Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 21, 2016

 

So it is now Holy Week for Christians around the globe, but will it really change us?

Holy Week commemorates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem; His gift of the Eucharist; and His suffering, death, and His Resurrection. Holy Week is a time of final preparations and great anticipation! Our long-term preparations of prayers, fasting, and almsgiving during Lent will continue, but this week with greater intensity. Palm Sunday was our doorway into the holiest week of the Church year. The three solemn liturgies on Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (Easter Vigil) are called the Triduum, but sadly, they are the lest attended of the year! Will you pause your life, as Jesus did for you and attend each of these holy times to allow your life to change for the better?

This Holy Week, Pope Francis has encouraged bishops and priests to make themselves the concrete expressions of mercy, as preached by the Church through the Sacrament of Reconciliation, welcoming each penitent with love, understanding, compassion and joy. It is a reminder that goes back to the story of the father of the prodigal son where he offered offering forgiveness, reconciliation, and hope. However, that is the not only the job of clergy, it is our collective continuum if we are to follow the Christ; we are to mete out our love – not in small doses, but abundant blobs! – regardless of whatever sins for which they will ask to be forgiven, we are to offer our hearts, not our aversion. In other words, we are to make the love of Jesus concrete in this life by the actions of our hands, our feet, and our actions and our words…

A man visits and asks a goldsmith in his shop how he goes through with his work in purifying gold. The goldsmith explains how he puts the gold in a container over a fire and makes sure that the metal gets melted evenly as he increases the heat, stirring the metal as it melts. Asked how he would know that the gold has been purified, his answer is simple, “When I can see my image in it.”

How will you make the love of God concrete this week?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 14, 2016

 

During the season of Lent, many Catholic grade school children will make their first confession. We call it First Penance, and our children did so yesterday with me as their pastor to guide them. I was honored, but it reminded me that during this holy time of year when all of us should stop and think about the effects of sin. We are most certainly in the midst of a great season of grace, and there is cause for much rejoicing here! At the same time, there exists a certain degree of frivolity with which many people think of first confessions for children, and it relates more directly with how they carry themselves in the world, too, in general.  Many, for instance, will say to me “What sins can a seven-year-old possibly commit?”  Thus, a first confession is often presented merely as a sort of moral lesson – or rite of passage – in growing up, or perhaps merely as another ‘church hoop’ to jump through on their journey to first communion.

However, if first confession is not really about forgiving sin, and if these children do not really need to be reconciled to God; then we ought to say, “The heck with it. Let’s just end this silly, ancient practice!” Do children really have the ability to direct their heart and mind either for or against God? When we come to the question of first confession, we must point out that it is necessary for the sacrament that the children making their confession have committed at least some venial sin. Confession is always about sin, and without sin there can be no confession.

And, for us, as older adults, we should also pause and remember that confession and communion are intimately bound together. So, it would be most beneficial for our souls if we, who regularly receive communion (say, once a week) are also able to regularly receive confession (say, at least once every other month).  Indeed, if children are not reared in the habit of confession when they are young, what is the likelihood that they will confess as they grow into adulthood? If they are not taught to confess their venial sins, how will they ever learn to confess the mortal sins which are so common to adolescents or adults? Moreover, if, during these formative years they do not learn to make a good confession, it is almost certain that, when they are on their own to college, they will fail to maintain even the minimum spirit of prayer and moral effort to love God and neighbor.

I can tell you that few have come to us, as priests, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation in this Lenten Season. We have reminded, promoted, prompted, and requested; all to no avail. But, we have received the meanness of pointed words, the harshness of rhetoric and tongue, unforgiving emails, have been told of all the things not liked about how we run things, and summarily been told where we can go. Oh, no, of course not always directly, but rather in what “they have done, or neglected to do…”

How many graces are lost to our children and youth, simply because their parents do not take them to confession frequently! How much of God’s love is lost because we do the same as adults! How many souls are lost when confession is neglected!
 
Yesterday, one young child making her confession naked me for advice as it reacted to her sins. I asked her how many ears God gave her, she replied, “Two!”. I then asked how many mouths she had been given, she replied, “One!” I told her that God would like us to be reminded, especially in these holy days, to hear twice a much as we speak. To think twice as much before we act. To love twice as much as we hate.  Before we enter Holy Week, as a People of God, let us all dwell on these last two questions…
 
Are we on the verge of losing the true faith? Do we need a good and honest confession today?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 07, 2016

 
Our parish is now firmly into the holy time of Lent and our Annual Stewardship Appeal! Both are vital to the life and ministry of our parish community, but also to the world at large. What does it say to the world when they look at us and see the way we give? What does it illustrate of our beliefs and desires and how we view God and Jesus? What does it say about how much we love our parish and all the hard work our ministry team gives to make us remain vibrant and healthy?
 
During my recent time in Florida, I found a gift at the local parish gift shop that truly keeps on giving! It is a framed image with a series of questions. Yes, just simple questions that caused me to actually pause and interrupt my day to answer them. I pray they will allow you to pause and think deeply about us and God as you discern your path in this year’s stewardship campaign.
 

Did I Make a Difference Today?

Did I make a difference to somebody else today?

Did I encourage or uplift another in some way?

Did I share God’s word with anyone at all?

Did I obey his direction or answer his call?

Did I love, forgive or show any grace?

Could Christ be seen in my heart, in my face.

Did I make a difference to somebody else today?

I pray to the Father that I did His will, His way.

When I first saw this wall hanging, my initial thought was, “Oh what a nice wall hanging!” I didn’t spend much time with the words, and un fact, I purchased a St. Francis statue for my office instead. But now, looking back, as I began to actually review these questions – one by one – in the face of my own life and ministry to others and asked myself these questions. They have become more real, demanding, and some even convicting. St. Francis once admonished that we may be the only gospel someone sees today. Are we the Gospel today for someone?

Lent provides us for a wonderful opportunity to regularly reflect on what we are doing with the time, the life, the mission God has entrusted to us. So does Stewardship.

Asking ourselves today, “Did I make a difference today?”  isn’t a bad place to start.

How will you honor God and God’s church this season?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 29, 2016

 

During this Lenten season we pray, fast, and give alms. The holy season is a time of sacrifice almsgiving and prayer, in preparation for our renewal. We participate in our parish Lenten drives, increase our stewardship, learn, pray, and collect our monetary offerings from savings by preparing simpler meals, or making other sacrifices for those living in poverty. In other words, Lent is a time to give joyfully and generously in solidarity with those less fortunate and support the work of Christ and the Church. 

How has God blessed you this past year? How many times have you gone to God in prayer and asked for something? What have you generously given back? It is always easier for us to go to God, ‘hat in hand’, but then – once the blessing is received – to forget the ‘ask’ and move on without ever remembering that we had been helped at all…

Although they lived now some 800 years ago, St. Francis and St. Clare of Assisi serve as excellent guides for us who are in the modern Lenten journey. They abandoned their comfortable lifestyles and embraced lives of poverty, humility, and penance to better follow the call to Christian discipleship. Both saints underwent powerful conversion experiences in their lives and by doing so were started a movement that reformed the medieval Church and it continues to influence millions – like us who follow – down to this day. The power of their message was found in the simplicity – and complexity – of tits execution: let go of self and you find God waiting!

In a message given on the Feast of St. Francis last year, Pope Francis said those who are truly poor are the ones who believe themselves to be rich. “This is because they are slaves to sin, which leads them to use wealth and power not for the service of God and others, but to stifle within their hearts the profound sense that they too are only poor beggars,” he said. “The greater their power and wealth, the more this blindness and deception can grow,” “They close their doors, refusing even to see the poor”.  It is true, some people are so poor, all they have is money.

Yesterday, during my visit to Orlando, I spent time in the beautiful Adoration Chapel at Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe. I then stopped on my way out to light candles; one for my dad, one for my family, one for my parish. I said my prayers, dropped my donation into the almsgiving box, and left. I realized as I exited and blessed myself with holy water from the large font located near the doors that not once did I pray for myself. I guess I really am a good Franciscan after all.

Lent calls us to turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel. It also calls us to become better people.

Let us not waste this season of Lent…
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 22, 2016

 
You might say that God is trying to get our attention, making an effort to get us to listen to Him and to listen carefully. That is certainly what should be happening during this time of Lent. We have often heard that “God calls us”, but most often it is to a  vocational ‘calling’ such as the priesthood or religious life, but God also calls us all to a time of conversion, and to repentance, both important aspects of our Lenten journeys. 
 
Lent, then, is a time for us to reevaluate our faith and where we are. Each of us should be striving for holiness, for a greater sense of how to serve God and one another through love and stewardship and a renewed dedication to making the things that matter prominent in our lives; letting go of the fleeting and the passing things. None of us can fully achieve the yearning to be free from sin, but we can be better people, stronger Catholics, more loving Christians. This all begins with an earnest pause; a time to stop and evaluate honestly:  ‘Are we doing our best for God and others?’  The best way to resist temptation, to build a stronger spiritual life, to be better people is to first acknowledge our needs, our brokenness, and then seek God’s help in overcoming and healing.
 
During Lent we are all called to repent and to change. Jesus makes that call to repentance quite clear in our Gospel Readings from Luke, which includes the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree, which will be soon heard in our Lectionary. Scholars maintain that God is the owner of the fig tree, and He looks to each of us to bear fruit, to do good and righteous works. Are we?  Do we?  That, too, is so important to us during this Lenten period. God is very patient with us, but even God’s patience has a limit. God grants us this holy time to repent and to change our behaviors.
 
As Pope Francis recently stated, “Let us not waste this season of Lent, so favorable a time for conversion!”
 
Is that what we are really trying to do?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 15, 2016

 

The three gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, known as the “Synoptic Gospels”, all report that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, fasting and praying, and resisting temptation until the ’devil departed from Him for a while”. That is the Gospel of Luke reading we all heard yesterday at Mass and it presents a wonderfully pointed Lenten perspective of what occurred and what occurs to us, too.

You see, we, too, symbolically enter “the desert” during these 40 days of this holy season of Lent. We learned from the pages of sacred scripture that the point of this season is that we need to place our trust in God, just as Jesus did. And, it is in the Gospel from Luke, that we find the ultimate trust in God.

You will remember, the devil presents temptations to Jesus, directly after his baptism by John at the Jordan River despite that fact that he was ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ of God. We, too, face temptations on a daily basis – no matter how much we pray or how good a person we are – and this beautifully reflective period of Lent is the time to truly deal with our failures and temptations and all that removes us from being closer to God.

In this gospel passage, the devil presents three temptations to Jesus; the devil tempts Jesus to use His power to appease His hunger; he offers Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, if only Jesus would worship him, and finally he tempts Jesus to test God’s promise of protection. Jesus resists all because He trusts in His Father in Heaven. In this Gospel Jesus fasts, and He is hungry, but he is filled with the Spirit and that strengthens Him to resist and to trust completely.

In this era, we often have the opposite experience — our stomachs may be full, but we have empty spirits. One of the major purposes of our Lenten journeys is to empty ourselves and allow our hearts and souls to be filled with the Spirit. Are we able to learn something new this Lent?
 
Jesus experienced real temptations in human form. He resisted them because He placed His total trust in God. We are called to the same kind of trust all the time, but especially during this time of Lent. With God’s help we can develop that deeper relationship with the Lord we all need. We only need ask…
 
St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote,“At His Transfiguration Christ showed His disciples the splendor of His beauty, to which He will shape and color those who are His.”
 
This Lent, let us ask ourselves with honesty, “Are we His?”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 8, 2016

 

So we are well into the political season and now Lent is almost upon us, too. I wonder…will we devote as much time to God and the story and feelings and love of Jesus, as we do to promoting hate and division? Will we be able to revaluate ourselves in this holy season; a season meant to bring about revelation, healing, revaluation, and change, or will we simply give up chocolate again, paint ashes on our foreheads, and walk around ‘talking the talk’, but with no real inner change from the heart where our souls dwell?

Jimmy Kimmel posted a video that may be satirical, but certainly drives home a valid point. It brings “WWJD” into a whole new light! Do we even know how Jesus loves? Do we love like Jesus, even those we disagree with politically, or socially, or even hate within ourselves? Do we go the extra mile to forgive and let go, or do we harbor and deceive and conspire to get even?
 
St. Francis once said, “The deeds you do may be the only sermon some persons will hear today”.  Who and what will hear your sermon today?
 
As we enter our time of Lent together this year, don’t just give up chocolate and wear sack cloths filled with meaningless ashes, rather make this your best Lent ever and change your life. By doing so, you might just change the world and your ultimate destination…
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 1, 2016

 

In December of last year, Pope Francis officially opened the doors to the “Year of Mercy,” a focused effort to remind us of the mercy God shows us each and every day, and a call to show that mercy to others in our world. His document announcing the year, and it’s purpose, is a wonderful resource of inspiration and something that could easily serve as a guide to one’s prayer life.

Recently, our own Presiding Bishop announced an exciting show of solidarity as we join with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in this Jubilee year for the 2016 Liturgical Season. It began on the Feast of the Conception of the Theotokos (The Feast of the Immaculate Conception) and will end on November 20, 2016 on the Feast of Christ the King. During this Holy Year, it is Pope Francis’ desire to see the church focus on practicing Mercy to all those we meet. He has also called on the universal church to practice mercy when it comes to those who have hurt or damaged the church. We practice this form of mercy every day in our interactions with those who have been hurt and disenfranchised by the mainstream churches. Therefore, as a show of solidarity we are committing ourselves at Saint Miriam to the participation in this Holy Year.

As we know, mercy is an essential aspect of our life as Christians, right up there with love, justice, sacrifice, and faith in terms of our most used words. Christianity, by its very nature, is a religion of mercy. The good news of Jesus Christ is that God has come to be like us, has shown us love, and offers us a new path despite our sins and failings. Rather than give us what we deserve, God gives us what we do not deserve: forgiveness and eternal salvation to those who follow.

As we have just witnessed through the pages of sacred scripture within our gospel lessons over the last few weeks how even those who were enamored by Jesus turned on Him and tried to push Him from a cliff, all because He dare teach us to have love and mercy for the foreigner and the stranger among us. How do we fail God in our daily lives? How do we push Jesus from the cliff by what we do and by what we fail to do?

Mercy begins within…
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 25, 2016

 

Ask most people about this past weekend’s winter weather storm and most will tell you that it was one of the worst they ever went through. Ice and blizzard conditions, and hail and slicing cold winds, below zero temperatures, and a dark dreariness that felt like perpetual night. It also seemed to go on and on, Mother Nature’s winter storm never ceasing, never giving us a break, always enveloping us in its cold, wintery, blackness, perpetuating a feeling of “always winter” as we were homebound for safety.

Imagine being stuck in “always winter”.  No sunlight, no daytime, no life, always a sense of being gripped by a feeling of emptiness, dull coldness, depression, and constant nighttime.  Each of us has faced our own “always winters” as we have been, or are presently immerse,  in our own sufferings, loss, illness, loneliness, or tragedy.  But this “always winter” sensation will end with the coming Spring that promises a warmth renewed and a sunlight brightly focused on each of us. In the meantime, we must remember that our loving, comforting God is always holding us closely, as we weep in sorrow, anger, hurt, and even times of unhappiness. Yes, the winter will end…

Perhaps it will help for us to begin this week, the week following the storm, to note the magnificent characteristics of snow! Did you know that new fallen snow can affect how sound waves travel, dampening them in some cases, or enhancing them in others? For instance, people often notice how sound changes after a fresh snowfall upon the earth. When the ground has a thick layer of fresh, fluffy white snow, sound waves are readily absorbed at the snow surface, dampening sound. However, time and weather conditions may change the snow surface and as the surface melts and refreezes, the snow becomes smooth and hard. Then the surface will help reflect sound waves. Sounds may seem clearer and travel farther under these circumstances.

How might we use these same ideals found in snow to reflect the sorrow or enhance the joy in our own lives? How might we live into what St. Francis called us to when he reminded us that, It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”

As we make our way through winter coldness, let us always celebrate the Christ of new life, and help one another to bring “always winter” into “always spring”!

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 18, 2016

 
Well the door has opened for us once again to Ordinary Time!  “Ordinary” only because it is a time between two significant liturgical seasons, Christmas and Lent/Easter and is marked by the entrance of ordinals, or numbers, that change in sequence to mark their passing.
 
Somehow, “ordinary” sounds a lot like most of our lives, moving along with its joys and sadness, delight and disappointments, hopes and fears, but without any real great drama. But, let us not lose sight of the promise and remember that Jesus spent most of His life in “ordinary time.” Sometimes all we like to note are the famous parables, and His passion and beautiful birth narratives, and that visit we just left from those Magi, but alas, Jesus was fully human and lived as we do…
 
Case in point, the last we read about Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, He was lost and found in the Temple, then returned to Nazareth with His parents. He was about twelve years old. Now Jesus reappears at age thirty being baptized by John in the Jordan last week in our lectionary and yesterday He was already performing His first miracle with wine and water at the wedding feast!
 

The point?  We know nothing about those eighteen years when Jesus grew into adolescence and into adulthood. We do know that at His baptism, a voice from heaven said: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”  God affirms the way Jesus matured in wisdom and grace during those eighteen ordinary years. Now Jesus is ready to begin His mission.

So bring on Ordinary Time! We are ordinary and yet extraordinary women and men,  created in the image and likeness of a God who loved us so much! Now we are presented with yet another opportunity to continue the mission of Jesus to bring some light, some hope, some peace with justice into God’s most extraordinary world! We are called to spread light and salt wherever we go!

How have you allowed God to work in those quiet times of your life to mature you in the faith? How have you taken advantage of these ordinary seasons, when life slows and regains a noted and regular pulse, to better yourselves for a life of service to a God who has given us so much?
 
It’s time to grow!