Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 24, 2020

Over the years, I have come to know Jesus in a variety of forms. He comes to me, but sometimes – in my humanness and in my brokenness and in my busyness – I miss Him. I have seen Jesus in the nurse who cared for me after my brain surgery, in my mother who rubbed my back until my asthmatic spasm ceased to rob me of breath, in the priest who gave me wafers to ‘play priest’ as a child and by doing so instilled in me a life of service, in my dad who never taught me to hate, but to love even the most unlovable, in Sean who has never wavered in his devotion to the church, despite our personal wounds, in the volunteers who spend countless hours at the parish making her what she is for so many, in Katelyn who bears my child without complaint and loves me in my most unlovable forms, and in all the grooms I have had the honor of standing with when their brides turned the corner and stood at the end of a long walk, as they began to weep in pure joy, in those who challenge me to become better, and see God’s goodness in me – in all my brokenness – and yes, even in those who reject me because of my past mistakes, and in those who love me all the more, because of those same past mistakes, and yes, the man at the height of being homeless who asked me my name and by doing so taught me to ask for theirs first.

Lent for me is a time where I finally understand what it means when we say, ‘Jesus is the Word made flesh’. He is God made visible. Jesus is the Divine showing Himself in human terms. God adapted Himself to be one like us, save sin, in all of our brokenness, so that we might still have hope. Jesus was broken, scourged, lost, alone, in pain, smelly, and all without a home…so that when we are, we are not alone ever.

Lent is a way to change us so that we might become better people. The Risen One – The Christ – may no longer be visible, audible, or touchable in human form or in one body; now comes in bodily form of many bodies, many human beings, even the most unlovely of them among us and into that Sacrament we call Divine.  It is now God’s holy Church that must bear the light and say, “We see YOU! Among us here, YOU are part of us as we see Jesus, we see YOU!”

How will you see Jesus now? Will you use Lent as a time to change WHO Jesus IS to you? How will you find the Risen One among even the world’s most unlikely?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 17, 2020

“Quaresima” or Fortieth, translates in English to Lent. Lent is when we, as Catholics begin a pilgrimage of fasting and penance and observance of things inside and out. Lent is a period of small sacrifices. In Italy, where St. Francis was born, these Lenten sacrifices are called fioretto, which means little flower. One may decide to enter Lent by giving up their favorite food, limiting meat dishes, or candy or watching TV, but self-denial is ultimately a personal principle. As the world, and even churches, become increasingly lackadaisical about these small things of traditional Lent observances, it is up to each of us, by our own piety, to find our way back to meaningful Lent. Lent must change us, or Lent is not truly Lent. 
 
It is said that St. Francis loved Lent so much that that he observed two more: the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday and later the 40 days before the September 29 feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. St. Francis sometimes observed these ‘little lents’ at LaVerna, a mountainous retreat in Tuscany, or in an isolated spot. In a sense, St. Francis lived Lent year-round. During these times of prayer, St. Francis explored three questions at deeper and deeper levels: Who Is God for Me? Are we God’s Creations, or His Competitors? And, Who Am I Before God? 
 
St. Francis once told his friars, “What a person is before God, that he is and no more.” Honest and persevering prayer will eventually expose our blind spots, lead us to be more grateful to God, and more compassionate toward all God’s creatures, including ourselves. 
 
How will this Lent help us each live more integrated lives; not apart from God, but within Him? Can we dwell on the three questions of St. Francis and see where God will take us by Easter?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 11, 2020

It’s almost Lent. Get ready! No, not to give up something you care very little about, but rather to give in to something greater. A greater sense of your Christian faith. A greater way of being a Catholic. A greater sense of mission and a life of service. It will soon be Lent, and God will ask you, as God does every year, “What will you give me this year?”

Sadly, most of us will turn away from that prompting from God. We would rather not confront our own weaknesses and our own unwillingness to actually be a source of good in the world. We would rather not look at the ways we fail to serve; it is, well easier, right?

Lent is a time of purging and a time of rebirth. Brother Sean reminded me the other day that every Lent we lost people who simply cannot confront themselves or let go of the things of this world. But, as a parish, we remain undeterred. It is the job of every good priest to confront and to love in our transitions. But, if we are unwilling to transition, or to change, it is also our job to admonish and remind again. Lent in and Lent out; every year.

Last year, we were home to the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS Project. Those signs, written at the hand of a borrowed pen of those experiencing homelessness changes us and deepened our practical and spiritual commitment to serve more. Our Blessing Bag Outreach and Scarves with a Purpose, and soon the development of our campus are all the fruits of our willingness to look within deeply and to change and serve more. But we lost a few parishioners, too. One who said we were too liberal and another who said we welcomed ‘unsortly’ (sp) types, and another who wished not for her children to be exposed to the ‘dirty homeless people’. So be it. Sadly, so be it.

Three years ago, in Lent, I asked if you were planning to give something up. Despite my urging to instead add something wholesome to your life, and rid those things, that were harmful, many felt it easier to not eat meat on Fridays! I asked you to care less about chocolate or fast food and more about loving people and God. Attend Mass weekly, give to others, pray, worship in Adoration, volunteer at the parish, deepen your giving to this parish that gives so much to you, ensure your children are at CFF every Sunday and honor those who plan and sacrifice to give them a quality education, anything that will help you to become a better person, and us a better people. Few did, but I would like to end with one family who did just that and cared for me in the process.

The Cuffey-Mitchell Family decided that since I live in small quarters in that RV before our Friary-Rectory was built, had no stove, and sacrificed so much that they would make me a full meal every week of Lent. And so, for six full weeks, every week, delivered to the door of my RV was a full meal for me and my family. Every single week of Lent, when the Devil was at his worst and spiritual warfare was at its greatest height, when many were hating me and talking about me behind my back, this one family brought me a warm meal, with all the trimmings, and reminded me what true love is.

As in year’s past, this Lent’s focus will be nothing short of deeply meaningful and will cause some to fear change or refuse to abandon their prejudice at the door. But we will remain undeterred and focused. After all, Lent is a time of change, of introspection, of purging and of new beginnings. St. Francis once said, “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”

Will it be for you? How do you love? Do you love enough? How will you show someone that does so much for you that you love them, truly love?  

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 4, 2020

I know.  The world seems to be falling apart, right? People hate so easily; others that are different and deep down themselves and their lot in life, terrorism abounds despite our best efforts, planes unexpectedly crash into empty fields, our own government kills on foreign soil with impunity, airplanes carrying beloved basketball players and family friends slam into mountains in dense fog, princes of royalty become commoners and leave a life of luxury, we have earthquakes, global warming, and no longer sleeping volcanos erupting, not to mention Coronavirus and modern politics where Caucasus no longer caucus and only breeds ancient hatred, animosity, and division, and people go to church less because…well, why go? Look at the last list!

In the thirteenth century, St. Francis rebelled against a Catholic Church that had become fixated on its own pomp and hierarchy; he renounced worldly goods, and lived in a simple cave, where he found God in nature. He wrote and believed in a God revealed to him in figures such as ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Fire, and Sister Water.’ St. Francis was entirely intuitive in a world that knew how not to be so. Later, Franciscan theologians gave mass to St. Francis’ holistic universe by tying it to scripture. This is lovingly found in a passage of the Letters to the Colossians, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” This, you see, is evidence that God is present in the natural world in ways we cannot – must not – understand in our human form. Otherwise, well, we would have no need of God, because we would be gods.

Father Richard Rohr, the seventy-six-year-old Franciscan Friar gave this presence of ‘God in all things’ a specific name: The Cosmic Christ! For Father Rohr, the Spirit that is embedded in—and makes up—everything in the universe, and Jesus is the embodied version of that Spirit that we can fall in love with and relate to. (Wow, I know, right?!)

In his book, Father Rohr describes the Cosmic Christ as a kind of mirror, in which we can see the form of all of creation. He writes, “The Christ mirror fully knows and loves us from all eternity and reflects that image back to us.”  

I wonder, how might the world look to us if we reflected the Christ back toward us and to those we meet in our journey? What if we did what we do every week at Saint Miriam and welcome everyone; the poor, the needy, the ill, the dying, the unwanted, the marginalized, and the disposed? What would happen of we welcomed the sojourner and the lost and the wicked, too? Or embraced the leper of today and even those you think not too highly of?

Maybe it isn’t the Church that is failing us after all, maybe it is us?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 13, 2020

Yesterday was a busy day, so I woke up late today. I don’t often get much past 7am, but today it was pushing 9am! We had meetings, and Masses, and prepared for two more new students to our school, a Dinner, Church meal this Wednesday and PreCana couples on Thursday. Plus, the school team cleaned and decorated and prepared! It was a late night for many of us. After waking, I knew I would not make it to CrossFit classes today, so I decided to go for a run at Ft Washington State Park.

I love to run at the park. I am not a runner, and most of the times I actually kind of abhor it! But, for some reason, I like to trail run in the park. I normally try for somewhere between 4 and 6 miles; today I split the difference at just a little over 4.2 miles. Then it happened!

Just as I rounded my third major trail head, and turned sharply to the next trail emerging, I saw it! A huge, long-armed white barked Birch tree! She was majestic! Her twisted branches shot high into the air above me, and I couldn’t understand how I had never seen her before? It dawned on me then that normally in the summer or fall months she is surrounded by a fence of green trees! Ahh! That is why! She is normally covered by the foliage of other fellow trees, but not now in the simplicity and serenity of a dormant winter.

I looked and beheld for a just a quick moment, admiring her beauty and elegance, and pushed my right foot deeply into the earth to continue my run when suddenly and sharply a voice came to my consciousness, “James, Stop! Stop and behold!” So, I did. I looked up beyond her branches into the sky and then I saw it, Saint Miriam! I have never seen our parish from this angle before in all my runs at the park, beyond the majesty of the wooded forest upon the hill heightened above the Pike on the far side of the road! But there she was! I wept.

I wonder how many of us neglect to use times of shallow leaves and color-lacking to see anew? How many of us miss the things we love because they are covered by obstacles and things of fleeting life? How many of us will use this time of less leaves, and less color, and less to do and find the things within that we need to change or love more?

St Francis once asked, “Lord, give me eyes to see!”  I pray the same for you and for me.
 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 7, 2020

The single word “Friend” is one of the most frequently found words in virtual communication. When Jesus speaks of his “friends,” he speaks of true friendship that involves an encounter that draws me so near to you that I give something of my very self.

In today’s instant communication, social media driven age, we know very little about true friendship. Most of our ‘friends’ are mere acquaintances and nothing more. I wonder, how many of them could you call in the middle of the night when something was truly wrong?

Pope Francis recently said that Jesus established “a new relationship” between God and man, freeing friendship from “sentimentalism,” bringing friendship to a relationship that involves a “responsibility that embraces our entire life.”

I recently saw a debate on Facebook between ‘friends’ where one decided that Christianity has become weak and ineffective. That we no longer take the world of God seriously and we should go out and enforce Muslims becoming Christians again. They took fodder that the Holy Father admonished a group of children to not try to convert, but rather be a living reason why someone would ask you your faith! As St. Francis once said, “It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

I guess from the comments I can see that very few recognize that the center of the Christian faith is the doctrine of grace; which sadly, is never as graceful when it goes to those that we disdain, or don’t like very much, or perhaps don’t agree with, or are of another faith. But, as a priest with a vibrant and loving Franciscan Catholic parish that welcomes everyone to God’s table, I wonder where they would find a place to even think of becoming one in communion if it were not for those that you are ridiculing in your sharp words today? Which version of the Bible would you prefer we use to shut the door? Which admonishment would you say superseded the very words of our Christ when clearly stated ‘Love the Lord your God with all your soul and all your strength and all your might and love your neighbor as yourself; on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets’…but not here, not in our world today.

How will you be a light to the gentiles of today? Will you come with sword or heart open? How will you be grace-filled?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 23, 2019

You often hear people say, “Christmas is for children”, but Jesus himself taught that unless we become like little children, we will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. So, in reality, Christmas joy is for everyone.

Even St. Francis’ Christmas at Greccio, with the simplistic beauty of the Crèche, was not only an echo of Bethlehem, but the ultimate expression of individual devotion. I suppose, in the fullest sense, it was the prediction of the future, and within a short few years the Friars had carried it to every country of Europe and to us here this Christmas, too!

St. Bonaventure said that Francis desired this particular celebration “to move the people to greater devotion,” and moved they were to new enthusiasm and new joy. From that moment the followers of the Christ Child are intensified to bring the joy of the Child to others in our world, the Son of God becomes the loveliest of earth’s children, the dear Little Lord Jesus who is everybody’s Brother!

We see the Child Jesus throwing His arms around His Mother’s neck while artists dwell caressingly on the perfect Baby’s body that lies kicking in the straw. We find the ultimate gift of Love in Him as He opens His eyes in delight at the sight of His earthy father, St. Joseph. We find true joy as the angels become lovely dimpled babies, too, singing as they offer Him “reverence and obedience.” We find a new spring of poetic imagination had been released, and at its source stood our Seraphic Father, Francis. In almost all of the finest of artwork found in the age, the King of Heaven in Bethlehem is almost never more than that of a baby a mere hours old; truly we must be as one with the smallest among us – the child – to experience Christmas joy at its fullest!

May the true spirit of Christmas find you and your family and allow your hearts to reach out to a world in need of unconditional love and hope.

Come, Lord Christ, Come Child of Bethlehem, Come into our lives and hearts.

How will you allow the true spirit of the Season of Christmas shine in your family? Will you honor Christ at Mass; the ultimate sacrifice given for you, as the cradle preludes the cross?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 16, 2019

The last few days, I find myself simply falling apart. I can’t hold back the tears another moment. I can’t put a smile on my face and pretend I am doing just fine. I can’t hold in the grief that is filling every inch of my being. Perhaps you understand. Perhaps you too feel as if this year has been a nightmare, destroying your peace and security. Perhaps you feel as if your very life is crumbling, collapsing. Perhaps you can no longer hold in the tears, no longer pretend everything is just fine. And, perhaps like me, you aren’t ready to face the holidays. 

I have not purchased a single gift as of yet, nor even sent a Christmas card. Life has been simply too hard, too busy, and too complex emotionally this year. So, I decided that I will muster enough strength this week to send out just the bare minimum, but then the rest will have to wait. And, that’s ok. Instead, I will just take a few extra moments to pray and sit and grieve and allow God to hold me; to change me.

While studying in seminary, I had the honor of praying in the Howard Thurman Chapel at Howard University School of Divinity. Howard Thurman, an African American author, philosopher, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, as well as someone whose legacy has impacted my worldview, once penned these moving words,

“There must be always remaining in every man’s life some place for the singing of angels — some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative, throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness — something that gathers up in itself all the freshets of experience from drab and commonplace areas of living and glows in one bright light of penetrating beauty and meaning — then passes. The commonplace is shot through with new glory — old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting. A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear. Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the hardness of life, despite all of the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”

This is my wish at this time of year for those of us who find it a trying time. As Howard Thurman said, ‘old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting’, and that is so often how God comes to us.

Join me as we gather for our annual ‘Blue Christmas Service’ this Friday at 6:30pm. God’s care and embrace are made manifest by often simple, selfless gifts and by His coming to us at the most opportune and perhaps unexpected moments. It is in these special moments that we are often made whole. Any earlier, these gifts would have been lost in the darkness of our grief; any later it could not have been undervalued or under appreciated. Because what will happen at Saint Miriam this Friday, will help heal us a bit more as we become a bit more whole again. No, I know that we will never be the same, but whatever is left, God will use for good. That I know and that I trust.

Why? Because God’s timing is always impeccable.

Will you allow God to hold your grief and lighten your burden? Will you join us and make time to sit for an hour and see how god will speak to you this Friday?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 9, 2019

 

I know that I have life

only insofar as I have love.

 

I have no love

except it come from Thee.

 

Help me, lease, to carry

this candle against the wind.

 

 –Steve Shoemaker

 

 

My former seminary professor sent this poem to me. He said that he was thinking of me “a lot” this week for some reason and wanted to reach out. It could not have been timelier. It’s been a tough few days.

My emotions run rampant, lots of board business and directional planning for the new year, the business of the season, the anniversary of my dad’s death at Christmas, and now so many pastoral care issues and concerns, including losing one of our oldest, and dearest parishioners. Someone who has become a friend, as well as a member. Yes, I need help in this wind for my candle is willowing down.

Another dear friend spoke this week of the ‘hurry-hurry’ of our lives. Then, one is confronted by our innate, and inherited mortality and all seems so different, so lost, so not as important?

In another poem, The Hollow Men, T. S. Eliot writes, “Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow.”

Although the star of hope shone brightly over that manger in Bethlehem that cold December night so long ago, perhaps it also cast a long shadow, one that we humans live amidst our own limitations, imperfections, and yes, our mortality. But in spite of human foibles and failures, we should cling to the hope that human goodwill, love within struggle, together bound together with God’s merciful love, will bring us safely to our final destiny –- new life with God our Father in heaven.

I pray it so for my dad, and for my dear friend, Ed. I pray it so for so many others. I pray it so for you and me when our time comes, too.

Are we lost in Advent, or is Advent simply lost on us?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 2, 2019

Like St. Francis, I have always loved Advent, but this year Advent has an even deeper meaning for me, as we are pregnant! Katelyn and I will soon welcome a new baby boy named Jameson. He will arrive, God willing, right after Easter! This past week, we had an appointment at Abington Memorial Hospital, and we got to see how we was growing! We saw every bone, both kidneys, lungs, brain, and the four chambers in his heart beating at a miraculous 159 beats per minute! We also counted every toe and finger! At just over 9.5oz he is already fully human! God is amazing! It got me thinking about how Mary must have felt as she waited expectantly for Jesus!

I have always been devoted to our Blessed Mother and have a particular fondness for Our Lady of Guadalupe and the ‘Expectant Mary’ (see image) that now adorns the Bell Tower as you enter our parish for Advent. Mary is the Theotokos. The Theotokos is a Greek title consisting of two words: Theos meaning “God” and tokos meaning “bearer” or “birther.” As Catholics, we rightfully defend the teaching that Mary birthed the whole Person of Christ. Since Christ is a divine person, she birthed God Himself! Hence, she is rightly called Theotokos or “God-bearer”; in Latin, Dei Genitrix!

Think of the miracle…from the moment of the Angel’s announcement He grew in silence – in secret – within her womb. After all, it was Mary’s grace that has attracted God’s attention. And what is this grace? It is what Luke shows us in her conversation and her actions – courage, boldness, grit, ringing convictions about justice. Not submissive meekness. You see, I have learned that Grace is never submission, and the power of God is never meek.

Advent, then, is the season of such a great secret, the secret of the growth of Christ, of Divine Love growing in silence. It is a season of humility, silence, and growth. In a world that seeks more titles, more recognition, more fame, and ever more power, this central attribute is often lost, even among our church leadership. But here it is, deeply engrained and needed: Christ came in humility to save the world, even those who would rather seek lofty titles and positions that are hallow and fleeting, rather than spend their time serving the poor and doing to the true work of the Gospel.

So, then the holy Season of Advent is a time of reflection; a time to ponder this mystery of our Christ growing in the womb of Mary. Advent is a time of great anticipation and active waiting, waiting to meet her Son. It is a season that we will never experience in the same way again and demands that we pause and recognize the error of our own ways and seek what is truly important.

I wonder, as we ponder, reflect, and pray, on the mystery of the Theotokos, if we also recognize that Christ is secretly growing in us and living in us? Do we even perceive that we are Christ-bearers, too? This is a mystery that we need to allow to unfold in us, just as Christ unfolded in Mary. Jesus grows in us now, and that heightens our need and demands us to become better people.

Mary is the prototype, the finished product of what it means to have prepared for God’s coming to us, and so acts as the ideal Advent figure, “the one who waits with, and for, the Lord’s coming”. Jesus gestating within the belly of woman, Christ gestating within the consciousness of all.

What about us? How will we honor the Christ coming in our own expectation, wonder, and waiting? Or, will we concentrate on worldly good and toys and outings instead and miss Him completely?