewood staff may have been justified in sending people to outside government shelters, but that doesn’t matter anymore. What matters, as is often true, are the optics looking so bad.

So, then, perhaps St. Francis was right. We should all focus on building what God asks us to build and let go of things not of our concern, or out of our reach, and just be grateful for where we are and what God has given us to do. Yes, dream, but dream with prudence and ambition that relies on God. Not everyone will agree to follow you, it’s true, but those that do must have water to drink along the way as the desert sun gets hot! That, my friends, if your job as a pastor! Perhaps this coming Lent we will be ready to finally hear more.

Remember, sin is not only that which we do, it is that which we neglect to do, too. After all, otherwise the optics are bad.
 


The Power of a Handshake.

Among all species, our human hands are unique. Our hands can accomplish so much but are also are critical to our communication. Our hands can play a violin, strum a guitar, play checkers, maneuver surgical instruments, and frame a new house. Our hands allow us to fold origami, build a brick wall, mend a broken knee, and permitted Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel! Our hands allow the deaf to have a voice and back up our emotions with gestures to help us find clarity. Handshakes have ended wars, sealed agreements, brought families back together, welcomed strangers and sojourners alike, and even allow healing to occur. We are expressive creatures because of our hands.  Despite all of the advances in communication, and the evolution of smart devices, most of what we say is nonverbal and expressive mainly through the gestures of our human hands.  

Throughout history, the open palm always meant safety and truth, too. Even our own Sign of Peace devolved from us checking those who would do us harm when the fledgling church, located within homes of the Roman Empire, greeted each guest with a hearty ‘pat down’ to ensure no weaponry was found on their person! Today, we offer one another a Sign of Peace primarily with a firm handshake and a warm glance.

When I was a young man, I transgressed my father’s friend. I remember feeling very badly and my father asked me to do the right thing. I went to see him, proverbial hat in hand, and he rejected my most sincere apology. Later that month, we were both attending the same event by happenstance when I found myself standing directly next to him. I turned and smiled warmly and offered my hand. I remember distinctly him looking down at my open palm, then up to my eyes before walking away without nary a word. I was heartbroken, dismayed, and so very sad. That pain is a pain I live with to this very day some 35 years later. It is a pain of something greater than just the two us; it is a pain of something gone awry with humanity.

This is why, no matter who I come across, no matter how deep our differences, no matter what they have ever done to me, or said about me, I have never ever once rejected to shake someone’s hand. It is what makes me human. It is what allows me to see the humanity of another.

Last night’s State of the Union Address by our President was shameful in many ways, and from both sides of the aisle. But, perhaps, the most egregious of actions was not an action at all. It was when the President rejected the outward and outstretched palm of the Speaker of The House. Why? Because we are better than that and surely, he is to be, too.

 



It’s About God, Not You; Kobe Knew That…

Sadly, Kobe Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others, tragically died this week in a helicopter crash in California.

Many are unaware that there is a local connection, as Kobe was born in Philadelphia and was actually raised in a Catholic household. He then spent some of his youth in Italy and was drafted into the NBA and eventually married his wife, Vanessa, and they raised their children together, including Gianna, “Gigi” who sadly died with her dad.

In 2003, Kobe was accused of raping a woman in his hotel room, while he was in Colorado for required knee surgery. He did admit to having sex with this woman, but he vehemently denied rape. Those charges were eventually dropped, but the woman filed a civil lawsuit that was settled outside of court. In the midst of it all, Kobe issued a very difficult and public apology, clearly stating that he was sincerely ashamed of what he had done.

The incident had major consequences: sponsors abandoned him, his reputation was tarnished and a few years ago, Vanessa filed for divorce. Yet during one of the darkest moments of his life, Kobe turned to his Catholic faith and in an interview, he explained:

“The one thing that really helped me during that process — I’m Catholic, I grew up Catholic, my kids are Catholic, and I was talking to a priest. It was actually kind of funny: He looks at me and says, ‘Did you do it?’ And I say, ‘Of course not.’ Then he asks, ‘Do you have a good lawyer?’ And I’m like, ‘Uh, yeah, he’s phenomenal.’ So, then he just said, ‘Let it go. Move on. God’s not going to give you anything you can’t handle, and it’s in his hands now. This is something you can’t control. So, let it go.’ And that was the turning point.” (Ref GQ Magazine)

After some rough years, Kobe reconciled with his wife, and they remain married to this day doing great charity work and he was known as phenomenal dad who left work every day at 2pm in order to pick his children up at their school and then returned to work after spending some time with them every day. Throughout all of his trials, and perhaps even in response to them, Kobe realized that fame and fortune were nothing compared to the importance of faith and family. When everyone else in the world abandoned him, his Catholic faith was always there; a guide to give him hope.

You see, like Kobe, our faith should inform us – in all that we do and even in our darkest hours. Ask someone who has fallen away from our faith and you will find that often the number one reason they return is they miss the Holy Mass! It is what draws them back, time and time again, Holy Communion! It is the centrality of who we are, and we should remember that The Mass is never about you, it’s always about Bread and always about God.

The central act of our Catholic worship is the Mass. It is what we are, and it is why we exist. What the Mass is, is the self-sacrifice of Jesus to His Father on Calvary re-presented in ritual form. This ritual form is the perfect act of the virtue of religion, whereby we – You and I –  every Sunday – pay to God the worship that is His due and it is perfect because it is God Himself in the person of the Son, who pays worship to the Father. That is why whenever we come to Mass, even if we don’t receive Communion, our participation in it is still the perfect act of worship. When we leave, we are living tabernacles of the God we worshipped!

The news has been dark for us lately. Politics, impeachment, war, retaliation, and terrorism; hatred for persons different than another and even the natural world gives us the shortest days of the year in winter. There’s a deep sadness and darkness all around us; it’s pervasive. But whether we like it or not, this is the time Jesus has given us as His gift to do His will on Earth, and if we are at all honest, that time is running out. Perhaps the untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant will awaken us to see the time we have left is a gift, but how we spend that gift will be up to us.

I wonder, will we be like the wise virgins who are ready with lighted lamps to open wide the doors to their lover, or will we be like the foolish, so preoccupied with the passing things and the petty dramas of this world that we have neither oil nor light? Only to hear those dreaded words of the Lord, “I do not know you.”  The central act of what we are is beckoning us to be better, to do better, and to live better. Each time we consume the Blessed Sacrament, our life is to change for the better and the world then should be made better because of our presence – and His Presence – contained within us. We should be less selfish and more giving. Our faults will heal, and our blemishes be made lighter. But only if we willingly choose light.

Kobe knew that…

May he and Gigi, and their seven friends, John, Keri, Alyssa, Christina, Ara, Sarah, and Payton all rest well in eternal peace. 

 



Pettifoggery.

The world is an uproar! Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. used the word pettifogging! (Pettifogging can be defined more aptly as, “worrying too much about details that are minor or not important.”) In doing so, he not only reminded speakers to maintain decorum, but used this seldom-uttered word to make a salient point.

Chief Roberts delivered his sharp rebuke yesterday during the Impeachment Trial to both House managers and lawyers for the President for their decorum as the impeachment debate. He said, “I think it is appropriate at this point for me to admonish both the House managers and president’s counsel in equal terms to remember that they are addressing the world’s greatest deliberative body.”

I wonder, however, if we might be accused of the same thing? After all, is this not what we do every time we take the Church – the world’s greatest body ever – for granted, or rally against the minor points as we so easily dismiss the bigger picture of a ‘life of service’ and that ‘love of our neighbor’ thing?

I know that as we begin another brand-new year, and our thirteenth year on March 27th as a parish, and begin to look toward our Annual Parish Meeting, that many times I hear grumbling about small, inconsequential things while we let go of the most important. We concentrate on the inconsequential while forsaking the key things that make is what we are! Recently, even Pope Francis warned against “the temptation of assuming an attitude of rigidity.”

I think there is always an ever-present temptation toward rigidity. We like the status quo; the way thing are; but I will remind us all that what we created here was completely against that type of thinking. In doing so, we live the gospel imperative as we openly and warmly welcome the lost, the marginalized, the maligned, the immigrant, the refugee, the seeker, the LGBTQ, and the rejected and bring them all ‘home’ to a place where they can find – and feel – the love of the Christ we worship, adore, and proclaim. You can’t do that by being rigid.

I wonder if in our being stretched – by our pastors and church leadership and places like Saint Miriam – and, as we willingly run contrary to the prevailing culture, we actually run smack into God? Not the cartoonish caricature of God, but the real, always-present, omnipotent and crafty God that wants a deeper and more meaningful communion with us, even as we strive for superficiality. I wonder if we ever stop to realize that the Church is to be more than a soft, cushy place we sit our butts for an hour or so on a Sunday and then return to a hateful world, but instead see Her as She is meant to be: Missionary! In other words, the Churches mission is carried out by us!

The Italian novelist Giuseppe Tomasi de Lamedusa, who in his famous book Il Gattopardo reminds us all that, “Everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” I assure you will continue to change.

Hang in there, hold on, and get ready because we have more work to do and more people to love. Change will make that possible.

 



“…If You Agree With Them Politically.”

That was the post a former parishioner, well-loved and well-cared for, and missed greatly posted on our Facebook page recently. The exact quote went something like, “This is a wonderful place to worship, if you agree with them politically.”  Hurtful? Yes. Unexpected? Sadly, no.

You see, during their tenure with us we all knew their political views. But, as you also know, we don’t allow a bully-pulpit, or political rallies here, but we do address civil rights and incompatibility issues that run against the gospel we adore. It is incumbent upon us to address these as a People of God, an Assembly that worships and proclaims Jesus as Lord and Savior, and me as a priest in Christ’s holy Church. There is no doubt that I’ve stepped on toes this past two years as I have addressed health care as a right, immigration and refugees and unlawful and immoral bans, children in custody at despicable border camps, inhumane treatment of refugees, the rejection of a person solely because of their religion, and the deep-seated misogyny of women and the penchant for war. For that, I make no apologies. It’s my job.

That said, since the comment was publicly posted, I do feel an obligation to turn this into a teaching moment. Now, I could tell you about Jesus’ actions during the Passion in Matthew where he directed Peter to put away his sword. I could also tell you about our Franciscan values and the relationship that St Francis had with Muslim leader, Sultan Malek al-Kamil, a model of not only inter-religious dialogue, but a dialogue of earnestly desiring peace (We studied this last year in our Secular Franciscan Group). I could also tell regale you with the many times Jesus asked us to turn a cheek, or spread love, or welcomed the sinner, or ate with the despised, touched the bleeding woman, embraced the leper, the tax cheat, the rejected foreigner, or how He directed us countless times to spread His gospel and not hate, but love one another. But, for me, perhaps the greatest lesson I can give is a short story and a direct summation of why we are Catholics.

The story. I sat with a major benefactor and parishioner as she angerly told me to hire someone for my staff different than my choice because we welcomed ‘too many gays here’. She ended her comments with, “If you don’t listen, Father, you will not receive my $10,000 check this year.” She left with her check. I was sad (and yes, wanted that donation!) but not at the expense of my soul, or the life of the parish we committed to being.

The summation. What makes us validly catholic is that we believe in the inherent dignity of the human person and the unconditional focus on the concept of Christian Grace. Every single person, and yes, even those you disdain, or practice another religion, or worship a tree, or have darker skin, or sit in jail for murder, or make bombs that maim or kill in war, and so many others are made Imago Dei, in the image and likeness of God. Despite your protestations, God is the author of life – the Ruach Elohim – the breath in our lungs, not you. It is why it informs our consciousness against abortion, but allows us to welcome those who had the procedure and lost a life; it is why we hate the sin of war, but can find forgiveness to the war load; it is how we despise the death penalty, but can forgive those who slaughtered; it is why we may never have been homeless or rejected or ill or penniless or confused about our sexuality or marginalized because of our skin color or sexual identity, but still we welcome all of those – all of us – and all of the us’ out there – that need a home and a place to find comfort and love and care and welcoming face; ‘not a sword, but a fish.’

Politics and questions, and life issues are very complicated and highly controversial at times, but the Gospel is not a chess match, and our life here at Saint Miriam are crystal clear: We are not for sale.

We welcome and we love, and yes, we protect those who are not; even if you disagree with us politically.
 


“Shhh, Why I Don’t Care If You Make it to Mass on Christmas Day!”

I know what you are thinking, “He is a priest, our pastor, and he is saying stay home on Christmas Day? He’s lost his mind!”  Well, not really.

You see, I want you to come today! I want you to bring your kids, your family and your friends, and even a neighbor or two! I want you to see how much effort we put into a beautiful Christmas for you and your family this year at Saint Miriam! The sights, the sounds, and the decorations are simply stunning! I want you to enjoy the ‘No fuss’ Christmas Pageant at 3:00pm with hot cocoa and a Christmas carol sing-a-log, and witness the Live Nativity and then witness us make history as a real live camel leads us – God’s people – into our first Christmas Mass of this year at 4:30pm! I want you to see a small child bring in the Infant Jesus and gently place him in His manger, and I want you to hear the lovely bells and sing the songs, and believe like a child all about the wonderous season that now holds us so firmly! You can even meet our parish’s newest Golden Retriever, Bailey! (Now what’s more Christmas than a puppy under the tree!)

So, that is my Christmas wish as a pastor this year. I need nothing more, I have a beautiful life, wonderful parish community, and breathtaking family and a miracle baby on the way, too. No, my life is not perfect, my finances often tight, my bills sometimes past due, people don’t always support or like me very much; my struggles are the same as yours, and yet I know that I am blessed in so many ways: you are one of the biggest!

One of my all time idols, Father Henri Nouwen, once told the story of a student who, many years after his graduation, returned to sit in his former college professor’s office where so many questions had been answered and so many problems had been solved. When the student entered, he told his professor that he didn’t need anything, he came just to visit, to be together. They sat for a while in silence and looked at each other. One broke the silence by telling the other how nice it was to see each other. The other agreed, and then there was more silence. Finally, the student said, “When I look at you it is as if I am in the presence of Christ.” The professor remembers that it did not startle or surprise him and that he could only respond with, “It is the Christ in you who recognizes the Christ in me.” The student replied with the most healing words Father Nouwen had heard in many years. “Yes, Christ indeed is in our midst.’ “From now on, wherever you go, or wherever I go, all the ground between us will be holy ground.”

This is how I have come to know Santa; the spirit of Christmas. This is how I have come to know each of you. And I am reminded especially at Christmastime, that each of you, for me on a daily basis, is the very face of our living Christ.

So, no, I don’t need you here at Christmas Day. I would rather you be with your family, gathered around your family Christmas tree or the dining room table, enjoying one another for as long as you can, because that is where I so long to be and no longer can…

Merry Christmas! I end by sending my greetings and prayers for a peaceful, blessed Christmas. This truly is a holy time of year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, born for love of us, born to set us free.

As always, you will be remembered in my prayers on Christmas Day. And I humbly ask you to remember me in your prayers, too. That’s the very best gift you could give me, besides showing up later today!

May our Infant Savior bless you abundantly throughout the Christmas season! Again, Merry Christmas!

To Jesus through Mary this holy night,
 

Monsignor Jim



It’s Time for the Polar Express!

Today, in our school, classes rotated through the very exciting S.T.E.A.M.M. Classroom to watch the classic movie, Polar Express, and then worked on wonderful projects that allowed them to learn about wobbling science and critical thinking in a fun and interactive way! We have so much to be proud of with our new school, and our exciting welcoming parish! We have such energy and excitement as we build for a brand new 2020!

Last evening, Katelyn and I had dinner with two parishioners who regaled us with why they love Saint Miriam so much. It was heartening to me to hear as I normally only hear of the objections or dislikes to changes, etc. Very few times does anyone approach me to compliment me on what we are doing, how impactful our ministry and outreach programs are, or how we impact the world in such generous ways. As I sat and listened over such a wonderfully warm and tasty meal, I thought of the things of Polar Express: magic of the season, yearning to be a small boy without the stress of the commercialized season, and loving and trusting in things unseen!

For those who never have enjoyed the movie, the story is simple and magical, is the tale of a boy’s dreamlike train ride to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. Late on Christmas Eve, after the town has gone to sleep, a boy boards the mysterious train that waits for him, The Polar Express! When the boy arrives at the North Pole, Santa Claus offers him any gift he desires. The boy asks only for a bell from the harness of Santa’s reindeer, but on the way home, somehow the bell is lost! Then, on Christmas morning, the boy finds the bell under the Christmas tree, and when he shakes it, the bell makes the most beautiful sound he’s ever heard!! His mother admires the bell, but she laments that it is broken … for, you see, only a true believer can hear the sound of the bell!

Nowadays we are raising children who know too much too soon and put far too much stead in reason and logic. But as adults we learn from scientists who point out again and again that the universe is a mysterious place that goes far beyond our capacity to understand it! In fact, many agree with the mystics in all religious traditions who honor the limits of our knowledge. As the Catholic theologian Leonardo Buff has put it: “We never ‘catch up with’ reality itself. The real nature of mystery always evades our attempts to conceptualize it and escapes the nets of our language and symbolism. Its depths are never plumbed. Mystery is always linked to passion, enthusiasm and all great emotions, in short, to life’s deepest and greatest impulses.”

In the movie, the Hero Boy has reached that critical year of his young life when he is not sure whether to believe in Santa Claus. In the film, he didn’t have his picture taken at the department store Santa; he didn’t send a letter; and he made his little sister leave the milk and cookies out on Christmas Eve. But, by the end of this magical Christmas tale, you will concur with Hero Boy that oftentimes the most real things in the world — the ones really worth believing in — are those we cannot see, only believe in. Mystery always overcomes reason and brings joy to the heart. Now there’s something to celebrate!

Perhaps instead of looking past Saint Miriam, or too critically, or selfishly, or without trust in what is to come, we should celebrate the real mystery and joy that God created us from nothing some almost 13 years ago, and look at the magic we are together for the world who needs us!

Blessed Christmas and coming New Year…. such things to come that will continue to marvel a world in need of place like ours!