Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 29, 2018

 

“I’m Scared, too.” This was my reply to two parishioners who emailed me to tell me that they would not be coming to church this past Sunday because they feared for their family. They were afraid that if it could happen to the warm, wonderful group of faithful Jews in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, gathering to worship the very same God we do, why couldn’t happen here to us? My reply was simple, “Stay Home, I’m Scared, too. See you next Sunday.”

Misogyny, racism, prejudice, homophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, anti-Semitism, nationalism, nativism, White Supremacy, Anti-immigrant, and so many other ways to hate and divide. That what this week has shown us. Our answer? Buy bigger guns, of course. (No, friends, that is not the answer!)

This week has uncovered something very vile about the America we live in. That so many people would support such despicable ideals is not news to those hurt every day by racism, sexism, xenophobia, et al; we know it’s alive and well in our country. Some of us have been dealing with it our whole lives. But to see this hatred on such flagrant, unapologetic display is something else entirely.

If this hatred continues – if the ‘in-crowd’ gets to define who is ‘out’ again, what will happen to women’s rights, not just at a policy level, but in schools and in homes? How much more afraid will immigrants and people of color have to become that they’ll be ripped from their homes, or killed on the street, by the very people tasked to protect them? Part of the problem is that we already know the answers to these questions because the truth is, we’ve been living them.

The past 72 hours in America brought us three hate-filled crimes. Three hate-filled suspects. From Kentucky to Utah to Pittsburgh, to a neighborhood near you. Hate is abounding. Darkness is alive and well. And a whole lot of do-no-good rhetoric that just serves to inflame the already unstable is the primary course of action points.

St. Francis once said, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light…”  If this is ever to be true, we better get to work, because there is a lot of work to do…

I thought that chilly, cold night in Wyoming now some 20 years ago when Matthew Shepherd was slain and hung with barbed wire on a fence to die simply because he lived his life as a gay man and sought a nice break at a local pub one evening, was the worst, we as Americans, could do to one another. I was wrong.
 
So, as we approach All Hollow’s Eve, it is no longer the ghouls and goblins I am afraid of, it is us.
 
How will you bring light into a world so bent on hate and division? Will you choose love, finally? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 22, 2018

 

This past Sunday, we had the honor of baptizing four new Christians into God’s holy Church. I am always overwhelmed at the prospect of doing everything just right because of the importance of the day! We are blessed to be in a parish large enough that we baptize over 60 children and adults annually, and every one of them is accorded the ritual and respect they deserve. After all, we are about to wipe away original sin and make them a part of ‘Christ’s own forever’!

Our Baptism Sunday Mass is something extraordinary to behold! Our liturgy was designed from the ground up and includes singing, a special beginning Introductory Rite, a grand procession, and a ‘baby procession’ after the baptisms! We sing, pray, throw water, anoint with oil, and celebrate with our entire being because this is a miracle day in the life of every parish community, and in the life of God’s church, too!

As I reminded everyone yesterday, the solemn procession from the Bell Tower entry doors into the Sanctuary is a reminder of the baptismal vocation of every Christian, to carry on the mission of Jesus Christ, through His Church, until He returns. Interiorly, this also symbolizes the universal call to holiness for each of us and toward each of us to others. We who are baptized are called into communion with God and with all of God’s created. God comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are invited to become “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is, in biblical language, the center of the person. Then we are called to carry Him into the world of our daily lives.

That is why the recent denial of human rights to journalists, reporters, and immigrants, gay and lesbians, as well as the abuse of police officers and those of different race or ethnicity, and the administrations current love affair with hate by considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, is simply wrong and is deeply abhorrent to me. It also should be to each of us, as Catholics, because IF we believe in the Inherent Dignity of the human person than that dignity is found in all of God’s created, even those we may not agree with, dislike, or perhaps in our greatest weakness, even despise.

A good friend and fellow priest, Father Daniel, wrote to me this week on Facebook asking me to ‘help us to walk in compassionate love with one another, Lord!’ This is my attempt to bring our attention to the fact that inherent dignity and personhood are inescapable from the covenant founded at adoption of Baptism and continues in the manner in which we view and treat others.

As the years have unfolded in my life, and my age has brought the richness of deeper reflection and temperance to my mood and stride, the true beauty and profound symbolism of our Catholic customs continue to capture and invigorate me. There is such richness and beauty in the experience of our liturgy, but none has meaning absent respect for all life. As we march with the Body of Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic Host, enthroned in a “monstrance” or gently encased in our own hands at Communion next Sunday, let us remind ourselves that worship not only occurs in the Church sanctuary, but is intended to spread out into the “city streets” of the entire world in all whom we meet in our journey. In this act of public procession we are reminded that God still loves the world so much that He still sends His Son even to those we abhor.

St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” 

Do you hold all of God’s children in your heart or do you live a life of superiority and exile which is contrary to the Christ we follow?

 

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 15, 2018

 
This Wednesday evening, at 6:30pm, we will gather together for our first Sacred Meal Dinner of the fall season! A small group of us will break bread and sit together, pray together, and remember that first meal that Jesus had where he instituted what we now call the Mass. By doing something so seemingly small, we will pray for the world and humble ourselves as Christian Catholics.
 
Ironically, this event happens to fall on the day we also remember Saint Ignatius of Antioch. Saint Ignatius may not be well known, but he converted to Christianity after being born in Syria and eventually became bishop of Antioch. Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to choose between death and apostasy. Ignatius would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome.
 

Ignatius is most known for the seven letters he wrote on his long journey from Antioch to Rome, where he would meet his own death bravely met the lions in the Circus Maximus. Five of his letters were to churches in Asia Minor wherein he urged the Christians there to remain faithful to God and to obey their superiors. His sixth letter was to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was also later martyred for the faith. And his final letter begs the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his martyrdom. He stated, “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”

Ignatius’ main concern was for the greater Church, not himself. Even greater was his willingness to suffer martyrdom rather than deny Jesus as his Christ. Ignatius did not draw attention to his own suffering, but to the love of God which strengthened him.

St Francis once said, “Men lose all the material things they leave behind them in this world, but they carry with them the reward of their charity and the alms they give. For these, they will receive from the Lord the reward and recompense they deserve.”

Ignatius knew this to be true, even as he journeyed to his own certain death.

How might we die ‘small deaths’ daily so that the church and God’s work might be better accomplished? Is there something we can give up that will make another’s life better? Can we die to the world in some small way, giving up something we might find to be insignificant, but to another might bring life itself?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 1, 2018

 

Ite ad Evangelium Domini annuntiandum” that is, ‘Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord’!

The essence of our directive as practicing Catholic Christians is summed up here in these rather simple words with a deeper meaning. In other words, ‘Be like Jesus, do like Jesus.’ From our entry into the parish walls with the touching of the holy water to our foreheads, to our exiting following the words of the deacon, we are what we say and what we believe, but more so, we are the liturgy that we love. Well, at least that we used to love.

Things were different not so long ago. When I was a child, I loved the majesty of the Catholic Mass. I couldn’t get enough! I would go every day if they let me. I loved the feel, the smells, the bells, the majestic word play, the meaning, and the artistry of that which we so often – as Catholics – now take for granted. Bishop Robert Barron said it best with,“Catholic life is about joy, it’s about the attitude, it’s about how to become happy, and happiness comes from self-giving.” That, for me, is the Mass.

That is why beginning this Advent, we will gather for four sessions and try and allow ourselves to become a people in love with the Mass again! I pray you will join me as we become transformed by our encounter with the Christ we love so much. Perhaps we will finally allow Heaven to fall upon us on a weekly basis as we gather for the experience that will one day bring us to eternal life.

The word is used during the conclusion of the celebration, when the priest or deacon says in Latin is ‘Ite, missa est’. The literal translation of this phrase is, “Go, it has been sent.”  In these humble words, there’s less of that business about enduring wretched misery in our world in anticipation of reward in the next every time the priest, in the place of Christ, sends forth his parishioners into the world so that they may be beacons of light, set on a hill for all to see.

St. Francis once said, “Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O admirable height and stupendous condescension! O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under a morsel of bread.”
 
Will you join me and become a beacon of light, too, as we witness the Miracle found within each morsel of mere bread changed just for us? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 24, 2018

 

To our modern minds, sitting in a chapel staring at a large host of bread between glass may seem almost absurd. Adoration does not seem particularly useful to our business of life and endless task lists. Cloistered monks seem to be doing nothing useful and this to us seems far more akin to that, than doing anything useful. After all, we have thingsto do; far more important things to do than to sit with God. But that is exactly what we do when we come to Adoration. We sit and ponder and receive the love of God. In Adoration, we put aside doing and replace it for a brief time with attentiveness. We attend to the Lord.

In our modern world, the concepts that serve us well in Adoration, and more deeply in our relationship with God, seem foreign and difficult. However, it is these very strengths that will lead us to everlasting life.

So, what does one do during Adoration?We first begin in that which we need most: silence. We come in humble silence and wait on God to speak to us from within our very spirit. Secondly, Adoration requires attentiveness. We remain vigilant to hear God come and warm us and delight our thoughts. And thirdly, Adoration needs receptivity. We love God and God loves us. In our silent attentiveness during Adoration, we receive God in ways unexplainable, and unimaginable to our smart devices.

When I visited Sedona this past July, Katelyn and I went for a jeep tour in the desert. It was 104 degrees, but the ‘real feel’ temperature was 120 degrees. Our tour guide impressed upon us the need to drink water before we feel the need for it. In other words, she instructed us that once you knew you needed water, you were so dehydrated you could be close to death. In a similar vein, Fr. Leon Pereira, reminds us of English poet and author, J.R.R Tolkien, who once said he did not return to fidelity to the Lord by being chased by Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven, but through his endless hunger for the Blessed Sacrament, as one starving for love. We are all starving for love, we just don’t know it, and by waiting until we know we need God, we may be already dead.

St. John Mary Vianney referred to a parishioner who said that during Adoration, “I look at Him. And He looks at me.” In the end, Adoration is nothing more than two people in love with each other – a creature and the creation’s God. The deeper our hunger, the more God gives us.

St. Francis of Assisi believed that Adoration is the first attitude of man acknowledging that he is a creature before his Creator. 

Adoration is the heart of our parish here at Saint Miriam, as He must be in every parish. And, yes, Adoration may seem useless, but we desperately need it. Come to Adoration this week, and, as Father Pereira says so well, ‘let Heaven fall upon you’ and bring you peace and strength.
 
Will you adore your Christ this week? How might God come to you if you never seem to find the time to go to God?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 17, 2018

 

Recently we had a visit from a priest in the church from another part of the country. He had never been to Saint Miriam, but left with a wonderful feeling. Later, upon his return to his home diocese, it was reported back to me that he spoke about me, as pastor, with profound respect, and he had much praise for my vision, but loved the people of the parish. In the end, he viewed Saint Miriam as one of the leading Old Catholic parishes in the country. I was humbled.

I’ve thought a lot about his words, and what he witnessed firsthand. Oftentimes, even I take this place for granted. Truth-be-told, we all do in some respects. We have such a vibrant and growing parish, a wonderful and dedicated school, and we care for the dead with our stewardship of an historic cemetery. We even have a pet memorial garden, because – after all – we are Franciscans! And, all of this, has been done with dedication and sacrifice to make sure we grow, care, and outreach beyond our doors, and we do it all without ever once forsaking our mission of a ‘radical welcome’, and by keeping our children and parishioners safe, too.

I think at that is at the heart of our heart: we love beyond what the world thinks is wise, and we welcome because we know what it is like to feel rejected, and we do it all with a joy that is rarely found in churches today! This place of love has been built on the love of Jesus and that is worth celebrating, remembering, and caring for.

St. Francis once said, “It is not fitting, when one is in God’s service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look.”  We sure live up to that vision, and perhaps, that is the feeling Father left with after his visit. May it always be so.

How will you care for a place that brings joy to a world often dark? How will you spread the joy found here in your daily loves to others? Do you use the foundation of unconditional love and welcome at your parish, to welcome unconditionally all those you meet in your daily walk? Do you recognize how blessed we are…together?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 10, 2018

 

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. For those of us who suffer from depression, and especially those of us who have actually planned our own ending, we need the world to know that mental health awareness is needed now more than ever, as we are now witnessing some of the highest numbers of depression, suicide, and other mental health issues. I actually wrote on the issues surrounding pastors and suicide this past week with the tragic loss of Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, California. (You can read it here, if you missed it.)  And, while it may vary from person to person, any serious shift in one’s mood, actions, or thoughts, warrants talking about; we should all ask and not assume when it comes to our friends and family. Mood swings, sleep disturbances, suicidal thoughts or speech, are all signs that someone may be experiencing a difficult time and harboring these thoughts in their mind. Many of us also experience anxiety or panic attacks.

So, what do we do with such an uncomfortable topic? Act! Stop and think for a moment about how our actions or inactions might cause the death of someone we love or know. How will you feel if you were too uncomfortable to ask a simple question and wake up tomorrow to find that person gone? The first thing to do I simple: listen with an open mind to what they have to say and show them you are there to care, not judge. Once you have established a comfortable space for communication to take place, help them seek professional help. Go with them, hold their hand, show them you care. Your simple actions can actually save a real life.  Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among those 15–29 years old. Each day a person dies every 40 seconds by suicide, and up to 25 times as many again make a suicide attempt, and over 800,000 people every year are gone by their own hand.

There is still so much taboo around this topic. That false taboo leads to death. It is time to stop it. We still read that a person has ‘committed suicide’, suggesting suicide is either a sin or a crime; it is neither and we need to see these acts and overtures as a person who needs support and not condemnation.

This past week, even after knowing how much I struggle with depression – and how much they helped me at one of the worst times in my life to want to live again – a community that I cared about abandoned me for no reason. A place where I sought fitness, friendship, and community simply unfriended me, unfollowed me, moved on, and left me alone for no reason other than I moved to another gym. They decided my friendship was not worth their time anymore, even though I had done nothing and tried to remain in concert with our friendship built on over three years of showing up almost every day and becoming a better person. It hurt; it is painful. I wept for a time, but now I realize that they missed the fundamental truth of all truths: God will never ask you to abandon one covenant for another. In doing so, thorough their ‘social-meaness’ they caused me to think again about the value of my life. What if I were more fragile again? 

Luckily, I have someone who loved me through my pain. Who listened to me and allowed me to move on inside myself where often the pain sits – unnoticed to others – but with no end in sight. That person, saves me because of her willingness to ask, listen, and love unconditionally and without judgement. How about you?

St. Francis once said that “All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  Are you a candle in someone’s darkness?

On our parish website, we have a list of outreaches to help support anyone in crisis. We pray that our small acts of caring help others, like me, to want to live again in a world that God so lovingly gave to us to enjoy.

How have you helped another? How many times have you noticed someone in pain and did nothing out of your own fear or uncomfortableness? How have your actions caused someone to question their value? What will you do today to change and become a better human being? Will you shed light in a world so dark to some?



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 27, 2018

 

Whatever the reason was that brought me to join the Franciscans, I am grateful to discover that I think God led me here. I recall my first visit with an old steel worker in the hospital intensive care unit in Leigh Valley following an acute and severe heart attack. All of a sudden, while talking about his illness and what it meant to him and his livelihood, we somehow managed to divert into a discussion about the loss of his wife who died several years earlier of cancer, an estranged son whom he deeply missed, and all the feelings of guilt he held onto so deep beneath his leather-faced, hard exterior. Then, without almost any warning, this older man, a virtual stranger, started weeping and held tightly to my hand.

Thinking back, I couldn’t imagine this guy feeling secure and comfortable enough to cry in front of another man, except here I am as a simple priest in a simple brown habit. That was an important moment for me in my ministry. There was such a power in that room that I really needed to honor and use it in a good way; I knew it wasn’t me, it was the One who called me. I don’t think I will ever forget how God used me that day to do so much that the world will never know, except one hard-nosed man who needed me that day beyond anything else.

I truly believe that my vocation came about by the grace of God, but I became a Friar because I resonated so deeply with the founder, St. Francis, and the friars I visited that first time in Washington, DC were always down to earth, and they seemed to enjoy life. Yes, God came, I listened, and one day when I was broken and ready enough, I finally said, ‘yes.”

I wonder what the world would be like if more of us listened and responded, even when fearful about changing directions? I wonder what it would be like if more of us said, ’yes’ to the Lord who needs us to help, grow, mend, and create in a world so filled with hate and doubt and loss? I wonder, is God calling you and have you not heard Him or simply rejected that call out of fear?

 Maybe today is the day when your life might just change, and in doing so, you might just change another who is in need of the one who bears your name?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 20, 2018

 

As I prepared for Mass early this past Sunday morning, I wondered to myself, “Would anyone really show up?” Oh, I know, we are not the church that harmed children, at least not this time. I am sure we have in the past, and I even more sure that somewhere there is a priest that still does or is thinking of doing the unthinkable. It is a hard thought to escape, and perhaps we should not escape it again. Maybe, just maybe, we all should stop and dwell on this fact a little longer before we dismiss the terrible, horrific, details of the Pennsylvania Attorney General Report from this past week. Maybe, just maybe, we all should sit and ponder – as I did early Sunday morning past – and ask ourselves, ‘why am I still a catholic?’

The week had brought to us revelations of horrors inflicted by some in the Catholic clergy, and of the church hierarchy’s complicity in actually covering up their actions and making it all seems so normal. It wasn’t. It was terrible. And that is why I began my homily at the Early Mass on Sunday with the opening salvo, “If I were not a priest, and pastor of this parish, I would probably not be here today.”

The past week stirred a new, darker set of doubts for many of us who have maintained our catholicity despite years of abuse and knowing what men are capable of, even as they wear a collar, or a habit like me. “What am I doing with my life? What am I doing as a priest in this church? Why do I still stay and serve when so many do such harm?”

It was almost an irony, or perhaps Divine engagement, that St. Paul admonished the Ephesians this Sunday with the Epistle, “Brothers and sisters: Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil.”  Yes, Paul, they are, but never would I have imagined that the evil would come at the hands of a brother priest. But, it has. No, there is no escaping that fact anymore.

But then, just as I was falling into despair, God came again as I read on to the Gospel passage appointed for Sunday! Read from the book of John, Jesus made the most fundamental of His promises, the one that Catholics accept each and every time we receive the holy Eucharist: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” And there it was! God was still here, just as God always has been. And while it must pain God beyond our mortal imaginations to see what has happened, I know, too, that someday we will understand more. Until then, we should not avoid the discussion, but rather engage, protect, defend, and become strongholds for the church; something the hierarchy has failed to do so dismally, and yes, at the expense of the smallest and most vulnerable. Today I can say, no more, never again. Can you?

I once heard it said that for all the problems that we experience, there is still the presence of God in this place. I find solace in that reflection. I pray you do, too.

How will you ensure the safety of all who come to God’s church? How will you engage your deepest fears, as I have mine this past week, and still remain a catholic?  How will you make this church a beacon of hope, light, and safe harbor?  How will you support this place that has made the safest place possible for all who come?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 13, 2018

 

My cousin works for the National Security Administration, better known as the NSA. They help defend the nation through surveillance and processing of information and data of foreign intelligence; the majority of their techniques are clandestine.

One day, my cousin and I were talking about the national threats and he made a looming comment. He stated, almost too matter-of-factly, “You really don’t want to know what I know; you wouldn’t sleep tonight.” I believe him. I also trust him.

Being a Pastor, and a Friar, often makes me stop and ponder longer in making decisions. I often say that I think more like a woman, ‘globally’, as opposed to how most men think which is more linear. I must think of the whole, rather than just the one. This is why sometimes we let parishioners go, and why often, too, staff must be let go, or at least permitted their own leave, because the whole is always greater than the one.

Franciscan spirituality, then, at its heart is always communal, emphasizing the “we” over the “I.” While each human bears inherent dignity and grace, each human also grows and flourishes withincommunity. Franciscan communalism has the calming insight that we can choose our friends, but we cannot – and perhaps must not– ever choose our brothers and sisters. In the larger society, as Father O’Connell once stated, Franciscan communalism democratizes aristocracy and renders all people as royalty, replacing class warfare with a strong sense of cooperation. Franciscan communalism is always about the ‘others’.

Franciscan spirituality is lesser, humble, poor. This is why we sacrifice so much of ‘self’ in order to offer our life to the greater good. Since Franciscans own very little, or nothing at all, we wear greatness well, and are the true and faithful stewards, always asserting that we have done nothing, and that He who gives us life, deserves all the glory.

In the end, Franciscan spirituality is practical; not fasting more beyond what the Church requires for all, eating of what is set before us, preaching without words, but in actions like feeding hundreds of homeless by noon tomorrow. And, as a pastor, charged with the care of so many, I often, too, need to reflect that even in the midst of storms, I am to remain calm and make steady decisions that enhance the community, not at the sacrifice of them, but sometimes, of the one that must go.

I wonder if, when a decision is made, or someone is let go, or decides to leave, if anyone stops and considers the very real possibility that you really don’t want to know what I know. In other words, the decision that was often made is always for you, and the community at large.

How will we react the next time a decision is made that we disagree with?  Do we ever give credence to the fact that our pastors are called to that office by a God who ordained them to discern for us?  Do we ever say to ourselves, ‘I may not agree, but I also hold no facts to change the choice”  Or, “I trust my pastor for all he has given and so far, in the light of truth, his decisions have been right for us as a whole.”