Nov 012019

All Saints, All Souls and Mrs. Muriel

All Souls

Today the church universal celebrates the Feast of All Saints. Tomorrow we pause to celebrate All Souls. These two feast fall near the end of the liturgical year for a reason. All Saints reminds us of those who lived Godly lives as an example to us. All Souls reminds us of those who impacted our lives and now live in peace and love with our Creator.

This Sunday we will pause as a church to remember All Saint and All Souls as well as to remember the life of Mrs. Muriel Widener. Many of you do not know Mrs. Widener. So I will take the opportunity to share a little bit about this remarkable parishioner.

Mrs. Widener was 88 years old and had 7 children. As a member of the Navy, she served her country at a time when women were not exactly welcome in our Armed Forces. She was a devoted daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, and great, great grandmother. She was a devoted women of faith. Even when she was unable to attend Mass herself, she made sure her children were educated in and practiced their faith.

I met Mrs. Muriel in February of this year when her devoted granddaughter called me to come visit her. It was after many calls to Roman Catholic parishes. Each parish told her they were too busy for someone who had not been to church in 40 years. Confession and communion were all Mrs. Muriel wanted. And I was happy to provide her with both.

Each week I would visit her. She would tell me story after story about her family, her life as a child in Philadelphia, and all her travels around this country as a child and adult. She could tell a story better than any Broadway playwright! And I enjoyed each one. I enjoyed learning of her time in the Armed Forces. The stories about each child and grandchild. And her eyes would dance with love and excitement as she spoke.

And she would always ask about the parish and my own family. She loved to hear about my daughter and her journey through high school and into college. Her eyes twinkled as she listened. “She is an amazing young lady. You did a good job raising her,” she would say.

Mrs. Muriel attended each Mass that was posted on Roku. She would talk about the sermons and how much she enjoyed watching the Mass. She was truly a part of each and every Mass. More than once she said that if she were not bed-ridden she would be there with us every Sunday. However, Mass came to her every Tuesday when I would give her communion. And tears would well up in her eyes each time the Eucharist touched her tongue. She loved our Lord and could not wait for the next chance to receive him.

Monday night, one of the last things she said to me before ordering me home to rest was, “Please give me communion.” And so I did. We both knew that it would be the last time until she was embraced by our Lord in her new body. When I got the call Tuesday morning early to return to her side, I knew God was calling her to him.

She died peacefully. Surrounded by the love of her family and the prayers of our parish and the OCCI as a whole. She walked into the eternal love and light to see her husband, parents, sister, and her two daughters. And oh what a celebration heaven had that night.

I will miss her. Even now I cry because of the loss of my friend. But I know I shall see her again. And that is what All Souls is about. It is remembering those we love, but also remembering that we will see them again. We are reminded that they still pray for us and still cheer us on. They are never far from us and will be ready to welcome us home when our time comes.

I ask you to come visit with us this Sunday as we celebrate the life of Mrs. Muriel Widener and all the great people we love.

Come experience the different way to be Catholic that Mrs. Muriel discovered.

PS. Mrs. Muriel gave her permission weeks before she died for me to post these details. She was honored that I wanted to memorialize her in our parish history. Rest in freedom and love, my friend.

Jun 082018

Suicide

I had started writing this week’s blog post when a notification popped up on my phone. My stomach sank as I read that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. This after reading earlier in the week that fashion designer Kate Spade had also committed suicide.

So I threw away what I had written and decided to try again.

Many people say that these people had so much going for them. They were rich, famous, well-liked, and had many friends to support them. Why did they kill themselves? Others will claim that if only they had more faith, more love, more strength, more courage, they would not have killed themselves. And then there will be those who will say they took the cowards way out or that they were only being selfish.

All of that is crap.

I tried to kill myself as a teen. I have had thoughts of suicide throughout my life. And I can tell you that it was not because I lacked faith. It was not because I was not strong or courageous. It was because I had come to the end of my strength. I had come to the end of courage. And I believed that I would see God and that maybe, just maybe he would be merciful to me and let me into heaven.

I was tired of being abused. Rape and sexual assault had left me a shell of who I had been. I had no hope that life would improve. And when I dared to speak up, no one would listen or believe me. I was strong, but even that strength had its limits.

And to those who say I was being selfish, I was not. I believed that others would be better if I was not around. Society had convinced me that my struggles were a burden to others. I was left feeling like I had caused the abuse, rape, sexual molestation, and that everyone would be better off if I was not here. I was not suicidal because I was being selfish, I felt it was the ultimate sacrifice for others.

It is not being selfish, but it is also not going to help others either. Having to help families cope with the loss of a loved one who killed themselves has shown me the other side of those situations. Families are left in despair. They realize, all too late, that they missed the warning signs. Guilt consumes them. And then there are the questions about how they could let their loved one die. There are the condemning looks.

And even that is not fair.

That is why more and more people need to speak up about their struggles. That is why, as pastors, we share our brokenness with others. And yes, you may get tired of hearing us talk about how broken we are. But if it helps one person find the help they need, if it saves one person from killing themselves, then I will speak about my brokenness night and day!

After all, that is what I am called to do. That is what you are called to do.

My struggle is not over. And the struggles of my brothers and sisters who wear the collar are not over. Our struggles with depression, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of worthlessness may never end. It is my commitment  to do whatever I can to help others through their struggles and to find the help they need. And in a way, helping them helps me. It helps me find peace with my lot in life.

So, what can you do to help those of us who struggle with depression, suicidal thoughts, and feelings of worthlessness?

BE THERE. Be present to us. You don’t have to say a word. Just listen. Be a shoulder to cry on. Invite us to dinner. Ask us to join you for lunch. See if we want to go to the mall.

BE PREPARED. There are many resources that you can find to help those who need it. Carry the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number in your phone. Have business cards printed up with the help line numbers on them. I am planning (when I can afford to) to have new business cards made for the parish. On the back, I will have the Lifelines listed.

BE LOVING. Be ready to give them a hug. Just pick up the phone and call someone for no reason. Send them a message on Facebook or via their phone that just says you love them. And understand that sometimes they may not respond right away. Your message of love, your call, just knowing you are there and you care, could mean the difference between life and death.

AND DO NOT BE AFRAID. If you feel someone is in immediate danger of committing suicide, DO NOT hesitate to call the police or EMS. They may be angry at you for calling for help, but in the long run, they will thank you for caring enough to reach out for help. They may not be able to reach out, you might have to reach out for them.

At the end of the day, a person may still end their life. As a Bishop, as a Christian, let me make this very clear: Suicide is NOT a guaranteed ticket to Hell. NO WHERE in the Bible does it say that if you kill yourself you will go to Hell. The church for many centuries was wrong and caused so many people hurt and pain when they needed love and compassion. But if your loved one has committed suicide, God understands what they were going through and in his mercy, he will grant them peace and joy in his kingdom.

If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask. We have a new page here at our website that give you resources that can help you through your struggles.

Please know that God loves you and so do we!

Mar 032018

The reminder of the grave

grave

One of the traditions I have during Lent many people find to be rather morbid. I go every year to the cemetery to look at my grave. Yes, I have already purchased my final resting place.

Going to my grave reminds me that life is fragile. It reminds me that I should live every moment as though it is my last. This is one of the lessons of Lent. It may seem morbid, but it helps to keep me humble.

Looking at my final resting place also puts my life in perspective. I am forced to ask myself hard questions about the direction my life is going and what I should be doing as a clergy person. It gives me a moment to reflect on what will be said of me when my life is over.

We should live our lives so that when our time is up we will hear the words, “Welcome home, my good and faithful servant.” Lent is a time when we can reflect on the path we have walked and plan a different course should we desire to. And Lent does not have to end with Easter. The changes we make in our lives should continue throughout the year.

Let us continue our journey with peace, love, and hope. Take time to be kind to everyone around you, to show the love of Christ to everyone you meet.

Come experience this journey and find a different way to be Catholic!

Feb 162018

Thoughts and Prayers

thoughts and prayers

Positive thoughts and prayers have been the best means available, since the beginning of time, to transform darkness to light. – Cat Stevens

This week we witnessed another school shooting. This brings the number since January 1st up to 18. I chose to post that those killed and wounded are in our thoughts and prayers. Their families and friends who were grieving the huge loss of their loved one are also in our thoughts and prayers.

Someone decided to take me to task for making this statement. The poster said, “Enough with the “prayers and thoughts”. God demands we act and change this!” While I understand this person’s feelings and concerns, their tone upset me.

We are doing what we can to change this cycle of violence in our nation. We write letter, we protest, attend town halls, vote, and make phone calls. Yet, at the end of the day all we are left with is people who refuse to listen, refuse to do anything to protect people from the growing tide of violence. So we have a choice. We can allow ourselves to become depressed and give up or we can pray and continue to fight.

I choose to pray and fight. So I offer my thoughts and prayers for that reason and because it is the compassionate thing to do as well. We tend to forget that we are dealing real people in real situations. It is our instinct to get angry and upset at times like this. That is all well and good, but we must remember to extend compassion and empathy to those who are effected by these acts of violence.

You may think that thoughts and prayers is a cop out. The reality is that it is only one part of what we do in these situations. In between our work to stop the violence, we will continue to offer our thoughts and prayers. I hope you will too.

And hopefully, some day, we will be victorious!

Aug 312017
death

The last 3 weeks has been a roller coaster of emotions. As many of you know, my mother-in-law, Linda, was admitted to the hospital. Three weeks later, she passed into the arms of our Lord. Her death was a peaceful one.

For many years now I have found myself looking at the question of mortality. It comes and goes. It is not like an obsession, but rather a passing thought. And when someone close to me passes, it revives that thought.

As human beings we are frail. Scripture tells us life is like a vapor that is here, then gone. (James 4:14) King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes that everything is vanity. He rails about how wisdom, toil, life in general is all vanity.

So what is the point of this existence? In Micah 6:8 I believe we find the answer:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

Our calling in life is to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Jesus summed it up like this:

Yeshua said to him, “The first of all the commandments: ‘Hear Israel, THE LORD JEHOVAH your God, THE LORD JEHOVAH, he is One.’ And you shall love THE LORD JEHOVAH your God with your whole heart and with your entire soul and with your entire mind and with all your power.’ This is the first commandment and the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

We have the two great commandments: Love God with everything you have, and love your neighbor as yourself. That is it! There is no greater commands than this!

Yet, as I sat day after day in the hospital I saw some of the worst and best of humanity. I saw some people who were healthcare workers who did not seem to care about the people they were tasked with helping. There were families who came to visit their loved one and left swearing never to return. I saw a dozen people who never had a single visitor.

It made my heart hurt. And then there were those who went out of their way to care for the patients. The few families who came to visit their loved ones daily. There were those who stayed by their loved one’s side night and day.

We spend so much of our energy on things that really do matter in the long run. I realized just how much “vanity” we spend our energy on as I watched Linda decline in health. I also saw just how much time we spend on things that divide us rather than bind us together.

It is time that we as Christians start living those two great commandments. It is time we truly live up to the name “Christian”. Do you treat others like you want to be treated? Or do you treat them with disdain and anger? Do you yell and scream at people when they make mistakes or do you take time to talk to them rationally and find out where they are coming from? It is times like this that you have a chance to show true Christian love and to help them. You never know what they are going through!

Deacon Dana and I were standing in the line at the hospital cafeteria the day before her mother passed. It was obvious that we were in distress and we knew that Linda would not live much longer. Several people in line were very impatient with us and acted as though we were in the way. The wonderful lady waiting on us took the time to ask if were ok. We told her about the situation and she took time to comfort us. She was patient and kind. She was a true Christian.

I know life is difficult for many people. But that does not give us a right to treat people badly. Rather we need to seek to understand what they are going through and to offer them our assistance.

Because life really is but a vapor, may our last act be one of love!