Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 8, 2016

 

Bernard of Quintavalle, Italy was pretending to be asleep. In secret he was actually watching Francis. Francis, not knowing he was being observed, did what he normally did: caring for the poor, those normally rejected, praying in earnest on his knees to God above. In the morning, Bernard told Francis of his desire to renounce all of his material possessions and his great wealth, and give his life and work for the glory of God. Francis was stunned.

Francis would never have dreamed that such a wealthy man would see in him what he hoped the world would one day see: a man of God, completely in love with Jesus, and willing to go and do what God needed, even at the expense of his own wealth to rebuild God’s holy Church. In Bernard, Francis found a companion in poverty and a friend in pursuit of the same dream. He found a brother.

For many, it is this very fraternity that attracts people to our way of life, the oneness that we share in life as brothers. What many don’t realize, though, is that just because we’re in this life together with similar values and professions doesn’t mean that fraternity will naturally come. It is not something that can be taken for granted. It requires humility. It takes work. It cannot exist without love and commitment to one another, knowing without a doubt that you are willing to sacrifice for the other and that they are willing to do the same for you.

When Bernard said he was ready to commit, Francis would not let him do so until he went to see the bishop, said Mass together, prayed, and read the Book of the Gospels three more times! Then, and only then, would Bernard be ready to follow Christ. “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions, and give to the poor…then come and follow me.”

In our overall very comfortable lifestyles in the United States, in our potentially institutional and separate lives with our separate spaces and separate time and separate jobs and separate money, this fraternal life – or desire to support the work of God, is not always felt so strongly. True charity is foreign deep down. The thought of living and working together, of becoming intimate and inter-dependent, of actually committing to someone – or something greater – like Bernard and Francis, makes one feel vulnerable. It should. It is only here where God dwells and changes hearts and worlds, too.

How will God use you this week? Are you willing to let go to follow? Would the world see in you a servant and follower of the One true Christ?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 1, 2016

 

“A way of life” is more than just a trite saying, it is rather a set of values, a spirit that affects the way we live and every decision made, an attitude that enters into every emotion we experience, every thought we think, every way we feel, what we say to every living person and thing, how we act, even when we are alone with ourselves, and each action we take.

Being a Christian, and a practicing Catholic, is a way of life as much as my being a Franciscan is! Our belief is clear: since Christ so graciously gave us eternal life by the ultimate sacrifice and grace, we, therefore, should also maintain a deep conviction to follow the radical document called the Gospel of our Lord, as our rule of life; our way of life.  In other words, we should live in the world but do so with the mind and eye of Christ Jesus.
 
Think of this the next time you go to post on Facebook, or walk by the stranger in need at the side of the road, or fail to support the work of your parish. Think of this when you simply ‘tip’ God with your offering from what’s left in your pocket or purse, or fail to support your pastor and those who sacrifice to keep your communities alive and well. Think of this the next time you put a movie over attending Mass, going to a party instead of a visiting someone in the hospital, or using the phrase most in our world do, “I’ll get to them after I do what I need to do first.”
 
Franciscan life is a high calling and it is never easy; few things worth it in life are. But God is here to help us. The Holy Spirit is always present to help us to endure, to carry the crosses confronted, to live out our vocations – our way of life – with grace and a Christlikeness that the world will often miss, but that God sees always and forever.
 

How will you live your day today generously as our Lord?  What Good News will your spread to others in your journey this week?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 25, 2016

 

Two vignettes.  One time, Jesus was standing near a lake called Gennesaret and the crowd was so intent on hearing Him speak that it almost becoming overwhelming. In the distance, He saw two boats and He got into the one owned by Simon. He told Simon to push out to sea, away from the shore just a little, and it was from here that our Lord spoke and taught the crowds that had gathered along the shore that day.

Another. After a brief time of rest, Francis slowly lifted his head from the cold, stone floor and looked intently at the crucifix that hung above him; this time, the cross has sudden depth, and a renewed warmth and purpose. The whole face of the Christ seemed to move and follow along with Francis’ own eyes. And, yes, if truth be told, Francis was afraid. Then a clear voice came to him, “Francis, go now and repair my church, which as you see, is falling down.”

I just returned from a week away. It may not seem like much to many, but to me it was as if I had pushed away from shore and saw Christ again with a renewed sense of purpose and intent. My perspective has changed and I am renewed. No, the time away was not expensive. In fact, thanks to being a little frugal in the planning, eating in from provisions brought, along with a visit to a few friends who cared for me with love and joy, the entire time away cost less than $800. But, what it did for me was allow me to heal, to think, to pray, to rest, to become transfixed again on my Lord.

It never occurred to St. Francis that Christ was calling him to something more than the repair of that small church in San Damiano. In fact, Francis began in earnest by putting together a large collocation of stones to rebuild her crumbling walls. He began at rest, then with San Damiano, and then with a renewed vision and purpose, the whole of God’s Church, which continues through us to this very day. A single vision that came from a brief time of rest allowed for a radical revisioning of the gospel of Christ.

How might you begin with your own time of respite – at the shore, in the mountains, or city center – and return, not to the world as most will, but to God in order to allow your life to have deeper meaning and depth and beauty?

Lord, you promise to make all things new; please begin with me…

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 18, 2016

 
The foundation of the Franciscan way of life is Jesus Christ – that’s it, no other, nothing else needed. Tough? Yes! Worth it…of course! Anything in life truly worthy of holding onto is never easy and takes great effort and determination.
 
To follow St. Francis’ way of life is to strive with all of ourselves, our bodies, our hearts, our souls, our very lives and spirits to go from “Gospel to life and life to the Gospel”. To begin this incredible journey, we must strive to first know the Gospel of Jesus and to be willing to live our lives according to the radical nature of the document itself. In other words, to know the Gospel, we must first know the Lord.
 
That is where it all begins: knowing Jesus and following closely. A journey that begins with a single decision to simply follow and then we learn and grow and by doing so become new creations. No, we seek not perfection, but rather grace, in order to become vehicles of love and hope. I leave you with “Woman with Flower” by Naomi Long Madgett today. Perhaps a lesson for all of us is that the journey is not to be coaxed, but breathed in deeply and one day, when we look back at what we have given up, and realize that it will be in no measure to the gain received…
 

I wouldn’t coax the plant if I were you.
Such watchful nurturing may do it harm.
Let the soil rest from so much digging
And wait until it’s dry before you water it.
The leaf’s inclined to find its own direction;
Give it a chance to seek the sunlight for itself.

Much growth is stunted by too careful prodding’
Too eager tenderness.

The things we love we have to learn to leave.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 11, 2016

 

The entire Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families, unites all members of the People of God whether laity, religious, or priest, who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

No, admittedly, especially in today’s world, it is not easy, but as Franciscans we strive to reflect in our lives – and in our service to others – our deep belief in the very presence of God, dwelling among us, loving us unconditionally, and calling us in that love to accept the inherent dignity of every human person, as each is endowed with the very life of our mutual and shared Creator. We recognize and affirm, therefore, the personal gifts and talents of each person regardless of their differences to us.

Saints Francis and Clare both focused on creating caring communities through their great love and respect for the dignity of each individual. They believed in, and nurtured and promoted, genuine friendships based on openness, honesty, mutual interest, shared respect, and support. Their outreach was intended to be all-inclusive and they regarded all others as equals. Francis and Clare called men and women to be “brothers” and “sisters”, and they modeled this challenge in their relationships which were always marked by an unconditional respect for the other.

Recently, even within our own area and companion dioceses, we have witnessed first-hand the unevenness of the heavy hand of hatred from those at the top. We have seen how any policy that negatively affects others is not of God and should not be of God’s Church. These policies are not in keeping with our Franciscan ethos and we must pray that they end because any such edicts rob the dignity of the person and lead to death; small deaths by inches like depression or illness brought on by self-hated or loathing, or as we have also witnessed in our nation, large deaths by mass murder at the hand of another radicalized by the institutionalized hate of others. And, when the Church no longer values someone because of their sexual identity, or because a marriage has failed, or for any other limiting circumstance, we fail. We fail to recognize the dignity of the human person and we are no longer Catholic, no longer Christian, no longer following a God who is always love.

I came across a poem entitled, Allowables, by Nikki Giovanni, one of the best-known African-American poets who reached prominence during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Her unique and insightful poetry testifies to her own evolving awareness and experiences.  It reads:
 

I killed a spider

Not a murderous brown recluse

Nor even a black widow

And if the truth were told this

Was only a small

Sort of papery spider

Who should have run

When I picked up the book

But she didn’t

And she scared me

And I smashed her

 

I don’t think

I’m allowed

 

To kill something

 

Because I am

 

Frightened

 

Giovanni once wrote, “Writing is … what I do to justify the air I breathe.” 

What will you do this week to help another? What will you do to show you believe in the dignity of every human person,  even those different from yourself? What will you do to justify yourself being a Catholic and following the one known as Francis?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 4 , 2016

Today is Independence Day. Today we celebrate freedom and our nation and what we stand for and most importantly what we believe. We don’t often think of it that way with all the flag waving, parades, and picnics, but we must hold up the nation’s basic treasured value-freedom. But how do we define freedom?

Sadly, we have all witnessed how independence can be reduced to individualism, an over-emphasis on what I think is good for me, and not for the common good of everyone. From our lack of honoring God by regular Mass attendance, to our deeply divided and mean-spirited political process of late, we have placed the emphasis on ‘me’ over ‘ us’.

The Bay of Angels, by author Anita Brookner, may bring the point home for me better than any scripture. When the story begins, the protagonist is a girl in her early teens; the novel takes the reader through the experiences by which she grows into womanhood. A key moment in her maturing process occurs when she falls in love with a young man who proved to be unfaithful to her. At times he seemed to love her, but finally she can no longer deny his infidelity and she comes to the realization that ‘his liberty mattered more to him than whatever affection he might have felt’ for her.

That is often where we find the emphasis: my Liberty trumps your Liberty. However, that is not what our Founding Fathers intended, is it? They had enough of that way of thinking and escaped to build something better, something more inclusive, more appealing, but faithful to the ideals that all humans are endowed with those unalienable rights.

Some people claim that the First Amendment gives them the right to use hate language to disparage others. Some use the Second Amendment to justify what has become a flood of guns in our country with daily reports of lives ended by gun violence and mass murder. The list goes on, too, with increased racism, Islamaphobia, LGBTQ discrimination, misogyny, and so much more hatred and division against so many ‘others’. These assertions are a far cry from serving one another through love and to they fail the American ideal.

A physician this week, on his way to pray at his mosque, was gunned down – ambushed by three men bent on hatred – and now fights for his life in the very hospital he served others simply because he was Muslim. No vigil for him in the streets of Houston for him. 120 lives taken by murderers and hundreds maimed and wounded in Baghdad, but there’s no outrage? Where are the Facebook posts demanding an end to violence, holding out for change, and why is CNN not set up in front of a cafe in Iraq where people once sipped coffee, but now lie in a pool of blood, and where are the colorful ribbons for us to wear on our lapels in their memory?

It is very easy to be like the young man in that novel, and to absorb from our culture the teaching that in order to be true to myself I must be free, and freedom means keeping myself in a state within which my options – with regard to relationships, or anything else that ordinarily leads to commitment – are as open as possible. But what kind of freedom is that? It is a freedom which precludes the possibility of really loving another.

After our 241 years of struggle and sacrifice, we have made great progress in fulfilling the vision of freedom with “liberty and justice for all,” but we have not yet arrived. No, not even close.

St. Francis once said, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love…” How will you join me and actually take the beautiful foundation our nation’s founders gave us – entrusted to us – and make it a reality for all peoples who reside here and all who wish to make this land their home?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 27, 2016

 
The person who first said “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”, either lived as a hermit, or was an outright liar. Words can hurt and do hurt. And, words can hurt a lot; so much, in fact, that the pain lasts for years and sometimes never goes away. Words that hurt do a lot more long-term damage than any puny stick or stone.
 
There have been studies that show the lasting impact of harmful words on children. Children, who receive constant criticism about their looks, or their brains, or abilities, grow up believing the words thrown at them. Some of you reading these words of mine today are spending your adulthood with the sound of “dummy,” “fatso,” “geek,” “airhead,” “loser,” “you’re not good enough”, “you’re ugly”, “fairy”, and so many others, echoing in your ears. Yes, words can stunt spirits. Words can break hearts, and yes, words can even end lives. We cut each other’s throats with our tongues and the blood lost often can never be replenished. 
 
Pope Francis recently uttered words. He said that the church needs to do more apologizing, “I believe that the church not only should apologize to the person who is gay whom it has offended,” he said, “but has to apologize to the poor, to exploited women, to children exploited for labor; it has to ask forgiveness for having blessed many weapons.”  Yes, I admire the Holy Father for his words, but sadly, often during the time of his pontificate, he has said a lot of things that haven’t changed a single thing. This past week we saw the hatred of the church in action – the unconscionable letters and threats by the Catholic Dioceses in Pennsylvania against our state legislators to not pass a law to protect victims harmed by sexual abuse, and the statements made that the church must be protected, even at their expense, are where we see the true desires of those currently in charge. So, no, the doctrines of hate are firmly in place, even though the words of rhetoric are a bit softer.
 
We live in a tooth-and-claw culture of criticism and hate. We use words as weapons and people die. Oh, sure, perhaps not as quickly as with knife or gun, but they are dead just the same. Just as dead. But we learn in the gospel that the kingdom Jesus is gradually revealing won’t be brought about by the world’s versions of power and might. So people need a community of forgiven and forgiving sinners; they need to feel the welcoming love of God. They need to use words that uplift, not break down. Perhaps that is why St. Francis is attributed to saying, in varied ways, “Always remember to preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.”  Whether or not he actually did matters not to me, the intent is the same: do something for God, preach the real gospel, do not just give it lip service.  And, whatever you do, allow your words to match your actions…
 
I heard a story once of how Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina was founded. The monks who started that college were wondering along a road and came upon a crossroad. They came upon an interesting huge rock; a flat piece of granite and they were very intrigued by it. As they talked to neighbors in town about it they were told that the rock was a major selling place for slaves in that sad time in our history. Men, women, and children would stand on that rock and be sold into a lifetime of slavery. So the monks decided to have it moved to their new monastery, and they dug out a well at its center, and made it their baptismal font. On it reads an inscription,“Upon this rock, people once were sold into slavery. Now upon this rock, through the waters of baptism, people become free children of God.”
 
Carl Henry said it best, “The divine mandate is to beam light, sprinkle salt, knead leaven into an otherwise hopeless world”.  Perhaps this is what Pope Francis wants.
 
Now, if we can just get the rest of the church to agree and follow…
 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 20, 2016

 
There is a famous meme (a humorous image, video, or piece of text that is copied and shared to spread rapidly by Internet users) going around on various Facebook pages that I find quite humorous. Now, unlike many that are mean-spirited, or political, this one is funny and also contains a bit of ironic truth! It reads, “I saw a guy at Starbucks today. No iPhone, no tablet, no laptop. He was just sitting there. Drinking coffee. Like a Psychopath!”
 
The bit of irony is that many of us – yes, even Friars – are often found “plugged in” all the time! Perhaps too much! Often, when we allow ourselves to be so engrossed in the technological world, we miss the Christ in our midst. We miss the opportunities to visit with humanity and to uphold and to spread the Gospel. We simply miss life in general, and perhaps our chance to help someone, or just ‘be’ with them and change their lives; change ours, too.
 

There are two adjectives applied to God by Franciscans: goodness and humility. Hardly any of us would think to call God humble, but Francis did. He fell in love with the humility of God because if God emptied himself and hid himself inside the material world, as in Jesus, and remains as God waits so patiently for us to grow up, then God is very humble indeed.

In fact, St. Francis fell in love more with Jesus’  humanity than he did with His divinity. It was Jesus’ humanity that Francs wanted to draw close to and imitate. Only in a humble state, and among the humble, could Francis easily and naturally see God. He even loved humble creatures like worms, and crickets, and little lambs because they more truthfully revealed the Mystery of Jesus in their simplicity.

Last night, after a long day, I watched the newest episode of “Alaskan Bush People”, a reality-documentary series that brings us the Brown family – Billy, wife Ami and their seven grown children. They live together, far removed from civilization, and often go six to nine months each year without seeing an outsider. They refer to themselves as a “wolf pack” and, perhaps due to isolation, have their own unique accent and dialect. The Browns live in the Copper River Valley, where temperatures can drop to 60 degrees below zero and in last evening’s episode the father, Billy, tried to get them to ‘begin to do things together’ again and enjoy one another’s company.’ He was concerned because, after getting a generator for their cabin, everyone began to do things apart from each other, not as a family. In other words, technological advances began to separate them. The show ended with the generator running out of fuel and the Browns sitting around a candle filled dining table talking, laughing, and enjoying one another. They found each another by simply being with one another.

Christ chose for himself a poor and humble life, even though he valued created things attentively and lovingly, away from modern distraction. Now imagine yourself living a life with such attentiveness. How might your world change? How might you change the world?

Live today without television, or the tablet and smartphone so firmly in hand, and simply spend more time in thought and prayer and with one another, or the world at large, even at a local coffee shop. Unplug the technological gizmos that fill every waking moment. See what happens.

Perhaps God is there, waiting still…
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 13, 2016

 

Thomas Lovell Beddoes, almost two centuries ago, wrote in his famous Death’s Jest Book, this famous line: “then would he know that Life’s a single pilgrim / Fighting unarmed amongst a thousand soldiers.” 
 
That is how I feel today after learning of yet more atrocities across our nation. Death has come and this time, and death has come large. At 2:02 a.m., this past Sunday morning, near closing time at Pulse, a popular gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida the music ended for some 50 souls who lost their lives at the hand of a man claiming to be in kindred spirit with the God of all. It is an outright lie. There can be no truth. And now, in our disillusionment, doubt, and renewed fear, how do we go on and still believe? 
 
Every year in October, we, as Franciscans, celebrate the Feast of Saint Francis, and one part of the observance is a service on the evening before, known as the “Transitus,” or “passing”. Most never attend, except the few devout. It’s a simple time of storytelling, prayers, and reflections on the man known as St. Francis and how, at the moment of his death, Francis called out “Welcome, Sister Death!” 
 
The death of St. Francis may give us all a model to follow in reflecting on death, both our own and of our loved ones, and like the kindred we now grieve without knowing them personally from Orlando. One version of Francis’ passing, written by Francis’ first biographer, Thomas of Celano, tells us that when Francis knew he was actively dying, he “exhorted death, terrible and hateful to all, to praise God.” I’ve always thought that phrase captured eloquently how most of us feel about death: It is “terrible and hateful”, yes, as it ends our day-to-day relationship capability and rituals, but at the same time, it marks our passage to a new life with God; we then will know God’s love fully.
 

For me, the hardest part of this terrorist attack is not believing the dead are now somehow safe. No, for me it is forgiving the terrorist himself, and not allowing him to make me even more bitter. Proverbs 24 reminds us, “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, or the LORD will see it and be displeased…”

Reflecting on these horrible deaths is strengthening my resolve as a Franciscan to redouble my efforts on being peaceful: domestically, internationally, and within the walls of my parish, and deeper within my heart. I will try and foster further communication, increased love, an unfathomable trust in God, and amplified reconciliation within the trials and separation that exist, recognizing that we are all baptized into the Resurrection of our Christ. And, such reflections, I pray, will help bring healing to the myself, my community, the world.

Directly before the Late Mass yesterday, I had the honor of sitting and catching up with Bishop Ken, who would celebrate the next Mass. We consoled one another, and our human doubts, that this incident in Orlando brought to surface yet again. He made a stunning comment, almost without noticing. He said, “We, as priests, are like the little Dutch Boy who put his finger in the dike to prevent the horrific flood.”

Yes, we all are, just that. All of us. May God help us to hold on until understanding comes.

I began with a quote from Thomas Lovell Beddoes, I will end my reflections today with one, too, in honor of those who have died so tragically…

“I am a ghost. Tremble not; fear not me. The dead are ever good and innocent…”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 6, 2016

 

I changed my perspective recently. It is amazing what happens when you do! This change was rather mundane, perhaps irrelevant to many, but it was remarkable to my soul and transformed my energy. I changed the side of the table I sit at every morning as I begin my day. Yup, it was that simple and that life-altering.

You see, as many know, I reside on the property of my parish. I currently live in approximately 340 square feet and quarters are tight, especially with three other beings sharing that very same space! But, such is the life of a Friar, as we wait to complete the new friary next year. So, I have carved out a little space of my own. A small table with a single lamp, my iPad and MacBook laptop, a file folder with stuff to get to, a place for my coffee, a small icon, a pen, and a gift from a Buddhist friend of mine, a ‘laughing Buddha’ statue! The table sits north and south. It has since the time I moved onto the property; for almost ten months now, I have faced northward.

Over this past Saturday, however, I cleaned my ‘tiny house’ and removed all the furniture, and the carpet runner that Tucker and Friar, my two Golden Retrievers, seem to think they own, and when I placed the furnishings back into place, I decided to sit on the other side of the table.

Radical, huh? I know. A small, almost meaningless act and yet this morning, as I sat at my small table, in the very same chair, with the very same objects on that very same small table…my perspective changed in a colossal way and so did my energy, and my life, and my focus. For you see, by facing southward today, the rays of the rising sun enveloped the parish, which sits now on a hill in front of me, and I beheld it for the first time as if anew, bathed in the morning light of the sun. I sat back, sinking into the back of my chair cushion, and I paused and thanked God for my life, the gifts so graciously given, and for my new perspective. Then, I asked God to let me use these gifts for good, for others; for Him.

How will you change your perspective, your focus, your life today and use it – and your talents – for the good of a God who loved you so much that you woke today anew yourself?