Sep 122020

Forgiving Others as we Forgive Ourselves.

As I have been going about this week, I have noticed an increase in animosity and vitriol. This tension is always felt for me this time of year, especially around the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. This is the moment that the America that I had been raised to know for me died.

You see, up until that point I had been taught that a lot of our sins had been atoned for. Our past with racism, and xenophobia was just that in the past, and we were this melting pot utopia that had embraced all of various skin colors, and beliefs. When those 4 planes tore through the sky and like a knife, cut the rose colored glasses off the country and showed our hatred and intolerance once again this time toward people of the Muslim faith, and has since cascaded and renewed our in-sensitivities that had been lying dormant against people of color, migrant communities, and LGBTQI individuals.

As I grew in my faith and in my call, I was asked to challenge my own biases. In that I realized that even though I had known Muslim friends and colleagues, there was still a resentment inside of me and I needed to do the work to release this, and part of that was praying and asking God to forgive those fundamentalists that attempted to speak for an entire community of faith and damage all of our hearts and minds. It wasn’t until then was I truly free and could look at 9/11 and truly honor those we lost.

The readings this week teach us this hard lesson. Sirach says that “vengeance is the Lords” and we who “attempt to exact vengeance” will lose the ability to seek forgiveness for ourselves. For how can we seek the very thing that we will not give to others who come to us seeking it.

That is the real test, can we forgive others for how they hurt us? That does not mean forgetting the pain, and what they did, but forgiveness is letting go and releasing that pain. It frees us from those chains of anger and vitriol, and brings us to a place where it is just an event that shapes us.

This week I challenge you to take the time to find those moments in your life. And if you are ready to, tell God that you are ready to forgive. Then let God do the rest.

God bless.

Fr. Matt+

Jun 052020

Fighting hatred and racism with love

Say no to racism

I am saddened and dismayed at the amount of hatred and division that exists in our world today. Many people are standing up to violence and racism in our world. Others are content to allow things to remain as they have always been. And others are indifferent to either viewpoint.

Even sadder is the fights that are occurring within each faction. There are those who feel we are not doing enough to combat racism, bigotry and hatred. Other feel that we must only work with, love or support those we agree with 100%. And still others feel we have all gone too far.

Jesus was a radical protester. He stood up to oppression, hatred and bigotry. A prime example of this was the story of the Samaritan woman. We read in John 4:9, “The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” Jesus was friends with the outcasts of society. He spent time with tax collectors, prostitutes and the Samaritans. He shattered their ideas of social class, racism and bigotry.

And yes, he even flipped over a few tables and whipped a few people. Yet, he loved them all. Even those who crucified him. From the cross he cried for God to forgive those who murdered him. He begged for their immortal souls even as he drew his last breath. He left us an example of how we ought to live.

Jesus wants us to stand up for the defenseless and the downtrodden. He also wants us to love one another. Saint Paul encourages us all to, “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:11-12)

Today, as we stand against racism, bigotry, hatred and division, let us not forget to love one another. Love those standing shoulder to shoulder with us. And love those standing on the other side of each issue. Pray for our own conversion of heart as well as theirs.

Won’t you join me as I struggle to walk this path as well?

May 152020

Despite attacks we continue to serve

attacks

Yesterday I received one of those messages that make me cringe as a pastor. It came from a person who likes to tell everyone how much experience they have. They also feel the need to put down everyone around them for not being as smart as they are. They attack those who are actually doing the work of ministry instead of assisting in ministry.

As a pastor, I have learned to ignore most of these messages. I understand the pain they are carrying and the damage that has been done to them that causes them to act in such a way. Despite their vitriolic behavior, I continue to lift them in prayer and hope and pray they find peace.

As catholic Christians it is our calling to pray for those who persecute us. Even those who claim to be our relatives who do not or cannot see our value. And those who wish to do us harm because they are jealous of our success or our willingness to answer the call of the Gospel. We shake the dust from our sandals, pray for them to find peace, and move on down the spiritual path we are on.

Here at Saint Francis Parish, we may never be a mega church like the ones you see on Youtube or television. We may never have the size of ministries and outreaches as many of the churches around us. But what we do have is a huge love for one another and the willingness to help those who need it most.

We are a safe-haven in the storms of life. Our doors are open for all those hurt by other churches. We welcome and support those thrown away by the other churches. It does not matter why those churches sent you away. You are welcome here!

We love everyone without inquiring about whether they are worthy of love or not. Everyone deserves love and the support necessary to be the best version of themselves! That may not be the kind the message that will cause us to grow into a mega-church. Yet, it is the message that the Gospel proclaims.

It is my hope that you will join us by Livestream Sunday and eventually in person to discover an entirely different way to be catholic!

May 092020

Yes, we are catholic!

catholic

I want to first apologize for not blogging in a while. I will admit that life has been rather hectic and in some ways depressing. However, I am back. And for my first blog in a while, I want to talk about being catholic.

There are close to 30 different catholic (note the small c) churches of which the Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican and various Orthodox churches are a part of. To most of them, catholicism means that their clergy have Apostolic Succession and they have valid sacraments. They may not always agree on liturgy or various doctrinal matters, but they remain catholic.

Sadly, there are those who claim that unless a person is their version of catholic, that they have no right to call themselves catholic. This could not be further from the truth. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church, which tends to be the most hard-line when it comes to who they consider catholic, has said that there are catholics not under Rome’s authority. In 2000, (Saint) Pope John Paul II even enshrined this doctrine in his encyclical called Dominus Iesus. Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) signed this document as well stating that it was not in error and making it an infallible teaching for those in the Roman Catholic Church.

Here is what (Saint) Pope John Paul II said, “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches…Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such … have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” (IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church, 17)

Regardless of what these other catholic church may say, Saint Francis Parish and our clergy and parishioners are catholic. We are not Roman Catholic or Orthodox and have not claimed to be such. Our sacraments are valid and open to all who wish to receive them.

You see, the Old Catholic Church has been around since 1145 AD, a mere 91 years after the Great Schism that created the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. We have our own polity and piety that has been formed in the years since.

As Old Catholics, we have married and LGBTQI clergy. We offer an open communion to anyone who wish to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Divorced, LGBTQI, people of all nationalities and past experiences are welcome in our parish and welcome to partake in our sacraments. We welcome and love all people.

And hopefully, when we can once again meet in person, you will join us and experience a different way to be catholic!

Apr 292020

Reaching out during our dark night of the soul

reaching out

I was reminded of a simple yet difficult fact of life last night. And it came in a way that left a great impact on me. It will come as no shock to those who know me well, but I have been really struggling lately. I try to hide it, but I have been very depressed and in a very dark place. And reaching out to others when I depressed is not my strong suit.

Last night, my brave and in-control facade fell for a few minutes and I had to have a very candid talk with my family about my struggles. My future daughter-in-law looked at me and said, “Dad, how can we support you if we don’t know you are struggling? We can’t read your mind.” She was right.

I have lived with the feeling that is not right to share my struggle with those under me. Right or wrong, it has always felt wrong to reach out to them for help. And many of my fellow clergy feel the same way. Sadly, this is the thought process that leads to clergy killing themselves instead of asking for support.

I am not going to be part of that crowd anymore. To suffer alone is wrong. Especially when I have people around me who really do care about me. And to you, clergy and laity alike, I echo that message. There are people all around you who love you and want to support you. All you have to do is ask. Reaching out for support is not a bad thing.

Because we cannot read your mind either.

During this pandemic it is easy to loose sight of the support network that is all around you. We are asked to “social distance” from everyone. This is a terrible term and gives the impression, whether we are conscience of it or not, that we should not even talk to each other. However, we are really only asked to physically distance from one another. We can be as social with each other as we want!

Today I am reaching out to ask you for your help. I need people to talk to. Even if it is only for a few minutes a couple of times a week. I need people who are willing to just sit with me when I am hurting, without judgement and without trying to “fix” me.

I promise that I will also be here for you when you need to talk. And I will not judge you, nor will I try to fix you. Instead, I will be here to walk with you along this journey through all the darkness into the blessed light that will come.

Because no pandemic last forever.

And in your dark moments, I want you to know: God loves you and so do I!

One last thing before I end this rambling blog. Can you please send us photos of you and/or your family? We would really like to tape them to our pews so that when we are celebrating Mass we can look out and see your smiling faces. You do not have to be a regular member of our parish to participate. If you follow us on Facebook, watch our Masses online, or just stumbled across us today, we would still like to include you in our Virtual Congregation. You can send your photos to fathergreg@oursaintfrancis.org.

God bless you all!

Father Greg

Mar 132020

Faith and science are not at odds

Our world is currently in the grip of fear over the COVID-19 virus. So many people have decided that they wish to spread misinformation or ignore the facts. This is a symptom of a much greater problem in our world.

We have given in the to what many people are now calling a “post-truth” society. Facts, science, reason no longer have any standing in our discourse. Even when those facts could save lives and help better society, they choose to ignore them. And if anyone challenges their world view or their beliefs, they lash out and attack.

Such attacks on reason and fact hurt us as Christians in ways no one fully appreciates. Saint Augustine of Hippo in the Literal Meaning of Genesis says the following:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

The church for far too long stood against the use of reason and science. It believed that they stood in opposition to faith. However, we now understand that faith and science, faith and reason, do not have to be opposed to one another. They can co-exist and it does not diminish God at all. In fact, many catholic saints like Saint Albert the Great were scientist in their own right. Their faith and the use of reason helped them to make discoveries that benefited all of mankind.

Today, we as a church use our faith and science to help make the world a better place. We do not just sit back and pray for the betterment of all. We actually go out into the world and help those in most need. This is also why we heed the advice of scientist when it comes to the spread of infections and viruses. So when you see the changes we have made as a result of the COVID-19 virus threat, you know that we are doing it to protect our parish family from a very nasty illness.

Just because we accept scientific facts does not mean that we do not pray. And so as we work to stop the spread of the virus, let us also pray for those infected and those at risk of becoming infected.

Blessings!

Fr. Greg

Feb 282020

Finding real grace during Lent

grace

This afternoon I watched an independent film titled Anesthesia. It featured one of my favorite actors, Sam Waterson. If you wish to see it, you can on Hulu right now. The movie has a rather interesting arch and it seems that no two people get the same message out of it. As I watched it, I was struck by one message that rang out loud and clear to me during this start of Lent: we all look for ways to avoid pain and suffering. In other words, we look for cheap grace.

Many of the characters turned to alcohol, sex, self-harm, and drugs to avoid the pain and suffering in their lives. They found themselves self-medicating to avoid facing the reality around them and further to avoid having to change their lives. It is always easier, at least in our minds, to avoid changing than it is to face our past, present or future with the resolve necessary to improve.

Lent calls us to take a hard look at our lives and to fix those things wrong within us. As I say over and over again, it is not just about fish on Friday’s. It is about real soul searching and real change. We are called to set aside our vices and replace them with virtues. It is about helping those around us and helping to change society.

I understand all too well the mess the world is in. I see it everyday in the faces of the sick and dying as well as the students and young people I meet at school. We all fear for the future and at times are paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of the mess before us. Yet, we cannot sit by and do nothing.

The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer wrote this words in 1937 in Germany at the start of the atrocities of World War II.

Far too often we as Christians look for the route of “cheap grace” not just during Lent, but throughout our Christian lives. This Lent I challenge you to avoid “cheap grace” and focus on real change. Real repentance requires not just a hard look in the mirror but also a decision to make a complete turn from our sins and vices.

Join me on this path toward repentance and away from denial of who we are. Come and experience real grace this Lent!

Feb 212020

A different kind of Lent

lent

The season of Lent is about to start. This is a time of year when we should do some serious self-reflection. We should also use this time to focus on positive changes to our lives. Many people think that Lent is only about fasting from meat on Fridays and Stations of the Cross and Adoration. Lent can be so much more than that.

For me, Lent means taking a hard look at my life and finding ways I can be a better Christian. This Lent our parish is offering the devotional booklet by Franciscan Media called Lent with Maximilian Kolbe. It is a daily devotional booklet to help you improve your spiritual life.

We have also scheduled Stations of the Cross and Adoration on March 7 and March 21 at 6:00 PM. I would encourage everyone to take this opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and experience the path he took to liberate us from our sins.

This is also the opportunity to work to combat the hate and bigotry that is growing our world. By looking deep within ourselves and finding those dark parts of us that allow hate to grow, we can work to eliminate them. We can work to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and his command to love all people, even our enemies.

Let’s rid ourselves of our vices and add in some good activities to make us better Christians during this season.

Feb 152020

Lent and community building

lent

We are continuing our focus on building community here at Saint Francis. And as we prepare to enter Lent, now is a good time to look at ways we can strength our community and help others during this time.

Lent is not just about giving up things, but it is also about picking up good habits.

One of those good habits is helping others. Here at Saint Francis we have a Blessing Bag program that gives much needed food and supplies to our homeless friends and families. We can always use help putting together these bags as well as purchasing the supplies to fill them. Then comes the fun part: distributing those bags to those who need them most.

Another good thing you can do is you can participate in our parish life. We all can benefit from your support at Mass. Whether it is being a lector, altar server, gift bearer or just participating at Mass, your help is vital to our parish. On top of that, you can help spread the word about our radically welcoming and inclusive parish. You can share our blogs and postings with your friends and families members.

There is so much we can do to build our community this Lent. But in order to do so, we need you to be a part of our parish family. Join us as we work to build a parish that values each and every member and who is radically inclusive and supportive!