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

Mar 062020

Our community is a family

community

It is easy to focus on the negative in life. Everyday the news helps us bury ourselves in negativity by bringing us one bad piece of news after another. And during Lent, we are so focused on our shortcomings and failings that we tend to buy into the negativity. So for just a moment, I want to look at some positive things. And our continuing message of community building is just what we need.

Lent is a great time to resolve to deepen our commitment to the church and to our faith. So many people today refuse to come to church because of past bad experiences in church. Others feel there is no need to go to church because it is just full of hypocrites. In that logic, you would never go out to a restaurant because people get sick eating out and some even die from the food served to them. You would never go to the movies because people have been hurt at movies. I might never sleep again simply because I had a bad dream.

Focusing on the negative and painful parts of our lives leave us stuck in a rut that we find it hard to get out of. It also helps to cut us off from others who have been through those experiences. Those same people can help us navigate our own path thru the pain and hurt.

I am not absolving the church of its responsibility for the pain it causes people. Rather, I am saying that not all churches are created equally. Our church is born out of the pain, abuse and mistreatment many of us suffered at the hands of mainstream churches. We work to be better than those churches by treating everyone as we would want to be treated. Our focus as a parish and as part of a larger national church is to help those who have been abused and to stop the cycle of abuse.

This Saturday evening, our parish will be offering the Stations of the Cross. However, it is not your typical Stations. It is a version of the Stations of the Cross that focuses on the plight of the immigrants and migrants in our communities. It looks that what they experience when they are forced to leave their homes because of war, famine or violence.

We continue to build our Blessing Bags and distribute them to the homeless in our community. The Blessing Bags are made with love and care so that those who need them most not only get the supplies they need, but they also know they are loved by someone.

And we continue to welcome everyone into our parish without reservation. It is our mission to build a safe space for everyone. This is especially true for those who have been mistreated or abused. We welcome, accept and affirm everyone regardless of who you are, what you look like, who you love, what religion you come from, what your nationality is, or what language you speak. It does not matter if you are rich, poor, or something in between.

Here at Saint Francis, everyone is equal and everyone is part of our family and our community. You need only come and experience a radically inclusive and affirming way to be Catholic!

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 072020

Will we pass the test?

test

I have been thinking about tests a lot this week. It may be because I had two major tests in Spanish and Math at college this week. Or it may be the great test our nation is undergoing right now. I believe we are being tested in ways that we do not fully understand or appreciate right now.

The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a martyr for the faith during the Nazi oppression of Europe, had a quote that sums up how I feel about our nation right now: “The ultimate test of a moral society is the kind of world that it leaves to its children.” Given the event of the last few years, I have to question how we as a society will fair in this test.

I sadly suspect we will fail unless more good people are willing to stand up to the darkness that is invading every part of our lives. We are called to love one another even when we disagree. Forgiveness is to flow freely from our hearts. And grace is to be given without condition. This is why we offer an open communion at Saint Francis.

It is also why we believe that our faith is not merely a spectator sport either. Another great quote from Rev. Bonhoeffer is, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” When we refuse to act, we allow the darkness to take over. We allow ourselves to become callous to the change needed in our hearts. And out of that grows a darkness that breeds hatred, bigotry, and violence.

We as a church can no longer remain silent. Being part of a community means speaking up for all our beloved in the community, especially those in most need of our support and care. Community means helping even when it is not convenient. And so we work to make our community a better place.

You can help us too!

Saint Francis can be a home for you too. We are working to build something different, something that is radically inclusive and welcoming. Saint Francis is a place where we work to support one another, without judgment, and to help the community around us. We understand that you may have been hurt by other churches. Most of us have been. And now we work to bind up those wounds and help others do the same.

Won’t you join us this Sunday and discover a different way to be Catholic?

Feb 012020

Helping our community

community

Adjusting to a series of changes in my life this past month has been difficult. However, anything worth doing in life is sometimes difficult. You see, I have not only gone back to college full time, but I am also working as an on-call chaplain at a local hospital. Both experiences are educational and provide help to our local community.

Saint Francis Parish is continuing our commitment to helping our community whenever it is possible. Father Matt works in the medical field at a local hospital as well as heading up our Blessing Bag Ministry. Deacon Dana is also in the medical field at a local hospital and heads up our Hospitality Ministry. Subdeacon Luna is going to college and works with various diversity programs on campus as well as being a representative to our National Church’s Office of Social Justice.

We believe that being the church requires action. Going to church makes it a spectator sport where you come to see and be seen. Being the church requires that you participate at Mass, in the life of the parish and in our larger community as well.

In our Christ’s great commission he calls us to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation”. (Mark 16:15. NASB) Saint Francis in the Rule of 1221 tells us, “Nevertheless, let all the brothers preach by their works”. It is our duty as Christians to live our lives as examples of the great things that God has done for us and within us. This requires us to get our hands dirty and to work in the communities we live in. Our calling is to help the homeless, the orphan, and the widow specifically. However, that call has a deeper meaning. It means to help all those who need our help.

Here at Saint Francis we are trying to live that call. We are trying to build a place where everyone is welcome and loved. It is our desire to help all those in our community who need it. And in the process, we continue to create a safe place for those who are hurting. Hate has no home at Saint Francis.

We pray that you will come and help us in our mission to live the Gospel.

Jan 182020

Take time to rest

rest

As I sit here to finally write this week’s blog, I recognize my own limitations. This past week has been a blur of school, hospital work, preparing for an Interfaith Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Service and attacks from people who claim to be friends. I need to take time to rest and yesterday evening and this morning I did just that.

Many people in our world today think that resting is being lazy. They want us to work ourselves to the bone day in and day out. They expect us to be present to them even when we have nothing left to give. However, how can give anything to anyone if your cup is empty?

I am personally working to learn this valuable lesson. For far too long I allowed myself to be run until there was nothing left of me. In the last year, I have learned this simple concept of self-care. I feel better, I am healthier and I am even loosing weight. All because I recognize my limitation and have started setting healthy boundaries.

Yes, there will be some people who insist on breaking through those boundaries. They may even become hateful and vitriolic when I enforce my boundaries. However, as a friend reminded me the other day, what they say about me says more about them then it does about me. And I continue to hold on to that truth.

So let me take a moment today to encourage you to take time for self-care. This may be time to read a book, watch a movie or TV show you like, to take a walk through the forest or park, or maybe even to sleep in and relax all day. Whatever you decide to do, just make it time for you to recharge and focus on you.

This is not selfish or lazy. It is healthy and wise! Even Jesus had to pull away from the crowds to recharge:

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Mark 6:31-32. NIV.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.

Matthew 14:22-23. NIV.

Take time to follow our Christ’s example and recharge. And when you are done, come visit us at Saint Francis and find a radically welcoming and inclusive parish family!