Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: October 2, 2017

 

I wake today to another mass shooting. This time, in Las Vegas and described as ‘the deadliest in US history’. The irony…this is the third time that phrase has been used to label such a shooting in this country, the deadliest in US history. The world is angrier, people are seemingly more depraved, and safety cannot be guaranteed, even at a fun outdoor country music concert.

So, yes, today I wake to find 200+ more of my fellow citizens hurt by gunfire, over 50 more dead, and the world rocked into a dull sense of sadness mixed with anger and loss. For me, it is hard to get past the deep sense of bewilderment as to why and how. I cannot yet find the anger. I cannot find the sadness. At least, not yet. 
 
Perhaps the saddest part of all of this for me is how commonplace these shootings around the world are becoming. Oh sure, we will all stop and pause to gain our footing today, we will stare at television screens, and listen to words from the President and others. We are grateful, in some sort of macabre way, the ‘shooter is down’ and will want to learn more about him and the purported reasons

why he did what he did, but in the end our day will go on, our life, too. Our world will remain largely unchanged, but no, not for them, not for the dead, the injured, the harmed. Today changed them forever.

Yesterday, we gathered at Saint Miriam for an interfaith program entitled, ‘Love Thy Neighbor’. We spoke of forgiveness and hospitability and the common threads that bind us. We were Jew, Catholic, Lutheran, and Islamic; we were parishioners, visitors, and friends. The gathered were Black, White, Asian, rich, struggling, young, and older, and we all sat together and listened and prayed and loved. We were what we are intended to be by God. Not today, not this. 
 
In his letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul called Christians to not use the “weapons of this world” to resolve conflict. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Put your sword away. Everyone who uses a sword will die by a sword”. The call of our Christ is to be peacemakers, not killer-makers or war-makers. We are called to “transform deadly weapons into farming equipment, and swords into kitchen utensils. The Prophet Isaiah says the goal best, “Nations shall not attack other nations with military force, and all the countries of this world must cease from training their citizens to become killers”. The common message of all true religion is to bring peace to the world. It should be our common goal, too. 
 
If you have not, it is time. It is time to find and join a peace-promoting, inclusive parish or congregation. It is time to stand up against divisiveness and hate mongering. It is time to stop calling out others for their differences and bind ourselves together as humans. It is time to bring your children to church every week so they learn to love and the value of God and good people around them. It is time. Now. Today.
 
Let’s get moving. Let us stop thinking it someone else’s responsibility. St. Francis once said, “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.” 
 
Peace is possible. Today, pause and pray for the dead and the injured, and then get to work.
 
How will you use what happened today to change your life, the lives of those around you,  your children, and the world? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 25, 2017

 
I have felt dirty lately. I am not clean in spirit, practice, or purpose. I thought that by now, both as a priest and friar, that some magic would’ve happened and I would be made clean and the ‘words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart’ would finally become godlier. Instead, I wake every morning, and go to bed every night, thinking about the sinful ways I ‘missed the mark’ yet again. I toss and turn over my errors and my sins. “Why can’t I be better, Lord?” I cry out. “Why cannot I find my way to holiness?”
 
I suppose that being ‘a good person’, or even the idea of trying to be good or kind, especially in our modern world, conjures up all sorts of negative associations such as overt piety, solemnity, living apart as a hermit, or sexual renunciation of natural inclinations. And yet, it may just be that “the project” – the continual work of becoming better – learning from mistakes, forging ahead after a moral trip or fall –  of learning how to be good as an opposite to the ‘badness’ that we often are or do, is just as vital, or even more vital, in the eternal effort of becoming healthy. Yet, while we have no problem with going to the gym to get fitter, it sounds deeply weird, even creepy, to suggest that one might ‘work out’ at being better, or nicer, or morally conscious. 
 
Today, for the first time in almost a month, I will return to the CrossFit box and try to regain strength lost, stamina once held, and technique once forged. I will work at it slowly and gain my ability to compete again. It will not happen all at once. It doesn’t happen that way, and perhaps God never meant it to. We are called to work at it, before we become it. 
 
You see, goodness must be worked at. Life is more and more an ‘ethical gym’ where we are regularly put through our paces to gain strength and holiness. There is no scientific answer on how to do it. Aristotle once thought that being good meant practicing twelve key virtues, Christianity argued for seven! We all want better lives, but too few of us have shown much interest in becoming better people. So, rather than dwell on the negative aspects of ourselves, or the sins we committed;  the moral failures we lose sleep over, why not instead do a few bench presses for God this week and become just slightly better than the week past? 
 
So, for those who are like me and feel you are always a failure. For those who focus on their moral failings, rather than the ways they have helped build the Kingdom of God in small ways. For those like me who find it terribly difficult to let go of self-inflected wounds, but allow other off the hook so easily, we have hope. We know that however powerful the evil may seem in our lives, however triumphant it may appear in the greater world, it does not – and will not – have the final word. 
We sing, even from the depths of our grave we sing alleluia! We sing with great joy even in the darkness of our lives, in our sinfulness and brokenness, too, because we know the end of the story, even if we have not yet skipped to the back page! We have hope because Jesus came to free us from sin, and he will come again to defeat evil once and for all. Jesus came to lead us out of the darkness, not to condemn us, as His created ones.
 
No, it will not happen all at once for most of us, but it will come. No, we will not always act cleanly or be moral, but that day will happen. And until it does, we dust ourselves off and become a little less dirty every day and God smiles and allows us to ‘move and have our being.’ 
 
How will you let go of something you’ve done, recognizing that we all fail? This week, let yourself off the hook for one thing and allow someone else the same blessing.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 18, 2017

 

I have always loved the passage from Luke’s Gospel that we identify as the story of “The walk to Emmaus”. For me, and so many others, this pericope is jam-packed with lessons to help us better live our lives as Catholic Christians. Through these words, if we listen carefully, we learn about humility, spiritual awareness, and hope.

In this story, the author tells of two men whom are disciples of Jesus, as they walk from Jerusalem to the home of at least one of them in the town of Emmaus. During their walk together, which takes place toward the end of the Sunday that Jesus was resurrected, they were feeling lost, alone, sad, and hopeless. After all, the person, who they thought would be their Messiah, the man they thought would liberate them from the oppressive occupation of the Romans, the king they believed would reunite the Kingdom of Israel, ended up suffering humiliation, torture, and death. Their lives were a failure. Their beliefs were shattered.

Then, in an instant, the risen Christ joins them in their walk, but they fail to recognize Jesus. The text goes on to explain how much of the scriptures foretold what happened to Jesus, and how His death was necessary. They later recount how when Jesus explained the Scriptures their hearts

‘felt as if on fire.’

Once safely back in Emmaus, they invited Jesus to dinner. Though not the host, Jesus still broke the bread and blessed it. This single act helped them recognize Jesus then, Jesus simply vanished in front of their eyes. They ran back to Jerusalem to tell the other apostles what they had witnessed and that they met the resurrected Jesus!
 
Wow, huh? The story reminded me how one single action, or inaction, can change the entire life of another. How one thing, one simple thing, could ensure that someone lives or dies; gives into their depression and oppressive circumstances, or thrives to grow again in the rich soil of hope, light, and love. Yes, Jesus did one thing that allowed others to recognize Him, even in their misery and doubt-filled lives, and in that simple act, life came again. 
 
Last week, after a harrowing week filled with timelines that needed to be met, and infighting with our contactor, I was ready to give up. Then, the contractor, and his crew at his direction, we assume, decided to write vicious lies about me on social media. I was a terrible priest, scamming my parish, living off their stupidity, and how I never paid them for their work, despite their walking away with over $220,000, and of course, how I cursed out delivery drivers and made their lives miserable. 
 
Now, I knew that none of this was true, in fact, I bought the entire crew lunch at my expense many times during their time with us. I never yelled at them, but did get upset and emotional on many occasions. Who wouldn’t? I tried to work them throughout, despite their flooding three levels of our parish building not once, but three times. I believed they would make us whole in the end. They failed to do so completely as promised, and to make matters worse, they now turned their sights on me in a very public manner. 
 
I was sad, bewildered, and ready to give up. I was terribly hurt. Then, a package arrived with a small wooden piece of reclaimed barn wood, engraved with the words, “Walk Humbly”, and a lovely letter from a parishioner who regaled me with how I restored her hope, gave her new life in a church she never thought she would return to, and how, despite her being a very new member, I had already spent hours with her and her husband to help with a family issue. She said I was the epitome of a good priest. She sent a simple message, it arrived – like Jesus on my own road to Emmaus – when I needed it most. She brought God to me when I needed God the most and was ready to give up in my own brokenness. 
 
St. Francis once said, “A single sunbeam is enough to drive away many shadows.”
 
How might you do one simple thing today, that might just save a life and cast away the darkness for someone?
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 11, 2017

 
Everybody wants to be “Number One”! Our culture doesn’t much like being anything less. We don’t honor middle or last place, we despise backseat drivers, we abhor anything that isn’t deemed ‘a winner’! Yes, we all want to be  Numero Uno! 
 
On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, upon learning that the World Trade Center had been hit by the first of two jetliners, Father Mychal Judge, a brother Franciscan Friar and a Chaplain with the NYFD, without any hesitation, rushed to the site. Father Mychal administered the Sacrament of the Sick, “The Last Rites”, to the bodies of those victims who fell to their deaths from the tower above him. He then proceeded inside of South Tower where he continued offering aid and prayers for the rescuers, the injured, and the dead. At 9:58am, when that tower collapsed, it unleashed a barrage of debris that killed many inside, including Mychal. He was struck in the head while heard praying aloud by a firefighter, “Jesus, please end this right now; God, please end this now.” Father Mychal’s body was found by a NYPD Lieutenant and he, two firefighters, and an EMT, with the aid of two civilian bystanders, carried his body out of the Tower. That iconic photograph was captured and printed in almost every daily newspaper in the nation.  His body was laid before the altar at St Peter’s before being taken to the Medical Examiner’s Office that day. It is still considered the American Pieta. Mychal Judge was designated as “Victim 0001”, and thereby recognized as the first official victim of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Friar Mychal was Number One.
 
Today is the sixteenth anniversary of 9/11. Sean and I were actually living in Washington, DC: I was in seminary and in formation to become a priest and a Friar. I still recall, as if it were only yesterday, how the Today Show was preempted as reporters tried to make sense out of that day. In the end, some 2,996 innocent persons and 19 terrorists – in New York City, Washington, DC, and Shanksville, PA – lost their lives that day and some 6,000 more were wounded.
 
It began at 8:46 in the morning when Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center building. 102 minutes later, the North Tower collapsed. At 9:02 a.m., Flight 175 struck the South Tower. 56 minutes later, it, too, collapsed; the total length of time that these two massive towers took to fall was less than 12 seconds. By 10:03 am that same day, two more planes, at the hands of those terrorists crashed and took many more lives. In the end, some 3,051 children lost parents, 115 nations lost their nationals, and over 1,117 families, to this very day, have yet to receive any remains of their loved ones to bury and our nation was changed forever; the world was changed. 
 
I am not sure if I understand this event now any better than I did that very morning when it occurred; that beautiful, crisp Tuesday in September. I still remember how beautiful a day it was; how those white clouds seemed to loft in the sky above DC forever; how the temperature was so perfect, no humidity, just the most perfect day. I still remember how scared I was, and how Sean and I, and our families, could not get ahold of each other for almost a full day. I still can feel that fear. I remember how quickly the streets of our Nation’s Capital became militarized as Humvees and soldiers set out to protect our national interests and those in leadership. I remember how I stood with my fellow chaplains in a Level 1 Trauma Center for a ‘Mass Casualty Alert’ to receive the victims from the Pentagon, but few came; you see, most were already dead. Planes were diverted, The President was taken to a secret location, and Congressional leaders were entombed underground bunkers: our nation was attacked. I do not understand how several men could believe that killing people whom they don’t even know, people who certainly didn’t hate them, people who were simply going about their normal lives – thinking about their families, attending to the tasks of daily living and work, running into work a little early, or perhaps a little late, grabbing that quick cup of coffee before the day fully began – I do not know how they could kill these ‘others’
in the name of God. Perhaps that is why I follow St. Francis today and why I work so hard to be ‘poor’ in this life so others can taste the true God, too, at Saint Miriam? 
 
Father Mychal was said to be gregarious, mischievous, a luminous presence; he thrived on movement and kept a preposterous daily schedule, as if he’d found a wormhole beneath his friary on West 31st Street where he lived that allowed him to be in six places at once. On any given evening, he might be baptizing a fireman’s child, ministering to an AIDS patient, or sitting back listening to Black 47, a Celtic rock band that had a regular gig at his favorite spot, Connolly’s Pub on West 47th Street. Joe Hartnett, an electrician and father of five from New Jersey who knew Father Mychal recalled at his Funeral Mass simply that, “He was everybody’s priest.”
 
Father Mychal was buried in the friars’ plot at Holy Sepulcher Cemetery in New Jersey on October 11, 2001. There have been calls within the Church to make him a saint and his fire helmet was even presented to Pope John Paul II. And since his death, he has been awarded numerous accolades and merits, but if he were here today, he would want not of it; he was a friar first. 
 
Father Mychal Judge was not what one might call a conventional Catholic Priest. He was, arguably, a typical Franciscan though! – He was earthy, streetwise, thoroughly engaged with the characters and chaos of the city. If times required it, Judge would hold Mass in the most unlikely places, including firehouses and even Pennsylvania Station. This drove certain literalists in the clergy – including his bishop – absolutely crazy, but no matter — Mychal pressed on; he was a priest. He was a friar.

He was called to serve…first.

So, in the end, Father Judge became Number One. He was the first and most famous victim of the World Trade Center attack, but the death of Father Mychal, was not as extraordinary as his colorful and freethinking life. And this was precisely because of who Father Michael was: a devout, Franciscan, openly gay, recovering-alcoholic, fabled New York figure, Catholic priest who had a knack for telling great stories and who would burst into old Irish standards at the drop of a hat at the local pub. He was fully human. He was like many of us, and still served us – and his loving Father in Heaven – so well.  
 
Over the passing of years, I often romanize the bad things that have come to my life. I ‘soften’ them and allow myself to learn lessons, but let go of much of the pain. Not this event. Not this one. Not ever. “In this hell I found grace”said his friend, Fr. James Martin. Let us now continue to teach each other, and especially the  little ones, how to do the same so another attack like this never happens.
 
Rest well, my brother, rest well all those who died that day, and all the days since at the hands of such evil. For the Light is upon us and we are His hands and feet. 
 
There is much work for us to do until one day, we become Number One, too.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: September 4, 2017

 

I labor. In fact, as a priest and Friar, I labor a lot! Sometimes, I think my work is in vain, then someone comes along and reminds me in subtle ways that God is watching my labor; loves me for my labor. So, I labor.

I labor on the weekdays, when others labor, too. I labor on the weekends and most holidays, when most others do not. I even labored yesterday on my birthday. When God calls you to labor in the vineyard, it is on God’s schedule, on God’s terms, and the work is done when God says it is so. So, I labor.

Many people have come to feel that work is a result of the brokenness of things, or the need for humans to fix things and make more money. Life, sadly for most, is always about what we amass, rather than who we are. In fact, many think that if the world functioned the way it was supposed to, life would be like one long vacation. But, I have found that I gain strength in my labor.
 
My Catholic Christianity teaches me a very different vision of work; one in which my work – and your work – has a central role to play in the world from it’s very foundation. Even before the world became broken, humanity was called by God to make something of the world on God’s behalf, in no small part through the labor of our hands. Work may have become harder after the fall of mankind, and more intense by ‘the sweat of our brow,’ but the work, in and of itself, is still very good. Our work in the world – our labor together side by side – was designed to be, and continues to be, how God does God’s work in the world. So, we are to labor.
 
Today is Labor Day, it has been ever since 1882, designed to honor the workforce of this great nation. As we ‘button up’ the construction zone that has made its home within our home for several months, I decided to honor this day by honoring those who labored on our behalf with my earnest prayers.
 
So, to all who made our next dream possible, I honor you this day, and give thanks to God for you! I honor, and pray for, the architects, the engineers, the surveyors, the roofers, the construction workers, the builders, the masons, the carpenters, the carpet installers, the plumbers, the floor sanders, the electricians, the fence builders, the landscapers, the painters, the drywallers, the window installers, the framers, the HVAC technicians, the tile installers, the artisans of stucco and granite, and those who came to our aid the midst of the flood; I honor all who volunteered to labor for God, and for God’s holy Church. Today, I honor you because through the work of your hands, we have again built something so wonderful, and all that labor, and all that we built, honors God and furthers God’s kingdom little more, until He comes again to welcome us home. Then, and only then, shall we finally rest from our labor. A labor that is, and always has been, very good.
 
As you go about your chores today – as you labor, or as you rest from your labor – take a moment to remember in your heart a little phrase that allows me to labor, even when most tired and ready to quit. It has become a means for me to acknowledge that no matter what we do, be it washing clothes, changing diapers, planning meals, celebrating Mass, offering comfort, or building homes, that we all labor for God, and in doing so, we really are doing the work of God… 
 
“Today I labor, and give thanks, ‘thanks be to God’, a God who loves me so…”
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 28, 2017

 

Catastrophic and life-threatening flooding. At least 5 people are reported dead. 13 million people affected. 11 million gallons of rain. 800 and 1,200 people had been rescued. 316,000 customers had lost electricity across the state. 56,000 911 calls overwhelmed the emergency response system, as 3,000 National Guard and Texas State Guard members helping affected areas, along with 500 vehicles and 14 aircraft. 25 more inches of rain (that’ over 2 feet) could fall through Friday over the upper Texas coast, while storm totals may reach 50 inches over the upper Texas coast. Hurricane Harvey, labeled a “one-in-1,000-years-type of event”, struck the coastline of Texas at a Category 4 late Friday, with 130 m.p.h. winds and rain battering coastal and inland communities. This event will last a few more days, but the recovery will take months, if not years.

It is hard to imagine what the people of Texas are going through during this storm. Some being airlifted from the roof of their houses, or being taken by flat-bottomed rescue boats through the thresholds of their homes where water has almost reached the doorposts; doorposts they have walked through almost without thought, many for literally decades. These thresholds have allowed folks to come home, be together, enjoy one another’s company, celebrate major life events like anniversaries, and birthdays, and births. These thresholds have welcomed visitors and salespeople and family members. They have bid sojourners and college-bound students well. They have allowed the grieving to find solace, and the lost to find safety and surety of inclusion. Now, they are all but under water. Gone.

I cannot help but feel for these people with empathy, not just sympathy. I do not have to imagine how they feel, I have lived through it. I know how they feel today. No, perhaps not to the degree they are, but to a degree enough to allow me the understanding of their pain, as they watch helplessly as their lives are washed away. I stood in the Undercroft of our own parish and watched as rain fell from the ceiling with such force as to make you believe you were literally standing outside under a storm cloud! I wept on the front steps of the parish as water came behind me from inside to outside. I cried alongside of so many as we used wet-vacs in an attempt to mitigate the damage being done before our very eyes. I witnessed the destruction that untamed water can bring. Now, I have lived in a construction zone – a re-building zone – for almost four months. Yes, I know how these people feel, and how they will feel, soon. Their lives, as they knew it are gone. 
 
I also know something else: God is good, too. I know that many in Texas will not see this right away. I didn’t. I wanted to give up. To die. To simply crawl away. I didn’t. I stayed and I prayed and I believed. Then, it happened: We  witnessed a miracle!
 
Our parish flood happened over three days with as many ‘mini floods’. The first occurred on a Wednesday afternoon with that first unprecedented microburst storm that brought with it literally inches of rain in a mere minute’s time. It flooded the construction level and the parish main hallways almost immediately. We recovered from that and began to rebuild and dry out. Then, another storm hit that very Saturday morning! This time all three levels were flooded. We barely got the water up and out to the parking lot when the literal dam broke! The tarp, that had been placed over the construction to prevent flooding, broke due to the weight of the water and all three levels were literally flooded in an instant with thousands of gallons of water, again! We all just stood there and watched helpless, as water flooded every square inch of three levels. Then, we all saw it!
 
We walked to the Sanctuary doors and looked in expecting the worst. Our newly renovated Sanctuary surely must be underwater, too. But, no! Not a drop! Even through the Sanctuary doors are a full inch above the carpeting from the main hallway that was flooded, no water entered the Sanctuary itself! It was as if God said, as He did in The Book of Job, “And I placed boundaries on it and set a bolt and doors, And I said, ‘Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop’?” And they did! The water stopped short of God’s house – God’s Sanctuary was spared real damage and we rebuilt. In a matter of days, we will be whole again and bless a new rectory and renovated space; free of damage and made better than before! God is indeed good. 
 
To the people of Texas, and all areas effected by flooding and destruction, and to all who feel under water, like I often do. I leave you today with the words – and the promise – of our God found in Genesis,I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. It shall be, when I bring a cloud over the earth, that the rainbow shall be seen in the cloud; and I will remember My covenant which is between Me and you and every living creature of all flesh; the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” 
 
There is hope. Hang on. You shall be made better than new!
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 21, 2017

 

Today the world awaits in great joy! No, it is not a Christmas. Today is the solar eclipse of the sun!

There is no way any of us can stop today’s eclipse from happening. It is a celestial occurrence, and we have no control over it. The only way to stop it would be to extinguish the sun itself, or knock the moon out of orbit! That though should make us all feel very small, and simultaneously, very grateful! God is in control and today we will see God in action!

This total eclipse this afternoon will be a mere 70-miles wide swath that hugs our nation like a belt, wherein God will permit a kind of celestial dance to occur! Today, at least for a few moments, the moon will move perfectly in between the Earth and the sun and they will seem – from the ground – to be the same perfect size! If you choose to miss it, one will need to wish for longevity, for another eclipse like this year’s will not happen again until August 12, 2045!

Yes, finally, amid a world bent on war and hatred, from city streets and rooftops alike, from mountaintops to open fields, whether in the middle of a vast wilderness, or atop one’s own rooftop, people will come together – stand together as one – and marvel at what God can do! They will stand in unity on rooftops, city sidewalks, beaches, and seaboards! They will join their voices, and even hold hands, as the moon’s shadow falls across the sun! Small towns and large cities in the path of this eclipse will multiply by the thousands! A narrow path will show the world that unity is possible by the millions!
 
In the year 1224, St. Francis wrote, The Canticle of the Sun, also known as Laudes Creaturarum (Praise of the Creatures) and is believed to be among the first works of literature. The Canticle is in praise of a God for such creations as “Brother Fire” and “Sister Water”. It is also an affirmation of St. Francis’ personal theology, as he often referred to animals as brothers and sisters, and rejected material comforts to focus on prayer and God. St. Francis, with unparalleled clarity, perceived the basic unity of all creation and his own place as a friar in the midst of God’s creatures. Yes, it is often only in the silence of our own contemplation where true peace can be found and the world can be changed, because God dwells there so firmly.
 
Today, suddenly the great source of energy will be momentarily covered up— the sun appears to disappear and we feel small and all entitlement will vanish! This phenomena once generated fear, confusion, and disorientation to our ancestors, as ancient eclipses were associated with dark mysticism or ominous prophecies such as kings dying, whole cities burning, and the gods just generally punishing humanity for its failings and poor morality. Today, we know the ‘science’ behind what will occur, but the feelings remain much the same: We are small, God is large, the power of God is always enormous!
 
Many who have witnessed a total solar eclipse in our history described it as an unforgettable, even spiritual experience. Some, unable to find words, say it is in and of itself, indescribable. So, perhaps, Mabel Loomis Todd (1856-1932) wrote the best description of a total eclipse ever read! She penned,
 

“I doubt if the effect of witnessing a total eclipse ever quite passes away. The impression is singularly vivid and quieting for days, and can never be wholly lost. A startling nearness to the gigantic forces of nature and their inconceivable operation seems to have been established. Personalities and towns and cities, and hates and jealousies, and even mundane hopes, grow very small and very far away.”

I pray it be so this day, and that the feeling of coming together and commonality lasts far longer than a mere 2 minutes…

Remember, ‘sol lucet omnibus’, the sun shines on everyone!

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 14, 2017

CHARLOTTESVILLE, USA – AUGUST 11: Neo Nazis, Alt-Right, and White Supremacists encircle and chant at counter protestors at the base of a statue of Thomas Jefferson after marching through the University of Virginia campus with torches in Charlottesville, Va., USA on August 11, 2017. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

 

I saw hate this weekend. I saw it, and it looked remarkably like me. Perhaps, if truthful, it looked like many of us. That is why I am going to do something I normally never do in my reflections. I am adding an image. The image of hate. The image of you and me.
 
I am not going to even try to say that there are sides to this issue. There is no way to reconcile, to build bridges, or to rationalize hate. You cannot ‘meet hate in the middle’, or ‘soften hate’. Hate is hate. Plain and simple. Even as a priest, a pastor, and one called to a peaceful way of existence as a Franciscan, there is no way to love systematic segregation, white supremacy, terror, exclusion, suppression, and bigotry. We cannot, and we must not, try to meet hate it in the middle or compromise our fundamental stance on our care for the poor, the ostracized, the different, and the marginalized. To do so, at least for me, would be to comprise on the very Gospel itself. I would rather not live. Sometimes an ideology is so violent, so sickening that one must not try to even understand it. As a Friar, I will always love my enemies, I will endeavor to pray for them, even those that hate, but I will not befriend them. 
 

So, what do we do besides sit in a dark room, weep, or rail against the hated? How do we help those who are the victims of such hate? As Christians, we are called to love and to continue to build the kingdom, even when surrounded by hate on all sides. St. Francis said, “Where there is hate, let me sow love.” He never said it would be easy, and I would surmise that even he would find Saturday an almost impossible venue to sow anything but sadness and disappointment in humanity. But then there was Heather.

Heather Heyer tried to sow love and help; she was killed for her trouble in Charlottesville, but what Heather did was to give up her life for others. She was a passionate advocate for the disenfranchised who was said by her friends to often be moved to tears by the world’s injustices. She may not have known that car – driven by hate – would end her life, but she took a risk to save others, fight for injustice, and she gave up her life for another. That is martyrdom. That is the greatest gift known to anyone, even those who hate so deeply.

This past Sunday, my parish was filled with the most number of African Americans we have ever had at the parish at one gathering; at one Mass. We baptized Micah Milligan. Black and white, Protestants and Catholics, parishioners and visitors alike, everyone together in our pews, side-by-side, all stripes, all colors, all faiths. What did it look like? It looked like a church!

The kingdom of God is many things, but it cannot be filled with hatred and bigotry. It must not be allowed to include racism, sexism, or any form of homophobia, or xenophobia. It cannot endorse or even allow to flourish any form of systemic hatred, bigotry, exclusion, suppression, violence, or terror. against another. The church cannot hate. It cannot allow hate. It must always be love.

So, in the end, perhaps the only bridges we can build, in good conscience as Catholic Christians, is one that helps our fellow humanity to be free from the destruction and evil all around them. The only true bridge for us to consider is one that brings our oppressed safely out of harm’s way.

I will end on a very personal note. Today is my dad’s birthday. I miss him more today than I can tell you in words. The pain of my loss is only tempered by the fact that my dad loved me, loved others, and taught me how to love everyone. His legacy today, in the face of such ominous hate, is one of love.

So, maybe, that is a good place to end, as I remind you what those who hate have taught us this weekend. They have taught us once again that love is always more powerful than hate, light shall prevail against the darkness, and that while the pain of loss and destruction may linger, the grace of God – a God who is always love, as we were reminded at the baptism yesterday – freely opens the door to our heart and our vibrant and inherent ability to love.

How will you sow hope and love this week? How will you seek to root out hate in your world?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: August 7, 2017

 

We are so busy! Busy with family, friends, going out, meeting new acquaintances for a drink at the local pub, making money, caring for children, aging parents, or those grandchildren, too! Yes, we are so busy in our twenty-first century modern, instant-communication world taking care of all the issues and people right in front of us that we often fail to enrich our relationship with God.

St. Francis in his own very busy world of teaching, working, writing, and re-building the Church of God, found the only way for him to be truly sustained and to balance the rest of the world’s activities and demands, was to be in a regular pattern of prayer. For St. Francis, this was his essential sustenance; for many of us in our modern day, it is almost an inconvenience to even think about doing on a regular basis.

The psalmist once wrote, “By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.” (Psalm 42:8) The psalmist knew what we must learn: prayer is our gateway to a God who adores us. A God who calls us each by name. A God who knew our name before we were born. A God who loves us so much that He writes our name on the palm of His hand, and gave us the gift of eternal life by sacrificing that which was most precious to Him, God’s own child, Jesus.
 
In liturgy, we learn that some of the most powerful moments are found in what I call, ‘the gift of the pause’; when actions and words cease, and the Holy Spirit can flourish and come and direct our thoughts and be fully present to us. In a similar way, our intentional actions, our intended pauses for prayer, our words or moments of divine silence, invite us into a deeper dialogue with God, who so desires to be in communication with us. God calls us to be in an ever-deepening relationship with Him because He loves us so much. 
 
At Saint Miriam, we know that building a relationship with God takes time, commitment, and a regular rhythm. So, we offer many opportunities to deepen our relationship with our Creator. Through Small Groups that enhance our spirituality and prayer life, to Adoration and Benediction, our devotion to our Blessed Mother through the rosary, to the Mass itself. We know the vitality and importance of putting God on our daily or weekly calendar, just like we do for any other friend. Yes, God comes. Our part is to remember to simply make time to invite the God who gave us life itself.
 
How will you make time this week for God in your life? Would your best friend, occasional workmate, or watchful neighbor be able to discern that you are a Christian and love God by your actions or words this week? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 31, 2017

 
When St. Francis was in his early twenties, he rode off to battle against the nearby state of Perugia. There, Francis was captured and held in a prison for over a year. After his release, he returned home, but was very ill and spent the next year virtually bedridden. Francis finally recovered from his illness, and spent time simply wandering around the area, praying in abandoned chapels, walking in the woods of Mount Subasio, spending time in caves listening first to the silence, and then finally to the very voice of God.
 
I know that the presence of God during times of illness may seem foreign to some, but to those of us who have encountered illness and God in a very real, but different way at these times, we are changed. Our priorities are changed and our desires, too. Perhaps it is a sense that this is all so very fleeting, or at least impermanent. Yes, there’s something about a serious illness that forces us to confront our mortality and then to question our priorities. Many of us reprioritize without even knowing it and then enter a life of service and giving; we try to make a difference here, knowing something better to come there.
 
Recently, Senator John McCain voted a very prominent and highly publicized ‘thumbs down’ to his colleague’s efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. John Fund, of the National Review, wrote recently that, “…this is a perfect example of letting the perfect be the enemy of the better”and condemned McCain for his vote.
 
I do not see this issue as clearly as Fund. I see a man, a very human man, who in 1968 sat more than 8,000 miles away, in a tiny, squalid North Vietnamese prison cell. The Navy pilot’s body was broken from a plane crash, then starvation, botched operations, and months of torture followed. He returned to serve this nation, and to fight his own skin cancer, and now glioblastoma. Now, to be clear, I and Senator McCain differ on many issues politically, but this is not a political fight to me. In fact, my insights today are anything but political. Rather, I see a man on the verge of change because his worldview is about to shift yet again.
 
St. Francis is not the first saint to have encountered God during an illness. Like many of us when we are young, St. Francis had longed to be a knight, or a soldier, and to do great deeds on the field of battle. When he lost that opportunity, he had a choice between spending the rest of his life depressed at his ill fortune, or listening to the plans God had for him and making a difference with what time he was allotted here, before his eternal reward there.
 
An old story is told of the man who returned home to find his house ablaze. His terrified wife was standing outside pointing up to a window where the son was crying. His father shouted up to him, “Jump, son! Jump!” The boy cried, “But Daddy, I can’t see you.” “I know,” his father answered. “I know, but I can see you!” 
 
As Christians, we know that we do not go through our trials and tribulations alone. God sees us. God knows our name. John McCain jumped. I once jumped, too. 
 
How about you?