Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 26, 2016

 
Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is God made visible. He has come to dwell among us. God adapted Himself to be one with us, save sin. Emmanuel. “God with us”. By His coming, as He did, Jesus became something we, as humans, could handle; literally ‘handle’, as St. John said so aptly. If Jesus spoke, you heard Him. If Jesus touched you, you felt Him. If Jesus forgave you, God forgave you and you knew it. The Coming did not end on the 25th of December. It remains; it always has… 
 
St. Francis observed the Nativity with the greatest of emotion and eagerness. The day when ‘God was made a little child and hung on the human breast.’ He affirmed it as the Feast of all Feasts; this day when he himself created the crèche that adorns so many altars around the world. But Francis never once could recall the great want of the world that surrounded the Virgin and the little, poor Child, on that fateful night when God deigned to come to us in that manger, and his rendition was always equated with its deepest meaning; not the superficiality with which the world so often sees it today, but with a devotion that imagined a world in need and Christ as the One that would fill that void in ways still yet unknown to us as humans. 
 
So, yes! Yesterday, the holy Church of God gathered around the globe to welcome in the Christ Child! Then, the sanctuaries emptied and people went forth, bursting with the love of God again to renew the face of the earth! Or did they? Once out in the parking lots and in the homes of friends and relatives, did they remember the mission just given them, found so fittingly – and so personally – within the Dismissal of the Mass? “Ite Missa est,”  That is, “Go forth, the Mass is ended, go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life!”
 
The most succinct explanation of this phrase, comes from the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,”: “The liturgy in which the mystery of salvation is accomplished concludes with the sending forth (the mission) of the faithful, so that they may fulfill God’s will in their daily lives”. And the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the Church reminds us that it is the essence of the Church that ‘she be both human and divine, visible and yet invisibly endowed, eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation, present in this world and yet now at home in it.’
 
Today would be the Second day of the Octave of Christmas. As Christmas is a Solemnity, the highest ranking of all feast days, it is not celebrated for just 24 hours; it is given the honor of eight days (octave) of celebration which is a custom that traces its roots to Old Testament feasts! So, then our season, and our work, is not concluded yet. Ordinary Time doesn’t officially begin until the Monday after the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on the Sunday after Epiphany.  This means that the Christmas season actually extends beyond the popular “Twelve Days of Christmas.” And so does our work as a church – and a People – of God.
 
How will you continue to bring the Christ Child to a world that thinks Christmas is already over?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 19, 2016

 

Someone to love. Someone to care for. Someone to let you know that life is good, even when it’s not so good. That is why we love and why we need one another and community, too.
 
I am sure that is what filled the heart and mind of Francis that year back in 1223 when he sat alone and pondered at Greccio how to welcome in the infant Christ. Francis wanted to honor the birth of his Savior in a brand new way. So, he brought a real live ox, an ass, and some hay to his altar that they, too, along with those workers of the vineyards and the town’s inhabitants, could share in the rebirth of Christ in the bread and wine of the Christmas Eucharist. It gripped Francis’ heart that this is why God came in the form of an infant, for it gave to the world someone to care for; to love. Flesh of our flesh, bone of our bone, now one with us to love and care for – a child we could approach without fear. This was Christmas to St. Francis.
 

I thought of this story about St. Francis as we ‘greened’ the parish yesterday afternoon. The few who managed to remain to help decorate after the long day of Masses, followed by a Nativity Play and fellowship, and a visit from St. Nicholas, too, were some of the closest we have at Saint Miriam. These few – some who have been with us from the first Mass some almost nine years ago now – are the heart of the parish. The atmosphere was both one of being exhausted and yet exhilarated simultaneously! But it wasn’t the Christmas music playing, or the carols being sung, nor was it the cookies and egg nog on the table, or the lights we strung carefully on the trees around the crèche, created by Francis himself to honor Christ’s birth. No, it was something else, it was Christmas!

Christmas is always about someone to love. At Greccio, Francis prayed for the lonely people of the world, he prayed for those who did not believe in the God’s enfleshment on earth. God was like us now, save sin. God let Himself be touched and handled and loved and yes, even hated and rejected, so that the world could change and so that we could be saved.

In the smallest and most innocuous events that occur, especially this time of year, like the greening of a simple church, or handing over hundreds of gifts for trees that would otherwise remain bare at homes you will never enter, or even pass in your lifetime…these are the events where God comes and enable us to bear the crosses of our own lives. Why? Because He came and bore ours, so that we might one day see.

Our own Nativity scenes which rest under our Christmas trees are a visible reminder of that night when our Savior was born. May we never forget to see in our hearts the little baby in Bethlehem, who came to save us from our own sin. We must never forget that the wood of the manger that held Him so securely that night would one day give way to the wood of the cross that holds securely now. May we too embrace Him with all of our love, just as did St. Francis at a time that now seems so long ago, and yet so close…

How will you encourage Christmas to come to someone this week who is in need, lost, hurting or alone. How will you be Christ enfleshed to someone else?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 12, 2016

 

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. Advent 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. Author Caryll Houselander in her a beautiful book called, The Reed of God, shares, “Like the wheat seed in the earth, the seed of the Bread of Life was in her. Like the golden harvest in the darkness of the earth, the Glory of God was shrined in her darkness.” Yes, 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.
 
In last week’s Gospel from Matthew, when John the Baptist shouted, “You brood of vipers!” He was speaking to the powers of the then known ‘church’; those false prophets who sought power, rather than caring for the flock; who wanted lofty and powerful titles, rather than doing the work of God in the world; who poked sticks at others, rather than looking at their own wounds and sinful lives recognizing that they were the most broken among them. Our times have not changed very much; it is up to us not to follow false prophets, but to declare that speciousness and keep ‘our eye on the ball’…to follow the Christ who is growing within us to change tomorrow…
 
Waiting is one of the chief ways God changes us. Now, it isn’t necessarily the waiting itself, but who we become while we wait that is important. Mary willingly gave herself over and birthed one single Divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity. She didn’t birth half of Him, part of Him, or only His nature. She is truly the Mother of God the Son. 
 
How will you allow God to use you this season? This year? Will you willingly give yourself over to God and allow His will be one? Do you recognize the error of your ways and are you willing to change?  
 
Mary answered the angel of the Lord, “May your word to me be fulfilled.”  Jesus, may our hearts be rich soil for you and Mother Mary intercede for us that like you we may carry Christ into the world. 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 5, 2016

 

In this winter season, the earth seems to be dying. The trees have lost their bounty; the grass has withered and brought the landscaper’s mowers to a standstill. The beauty of colored flowers have given way to the emergence of the only things that stand to retain their hue: the evergreen. The wind has increased from its more northerly direction and frost appears daily. Even the sunlight is less, the darkness more and the nights seem longer, deeper, darker, and sometimes more foreboding. In just a few days, we will come to the Winter Solstice, the longest day of the year, with the year’s least amount of daylight. Symbols not to be lost or overlooked. It is during this time of year; this very specific time of year that God has deemed to grant us the opportunity of Advent.

I say opportunity because it is more than just a liturgical season. It is a time to be challenged as a world, as a people, as Christians, and as practicing Catholics, but more importantly, inside ourselves where God dwells and where the tensions of the world seem to be at their height; their strongest. We are called to pause and reflect on what needs to be changed in the world and within ourselves. What is broken, damaged, in need of repair and Who do we want to help effectuate those repairs? You can’t repent and accept the forgiveness and grace of God without first acknowledging that that there is something wrong that needs to be forgiven – something broken – in all of us that needs to be healed.
 
We are in the midst of Advent in our holy Church at this time of year and the poems and readings we find appointed for very Mass are intentionally longer in order to provide a way for us to reflect as a community on the Word of God that speaks to us of the end times and for the need to prepare and change. I urge you to pause and reflect with me as we ponder the awesomeness of a God who loved us so much that he deigned to allow His only begotten Son to come to us; not in power or the majesty of a throne…but rather a borrowed manger, wrapped in clothing given by strangers in their hospitality and surrounded by the poorest of the poor to teach us a lesson: at our weakest, we are most strong…
 
Advent is our season with a strong and demanding call for conversion, a fresh turning (returning? ) to God. Let us not be intoxicated by society’s commercial attractions of this holy season. Rather, read, pray, hope, and reflect upon these readings and poems with your heart’s eye so you can see Christ however He comes, and may change bring a renewed satisfaction and happiness. 
 
How have you prepared for the Lord’s coming? In what ways have I prepared for the end of my world when I am called? What are some of the ways I can prepare to meet the Lord at crib and still recognize the Lord of the cross with a good conscience?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 28, 2016

 

As  we begin the new Liturgical year, we also, as a church, begin the “Year of Love.” This emphasis is not anything new, for we, as Franciscans have also held a deep affection for the love of God, and of all God’s created. Pope Pius XII once said that Franciscan spirituality is a doctrine ‘where God is holy, great, and good, but above all God is love.’ 

I guess for someone as broken as me, especially when I first came to the church to begin my discernment toward the holy priesthood, when I felt so unworthy to even start my path forward, this inclusive love found with this fraternity is was what saved me. When the world said I was too broken, God said no, I am whole through His grace. When the world hated me because I violated its laws in my youth, my brothers of the friary said no, you are as us, like us, and welcomed as one of us. When the world said I could not serve as a priest because I was gay and therefore sexually perverted, the Franciscans were there first to say no, there is only love here and love is never wrong. 

You see, the Franciscan spirituality is one where God is love because the emphasis is on His love in abundance. God created all that there ever was, is, and will be out of this abundant love. God saved us, His created ones, through the One he called His Son, out of that love, too. And, for those like me who the world rejects is easily when they see the deeply flawed and torn cloth of my life, it is God who makes things holy, for love abounds and continue the legacy of grace. Yes, God is love.

The preceding paragraphs may seem to you as nothing new; after all, every Christian believes the fact that God is love, right? But for we who call ourselves Franciscans, in order to follow the little friar that we do, it means something deeper, far greater, far more life changing and life enriching because it means that we are active participants in this radical love of God and the one called Francis. 

How do we exemplify this love? By our life of broken threads weaving around others like us without limitation. By our showing the love of God to anyone who comes without bias or rejection, nor even a second glance. By being full in communion with Christ, the poor and crucified One we adore. By our call to continually welcome our own conversion, and the conversion of others on their own time. By our constant life of prayer in private devotion, adoration, liturgical celebration, and communal sacrifice. By us being true instruments of peace in a world that so often, and in so many ways, knows it not. 

So join me in this brand new year, in this new beautiful season of love, as we begin our Advent journey anew and ask yourself what a God of love means to you, and what are you willing to do to worship, honor, adore, and bring to life that love in your own world, in your own way.

Welcome to Saint Miriam. Welcome to a world of love. Welcome to a church for today that knows not how to do anything else, but love!
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 21, 2016

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I will do two things brand new today! I will write from a different place and add an image to this week’s moment to make my point clear. I begin this week on the shore of the Pacific Ocean near Carlsbad, California. I am with my family for the Thanksgiving holiday week and it is the first time I have ever been away from my parish, and my duties as pastor, twice in the same year. I needed a break. I am both glad and blessed to be here. It will be a time to reflect, pray, be present to those I love, and give thanks. It also reminded me of how beautiful our nation really is. 

Over the last months we have become what we feared most: a nation of hate and vitriol. We have become a people without compassion, exemplifying hated toward others in their inherent differences. We allowed prejudice to show its ugly face and run almost rampant and unimpeded. We have become the enemy we always feared and loathed and are moving toward becoming a country we said we never would become. In fact, we are fast becoming that which our founders feared and left at great personal sacrifice. 

Being here, on the shore of one of the most beautiful creations of our God, I am reminded how a little change in perspective can make all the difference. I am reminded that if you sit and wallow in your own stuff, the mean stuff of Facebook images and posts, the 140 characters or less of a pointed Twitter, and allow hate to ensue us, we will soon become what we fear most. But, if we rise above it, we change our attitude, our outlook, ourselves, and the world, too.

The words found within the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy seemed apt to me today,

“It is of the essence of the Church that she be both human and divine, visible and invisibly endowed, eager to act and yet devoted to contemplation, present in this world and yet not home in it.”

Jesus is the word made flesh. He is God made visible. He is God showing Himself in human terms. We, as His followers, are, too. Francis knew that and acted that way despite great opposition to stop.

Let us begin to act like it, too.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 14, 2016

 

I liked a Meme. That’s all it took. I liked an image that I thought I was funny. It was a tongue-in-cheek image of the Queen of England and James Bond 007. I thought it was humorous, I pressed the Facebook ‘haha’ button and the next thing I know I was lambasted, ridiculed, called a hypocrite, and made to feel like I just shot JFK. And, not only did this create a flurry of activity by causing folks to rally to my defense, it went on for almost two days! Think about that for a moment: a simple image was found to be funny and someone pressed ‘haha’ and the world turned upside down.
 
The entire incident not only hurt me, perplexed me, created a feeling of inadequacy, but also made me realize that we, as humans, are often quick to judge, deeply unfair, and think little of the consequences of our actions. Yes, many fine people came to my defense to laugh. ‘No, Father, you are not a bad priest.’ ‘Yes, Father, you have the right to see things as funny!’ And many, especially those who knew me well, also defended my true honor with, ‘Don’t come after Father Jim after all he has sacrificed.’ ‘He has given us so much and you call him out publically for liking an image on Facebook hat you yourself said was funny?!’
 

It is now two days later. I have found most of my balance back after my high school friend called me out for liking on Facebook. Yes, he knew me back then when we were but teenagers and stayed in touch off and on, but with little contact until the recent public lashing. I delivered a homily yesterday to set the course for tolerance for those I guide as a pastor in the face of an election and a people in our nation still angry and hurting. I did that while I, too, was being flogged. We don’t need to wear any safety pin on our lapels. We need more tolerance. We need more love.

To be God is to be love. To share God’s life, then, is to love like God, and indeed love all of God’s created. The essence of our faith is to love like God as our Christ did for all of us. St. Francis loved just like this. Beyond measure. He practiced not just poverty, but an unabashed and deep love of the poor, marginalized, and forgotten. He freed people who were hurting from their ‘poverty’ – in whatever form it took on – so as not to spoil their possession of the very love of God in their own life. Francis was a messenger, an ambassador, for God and for the truest Love found only through God.

I feel that most often those who lash out are hurting themselves. When I hear anger or anger is displayed against me, I am able to now sit back and ask myself, “What is this person so frightened about?” More often than not, it is not me, or my liking a Meme, or even what I say or how I live, but their own dis-love of themselves, or their being scared about their own situation that is at play. They cannot love others when they have not yet learned to love themselves.

Many people in our world today find themselves owning the greatest handicap of our time by thinking themselves ‘less than’ or worthless. And because they feel this way, and the world in their eyes confirms the same to them on a routine basis, they have nothing to offer others so they lash out in their broken anger and become what love cannot co-exist with: angry, hateful, and intolerant. After all, we cannot love ourselves if we fail to see one must first go out of themselves to love others genuinely. We cannot truly love if we fail to see that value in the neighbor or family member or even foe, too. The inherent dignity of even those ‘theys’ in our world – those who hurt us, lash out, or call us out – must be deeply felt within us where our heart is, or we will fail to truly love and yes, the world will fail, too.

Love is the center of our lives as Christians because it is the highest manifestation known of a living, loving God. How will you show you love God today? Think back at your last few posts on social media and ask, ‘do these images or posts show the world that I love them and myself’?

When was the last time you saw beauty in the eyes of the leper?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 7, 2016

 

 

We lack a sense of civility lately, especially as a nation. I remembered when national elections, especially for the Presidency, was a time of excitement! Now, it is a time of derision and scorn. We have become what we feared most: a nation unkind.

A genuine love of God implies directly and implicitly that we will take that love and apply it to self and to neighbor; all neighbors, even the foreigner.  Even the most vindictive, mean-spirited, domineering person we are to love with a love of God and see God in them – as all of us are created – in the image and likeness of that God and consequently have we Catholics call ‘inherent dignity’.

Beneath their skin and ugliness that the world has helped fashion, are attributes of God waiting to be set free. Sometimes, the freedom to express that innate love has been enslaved or clouded, but that person you dislike or even hate is full of the potential to love and deserves dignity, kindness, and respect. If we believe in Christ then we believe Christ dwells in others, too.
 
Sometimes we feel that only Jesus was love made visible. But, in fact, Jesus did not change humanity, or add anything special to us when he ascended. Rather, Jesus made visible the love of God that never changes, never is corrupted or muted. God is love. Always. Period.
 

Therefore, every human being is clothed in that love of God and marked to be made perfect; a human nature like that of Christ Himself. God’s intention is to fulfill that promise in heaven and until then we toil, yes, but we also love.

If I had to sum up the ideal at Saint Miriam and tie that standard to scripture I would say, “But I say to you that listen, Love you enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you, offer the other cheek to those who strike you, and for anyone who takes away your cloak, offer them your shirt, too. Give to those who beg, and love with wild abandon.”

St. Francis once said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”  How will you be kind today to allow the light of God to enter the world?

Instead of posting that next divisive Meme of Facebook or making that volatile Tweet, why not just stop and pray this prayer today and then find someone to love and be kind, too, and watch how the world changes this week…for them, and for you!

“Teach me, Lord, to look deeply into others whom I meet today. Allow me to look behind the grumpiness and awkward words or even meanness and see Your face. Then, allow me to be kind.”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 31, 2016

 
St. Francis said that “All brothers ought to preach by their actions.”  That is why living the Gospel should change us and the world and what we believe should be seen in what we are
 
We sometimes fail to realize the impact we have on others. After all, we reason to ourselves, they pay so little attention to us. We fall into a false complacency and think our actions or beliefs or attitudes or words have so little influence. But, in reality, they carry a wave of impact and change on their heels that impact generations yet unborn.
 
All the goodness we possess in ourselves comes from the grace of God, yes, but it also is derived by the kindness of a good example from someone else. We are today the result of the influences of those silent people from our past. For good or ill, they live within us to this very day. But more often than not, it is the good influence, the kindness, the love of those who have gone before us that endures. That is why we honor them on All Souls’ Day this week. 
 
These silent witnesses taught us that we must fight against sinfulness. We must not withdraw from conflict, but stand as a stead witness of hope and love. When we join and become more involved in the world, but maintain the steadiness of the Gospel, we shed light. We bring peace. We are love. The spirit of Christ can only endure, as He has in the past, through the love of others. Those who have gone before us, those who remain, those who will yet come after you and I are gone from this place and all that will remain is what remains of those we honor this week with All Soul’s: a legacy of love and a belief that we are better together living the Gospel of love even in a world that so often knows it not.
 

So light a candle, pray, think, and remember, but take your love – and theirs – into the streets, the home, the theater, the washroom, and the supermarkets. Bring God’s love into the office and the hospital and the restaurant and the college classroom. We must follow the example of St. Francis and in all circumstances we must do what He would do; we must be what we want to see…

Who has been a great influence on you and the way you live today? How will you honor them this week? In your life? How will your living today carry on a legacy that began years before your own birth?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 24, 2016

 

To be strong. That is what the word believes is what makes right; not in humbleness and trust, but with might and girth. Just watch the political climate in this year’s presidential campaign and you will see it is about ‘me’. The ‘me’ that can fix things. The ‘me’ that make things right. The ‘me’ that can make us great again. The ‘me’ that can fix all things and make them good again. But we have learned that one human being – male or female – van never make all things right. Only God can do that. And, when we get so haughty that we believe it is in us, that power to make all things right, we lost God in the process and thus we lose each other and our direction to truly care for the other.

Small yet strong in the love of God, is how we should make our compass, for that is our true North. Just like Saint Francis of Assisi, all of us, as Christians, are called to watch over and protect the fragile world in which we live, and all its peoples, too. We are called to do this by being one together, and exercising our talents for the good of the whole, in tandem with the whole, not as a leader that is above all creation, but one that is humble enough to see that God is in all. True leadership comes from within, and that within must trust the God from without whom we would not be.

That is why we created Saint Miriam to be a place where we believe that we are most effective in our care for one another, because God is alive and well in our midst, even when we are most broken. We deeply believe in St. Paul’s admonishment that power is made perfect in weakness. So, then, we prefer a Church which is admittedly bruised, hurting, and a little dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security safely ensconced in the beauty of its own sanctuary. We know that if we do not fling wide open the doors, we have no ability to welcome at the altar…

Pope Francis calls himself simply, ‘Francis Bishop of Rome’. In his humility he has shown the world what it is to be a gracious leader who believes in a living God. In his Apostolic Exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium“, we find the opening line of that very title, “The joy of the Gospel …” 

How will you this week try to be such a leader among the people you come into contact with and become a person that is encouraging others to recognize that they are something special…and so are you?

By doing so, you will be a Gospeller…someone who spreads the good news among men and there is no greater joy than that…