Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 19, 2018

 

So it is here. We are now firmly into Lent. Lent creates space. It creates space for change, renewal, focus, growth, and regeneration. Lent creates space, but only if you allow it to.

Some folks will use our Lenten journey for good; to allow God to harvest out the bad, uproot the harmful attributes of ourselves, and replace them with good things, glorious, fruitful, life-filling things. Others, however, will once again miss this opportunity and instead wallow on social media about their plight and raged their fists against the blackness of the night that pervades even their days. They flood themselves, and the internet, with all their woes, gossip, whom they blame, and turn the innocent against their favorite  “imagined enemy”, but never once stop to see themselves in the refection that has become their pain. Lent created the space, but you must not fail to use it as a cocoon for growth… for change. Many will find that they have been selfish to the world, and to others, and that selfishness will prevent them from being kind even to themselves. 

Troubled times can drive one back into one’s own mind somehow hoping that solace is to be found there, but what resides back there is often old memories, colored-truths, dishonest falsehoods, and dusty ways, that impinge on one’s ability to reach their God-intended future. During these times, time-worn memories and familiar actions of blame cause enormous destruction, enormous fear, enormous greed, and enormous despair to self and to others. We succumb to the age-old reality of never changing self, but rather we rail against the world, as our chaos and doubt deepen, Lent will end up being abandoned once again, and we emerge unchanged.

So, yes, Lent creates space for us to think about the true meaning of repentance and seek fresh ways to let Jesus into our closed-off, walled-off attics of self-pity, anxiety, and defensiveness, and actually change for the better. God is not a ‘short-term God’, as the world expects. God doesn’t come to save baseball games from your favorite team losing, nor does God stand next to you to pick the winning numbers for the Powerball Lottery. No, our God doesn’t send a team of angels to save you from yourself, and the hate that you create within your brokenness. Instead, God is a long-term God. A demanding, relentless, long-term God of change, of hope, and love. God’s miracles take time and effort, but they bring into existence that which never existed before! God creates within each of us the capacity to grow beyond our own fabrication, self-imposed misery, and isolation. We make, God creates.

How will you use these days of Lent to allow needed change to come? How will you allow the space that God creates in Lent to help you do just that? Can you let go of your own selfishness and allow God to come at all? 

Lent creates space. Are you willing to use it for good?

 

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 12, 2018

 

We are about to enter the holiest season of our year as Catholics; Lent is upon us once more. So, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what I would like to become after Lent this year. In other words, rather than me concentrating on giving up chocolates or meat or some worldly good, I want to be a better person when Easter arises again.

After much thought, I turned to at my Seraphic Father, Francis, for guidance and stumbled upon this writing of Thomas of Celano who wrote,

“Francis burned with a great desire to return to his earliest steps toward humility; rejoicing in hope because of his boundless love, he planned to call his body back to its original servitude, although it had now reached its limit. He cut away completely the obstacle of all cares and silenced the noise of all concerns. When he had to relax this rigor because of illness, he used to say: “Let us begin, brothers, to serve the Lord God, for up until now we have done little or nothing.” He did not consider that he had already attained his goal, but tireless in pursuit of holy newness, he constantly hoped to begin again.”

So, I decided that this year I will become something better; a new creation at Easter! I hope you will join me! Let us ask God to give us hearts to praise more and voices to proclaim more often! Let us pray that we have the courage to work for a world of justice, love, and peace, especially for those without a voice to raise or a seat at the table. Let us ask God to give us the true spirit of prayer and contemplation to pray the world into a better place of being! And, finally, let us all use this time of Lent to turn our minds and wills completely over to God and pray that whatever we are at Easter, after this year’s Lenten Journey, we are better, more loving, and more conscious of our role in the world as Christians than what we are today.

Come Maranatha, Come!

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: February 5, 2018

 

“Let us begin again, for until now we have done nothing.”

These are the ominous, prophetic, and yet somehow encouraging words spoken by St. Francis at the time of his death. St. Francis wanted those who followed him to be encouraged to adhere to the rule of life they had worked so hard to build together. He wanted them to remain without a strong ego in order that they might lead a life of service to others. He also recognizing the dangers of what would happen if the order, and their rule, became too institutionalized.

This is what happens in many parishes and even within the greater Church itself. Rules dominate and old visions became ingrained without merit. Many do not know why they follow, they just do so blindly, and when questioned, they become arrogant or defensive. Sometimes even mean. In other words, they lose the Gospel.
 
That is why at Saint Miriam we are a Gospel-centered parish in word, sacrament, and deed. We do not put rules above people. We love with wild abandon and love like the Gospel of our Christ.  We recognize that in our own brokenness God comes and if it were up to us, as a broken people, grace would be meted out to only those we approve. Then, what a sad place the Church would be. So, instead, we allow God to be God and we follow the best we can. If anything, we err on the side of love.  We think that Jesus would like that…
 
Perhaps that is why Francis is such a popular saint! Like us, he remained true to the Gospel, true to the vision, true to the rule, and close to Jesus through it all, even at his own peril. Francis lived out the teachings of Christ and so inspired many who follow in his steps thousands of years later. It was more than just charisma; it was about authenticity and simplicity. Francis was the ultimate, incarnate, symbol of letting go of everything that might distract one from finding God.
 

One of the commonly heard words this coming Ash Wednesday will be, “Remember that thou art dust, and unto dust that shalt return.”  But there is another permitted sentence, it states, “Turn away form sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

How will you spend your Lent this year? Will you continue to invest in all that will die and turn to dust, or will you commit to build that which lasts into the life yet to come, and follow the Gospel?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 29, 2018

 

Believe it or not, we are on the precipice of Lent again. It seems to have snuck up on us, almost imperceptibly. As I pondered how quickly Lent has appeared on the horizon, I felt a tug to sit and contemplate more deeply. ‘There must be a reason for this feeling,’ I thought to myself.

Lent comes every year, but often we seem to miss the import of this holy season. It is almost irony that those things that come to us so freely are those that we miss the deep meaning of their having come again. Much like Lent, the silences of our lives and the times alone to ponder, are fleeting and we miss how important they are to our wellbeing. I am hoping that as we begin to recognize the coming again of Lent, we might choose willingly to take an active participation in a time to change our lives for the better.
 
St. Francis of Assisi loved the Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday so much he actually observed two more: the period between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, and later the 40 days before the September 29th Feast of Saint Michael the Archangel. In a sense, St. Francis lived Lent year-round. During these times of prayer, Francis explored questions of life and God at deeper and deeper levels. He allowed these times alone to find a deeper experience of God. 
 
Lent is characterized as a desert experience. Desert is a place of deprivation and change. We don’t like being deprived, because we are often slaves to food, pleasure, and what others think of us. But this annual desert experience that comes to us as a gift, offers a new found freedom where we leave behind the familiar. We need to face the desert, if we are to reach the garden where all are free.
 
How will you engage the Season of Lent? Or, will you allow it to pass by and emerge another year unchanged? Can this Lent help us live more integrated lives?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 22, 2018

 

Yesterday I was on top of my game! Just back from our annual Parish Board Retreat and I was ready to jump in! Began with the Early Mass and threw in the Morning Mass at 10:30am, too! Yes, I was excited and rejuvenated and ready! We had a new mother and two children join us for the Morning Mass; after which I spent a few minutes with her. When asked how she liked the Mass and parish, she responded with, “I cried through the whole thing! It was so war and wonderful!”  Yes, we had a wonderful Sunday together and it reminded me of all the good things we do together as a parish community.

Later in the evening, I felt something coming on and sure enough, by late evening, I was sick! It always amazes me how fragile we are as humans. We go from strength to strength, solving all of our problems and issues, and then, almost without warning, something we cannot even see can take us down to our knees and remind us how vulnerable we really are.

How tenuous human life is on this planet! We exist within a very small range of habitable conditions. I have come to accept that my life is fragile, as are the lives of all those I love. A simple mutation in the genetic code of some cells can send cancer spreading throughout our bodies, or a virus can cause us to become debilitated and dependent in days. As a pastor I have a front row seat to the fragility of human life.  So how do I accept my vulnerabilities and finiteness? I love God and do the best I can with every moment I am given.

Every day is a gift from God. This is a good place to start. Even our inhabitable planet is a miracle. I am a conscious being blessed to live briefly in this thin envelope of life with all of you! It is a wondrous gift. Every moment is an eternity. Every second is another sacred moment that I give thanks for. And those I love, I pray for and am thankful for every day. My life is blessed by love!

 God has given us the ability to be part of the miracle.  So, perhaps, we should always try to be “conscious” of what it means to be created in the image of God. No wonder God chose to be incarnated in Jesus.

I have found that God incarnates again and again in us. Christ in us, the hope of glory. The Holy Spirit living in us and through us. Christ living now in the Body of Christ. God incarnated in a multi-body organism called the Church. St. Francis believed that God peers through our eyes into the depths of the universe, wondering at the fragility of life. In doing so, he loved and embraced all of creation.

How will you honor your fragility with doing more for God this week?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 15, 2018

 

On my way to the gym this morning I saw a Christmas Tree on the back of an old pickup truck. I know, you probably saw many, too, over the past few weeks, but since this is mid-January, I knew in my heart it was being discarded, not being brought on a journey home to be loved and adorned with lights and bright cheery colored ornaments. Yes, Christmas is over.

I think that is why I love Ordinary Time so much. Most folks look forward to Easter or Christmas, or even Advent or Lent, but I look to the Season of Ordinary Time to settle into God, and to allow God to work within me, to make me a better person. It is as if God uses this time to discard my old ‘Christmas trees’ and show me how to be a better person, a better Christian.

Ordinary Time is the season of the Church year when Catholics are encouraged to grow and mature in daily expression of their faith outside the great seasons of celebration of Christmas and Easter, and the great periods of penance, such as Advent and the coming season of Lent. It is a time to deepen one’s prayer life, read the sacred scripture, unite more deeply with the Lord in the Eucharist at Mass on a regular basis, and become more holy, and by doing so, more whole as a person.

I have found that no matter who we are, or how powerful a position we might hold, most of us live rather ordinary lives with ordinary days in which we know our best and our worst self, and everything in-between. We have our days when we are able to bring joy, patience, and gratitude to others, and there are those days, too, when we need hope, trust, and a forgiving heart to put one foot in front of the other. It is in these ordinary days that the extraordinary mystery of God’s faithful love accomplishes saints-in-the-making that is each of us!

And, if one is lucky enough, every once in a while, as I have found, someone comes along to make us feel loved and whole. We are put on a right path and look at the world differently. We are reminded through the gift of another human being, that we are loved and that God loves us. We are shown that our imperfections are minor, and that our heart and soul matter more than any transgression or any broken pieces. This is why I value Ordinary Time; it is in the ordinariness of life that God comes.

For the transformation of ourselves, and of our world, we must live intentionally within the magnificent gesture of God’s saving grace and gifts. The wisdom of our liturgical year, as Catholics, reminds us of this. Our ordinary lives are holy because it is here – with one another – that we experience who we are and who our God is for us.

St. Francis once reminded us, “Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that have received–only what you have given.” 

How will you give back to God for all God has given to you? How will you recognize the gifts that God has so freely given to you this season?  How will you use this final time, before the approaching holy season of penance, to finally realize the gifts you have may just be in your home, in your arms, in your heart already?

 



Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 8, 2018

 

Albert Camus once wrote, “In the depth of winter I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.”

Before someone turned the switch to the ‘on’ position for this year’s very frigid winter, I felt robbed by the faltering green lawns and trees around our beautiful campus. It always seems that it takes us all spring and summer long to get them so lush and beautiful, but then – almost in an instant – the growing season ends and winter is suddenly upon us.

I don’t think I am alone in this sentiment, and I don’t think I’m the only one who felt a little hypocritical (or at least ungrateful) for thinking they did not want to see winter’s frosty blanket come again! After all, complaining about long cold winters is what we do best as humans, especially up here in the northeast, and we are almost never cheated out of a good winter. But perhaps it’s not just that after all. Conceivably, too, I have learned yet another new lesson.

This year’s winter that came, almost so unexpectedly in its harshness, has allowed me to sit idle for a few days already. The cold and snow has closed schools, roadways, and entire towns and cities. The shutting down of normal life has allowed me to also shut down my need to move and work and to be doing anything; it opened an opportunity to just sit and listen and learn. This year, for the first time, I have learned to listen to the snow, and by doing so I found the gift of silence and peace.

I discovered that the snow has a pristine and distinct beauty that flowers or warm beaches lack. As a child, I remember stepping out of school and being blinded by the over-exposure of the bright sun reflecting off the ice and snow in Erie. I remember how on cloudy winter nights, the world would maintain a strange glow, as if the lights were on a dimmer and turned down low. I remember working in a city where roads turned to ice and one could see wild animals like deer and wolves moving through the lattice of trees at Presque Isle, unable to blend into the sparse white background of winter’s palate.

Yes, winter became a subtle nudge this year to remind me to reflect on my life more deeply and to recall the past with a renewed emphasis on the joy, not the hurt. I pen this devotion this cold morning to hopefully nudge you into remembering that though we are surrounded by the deep chill in the air of a harsh winter cold, it is also an exercise in cleansing. With each snowfall, we are given a clean slate with the innocence and beauty the white powdery stuff brings.

St. Francis once said, Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.” So, that is where my heart is today: frozen in the wisdom and lessons of a winter’s snow and cold. But, this time, it’s not just the chill beauty of the winter that strikes me, it is how warm everything becomes in comparison! A heated apartment after a long cold wait for the bus or train, the glow of a fireplace against the winter’s dark grey skyscape, or sitting near the heater, as the furnace starts to kick on and the chill of the room is instantly removed! Why not pause with me this cold winter and cease the laments for warmer weather and summer winds and find the message that God wants you to hear so deeply.

Perhaps, just perhaps, the gales of wind whistling through bare trees and loose shingles this season has a song for your soul?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: January 2, 2018

 

Well, it is here. Another transition.

Transitions are common. I have gone through a few major ones in my lifetime of 50 years now and each brings some anxiety! One when I moved to college, then my transgression, then seminary, studying abroad, then Trauma Chaplaincy and the required moves from hospital to hospital, and then the residence moves from Erie, to Washington, Allentown, Lansdale, to Philadelphia, Blue Bell, and finally to here in Flourtown. In my becoming a Franciscan, then to pastoral ministry at a parish, losing my dad, watching my mom gain age, and overseeing a parish and diocese.

There were smaller transitions, too, but still transitions none-the-less. These came in the form of selling the condo to allow us to buy what we now call our parish home, living in a 200-square foot ‘tiny house’ via the motor home, and then the Friary Rectory, and finding that none of them felt like home. I have found love, friendships, suffered loss, lost relationships, and transitioned from joy, to loss, to love, and back to friendship again; mostly with myself, as God has brought healing and hope in the midst of some desert experiences. Yes, transitions have come, and with each my God becoming stronger and my faith challenged, until I emerged from my crystalis a changed person – better for having endured and grown and became more ‘me’.

I have always tried to present myself, my life, and my priesthood, as an amalgamation of all the good, bad, and indifferent that I have done, caused, and endured. I always protest when people try to place me on a pedestal simply because I am a priest. The higher the pedestal, the farther that fall! I know that I am broken, but through my brokenness I hoped I have used my life to allow God to find others and to bring light into a world that is so often dark. Perhaps the pain caused me at the hands and mouths of others – in their own hatred, misunderstanding, gossip, or complexity of beliefs, I have learned to not allow my life to cause pain, but to try always to bring light and some hope. I have never hated a single soul, tried to never harmed another, never given into back stabbing or innuendo, and never regretted my life experiences. You see, I am who I am, because of what I have endured, lived through, lost, and somehow still found.

Why not reflect with me on what you loved about the past year, all that you accomplished, where you are today, and how you might like to be a better person tomorrow? Do not allow others to say you are of little or no value. This year, know you are so loved and that God has made you perfectly to love others.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 26, 2017

 

I hate to break it you, but ‘Christmas ain’t over’! The season of Christ’s birth stays alive and well until The Feast of the Epiphany on January 7, 2018 this year! But, I wonder if we can make it mean something more, even after Epiphany? Can you and I use the lessons of Advent and Christmas to renew the face of the earth, one soul at a time?

During one Sunday Angelus address last year, Pope Francis spotted a cluster of Italy’s “pitchfork” protestors, upset with unemployment and cuts in social services, holding a banner in St. Peter’s Square that read, “The poor can’t wait!” Francis, in his unique and unpredictable style, pointed to the sign and exclaimed, “That’s beautiful!”, launching into an extemporaneous sermon on homelessness and how it harms the fabric of human life.

At Christmas Mass this year, The Holy Father laid out the spiritual basis for the social gospel and asked for peace in a ‘uneasy world’. He brought two messages together: peace and action to the vulnerable. By doing so he stressed a special “vulnerability” implied in God’s choice to be born into a poor family. Yes, to be a Catholic means we follow the inherent dignity of the human person right into our awareness, and due diligence, of the social gospel that makes us, well, what we truly are as a greater church!

As we return our gaze upon the humble manger scene, the next time you enter the parish, remember that you will be participating in a holy tradition begun by St. Francis of Assisi in 1223. According to St. Bonaventure’s biography, to commemorate the nativity of the Infant Jesus and to increase our devotion to Him, St. Francis obtained permission from Pope Honorious III to gather an ox, a donkey, some hay, and a manger, and to bring the people together for a re-enactment of the birth of Christ in a little cave in the hillside village of Greccio. While there, dressed in deacon’s vestments to remind the word of servanthood to others, he chanted the Gospel and preached of the nativity of the ‘poor King’; moved by the tenderness of God’s love, while holding the child-figure, he was unable to utter the name of Jesus. Through tears, St. Francis called him the ‘Babe of Bethlehem’. One can only imagine the overwhelming joy of Francis holding the Incarnate Word in his own hands!

The bare stone where St. Francis laid the very first figure of the Christ Child can be seen to this day below an altar and fresco marking the solemn occasion of that very first nativity play. The Bethlehem manger is a reminder that Our Lord was born into poverty, humility, and simplicity, and it is this radical example of God Himself that can assist us in overcoming the spirit of the world which distracts our gaze with materialism and greed. That bare stone should remind us all of those who sleep on cold streets, barren places, subway steam grates, in the cold and without comfort or aid. We must remember that those who first to receive the message of Christ’s birth were the shepherds, because they were among the last, the outcast. Yes, our eyes and hearts should be moved, as St Francis was, to see the family of Christ in all whom we meet.

During one year’s Urbi et Orbi (“to the City [of Rome] and to the World”) address, a papal address and apostolic blessing given to the entire world by the pontiff on certain solemn occasions, such as Christmas. Francis returned to the same idea. “Let us allow our hearts to be touched,” he said. “Let us allow ourselves to be warmed by the tenderness of God. We need his caress.”

How might we carry the same message – that deeper message of Christmas – now to those in need, and bring them the caress of a living God, like those first immigrants, the aliens, we now call, ‘The Holy Family’?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: December 18, 2017

 

When I was a young boy, I grew up in Erie, Pennsylvania. Winters were long and filled with an abundance of snow. If there was one thing Erie could claim, it was lots of snow in winter and the ability to clear roadways after it falls quickly and efficiently!

I remember after a newly fallen snow, how much I loved to go and play in it, especially “Lake-effect snow”, a weather phenomenon created when cold, dry air picks up moisture and heat by passing over a relatively warmer lake, such as Lake Erie. It brought huge amounts of the white stuff in a short amount of time! It was so beautiful and little treacherous, too.

I remember one year the snow was followed by a brief thaw and then a quick refreeze. It created a hard coating over the snow and when you walked on it, you would crunch through the surface by your weight alone. If you were lucky (in my opinion as small boy) you would also sometimes sink deeply into a patch of Lake-effect snow that would almost come over your head! It was such fun for a small boy in the middle of winter. My mom was afraid for me, as she feared I would get trapped or hurt, but all I saw was an abundance of outdoor fun. Now that I am a bit older and wiser, I know the truth: we were both right! Breaking through the surface of iced over anything is both dangerous and exhilarating! And that is how God comes.

God came to me these past few months slowly, but steadily. He didn’t come in a huge storm or some gigantic weather phenomenon. No, God came to me through another human being who showed me what unconditional love and acceptance can be, and what joy feels like again. God came to remind me that even in the depths of loss, depression, and feelings of unworthiness, that He is still God, and joy will return, and I will feel the warmth of the sun again. Yes, God came quietly and I feel His presence again.

I have learned that God doesn’t often come to us in a large wind, and God doesn’t come to us in an earthquake, and God doesn’t come to us in a fire. God comes to us in a still, small voice, just as he came to Elijah in the first book of Kings. Like a chrysalis, God breaks into our frozen lives to remind us of the depths of His love. All we have to do is listen.

So, admittedly, I do not always listen well. I am easily distracted in my life by all that needs to be done; all the items to check off of my to-do list, but came anyway.  St. Francis once said, “Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.” That is how God comes, in simple ways to remind us all of His never-ending, relentless love, especially when – while in the flesh – we fail to feel Him near.

For me, God came through the gift of another human being who reminded me of the love and hope that still dwells within me, even when I don’t quite feel it, or know it’s even there anymore. For me, God came through someone this week who, with her own hands, made me a beautiful Christmas gift that summed up in the best possible way to live into my new life this season of hope. The words emblazoned on the gift say it all, “I’ll be home for Christmas”, and because of her, I am.

How can you open up your mind and heart and listen for the still, small voice of God this Advent? How can you push against the doubt of our culture welcome God into your heart? Who has God used in your life to shine light within your darkest places to remind you that you are truly loved?