Franciscan Moments

Our Weekly Devotional from

Saint Miriam!

Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 24, 2017

 

i sit

at my window

I seek, hard

what I found

me and god

nothing else, just us

and finally, that is enough

it only took a week

            away

but now, i return

please, lord,

stay.

 

I write this opening poem, that I have entitled,“i sit”, and my reflection for this week from my last morning as a man on vacation. I peer out the window of my RV and watch as a group of birds float by on the surface of the water like it was all they were meant to do; perhaps it is.

We, as a society, take down time for granted and often push it aside for ‘busier things to do’. The stuff of being productive and making money often outweighs the pleasurable substance of life and is often rewarded by praise. I am as guilty of this as I am anything else that is broken in our humanity. But, this trip – this time away – was about intentionally trying to let go and let God come and not worry so much about what I needed to do. It was as much about me as that which I never let time for in my day, like a break, the gift of silence, pondering, recharging, and a bit of relaxation. It was not easy, but God came, summer settled on my soul, and rejuvenation, too. I am a bit more whole today than a mere seven days ago…
 
I noted how so many of my team at my parish tried their best to protect me from all that I normally handle as a pastor. I was struck by their intentionality in caring for me by proxy and allowing me this annual break. No, I was not free from it all, and at times the world, as it is, still managed to break through in a needed text message, telephone call, or email, but by and large, I was away and on a break from it all.
 

Perhaps the hardest part of being away was wrestling with my own brokenness. I did a lot of reflecting on my own imperfections. I weeded out the parts of me that I dislike the most and examined them and prayed during this time. I asked the Father in Heaven to make me a better pastor, priest, man upon my return. In the middle of this time, a fellow priest, was said to be undermining me, calling attention to my every fault and speaking ill of me. Now, I have never hidden my sinfulness, nor ever once claimed not to be broken, but this was particularly hurtful. I was deeply saddened, but then the voice of God struck my heart in reflection of Matthew’s text appointed for this past Sunday when Jesus proposed another parable to the crowds, saying:

“The kingdom of heaven may be likened
to a man who sowed good seed in his field. 
While everyone was asleep his enemy came
and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. 
When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. 
The slaves of the householder came to him and said,
‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? 
Where have the weeds come from?’
He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’
His slaves said to him,
‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’
He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds
you might uproot the wheat along with them. 
Let them grow together until harvest;
then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters,
“First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”

And there it was! Yes, I may be as bad as my fellow priest says and certainly unworthy of the office I hold, too. I may even be a weed, but I have the chance to be redeemed. I am, as they say, ‘a work in progress’.  Therefore, the better course for this priest, and all of us who follow Christ, is to be careful not to become a weed ourselves and damage the harvest of God, for that would be a greater sin. Even St. Francis wrestled with his own demons and felt so broken, but served so well. His life was once one not to be very proud of, but in it, and though it, God came. He still does.
 
The other two men who were crucified with Christ that day so long ago were Dismas (sometimes, Dysmas) and Gestas. Now Dismas was the robber who was crucified on Jesus right side, and Gestas on his left. The names do not come from the New Testament, but rather from pseudepigraphical materials not included in the closed canon. As a result, whether these were the actual names of the two men crucified at the time of Jesus is unknown. The greater point is this: Dismas was the name associated with the ‘good’ thief who asked Jesus to remember him in paradise, while Gestas was the one who taunted Jesus along with the crowd. Dismas was canonized as a saint and his feast is celebrated every March 25th.
 
I will end with another quote from my beloved Francis, “I am the herald of the Great King!”  
 
So is Dismas. So am I, and so are we all imperfect as we are, we carry on the cross, redemption assured, our weeds and all.
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 17, 2017

 

So, I am away. I am at the shore and watching the waves. The sun is hiding a bit behind the clouds today, but the weather is warm and the wind mild; a beautiful day to be alone on a beach. I am grateful.

I am grateful, not for just that which I have, but also that which I lost or was never given despite my pleadings. I realized that we say that a lot as human beings, “I am grateful.” but I wonder if we actually mean it, deep down, where gratefulness originates in the soul given us by a God who is always love, always giving, always loving? I wonder if we see that we should be grateful for things never realized, too? I wondered, as I gazed at the massiveness of the ocean this morning, if I give enough thanks for all the wonderful things in this life that come to me daily at no cost, save paying attention? I mean, normally when I turn to God, it is because I am broken, or in need, or in want, but today, I am just being grateful.

Surely gratitude has more depth than the surface words we use — the ‘please’ and ‘thank yous’ that seem so incidental, our polite acknowledgement, even if unconsciously processed, of our interdependence on each other. This reminds me of the story about Jesus that describes the time he healed ten lepers in Luke’s Gospel. He tells them to go and bathe in the river. Ten of them go and are healed, but only one of them returns and thanks him for being healed. Why did nine of the lepers healed not bother to return and thank Jesus for the miracle of their healing? Were they not grateful? Did they not recognize the healing that had just come so freely to them?

I have been grateful for a lot in my life, but I have more often felt gratitude when enmeshed in the most difficult of circumstances; for those hard lessons that I needed to experience to make me a better person. They needn’t all be on a beach or in the sun; but they all did need to be with the Son. Of course, we suffer, as human beings. And there is no reason to be grateful for evil or when in pain, and we may not see it as a gift, but we should note that eventually it transforms us. It gives us new empathy, and the sunsets and the sunrises take on a new essence of beauty, and our gratefulness a new depth of gratitude.

Life is a good gift.  We need to pause and remember that, even if it is only while sitting on a beach and seeing God anew. St. Francis once said that “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.”

I am grateful today for all the things I don’t have, all the things I was denied, all the ways I hurt, all the anger, the betrayals, the brokenness, the sicknesses, the losses, the stupidity in my judgements, the pains, the misunderstandings that allow me to see the beauty of God and what truly matters today.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 10, 2017

 

Yesterday, I arrived early before the 7:30am Early Mass, as I always do, to gain some quiet time with God, set up last minute items, and to just ease into my very busy Sunday. I spent a few minutes with Father John, as we discussed how to navigate our day. He is becoming more and more a brother, far more quickly than I had anticipated. He is fitting in well at Saint Miriam. It is a blessing.

After our chat, I walked back into the corridor, directly outside our beautiful sanctuary, and noted how I have begun to ‘get used to’ the chaos and the brokenness around me. The missing ceiling, the hanging light fixtures, the one-third cut sheetrock, the support walls, and all the other things that go with being in a construction site. It bothered me for a few moments and so I stopped and sat in the long pew in that hallway and talked with God. Then, with no answer, I was about to get up when the Holy Spirit said deep within me, “It’s is not all chaos.” I sat back down and instantaneously saw how striking the light reflected off the floors. How the color of the previously removed floor, coupled with the old glue and light made an almost golden glow! It dawned me almost immediately, there is beauty in brokenness. That was God’s message to me. I sat and pondered and left more joyful; more whole.

I have recently finished reading Bryan Stevenson’s, Just Mercy. Stevenson, a lawyer, defending the poor and the wrongly accused, tells of the young men who become trapped in the dark corners of our current criminal justice system. Near the end of the book, he is feeling quite overwhelmed by the vastness of the problem. His pondering struck me in a renewed way yesterday, sitting on that pew, in my broken parish. He writes: 
 
“I suddenly didn’t want to be surrounded by all this anguish and misery…I realized my life was full of brokenness, broken people, broken systems, people broken by war and poverty, sickness and disability…and they were judged by people broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice. I realized that after 25 years, I don’t do what I do because it is required, or necessary, or important. I do what I do because I am broken too…. Being broken is what makes us human…but our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, healing, and meaning. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion…simply punishing the broken, walking away from them, or hiding them from sight only ensures that they remain broken, and we do too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity” (Ref: pp. 288‐291).
 

Those who know me, and those I live with, can tell you, I’m no angel. I am broken. In fact, I am more broken than most people. Perhaps it is why I live within a religious community. I am protected from myself, the temptations are more limited, and my daily existence – the prayers, the Office, spiritual direction, Mass, confession, meetings, decisions, liturgy, reading, reflection, community – all end up being a reinforcement of the false persona of the ‘bad boy made good’, and help me feel secure and safe. Deep down, I know I am broken, and without God, I am beyond repair.

My surrender came a few years ago when my entire life was dumped at my feet. My life-in-shambles was shown to the world in living technicolor and loomed large in the press. Every mistake, everything that was bad about me, was right there for all the world to see. Every mistake, every wound, everything that I had repressed was dug back up and presented to the world anew, and I was made to feel even more a failure; more unworthy. A fraud.
 
I was almost ready to take my brokenness and hide again. To take my past with me and go back to a place where no one could see me, be with me, hear me, love me. Then, in my darkest moment, one where I almost exited this life by my own hand, I felt forgiveness from the inside. Those sins that others said were too deep to be forgiven, the sexuality immortality, the lying, the cheating, the jail term, the worst of my past life was all laid in the press, all in the public square, yes, it was true! But, they were also laid at the foot of a Cross that was too large for me to climb over on my own, and that is how Jesus came.
 
The Cross exposes all the bits of myself I’d rather keep hidden from people. And, it also, exposes my inability, to be perfect. God came and shattered the illusion that I’m meant to be perfect; or that, in my human state I can be perfect. I know that I can’t, but with God, I can still serve and still make a difference. My brokenness, allows me to use my inner gifts to empathetically help others, and just like the golden glow of the broken parish hallways that I now serve, extend that insight to all who come and think themselves imperfect and unable to serve, too. In the end, it was not my strength that brought me to this place, it was my ability to love others in their brokenness, because of mine. I recently posted on Facebook that ‘Forgiveness is a gift you willingly give to heal yourself.’
 
St. Francis once said, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man.”  Not here, not with me, not at Saint Miriam.
 

How will you refrain from doing what the world so often does and not poke your thumb in the eye of those who are broken around you, those who hurt you, those who – in the fullness of their being human – harmed you, or transgressed you, to fully live into be a Christian and show you believe in the power of the Cross, too?

 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: July 3, 2017

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These are the beautifully simple, yet complex words written by Thomas Jefferson, seated in the second-floor parlor of a bricklayer’s house right here in Philadelphia. The Declaration of Independence was approved by Congress on Monday, July 4, 1776.

Those words, written now almost two and half centuries ago, still resonate in the depths of our hearts, as Americans. These words are not some far off lofty ideals for which we find ourselves compelled to strive, but rather they compel us to always try to be better and help all our brethren attain and enjoy human fulfillment in complete freedom.

Lately, it is easy to fall into despair. We look around our nation and see blight of major cities, and the freedoms erode for some, while the wealthiest continue to prosper. We see the horrors of increased negativity, the rise of white supremacy, the rhetoric of the political landscape, even at the highest office of the land, we find the ostracizing of the few, rejection of the different, and the fight against basic human rights like heath care. Yes, ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ is being eaten away, sometimes by direct attack, other times by covert manipulation of public trust, and often through the dissemination of some false counterfeit notion that basic human freedoms belong and are controlled by the few and granted by their control to the fewer. This is not the America I know. 
 
Just as Thomas Jefferson wrote of this ideal toward ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ by throwing off a despotic British government in favor of an independent nation for all who would come to her shores, we, too, as Catholic Christians, are called to call out, to be the voice of the hurting, to heal, and to elevate those elements found within our country that run contrary to the Gospel. We must stand up for the rights of all, and treat our brothers and sisters – all of them – with the inherent respect due them as fellow Americans, and more importantly, as fellow children of the same Creator. For in Him there are no Jew or Greek, slave or free, black or white…
 

There are those who are fond of saying, “freedom isn’t free”. And they would be right. Freedom is never free, but it is also not freedom when relegated to only the few. We see it in the cost of the lives of our brave men and women who wear our nation’s uniform, but it’s more than that. Freedom on which this country was founded – in those famous words of Jefferson and the 55 others who signed their name to the document that guides this country – is not the just freedom for the thoughts we love and agree with; it must be freedom for the thoughts we hate the most, and those we may not agree with in how they live their lives, the way they dress, whom they love, or the color of their skin, or the God they worship. That, too, is a cost of freedom, which must be paid by everyone if a nation is to be truly free and brave.

St. Francis of Assisi once said words as impactful when he stated, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”  Tomorrow, as we pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifices made to build this great nation, it is important that we remember our role in ensuring all are free, all are valued, and all are found to be equal in treatment and respect. Anything less rejects these famous words and erodes the very character of our nation. “All are welcome” at Saint Miriam runs deeper than a trite statement, it is our heart…our soul.
 
How will you enshrine the words of our Preamble within every action, every thought, every vote, every nuance to make our nation a place for all of God’s created, even those you may disagree or dislike? 
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 26, 2017

 
In my homily yesterday, I reflected on the grace of God and how God’s love for you and I is intimate and so unimaginable. We may just be but microscopic inhabitants of a somewhat miniscule planet orbiting a relatively obscure star in a small galaxy among the billions and billions of stars and galaxies that make up creation, and yet, the God of all creation counts the very hairs of our heads. Wow! What a magnificent picture of the love of our Heavenly Father. The little sparrow never falls beyond God’s watchful eye. Neither do I; neither do any of you.
 
I think my effort in preparing my homily for Sunday amid literal storms (the not one, but three floods we endured this past week, because of the construction we are undergoing and the massive storms that came through the area) juxtaposed against the appointed Gospel from Matthew [10:26-33], changed my view on the goodness of God yet again. No, God’s love does not protect us from life’s tribulations. No, God’s love didn’t protect our parish from being flooded. No, God’s love does not protect us from illness, or car accidents, and the like, but neither are these common problems we endure in life God’s punishment for our sins. It is simply all part of life, and the best parts of life are found in places like Saint Miriam where – even when times are at their worst – we are always at our best, because we love and adore God, and open our hearts to welcome others to experience the love of that God who counts every hair, and knows every sparrow.
 
On Saturday, after the third flooding had been finally contained. I needed a break alone to ask God for sustenance and strength. I retreated to the Sanctuary, but was too easily found. I then decided to go to our Sacristy. I sat there for a few moments, in the dim light that shadowed the room from the single window above me at ground level. I wept and tried to gain my composure, and then I saw it. My cassock.
 
The cassock is the ‘work horse’ of the priest. Simple, black, “ankle-length garment”, bearing 33 buttons, symbolizing each of the earthly years of our Christ. I got up, held it, and wept some more. Later, a brother priest shared with me an article written by Michael Lubowicki on Aleteia, entitled, A cassock: Work clothes, not a dress uniform.”  And I knew God was still speaking; God had never left me in my tears, as I had thought when I returned to the world from my respite in the Sacristy. I just needed to listen more closely to hear His message of love yet again. I place here an edited expert of the portion of Michael’s words that moved me to see things clearly again:
 
‘Wearing a cassock can and should be a form of prayer, but just putting it on isn’t enough. A cassock. Today in your eyes it is more beautiful than a bride’s dress. I can only hope that you will be equally happy when it has come to be what its color implies, i.e. a deadly shroud and a dying uniform. Be as enthusiastic about it when it starts to be your solitary confinement, cage and furnace where God will melt and purify you, an uncomfortable hermitage.’
 
Yes, there it was again! We are not to be promised protection from life’s problems. In fact, as a Franciscan, a priest – and more so as a Catholic Christian – none of us are to think our life is made easier by following Jesus, but rather harder, as we carry the cross(es), too. Crosses: not just ours, but those of the weak, rejected, injured, needy, and sick, too. We should endure, love, and be proud of our wounds, despite the problems of the world. We should not retaliate, but accept the scourging, and ‘be different’ and love everyone, as our Savior; the One we worship and adore. 
 
St. Francis once said, “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it more fully within your heart.”  You cannot have true peace if it only comes when the sun is shining, bills are paid, debts low, health is good, and all the problems of the world are melted away. It must be found in the thunderstorms of life, while you toil, and yet feel no progress. Then, God comes in unimaginable ways and makes you strong in your faith.
 

How will you find God even as the waters pour from above you and the torrents of the wild stream seem to overtake even your peace?

 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 19, 2017

 

We wake today to yet another act of terror. As of this moment, one person died, and eight more were wounded, two are critical, after yet another vehicle rammed into people. But this time, it was acted out against Muslims leaving Ramadan prayers in the Finsbury Park area of north London who were the victims.

The suspected driver of the van, a 48-year-old man, has been arrested. Heroically, Imam Mohammed Mahmoud, of the Muslim Welfare House, stepped in to protect the suspected attacker. Yes, I said he protected the murderer.  Eyewitnesses said that a group of bystanders dragged the driver from of the van, pin him to the ground, and began to viciously assault him. Imam Mahmoud stopped the furious crowd by placing his own life in jeopardy and telling the mob, “Do not touch him.”  The Imam’s actions in shielding the murderous driver are said to have quietened a potentially dangerous situation. In the end, his actions helped save lives.

Gnégnéri Yaya Touré, famed Manchester City and Ivory Coast footballer, declared after the presumed attack, the world needs ‘peace and togetherness.’ He is a Muslim. And, yes, we need peace, but how?
 
Yesterday, the greater Catholic Church honored Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. Few came. Why? Well, it’s summer, and it was also Father’s Day. Our secular lives, and secular holidays, and secular commitments always trump God and going to church. We have already witnessed the ‘summer slump’ of church attendance. The pews are emptying and crowds diminished. God, and all things church, have already been relegated to a place that we will begin to place a priority on later, after our summer fun is over. 
 
We should, however, give more reverence to the power of church attendance, receiving the Holy Eucharist, beginning our week within a community of faithful, and engaging in the power of prayer. Recall that St. Peter tells us, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour”, and even St. Paul writes, “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”  But, do we really believe evil exists? That the powers of darkness abide on earth? Just ask those in London last night.  
 
Once, Simon Peter, who was also known to be impetuous, and who often acted before thinking, cut off high priest’s servant Malchus’ ear. Jesus’ response was to admonish Peter and to say, “That is enough.” Jesus then healed the ear. Jesus always heals, even His enemies. Peter acted before receiving word from Jesus. Sometimes prayer is like that. Some will ask God what they should do, but already have their minds made up as to what they will do. Sometimes we ask things in prayer to justify our already intended actions. While we may excuse Peter to some extent, because of the pressure of the circumstances, I would imagine that he would not have been so quick to act violently if he didn’t have a sword. How about you?  Do are you armed with a sword, a van, a weapon, or are you steeped in prayer and in all things God? Where does your strength come from?  The world, or from your pew? 
 
The first step toward a more mature and living faith is the desire and willingness to put God first in our lives. It seems so simple, and yet most of us realize this is a challenge of Christian living in today’s world. Some might say it is a challenge not worth the sacrifice of a delaying a trip to the shore. But, then comes illness, injury…then comes terror, and we are left as a people without hope. 
 
Consider the prayer attributed to St. Francis, but this time read it aloud, as a dialogue. 
 
We ask, “Where is injury?” The prayer answers, “There is injury” Remedied by, “Pardon.”   
 
We ask, “Where there is despair”:  The prayer answers, “There is despair” Remedied by, “Hope.” 
 
The bread we eat, and the cup we drink, is truly Jesus, Our Christ. It is His real presence. Jesus is present to us in many ways, if only we are willing to let Him in; if only we make room for Him, even in summer.
 
How will you enjoy summer and still honor your life as a Catholic?
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 12, 2017

 
Yesterday, on a beautiful June day, that happened to also be the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity, we gathered outside our parish for our third groundbreaking ceremony as a parish! That’s right! In our now almost ten years of existence, we have gathered for three such ceremonies and each one represented one high ideal: We keep our word!
 

Yesterday’s ceremony launched the building of our new Friary Rectory.  And, it was met with great joy and optimism for it represents growth, care, and being good stewards of our shared resources and our finances. It also tells the world that at Saint Miriam we honor one another and our promises. Yes, we keep our word.

There are several ways we measure a person’s worth, or our own worth. Perhaps none other evokes as much emotion as “keeping your word.”  Words hold immense power and emotion for us. That is why liturgy is so important to us as Catholics. The right words brings emotion and history and growth and change. In the right hands, words can start a path toward peace and forgiveness and growth, and even squash a war! But, in the wrong hands, words have harmed, stunted growth, brought hurt and maimed. They can bring chaos and despair and even kill. Words have power that can win the hearts and minds of people to a cause, or send somebody crashing to the depths of depression. At Saint Miriam, we know the power of words. We also know the power of keeping our word.
 

Recently I have noticed how some people have used words to harm others. They spread gossip and rumors and they also fail to keep their word. You might think this just innocent banter, but it harms the fabric of our parish and the people involved, too. Several folks have even failed to keep their pledges for our building fund. They did not keep their word, even though they used our resources and benefited from the projects they promised to care for. That places a burden on others; on us. It is not only unfair, but un-Christian and goes against everything we believe and uphold as a people of faith. Why? Because they failed to keep their word.

Since words hold power, it’s both important to speak words that hold positive intentions and always be prepared to keep your word to others, as they’re a reflection of your intentions and integrity. But keeping our word is not only about respecting others – keeping your word to yourself is all about respecting yourself. Just as people will judge you based on whether you keep your word to others, you also need to keep your word for your own well-being, too. 
 
The fact is, keeping promises to yourself shows you respect and consider yourself as important as others. And that you are just as important as others. It’s not about becoming so self-important that you abandon all others. It is about keeping your word and respecting the inherent dignity of other humans, as you do yourself, and the promises you made. It is about being selfless, not selfish.

When most people think of the essentials of living a Franciscan life there are a few things that come to everyone’s mind: humility, simplicity, fraternity, care for God’s creation, self-denial, service, and an intimate prayer life, to name a few. But, having lived this life for almost ten years within community, I can say that there is one often-forgotten aspect that might be most essential of all: honesty in keeping one’s word.

St. Francis once said that it is ‘no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching’. I have learned that you cannot preach – and have no integrity – if you cannot keep your word.

How have you hurt the fabric of what God created? How have you failed to keep your word? How have you gone against a community or a people that loved and welcomed you? How have you let your broken human nature shine through and break your word, your bond, and harm others? 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: June 5, 2017

 

Pope Francis said recently, “The world needs forgiveness; too many people are caught up in resentment and harbor hatred because they are incapable of forgiving. They ruin their own lives and the lives of those around them rather than finding the joy of serenity and peace.”

That is what I am focusing on today, as the construction crews begin to mark the earth where the pylons will go, and where the new walls will one day stand, and where holes will need be cut and disturbances made within our current structure in order for a new Friary Rectory to rise above the earth for Saint Miriam. No, I am not marveling at the process, nor how far we have come, or the beauty of the architecture we have agreed upon; I am not weighing in my heart the place that will allow Friars to come and serve or those called to our way of life to have a home. Rather, I am in awe of the fact that we build a place that is truly based in the Gospel of the Christ we proclaim to follow. It is a place of unconditional welcome, radical love, inclusive hope, and ultimate forgiveness. In other words, it is a place built on God that the world finds so incredibly difficult to reconcile, as places like this simply are few and far between.

It is one of the reasons it took us so long to call a new Associate Pastor. We wanted someone capable of loving even the worst among us. A person who would exemplify the best of being a good priest, going where needed, and loving who called, and forgiving those who cannot begin to even forgive themselves, like myself. A priest is called to a life of surrender and to model in the world the One he serves. A priest is called to exhibit forgiveness, but more so, he must live that forgiveness always. It is not easy; it wasn’t meant to be.

I think myself as a good priest. I have my flaws and I often remind you that I am far from perfect. I struggle with many areas of being human. Perhaps it is what makes me more accessible. But, the one thing I have struggled the most with is forgiving myself. I hold on to past hurts and past actions and get mired in my own sadness. I lack forgiveness for myself. I know that.

Perhaps it is because the world never lets go of what I have done. Perhaps it is because others around me bring up my errors, or never say those words, “James, I forgive you.” Perhaps it is because I live within a broken prison called my body and never am I able to say those words to myself. Oh, sure, I pass forgiveness on to the worst of the world’s wretched. I have granted forgiveness in hospitals, streets, nursing centers, within the parish, and even in prisons, too. But, no, not to myself within my own prison.

Our lives are never easy. Our lives and schedules demand a lot from us. I once heard somewhere that we are born like a diamond newly pulled from the earth. Through a life of faith, we clear away the dirt embedded in our skin. We are then washed clean in the waters of Baptism, and through the crosses that we bare, through our experiences, through our faith, our lives are cut, and polished, and finally our edges are made smooth and our true inner-beauty is shown bright and sparkling to the world! But, this is the hard work of life, and lessons, and forgiveness. It is a forgiveness that the world so often holds back, and we hold within, and we find it difficult to heal. It is my cross, so I know of that which I speak.

So, yes, we go through sufferings in this life. We are sick, homeless, hungry, hurting, grieving, and a whole host of other crosses that we carry day to day. Perhaps your cross is your job, a family situation, a child, a spouse, someone who withholds forgiveness, or a past hurt you simply cannot let go of, or just life in general. These are the wounds that permanently disfigure us, leaving us with a constant reminder of an injury. Some are deep, like a drunk driver who disables us for life, or a sexual predator who robs us of our self-confidence and self-esteem; perhaps we struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, or depression. Someone hurts our child, and our anger becomes all-encompassing, eating us alive. But sometimes these hurts are much smaller to the world, but still wound us deeply within, because we lack the ability to forgive ourselves, or worse, someone withholds forgiveness to us.

St. Francis of Assisi has always been considered a great man of forgiveness. Why? Because he recognized the power of forgiveness and the impact it could have in healing and transforming the world. St. Francis also lived out this truth in his life.

A story is told where St. Francis met an acquaintance of his who looked very troubled, and he asked him: “Brother, how are things with you?” The man immediately began to rant against his master, saying, “Thanks to my master, may God curse him! I have had nothing but misfortune. He has taken away all that I possess.” 

St. Francis was filled with pity for the man, and said, “Brother, pardon your master for the love of God, and free your own soul; it’s possible that he will restore to you whatever he has taken away. Otherwise, you have lost your goods and will lose your soul as well.” 

But the friend replied, “I can’t fully forgive him unless he returns what he has taken from me.” St. Francis answered, “Look, I will give you this cloak; I beg you to forgive your master for the love of the Lord God.”  The man’s heart was melted by this kindness, and he forgave his master. Immediately, he was filled with joy.

You see, when we pray for those who have offended us, it frees us to love as God loves. God’s grace has power not only to change us, but those who have done us injury as well. I pray that one day I will get better at this for myself. In the meantime, I will endeavor to be a priest that always forgives, and allow others to have the joy of that forgiveness so lost on myself. 

At the end of each day, consider who may have offended me in some way and whom I may have offended. Pray for those persons, forgive them and resolve to ask forgiveness if you haven’t done so. Watch and feel as you become free…
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 29, 2017

 

Today our nation honors and commemorates the service of our brave men and women who wore our Nation’s uniform, of every branch of service, and who died to protect us; to preserve our freedoms and to liberate the oppressed wherever they have been found to reside. Their deaths took place both on and off our own soil, at embassies abroad, on foreign lands and shores, and some have yet to return home. We, sadly and with little compassion in the busyness of our lives, so often take these sacrifices for granted. We barely notice the multitude of wind-driven flags that stand erect and tall, within every cemetery, at every grave, marking a soul who served and gave their all, as we pass by every day in our cars, chatting on our cell phones about the activities of our lives and how ‘worn out’ we are already by our full calendars.

While we, as a people of this great nation, designate two holidays to honor those who have served in our armed Forces — Memorial Day and Veterans Day — we do well at the commemoration of those who volunteered to serve, and at honoring our fallen and dead, but provide too little for our living veterans, and provide too little voice to those who live oppressed, ostracized, rejected, and alone, even within our country’s borders.

It is ironic that a nation that so proudly honors its patriots with not one, but two national holidays, still cannot seem to muster the support to provide necessities for the living service members who survived the battlefields and to ensure their welfare back home. Our warriors deserve better.

It is almost ironic that a nation who has so many that proudly boast we are a ‘Judeo-Christian’ nation, founded on the ideals of a God from above, carelessly rejects those in need and allows such atrocities to happen in that name of the God both here at home on our own soil and in cities around the globe. Our citizens, refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers deserve better, because it was for them the aforementioned, wearing the flag of our nation on their shoulders, died so valiantly.

I am a terrible runner. I admit it every day! My speed is less than average and because of my lifelong fight with Asthma, my lungs literally hurt during a run. But later this morning, as a daily CrossFitter at Manayunk Athletics / CrossFit in Philadelphia, I will participate in the Murphy WOD (Workout of the Day) in memory of Navy Lieutenant Michael Murphy, 29, of Patchogue, New York, who was killed in Afghanistan on June 28th, 2005. This workout was one of Mike’s favorites and he named it “Body Armor”. It consists of two, one mile runs, one at the beginning, and another the end of a WOD, that encapsulates 100 pullups, 200 pushups, and 300 squats. For the real warriors among us, some of us will also wear a twenty-pound vest, or body armor, or carry a weight on our backs. From the day it was first honored to him, it has been proudly and simply referred to as “Murph“, and is one of the hardest workouts we ever do; but think of what Mike gave for us. I will do so today, in the pouring down rain, along with my fellow athletes, in honor of a focused warrior and a great American, who wanted nothing more in life than to serve this great country and the beautiful people who make it what it is. He did just that. Today, we will again remember, and many of us will cry, too, but the tears will be more than just the physical pain and exhaustion, it will be because we remember our people, and our nation, still have so far to go.

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.”  This is true of every warrior who died in service to our nation and her people. It certainly was true of Lieutenant Michael Murphy.

Today, as we honor Memorial Day again, I pray each of us will take a moment to honor our fallen heroes. Then, let us begin the hard work of restoring our commitment to our patriots who have sacrificed for us, but still live among us. They deserve so much, and certainly at the very least, respect, jobs, healthcare, and thanks for their labor while in uniform. Finally, let us work together to assist the forgotten and the downtrodden, in obtaining meaningful employment, better access to affordable health care, recrimination against discrimination of any kind, the treatment for both mental and physical wounds, and by rejecting the ‘names’ and any other limiting factor that divides us as humans. As Emma Lazarus reminded us with her infamous poetry, The New Colossus, “A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.”

It is what Mike, and so many heroes, died for; they did not die for one, or for one type; rather, they died so all might be free…

Blessed Memorial Day, Lieutenant Michael Murphy, we still remember.
 
 


Franciscan Moments @ Saint Miriam: May 22, 2017

 

I have been thinking a lot about mercy. I mean real mercy; the kind that has depth and is nowhere akin to the falsity of mercy often given by the world. The mercy that is so deep that the giver forgets it has been given and the receiver is changed and their life can never be the same ever again. That kind of mercy. 
 
St. Bonaventure in The Life of St. Francis saw mercy reflecting in the life of Francis and tells the story of mercy St. Francis extended to a hardened sinner that brought about a man’s conversion. It reads, “A noble woman, devoted to God came to the saint to explain her trouble to him and ask for help. She had a very cruel husband who opposed her serving Christ. So, she begged the saint to pray for him so that God in his goodness would soften his heart. When he heard this, he said to her, ‘Go in peace, and without any doubt be assured that your husband will soon be a comfort to you.’ Then St. Francis added, ‘Tell him on God’s part and my own, that now is the time of mercy, and afterwards of justice.’ After receiving a blessing, the woman went home, found her husband and delivered the message. The Holy Spirit came upon him, making him a new man, and inducing him to answer with gentleness, ‘My lady, let us serve the Lord and save our souls.’ At the suggestion of his holy wife, they lived a celibate life for many years and both passed way to the Lord on the same day.” 
 
This past week alone we, as a parish, offered reconciliation and forgiveness to two individuals turned away from their own parish. We celebrated the marriage of four couples, baptized three babies, and this week we will bury a woman whose grief was so deep over the loss of her son last November that death was welcomed. We buried her son, too, and our priests offered the Sacrament of the Sick before he died, bringing him consolation and hope, despite his own parish priest who would not come. That is mercy. That is love.
 

This past month, we have been approached by someone who some 40+years ago sat in a jail cell after being accused of a crime he did not commit, but was too poor to fight. He pleaded, served his sentence, and returned to raise a beautiful family, enjoy the love of a wonderful wife, live a good life, never harmed anyone, and has been part of our lives, as a parish, too. He is a good man and wishes to see if God is calling him to be a Deacon. If I go by the letter of the law, he should not even begin the discernment process. If I go by the love and grace of God, I would be a hypocrite to say anything other than ‘welcome’. I choose to welcome and to see where God takes us. I pray you agree. That is mercy. That is love.

Yesterday, in John’s Gospel, we were reminded that God promised to reveal Himself to those who keep His commandments, and that He would love us and send us an Advocate (The Holy Spirit) in return to help us. We are all called by God to be a people of  love and mercy. We are called as a parish to pattern our lives on the life of St. Francis, who willingly patterned his own broken life on the life of the Crucified One, and by doing so was so filled with the Spirit that he presented the Stigmata. 
 

How will you show mercy to someone this week? How do you treat others that the world rejects and proclaims them worthless or devoid of value? How will you show the world that you are a true Christian?

Will you allow your heart to be filled with such compassion so as to turn your every act into a Corporal Act of Mercy and unconditional love?