I long to return to normal. I long, at least to return from this pandemic that is robbing people of joy, hope, and stability. I long to return to the days of boring and ‘known’ routines. I long to wake and not see an updated staggering death count, or worry that my mask isn’t clean, or my hands dirty. I long to be back to whatever a normal day, without fear, will be. I long to be where people are nice again and love is what we strive for.
Yesterday morning I spoke to a longtime parishioner who tragically lost his dad out of state to COVID. For those who don’t know, I’ve been quietly helping them over the last month. If losing his dad to this deadly pandemic wasn’t enough, he also lost grandmother (his dad’s mom) earlier in the month and then his aunt (his dad’s sister) died just a few days later. And, yes, all of them from COVID. To make it worse, he hasn’t been able to travel to be there with his family due to the restrictions, and now – unbelievably – he will most likely not be able to bury his own father. COVID takes more than health or lives, it removes stability and healing, too.
As someone who lost their own father, I could not imagine where my grief would be today if I did not have the chance to mourn properly and say goodbye to my dad. I know that some four years later, I am still grieving and oftentimes, when I least expect it, I am overwhelmed with a flood of emotions, all related to that significant loss. How would I be today if not for doing all that a son must do back then? I don’t know, but I do know I would be worse off, and perhaps mentally harmed. The loss of a parent, especially when you have a strong relationship, is not something anyone ever just gets over; God simply allows – somehow – us, as humans, the ability to take that loss and incorporate the darkest of grief someplace deep within us. No, we don’t get over it, we sort of encapsulate it. Grief never goes away; we just learn to live with her by our side. I guess what would it say of a life gone, if no one still grieved?
It is probably why we invest so heavily in the 300+ year old cemetery on our beautiful campus. We believe in the living and the dead, the holy communion of saints. We honor each life lived and we care for each body given over to us for our care and stewardship. We take our responsibility seriously. We honor our commitments.
Perhaps this is why I am so sad about what I see generally in people lately. I watch in disbelief how people treat one another on social media platforms, and those who will not wear a mask are beyond my imagination! The hate that comes from them is unbelievable! But if you think the church is immune from this sort of stuff, you would be sadly wrong. We are not and oftentimes it is a place where we find those most broken hurting others.
We have always had those who leave in haste, or refuse to try and reconcile, and especially those who hate so deeply. As a church we have experienced hate and vitriol and those who think us too liberal, or not-enough-Catholic, or whatever. But, we do not tolerate hate.
I have never been one to hate anyone. (Now, don’t think I don’t dislike a few people, I am only human and I am often morally inadequate.) But hate has never been something I hold on to for very long. I also have never been one to refuse a sit down, talk out about an issue, with anyone, even if they wounded me. We may never agree in the end, but I am always willing to sit, talk and try. For so many, sadly, relationships are like chaff and they discard people so easily. But when I see anger, I think fear; what are they so afraid of? I often look at their lives and I see brokenness and sadness. I find relationships and family members they cannot get along with, or relatives who dislike them, or children they do not embrace, or the lack of friends to be close to; the list is sadly endless. When I see estrangement, I often find a person who cannot reconcile, or certainly doesn’t even try. I pray every day to better myself and improve my weakness to that end. I do not want to be lonely or vile or hateful.
This is also contrary to who we are at Saint Miriam. No, we don’t always get along. No, not everyone stays and yes, people leave but people come, too! As we founded a parish now so many years ago, we have learned that people hate change and some, even from within, hate when things don’t go here way. When those days comes, they often hate others and yes, they even hate me. A friend and brother priest, who lives and serves in Southern Virginia, once reminded me of one of his favorite phrases, “‘Haters gonna hate’ James! Don’t pay ‘em no mind!” Well, I try, but I still hurt. And sadly, they still hate, but we must stay true to our course, especially today in a world that needs love more.
It should be noted that in a little more than thirteen years we, as a team, have done something rarely done: we have built from scratch a place like no other! We enjoy today a parish a friary, a school, a cemetery and a retreat center! We have grown from 2 people to literally hundreds! We now employ a team of over 19 consummate professionals who rely on what we do and contribute to it every day. We have a ministry team and a board of directors that sacrifice their time and talent – for free – to help us grow and grow and serve and serve. We care for the homeless, we outreach to the marginalized, we welcome the rejected, and love everyone, and we pray even for those who hate us and wish us harm. This isn’t a fairy tale, or something we one day dream to do, it is actual, it real ministry, it is done every single day.
Over the last few years, while there are those who reject, libel, and even hate us from their computers, graced with self-granted-keyboard courage, we continue to serve and love and welcome with our pause. While there are those who use social media to harm and demean others, while there are those who leave us because they don’t like chairs over pews, or claim our leadership to be somehow inadequate, despite our wonderful creation, while there are those who don’t like the way we stand up for those who others hate, or how we welcome the LGBTQ or the immigrant or refugee, or how we won’t support an Administration bent on division and internal civil warfare, we still ‘stay in the water’ and we serve and answer phones, meet grieving families, welcome students to our school, and bury the dead; we still baptize the infant and the seeker, and anoint the sick, and care for the lost, and give food to the hungry; we stay to provide respite for the weary as we welcome the living, and a myriad of unknown supports every day, all the while we refuse to give not the hatred and the division, or call another human being sick in any horrible mean-spirited way. No, every day, we go to the well and find the rejected and embrace them, because we know it will one day be us at a dry well praying for someone to love us, too.
And if you think it isn’t noticed by others, I welcome you to come this Sunday and behold our newest gift! A stunningly beautiful 16th Century hand carved Jesus sculpture! It is simply breathtaking, and it is a gift from a wonderful woman who walked into Saint Miriam only a few weeks ago, and since that day has fallen in love with us, and all that we are; so much so, that she gave us this very impressive and humbling gift.
So, I will pull up my big boy pants and get back to work and let the hate stay with the hater. We have real work to do here at Saint Miriam. No, as they say, ‘haters gonna hate’ and so they will, but as for us and our home, we will keep our eye fixed on the ball, and the ball for us is Jesus.
See you Sunday in a place we built together in love and hope!