Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 30, 2016

 
Today’s reflection was not hard to decide on. Today is Memorial Day. Today while many prepare to go to the beach, enjoy a picnic, or stay at a resort, visit with family and friends, or go to an amusement park or dip their toes in the first cool waters of spring, many of us will also include a visit to a local cemetery where tears will flow as if they were as fresh as the day the loss first occurred. Yes, while we are a people who grieve, we do so as a people who have hope, but the loss is the same; the pain as deep. Today we will remember so that their sacrifices will not be forgotten.

Throughout history there have been great men and women who died for a noble cause, something greater than themselves that was worth laying their life on the line and literally walking away so we might live. There are far too many to list here, but a few to set the stage of my mind’s eye would have to include Nestor Makhna of the Ukraine, Emiliano Zapata of Mexico, Augusto Sandino of Nicaragua, Martin Luther King, Jr closer to home. And what kind of priest and Friar would I be if not to mention the likes of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assistanated while saying Mass in a small hospital chapel in San Salvador for daring to stand up for human rights, and of course, the One I follow and adore, Jesus, the Christ of the world, who died for all, that no matter how sinful we are in our daily lives, we might one day behold the light of heaven.

But what of the lesser sung heroes? You know, the ones who die and not nary a mention occurs in the news, or that their loss is so distant from us that we we feel not the impact directly, but their dying bridges us to them in ways not always seen. Like Jeff Taylor, Michael McGreevy, Michael Murphy, Daniel Crabtree, Joshua Hager, Jason Lewis, Mark Carter, Joshua Whitaker, Nathan Hardy, Randy Simmons, Ryan Hummert, Erin Doyle, Josh Harris, Daniel Sakai, Jerry Patton, Arnie Quinones, RJ Cottle, and so many more that we, who are practicing CrossFitters, remember during our many “Hero WOD’s” (Workout Of the Day) every year? We do so in order to never forget; to never allow those who died for us to become one of the forgotten.

Yes, we often fail to remember that these deaths allowed us to live and breathe free. So I will end today with a list of numbers; numbers that may or may not inspire you to ask yourself today, “Have I forgotten these souls?” Or, worst, “Is there nothing that I am willing to die for?”

American Revolution – 217,000 deaths
War of 1812 – 286,730 deaths
Indian War – 106,000 deaths
Civil War – 2,213, 262 deaths
World War I – 4,734,991
World War II – 16,112,566 deaths
Korean War – 5,720,000 deaths
Vietnam War – 8,744,000 deaths
Gulf War – 2,322,000 deaths
War on Terror – through 2012 – 1,468,364 deaths

The Tomb of the Unknowns: 4 from WWI, 2 from WWII, 4 from Korean,; guarded 24/7 since 1937.

Yes, to date, we have lost more than 42,892,128 service men and women who have given their ultimate sacrifice so we might enjoy our picnics today.

Never forget.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 23, 2016

 

Yesterday, I met three joys! First, I celebrated Mass, that is always the lifeblood of any priest. How we relish presiding over the celebration of the Mass! Then, we made good on our commitment to honor the dead as we blessed our beautiful new cemetery gates and honored the veterans who gave so much so to our nation, so that we might all remain free. Finally, I sat with my Third Order, The Secular Franciscans, and we spoke of a deeper understanding of St. Francis and the life of a Franciscan. We had a beautiful day at Saint Miriam, because it was all about joy found in honoring our commitments.

You might notice that myself, and the Friars who visit our campus, wear a rosary hanging from their knotted cord. You might be surprised to know that it is not the rosary one uses to pray at our devotions on Thursday evenings, but rather it is called the Franciscan Crown Rosary, or the Franciscan Rosary. You see, when folks pray the traditional rosary, they focus on the different mysteries of the life of Jesus and there are five sets with each of ten Hail Marys prayed. However, when one prays the Franciscan Crown, there are seven sets focused on the seven joys that Mary experienced in her life: The Annunciation, the Visitation, the birth of Christ, the Adoration of the Magi, the Finding of the Christ Jesus in the Temple, the Meeting of Christ after the Resurrection, and the Assumption and Coronation. After this seventh ‘joy’, two more Hail Marys are said that bring the total number of Hail Marys recited to the number seventy-two, which is believed to be the number of years Mary spent on Earth! 

The tradition associated with the formation of this devotion is inspiring. It reminds me, as a Friar, that commitment is about – and brings into being – joy!  While many people today shy away, or even run, from committing more to God and the church and fail to enhance their spiritual life, I find that my greatest joys are always found when I commit more to God and to God’s holy Church. The joys I find in the secular world are always fleeting and never last; the joy I find in God is eternally renewing and fulfilling. It is only God that makes my life complete.

The Franciscan Rosary legend is said to come from a young Friar before joining religious life used to enjoy making crowns of roses to adorn a statue of Mary in his local hometown. Honoring Mary was a hallmark of his life, but his new life as a Friar made it difficult. One night while considering if he had made the right choice in becoming a Franciscan, he felt the very presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Our Blessed Mother gave him instructions on how to make a new “crown” for her. She told him that rather than weaving crowns from flowers, he should weave a spiritual crown of prayer just for her. Mary told him to use the seven joys she experienced during her time on earth and the young Friar did as Mary instructed and created an instrument of prayer that was modeled on the common Rosary, The Franciscan Crown Rosary!

So you see, the rosary helps us to be reminded that Friars do not focus on what we need in this life, instead we focus on life itself and how we should live out our own way honoring our commitments and the joy we find in Christ by following the life of St. Francis himself. No, it is not always easy, nothing worth living ever is…

How might you find greater joy this week as you find ways to strengthen your own journey and more closely follow Jesus and find your greatest example in the life of a humble man now known as St. Francis of Assisi?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 16, 2016

 

I received an email during the night that changed the reflection I was going to give today. Why? Because it seems that we – as a society and as Christians – are drifting away from the hard reality that life is not easy, decisions not always apparent, and that simply being a follower of Christ, or even wanting a life of dependence on God, makes it so by wishing for it. It takes work and time.

Case in point is the narrative of this young woman who reached out to me as a Friar and pastor. She is about to enter her formation period to fulfill her desire and apparent calling in becoming a Carmelite nun next year, but she has an addition to pornography. She writes, “It is very hard for me to stop this addicting habit, especially since I am planning on becoming a Carmelite nun next year. Every time I sin I fall into despair because I believe God has a higher standard for me (wanting me to become a bride of Christ). I don’t know what I should do about this horrible sin that I want to get rid of once and for all right now. I am reaching out to you because in reading about your life, I hope you might be kind to me and help.”

My longing for the Ordered life began in early 1991 when I first stumbled upon my connection with a religious Order while in formation to be a diocesan priest. I was seeking an outlet where I could inspire others through a life of service, prayer, and love, but also that would take me in all my brokenness and allow me to serve the God I came to love and adore. Unfortunately, I discovered I could no longer continue in my quest within the my diocese, as I struggled with my own depression, addiction, and confusion over my sexuality. Needless to say, my search for religious life continued until the day I met a Franciscan and my life, as they say, was forever changed, but not immediately. From the day I first began to fulfill my discernment to priesthood to the day I was actually lying in front of an altar in Washington, DC with Archbishop Richard over me was almost twenty-one years! Yes, God’s time and my time were different, but the end result was a better formed priest and a healthier servant of God.

My religious formation was difficult at times, but at all times necessary. It challenged me and loved me at the same time. I found that the key is to remain open to any of the possibilities for change both in myself and in my relationships to those around me. The most significant lesson I learned during my initial formative years was about integrity and congruence. I needed to be both – to the world, to my Order, to my bishop – but most importantly to myself. In order to be healthy, I needed to love me, even in my brokenness and with my darker side intact, too. I am human. I am broken. But I am loved still!

Yes, it is not always easy to be honest with others, but it is even more difficult to be honest with yourself! This lesson of integrity was a huge learning curve in my personal and professional development, spilling into almost every facet of my life, and I failed miserably many times; one time it landed me on the wrong side of a set of jail bars in my early twenties. As scary as it was to face my demons, I came out every time knowing God’s grace and abundant and unconditional love for me. Now I share that with others as a pastor, a Franciscan, and an ordained priest. I love my life, however, it was not ‘instant’, and in fact, it is still ongoing. Nothing in life worth having, or worth living, ever is.

So, I continue on my own journey and I do the best that I can, even in my imperfect life! My ongoing challenges to become an even better priest still exist: developing a deeper prayer life, becoming more patient with self and others, and limiting my cursing! But my life as a Friar continues to excite and inspire me, because I am living proof that God can call anyone to a life of service and prayer.

Oh, ya, and my response to this young woman? Simple: “Dear Mary [Ed: not her real name], I am sorry you are so troubled and we all have our addictions and worldly pain; we are only human. However, God sees your beauty and loves you beyond measure! The process of discernment and formation will guide you to were you should be, allow it to happen, unfold, and you will flourish. I will be in prayer for you. Please, pray for me a sinner, too, but whatever you do, do not give up on God. God surely is not giving up on you!”

Formation welcomes us to stay more fully connected to a God of love and hope, not a God of vengeance or rejection. I could have easily done what many priests did to me and discouraged this your woman from a life of service, but I did not because I know the truth now…God does not ask us to be perfect, and certainly perhaps not even Catholic! (I know, I know, stay seated!) God asks us to be faithful!

How will your life, your actions, your written and spoken words, change someone’s decision or life today? How can you inspire someone today, and will that inspiration include you?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 9, 2016

 

I think what attracted me most to the Franciscan way of life was that it lacked strict structure and the rules inherent in many orders. We are all different; I like that, because I am certainly different! The old humorous adage is true, ‘when you have met one Franciscan, you have met one Franciscan’!

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are lots of stages in the formation process to become a professed Friar, but unlike my Dominican or Jesuit brothers, to name just two, Franciscan spirituality is not a well-defined, structured spirituality, as those constructed beginning with the Catholic Reformation of the 16th century. Francis’ spirituality was a rather spontaneous response to God’s grace and personal revelation. It was a lived process until the end of Francis’ life. It is now lived through those of us who have chosen to honor the habit and dedicate our lives to his way of life.

But there is a great deal of joy in the way we live, despite what the world may believe, because God is at the center of what we are and makes it possible. I thought a lot about this yesterday as I heard the gospel remind us, from Jesus Himself, that God is One. I thought quietly to myself, ‘What would it be like if we were, too?’ All people, all denominations, all faith traditions working together in earnest to build God’s kingdom? 

On Sunday, at the Family Mass, my gaze panned across the many faces in the pews as I sat in the Presider’s chair at Mass. I saw parents fussing with the children, people scurrying in and out to use the restrooms and what not, my eyes caught the folks running in late, and I witnessed the loneliness on some faces; the tiredness in others. But the most disheartening was the one or two that actually looked bored; or at least, not engaged, as I made my way through the Eucharistic Canon. “How can they not be excited?” I thought to myself as I elevated the host; “How can they not see what I see?”

You see, the center of our Franciscan spirituality is the triune God, who is all love and all good, present and real. Abundant love made manifest can only limitlessly overflow! And although Francis had a problematic relation with his own father, he saw God the Father as ‘all love and all good flowing into God the Son, and both flowing into the Holy Spirit.’  So, then, our spirituality has a variety of strong themes and the most important include emphasis on the incarnation, community, peace, and the balance between contemplation and action. These would be good to follow in the secular world, too.

I suppose for me what I love most about the way I live is that my Franciscan spirituality is always communal, emphasizing the “we” over the “I.” In today’s world, very few people ever do that. It is always ‘me first, you later, the church last (and only when I have nothing else to do)!’ If I held on to that attitude in my life Saint Miriam would not exist. It is as simple as that. No matter how well I wear the habit, or the clerical collar around my neck, the pews would be empty, because they would not exist.

Since Franciscans own very little, and some nothing at all, in the end we really do wear greatness well, because we know who really owns it all and that is freeing and life-giving.

Are you free in your life to give and to enjoy the act of giving, or are you like most of the world and imprisoned within it?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 2, 2016

 

As a priest and friar, I often fall into doubt. No, it goes beyond my normal dismay with the world’s pain, or my attempts to set aside the eye I obviously have that picks up on injustice rather readily. No, this doubt is one that comes from deep within where I ask myself the question that many priests don’t like to ask, “Am I really making any difference at all?”
 
Yesterday, I made good on a promise. You see, a couple weeks ago, during my Children’s Homily at the Family Mass, I asked the children gathered around me to go out into the world and spread the gospel by doing good deeds for others. I used my finding ‘Steven, the homeless man’ at our parish door as my example. To push them even further, I promised that if they did they would be rewarded by God, but also by me with $1.00 for every good deed (signed off on by their parents of course!) They were all so excited!
 
At baptism, whether it’s done as a child – or more rarely in our church, but just as exciting, as an adult – all of us, as Christians, are incorporated into Christ and Christ’s Church by being cleansed of our sin, permanently marked on our souls, and commissioned to live the threefold office of Christ: priest, prophet and king. 
 
Lumen Gentium, promulgated at the Second Vatican Council said this: “These faithful are by baptism made one body with Christ and are constituted among the People of God; they are in their own way made sharers in the priestly, prophetical, and kingly functions of Christ; and they carry out for their own part the mission of the whole Christian people in the Church and in the world.”  (Lumen Gentium, 31).
 
It is for this very reason that baptism is considered entry into the “royal priesthood” making all the faithful, myself and you included, “priests” in a very real sense! Did you know that you we were priests?!  Obviously different from my brothers with the title “father” in front of their name, but what we are called to is no less significant in the life of God’s holy Church. You are needed, just like me, and yes, I learned we do make a difference!
 

The children arrived yesterday for our May Crowning as we honored our Blessed Mother. Then, before the video announcements, I asked if any had their ‘good deeds’ with them. Many if the children ran forward to present to me their lists! The average was five good deeds and for each I handed them a gold dollar coin! You should have seen their faces from my perspective; it buoyed my soul and spirit! Two little girls, sisters, each had six good deeds and received the corresponding gold coins. Then, we sang and recessed with our Blessed Mother in tow and that’s where I saw it! They each got to the giving box within the transom outside the sanctuary and looked at each other and without pause, placed three of the coins EACH as a donation to the life of the parish we all love and adore. But, more importantly, as stewards – to God above –  as yet another good deed…

Traditionally, the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices to God; this is the case for the Levitical priests in the Old Testament, this is what Jesus did when He offered himself as a sacrifice, and this is what Catholic and Orthodox priests do today on the altar. But, all of us baptized Christians constitute a “priestly people” unto God, a royal priesthood of believers. As such, we are given a special commission to be priests in our world in a way that fits our way of life and promotes good will. However, one does not have to be an ordained minister to make Christ present, and in fact, there are many ways that only someone who is not an ordained minister can do it.

In our final days of Easter, having purified and prepared ourselves during the time of Lent, we are now sent out into the world to begin living this again in a renewed way.  So whether ordained, religious, or laity I ask us all today…

How will you be a priest today?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 25, 2016

 

Have you experienced something like the following? You are friends with someone, or you are in a working strong working relationship with someone, and initially all is well. You enjoy the effort and the communal efforts. Your colleague is supportive, encouraging, complimentary, and there is mutual support, effort, and goals are genuine, but then – almost without explanation – something changes. The other person is no longer supportive, encouraging, complimentary. In fact, soon they are rather absent from your life, or even worse, they remain present, but hurtful. 

Loyalty, faithfulness, devotion, trustworthiness, dependability, and steadfastness suddenly turn to betrayal, unfaithfulness, uncaring, and missed opportunities to remain in constant relationship. Whereas before there was time to nurture the relationship, now there isn’t, and the other person is not interested in taking the time to ensure that both sides are cared for and made whole, despite your effort. You see, a good relationship must be communal in effort, direction, and care. While there are always times when one side must step up to care for the other, there must be a balance to the relationship or it becomes predatory to our heart and emotion.

If you experienced something like the above, you might have a sense how Jesus felt in his life. At one point in his journey the crowds welcomed Jesus with great expectation and excitement! They wanted him to be with them as much as possible. They were loyal, faithful, and trustworthy, but then, something changed, some of his friends even betrayed him, they were unfaithful and disloyal.  The relationship failed.

Perhaps a lesson shall come from the moments, too. Perhaps these situations call us to be reminded that humans are all too frail and that we must be careful, sensitive, compassionate.  To be careful that we do not use others for our own gain and that from every situation a mutual care is employed. To do so, we must stop – several moments of every day – and self-evaluate our actions and words with, “How am I acting today?”, or “Have I been faithful to the covenants around me to self, my community, and others?”

People are not like an old pair of socks; they cannot just be tossed aside for a new pair.  Yet, there may be times that we in some way shape or form, simply toss another person aside. These ‘tossings’ may be direct, or by slight, or mean-spirited word; they might come by our failing to honor the relationship, or showing through actions that it means anything to us at all.

We may speak the words of friendship and covenant, but do our actions prove it?

This Easter Season is replete with reminders that people are holy and sacred, just as the journey of life is holy and sacred. Handle people and life with care. Honor your covenants before it’s too late.

How will we maintain our invitation to handle people and life with care this week? What relationships need restoration as we proclaim the Resurrected Christ?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 18, 2016

 

“Praesertim oboedientiam”, that was the Latin wording scrolled across the transom from the refectory to the meeting room while I was in seminary. It meant, ‘obedience above all’ and I simply asked too many questions! So, my journey took a lot longer than most! But becoming a solemnly professed friar is an intentionally long engagement. My journey began when I was in seminary and thought that I wanted to be a diocesan priest. That changed when I met the Dominicans later while in Washington, DC. But, boy, they had too many rules and those who know me well, know I don’t like that many rules to follow (remember Praesertim oboedientiam?)

Soon, after a brief time with them on Michigan avenue, I crossed paths with the brothers at Mount St. Sepulcher Franciscan Monastery. You see, the Franciscan campus and my seminary campus join together at the south end and I was intrigued; intrigued enough to begin a journey that took almost twelve more years to complete! That’s a lot of time, and all of it was needed.

During this period of discernment, I had the needed time to try on the ‘habit’ and see what life was like as a Friar. I also asked a lot of questions, struggled with many challenges, some personal, some spiritual, and some just me being scared, unsure, lost; broken. I needed to overcome deep doubts and personal fears and my desire for power and prestige that got me in trouble when I was younger in the first place. I needed to let go of the world and find my way to God. Like anything else this time wasn’t easy; nothing good happens overnight.

As a Franciscan Friar, I have found that true discernment, at least in in the broader sense, never ends. I may have moved beyond the initial phase of asking ‘do I really want to be a friar in the first place’, but I will never move beyond some of the deeper and more profound questions of how to live out my vocation in the world. I continue to ask myself almost daily: How am I called to live? Who am I called to serve? What does it mean to be a brother? Is my life as a Friar really making the word better?

This coming Sunday, the diocesan members of our Secular Franciscan Group, will join me in renewing our vows to the Franciscan Order for another year, formally recommitting ourselves to a life of poverty, charity, and obedience in the way of St. Francis of Assisi, our Seraphic Father.

For some, this will be a moment that has required great discernment, evaluation, and preparation to determine that this path was still the one for them; for others it is simply another step along the way towards something that we committed ourselves to a long time ago. And, for some of us, it is a recommitment to be better people, and to help God make the world a better place by sacrificing ourselves daily.

The point that I see in all of this reflection is that is that no matter where we are on the path, our journey to become better people never ends, it only changes in form…

How can you change this season to become a better person and help our Lord manifest in the world; a world filled with need? Are you willing to even sacrifice even a small part of your comfort to help another live more fully?

The World is waiting for you. So is Christ Jesus.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 11, 2016

 
Yesterday, after our Morning Mass, I had the opportunity to visit with two long-term parishioners, both of whom are dealing with serious illnesses. I was struck by how well they looked and how it contrasted to what their course of treatment had been over the last several months. As they reoriented what they had been through, and what was expected next, by all accounts, they should not be so vital, but what they both shared was the single ingredient of hope!
 
It is true that the language of hope permeates our contemporary healthcare literature. People who are hopeful appear to be more resilient to physical and mental illness, and more likely to recover if they are afflicted. As well, many studies reveal that there is a positive correlation between faith and wellbeing. It may be that if faith is an effective medicine, then hope is the active ingredient!
 

Hope, as I use it here, however, is distinguished from the world’s understanding of that word, which is often confused with wishing. The virtue of hope is firmly rooted in the wisdom of faith and the practice of religion. Hope makes healing possible, but it is a hope that transcends all human understanding, “for it is by hope that we are saved.”  Hope trusts and is confident in the adventure of life, in its unseen aspects. Saint Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” But I have found that patience is only possible if we take the wishing out of hoping and replace it with the assurance that welfare is a journey, a pilgrimage with, in and to God. In other words, that God has a firm hold on us and will never fail us, even if to the world, we seem to be…

Faith that is based on unsound theology, or poor images of God, is unlikely to produce positive outcomes as far as wellbeing is concerned, but faith that is wholesome yields hope that makes everything possible through peace. The mark of hope is true peace.

How much do you trust, have faith, and hope in our God today? Would you be able to show the world outwardly your faith and hope inwardly felt, even in the face of disaster?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: April 04, 2016

 

On the approaching Third Sunday of Easter, Jesus instructs Peter to “Feed my lambs,” and “Tend my sheep.” These are instructions for us as well, making it clear to us that we have a responsibility to more than ourselves; we also are called to care for and most especially love those around us.

This Gospel reading from the Book of Saint John tells of Jesus’ appearing to the Apostles for the third time after His Resurrection. In this moment, Jesus seems to challenge Peter by asking, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”  When St. Peter assures Him that he does, Jesus says to him simply, “Feed my lambs.” Well, we are His lambs.

It is fascinating to note that not less than three times Jesus asks Peter this question! You might think, and perhaps would not be far off, that Jesus is recalling that Peter denied Him three times on the night before He was crucified. Now Jesus gives Peter three opportunities to redeem himself.

Just as for Peter, for all of us today, following Jesus involves serving His lambs, serving others. If we are truly stewards of who and what we are and if we are stewards in the service of Christ, we, too, will assure the Lord of our love and devotion. That is how we need to respond to the call to “Follow me.”

How strong is your desire to follow Christ? How have you responded to the parish’s call to Stewardship this year? We have now asked directly three times…
 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 28, 2016

 

Christ’s Resurrection is at the firm foundation of our faith. His rising from the dead establishes Jesus as the Son of God and proves that God will judge the world in righteousness. Believing and trusting in this means that “death is swallowed up in victory.” On this day we receive a “new birth into living hope through His Resurrection.”  We, too, are resurrected today, thus our joy!

Perhaps for us, as followers of Jesus, the key then is not just understanding these facts about Christ, but also understanding that we, too, are called by Him (actually commanded) to spread the message and to live in a way that shows our Christian beliefs.

We are expected to live with one another and serve one another. That is, of course, at the very core of our stewardship philosophy. We are gifted, and we need to use our gifts to serve our community, one another. That is part of being resurrected according to St. Paul. Reminding us also that Jesus looked to Heaven, recognizing that was His true home, St. Paul tells us to do the same: “Think of what is above, not of what is on earth.”

As the Apostles met and visited with Jesus after the Resurrection, and began to go out and preach, but they never really emphasized the empty tomb. Instead, they stressed His Resurrection and His Saving Grace. That is what we celebrate today, not that the tomb is empty, but that we are fulfilled, and filled with hope.

How will your life display that hope and grace this week?