Fri 5/29/2020 5:33 PM
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. Psalm 145:8-9
“I can’t breathe.” Those words continue to ring in my ears. George Floyd, a child of God, was gasping for air, calling for his mother and pleading for his life.
The truth is revolting. It is easy to turn away and ignore the horror as if it is someone else’s problem. Yet, how can we not be horrified and grief-stricken when we believe that every person is created in God’s image? How can I ignore the cries when we proclaim that every person on this earth is a beloved child of God?
This becomes all the more heart breaking when we consider there are thousands more wrongful deaths of our sisters and brothers that do not make the headlines.
Racism is not solely a problem for people of color. It affects us all. If one member of the body suffers, all suffer together. More than just a personal prejudice, racism is a systemic and institutionalized problem that continues to find new ways to seep into our legal system, politics, prisons, and yes, even our churches.
With tears in our eyes and Christ in our hearts, we must do everything we can to confront and dismantle the structures and systems that allow such injustices to occur. As the Body of Christ, we must shield our siblings from the blows inflicted by prejudice and hatred. In the process, may we never meet the violence with violence, or the hate with more hate. We pray for the strength and faith to transform this violence through love. We pray, dear Lord, that we never allow our persecution to turn us into persecutors. For a pure heart that is centered in God will always find God.
Let us go forth, walk with the oppressed, and raise our collective voices to proclaim the Good News: that every human being is created in the image of God and that out of his boundless love, Jesus gave up his life to save every individual. Therefore, no act of violence is acceptable. And, no life is expendable under any circumstance.
Let us ask the Lord to make us laborers for peace, healers of violence and pain, and messengers of love. Let us always look, see and hear, and then, without fear or hesitation, act with the heart of Christ.
As a demonstration of our commitment, I am asking for the Diocese of Pennsylvania to pray together the Great Litany on June 8th from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. We will have different voices across the diocese reading the names of those slain by acts of violence during this time. Information on the live-steamed event will be sent out next week.
For this litany, we will move the observance of the Feast Day of the martyrs of Uganda to June 8. The first name to be read in the recitation of names will be Archbishop Janani Luwum. I invite you to send names you wish to be included to firstname.lastname@example.org. All names received by 5 pm on June 5 will be included.
As Christians, we cannot look away any longer. May Christ transform our hearts into his own heart of compassion.
May 23, 2020
My siblings in Christ,
Blessed Saturday. During this time, we are learning to ground our entire being in the Holy One. To pray, trust, and in both simple and complex ways, to place our faith in the path that God has laid before us. An essential aspect of faith is patience. With patience and prayer, we allow our lives to be guided by the hand of the Divine. It is then we have the awakenings of wisdom. The numerous media sources, breaking news by the second, and the instantaneous exchange on social media do not lend themselves to this practice.
As the Diocese of Pennsylvania and as Bishop of this beloved diocese, I can assure you that we will follow our diocesan plan. In the coming weeks, our churches will resume limited and phased worship following those protocols. Moreover, no church in our diocese is required to return if they are not ready or if those protocols are not in place. The prayerful decision to resume in-person worship will be made through deliberation, knowledge, and complete faith in God. If we rush to resume or we do not make all decisions deliberately with prayer and faith, then we risk making mistakes.
As we enter into this time, I ask you not to worry, become anxious, or feel pressured by external forces. We are the Body of Christ called the Church. Remember our truth.
We believe in a God who fulfilled the beautiful promise to Abraham, and guided Moses and God’s people to the promised land. Our God, who delivered Joseph from a well, Daniel from a lion’s den, and the people from exile in Babylon, has continually reassured us to be strong, courageous, and not to fear. Our firmest belief and deepest knowing is that God sent Jesus Christ. Jesus, who fed the hungry, gave sight to the blind, walked on water, and raised the dead. We believe that Jesus was crucified, God raised Jesus from the dead, and that Jesus is among us now. Thus, every change, every worry, every upheaval in this world fails to compare to that.
All the little things pale in comparison to God’s power in making things new. All the external forces wither like a barren vine against God’s love for us. The church is stronger, and our diocese is brimming with new life. Yes, we have a wondrous God, and Christ is with us. We have nothing to fear.
Remember this as your church begins to plan for re-entry. To assist church leaders, we will be sending out a checklist and template in the next few days. Once clergy and vestries have completed their plan for life in Phase II, they will be submitted for review and approval. If a church does not plan to resume in-person worship or activity, that simply needs to be stated. In accordance with our diocesan guidelines, all plans should be submitted within two weeks of the Governor’s announcement (by June 5th). If you have any questions about what is expected or how to proceed please contact Canon Shawn Wamsley, email@example.com, or Canon Kirk Berlenbach, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Time and time again Jesus reminds us not to worry. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?”
God bless you. Let us pray for one another. All will be well.
May 22, 2020
Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. —Joshua 1:9
The Lord is with you wherever you go. It is moving to read of the complete and total faith of our ancestors. Moses died, and now the Lord speaks to Joshua. Joshua may not have expected this, and yet he listens. Doubts and fears are calmed because Joshua trusts in the Lord and remembers the Lord is faithful. Now, he is to guide the people into a new life and destiny. These holy words that God speaks to Joshua are not simple encouragement, but a divine declaration of the truth. God is with us. Joshua is then drenched by the waters of courage and strength, for he seeks God.
It is often difficult for many of us in the 21st century to understand the depth of this faith and believe that God speaks today. Yet God’s truth is ever-present, and God is speaking to us in the moment. When we hear these words: “God is with us wherever we go.” Do we believe it? Do we fully submit to the knowledge that God is creating a way forward?
I often imagine God’s presence like an unexpected and driving rainfall. We are outside, caught by surprise, and then left drenched. Yet, what is the first thing we do when we see rainclouds or feel those first drops of rain? We break out the umbrella to avoid getting wet, we jump in the car or run inside. We cannot afford to mess up our hair, clothes, shoes, and all those worldly things.
Yet remember all those instances in our lives when little drops of water from the eternal Holy One have fallen on our prayers. They have nourished new growth when least expected. Those drops of divine new life allowed gardens to bloom in fields we did not know existed. All comes from God; through God’s will and God’s blessings.
Joshua must have felt a bit dismayed, anxious, and fearful as he began to take those first steps across the Jordan. He probably could not have visualized the breadth of land that God described nor the unforeseen challenges ahead. They were most likely the same feelings and emotions we feel as we plan these next steps into our phased reopening. Yet Joshua listened and trusted. One step at a time, one prayer at a time with the One God who is with us wherever we go. Joshua understood that life in God is not an even path, life in God overcomes whatever obstacles may arise. ‘Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord, your God will be with you wherever you go.”
In this reality that we are journeying through, despite our declarations of faith, at times, we plan ahead and not always fully embrace the divine truth. We like to control and submit not to God, but instead fall prey to worry, cynicism, and doubt. We act as if we know what we need, what the church needs. Only the Holy One knows. God knows better than we know ourselves. St. Theresa of Avila wrote: A humble heart is content with what is given it, and does not expect special favors as though they were a right.
We must give everything to God. In the presence of the Lord is found beauty, grace, wonder, and life. As powerful as the storm and light as the dew. A place that we never want to leave. When the world, our duties, and obligations pull us away, we need to run back like a deer to the water brook and our souls should long for God. Let us quench that longing through adoration and prayer. The pure heart’s prayer always awakens love, as these prayers filled with mysticism and passion.
Place God at the center of all things and everything. Abandon whatever wall or veil that separates you from the holy presence. Step out in the driving thunderstorm of the divine waters of life and be consumed. We are at the banks of the river, a new land is awaiting. Live by faith, lean into the Holy One, walk by patience. Take those steps with strength and courage for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. A heart filled with God will always find the truth.
May 8, 2020
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.’ John 6:66-69
During this time of physical isolation, we have become connected in ways many could not have imagined three months ago. Virtually, we have seen creative and innovative ways to maintain our deep desire for relationship. At the same time, this present virtual reality has allowed for the expression of our longings, desires, and opinions, especially when it comes to the church.
Through social media, numerous exchanges speak of the need to “change the church, be innovative and not waste this opportunity.” Yes, the church must change. At the same time, many argue that “we must maintain the tradition of the church, and not sacrifice tradition simply for innovation.” Yes, we must maintain our heritage as faith must have both revelation and tradition. I pray these discussions continue and are deep, prayerful, and thoughtful as the dialogue is necessary.
However, in all the discussions, something seems to be missing. I wonder how many of us have reflected on the necessity of internal transformation as opposed to the demand that all other things change – structures, institutions, people. The personal aspect of “how I need to change” (aside from the conversations regarding overeating and exercise). We must endeavor to seek a deeper connection to God. I suspect we all desire a rebirth of the church that comes alive through liturgy, music, and growth. However, if we are not prepared to change internally, how can we expect the church to change. We will approach the same issues in the same way with the expectation that everyone and everything should change. The old solution to every problem is a hammer. We need to deepen our faith and allow God’s will to be revealed. This is an opportunity to go deeper; with God and one another.
Let’s not squander this opportunity to be born again. Lord, to whom can we go?
We have the chance to allow God to work through us as empty vessels, to be reshaped and renewed. I doubt any of us genuinely want things as they always were. To allow God to work in us, let God’s will be fully revealed. We can seek how God is awakened, and we can realize our long-forgotten prayers. Perhaps during this time, we can foretaste the totality of life and not a small section of our own personal beliefs. Our deepening relationship with Christ allows us to respond with forgiveness, understanding, and love rather than to simply react or resist with emotion. Instead of worrying about keeping things out, we allow the beauty of the Holy One into every pore of our being.
Lord knows that I have too many faults to discuss or attempt to resolve at one time, but I must try because I truly love this church. Thus, I have been reflecting not only on those inadequacies and the need to transform but my hopes, prayers, and dreams for the time after isolation. I found I need to sit in silence with greater frequency. I need to step away from the computer and pray before responding. I need to trust in God and God’s plan. I need to pray.
In our noonday prayer community, we are making space for Jesus 10 times a day for 5 minutes at a time. Perhaps I am attempting to hide inside God and allow the light of the Holy One to filter through into my innermost being. To do my best to hold what is sacred both tightly and gently without leaving my fingerprints all over it. To find a new life, divine tranquility, a holy presence. Perhaps allow God’s will for me to take over the plans I have made for myself. I also find it comforting to know that God has far more belief in me than I have in myself.
In times such as these, at the door of the old and the new, I often hear my grandmother’s voice. She was the person of the most profound faith I have known. When she was not praying, she was helping. She would always greet each day, each problem, or each celebration with the words: “God willing and with God’s blessing.” Yes, we have work to do, the need to change the church and strengthen our traditions and faith. How are we preparing ourselves for the work to come? “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
May 1, 2020
They were all struck with astonishment and began glorifying God; and they were filled with fear, saying, “We have seen remarkable things today.” Luke 5:26
I do not like surprises. Unless the surprise is desirable or something that I have predetermined to be in my best interest, and the operative words are “I” and my. Formulas, planning, and projections fit neatly into an orderly, static, and unchanging world. Surprises often deviate from a constant desire for clarity and certainty.
Shortly after I moved to Pennsylvania, I was at a meeting, and one of those sudden and violent rainstorms moved through the area. After the storm had passed, I immediately set my GPS for home and thought I was on my way. No chance. While the GPS had calculated the designated route and time, it did not take into account the immediate storm nor the aftermath. I followed the route, and a downed tree was in the middle of the road. I turned around, and it recalculated, I headed in the new direction and then encountered a downed power line. Turned around, followed the new route, and a homeowner had erected a temporary barrier to warn against hazards. The wandering continued for three hours, all the while the drive was filled with hope, roadblocks, frustration, and a few expletives. I finally found my way home, all the while relying on the supposed best technology and planning.
It seems we find ourselves in a similar place with the pandemic. We had a plan in January; we even had a plan for the first weeks of isolation, and not all of them have turned out as we have planned. Hope, roadblocks, frustration, and probably a few well-placed words. Planning does not fit neatly into our relationship with God. I am reminded of the old saying, “You want to made God laugh? Make plans.” More often than not, we tell God what we want and where we would like to go. This is why we should allow ourselves to be continuously surprised by God. For the Holy One is the only right path to guide our lives.
Brother David Steindl-Rast has described surprise as another name for God, and our capacity for surprise is often an unused blessing. Think of all the instances in the Bible where surprises turned into blessings: The surprise at the first moment of creation found in the breath of God. , and the lives of Abraham, Moses, Daniel, and David were filled with surprises. What seemed untenable turned into blessings. God surprised Mary, Jesus surprised John the Baptist, and the apostles were continually surprised by God walking among them. One could argue the word surprise is entirely inadequate to describe the feelings on that first Easter morning.
Yet, we are accustomed to a predictable God, unable to surprise and awaken us to a new life. The tendency to go about our days where everything has grown entirely too familiar, and life has lost its ability to impress. Let us never be mistaken that being surprised is different from being entertained. The unexpected and unexplained is evident during this time. Yet by the willingness to encounter Christ at any moment, our lives are reordered. Our connection to the divine and one another takes root, and the branches of our lives extend beyond the containers we create. In the shadows and the unexpected, we find Jesus. We must be open to the unexpected encounter, to look at Jesus with open eyes and outstretched arms to accept the gift. Focus on him and not the haze that clouds the truth.
Let us empty ourselves of our previous lives and allow ourselves to be surprised by the God of the unexpected. During this time of reorientation, our task is to be rooted and patient. There is deep wisdom in becoming empty vessels and willing receptors. The living waters of life will come upon us like a surprising spring shower and fill us to the point where our souls are overflowing with the divine presence. I once read a surprise often announces that a miracle is near.
While I was frustrated with that drive during that first year, it allowed me to travel roads off the beaten path. I noticed a grove of old-growth trees, blooming flowers raising their faces to the rays of the sun, and a small stream rushing with the gifts of the storm. A few deer slowly drank from the same stream. I now take that route when I need to be reminded of the beauty of creation. God in surprises.
I invite you to make a commitment, to keep your eyes and lives open to the Holy One. God is peeking around the corner. Ask Christ to surprise you, amaze you, and leave you in awe. Miracles are occurring each moment of the day, God is in this moment, and the next and waiting to surprise you. Yes, this storm will pass.
April 24, 2020
We are inundated by reports of pain, grief, and even hopelessness. This gloom seems to lurk and is exacerbated by social distancing and being shuttered in our home. As of now, we cannot control the virus, and we are helpless. The feeling is similar to when you walk down a dark and unfamiliar path. Each step is hesitant, you focus on your balance, and your eyes are continually adjusting and seeking the destination. It is unsettling, and you just want to find the way back to your own sense of security.
In praying over the feelings that many are encountering, one word has been covering my prayers, and it is resiliency. To be resilient is part of the narrative of our faith and our history. Think of Abraham and the questions. The gloom evident as the Israelites wandered in the desert. Grief is intimately felt by the frightened and doubting disciples in an isolated room. In this week’s Gospel, we hear of that uneven path toward Emmaus, where Christ set our footing straight. The resilience of the emerging church found in Acts of the Apostles and Paul’s faith despite the insurmountable obstacles.
In each story of our relationship with the Holy One, we find resilience. Resilience is the mystical breath of the Holy Spirit that propels us forward. It is the seed containing new life waiting to emerge from the other side of darkness. It is the hope found in Jesus Christ. Resiliency is more than a word; it is a holy way of living in times of uncertainty. Resiliency is embedded in our souls.
IIn times of crisis or pain, we can be either broken open or broken apart. This brokenness is often centered in the middle of our being; the heart. When we have broken apart, we are mired in hopelessness. From the recesses of our being, we emit a cry of despair. All too often, seemingly without a way forward, the heart hardens, and our pain is transmitted. Anxiousness is projected on others, irritations are verbalized, and abuse is realized. How often do we scroll social media and we are no longer shocked by the attacks, the cynicism, the “call-out culture” or the quick degradation of another member of our shared humanity. The hardened heart eventually stops giving life. For this reason, I suspect that is why the first words of Christ to the disciples after the resurrection were “peace be with you.”
Yet, in our brokenness, we are broken open instead of apart, hearts open to the transformative power of the Holy One. While we do not know what the next step will bring, an open heart on this path is always surprised by God. Despite the gloom and grief, we find Christ in every instance. In His presence, the heart is tender, pliable, and resilient. For this reason, we are moved by the doctors, nurses, first responders. We are moved to reach out by the depth of another’s suffering without receding into our own isolation. We can find life amidst the shadow of death. The open heart becomes stronger and beats with the heart of Christ.
As we step forth into the next few months, when we feel lost, broken, or overcome with grief, allow your heart to be broken open. Yes, those feelings of uncertainty and doubt are real. We will worry about what our income may be, how many people will return to church, or even if we will fall ill. Yet our resiliency is found in the willingness to open our hearts to the certainty that Christ is with us. In the place of a resilient and open heart, hope, patience, empathy, and faith take root. Yes, we will find joy and love. Place your lives in the one who guides us and points to new life. This place allows hearts to soften, our vision to adjust, and to simply breathe. We are resilient people who follow a resilient God. For this reason, it is Christ who reminds us that He will be with us “until the end of time.”
Good Friday, 2020
My siblings in Christ,
This year, the sacredness of Holy Week is both profound and acute. Because of our physical separation, our prayers are more heartfelt, the longing for the Holy Eucharist is intense, and anticipation for our reunion is growing. In ways that cannot be seen, we, in some way, are partaking in the suffering of our Lord. Yet our faith, strength, and hope are found in the truth that resounds throughout eternity – He is Risen. Nothing can stop the reality of the resurrection. The stone will be rolled away and the tomb found empty.
He is Risen!
No one could have imagined these past 40 days of Lent. This time has been challenging and frightening. However, in the darkness of this uncertainty, the light of hope has strengthened us as a people of faith. We have grown even closer as a diocesan family. Creativity and necessity have increased our connectedness. Churches throughout the diocese are praying together as one. We are praying throughout the day and reaching out to one another in profound ways. Our local communities are witnessing the expansiveness of our love and the face of Christ.
As a people and a church, our priorities are shifting both internally and externally. We are demonstrating the faith of the early church, where sharing, goodness, kindness, empathy, and love are evident in our lives. The rays of light in this darkness have illumined the truth that we need one another, and we need God. We journey together as a people of God in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania.
We are stepping into the light of the resurrection.
While this Easter will be different from any other Easter in our lifetime, it is also the first Easter of our new life together. The early church celebrated Easter in much the same way – in their homes. Their prayers and faith connected them with their fellow Christians throughout the world. We are doing the same in 2020. Easter will prepare, encourage, and strengthen us. We step forth into this Easter with the knowledge of the eternal promise – that our past is forgiven, we will never be abandoned, our future is secure, and we will rise in the light of Jesus Christ.
On Easter Sunday, join your church and your siblings throughout the diocese in the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection. Let us wake the neighbors with the shout, “He is Risen.” At 10:00, I am asking all the churches in the diocese to ring their bells so that the entirety of Southeastern Pennsylvania can hear our faith. In your own homes, ring bells, clang pans, blow a trumpet, and rejoice. Let everyone hear our Easter joy! Take a chance and invite people to attend a service online and then call them afterward and wish them a Blessed Easter. Call someone who is alone and do the same. And, on Easter morning share the images of your celebration – post the pictures of your Easter celebration using the hashtag #DiopaEaster.
I also have two special requests. First, I ask that you send your clergy a note to offer your gratitude for their faithfulness and presence during this time and for the days to follow. Second, I am also humbly making a special appeal that you make your Easter offering and continue with your pledge. Go online or mail in your sacred gifts, so that the work of our churches can continue to engage in vital ministries during this time. Our clergy and your siblings in Christ need you, and your gifts make it possible. Together, we will also strengthen our churches for the day we enter into a new and beautiful world.
Our faith is not enclosed, it is being radiated with the glory of the empty tomb. Yes, we will have challenges in the days ahead, but we have hope, love, one another, and we have Jesus Christ. What more could we ask for? This will pass. We will be together as a church and we will rejoice as a people of God. At the end of this temporary time, we will find a Church that is stronger, a faith that is deeper and a love that will transcend any distance. At the center of this knowing is a Risen Christ.
My dear and beloved diocesan family, I hold you in prayer and my love for you is beyond description. I bless you with every blessing ever spoken. May you have a most Holy Easter.
He is Risen, and He is with us right now.
April 9, 2020
Maundy Thursday. Presence. Lord show me your face today.
The Jesuit Priest Anthony DeMello wrote: “Peace is only found in the yes.” This prayer has always redirected my need to plan and prepare. The peace that is found in the yes is a constant reminder to sit in the sacred present and focus on what is found in the holy moment. We cannot respond affirmatively if we do not take the time to stop and listen to the question.
As we begin the Paschal Triduum, (the three days that begin with the liturgy on Maundy Thursday and closes with evening prayer on Easter Sunday), the need for being sacredly present takes on more profound meaning. During this time of physical distancing, each moment provides the opportunity to heighten our practice of presence. Being watchful to the Holy Mystery entering and unfolding into our lives at any given moment.
In the pre-pandemic world, we were accustomed to looking ahead. To accomplish and move on to the next project. While admirable, this path consumes our lives (it is a constant battle). In this period of isolation, this path has taken a new form. Perhaps we search for those things that will keep us busy, mark off the hours absently, or grasp for anything to abate the dreaded boredom. The search function on Netflix must be the most used feature for the streaming service over the last three weeks.
Our fear has come into focus. We ask the questions in our minds: What may happen? Illness? Loss of income? Often, we worry about a spouse, members of our family, or friends. We are encased in this worry about an uncertain future. Yet, all that we have is the present moment, and we are not guaranteed the next moment. Therefore, each moment that God shares and, those that follow, should be held with the same loving care and presence as the last.
Over these next three days, I invite you to pray over and imagine these moments that are foundational to our faith. Place yourself in the Gospel story and embody the importance of the sacred presence. Jesus bends down, picks up your tired feet, looks in your eyes, and begins to wash them. You are at his side, he passes you the bread and says these words to you “Take, eat, this is my body.” You are staring at the pain and horror of the cross, Jesus looks down and into your eyes, and all you see is love. That moment where you sit in the uncertainty of Holy Saturday, wondering if you will ever see the light of the dawn or will your life be cast into perpetual darkness, and then, you hear the earth groaning and awakening.
Now, move to Easter Sunday, and a glorious light begins to appear and fills the cracks of the shuttered windows. If you are looking beyond, you will miss the moment as the light unfolds and envelopes your despair. You do not want to miss the moment you hear all the voices proclaiming, “The tomb is empty, He is Risen.”
God is always seeking, often silently, to touch our lives. Our soul is still longing for the mystery of what is revealed in the present. Remove the chatter, the clutter, and the need for immediate answers. Love God in the moment.
The past is gone. The future hasn’t happened. The present moment is the awakening of grace. In the sacred moment, now and each moment forward, feel the holy breath of God saying, “you are mine.” Peace is only found in the yes. That yes to the knowledge that Jesus is with us. Lord, please, please show me your face at this sacred moment.
April 7, 2020
I grow weary because of my groaning; every night I drench my bed and flood my couch with tears. My eyes are wasted with grief. Psalm 6:6-7
Throughout the bible, we encounter the holy narrative of anxiety, frustration, lamentation, grief, and tears. At times they can be distant words, at a far off time felt by a character in an ancient story.
Yet, there are moments in our life where we can actually feel their pain and understand their tears. I know that during this moment in time, I have felt the tears welling up deep inside my soul, waiting to be liberated.
Holy Week is an opportune time for us to fully embody the meaning and importance of tears. The Gospel passages leading up to Holy Week are filled with tears. The woman with the alabaster jar washes the feet of Jesus with tears. Jesus cries both at the tomb of Lazarus and over Jerusalem. The overwhelming sadness and anguish he suffers in the Garden soak his clothes with tears. We feel the pain of Peter’s tears as he denies Jesus, and we taste the salt of Mary’s tears as she stands at the foot of the cross.
On this Holy Tuesday, we must bless our tears. In our anxiousness and uncertainty, perhaps we may have the tendency to hold back. We often push ourselves to be strong and contain what is welling up deep inside. Maybe we are worried that if the tears begin to flow, they will not stop. The pain, fear, and hopelessness are just too much, and they will consume and wash us away in a flood.
Yet the tears of Jesus and those around him, testify to their beauty and necessity. Tears soften the path as we make our way forward. The emotions they provoke, speak to an inner stirring that will lead us to the abundant beautiful fields of the future. Something holy is happening inside.
The vulnerability we feel is part of the unfolding realization that we are more than self. There is a connectedness in our pain. It does not matter where we were born or what language we speak. Both laughter and tears come from the same place; our hearts and the knowledge that we are created in the image of God. These emotions are not only for ourselves, but they are also for one another; friends, family, strangers, the entire world. We long to look into the eyes of one another and to feel an embrace. Tears soften even the hardest of hearts.
Our faith encourages us to take our grief to God. God is with, and Jesus cries every one of our tears. Be strong and cry. Bless those tears, keep crying out to God even when you feel your prayers are distant. Breathe in the sorrow and exhale hope. At the source of all those tears are our compassion, longing, hope, and love. At that holy center is Jesus Christ.
Walk forth in the knowing that our tears will replenish our fading wells. These tears we cry today will become sacred memories and allow us to see what is essential in life. Today, tomorrow, and each day forward, remember that when we cannot see anything else, somehow, we will see the light of Christ. We will be together once again. We will celebrate, and the tears of today will become tears of joy and gratitude at our reunion.
Tears – where we feel the power of love and see the beauty of Jesus Christ.
“he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4
“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. ‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Luke 6:21
I leave you with this story: Etty Hillesum, the Jewish girl who kept a journal while at Auschwitz, wrote of an “uninterrupted dialogue” with God. She had epiphanies even in that morally barren place. “Sometimes when I stand in some corner of the camp, my feet planted on Your earth, my eyes raised towards Your Heaven, tears sometimes run down my face, tears of deep emotion and gratitude.” She knew the horror. “And I want to be there right in the thick of what people call horror and still be able to say: life is beautiful. Yes, I lie here in a corner, parched and dizzy and feverish and unable to do a thing. Yet I am also with the jasmine and the piece of sky beyond my window.” Prayer is a subversive act performed in a world that constantly calls faith into question. (as told by Philip Yancey)
April 4, 2020
Sharing the Peace Saturday – Pictures of Faith.
Each Saturday, we “share the peace.” Last week, we shared a song that holds special meaning. As we enter into Holy Week, let us share the peace through a photograph. It could be of a place, a saint, a church – it is up to you. Perhaps explain why the picture represents your faith.
The first image I would like to share is at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. People from all over the world bring their prayers, pain, dreams, tears, and gratitude and offer them to God. They come together as a people in faith and hold their heart to the Holy One. The candles also represent the knowledge that the light shines on in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.
The second image represents two essential components of my faith: Pilgrimage and desert monasticism. The worn and weathered cross is found in the high mountain desert at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range (Blood of Christ in Spanish). The cross is on the road to the Santuario of Chimayo in New Mexico. I have led numerous pilgrimages to Chimayo on Good Friday. Each year, at this cross, we held a portion of the Good Friday service. Those services were some of the most profound and moving in my life. All those prayers. The earth at the foot of this cross is layered with those prayers, and it is a holy place.
Now it is your turn to share the peace. Post the image that speaks to your faith on your social media page or share it by email with friends and family. Don’t forget to pick up the phone and share your faith with a friend. God bless you and “The peace of the Lord be with you always.”
April 1, 2020
Pulling up the Nets
“Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.” Luke 5:3-5
Despite his initial hesitations and protestations, Peter trusted Jesus, sailed to the deep and let down the nets. The water stirred, the nets became heavy with fish. The nets began to sink into the water and tear. Peter and his companions pulled and pulled, and they could not bring them up. Peter looked around and spotted the other boat. He called for help, and his partners rushed to his side. Together, alongside one another, each person reached down and pulled. I suspect that Jesus joined in the work. The nets began to rise, and both boats were overflowing with the gifts from God.
Turn on the television, and you cannot help but be overwhelmed by the latest reports and predictions of the spread and the devastating impact of the virus, economically, physically, and emotionally. The anxiousness and accompanying irritation can leave one with the feeling that our nets are full, and we are sinking. Where will we turn for help? God and one another.
That day on the Sea of Galilee, Peter comprehended that the gifts that filled the nets were entirely dependent on the assistance of Christ and other people. Dependence on something more than ourselves; the opposite of power and selfishness. Freedom is not found in self, it is the sharing, and liberation is discovered in God. What we have is of little value unless it is shared. Nothing we have is truly our own, except love. When we hear of the sacrifices made by many, the need for material acquisition pales in comparison to companionship, listening, presence, and life.
As we sit staring at the dark water, we have faith in the promise of new life. While we may not be able to discern what gifts will emerge, yet we know that gifts will appear. They are slowly becoming apparent. At any time of the day, you can find a sibling in Christ praying through live-stream. I hear from laity and clergy of new and deeper connections being made through a time of physical distancing. I have listened to the word “pray” spoken by those in the media more in the last two weeks than in the previous 10 years.
As a people, a church, and society, it is upon us to carry this collective unity past our immediate crisis. We are all the same. In scarcity and abundance, we must call for help when the nets are full of life or burdened by the weight of fear. We must rush to the side of our siblings in humanity in the same way. Let generosity become our identity. Where we look at one another and see ourselves. Perhaps that is what the church and society have forgotten and now what we are once again realizing.
This is a trying time, and we cannot go at it alone. Seek God and pray. The only thing God asks of us is our faithfulness. Pick up the phone and call someone just to make a personal connection, the sound of a human voice is soothing. Perhaps you can invite them to pray with you. Ask them if they need help. I also encourage you to ask for help. Ask for help from family and friends as this is no time for a steely demeanor or pride. If you need something more, please reach out to both physicians and mental health professionals. I need you, and we need one another on this holy pilgrimage called life.
The water is stirring, the boats will be filled. The gifts of God are indeed for the people, all the people of God.
March 31, 2020
Sacred Spaces of Transformation – Living Fearlessly in Christ. Prayer.
He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.’ Luke 5:3-5
Our meditations this week are based on Jesus’ instruction to Peter that he “put out to the deep” and our need to live fearless in Christ. Yesterday, we reflected on fear. How the unknown can inspire anxiety. How the crushing weight of our fears can overcome us when we are vulnerable, and cannot control events impacting our lives. It is essential to name our fears and place them in the compassionate, holy and wounded hands of our Savior.
We place our fears, deepest hopes, and dreams into the hands of Jesus through prayer. When we pray, we connect mystically to the original source of our being. Prayer is the eternal spring, and when we drink, our thirst is quenched by the living water.
Peter and his companions have returned from a long and unproductive night of fishing. As they are washing their nets, they are tired, frustrated, and worried. If the nets are empty, they have no income. They are fearful because, without fish, they cannot pay the bills, feed their family, or maintain the boat.
Amid all this tension, Jesus steps into their boat. “Go to the deep.” The Gospel does not specify the amount of time it took to travel from the shore to the deepest parts of the Sea of Galilee. It is not a short distance, even with a motorized boat.
Now, place yourself in the middle of the story. Imagine sitting in that boat going out to the deep. Is the sea calm or turbulent? Is the sky clear, or are the storm clouds swirling all around you? Who is in the boat with you? What is Jesus saying? We do know Jesus always spoke of the need to pray. The necessity of faith, and that our loving God, is always with us.
Over the past 2000 years, His teaching has not changed, and the power of His words are especially relevant. Whether we are alone in our homes, or on the sea headed for the deep, Jesus encourages us to talk to God. I suspect those in the boat were listening to his voice. . Their hearts and hopes lifted as he describes God’s protection and great love. Do not fear.
Notice they did not turn back and continue forward to those deep and dark waters. I suspect all those in the boat pray holding the knowledge that all will be well. Each one with their own voice and petitions and all praying.
As we sit in our homes, as we journey through this desert, God in beautiful and mysterious ways grants us the voice and our unique way of praying. God seeks a heart to heart oneness. Wherever we are, let us pray. Pray through liturgy, sit in silence in front of an icon of Christ. Mumble incoherent words in times of despair or fall on your knees, acknowledging brokenness and vulnerability. Let us lift up prayers for all our siblings through the world and dance as we sing God’s praises through song. Yes, our prayers are heard through our tears of pain as well as in our joyful smiles of gratitude.
Praying always, praying intensely, and praying from the heart as we seek union with God. This holy seeking moves beyond a bargaining tool or a transactional relationship based on results. Praying from the heart leads us to a place of knowing God ever more deeply. For union with God is the answer to all our prayers.
During this time of physical separation, please do not become discouraged if you struggle with prayer, or your faith seems distant. Even the smallest seed of faith will blossom and grow. Discipleship is a long pilgrimage, but through our seeking, we encounter unexpected experiences of hope, and miracles become real.
God is leading us to a place of peace and blessings, and new wonders will follow. God is waiting, and the Holy Spirit is awakening new possibilities. We are going to the deep and, now, especially now, we are wrapped in God’s loving embrace. Seek God, pray deeply, and look for the wonders that will follow. Pray, and find yourself in a sacred space of transformation.
March 30, 2020
Sacred Spaces of Transformation – Living Fearlessly in Christ.
“When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’” Luke 5:4
When is the vaccine coming?
When is it going to end?
When I am going to see my family and friends?
When can we come together?
When will things be like they used to be?
When? When? When?
The unknown always produces anxiety and fear. At our last convention, a time when we were all together, I asked that 2020 be the year of “Living fearlessly in Christ.” I used Luke 5:1-11 to emphasize this need in our diocesan life. It seems that 2020 is much different than we envisioned and now takes on a deeper meaning.
Luke describes Peter on the shore. He had been out all night in the boat, searching for fish. Tired and frustrated, Peter returns with empty nets. Jesus wasn’t invited; he gets into the boat. The invasion of grace. Jesus calls him to leave the comfort of the shore, and” put out into the deep.”
Peter must have been irritated and thought: “We tried, we’re tired, and there are no fish out there. Who are you? You do not know how to fish!” Peter does not want to go, he would like to stay by the shore. Deep water challenges and it causes discomfort and fear. We do want to go to the unknown and the places where we cannot control the outcome. Deep water causes us to identify our weaknesses and vulnerabilities.
Yet, deep water introduces innovation, the necessity to trust, the dependence on one another, and the power of something greater than ourselves. Deep water is a sacred space of transformation and the opportunity to live fearlessly in Christ. As the prayers proclaim: “Where storms will show your mastery; Where losing sight of land, We shall find the stars.”
At this time in our lives, surrounded by the unfamiliar, all our previous understanding of safety and security is being rocked back and forth. The waves come one after another. and our boat may feel like it is sinking. We are going to the deep, and this is scary. As the sky is darkened, living fearlessly in Christ takes on even greater importance.
Now, let us remember that living fearlessly in Christ is vastly different than living recklessly. God gives us the spirit of wisdom, discernment, listening, and understanding (including scientific and medical).
This week, the meditations will center on the importance of living fearlessly in Christ. To live fearlessly in Christ, we must admit that we are afraid. Afraid of the deep water we are entering, afraid of the virus, afraid of what we will lose during this time, and the all-encompassing fear of the unknown. Today, let us name our fears and lift them in prayer.
During this time, to live fearlessly in Christ, we must open our hearts and acknowledge that we need God, we need the presence of Jesus Christ. The only way we can put out to the deep is with Jesus Christ. Today more than ever, it is in and through Jesus Christ as we set out to the unknown deep waters.
I imagine Peter stood on the shore and thought of all the reasons not to go was the deep His questions, fears, anxieties, restlessness, irritations, and every cell in his body was tired and saying no, no, no. “When is my life going to change.” Then he looks into the eyes of Jesus Christ. Peter senses the possibility of something different, it is an invasion of grace and the envelopment of love, for “Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). Uninvited, Jesus steps into the boat. Peter responds, and they set out.
Today, I invite you to move to a quiet place. Away from the distraction of news reports, computers, television, and center yourself. Spend five minutes in total silence. Perhaps you can find a picture of Jesus that offers solace and tape it on a wall and look at it.
Then, offer up your fears to Jesus Christ. Name them. Say this simple prayer: “Lord, I am afraid, I offer you all my fears and worries. I am afraid of…….I am worried about…..I place all these fears and worries in your loving, compassionate, wounded, and holy hands. A sacred space of transformation.
March 27, 2020 – Sharing the peace
Good and blessed Friday. As you may remember, each Friday and Saturday, we are “Sharing the Peace with our Blessings.” On these days, we will where we share with one another those things that give our life beauty and meaning. I ask that you post them on your social media site or forward them by email to people that you know to bring them blessings today. In the same way, we share the peace during Holy Eucharist, let us share the peace of the Lord in this way.
Today is sharing the written word. The theme for today is poetry. What are those poems that mean something to you? I have chosen 5 poems by three different poets.
The first two poems are by William Blake. They are two out of the three pastoral poems in Songs of Innocence, the other being Spring. I love the imagery of a shepherd, and they remind me of the Good Shepherd and the love the shepherd has for the flock.
How sweet is the Shepherds sweet lot,
From the morn to the evening he strays:
He shall follow his sheep all the day
And his tongue shall be filled with praise.
For he hears the lambs innocent call,
And he hears the ewes tender reply,
He is watchful while they are in peace,
For they know when their Shepherd is nigh.
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing wooly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
The second poem is from the poet, who always provides resilience and inspiration. I could ready Maya Angelou throughout the day. Her verses describe life; our joy, seeking, pain, and hope. Touched by An Angel expresses love, and for me, the title is appropriate because love did come down, and love is implanted in our hearts by God. I was wrestling whether to post this one or “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”
Touched by An Angel
We, unaccustomed to courage
exiles from delight
live coiled in shells of loneliness
until love leaves its high holy temple
and comes into our sight
to liberate us into life.
and in its train come ecstasies
old memories of pleasure
ancient histories of pain.
Yet if we are bold,
love strikes away the chains of fear
from our souls.
We are weaned from our timidity
In the flush of love’s light
we dare be brave
And suddenly we see
that love costs all we are
and will ever be.
Yet it is only love
which sets us free.
The final poems are from a poet who is dear to my heart. In fact, he is related to me. Sadly he passed away in the 1990s. The poet is Fray Angelico Chávez OFM. He is an amazing renaissance man and is often unrecognized. In my home state of New Mexico, he has a statue near the plaza in Santa Fe, and the state historical library bears his name. Born in the early 1900s, Chávez was a priest, historian, author, poet, and painter and served as a chaplain during World War II. I selected a beautiful poem called Sermons in Stones. Take time to read it and the depth of its meaning. The second poem is for the Priests in the diocese.
Sermons in Stones
Into the rock my Lady went
When all the world no pity lent;
And in the stone she gave Him birth,
Who from the stone then blessed the earth.
Upon a rock she fondly laid Him,
And from the storms the rocks did save Him,
And all the stones in silence praised Him,
When into the rock she went.
Into the land of stones she went,
When Herod the heart of Rachel rent.
And near the stones of long-dead kings,
She hid the eternal Lord of Things.
To sleep on the rocks she sweetly lulled Him,
From desert sands the stones did shield Him;
All gentile rocks and stones extolled Him,
When into that land she went.
Back to the rocky hills she came,
When death the cruel king o’er came,
And there among the rocks He played,
And blessed the stones that He had made.
The brook’s smooth pebbles were marbles for Him,
The slates on the hillocks were tablets for Him,
The rocks and the stones were all friends to Him,
When back to the hills she came.
To the top of the rock my Saviour went,
By a cross His weary Body bent.
And on a carpet of solid stone,
They raised His painful and bloody Throne.
Those stones on the way had kissed and caressed Him,
That rock to the sight of all sinners did raise Him,
And the stones near the gibbet with pity did face Him,
When up to the rock He went.
Into the rock my Lady went,
With heart transfixed, by woe for spent.
Back to the stone she brought her Son,
From Whom the breath of life was gone.
Back on the stone she tearfully laid Him,
With mute consent the rock received Him,
From contact foul the stone preserved Him,
When into the rock she went.
Out of the rock my Saviour came,
Glorious, immortal, and free from shame.
His temple He built upon a stone,
To Peter, the Rock, he gave the Throne.
With heavenly power endowed by Him,
Daily on the stone the priest does lay Him,
And angels on stone kneel down and adore Him,
Since out of the rock He came.
God drew me out of nothing
And held me in His Hand;
He draws me out of nothing
I hold Him in my hand!
Now, I invite you to share the peace with family, friends and neighbors. Select a poem or verse of poetry that has great meaning and share that peace. “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”
March 26, 2020 – Holy Longings, Sacred
Connections – 1. We cannot live without one another.
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot were to say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body’, that would not make it any less a part of the body.” 1 Cor 12:13-15
During this time of physical distancing, one of the signs of God’s holy presence is the realization of how much we depend on one another, how much we need one another, and cannot truly live without one another. Over time, culture has ingrained in our psyche that we must “go at it alone” embody the “tough American individualism” or “every person for themselves.” Yet, it is a false illusion. In times like these, if we live that individualistic creed, we often find ourselves clinging to the sides of a small boat, tossed about in the dark during a raging storm. Perhaps that is why our statement of faith found in the Nicene Creed begins and is filled with “We believe” rather than “I believe.”
We. Believe. Our belief is in the Body of Christ. Many parts joined together, and you are part of that body. Together, we are made whole.
I suspect that in our prayers, many of us are recalling those sacred moments of the body joined together. The smiles when we greet one another after a time apart. The stirring in our hearts when we hear the spoken word of God: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” The feeling of joy when we look into one another’s eyes and share of the peace. The strength of being joined together as a community through the broken body of Christ. The exchange of compassion in sharing a story and the embrace that heals.
Oh, that deep, deep longing for uniting once again on a Sunday that God has promised for us.
At this moment in the story of the church, these sacred connections are now so apparent, and these holy longings for oneness will only lead to stronger life-giving relationships in the future. Don’t all those petty arguments we sometimes find in the church seem trivial in comparison to our desire to be together once again?
I find it uplifting and hopeful that God’s mysterious and holy presence is uniting us through prayer. At different times, throughout the world, from different locations and with different voices, we are strengthening the body. Yes, it is a bit different, but it is beautiful, and we are of one spirit.
I invite you to read the lesson from Morning Prayer: 1 Corinthians 12:12-26. Reflect on how our temporary separation can bring long-lasting unity. Contemplate how our common prayers will unfold into a new way of living as the body of Christ. God is creating something new. Let us hold one another’s brokenness and separation and then embody our unity through love.
We are one body, and at its center is the heart. Hearts connected to the heart of Christ, hearts connected to one another. This is the Church. This is the Body of Christ. Holy longings and sacred connections. We cannot live without God, and we cannot live without one another.
March 25, 2020 – The Feast of the Annunciation. How? Nothing is Impossible with God.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, And he came to Mary and said, ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.’* But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’* The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born* will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.’ Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38
Today we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation. It is a glorious day as this encounter between Gabriel and Mary unites the Old Testament and the New Testament. It is the fulfillment of the eternal promise and the reality of our deliverance. Where all the prayers and petitions that have been lifted up since the beginning of time come to life. “He will be great, and His Kingdom will never end.” The Good News. Poets and artists throughout the centuries have attempted to capture this profound moment. As I was praying over this meditation, something struck me about the Annunciation. All the questions and God’s eternal presence within those questions.
Today, I invite you to pray over the Annunciation differently. A different, joyful take on the Jesuit imaginative prayer.
Begin with Gabriel. Imagine the questions when God summoned him. God tells him: “Gabriel, you will take this message. You will take it not to a King, President, nor Emperor. You will take this message to a woman. A young, poor woman in the small town of Nazareth. She is the one.” Gabriel must have thought: “A poor, young woman? Wasn’t I just down there last week? What is the message?”
God’s response: “Out of love, my deep love, I will send the Savior of the world. Oh, and Gabriel, it gets better. He will take the form of humanity, he will come not with power and riches, will look like them, clothed in the same skin, and he will teach them about hope, forgiveness, humanity, compassion, acceptance, and my love. His name will be Jesus.”
Gabriel must have thought: “Wow. This is amazing, no one will believe this. All the gods they have conjured throughout time do not love like this. Are you sure?” Gabriel must have been full of questions as searched for Mary. Yes, he was the messenger, but this is different from past messages. He was the one who had interpreted Daniel’s dreams. Doesn’t God send messages through prophets, not angels? Why now?
Just a week earlier, Gabriel had rendered Zacharias deaf and unable to speak for not believing and questioning when he announced the birth of John the Baptist. While, I do not know the mind of angels, nor am I one, I wonder if Gabriel had the following questions on his way to speak to Mary:
What should be the timing of the announcement?
Where in Nazareth?
While she is working or perhaps when she is sleeping?
Will Mary run away?
Will Mary believe me?
What encounter with Zacharias was not pretty.
What if she says no? God is really giving her a choice?
He picks the time and place and appears. Mary is frightened because she knows the presence of angels does not foretell Good News. “What are you doing here?” Then the words: Blessed Mary, Hello. You are loved by God. Don’t fear because God is with you.”
Mary asks, “why me?” Gabriel listens and reassures her. He is not demanding, threatening, or overbearing. “You are the one that God has chosen, and through you, God’s hope and love will be born into the lives of all God’s beloved children.”
Gabriel has the privilege to be the first one to speak the name of Jesus, and Mary is the first one to accept Jesus. Then the response: “Yes!” The Annunciation and the affirmation. Now, we are blessedly living the reality of Gabriel’s message, the depth Mary’s trust, and the truth God’s love.
On Gabriel’s return, he must have been filled with a mix of emotions. The hope and joy in Mary’s response. The relief that humanity is saved because of Jesus. The deep sense of peace, in the knowing, that the God he serves, the God of all creation loves us with an indescribable and unconditional love.
During this time, we will encounter our fears and anxieties. We have so many questions about what the future holds. During those instances, keep this encounter between God, Gabriel, and Mary. Know that God’s presence is always within your holy questioning. We may not receive the answers that we demand and want; however, there is a blessed assurance that God is with us, God loves us, and God will guide us. The answer may lay with that beautiful and mysterious presence.
The message of new life is being announced in many ways. Why us? “You have found favor with the Lord? Why now? “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” Why? Why? “Don’t be afraid. Nothing is impossible with God.”
March 24, 2020 – Feast of Oscar Romero
In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance. Mark 8:1-10
Feast of Oscar Romero. 40 Years. Compassion.
Today is a special day in that it has been 40 years since the murder of one of my heroes. I still remember that day I heard the news. I was 15 1/2 and returning from school. Gloom and sadness enveloped me like a wet and suffocating shroud. My dream was to be with those Bishop’s and Priests walking with the poor in body, spirit, and mind. To be with all the faithful during their times of sadness and joy. To have the blessed opportunity to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ and live the life of holy compassion. On that day, hate and a bullet seemingly ripped those dreams from my hands.
That evening I walked to church and sat inside. For some reason, I could not sit and walked around and began looking at the stations of the cross that lined the walls of the church. I did not pray them because my mind kept going back to the death of my hero. I stopped at the 6th station where St. Veronica wipes the faces of Jesus. At that moment, I realized compassion is genuinely holy, compassion is part of our divine DNA. Compassion, the compassion of Archbishop Romero that is modeled in Jesus Christ, can only be realized if it is part of our lives. We must give compassion and must be willing to receive the compassion of others.
The readings assigned for today for Archbishop Romero struck me, in the same way, I was moved long ago. Slowly read this paragraph from Mark. Notice that Jesus says, “ I have compassion for all these beautiful children of God, they have been with me, and they are hungry.” I can’t send them away without taking care of them. I cannot take one more step, or say another word until I know they are well. The power and depth of the love he has for them and for us. Guess what? He was innovative, resourceful, and then he asked others to search, bring him whatever small gifts they had, work with one another, and then place them in his hands so that the miracle could occur.
Isn’t this the situation we find ourselves in right now. We have been with Christ, and we are hungry for faith, community, human interaction, some sense of normalcy. Now, let us be resourceful and place whatever small gifts we have at our disposal into in his hands so we will not faint. Jesus will not send us away hungry while in our homes. He is performing miracles, and it is comforting knowing the deep compassion he has for each one of us.
It also fills my heart when I think of the sixth station of the cross. The heart of Jesus was filled with compassion and notice that he allows Veronica to be compassionate with him during his time of enormous suffering.
I imagine she was hungry that day described in the Gospel of Mark. She watched Jesus, perhaps overheard his words, “I have compassion,” and in his darkest hours reached out to him in love. I believe this is the compassion and love that guided Archbishop Romero as he had the example in Jesus Christ. He lived it, so let us live it today, tomorrow and all the days that will follow.
We have Jesus, and this is the light and compassion that will guide us on this path.
One of my prayers is that after we journey through this time together, one of our new identities as a people and a diocese is that we will be a new community of compassion. A radical, loving, and compassionate community that serves as a beacon for all Christianity. I leave you with this old story: “a woman overwhelmed by grief after the death of her son. When she goes to the holy man for advice, he tells her, “Fetch me a mustard seed from a home that has never known sorrow. We will use it to drive the sorrow out of your life.” The tale recounts how the woman goes from house to house, asking if the home has known sorrow. Each one has, of course, and the woman lingers to comfort her hosts until, at last, the act of ministering to others drives the sorrow from her life.”
God bless you and know that I love you. Let us be a new community of compassion.
March 23, 2020
Eternal Changelessness – Our Hope
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Hebrews 13:8
“…so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered…” Hebrews 6:18-20
This past weekend at home, I was sitting at my desk looking outside the window. In the background, I could hear the television reports of the latest COVID-19 spread. A steady stream of emails arriving in my inbox and accompanied by the sounds our technology make to announce a triumphant presence. Even now, an extraordinary amount of junk mail. A text message reporting the latest changes to the contain the spread in our region and inviting me to the latest briefing. I refresh the computer screen to learn of the minute by minute breaking news.
Then amidst all this information, I hear a familiar sound outside of the window. In the past, I would have ignored the sound, and today, I was drawn to it. I get up, and in the rain gutter, a cardinal is methodically picking through twigs, patiently searching for the right one. I think to myself, how do they know? Yet they know. In that instant, the entire backyard opened up. The two squirrels that are always chasing and fighting with one another are at it again. Robins pick for worms while ignoring the fight of the squirrels. God’s creatures continue on, unaware of COVID-19 or any shelter in place.
While at this moment, our lives are disrupted, the miracles that are so pervasive in life will continue to happen, and Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. This is our hope, and it is the anchor for our souls. This time we are in is just a small arc on this holy pilgrimage called life.
During this time, let us live with the trust that the sun will rise, and the moon will set. The clouds will swirl in their majestic dance, and the stars will shine in their celestial brilliance. The birds, trees, animals, and streams of water will continue on with their assured path and purpose. Look, the flowers are now piercing through from their temporary entombment, gently emerging for their dark winter isolation. The wonder as they join with other flowers to create swaths of color throughout the landscape.
This is our hope. A constant presence and eternal changelessness. Just like Christ never changes and He is with us. We will be together once again. We will color the landscape, we will shine in our brilliance and swirl in a majestic dance. And at that time, there will be the same knowing that Christ never changes, and He is with us.
Go to the window, take a look, say a prayer, and do not fear. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Isn’t it glorious? Oh wow, I never noticed the variation of colors in that leaf…
March 21, 2020
Hope! We have hope because we have Jesus Christ. Let us share that hope with the rest of the world. Good and blessed day, my dear family. All will be well as God is here, and Jesus Christ is journeying with each one of us through this journey. There is also the joy that we journey together through this pilgrimage of faith. We are in this together, and our love will only be strengthened. Please know that I am blessed to walk with you, and I hold each of your names in prayer and uplift each of your comments.
As I mentioned yesterday, I will share meditations throughout the week. On Friday and Saturday, we will break open and share the peace with one another. Yesterday, I asked that we share prayers, quotes, and scriptural passages. Start collecting for next Friday. Today, let us share pictures that are sustaining us, those pictures that give us hope and peace. Photos that are essential to our faith. Be creative, and don’t worry about the quality. If you are so moved, say something about the picture and why it is sustaining to you. I ask that you share these pictures on this post and then share the images throughout your vast social network. Let’s tag them #sharethepeace.
I am sharing pictures that represent those things that always bring a sense of peace in my life.
The first picture: Jesus Christ. I love the images of the Good Shepherd. The second picture speaks to my faith. The image is of a retablo. They are the ancient New Mexican form of depicting the saints when New Mexico was an isolated outpost detached from the church and the rest of society. This one is Santo Nino de Atocha, which is a depiction of the Child Jesus made by Jose Rafael Aragon in the 18th Century. It is now worth thousands, but it’s meaning is priceless. My grandmother used to have a similar retablo in her home. She was foundational to my faith and would always tell me that despite all the worry, problems, and obstacles – Don’t worry, God will take care of us. I hear her voice every day, telling me the same thing.
The third picture is of the first time Suzanne held Jude. Many might know that both Suzanne and Jude almost died during his birth. Suzanne was in critical condition for two weeks and did not see him during this time. This was the first time that I brought him down, and she held him. I cannot say the joy and emotion at that moment. I keep this picture in my wallet. I would write more about this moment; however, I do not think I can continue because of the tears.
The fourth picture is of my time among you in this diocese. I wish I could post a picture of each visitation and each interaction. I love each one of you, and I cannot imagine my ministry without you. In fact, it is now difficult to remember a ministry without you. Thus, this picture is of the date of my ordination as Bishop. This year is the beginning of year 5. Yes, onward to the future filled with hope, love, and Jesus Christ.
The fifth picture speaks to my ministry serving God’s beloved. Baptism. Need I say more.
Picture # 6 is of my dog Brooklyn. I have been blessed with dogs throughout my life. I held them when I am in tears, run with them when I experienced nature, and they have brought me to fits of laughter with their antics. Those animals in which I have journeyed have never left my side. Brooklyn is a character and with a mind of her own. If she does not want to do something, she won’t. Yet, her deep loyalty and love touch my life.
Finally, I always save pictures that speak to the goodness of humanity. God has placed something in our DNA, and it is goodness. It is one of the key ingredients to understanding love. The love of God and the love of one another. Despite the displays of hate and cruelty, I know that goodness will always overcome the darkness. I would rather be broken than not believe. This is from a local Pennsylvania photographer Steven McMurray (lives within our diocese) and he is internationally recognized.
Share your pictures, I want to know your life, your hope, and dreams. Let us share the peace that is in our lives. In doing so, we share the peace with one another. In this time, when we cannot embrace, let us share the peace in this way. I encourage you to log on to all the on-line prayers today and pray with your friends and church. Tomorrow, have all your friends and family join your diocesan family on-line. Let’s set some records for attendance and have our prayers and worship touch the world.
My diocesan family, I am deeply grateful for you. You inspire me with your faith, joy, resilience, hope and love. We have the Good News. We have one another. We have Jesus Christ. Nothing will deter, detract, isolate or stop us on this holy pilgrimage together.
You are blessed, beloved and beautiful. Stay strong, stay well. Check on one another and take care of one another. We are family. I pray for you and please pray for me. God bless you.
March 20, 2020
Breaking open and sharing the peace
Each Monday through Thursday, I am writing a daily reflection and sharing throughout the diocese. In the depths of my soul, I sense that prayer indeed infuses every part of our being and moves throughout time and creation, as it is like a mist that gently covers our face and refreshes our lives. As Bishop, I genuinely believe that a “shepherd should smell like the sheep.” I want to hear your voices, see your faces, and hold what is on your heart. I also believe that your fellow pilgrims need the same connection.
Our journey together will take on a different form on Friday and Saturday. I invite the faithful to share the goodness and love in your own hearts so that we may uplift and enliven one another. Each moment and each day, you are vessels of God’s love. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are each called to proclaim the Good News of our Savior.
Thus, each Friday and Saturday will be a time of breaking open and sharing the peace. Since at this time, we cannot share the peace physically, let us share the peace in this form.
Each Friday, I will share a prayer, scripture, or quote to use over the weekend. If you are so moved, I invite you to share a prayer that has special meaning in your life. It could be one that sustained you in a crisis or a prayer that brings you a sense of peace. Let us assemble and share a vast collection of prayers, scriptural passages, and quotes so that the world can pray together. If you are comfortable, please explain its importance. I will also invite you to be revolutionary and daring: send it to a friend with a personal note, post it on your social media site, or call someone and read it to them. Perhaps, you can say the prayer in your home or ask friends or family members to take turns reading that prayer. Let’s be evangelists during this time and share the peace and love of Christ.
If you know someone who is in a nursing home, an assisted living community, or lives alone and needs prayer, please send me their name and number, and I will personally call them and share my prayer with them. Nothing is more important than the love we share with our sisters and brothers on this journey.
Each Saturday, our breaking open and sharing the peace will take a slightly different form. We will use our senses as a form of prayer. I may post a picture (nature, family, pet), work of art, song, piece of poetry, or a recipe that holds special meaning and share how it connects my life with my spiritual journey with Jesus Christ. I sense that many have all these fears and anxieties in our heads, and they are consuming our every thought. I invite this form of sharing and breaking the peace as a way for us to live in our hearts. For it is there, we will find the peace of the Lord. Let’s be creative and start planting the seeds of the flowers that will soon bloom in our lives, churches, and our faith.
Although we are physically distant, there is no reason we should be disconnected. Now is a time for goodness, empathy, humanity, and love to cover the earth. In this time of surrender, take a chance and break open parts of your life. Let us learn something about one another, let us connect heart to heart, song to song, prayer to prayer.
I can promise that when we break our lives open and share “the peace,” it creates holy ground, and that holy ground will transcend any distance that may separate us. My sisters and brothers, “the peace of the Lord be with you always!”
On this Friday, I would like to share a prayer that I read every morning as soon as I awake. It grounds me and reminds me of how God is my foundation, my light, and my hope:
O God, I come into quietness and stillness of your presence I take with me a quiet serenity which will last through the rough and smooth of this day. I come to find wisdom, so I may not make foolish mistakes. To know when to speak and keep silent, when to act and when to refrain. To find peace, so nothing may worry or upset me. To find courage, be patient and not give up hope, when hopes are long in coming true. To accept disappointment without bitterness and to accept delay without complaint. I come to find love, to listen to your love so I may love without being attached, so nothing may make me bitter or unforgiving. I come to begin this day with you and able to continue and end it with you.
March 19, 2020 – Feast of St. Joseph. To find God in the now.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph. Through Joseph, we learn to be present in the sacred moment, and through the silence, hear the voice of God guiding us forward. For Joseph, life was not as he planned, but the life God has prepared for him.
Please take a moment to imagine the plans Joseph made for his life.
He is starting a life with Mary. Each day thoughts fill his head with what the future holds. The excitement of the upcoming wedding and all the guests they will invite. He is probably working on a table and thinking of the number of children they will raise together. What will we call them? Abraham, Rebecca, Sarah, even David. “Yes, I will be called the father of David.” Each day he is busily preparing their home and his carpentry business; “oh, the things I will build.” All these beautiful plans.
Then one day, it all changed.
He notices that Mary has something on her mind. Then, Mary, his beloved Mary, approaches him and says: “I am with child.” It physically, mentally, and spiritually shakes him to the core. All the plans and dreams are gone, and his world is collapsing around him. Shock, anger, and doubt covers him. “Our future!” He is lost, and all the answers disappear. Alone, Joseph goes to a dark room and cries. In his loneliness and through his tears, God gently rustles and speaks to him. “Do not be afraid, trust me.” Joseph has a choice. Does he listen to God or listen to all the voices who are saying, “don’t listen, don’t trust.”
New plans, a new life, what does he do? Joseph’s response: “Yes, his name will be Jesus.” We must remember that profound eternal impact in the decision to listen and respond. His yes is as important as Mary’s. It does not end here as the rest of Joseph’s life consists of looking, finding God in the now, and saying yes to God. Yes, even if it means changing all his plans.
Remember that the celebration of the birth of his son is interrupted. His family is in danger, a pestilence called Herod wants to take his life and that of his family, this pestilence has taken many lives. Joseph listens and, in the middle of the night, leaves everything and goes into isolation. He takes a perilous journey into the unknown that is filled with all types of hazards and dangers. Joseph must start a new life in a new city. He does not know anyone, nor how he will support or feed his family. The initial anxiety is overwhelming, yet God speaks to him through the silence and assures him all will be well.
Guess what? It does not stop. After a few years in Egypt, his plans change once again. God speaks to him and says, “Joseph, take your family back to Israel.” Seriously God? He listens, trusts, and off they go. All is well with God. The last description of Joseph’s faithfulness is when Jesus is lost in the temple. Journeying back to Nazareth and the most precious thing in his life is perhaps gone forever. Once again, the fear, anxiety, hopelessness. The look on Mary’s face. “All the plans we have made.” He seeks God in the now, he trusts once again for Joseph knows that hope, nor God does not disappoint.
During this time, when all our plans are shattered, when we sit alone, when we are on the verge of tears, let us learn from Joseph. This faithful servant of God always listens. Despite all the plans, fears, and anxieties, he finds God in the now and opens his life to a new way of living. He teaches us how to be a church, he shows us how to listen. Joseph teaches us the trust and finds courage when all our plans are changed. When the world, as we know it is turned upside down, Joseph learns that God has something beautiful waiting. St. Joseph, may we live like you. May we trust God like you. May our lives hold and care for Christ, like you.
March 18, 2020 – “We are prophets of a future not our own.”
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
We have been accustomed to receiving immediate answers to all our questions. If we do not know the answer, we google it. If an email is not answered immediately, we become irritated. Anger arises if we are sent to a call center, and our issue is not settled to our satisfaction. The instances when we order something on-line and focus on the timing of delivery and then immediately tear open the package upon arrival.
Oh, everyday life in America. Or so we thought. Now amid the current pandemic, we desperately want all the answers. We search Google, read every article, watch the breaking news continually, and are often left with more questions than answers. Without a quick resolution, we begin to doubt and fear. This fear leads to anxiety, which results in the form of panic. We are unsettled and untethered in a short amount of time; without answers.
The answer to all our questions is immediately available – faith. All God ever asks from us is our faithfulness. Our faith is the gift we can ravenously unpack in our homes and solitude. One thing is sure; the eternal and all-knowing God exists and lives in our midst. God holds each one of us in the palms of those beautiful, divine hands. God who sent Jesus Christ so we may know love and hope in times like these. God is the certainty in times of uncertainty.
Take a chance and surrender. To admit we do not have the answers, and we cannot make the virus stop immediately. Allow God to comfort, strengthen, and guide (even if we dislike waiting). This is also a hallowed time to shift our internal and external priorities. Many worry about the church, on-line worship, and the loss of community. We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We will once again come together as a community, and at that time, we will be stronger. In the span of time, 2, 4, or 8 weeks are temporal, similar to the morning fog that will be dissipated by the light.
When we lean upon God, the simplest things, what was once taken for granted, can now be cherished upon their eventual return. God has plans, not for harm, but a future with hope. We may not all the answers, and it is o.k. Place everything in the hands of the Holy One.
God is here.
On this beautiful Wednesday. Allow me to share words often attributed to St. Oscar Romero, but, in fact, given by Fr. Ken Untener.
“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view. The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said. No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection. No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No program accomplishes the Church’s mission. No set of goals and objectives includes everything. This is what we are about.
We plant the seeds that one day will grow. We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise. We lay foundations that will need further development. We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities. We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. This enables us to do something, and to do it very well. It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.
We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker. We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.”