Last week I was away for a few days, drove north to Washington DC where I stayed one night at our friar house of formation and then to Philadelphia, where I stayed at St. Francis Inn, where I used to live before I arrived here in Raleigh in August.

It was nice to see the friars and the sisters and the lay volunteers and be back in the old neighborhood. Not a lot has changed in the three months that I’ve been gone. I saw many of the guests who come to eat at St. Francis Inn every day, waiting outside for the gate to open for the daily serving of the meal. We had mass in the morning in the small chapel that is on the second floor of the Inn and as always, it’s a mix of regular volunteers along with people who live out in the streets, all together in our chapel which seats maybe 35-40 people. And every 10 minutes or so, as I remembered, the elevated subway goes by right outside the window of the chapel, on its way either to or from downtown Philadelphia. The chapel there is a place of deep grace amid the hard urban setting of the Inn.

I had a day free in the city and took the subway down to 30th Street Station, then walked along the Schuylkill River to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. There is something about walking alongside a river in a big city, the way it catches the light of the sun even amid the traffic and high buildings. At the museum, you can climb the steps, the “Rocky steps” so known from Sylvester Stallone running up those same steps in “Rocky” and then look out over a spectacular view of the city. Inside the museum, there are treasures to be found: a sculpted head of Christ from 13th century France; a small painting on wood of St. Francis of Assisi, luminous against a deep black background, painted sometime around the 1280s, only 60 or so years after the saint’s death; an altar piece painted by Botticelli of scenes from the life of St. Mary Magdalene, all brilliant colors and lines and forms, painted more than five centuries ago in Italy and hanging on a wall now in a gallery in Philadelphia; a black and white photograph, in a special exhibition hall, of a close-up view of a fern branch, taken in Maine, in all its detail, including the small drops of water on the fern itself. One of the things we learn from artists is that there is much beauty to be found in the world and much of it comes from paying attention to what’s right around us. Artists can remind us of the original goodness of creation.

It’s nice to be away and it’s also nice to come back. This Thursday, of course is Thanksgiving Day and for those who are traveling out of town to visit family and friends, safe travels in the air or on the rails or the roads. A reminder, as well, that you can still sign up for a parish listening session – go to www.stfrancisraleigh.org and you can sign up for one of the sessions that will be offered over the next several weeks. Please note that these sessions are a chance for you to speak about your own experience of the parish. We have scheduled evening sessions, morning sessions, and some on Sunday afternoons. Each session will have a facilitator and also someone to take notes, and I will be present to listen.

Blessings to all on your week!

Fr. Steve

GleaningOne of the highlights of my time here was just over a week ago, a cool and crisp Monday with blue skies and bright sunshine, as our parish and school staff gathered in the church for prayer and then spent the next several hours doing different service projects, both onsite and offsite. As the day went on the photos started to come in: staff pulling North Carolina sweet potatoes out of the dirt on a farm near Louisburg; staff sorting out food at Catholic Parish Outreach; staff working in the community garden in front of the log cabin; staff writing letters to the inmates on death row at Central Prison.

Stop Hunger NowWhen it was over, a gathering for lunch followed by mass in the church and a sense throughout the week that the staff enjoyed spending time together and loved, especially, going out and getting involved in all kinds of worthy projects. We were inspired by the words of our beloved Pope Francis who at a World Youth Day gathering in Brazil last year said, “I want people to go out. I want the church to go out into the street! I want to defend ourselves against everything that is worldliness, that is installation, that is comfortableness, that is clericalism, that is being shut in on ourselves. The parishes, the schools, exist to go out!” Many thanks to all the people who helped to make the day such a success for us.

Fr Steve Memorial Garden Mass 2014

Memorial Garden Mass

On Saturday last week we had our annual columbarium mass, outside in the courtyard. Mass started at 9:00 am and the temperature was in the low 40s, with many people bundled up in jackets and gloves and scarves. Again, it was another glorious fall day and as I stood outside at the altar, I could look up and around at the blue sky and the reds, yellows, and oranges of the leaves outlined against the bright sky. The mass was held in memory     of those whose ashes are reposed in our columbarium. Afterwards there was a reception with hot apple cider, which reminded me of my days skiing in New Hampshire and coming inside to the lodge to warm up with hot cider. Thanks to all who helped organize the mass and reception.

I have been here at St. Francis for just over two months and I’m slowly learning my way and getting to know who’s who and what’s what, though that will continue to take some time. Beginning next week and continuing through December, I will be having a series of listening sessions which are open to anyone in the parish, as a way for me to learn more about this parish of St. Francis of Assisi. Each session will be limited to 10-12 people, and will have a facilitator and a scribe. I will be present to listen. To sign up for one, click here or follow the link on the home page of the website.

Blessings to all on your week!

Fr. Steve

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Last weekend, at all the masses was the Commemoration of All Souls in which we remembered the deceased who had gone before us. At the 5:30 vigil mass on Saturday after the homily, we had a ritual in which we read the names of those from the parish who died in the past year.

As we read the names, people came forward with photographs of the deceased, which we then placed on the corner steps of the altar. Each person was then handed a small votive candle, which we placed around the baptismal font. As all of this happened, the lights in the church were dimmed and the area around the font was illuminated.  As people came up and handed me their photos, I asked them to tell me the name of the person who died. There were mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, husbands, wives, a 36-week-old child. In the photographs, these people were smiling, they were at parties, they were among friends, there was one riding a horse in the bright sunshine in what looked to be Wyoming or Montana. After the last person came up, the corner steps of the altar had become an altar in itself with the photos lit up by candles and the votives around the font adding to the sense of light shining in the dark. And later at the offertory, the smoke of incense rising into the darkness, recalled Psalm 141, “my prayer rises like incense before you.”

For some, afterwards, I could see that the grief still lingers. One woman told me about her father who died in May, how the original shock of it had gone away, but how hard it still was for her. There is no time limit on grieving. It can stay with us for a long time, and still, the rituals, the prayers shine their own light on grieving.

I remember a few years ago one of my father’s best friends, a man named Joe who was also my godfather, died in Florida and we had his funeral on a cold snowy day in Chelmsford, Massachusetts. At the funeral, I looked out and saw family and friends all gathered together in the church, and I remembered all the times we had shared with Joe and his family in the summers, falls, and winters in New Hampshire – swimming in the lakes, hiking in the mountains, and skiing. The memories stay with us and in the church on that day I was reminded that Joe, when I was baptized as an infant, as my godfather would have been holding the baptismal candle as a witness, and here, at his funeral all these years later, the Easter candle was lit, also as a witness, a sign of resurrection. As Joe held up the light of Christ for my parents on that day of my baptism, now we held up the light of Christ on the day of his funeral. At the beginning of our lives and at the end, we are loved by God and destined for life with God. We continue to pray throughout the month for all those who have died.

A couple of discoveries for me in the past week: one is the “Small Treasures” exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art, with some exquisite small paintings by Rembrandt, Vermeer, and others. Another is the gem that is Umstead Park, with its miles of walking trails just off of route 70. And thanks to all who helped to organize the Fair Trade Market last weekend. It looked to be a great success, and a witness to the value of buying with a social conscience.

Blessings on your week!

Fr. Steve

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These have been beautiful days here in North Carolina with cool temperatures and sunny skies and last Saturday I got a text photo from my father who was hiking with my brother and some friends on Moat Mountain in New Hampshire. It reminded me of what it was like to be out in the mountains and woods on a clear, bright, sunny day in fall, and how days like that, with the sun filtering through the trees and illuminating the colors can reveal the beauty and goodness of God’s creation.

While they were out hiking in New Hampshire last Saturday, I was invited to take a tour of Catholic Parish Outreach on North Raleigh Boulevard. I was joined there by some women who are part of our prayer shawl ministry. As you may know, our parish supports CPO with both financial contributions and also two food drives every year. I learned during the tour that the number of people that CPO serves continues to rise from about 8,000 people per month 5 years ago to 11,000 per month this year; and projected 20,000 per month by the year 2020. I could see, as well, how important  the support of our parish is to CPO as St. Francis donates 7000 pounds of food every year. All of that goes a long way toward feeding hungry people. After mass last Sunday, I met two families both of whom had sons who told me about time they had spent at CPO putting donated beans into small bags. It helps a lot and reminded me of my time at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and how by the time I left there in August, the number of people coming to eat was rising. When the tour of CPO was over, I looked up to some high shelves and saw several large boxes marked “St. Francis,” all filled with donated food from the people of our parish. The staff at CPO was grateful for all that our parish does to support them and wanted me to pass along, thank you!

Someone sent me an op-ed piece from the October 22 New York Times, written by Thomas Friedman, and titled “Putin and the Pope.” The op-ed compares the leadership styles of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Pope Francis. You can imagine which one comes out better! This is what Friedman has to say about our pope: “At a time when so many leaders around the world are looking to promote their political fortunes by exploiting grievances and fault lines, we have a pope asking his flock to do something hard, something outside their comfort zone, pushing them to be more inclusive of gays and divorced people.” We have been deeply blessed by the papacy of Francis.

This weekend we celebrate All Soul’s Day at all masses and we remember and pray for those who have gone before us. There is a beautiful line in the second reading this weekend, from the Letter to the Romans, “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.” In our tradition, the sadness of death gives way to the deep hope that with God, nothing and no one is lost.

Blessings on your week!

Fr. Steve

BibleByte_10_27_11_022014

These have been beautiful days here in North Carolina with cool temperatures and sunny skies and last Saturday I got a text photo from my father who was hiking with my brother and some friends on Moat Mountain in New Hampshire. It reminded me of what it was like to be out in the mountains and woods on a clear, bright, sunny day in fall, and how days like that, with the sun filtering through the trees and illuminating the colors can reveal the beauty and goodness of God’s creation.

Prayer Shawl at CPOWhile they were out hiking in New Hampshire last Saturday, I was invited to take a tour of Catholic Parish Outreach on North Raleigh Boulevard. I was joined there by some women who are part of our prayer shawl ministry. As you may know, our parish supports CPO with both financial contributions and also two food drives every year. I learned during the tour that the number of people that CPO serves continues to rise from about 8,000 people per month 5 years ago to 11,000 per month this year; and projected 20,000 per month by the year 2020. I could see, as well, how important  the support of our parish is to CPO as St. Francis donates 7000 pounds of food every year. All of that goes a long way toward feeding hungry people. After mass last Sunday, I met two families both of whom had sons who told me about time they had spent at CPO putting donated beans into small bags. It helps a lot and reminded me of my time at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia and how by the time I left there in August, the number of people coming to eat was rising. When the tour of CPO was over, I looked up to some high shelves and saw several large boxes marked “St. Francis,” all filled with donated food from the people of our parish. The staff at CPO was grateful for all that our parish does to support them and wanted me to pass along, thank you!

Someone sent me an op-ed piece from the October 22 New York Times, written by Thomas Friedman, and titled “Putin and the Pope.” The op-ed compares the leadership styles of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and Pope Francis. You can imagine which one comes out better! This is what Friedman has to say about our pope: “At a time when so many leaders around the world are looking to promote their political fortunes by exploiting grievances and fault lines, we have a pope asking his flock to do something hard, something outside their comfort zone, pushing them to be more inclusive of gays and divorced people.” We have been deeply blessed by the papacy of Francis.

This weekend we celebrate All Soul’s Day at all masses and we remember and pray for those who have gone before us. There is a beautiful line in the second reading this weekend, from the Letter to the Romans, “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts.” In our tradition, the sadness of death gives way to the deep hope that with God, nothing and no one is lost.

Blessings on your week!

Fr. Steve

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This past week I have started reading a new book which several friends of mine have recommended to me. It’s called “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” and it’s by James Martin, a Jesuit priest who has written several previous books on spirituality and who is sometimes seen on the   Colbert Report, amid other media outlets. “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” is based on a trip Martin took to the Holy Land a few years ago. Along with a Jesuit friend of his, he visits sites that are associated with the life of Jesus, including Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Jordan River, and the area around the Sea of Galilee. As he visits these sites, he writes about his own experience of being there, about what it’s like to be in Nazareth, for example, and he imagines the life of the young Jesus who grew up there. He combines this kind of descriptive writing with current biblical scholarship which describes what we can know about the life of Jesus based not only on the gospel stories, but on archaeological evidence, and on cultural and sociological studies of what life was like in the place and time that Jesus lived.

It’s a thick book and has the feel, as the subtitle suggests, of being on a pilgrimage with an engaging travel writer, of being taken to places that we have   always heard about, places like Bethlehem where Jesus was born or Jerusalem where he died. It also has the feel of a pilgrimage with depth, as Martin reflects on,   for example, the “hidden years” of Jesus, the years   between age 12 and the beginning of his public ministry, years about which the gospel writers say nothing, but which leave us asking, what happened in his life during those years? Perhaps, he reflects, they were years spent working as a craftsman, living the ordinary life of a first century Galilean. And he asks, what might that tell us about our own seemingly ordinary lives? Perhaps, he reflects, it tells us that the holy takes root within what seems to be otherwise ordinary in our lives.

The book nicely draws us into the mystery of the life of Jesus, and works as both a modern day pilgrimage and as a reflection on what experts on the bible might offer us. James Martin is an expert tour guide. Highly recommended!

Last week we had our Harvest Moon Festival for our Preschool and this Sunday we have an Open House for the Franciscan School. During the week, I love to walk around and see all the activity and life in both of our schools.

Blessings to all as we move through these cool October days!

Fr. Steve

Fr Steve Blessing of the Animals

Some lingering thoughts after last weekend’s festivities for FrancisFest….we had a great turnout for the blessing of the animals on Saturday morning. The open grassy area near the chapel was filled with people who brought their dogs or cats to be blessed, and I can see how important pets are to our lives, the companionship and love that they offer people. I blessed the dog of one woman who also asked me to bless the tag of another dog she had who died this past summer, and I could see how much she missed her dog. It even brought up the question, what happens to our pets when they die? Who really knows, but in the Franciscan perspective we can ask, is everything that is created by God finally brought back to God? A friar friend of mine up in Philadelphia talks about seeing his dog that he had as a child up in heaven some day, and he talks about it with a deep sense of joy and fun. Clearly, animals are an important part of our lives.

The weekend was beautiful with glorious blue skies, bright sunshine, and cool temperatures. The campus was transformed, with construction of a Habitat for Humanity house, games for kids and adults, food trucks, a main stage with all kinds of events, and a Corn Hole tournament, which, at the time of this writing I haven’t seen but at which I’m told Bill McConville and I are set to take on the winners for the final championship. We’ll see what happens there!

Six members of our sister parish in Guatemala were also there offering typical food from their native village. As they wound up their week with us, they wrote a statement which we read at mass about their experience here, and mentioned “the many delicious and strange foods” they tried (now there is a story to be told, for sure!) and also that they have been met with smiling faces and the love of God during their time here. Many thanks to all who hosted the four men and two women who came up from Guatemala!

Thank you as well to everyone who was involved in organizing and setting up FrancisFest which, as I get settled here at St. Francis, I can see is really a wonderful way for the people of the parish to come together for fun, food, and fellowship.

Blessings to all on your week!

Fr. Steve

 

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