Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What Does It Mean To Be Humble?

Yesterday we buried an elderly woman who had been a life long parishioner here. I really did not know her at all. I knew OF her. What I learned at her funeral yesterday will stay with me for a long time.
But first, what I knew OF her. I first saw her with her brother a few years back when they could still get out of their apartment. They were on the line coming to reverence the cross on Good Friday. I didn't know who they were yet, what I saw was an elderly gentleman leading an older blind woman down the aisle toward the cross. Slowly, with great care, they both venerated our Good Friday Cross. The picture of them in front of the cross was like something off of a holy card. Quite simply, it was beautiful and profound.

I learned after that who they were, our neighbors across the street, but I still never had a cause to visit them. Others did so and would tell me about how hard it was getting for them to stay in a walk up apartment, but how they wanted to keep their independence.

On one occasion I answered the phone here at the parish and it was her on the other end. When she found out who I was on my end of the phone she told me how happy she was to talk with me. While we had never met, she said she was hearing from others and seeing in the bulletin all the activities that were happening here in the parish and wishing me God's blessings on my ministry. She was so very encouraging.

And so yesterday we commended her soul to God. Her brother had gone before her, can't be more than a year ago. The family gathered to pray our final prayers for her and to remember her. Her nephew spoke of what a beloved aunt she was to them all. How she was always encouraging them in their endeavors and challenging them to be, in his words, the best version of themselves. They miss her already.

This woman lived a simple life with great humility, and her family is different because of her. They will in turn, live their lives in such  way as to make her proud of them, and make their part of the world a bit better. Her life like a pebble thrown into the water, will spread ripples of goodness for years to come. Though she may know nothing about it.

As Christians, this is the life we are called to. Some people will do great things and receive accolades for their work. Most of us will not. We trudge through our every day and try to do our best. Our reward is the satisfaction of a job well done. A life well lived. Jesus says, if we want to be first, we must be last. That doesn't mean putting ourselves down, it means knowing who we are, where we are, and whose we are! It means if I know I belong to God, at the end of the day, that is more than enough.

I wish I had gotten to know Kitty while she was here among us. I am sorry I didn't take the time. I know that I hope I live my life as well as she did. I want others to know I care about them and encourage them to be their best selves. I am grateful for every evening when I can put my head on the pillow and know the satisfaction, the blessing of having tried my best for the coming of the kingdom. For the days when I fall short, I'm grateful for the opportunity to try and do better tomorrow.

St Vincent de Paul claimed humility as one the three virtues he strove for.  As I have always admired his story of conversion and his heart for the poor, humility is something I value as well. Not an easy virtue to cultivate in a world that is always telling us we are the most important person in the universe.

So I am always grateful to know where my center is, and who I belong to. What about you, who do you belong to?

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Can You Keep A Secret?

Man in Red Crew-neck Sweatshirt Photography

When my Small Christian Community met this past week, we were again mystified by the idea of the messianic secret employed by Mark's writer. How did anyone think that a deaf man with a speech impediment, who is suddenly amazingly healed by Jesus, would keep this miracle a secret? Of course he would go shouting it from the rooftops, along the highways and byways, in his newly clarified speech! He'd be thrilled just to hear himself shout out his good news!

We know the idea of keeping this secret was a literary tool engaged by the writer of the gospel. Jesus really didn't think he could keep these miracles a secret did he? I can see why he'd want to: the more miracles that folks heard about the bigger the crowds around him grew. It became so much more difficult to find time to pray to his father, or gently teach his disciples. Peace and quiet rapidly became a distant memory.

As I think about this I'm wondering, are we, in our day, supposed to keep secret the wonderful things God has done for us? Are we supposed to keep the Good News to ourselves? Of course not! In a world that is sometimes so dimmed by darkness and sadness all around us, are we not compelled to share the joy we feel when we discover how God is working in our lives? Sometimes it's really big things like when you're 17 and you pass your road test after many tearful practices with your parents. Sometimes it's things that seem coincidental like the person who was difficult to work with has been transferred to another building. Sometimes it's a simple as a fine conversation with a colleague.

September is always a new beginning for so many of our children and our teachers. Parish programs kick back into full gear after a lighter summer schedule. Here at St Francis we are super excited to announce that there are new ways to share our good news. Some of our parishioners have been working diligently all summer long to put up a new, way more fun website for us. Along with the new website comes a very cool 'app' for your phone, a new way of supporting the parish electronically, and other neat social media tools. The way our youngsters used Snapchat so frequently...well, let's take advantage of that in the healthiest ways possible. We encourage all of you, but especially our families with pre teen kids, to Snapchat before Mass on Sunday and let everyone know that you're proud to be here with us at St Francis.

Jesus didn't really think that deaf man was going to stay quiet after he was finally healed did he? Surely we're not supposed to keep secret the many gifts God gives us each day. Don't be shy about sharing your good new whatever it may be. We all need to hear some good news!

And Melissa, congratulations once again !

Thursday, August 30, 2018

What's In Your Heart?

What in our hearts is good and clean and holy? What in us in sinful and evil? How do we grow stronger in all that is good and holy and leave behind sinfulness?

That's the question I hear in the Gospel this weekend. Under the guise of talking about the Judaic laws of ritual cleanliness, the Pharisees and scribes question Jesus on the behavior of his disciples and why they are not following the proscribed laws.

Jesus' answer is quite direct. He challenges them to look at the heart of their actions and he names those actions for exactly what they are: evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance and folly. All these evils, Jesus says, come from inside our very selves and they defile us.

Sadly, I guess there really is "nothing new under the sun". (Ecclesiastes 1:4) These last few weeks we have seen the tragedy of evil and sinfulness on the part of our leaders. How our young people were sacrificed for the sake of an institution trying to protect its reputation. Today's scripture calls out to us to look at how we choose to live our lives, and how we need to make serious changes as we seek to move forward.

Changes need to happen on every level. All of us need to examine our hearts. If we're honest with ourselves, those sinful behaviors that Jesus delineates in today's Gospel, we all participate in one or another of them at some points in our lives. Hopefully we are growing stronger and more virtuous as we seek to live our faith more authentically. Some days we do better than others.

Yes, the hierarchical church needs to change, must change in real substantive ways. We, the laity, need to look at ways in which we can call our bishops and priests to a deep and real conversion. Can we, laity and clergy together, grow in an awareness that each of us were called at our baptism to be leaders in this church? What if we could create a new model for leadership in the church that is based on humble loving service, as Jesus imaged for us at the last supper, and not a leadership based on power, prestige and titles? What would that church look like? What amazing gifts would THAT church bring to our world?

This is not in any way to excuse horrific behavior on the part of many sick, broken or power hungry men. It is a call to each of us in the pews to figure out quickly how we, like John the Baptist need to  speak our truth to the powers that be. We the faithful must claim our voice in how the church will start to heal from this terrible crisis. What happens next isn't up to "them" or "the Pope" alone, we have a responsibility to be a part of the healing process as well.

In Sunday's Gospel Jesus calls us out on our sinful behavior. All of us. What we do next is up to us. Do we have the courage to step forward and try to help create a new vision of a holy and healthy church?

Monday, August 20, 2018

Woe to You, Shepherds

I know that the Bible is relevant. I know that God still speaks to us through what may seem like a very ancient text. Yet, I am more often then not, so very surprised by the word of God. Today, I'm just dumbfounded.

I was on vacation last week enjoying the last few beach days before heading back to my desk to get serious about calendars and planning for the upcoming year in the parish. In speaking with a dear friend on the Feast of the Assumption, he said to me cautiously, "How long have you been on vacation?" I had been so off the radar that I had missed the news about the Pennsylvania scandals in the church. I spent the rest of the week reading everything I could, (thank you America and NCR) and trying to prepare myself for Sunday liturgies back in the parish.

Truly Sunday was a long day. I am filled with admiration for the men I am in ministry with,who preached so humbly, so eloquently of their sadness, their fear, their shame for the church we love, and their hope and the challenge that the laity might finally have their voice heard and find the ability to claim our leadership potential. It was a lot to take in.

I know praying is not the answer in and of itself. Dear God, those poor can we ever know how to help them heal from such a horrible abuse of power. I don't know how it was ever allowed to happen. In my prayer, I am seeking a viable answer to the question what am I supposed, what are WE supposed to do now? What is the next appropriate action step? The whole "see, judge, act" component of Catholic Social Justice is gnawing at me....We are finally starting to see this sin and call it what it is, we can certainly judge it as evil, but now do we stand for and support our sisters and brothers who have been victimized by the shepherds of our church? How do we hold our Bishops accountable?

As I look at the first reading for this coming Wednesday, as I prepare my reflections for our morning prayer, I feel like I've gotten punched in the gut...for Ezekiel says..."Woe to the shepherds of sheep have been given over to pillage, for lack of a shepherd. I swear I am coming against these shepherds, says the Lord God. I will save my sheep." I guess if I were a Bishop these days I'd be nervous.

I know whatever action I seek to take, we look to take, must be rooted in prayer. I know most times folks don't comment on this blog when they see it, but for this  I'd be really curious to know...if I picked a weeknight, an hour, to invite folks to come together to pray for our sisters and brothers who were victimized, to pray for healing, to pray for wisdom and humility on the part of our shepherds...would you come pray with me? I don't know what else to do right now, accept pray...and then to ask God and my companions in prayer, what do we do next?

Please let me know what you think: Thank you.

We Are the Trader Joe's of Churches!

With all gratitude and apologies to Trader Joe's for borrowing their name, I intend to use it for the best of purposes. A while back, at another parish, this was the example one gentleman used to describe how he felt about the parish. What he was trying to say was that you can get brand name items at any type of grocery store, big or small. If you wanted something that was really special and unique, the best of quality, you went to Trader Joe's. At Trader Joe's you won't find Oreos he said, you'll find their own version of the famous cookie and so much more to delight in.

That's what St Francis de Sales has become I believe. We are not just any parish church here in the Archdiocese of New York.We are a 'destination parish'! We are the place you want to come to for spiritual nourishment, for a community, for music and homilies that will rock your world and make you think about ways you want to be a better person in your world.

Jesus is truly present here, in the Eucharist and in the Word, in our community gathered as one. Here we learn and we practice this essential truth of our faith, not only is Jesus the bread of life, the bread of our lives, but we have a mandate to be bread for one another. This is evidenced in the smiles and hugs, in the concern for one another, in everyone watching out for each other's children as they wander around the church. I see it most strongly when we greet one another at the opening of Mass, we hold hands for the Lord's prayer and embrace at the sign of peace. This is a church community that I am proud to call my own, and always so happy to come home to.

As we anticipate (not yet, I know. One parishioner teacher referred to August as the Sunday night of the summer...sigh)the rush and busyness of September perhaps we can take a few minutes while the sun is still shining to ask ourselves how we will be more present and more involved in our parish home in the year to come? Our lives are incredibly busy for sure, but what is more important than taking a little extra time to take care of ourselves? How can our parish help you do that? Perhaps you want to join a small Christian Community to make time to pray with a few other folks? Perhaps you want to sing in the choir? Perhaps you can come to Mass early once a month and help greet folks when they come in on Sunday morning-sharing that warm smile that someone once offered you? What gifts do you have to share to make our parish more welcoming,  stronger, and more vibrant? And please, make no mistake, if you're saying to yourself "I really don't have time to do anymore, but I can at least write a check"...heck yeah, we'd love that too...because that check allows us the financial freedom to fund more good works, both here and outside the confines of our own four walls.

Jesus said "I am the Bread of Life" those who come to me will not hunger." Together with Jesus, adopting some good Trader Joe's philosophies, St Francis de Sales seeks to feed our common hunger for spiritual nourishment we all long for. Don't be surprised if you see us in Hawaiian shirts one day soon!

Thursday, August 2, 2018


I was most fortunate to spend my birthday in Italy last week, and it was absolutely wonderful. Each day was lovelier than the next, the weather was hot and sunny, the pool cool and refreshing. Each sight, each meal, each conversation was a special gift.

I was traveling with 9 other cousins, so when I woke up on my birthday morning and had some quiet time all by myself, well, that was a precious gift too.

As I sat here early in the morning with my first cup of coffee, I found myself very aware that I was most certainly in God's presence, and, overwhelmingly filled with gratitude for the gift of life, for the gift of MY life specifically, and all the many blessings I have received.  Among those blessings I counted this very special birthday in Italy, my family and friends, those who have mentored me as I've grown in ministry and in who I am. I counted all the folks from the parishes I've worked in over the last 40 or so years, and in particular, the people of St Francis de Sales who are such amazing folks to work and pray with at this point in my journey. 

I was just filled with gratitude and I couldn't hold it all. I wanted this feeling to stay with me for a long time. I wanted to slow down and savor how it felt to know that God has cared for me each and every day of my 58 years, and to know that I finally have learned to trust in that care.

So I just took the whole day slowly. I was very deliberate about what I did and how I chose to relax that day. I enjoyed each moment and each person. 

In this week's Gospel, the crowd asks Jesus "What can we do to accomplish the works of God?" I'm not sure if they really wanted to know, or if they were baiting the Lord. Jesus' answer is that the should simply believe in Him. Well, yeah....but we never seem comfortable with the easy answer do we? As humans we always want it to be more complicated.  Silly us. 

My birthday prayer in addition to immense gratitude, was also the question of that crowd, in my own words...What more do you want of me? How can I be the best servant for you and your people? How can I be the person you call me to be?

I don't have the whole answer yet, but I know that part of the answer involves being grateful, being joyful, and being present to the moments when God surrounds me with his love and beauty. I know that God is enough for me, and that if  I stay centered on God, I will not hunger for anything else.

I challenge you today to ask the question of the crowd: What can you do to accomplish the works of God?

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Jesus on Vacation

In Sunday's Gospel we hear that even Jesus and the disciples needed a chance to 'get away from it all' for a bit of rest and relaxation. Why is it, do you think, that we have such a hard time giving ourselves permission to take some time off the grid and just refresh and renew ourselves?

Theoretically we KNOW that time away from work, from ministry, will make us better, more effective, happier and healthier upon our return. Yet sometimes, for some of us, we may think we are indispensable, that everything at work will come to a grinding halt if we're not there to keep the wheels in motion.

I am happy that I have learned over the years that I am not indispensable, that work will continue without me, and that taking time to renew is good for me.

Self care is a popular topic these days I hear. I understand why. Everything about our society pushes us to be faster, stronger, and more ambitious with little thought to our hearts, minds and souls. I love that summer offers many of us an opportunity, even if just because of the heat, to slow ourselves down and be more deliberate in our actions and choices for how we spend our time. Aren't we given these long lovely summer nights to be outside enjoying concerts, picnics and sunsets? Last Monday evening I had the opportunity to host a meeting with some of my catechetical team members at a friends' rooftop garden. Now THAT'S the way to have a summer meeting! It was a great way to build community among ourselves as well, especially since we don't often have the time during the year to stop and enjoy one another.

So, how are you taking care of yourself this summer? In what ways are you slowing down and enjoying the long days and nights? Are you paying attention to the opportunities given to you to try new things, to explore those places you have been meaning to check out? Are you grateful to God for the folks who fill your life? Have you taken a few extra minutes for prayer and reflection when you can?

I hope so. I'm trying to do this as well. Tonight I'm on a plane to visit with family and friends (some of whom I've never met!) in Italy. I'm excited and grateful for this upcoming adventure.Time to relax, time to explore. Time to pray differently, (with an expresso overlooking the sea I hope!)  I pray for all of us, time to slow down and enjoy the world God has given us. Ciao for now!