Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: March 4, 2019

I have a member of my ministry team who is far more into the spiritual realm than I am; admittedly! She reminds me every year that the devil comes at us harder in Lent. I am seeing her point more and more every year at this time.

I don’t know about you, but ever since I have begun to pastor a church, I do tend to feel like Job during the Holy Season of Lent. I feel like God lets the devil a bit off his proverbial leash and things tend to get chaotic in my spiritual life, and ion the life of my parish, too. I guess it is because Jesus was tempted in the desert. And Lent is a time of our desert.

While I am not quite sure the devil is anthropomorphic for me, I do believe the devil – or Devil – comes in varied forms of attack to set us off balance or to even destroy the best of what we have in our lives. In doing so, the end result is that we lose that which is most precious. I have seen this play out in many forms in my years as a priest. Some leave the church or active ministry because they are not getting the attention they think the deserve, or they feel that being a priest is just about them and their needs. Some let their personal lives take precedence and their ministry flounders. Others leave because they are self-righteous, or not able to play well with others. Some are too haughty or prideful, and still others are true consumers and just want a concierge priest and concierge church that fulfills their every need, but often at the expense of the greater whole. Still others feel they are called to a higher level of ministry and would rather be a clergy person ensconced in a box of their own making, or a garage, or their own bedroom, than a fully credentialed and properly formed clergy person that is doing good in the world, rather than playing ‘dress up’. In other words, sitting at the feet and learning is too above them, as is following the true call of God. I am sure the Apostles would disagree.

While I am broken, and I am tempted in many ways, for me, this year, it has been the temptation to judge. St. Augustine once said that “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.” I pray I can find my way to be an angel, even a broken one at that!  That is why I added the image here that I did; look at the dichotomy! As we opened the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS Exhibit, the photographer caught us not looking up at the signs but eating food! Perhaps an unplanned statement of our often misused best of intentions, or a reminder from God that we can all still do better…

So, if you are like me, and are naturally more strong-willed than those around us, there is a strong temptation to spend Lent patting ourselves on the back and comparing ourselves favorably to others. This is exactly what the devil wants. He wants us to think we are better than other people and to grow in pride, which is precisely what we should repent of during Lent. The best antidote for this will be to choose a penance that is absolutely impossible to achieve perfectly and will thereby challenge our tendency toward pride.

A true Lenten experience is not about giving up chocolates or fats; it is about realizing that even with the natural gifts that God has given us, we are still sinful and very much in need of grace.

St. Francis once said that “If God can work through me, he can work through anyone.”  This is so true, but not if your pride is in the way.

How will you allow God to come? How will you resist the temptations of pride and envy? Will you allow yourself to see others as God created and clear the lens of pride in this coming season of Lent?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 25, 2019

Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper sang their hit, “Shallow”, from the movie A Star is Born, at last night’s Oscars. The beautiful song, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song, lyrics go like this:

Tell me something, boy
Aren’t you tired tryin’ to fill that void?
Or do you need more?
Ain’t it hard keeping it so hardcore?

I thought about this song, as I reflected on the image I used today. It is a homeless sign from the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS exhibit that our parish is hosting through Lent 2019. I wonder how many in the world try to fill voids with things and power and intimidation and money and threats and ‘stuff’ but somehow always wake up shallow and in need. I wonder how many of the world will miss the intent of Lent again this year? I wonder how many, the very same who walk by the homeless or look at them with disdain, will also wake more impoverished than one of these, as their shallow lives are unable to be filled with anything of true substance?

St. Francis desired to imitate the poverty of our Christ. He wasn’t chasing some abstract ideal for he saw the gospels as the truest example of not having  ‘a place to lay his head.’  As Leonard Foley put it so aptly, “Poverty, in the sense of nonpossession, is neither good nor bad—it is simply a fact. What makes Gospel poverty valuable is its purpose: the imitation of Christ for the purpose of Christ.”  This is why St. Paul’s words to the Philippians speaks of Jesus’  “emptying” himself, foregoing the glory to which he had a right as God, and entering into human nature in all its limitation, weakness, and suffering.  As perhaps now, so shall we…

Will you join us and walk through the moving – literally and figuratively – remnants of the homeless hanging within our parish walls as part of the WE ARE ALL HOMELESS exhibit for the chance to find your true home again? Will you allow Lent to be a time of true change where perhaps the life you live will go from shallow to full of abundance never dreamed?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 05, 2019

The image I used today was a note sent from a dad to his son, who, if I remember correctly worked very hard to elect Secretary Clinton and obviously, he was feeling very down after the election of 2016.

Now, I really don’t care if you are a President Trump supporter or not, we must all agree that the vitriol and hatred and the animosity in this nation has risen during the last few years and that we can do better. We must do better.

I would hope and pray that if the tables had been turned, and the election results were different, that I would not be gloating or rubbing it in other people’s faces, but rather still remain the same person committed to the love, inclusion, and the safety of others. ALL others even the ones I may not always agree with.

While it is no secret and I am not a supporter of this Administration or its policies, especially around environmental protections, immigration, seekers of asylum, women’s issues and minority rights, I pray that during tonight’s State of the Union speech the President of all the United States – and of all of her citizens – will rise to the occasion and try to heal some of what has been so sorely broken. I pray it is not irreparable. 

However, no matter what occurs, perhaps we will all finally recognize it does not matter, because what does matter is who we are as a people, not who resides in any White House or Congress. It is rather what lies within each of us; the words that come out of our mouths, the way in which we choose to use Social Media platforms, and the actions – or inactions – we knowingly make or neglect.

So, maybe today we can all begin to do what this short and heartfelt note suggests? Do not gloat, be not so proud that you become conceited, recognize that we are all wrong from time to time, and that we are also all human and deserving of dignity, love, welcome, and respect; protect the marginalized and the vulnerable, welcome the hated and the downtrodden, be extra moral, inspire others, be a good person. As someone once said, build a longer table, not a taller wall, around our nation, around our homes, and most importantly, around out hearts.

St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.”  The world will get better, or the world will become worse, not by any single Administration, President, or even nation, but rather by the people of the earth and their willingness to be a good people.

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 14, 2019

This coming Thursday I will have the honor and duty as a priest to be present for a couple I married almost ten years ago, but this time it will be to help a young widow bury her husband unexpectedly. I remember with great joy the day of their wedding; this week, I will celebrate his life and those moments over the last ten years that will now be all she, and their young son, will have to hold on to. I will be honored, but I will be mournfully sad, too.

I have sat at many a death bed and seen a living, breathing, hoping, loving person become a lifeless body. The person has gone. And I have often said a simple prayer from the Canon. After all, these are the things most dying people are longing for. One of my favorite parts of the Eucharistic Canon includes these words, when I say the prayer for the Departed and ask God that they be granted a place of “refreshment, light and peace”. It is what I hope for George this week, but also for all of us as we depart from this to whatever is next.

Death is not scary to me, but dying is. So, by refreshment, what we usually mean as a new start or at least a new look is important to me. Refreshment can mean a cool drink on a hot summer’s day, or a quick shower after a hard sweaty job, but my wish – my prayer – for the departed is always for my own longing of the refreshing sight of a new life. One where I – and they – will finally behold the very face of God. 
 
The manger, the ‘Christmas crib’, we have just left behind once again as a church, and a gift of St. Francis to the world’s devotion, is a great symbol of a great mystery! For the crib, and the cross, were the two loves of Jesus’ life founded as the mystery of the Incarnation of the eternal God, and the mystery of His giving up that life for the likes of sinful us.
 

We, as Christians, are often so busy proving that Jesus is God that we sometimes deemphasize the fact that he is also truly human, with all the feelings and experiences, joys and sorrows of our human life. When we say that He had no sin, we somehow feel that He was exempt from emotion, temptation, limitation, problems. The baby in the crib found that day so long ago in Bethlehem’s stable is a statement of the goodness of human life and that we – just like the God we love – are fully human and will weep in times of transition, but that a place of “refreshment, light and peace” is on its way.

So for me, this place of refreshment, light and peace sums up perfectly my belief in God. And that’s just the beginning, until the trumpet sounds and the rest period is over, and the great Resurrection raises us all to a new life of love beyond all telling.

I pray this week that you will remember how fleeting life is and that you will build up for yourselves the things that last and matter. For I know if I were to ask this grieving family what was truly important to them now, it would be the stuff of family, love, and church and nothing of material wealth or possessions.  

In the end, we have no adequate words to describe what is to come, well except perhaps the word, ‘Heaven’…

How will your life end? What will people remember about you? If you were stand at the edge of your own grave and reflect back at your life, did you do anything, support anything, sacrifice anything that truly helped God build the Kingdom you are so hopeful to enter?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 7, 2019

St. Francis once said, “Look at the humility of God, and pour out your hearts before Him! Humble yourselves that you may be exalted by Him! Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally!”

There is a yearning in our land for a renewal. Young people are lost into electronic ‘smart devices’ and meeting relationships. Parents are entwined in an overloaded work schedule and many find themselves enmeshed in a deteriorating marriage. Church and worship and the altruistic love and caring of our neighbor are things of the past, with very little value. Our borders are walled in, and our hearts are placed behind barbed fencing. And yet, the richer we become, and the more isolated we find ourselves, and the deeper the focus is on ‘me’ and not ‘we’, the poorer we find our souls. Whatever it is we thought  would work,  simply isn’t.

I believe what we really desire is God. Not the God of our coloring book images, but the God who cared so much that he humbled Himself to come as one like us, to save us. That God! As a brother Franciscan so eloquently put it, what we really desire is a date with God!

What would your life look like if you dated God? What would your most important desire then be? How would your daily focus change and who would you desire to tell of your new relationship with One who could love you like no other ever would/could? Would you allow yourself the needed time, dedication, focus, and excitement to learn all about your new-found love?

To truly follow Our Lord and to engage His Gospel, you must first be in love with Him. You must abandon yourself in order to find yourself again. Our love affair with God began as infants at our Baptism, but somewhere along the courtship we lost interest because we never really loved Him all that much. We rather fell in love with the things of the earth that hurt and are fleeting. But now comes a humble priest and friar and I am asking you to give God a try again. Let Him love you as He truly wishes and allow yourself to not be so afraid to be loved.

The heart of the Gospel of Jesus is relationship. It is also the centerpiece of my life as a Franciscan. We just left the season of His incarnation among us. Will you now let yourselves be in relationship with the One who came for you and see how your life might change…how you might actually be found?

How will you find yourself with God this week? Are you willing to try something new and date the One who loves you beyond measure? Will you let go of devices and people who harm, and find a life renewared by the grace-filled One of all?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 17, 2018

 

We are once again coming to the conclusion of the beautiful Season of Advent – the time of waiting for Christ to come. What does this waiting mean to a world that waist for very little? What are we waiting for to a people who look to instant gratification? 

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

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

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

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


Franciscan Moments @Saint Miriam: December 3, 2018

 

For me, especially during the early winter, the earth seems to be dying. As I walk around our campus, the once beautifully green and lush foliage now finds trees that have lost their bounty; the grass has withered and brought the 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 upon the cars in our parking lot. Even the sunlight is less, the darkness more and the nights seem longer, deeper, darker, and sometimes more foreboding. In just a few weeks, 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. These changes remind me of the impermanence of this world and that I need to always focus on something greater that will always be present, always sustaining, always giving, always feeding. It is during this time of year; this very specific time of year that God has deemed to grant us the wonderful opportunity called Advent.

A few years ago, I don’t remember where, I found a short video posted online. It was called something like, “The Advent Conspiracy.” It was a grassroots movement that was started by a few Christian churches to bring some sanity back to the season we now find ourselves within. It hoped to bring more worship and less consumerism to Christmas, to “give presence.” Its four principles were rather simple, ‘Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More and Love All.’  I wonder what would happen if we all made a concerted effort to just that this season; if only for a month?

This gloriously simple season is a time to be challenged as a world, as a people, as Christians, and as practicing Catholics, but more importantly, inside ourselveswhere God most certainly dwells and where the tensions of the world seem to be at their strongest. We are called to pause and reflect on what needs to be changed in the world and deep within ourselves. What is broken, damaged, in need of repair, and Whodo we want to help effectuate those repairs? Are we willing to allow the change to even happen?

St. Francis once said, “Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.”  He knew that conversion was never found in a singular moment, but rather is a continuous, lifelong journey. So then, Advent is our season and our chance to change and to become better people, but to do we must focus on others and on God, and just for the briefest of time in the grand scheme of things, let go of our own selfish needs.

Will you help me save Advent this year?  Will you allow Advent to change you for the better?  What will January look and feel like with a you that is less focused on self, and more on others?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @Saint Miriam: November 26, 2018

 

Well, it looks like after a very contentious election, we find ourselves back at the border. Our eyes, as a nation, are fixated on the women, men, and children fleeing poverty and cartels and the lack of food and work and the kind of ‘hell’ we could never concoct in our wildest American imaginations. But, sadly, we have made it another ‘political football’, akin to gun control and regulation, rather than the severe humanitarian crisis that it is; and one, as must be noted, that we as a nation helped create.

It never ceases to amaze me what grabs our attention as a people who claim to be founded on the ideals of a Judeo-Christian foundation. For instance, Fire-frazzled Northern California, dealing with the raging Camp Fire blaze that has left a staggering toll. The fire has cost us at least 85 people’s lives, with over 249 listed as missing, and has consumed nearly 19,000 buildings, most of them homes. But, nary an outcry from the people, and little more than rhetoric from the politicians. It just isn’t juicy enough.

Today, I was blasted on Facebook when someone inquired of my post that showed my personal utter dismay and shock that we would tear-gas women and children at our border, where are all the priests, clergy, and pastors at the border? Really? I thought. Where are all of you, the people who claims to be God-fearing? Where are you bibles today?

If you want to disrupt a beautifully harmonious dinner party, all you have to do is bring up the radioactive issue of immigration. There might not be a more heated political topic in contemporary American life, save gun control. Even we as Pastors show a deep wariness to discuss the issue may stem from the politically charged nature of the national dialogue on immigration, or from the fear that by addressing the issue they will inevitably offend some in their congregation, putting attendance, tithes, and offerings at risk.

The issue of immigration is actually a very common theme in Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word, gare— which most English translations render “foreigner,” “sojourner,” or “alien,” but is best translated as simply “immigrant” — appears in one form or another some 92 times in the Old Testament. Most often, we find the immigrant referenced in a positivesense. In fact, God sets the standard for the Israelites that the immigrants who come to dwell among them should be treated “as the native among you”. We are far from that in our own debate. We are on the verge of hate.

Now, to be clear, I am not – in any way – proposing that we directly apply these rules for Israel to our nation or demanding or advocating for open borders with no regulation, but God’s love for immigrants – and others who are vulnerable– is unchangingand should guide our contemporary response if we truly believe.

As I stated in my Facebook reply, there are no easy answers, but I know that hatred and rejection of another human being fleeing to us for safety and a better life will never be among them. And, this is not just a priest or clergy issue to handle. It is a humanitarian issue to be solved through love and action together, absent hate.

Perhaps we should get our favorite version of the bible and this time use it for good, rather than as a weapon of mass destruction, and realize that the borders we should really be praying about are the ones around our own hearts.
 
How will you pray away hate and isolation?  Do you see the Devil uses isolation as a chief means to the destruction of all of us and of God’s created?  Do you truly believe in the inherent dignity of the human person, even when that dignity is extended to the migrant and the foreigner?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 12, 2018

 
The Psalmist moves my heart. In Psalm 62 we read, “For God alone my soul waits in silence; From Him comes my salvation. He only is my Rock and my Salvation, my Defense and my Fortress, I shall not be greatly moved.” 
 
I have found that the rhythms of life and death move through our being. Life blesses us when we are grateful and as we wait to experience the stillness where we can lash on tightly to God’s love in. However, in our busy world, we are so lost to silence. The alarm wakes us, the smart devices unstill us from slumber, the constant beeps of the modern world’s gadgets irk us deeply, often without knowing their full potential to unsettle us at our very core. We are modern creatures, but we were never meant to be so; we were meant to be God’s highest creation, His life achievement, in us, God was to move and have His being in a world so lost without Him. But, alas, the alarms and sounds of our modern contrivances distress us to the point we barely have time for a meal, let alone a place of waiting, of stillness, of fulfillment. 
 
Today, I waited for God to speak to me somehow so that I might find a place to write. I sought silence, but it would not come easily today. Telephone calls, voice messages, the gym, text messages, emails, dropping off Katelyn to work, traffic, the radio, news broadcasts, social media, and the needs of visitors plagued my existence from my waking. Even in my life as a priest, I can lose touch with God so easily. I thought perhaps God would not come today, but then a box arrived with our latest order of Saint Miriam Holding Crosses.
 
I had lost the ability to use mine daily in prayer when I gave it away to someone in dire need. I willingly let go of something that I cared about for another; but, isn’t that what we all should so more easily? I forgot how it felt sheltered in my hand. I forgot how God could come so easily if only I waited in stillness. 
 
I have found that the use of a holding cross is a personal process. Through your sense of touch and reflection, you express your love of Christ and your need for him. By holding onto something inanimate, you find the ultimate Animate in sense, touch and prayer. Sometimes I find myself reciting a familiar prayer by rote memory, such as the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, but sometimes no words are needed at all. Simply holding the cross silently in my hand during quiet meditation is the prayer – the being – I so longed to feel again. 
 
I pray that you might find God’s peace in the stillness you make your own by intentional prayer. Perhaps a Holding Cross is the symbol you need, but however, or whatever you must do, find the peace of Christ again. You – and the world – are both severely in need of the good, the honest, and the holy and all of this comes by first being still. 
 
St. Francis once said, “Holy humility confounds pride and all the men of this world and all things that are in the world.”  
 
How will you humble yourself and see we are nothing apart from God? How will you make way for the Lord? How will you be still to find God in your life? How might making intentional stillness today, be a way to a greater and more satisfying life? 
 
May God’s peace be yours this day.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: November 5, 2018

 

One of Francis’s other biographers, Friar Thomas of Celano, tells us that Francis “did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.” This is why I am voting tomorrow: I am in hope of newness and I pray we can begin again to be a better nation.

To cast a vote may not seem like a religious pursuit, but when you consider that actual lives are at stake, and the policies that will determine who lives and who dies, or the edicts that could come from various government agencies, actors, or courts that will impact real lives, and the decisions that will be made with ‘heart before cost’ or ‘cost ahead of life’, or the structures, laws, mandates, and executive orders that will impact who can breathe free and who might die in a dessert – or at the base of a wall – in their attempt for a better life, it is above all else a duty and a prayers that someone else might have a better life.

To vote, to cast your voice, is a privilege not to be taken for granted. Those of us who reap the benefits of living in a democracy should play a part in upholding democracy. Not voting is a form of voting, as it will influence the outcome. We need to take responsibility for our actions, as well as our lack of actions. As Catholics, we hold to the words of the Confiteor at the start of every Mass wherein we recognize our own brokenness:

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned
in my thoughts and in my words,

in what I have done
and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault,
through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;
therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints,

and you, my brothers and sisters,
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

And there it is, the power of action or inaction wherein both can be sin, “in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do…”

I think that St. Francis knew of the excitement that comes with beginning a new project, and also of the need to reform structures which no longer meet our needs. So, tomorrow, on November 6th, ironically within the walls of a local Episcopal Church, I will take his lead and I will vote my conscious after deep prayer and reflection. However, I will not be alone in that voting booth, for I will take with me all those rejected based on nothing but discrimination and hatred; those who were never allowed to vote, those killed or maimed as they tried, those bloodied and beaten for even thinking themselves whole enough – or worthy enough – to pull a lever of such power. They will hold my hand as I pull and pray and cry over each decision.

Tomorrow, I will pray for a better nation, a more compassionate people, and grace to fill our lives once again.
 
How will you voice be heard?  How will your will coincide with the voice of God?  Will you bring compassion to the world, or simply use your power to uproot the love and grace of God to the last among us?