If You Think We Aren’t Needed…

As I returned to my busy life as pastor after my visit home, I realized how fortunate we are to be a progressive Franciscan Catholic parish. I was reminded how needed we are; not so much myself, but all of us together that make us so special, and this place we so often take for granted. I was reminded in small ways and not so subtle ways that we are needed in a world that is so often cruel and divisive.

This past week I met with the single mother of a child who was recently placed on the Autism Spectrum. She was devasted when her former parish priest demanded she sit only in the ‘cry room’ when she attended Mass. Her son is 8 years old and he called him ‘distracting to others’. I spoke to the parents of a new infant who only wish to have their son baptized into the Catholic faith. They are lesbians and were refused at a local parish not too far from us. I saw the faces of people – strangers to us really – who came and saw with their own eyes what it must be like to experience homelessness. With every sign in the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS exhibit did they stand and weep and give thanks that their sign wasn’t present among the so many others. I heard from a volunteer Ambassador for the very same exhibit who texted me after his recent shift, “What a night. I love this place. I wish everyone could witness what I’ve seen tonight.” I heard from the mother of a child who died from HIV/AIDS. Her son was only 32 years old when he died back in 2002 and was never honored with a Mass Intention. He has one now at Saint Miriam. I was reminded by a reporter from the Daily News of how we first met when our parish reached out, without any prompting whatsoever, to take custody of and bury the body of Diamond Williams, tragically murdered and dismembered by the killer only to have her body rejected again but this time by her own family all because of she was transgender. By the way, thanks to one of our parishioners, Diamond is now the longest continual Memorial Mass Intention in this parish’s history. I am reminded by the email that I received from one of our families when they satiated so wonderfully, “Our daughter will be the first child born into our family that will not know what it is like to have a priest preach hate against others.” Yes,if you think we aren’t needed, think of them.

I also heard this week from someone who felt our exhibit was ‘repulsive’ and should be taken down. Another who stated that our radical inclusion was ‘not of God’, but of the devil. And yet another who wished me literally dead because I dare to openly welcome everyone to a place of light and love. Yes, if you think we aren’t needed, think of them, too.

We have begun a very simple and straightforward Stewardship Appeal for 2019 with three very simple and very achievable objectives for a parish of our size:

  1. Give if you aren’t giving.
  2. Increase your giving, even if by a small percentage, and
  3. Change the way you give from debit/credit cards to direct checking or savings withdrawals to save us the exorbitant credit processing fees.


That’s it. Once we reach $3,000 a month together, in all of these ways, the campaign ends, and we continue on our mission of love and welcome. Our ministry strengthened and our worries less, and the pressure on those who run this wonderful parish lessened. If you think your giving is needed, think of them, then please sit down, complete your appeal card and return it with a prayer for those who have yet to find a place like ours.


When You Hold Me…

I am not sure where I found it originally, but it has stuck with me ever since. The words, “When I’m angry and you hold me, I show mercy.”

It has how I have come to know this parish and the people who dwell here. It is how I have come to know my life when I am angry or so depressed that I feel I am ready to give up; then, I go home and find Katelyn waiting and she holds me close. It is how I have been calmed by Sean when he reminds me what we went through and how much we endured to build such a beautiful parish. It is found in the words of comfort that are freely given to me by Lorraine when debts are higher than income and she reminds me that ‘God is always good’. It is also found when one of our school children jumps in my arms and reminds me that they are not afraid of me as a priest.  Yes, through these simple acts of generosity, I am made a better man, a kinder priest, a loving Christian.

That is, after all, what this Season of Lent is all about: looking at ourselves and seeing the ugly parts that need smoothed and the rough patches that we know shouldn’t be there, as well as those areas we would like to see made even deeper and impact others in their pain. By doing so, not just giving up meat or candy, we find a way to become better human beings. Yes, we all need to see the good parts of ourselves as part of the solution, and not just focus on the problem areas of our fragile humanity. In the end, we should grow into better people before the Easter light warms our faces again.

It is why we are launching a sort of “mini-stewardship” appeal this Sunday. A few months ago, in late November, I clearly stated that there would be no stewardship in 2019 IF we purchased the Music CD’s that were so joyfully created by our own music team. Alas, few of you heeded my message and we are short our funding goal. This makes us fragile as a parish and less a community. It also may jeopardize everything that we have worked so hard for, sacrificed for, and given to create. It is not our best; not even close; this is us in our selfishness.

So today we are asking that you begin to look at all that we are as a community of faith and do three simple things, if you are not already doing so.

  1. eGive! Give your donation automatically so we can plan better! Weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly we don’t care, just do it today by Clicking Here or completing a new eGiving card.
  2. Change! If you are already eGiving electronically BUT your donation comes from your credit or debit card, CHANGE it to a direct withdrawal from your checking or savings account (ACH). This dramatically reduces our fees and more of your donation comes to help us remain vibrant! Complete a new card this Sunday! 
  3. Increase Your Giving! Can you give just $10 more a month? Is all that we do worth just a little more? Is God worth it for all that you will get back? By all who are giving now increasing their monthly giving by only a fee dollars, we will far surpass our goal!
  4. Give YOU! If you are struggling financially and cannot give more, why not give us the gift of your time and talent? There are many things we pay for at the parish and school that you could help do and thereby reduce our expenses! What a beautiful way to give; what a lesson for your children? 


So, in the end, what is the goal simply? A $3,000 increase in overall monthly giving! That is it, and I know that together we can do it! Be sure to watch the Pledge Thermometer in the parish grow by every dollar given, every dollar saved by switching off a credit card, and every increase in pledged giving and we will become even stronger and our ministry more impactful! Let this Lenten Season be a time of firm commitment and watch you joy become abundant!

Remember, we are better together.

Blessed Lent.

I Am Apparently a Bad Priest!

To the person who came to my offices last week, and then again appeared at the door yesterday and who was obviously irritated by my staff, and who decided to vocalize their frustration with my being out of the office by stating “He’s never here!“ I offer you my humblest apologies!

Perhaps, since I am highly emotional and take things to personally, perhaps since I am known to wear my ‘heart on my sleeve’ and bleed easily, I am reading more into your outburst than is warranted, but I am frustrated and hurt; but if I am wrong, I’m sorry. 

I’m sorry that you were inconvenienced by our security protocol and being asked to produce identification and reason for being on campus and wishing to gain entry, but we have over 60 youngsters in our preschool wing that shares our administration offices and none of them deserve to be frightened, intimidated, threatened, or harmed by an intruder! Therefore, there is a safety protocol that we follow for any visitor coming into our secure site during school hours. I am sorry you were offended.

I’m sorry, too, that you think that I don’t work simply because I’m “never” in the office when you happen to decide to arrive absent notice! Perhaps if you had an appointment, I would’ve made myself available, as I so often do for so many others. I am known to keep a very good calendar! Or, perhaps you’re right and I just simply don’t work the hours that you feel I should?

I’m sorry that you were not with me in the middle of the night when I’m called from my sleep to travel to a hospital and administer Last Rites or to baptize a baby who isn’t thriving. I’m sorry that you are not with me when the phone calls come in for counseling, or when somebody is so distraught that they feel there’s nothing worth living for and I am the last resort.

I’m sorry that you are not with me when I’m praying over the gospel and have no idea what the Lord would like me to say on Sunday, and I’m sorry that you were not with me when I get up often at 5 o’clock in the morning to pray for guidance so that I don’t stumble or make a mistake as a broken human being that will harm another.

I’m sorry that you were not with me in the middle of the night when I often find myself weeping because I don’t feel worthy enough to be a pastor or priest, or emotionally cannot seem to get out of my own way.

I’m sorry that you don’t see me fight depression so severe at times that I have almost ended my own life. I’m sorry that I am not in my office, glued to my chair waiting for you to arrive to handle whatever oddity might be plaguing you at that very moment you’re darkening my doorstep without an appointment, but insist I am failing at my job because I cannot read minds and anticipate your arrival.

I’m sorry that you are not traveling with me in the well over 20,000 miles a year that I put on my leased vehicle in order to preside over funerals and to celebrate weddings or where I am called upon to sit for hours and hold the hand of someone who is distraught or grieving or dying, or just to bring communion and companionship to a shut in.

I’m sorry that you are not at the parish when I’m often meeting with various teams, or small groups, late into the night, or when we are gathering as a leadership team long after you go home every Sunday to make sound decisions that will keep us financially afloat for the coming months in order to serve.

I’m sorry when giving is not sufficient and yet bills are still high, and I need to sacrifice what little pay I receive in order that other staff members can receive their paycheck on time, I do so without telling you. I am sorry that you are not with me in home with my family when we cannot make ends meet, but never once stop giving to the same church that takes so much of my time away from them.

I’m sorry that you are not with me as I review budgets, staffing needs, employment applications, and the million other details that go into keeping an enterprise such as ours moving forward so that we have even the remote chance of accomplishing what God wants us to.

I’m sorry that you are not with me when I find myself worrying about the homeless or the marginalized or the forgotten, or those so easily rejected by other churches, or when I’m trying to deal with those who have ailments or diseases or needs that are beyond my capability.

I’m sorry when you are not there in the evening when I meet with my liturgy and music teams to try to fashion a liturgy and worship experience that is mindful of our past, compliant with our tradition, but also harnesses the future in which we wish to trod. (By the way, you may be thinking that I am thinking now of Lent, but – as a priest – my planning is now well past Easter!)

I’m sorry that when I’m sitting down in the middle of the afternoon in the home of someone who is so broken or lost that I’m their last phone call I don’t leave you a note in case you might decide to stop by. And I’m also sorry that you feel that I only work when you decide to need me, but when you and the rest of the world doesn’t, I’m somehow off sneaking away to some fun event or activity only to reappear and work on Sunday morning! (After all, I only work one day a week, right?)

So, please accept my humblest apologies for not being in my office on the two solemn occasions in which you chose to show up at my parish door and I was busy tending to other things. I have no good excuse save I am a pastor and was probably busy tending to pastor things, but that was something that even entered your mind, was it?
I know that I speak for myself, and countless other pastors, priests, rabbis, and imams, who serve doing their level best when I say that we will all try to do better next week!

Here Comes The Sun: Why the Beatles are a Good Fit for Us!

Unbeknownst to us as we planned the upcoming Beatles Mass, this coming weekend, Sirius XM Satellite Radio will launch The Beatles Channel!  This channel will include the largest collection of Beatles recordings ever assembled. It’s their hits and album tracks, live recordings and rarities, solo works from John, Paul, George and Ringo, records that influenced the band, as well as the music they inspired! Plus, Sirius will offer stories, shows, specials, and more all day, every day. It’s the band’s one and only official channel. The other amazing fact is the reason for this weekend’s launch is that it falls on George Harrison’s birthday weekend, and so does our Mass! 
Born February 25th, George Harrison died in November 2001, but his legacy remains intact as a legendary English musician, singer-songwriter, music and film producer who achieved international fame as the lead guitarist of Beatles! Often referred to as “the quiet Beatle”, Harrison embraced Indian culture and helped broaden the scope of popular music through his incorporation of Indian instrumentation and Hindu-aligned spirituality in the Beatles’ work. And, although the majority of the band’s songs were written by John Lennon and Paul McCarthy, one of the all-time hits was written by Harrison, “Here Comes the Sun” and we will end with the hit this Sunday! I have learned that sometimes God comes in moments, and in ways, we least expect! This, perchance, is one of those such moments and I hope you will join us and enjoy!
George Harrison once said, “I play a little guitar, write a few tunes, make a few movies, but none of that’s really me, the real me is something else.” Harrison was many things, including, obviously, a master of understatement. But he was right to point out that his true character remains elusive. He was one of the most famous men in the world, and yet he loathed superstardom. He preached piety and simple pleasures, yet he lived in a 120-room mansion and collected high-end cars, including a racing car valued at over 1 million dollars! His studious facade belayed a brilliant sense of humor, which led him to produce some of the greatest comedies of all time, 1979 film Life of Brian. The songs he wrote focused on both the glory of God and the petty annoyances of day-to-day life.
While undoubtedly proud of the band that vaulted him into immortality, he was loath to measure himself by their success. “The Beatles exist apart from myself,”  he once said. “I am not really Beatle George. ‘Beatle George’ is like a suit or shirt that I once wore on occasion, and until the end of my life people may see that shirt and mistake it for me.”
That is how I often look at what I do. I am a priest – and together we are all Christians and Catholics – but these are mere ‘shirts’ we don on to show the world what we are – or at least – what we hope to be. But at our core is the essence of all humanity: the desire for a life of love and world filled with less hatred and to one day enjoy an eternity with our Creator. In the end, it is less about how much we own, and more about what we will one day leave behind. 
It’s been almost 18 years since Harrison’s death, so this Sunday we will honor the man – and the band made famous by his being one of them – that shine a light on his life outside the mop-topped artifice of the Fab Four to a simple truth that we embrace here at Saint Miriam: love is always stronger than hate, God comes in the mundane stuff of life, and everyone should strive for peace and love.
So, yes, ‘here comes the sun’!

It’s The Beatles!

Mark your calendars! Set your clocks! Get ready for The Beatles!

Well, at least their music will be making a stunning appearance next Sunday, February 24th for ONE MASS ONLY at 10:30am! It is going to be a wonderful event!

The Beatles Mass is a lively Eucharist centered around our regular Mass Setting but with the music of The Beatles to underscore peace, love, and togetherness. We will focus our liturgy on bringing the entire parish together to allow for everyone to meet one another! Yes, the 7:30am, 9:00am and 10:30am regular parishioners will actually have the opportunity to meet one another and enjoy the Lord’s Supper with a beautiful backdrop of love! I can think of nothing better as we soon turn our sights toward Lent and the ultimate love that Jesus gave to us and the world!

The Beatles were an English rock band formed in Liverpool in 1960. With members John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, they became regarded as the foremost and most influential music band in history. Their songs draw on many traditions, but belong to none and transcend them all! Their harmonies are sunlit, their voices are perky and harmonized and their songs, with an innate sense of balance and energetic poise, represented an instant classicism that is a love present to this very day, even after so many of them are now gone.

Some of the tunes you will enjoy includes…

As we will enter…All You Need Is Love! Followed by the…

At The Sign of Peace will include: I Want to Hold Your Hand!

Then, Let It Be and Hey Jude

Our Meditation will be a beautiful new compilation by Charlie and Maria of Help, With A Little Help From My Friends, I’ll Follow the Sun, and Long and Winding Road! (Wow, huh?) And, then we will leave to serve with… Here Comes the Sun!

It is going to be stunning and so many parishioners and few professional musicians that know Charlie will join us includingColleen O’Hara, Karen Naim, Jane Arenas, Rich Magnuson, Nicole Peirce, Rob Peirce, Maria Wolf, Ed Mortka, and Charlie Masters with more coming every day!

We have so much joy to share, why not be sure to begin with us next Sunday and enjoy ‘a little help from your friends’!


Such an Exciting Place!


“What an exciting place!”  Those are the words of a priest that called me to see if he might come and spend some time in ministry. A fellow Franciscan and tenured vocational, and one who sees what we do, but has yet to filly experience it! Yes, we are an exciting place!

We have such wonderful outreaches! From Prayer Shawls and Scarves with a Purpose, to Sacred Meals, to Blessing Bags and Sacred Spaces! Soon “Car Safe” will be here and our enhanced versions of Blessing Bags, too! Our Healing Mass on the 2nd Sunday at 10:30am is moving and fulfilling. Our Baptismal Liturgy is something to behold and when you attend you realize how important the Sacraments really are to our life and faith!

Bombas Socks and The Joy of Socks and two new charities I am speaking with now, have all noticed and supported what we do. Soon WE ARE ALL HOMELESS will adorn our walls and strengthen our resolve as the signs of those most weak will touch our often too hard hearts.

If you look ahead in our announcements, too, you will now find Mary-on-the-Go, a Valentine’s Day Raffle, two versions of Sacred Meal, Open Adoration to allow you to come and sit with Jesus, even if only a few minutes every Thursday or via Livestream, too! And just in time for Lent, a new way to honor the Stations of the Cross, FREE Lenten Reflection Booklets, Ashes to Go, and a special Mini-Lenten Retreat, Follow in my Footsteps! There are Prayer Shawls to make, shopping lists to support, Blessing Bags to make, and even the opportunity for you to rename one of our campus roadways! (Like I said, exciting!)

Our Family Mass is becoming better family-children centered and new hymnals will soon adorn our pews! A new sign will be erected out front and new Avenue Banners on our light poles! Two new staff members will be coming on board as part of our team, and we will also have enhanced security and continue our ‘Green Policy’ as we care for one and other and never forget God’s planet, too!

Yes, our parish focus this year of “Meeting the Poor in the Flesh” is well on its way with exciting ways to deepen your spirituality and support this parish that truly welcomes everyone! But none of this will happen without your support and attendance and care. That is why we will be offering a few new ways for you to support our mission, reduce our costs, and enjoy the benefits of being part of an exciting place.

In the coming weeks, you will be presented with the urgent need to increase our monthly electronic giving that we call, eGiving. I will be very clear as your pastor here: This is not something that we should do, but rather something we must do. Everyone who gives can do better if you want to badly enough. I am living proof of that and have been so for some ten years now. If you care enough and find what we do here as valuable to your family, you will give and do so joyfully trusting that God will care for you in return. It really is that simple. You must be willing to step out on faith.

Too, in that same vein, you will also be asked to switch from a credit or debit card linked to your checking or savings account and simply allow us to set up that same giving via ACH (automated clearing house, an electronic funds-transfer system). This will reduce  the fees we currently pay that literally lower your actual giving level and gives part of your donation to the bank and credit card company!

Lastly, you will be asked to get your butts to church! (My mom’s words, not mine!) Attendance has been lacking and we work hard to make the programming and experience and music and liturgy something special, but none of it is going to happen if you don’t get to church, honor God, and show the world that your covenant with something greater is worth the effort.

This really is an exciting place. Now, let’s recognize its value in our lives and give her the care she deserves. After all, with our last breath, I am quite certain we will not be reflecting back and wishing we had spent less time here.



As I announced at the Family Mass last Sunday, this Lent, Saint Miriam will be the next home for the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS project. The exhibit will feature a cross-section of the works from Willie Baronet on two levels of the parish. We will also tie into this exhibit our Lenten experience for 2019. We will sink more deeply into how we live a life of service and care for the marginalized and the lost and the lonely. We will try to deepen our own willingness, too, as we seek the homeless, the food insecure, and the forgotten. From the opening of the exhibit on March 9th to its closing celebration on April 27th, we will become homeless.

The WE ARE ALL HOMELESS project began in 1993 due to the awkwardness its founder, Artist and professor, Willie Baronet, felt when he pulled up to an intersection and encountered a person holding a sign, asking for help. Willie has since purchased more than 1,300 homeless signs over the past 24 years, and he uses this collection to create installations to raise awareness about homelessness. Like many of us, he wrestled with whether or not he was doing good by giving them money or to simply ignore them or avoid their steel gaze. Mostly he admitted the internal struggle with his moral obligation, and how his own choices contributed in conscious or unconscious ways to poverty. Willie struggled with the unfairness of the lives people are born into, the physical, mental and psychological handicaps. In his struggle, he avoided eye contact with those on the street, unwilling to really see them, and in doing so – like most of us – avoided seeing parts of himself. That changed once he began asking these people if they would sell their signs! Willie’s relationship to the homeless has been powerfully and permanently altered and now, so has the world.

I reached out to Willie after his showing at the Jefferson. He was forever changed. As an admitted fall away Catholic since age 17, his mother died some 15 years ago, and he remembered her often wondering if somehow, she failed him, but now he can’t help but feel she is proud of him and that somehow, my reaching out was a sign of her strength to him, even now.

At our front doors, when you first arrive to our parish, you are greeted by a beautiful life-sized bronze statue by world-renowned artist and sculptor, Timothy Schmalz. The piece is entitled, “Whatsoever You Do”, and has been dubbed, ‘The Beggar Christ.’ The sculpture is based on the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, and suggests that Christ is one with the most marginalized in our society. It is a strong, visual representation of what our parish represents: an inclusive home, a strong welcome, with deep and abiding hospitality for everyone, without any reservations. We welcome everyone and for us, it is more than a trite motto; it is our mission.

For the last ten years, we have welcomed the rejected and the marginalized. We have endeavored to treat everyone as a living soul with inherent dignity that is deserving of our love and protection and welcome. From being the first Catholic Parish to welcome gay and lesbians to full inclusion, to our extending hospitality to the Transgender and questioning. From our welcoming the immigrant and the ex-offender, to our support groups for families, the addict and the recovering, to our swinging wide the doors of our campus to those mourning the loss of their best friend in our Angels of Assisi Pet Memorial Garden, to our constant reminder of our goal to welcome all, including those seeking sanctuary, we have been a haven to those who seek refuge and the love and embrace of God. We have much to be proud of and more to do.

Because we believe that when Jesus said, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done it unto me,” He was not speaking sentimentally, nor even ideologically, but rather with a depth that only the truly perceptive can feel. It is for us a mandate. Jesus sees Himself in the hungry, the naked, the lost, the marginalized, the forgotten, and the imprisoned… because of that ‘desert experience’, the devil made it so. And that is why we recently announced the addition of “Car Safe” (providing a safe place to park overnight with assistance to transitional housing opportunities and the care of they immediate needs) to ourBlessing Bag Outreach as well as ‘enhanced’ versions to help those homeless with pets, without socks, and now blankets, too. Through our hard work, these efforts reveal the paradoxical upside-down truth that from suffering we are redeemed by the very hands of God…

This Lent, we will focus on these programs and the Beggar at our door. As someone wrote to me recently, “This is a VERY BIG DEAL!” and so it is, but we will use this focus and time to better ourselves and our community by making the world a little bit better.

It should be noted that there have been over 30 art installations of WE ARE ALL HOMELESS since 2009 in the US and UK, including exhibits at NYU, Texas A&M, University of Pennsylvania and the University of Cambridge. In 2016 exhibits came to Philadelphia and Cleveland during both the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention. In Philly they were part of Truth to Power, a group show sponsored by Rock the Vote, which included artists Banksy, Ron English, and Shepard Fairey. The installations provide an experience for people to explore the humanity of the signs, and questions regarding the nature of home, compassion, and what it means to truly see each other. We are pleased and honored that Willie has allowed us to join such prestigious places to host one of his exhibits.

We will close our exhibit in late April after Easter comes again. We will use this time to screen SIGNS OF HUMANITY, a documentary film where Willie and three filmmakers drove across the country, interviewing more than 100 people on the streets and purchasing over 280 signs that explores inter-related themes of home, homelessness, compassion, and humanity as well as engage ourselves and the community through a Q&A session that will feature Willie, a former homeless man and now advocate, Eddie Dunn, (someone Willie actually purchased a sign from), Tom Costello, founder of the Joy of Sox, and Dr. Rosie Frasso who did the research project at Jefferson University. This will be a spectacular day!

The conversations and connections God brings to us leaves an indelible mark on our hearts, as only God can do, if only we care enough to truly listen. This Lent, let us gather all that we are and give something back to God and leave those who wish to avoid chocolate for Lent to themselves. We have more important things to do and many more lives to impact; and perhaps, even to save.
PS.  To support this project, and art exhibition, please Click Here to make your generous gift. 

“You want answers?” “I want the truth.” “You can’t handle the truth!”

Ahh, the famous (and ironically often misquoted) line from the motion picture, A Few Good Men (1992) the dramatic scene from the court martial with Kevin Bacon’s Lt. Daniel Kaffee and Jack Nicholson’s Colonel Jessop. This is what we all say we want, but do we really want or even need to know the truth?

Philip Berrigan said, “The Poor tell us who we are. The prophets tell us who we can be. So, we hide the poor and kill the prophets.”  I work hard. I know I will probably never see the seeds that I plant come to full growth. Like the quote used for my image, I can now only visualize in my mind’s eye the shade to come to someone else. So, I toil and pray, but I will not be silenced because I have learned that silence for many is death.

When I accepted my call from God to become a priest; a call that was affirmed by my parish and diocesan bishop, and since then, many times over, I was also called to preach and teach. That means that sometimes I commit myself to saying things that some do not want to hear. While I have never considered myself much of a prophet, I suppose I speak prophetically from time to time as the Spirit calls me to do, and sometimes demands of me to do. I’m supposed to speak for justice in behalf of the poor and oppressed, and equip my congregation for witness and service, and also guide the people of God in proclaiming God’s love through word and deed. Not easy. Never has been, and this included my cry to those young children this past week in Washington DC who attended a March for Life event with their school, but somehow ended up the focus of national attention for what they wore, how they acted, and what they said before, during, and after the incident.

Since my admonishment of them, as a Catholic priest, pastor and someone who oversees a school, I have been called every name in the book and told that religion, and those of us who support religion, are mere Neanderthals and archaic; we are worthless. It’s is no wonder how silent clergy often are, and how much the Church and others try to silence us.

I have learned that if you are speaking out about the right things at the right time, there will always be concern and pain. People get concerned really fast and lose interest really fast, too. But true change and truth always involve pain and self-introspection. This is what is lacking on behalf of those boys. They take no personal accountability nor see how the part they played in the drama that played out was worsened, and now even dioceses are reversing their admonishment under social pressure, but they lay waste the gospel of the church in doing so and relinquish our position as teacher of the faith.

Now, I realize that we were all wrong initially to jump to conclusions; myself included. There were a lot of different people coming out to make statements about what they believed to be true. I am included in that first bunch, admittedly. After all, being human, I get it; it is difficult to watch what we all saw in that shortened version of the initial videos and reports and not become outraged. Especially if you have ever been bullied. As one who has, I have seen those eyes, just like the eyes and accompanying smirky grin of that young boy staring at me, immovable and icy cold as his feet, and I have been frightened. In the end, we were all wrong and all correct, too, depending on the angle you choose to see it from. Literally.

Some of the truth is that what we saw, in either the shorter and longer version of the video, (both of which I have now watched many times) was a clash captured at the Lincoln Memorial between Omaha Nation elder, Nathan Phillips, a Native American activist, a teenager Nick Sandmann and a group of his fellow classmates, all white Red-MAGA-Ballcap-wearing schoolboys from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School, and a handful of Black Hebrew Israelites. It was ugly, more so from the Black Hebrew Israelites mouths, as they spewed such vulgarity, hurling racism, homophobia, and worse at anyone and everyone who crossed their path, including these young men. I won’t place it here in written form, but it was vulgar and untamed and almost inhuman. All sorts of commentators at first condemned the students for surrounding, staring down and mocking an older indigenous man of color. Then, only a day later, many of those same commentators began apologizing to the teenagers — and apologizing for them, too. This shift occurred along a ‘queasy sort of redemptive’ arc: People judged, and then they were judged in turn, so they retreated because after all, these were ‘good Catholic boys’ (and white) so surely we must be wrong? The original denouncers, eager to cast these children as the embodiment of Trump-ism, were truth-tellers on Saturday, but somehow, they lost their will and decided the situation – and controversy – too complicated and not worth their effort to dive deeper and protect those things or ideals worth fighting for.

The original story was about how the racist, ignorant superiority that undergirds the Trump ideology (aka the red hats) moved privileged white teenagers to chant “Build the wall,” as Phillips said they did, (and some still maintain is absent fact) at someone whose ancestors were here long before theirs and a history they obviously knew not. The story now is about how the hyper-polarization of today’s society can move Americans to condemn those who do not deserve it. But somehow the truth was lost. Yes, in the end, there was enough wrong to go around on all sides.

The first version was concocted by progressives of influence, but the second from some ivy-league hired public relations firms with political ties that cannot be denied. (Even their statement was copyrighted.) The problem is neither of these versions captures the truth, which is hidden somewhere in all this mess, as truth so often is.

It’s true that the Hebrew Israelites shouted hate at the young people, and it is true that the kids chanted school cheers to drown them out. It’s also true that they chose to wear those hats – political in every form – knowing that someone would probably take offense. It’s true that these boys made ugly comments to female passersby, and even a joke about rape. (Yes, I said rape.) It’s also true that the schoolboys, whether someone else was mean to them beforehand or not, were giggling and childish as they let loose with offensive ‘school war’ chants and dances and wild tomahawk chops while a Native American man beat his drum before them. It’s true this school has a history of racism and racial undertones, including unapologetically wearing ‘black face’ for what they called ‘school spirit’. “We mean nothing by it,’ said one Covington Catholic student, ‘we just showed our school spirit.”  Wrong.  So wrong. It’s true that the school has history of denying openly gay students their voice. It’s also true that many were impacted by them in harmful ways prior to this captured incident. My truth is that they had no business being anywhere near this scene. They were not near the bus loading zone, they had no business in the attire they chose to incite with, and they certainly had no business wearing the clothing of their school as they did, as if to say their journey there was not a true journey for the dignity of human life, but to cause havoc, or at least discomfort for some. The seeming lack of judgment by their chaperones was curious, as well. I would have no problem terminating any of them had it been here in our school or diocese. Why? Because we have lost our moral standing and compass; we are better than this. 

I also know this truth from personal experience. I Marched on Washington for gay and lesbian rights. I stood hand in hand and even tied myself to the White House fence with Act Up. I marched for Human Life, too, with a March for Life gathering, and I stood and wept at the horror of millions of names sewn into a patch work of homemade quilts; those who died from AIDS as the world condemned them for being what they were and how they were created by the very same God we all claim to worship now. And, through it all, I will say this clearly: I was far too young and far too naïve to get it all. I knew the nuances of why I wanted to be there, but as age comes wisdom, I was far too young to actually know why I was there and none of those boys know either. For most, this trip was a chance to get out school and be boys, not champions of pro-life. That was proven in more ways than one.

You can watch the various videos and read the multidtde of statements and see the myriad of new positions from around the world and come to your own conclusions about what happened. It is not my job to tell you what happened. I was not there.  I also know my perspective is skewed by who I am, and what I have endured, and yes, the color that I am, too. But as a person who moves around this world with my white privilege, and as a person who is an ordained Catholic Franciscan Priest, it IS my job to speak out against injustice and to tell people they are wrong; even me. St. Francis once said to show him the gospel, not just preach it (my paraphrase). As white Catholic Christian people, in a world of more privilege than most, we need especially to be more understanding of how much our standing colors our views. Why? Because what we are and what we say, along with our history, replete with the horrors of child abuse and the air of our superiority over everyone and all else that God created is present in these children and will impact the world as long as we give it voice and power.

Mr. Standmann and his classmates didn’t seem to realize the layers of history that exist between white people and yes Catholics, too,  and Native Americans. They did not see their own prejudice and veiled misogyny. How could they in a place where most could not afford to attend and where people of color are so absent, especially in places of power and authority? They did not recognize the anthem song of the American Indian Movement being drummed, or how flippedly we still use derogatory terms like ‘Indian-giver’ or even our President calling another politician Pocahontas, all without a thought to their inherent prejudice. How could they when we hide it so well, as we do all of our Catholic dirty laundry. We have a moral obligation to understand how we carry our violent history of the genocide of Native Americans and the profound traumas of slavery with us, not to mention the way in which we walk amongst other religions with such open disdain. We are the powerful and we should be more cautious.

America is a place where different ideas are to be freely expressed, including ideas that say some people are the problem or even ‘the devil’, like those Hebrew Israelites did that day. A reading of American religious history should acquaint all of these ideas and hearing them shouldn’t be a shock after all these years of being so smug. But, not understanding whyit would appear menacing to be chanting your school’s fight songs loudly with “Make America Great hats” on and moving en masse toward others, vulgar as they may be, and another group who knew nothing of your intentions should not be that impossible to understand, even for these young privileged boys from Kentucky, and especially for those entrusted with their care.

As Marcia Mount Shoop said so well, “When white people walk into a space where black bodied people and Indigenous people are voicing their pain, their perspectives, we carry with us a violent heritage, whether we know it or not.” And so it is, whether we like it or not.

When I was a boy, “Respect for your elders” was a constant reminder from my parents. We used to get literally beat if we treated others with less than the respect due them and their position in life. It didn’t matter whether you knew them or not, whether you were related to them or not, or even if you liked them or not, or what they were saying: as a child you gave way to the adult, always. This was also reinforced during my years in Catholic education. So, for me and many others, Mr. Sandmann’s actions and those of his classmates were those of a bunch of white privileged disrespectful youth toward an adult. No amount of rude, homophobic, racist, anti-Catholic slang from a bunch of hate-filled people like those Black Hebrew Israelites justifies what they did. It simply doesn’t. And it isn’t biblical, pro-life, or gospel-like either. Period.

I will admit that context demands more than watching a single event from all possible angles. We all failed at that this week: the press, the reporters, me, and you. BUT it also means understanding the world where the events happened and our complacency in it all and how shallow and hate-filled a people we really are.

The quarrel over these Covington Catholic boys is not only a story of social media hate-mobbing. It’s also a story of the ‘group think’ tendency to jump off a bandwagon as unthinkingly as we hopped onto it, but there are real problems here in this nation and none of that will be fixed if we give these boys – or ourselves – a solid pass. No one acted heroically here and no one deserves a White House invitation. 

The world we live in is often what we saw play out this past week. If you are a person of color, even more often than not, the pass would not come so easily. Sad, but so true. It is not a world that I want to leave behind. How about you?


Re-Remembering What is Truly Important.

It’s been a tough week. I had the honor and sad duty to bury someone I had the great joy of marrying just barely ten years ago. He died suddenly, leaving a wife and two children behind. The funeral this Thursday morning was a stark reminder to me how fleeting life is, how fragile we are, how those things we think are important, in the end, really aren’t that important at all.
After the funeral services were completed, I waited for the family and friends to depart. Then I silently walked from the chapel, feeling more deeply the winter’s cold found this particular January day, over to George’s open grave. I cried over the hole that would soon bear his coffin and what remained of his earthly life, I mustered enough strength to bless the earth as I remembered those words, I so often use almost without thinking, “We are but dust and unto dust we shall we return.” Bless this hallowed grave, a sign now made of hope, for it was Christ the first born of the dead that we shall follow. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” George is gone from this life. We live on.
I wonder if last Sunday when so many stayed away from Mass using the weather as this week’s excuse, remember what is really important? I wonder if those who will stay away this weekend will remember? I wonder if all those who fight so passionately on social media over politics will remember what is truly important in the end and one day might fight so for all we have here? I wonder how long until I forget, too?
I was all but ready to call it a day and give up on all that I thought others would find important. After all, life is so fickle. Then I received a note from one of our parents. She wanted me to know the impact this parish has on their family, and in particular her daughter who attends PREP. I needed this note this day more than anyone will ever know. (I have placed a copy below, with her permission to share.) My image is the actual poem entitled, “Acceptance“.
Sometimes God comes when you least expect Him. Sometimes God knows you need to hear that your life is important to others. Sometimes God comes to remind us that together we make wonderful things happen in the world. I needed this reminder after such a tough week for my own selfish reasons of feeling inadequate. I pray this helps you re-remember what is truly important and how imperative our work here is together.
See you Sunday.

Good morning Fr. Jim!  I wanted to share this with you – it’s a poem that Lilly wrote for her school’s Acceptance Day in honor of the MLK holiday.  She was chosen to read it to the entire middle school at an assembly today.  Your messages of inclusion don’t go unnoticed and I think this should be a reminder for you to keep it up, especially when you’re feeling discouraged.  Our kids (and the rest of us) are watching, listening and absorbing!

Have a great weekend!
Katie Hansen