Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 11, 2019

I am beginning to turn my heart toward Advent. It is almost here again. I know we need to get through Thanksgiving, but as a priest, Advent is where my heart longs to be. I need to sit quietly, see the Sarum Blue, and try and feel God again in my daily life.

You see, with all of the terrible things we see on the news every day; the gun violence, politics gone awry, immigration crisis, drug epidemics, etc. it is extremely easy for us to think the world is on a downward slope. It is so easy to turn on the television, or scroll on our social media platforms, and see so much negativity, that we feel there is simply nothing we can do. Whether it is Christmas or not, the world and all of humanity seem rather doomed. So perhaps now is the best time to stand up and continue spreading Jesus’ message of love. Maybe this is how Christmas will come again? Maybe our voices, joined together, will create a needed chorus of love that will bring about St. Francis’ light to extinguish the darkness of our times?

Yes, Advent is more than our waiting, Advent is God waiting for us to empty ourselves of all that hinders God’s dwelling in us. God needs a place to call home in this world. God needs a heart open to love without demands or expectations. God needs the good, the honest, and the holy in a world that so often knows Him not. God needs us.

The medieval Dominican mystic, Meister Eckhart, captured the meaning of Advent when he wrote, “What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the Divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace and if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son, if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of God is begotten in us.”

I want Advent. I pray you do, too, but I am also well aware that many of you will not do the same, but rather succumb to the pressures of shopping and gift-giving, Santa and reindeer, and all that makes the season of Christmas so commercialized. But, maybe, just maybe, a few of you will heed my wish and join me this year and honor one of the most beautiful seasons of our Christian year?

May you and I be God’s dwelling place so that Christ may be born anew.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 4, 2019

 

Thomas Merton once wrote that “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him. Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.”

As we enter the season of thanksgiving, I wonder if we are truly ever really thankful? Do we ever stop long enough to see the beauty of the day, the passing sunlight, the drifting snow, the leaves that pile and dance with the wind? Do we see the depth of the love our spouse has in his or her eyes just for us? Do we pause to look deeply into the souls of our created children to allow them to know our love? Do we give charitably to the work of our church, devote time to our parish life, our community? Do we see the homeless as us or a foreigner in need of an eye-dodge? Do we work until we can’t push anymore, day in and day out, only to find years later that all we may have amassed are missed opportunities, long-lost opportunities, lack of experiences, a dismal family or social life? Do we laugh enough, care enough, love deeply enough?

St. Francis once said that “Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming self.”  This season, let us pray for the strength to overcome our selves in order to find gratefulness in this time of giving thanks for all we do have, not that which we wish we did.
 
I wonder, in this season of thanksgiving, are we grateful for the things that matter? Really, actually matter?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 7, 2019

It has been written that St. Francis felt a disdain for lepers, like many of his day, and would avoid them at all costs. But, one day, Francis was riding his horse alone in the countryside when he caught sight of a leper walking toward him. Francis’ instinct was to move to the other side to avoid contact but instead, he rode directly toward the leper with parts of his face and hands eaten away by this dreaded disease. Francis dismounted his horse and warmly embraced the man, kissing the leper on his lips.

Francis writes, “When I was in sin, the sight of lepers nauseated me beyond measure; but then God himself led me into their company, and I had pity on them. When I had once become acquainted with them, what had previously nauseated me became a source of physical consolation for me. After that I did not wait long before leaving the world.”  Francis eventually came to realize that he had actually embraced none other than his Lord, Jesus Christ!

I wonder if this is how many of us feel when we encounter the worst of society? I wonder if, as we walk in Center City, we – deep down where we don’t like to admit it – have contempt for the poor and the person experiencing homelessness? I wonder, when I announced this past Sunday that we would be working with Montgomery County to provide a safe home for the rejected LGBTQ and add 35 emergency shelter beds, too, many who heard it thought to themselves, ‘Really? Why help them?’ I wonder if any of us see the ‘thems’ of the world, so easily rejected, ever as the ‘us’?

I know the sting of rejection. I have been ridiculed and scorned. I have been the object of someone else’s mean-spirited fun. I have been bullied and know the feeling all to well as the outsider. I am a single paycheck away from being homeless. I am them; I have never known the joy and comfort of being sided with the ‘us’. 

Francis soon found himself living with lepers and caring for them. We care for the poor, the marginalized and the homeless. We go where they are and tell them we are them. In doing so, freely and with sacrifice of time, talent and treasure, we meet our Christ and know His love.
 

St. Francis’s chance meeting and care of the leper was the best preparation he could have had for the founding of a new order in the Church, whose highest ideal was to serve the poorest of the poor.

How many times have you been asked to help and ended up rejecting your Christ in the flesh?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 30, 2019

 

Well, it is official! Church helps make society better! And, a recent Harvard University’s School of Public Health study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, shows that taking your children to church doesn’t just benefit them, it also has positive benefits for the community at large, as almost 30 percent of kids raised in church were more likely to do volunteer work! Children who went to church were also 33 percent less likely to use drugs in their twenties, were less likely to have sex at an earlier age, and less likely to have a sexually transmitted infection. In addition, people who prayed and meditated daily either at church or on their own reported greater life satisfaction, were better able to process emotions, and were more forgiving.

St. Francis would frequently pray alone during the night, seeking out quiet places. Sometimes the remote caves located in the hills above Assisi were a favorite place for Francis and to this day are frequented by pilgrims seeking the Franciscan way of prayer.

Today, Friars around the globe practice many forms of contemplative and meditative prayer, with Lectio Divina, the prayerful reading of the Word of God, holding a special place in our Franciscan tradition. The Virgin Mary features prominently in Franciscan prayer as well, as do traditional devotions, such as the Stations of the Cross and Eucharistic Adoration, like we offer at Saint Miriam every week. And, our Mary-on-the-Go, offers every family a way to pray and bring the family together in a very Catholic-Christian way to help heal wounds – familial and global.

In our world today children are exposed to all sorts of violence, temptations, distractions, false hope, depression, and terror. We, as their guardians, teachers, pastors and godparents are their only means of true learning in a world that doesn’t honor faith much anymore. We are their first teachers and it is incumbent upon us to lead the way to a better emotional and satisfying life. It is not things that will make them happy in the end, it is God and faith and family. Is that not worth skipping a sporting event or practice on Sundays?

St. Francis once admonished us, “Sanctify yourself and you will sanctify society.”  How will you teach the faith to a child this week? How will you show them that extra-curricular activities are wholesome and fun to do, but church and God are far more important?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 3, 2019

He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Matthew’s gospel brings us a new lesson. Well, at least he did for me – even after all these years as a priest.

I had a wedding the other day that once again I was honored to officiate, and it included a reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans. I have heard it many times, but the reader chose a different version, The New International Version, and my ears heard it anew. I share with its title, Love in Action!

“Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Wow. After all that we have endured in the transitioning of the school; from false rumors of closure to insults from former staff to parents more petty than one could ever have imagined after all we have given to them, I needed hear those words, especially ‘do not repay evil for evil.’

After reflecting on Paul’s words, I challenged myself to remain calm in our focus and the exciting things to come. I reminisced on how sacred we were to even begin a parish and look at us today! Then, out of the blue, my cousin shared words with me that inspired me to reflect even more deeply on those from Romans, but more practically! Just what I needed.

St. Francis once said, “because I am small in stature and dark, and because I am to be simple like a dove and fly heavenward on wings of virtue. The Lord, in his mercy, has given and will give me more children, which I could never care for by myself. I need, therefore, to surrender them to Mother Church, who will protect them and gather them under the shade of her wings.” And so He has, to all of us.

I leave you with those more practical words from an old farmer, shared by my cousin and stolen from Stacy Parrish Whiteside. I pray they will inspire all of us to move ahead in love and peace of mission.

Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.

 

Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

Words that soak into your ears are whispered… not yelled.

Meanness don’t jes’ happen overnight.

Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.

Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

It don’t take a very big person to carry a grudge.

You cannot unsay a cruel word.

Every path has a few puddles.

When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

The best sermons are lived, not preached.

Most of the stuff people worry about ain’t never gonna happen anyway.

Don’t judge folks by their relatives.

Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

Live a good, honorable life… Then when you get older and think back, you’ll enjoy it a second time.

Don ‘t interfere with somethin’ that ain’t bothering you none.

Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance.

If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin’.

Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

The biggest troublemaker you’ll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin’.

Always drink upstream from the herd.

Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

Lettin’ the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin’ it back in.

If you get to thinkin’ you’re a person of some influence, try orderin’ somebody else’s dog around.

Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

Don’t pick a fight with an old man. If he is too old to fight, he’ll just kill you.

Most times, it just gets down to common sense.  
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 29, 2019

This coming Sunday, May 5th at the 9:00am Family Mass, Saint Miriam will honor our Blessed Mother with our annual May Crowning and Procession! We will have our Marian procession with the faithful of all ages carrying flowers and singing, “Mary, We Crown You with Blossoms Today”!

Did you know that St. Francis had a love for our Mother? According to a pious legend, one day St. Francis had a vision in which he saw his friars trying to reach Christ by a ladder that was red and very steep. After climbing a few rungs, they would suddenly fall back. Our Lord then showed St. Francis another ladder, white and much less steep, at whose summit appeared the Blessed Virgin, and He said to Francis: “Advise your sons to go by the ladder of My Mother.”

And so, we, too, cling to the ladder of our Blessed Mother! Among those devotions rich in Franciscan tradition is devotion to the Virgin Mother of God. St. Francis was among the greatest Marian devotees in the history of the Church and, according to the Second Vita of Thomas of Celano, he had a love for her that was beyond words. “Inexpresseble,” Celano writes of Francis’ love for the Blessed Virgin, “for it was she who made the Lord of majesty our brother.”  St. Francis chose her as the patroness and Queen of the Friars Minor and exhorted his friars to always possess a true and living devotion to the Mother of God. We would do well to honor her!

A few months ago, we developed a wonderfully unique way for families to gather in their homes, pray to the Blessed Mother, and increase their family and prayer time together. It is called, ‘Mary on the Go’ and is a very special Rosary! You see, every family now has the opportunity to “Host” our Blessed Mother in their own home and pray to her as a family every week! Just sign out the “Mary on the Go” carrying case every Sunday! The kit comes with a beautiful Blessed Mother Statue, Rosary beads for a family of up to 7, a glow-in-the-dark Rosary to pray at night, 7 booklets on how to pray the Rosary, as well as coloring images to teach your children! After you pray the Rosary, simply return the entire kit the following Sunday and another family will have the very same adoration opportunity! What a beautiful way to get your family together and pray the Rosary in her honor!

I will end with this loving devotion imbued in St. Francis’ famous ‘Salutation to the Blessed Virgin Mary’:

Hail, O Lady,
Mary, holy Mother of God:
you are the Virgin made Church
and the one chosen by the
most holy Father in heaven
whom He consecrated
with His most holy beloved Son
and with the Holy Spirit the Paraclete,
in whom there was and is
the fullness of grace and every good

Hail His Palace!
Hail His Tabernacle!
Hail His Home!
Hail His Robe!
Hail His Servant!
Hail His Mother!

And (hail) all you holy virtues which through the grace and light of the Holy Spirit are poured into the hearts of the faithful so that from their faithless state you may make them faithful to God.

AMEN!
 
How will you honor our life of prayer? Will you make your special intention to our Holy Mother this week?  How will your family be in the constant care of our Blessed Virgin who loves us so deeply?  

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 15, 2019

It is almost here! Passion Week, Holy Week! This past Sunday we gathered for Palm Sunday and now we will launch into a week of remembering and growth as Christians! To do so, we must make it our every intention to attend services, reflect, and honor the fact that those very same people who passionately welcomed Christ with waving palm branches, were many of the very same people who demanded His execution just days later…

This past Sunday we had a visit from our only Native American Franciscan Priest. Father Robert was a joy to visit with and fell in love immediately with the parish and all that we are and all that we do. His heart was open to hearing God through us in a new way and he was respectful and gentle. Contrast that with a few weeks ago when we had another clergy visitor who was so full of himself that he missed all we are, and the ways in which we listen intently to God to grow and attract others to our faith. Rather than ‘seeing’ who we are, his blindness made him full of contempt toward us and all he could do was pick us apart. It reminded me of how blessed we are with clergy who give generously, love everyone, celebrate others triumphs and share in one another’s sorrows and stumbling. We lift one another up, like Simon did for Jesus, because that is all we really are and leave this life with: ourselves, our character, tied to the manner in which we are cross-bearers for others.

This week’s three-day celebration (known as The Triduum) begins with the Holy Thursday Mass and continues on Good Friday with the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion. At the end of this liturgy, we leave the church in silence, waiting to celebrate the glory of our Lord’s Resurrection. Then, on Saturday at sundown, it is finally here! The Church re-gathers to celebrate the final, and most grand moment: The Resurrection of our Lord!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters have been celebrating Passover remembering the events leading to their release from slavery in Egypt and we, too, will gather these three days from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday to celebrate ‘our Passover’ from death to life in Christ and from things that have little meaning to those things that are eternal! It is a time of remembering the triumph of God’s love over darkness and death. It can change our hearts deeply, but only if we allow it.

In the coming week, we gather to celebrate that God is present and always working in our lives. May we each experience the joy of new life in our own way this Easter Season, and may we begin with an intentional dedication to observing the Passion of the One Who loves us still…

Reflection questions for Holy Week:

What does the death of Jesus mean to me?
 How has God interceded in my life?Have I honored God in my life? Will I take a few hours out of my week and honor Christ? After hearing the Resurrection story, what events do I see in my own life that are in need of resurrection?
 How can I carry on the story of the resurrection to others this coming year? How might I fail if all I ever do is focus on me?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 2, 2019

This weekend we will honor Saint Benedict Joseph Labre, fittingly appropriate for us as he is the Patron Saint of the Homeless. He was canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1881and his actual Liturgical Feast Day is April 16th, but we will honor him Sunday, April 7th 2019.
 
I first heard about St. Benedict Joseph Labre when I was in seminary in Washington DC, but it was Lew and Ramona Salotti who brought back to me his story and reminded me of his strength and witness. Benedict died in 1783 in Rome during Holy Week at the young age of only thirty-five. Homeless and malnourished, he had been living on the streets Europe for about thirteen years. Most of what we know about him only comes from the biography his confessor wrote after his death.
 
Benedict was born in France and the eldest of 18 children, he studied under his uncle, a parish priest. Because of poor health and a lack of suitable academic preparation he was unsuccessful in his attempts to enter the religious life. Then, at age 16, a profound change took place. Benedict lost his desire to study and gave up all thoughts of the priesthood. Instead, he became a pilgrim, traveling from one great shrine to another, living off alms. Like St Francis, he wore the rags of a beggar and shared his food with the other poor he met. Filled with the love of God and neighbor, Benedict had special devotion to the Blessed Mother and to the Blessed Sacrament. In Rome, where he lived in the Colosseum for a time, he was called ‘the poor man of the Forty Hours devotion’ and ‘the beggar of Rome.’  The people accepted his ragged appearance better than he did. His excuse to himself was that “our comfort is not in this world.”
 
On April 16, 1783, the last day of his life, Benedict dragged himself to a church in Rome and prayed there for two hours before he collapsed, dying peacefully in a nearby house. Immediately after his death, the people proclaimed him a saint. It is said that when he died the children sang out: “The saint is dead! The saint is dead!”  From the mouths of these babes, the Holy Spirit glorified him and revealed the holiness of his obscure and hidden life.
 
Now, I know that very few of us would be moved to emulate his life. After all, he slept in a hole in a ruined wall, and he survived on garbage and the kindness of strangers. He wore rags, and when he died, he owned only a broken bowl, a breviary, a few devotional books, and a rosary. He stank terribly, was afflicted with bug bites, and his feet were covered with sores. He must have been repulsive, but isn’t this the life of so many other we look away from? Is this not the life of those eyes we cannot find the strength to gaze into, and so we turn to sink more deeply into our own existence of prosperity and look with disdain on those experiencing homelessness among us?
 
In a modern inner city, one local smelly, soiled character kneels for hours on the sidewalk and prays, swathed in his entire wardrobe winter and summer, he pleasantly greets passersby with a blessing, only to have them look upon him with horror. These days we ascribe such behavior to mental illness; or laziness. ‘Why don’t they just get a job?!’ We easily exclaim! Benedict’s contemporaries called him holy, but his holiness is always a bit mad by earthly standards, but isn’t that true of all those who are truly holy?
 
Jesus said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me”  Benedict loved everyone. Spent his days in prayer and adoration. Shared what little he had with everyone freely.
 
How have you lived the life of a saint lately?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 26, 2019

Is it really as bad as it looks? Yes, it is. That is my worldview of our nation today. It’s bad and it is getting worse. We have somehow allowed our politics to be sacrosanct and our religion to become expendable. Our hatred over things of humanity, and of human differences, has allowed us to become a people divided and groups of hate to thrive. We are witnessing democrats digging in to the left, republicans leaning farther to their right, and people dying in the middle.

And, I can say with all certainty that it’s far worse down here where ministry is really done, where people are hurting and where lives are torn apart.  The ugliness you can see from shores some thousands of miles away in countries far from us, or on a few Washington politician’s faces is nothing compared to those we have made into largely undefinable, faceless, wave of malice, hatred, rejection, isolation, and bigotry.

From where I sit as a priest in a parish that wonderfully and willingly holds close the rejected of the world and those deprived on human touch, decency, food, and security; those without home, family, or support, this malignant sickness has a face, one that is far too familiar to me of late. We see it in the family member who reveals racism at our dinner table as we break bread. We find it in neighbors and former parishioners, who have completely abandoned the Jesus they claim faith in and chosen the vilest of idols.We find it in once pleasant neighbors who casually spew racist ideology as we meet on the sidewalk. It’s found in once childhood friends now uttering and spreading anti-immigrant filth on their social media profiles. It’s found in restaurant workers who receive hate in lieu of a tip at the end of meal. And, the antithesis of these is found in those who hold the highest offices of our land as they strive to build walls of hate, divide us on false ideology, and remove health care from the weakest among us.

So yes, it’s a time of staggering cruelty and the world is that bad; our nation is this bad. A land where we have witnessed hate crimes climb a staggering 226% in many places and fail to recognize the truth: Jesus loves everyone, even those you hate so much.

My bishop posted the wisest words this week, “Be teachable, You’re not always right.” But, are we teachable anymore of just hell bent on hate? It is time to reflect, change, pray and be what we want to all see in the world. If not, we will all surely fail.

How have we abandoned our morals so easily for idols that will soon fade? How will we ever make this up to those we harm with our words and kill with our hatred? Are we really a follower of Christ anymore?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 12, 2019

I went home. I know that sounds kind of trite, but that is what I did this past weekend. I played ‘hooky’ from church and went home to visit my family. I spent time with my mom and my sister and her family. I ate good homemade Italian food, reminisced about my life and growing up in Erie, and I visited the grave of my father at the cemetery. Katelyn was with me so, of course, we visited some places of great meaning to me and my years there growing up, maturing, and becoming who I am today. Yes, I went home.

For many people home is illusive. For some they could not tell you what it feels like to go home or even be welcomed like I was this past weekend. Home is a box or a tree or a piece of earth under am overpass. These are what we call homeless but that is not their identity. No, they are people, just like you and me, who happen to be experiencing homelessness currently in their journey, but they are far from a being called homeless persons, they are like us. People. Loved. Wanted. Cherished, made in the image and likeness of God, just like me, and you, and that guy down the street you hate so much.

You see, I have come to know Jesus in all the varied forms He comes to me. 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 Father Joe and Dorothy who brought me soup to heal when I was ill, in my dad who never taught me to hate, but to love even the most unlovable, 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 this – me – in all my brokenness, in those who reject me because of my past mistakes, and in those who love me all the more, also because of my 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.

Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is God made visible. He is the Divine showing Himself in human terms. God adapted Himself to be one like us, save sin, in all our brokenness so we might still have hope. He was broken, scourged, lost, alone, in pain, smelly, and all without a home…

That is why the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS Exhibit at our parish through 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; no, He 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? How will you make the unloved feel loved again?