As said in my latest video, I know that I haven’t written much lately. My blogs and devotionals are hard to fathom as I grapple with the world around me.
As a priest, some think I am somehow immune to it all, but I am not. To be honest, I am just tired. I’m so worn out I often find that I cannot even pray, let alone write. Then, recently, we had a parishioner leave us because he didn’t like chairs over pews. (Yes, sadly, we have kept people safe, allowed for easy distancing, but unbelievably I am still dealing with this issue.) And, it wasn’t his leaving that caused me so much pain, it was the manner in which he dismissed all the good we do, and all over a damn pew. It didn’t matter how we loved or welcomed him as we do so many others. It didn’t matter how we care for those experiencing homelessness. It didn’t matter that our priests and deacons sacrifice their days and talent for literally almost no pay. It mattered not to him in his leaving that we are always here, always praying, always replying and always trying to make the best decisions. It didn’t matter that we built a school for every child to learn, regardless of their ability to pay, invested in a hybrid and very expensive faith formation program for our children (and absorbed all the costs) and care beautifully for a historic, 300 year old cemetery, too. It didn’t seem to phase him that we refurbished a stunning retreat center and got it opened in record time. No, what mattered most was sitting in a wooden pew that we never purchased and was just part of the deal when we purchased the building. In fact, from our founding as parish we have never even had pews until our last move to Flourtown.
This past week, I went to the hospital to visit a man dying of COVID; his own priest refused to come, so I went. I also traveled to visit my mom who won’t leave the house due to the pandemic, which isn’t healthy mentally or physically. I helped my family deal with Katelyn’s grandmother being placed on hospice, and then her grandfather being dupped and robbed at his own home. I returned from that trip of over 1,300 miles in 5 days to meet with my school leadership team to ensure our safety, record a video on our next steps of opening, rearrange our sanctuary space, and tried to get the parents of our children to value their role as first educators for faith formation. I even reached out to several, and while most got back to me, but some still haven’t taken the time to even respond. If this weren’t enough, our bank merged with another bank and we have been literally rebuilding our financial information and new credit and debit cards as well as completing our end of the year audit to finish our financials for all four entities! Oh, and I am guiding the reopening of our new retreat center this Saturday and supporting our outreach to the homeless, too, and still trying to be a good husband and dad and preparing myself for medical procedure. It is daunting, overwhelming and at times, to be completely honest, I just want to walk away from it all.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not dealing with much more than many of you! I just have a voice here to vent, but there are many who think no one else is dealing with an abundance of stress. I have news for you: we all deal with it and we all deal it with in a variety of ways, and we should care about one another more.
A few days ago, a parishioner stopped by our offices; she stuck her head in my office to say hello. We reminisced (and truthfully moaned a little, too, about the state of the world!) but then she paused to ask me how am I have been coping with all that is going on; the COVID-19 pandemic with no end yet in sight, the continuous loop of injustice, the killing of black men and the retaliation against good police officers, mobs in our streets, a president who delights in literally being mean and who dishonors anyone who disagrees with his ways like a bully on a playground, the resentment and animosity among people, especially on social media, and keeping a parish afloat through it all. “How, Father, do you do it?” I thought about it briefly, as she reminded me in the middle of her question how she has known me and Saint Miriam since our beginning days in the synagogue where we began in Philadelphia. “You’ve always done things 100%, Father.” Her praise lifted my spirits, but just momentarily.
What she didn’t say – and probably doesn’t know – is how often I deal with disrespect and questioning and backstabbing from those who do it with little or no information, just innuendo, even as I try my best to do what is right. Isn’t it the Christian thing to do lately? We find someone to vilify even as they do their best. It makes us feel superior somehow as we swallow them into submission and walk away with our own false superiority intact. We are no longer focused on community building, only ourselves. And, in doing so, we reject God.
And, as if all of that weren’t enough, even the sun is now covered by the dark smoke of unending west coast wildfires, mostly caused by the carelessness of human beings like the couple who decided to bring to light the sex of their unborn child, but instead lit aflame 10,000 acres. There are some fires also caused by more mundane human actions, like driving a car into dry vegetation, and still others by power transmission lines or other utility equipment, which spark and ignite fires in remote areas, and a few more by natural occurring phenomena like lightening strikes. All of these together have so far caused 6,500 firefighters to battle 28 major fires in more than 3.2 million acres, and at least 24 people have died in California alone. Then, more sadness strikes at us as we all woke up a few days ago to learn of the death of the liberal Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. It seems that our hopes are being taken way bit by bit; at least we think so, if we look at is only the worldly.
So how do I not fall to pieces every day, in a world so clearly on the very edge of a vast chasm, and anarchy in every valley down below? I pray. At least I try. And last night I sat with a few others and together we prayed the rosary via Zoom. It was needed and beautiful and simple. There we were, just a few of us, from our own homes laughing and chatting and then praying together. We prayed for you, and us, and the world. We prayed.
We don’t do that much anymore either. The pandemic has sadly robed us of church and prayer, too. We instead hate so easily and isolate ourselves from the very places that used to give us true life. And the statistics for Christians attending church or finding value in the holy Mass are more than troublesome. It is now more likely for a Christian to have stopped attending church altogether during the pandemic than trying to find their way back to worship. In fact, 32 percent of practicing Christians have done just, that and over 58% of families with children have not cared to enroll in faith formation this year! The remaining 18 percent of practicing Christians are viewing worship services from multiple churches throughout the month, but none have expressed any desire to go back to in-person worship. It is no wonder we so easily hate today. Everything is bewildering in this brave new world we are creating by our actions and our inactions. Especially by our unwillingness to be what gives us life; true life. This is sin.
A friend and fellow clergyman, Daniel, reminded me in his recent post, about author Audre Lorde who writes, in what reads like a checklist of our 2020 anxieties,
“…when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.”
What can save us from the madness of despair in this context? Is it no wonder people stay home and simply self-isolate and hate so easily? I find that the thing that helps me is remembering that I am not alone in all of this and that the things that truly bring me peace are at places of peace, like Saint Miriam.