Passion of the Lord

Originally published by GIA Quarterly, Winter 2012
– PDF version –

Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord

Every month a group of people from the Portland area gathers at our parish for a day of retreat concerning the issues of urban poverty. After lunch we walk the neighborhood speaking about the agencies that befriend people in poverty. We explore the conflicts with the city and the police. We sort out people’s attitudes about other people who are surviving poverty. We pray in front of the nonprofit groups that were started by Catholic groups. The procession becomes a stational liturgy, walking from building to building, a pilgrimage of how the Church has helped people overcome issues of addictions, hunger and the ongoing challenges of mental illness.

Before one of our tours, after the noon Mass, one of our longtime parishioners sat on a chair outside of our chapel and chanted, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” He yelled it over and over again. His singing stunned the group of retreatants. They realized the procession of Christ into Jerusalem is still going on. We did not wave palms but had conversations of about neglect, poverty, racial divides, the lack of healthcare and the horrific effects of long-term mental illness. The group realized on that Friday afternoon that Holy Week would begin for them on that very afternoon in November.

As you prepare the liturgy for Palm Sunday, remember the processions of life and death. Remember the gurney that carried the young father from an accident scene. Reflect on the victims of the natural disasters that claim people in your area of the country. Sort out how people are trying to make ends meet, running from job to job in order to raise a family. Remember the young, single mother crying out in the night for her sick child as she races to the hospital. Remember the processions of people walking for issues of cancer and Alzheimer’s, running races for cures, change of attitudes and caring banners to raise consciousness about human dignity. Listen to the Psalm over and over from the cry of people in poverty, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?

Holy Thursday Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper

Last year one of our parishioners told the story of the emotional abuse he experienced from his father. We were gathered as lectors and Eucharistic ministers to reflect on the Triduum. He told us that his father would not allow him and his sisters to run around the house with bare feet. They grew up ashamed of their feet. The father would tell the children how ugly, not only their feet were, but also how ugly they were. When our parishioner decided to become Catholic as an adult, he was so nervous that he would be asked to have his feet washed in public on Holy Thursday. Without realizing his story, the priest at the parish he had attended had asked him to have his feet washed during the Triduum before being initiated into the Church.

He told us that he presented his feet reluctantly and fearfully before the priest and the congregation on Holy Thursday.  He told us with tears in his eyes that the priest washed away more than his foot odor. The act of extending his feet, the vulnerability of his naked foot, began a healing process with his past and gave him courage to extend his love and his life beyond his own hurt and even selfishness. That gesture of love changed his past and opened a new life of service for a man who had been ashamed of his body as well as his voice in the world.

Prepare the liturgy of Holy Thursday with the assurance that washing feet extends the Eucharist far out the doors of the church. We claim Christ who offered us bread to eat and wine to drink and the gesture that challenges us to love beyond our own lives. The goal of the Eucharist is not just to adore the power of God’s presence, but also to take that love into the lives of those who are starving for relationship, communion and justice. Remember that to extend our feet to the community is a vulnerable posture. We extend not only our feet but also the source of all life, the Eucharist of Christ Jesus.

Good Friday of the Passion of the Lord

Last year I gathered a group of women to process with me down the aisle to lift high the cross for veneration. We gathered a widow and a volunteer from our hospitality center. We gathered a woman who earned a Masters of Divinity degree and a woman who is wheelchair-bound because of a car accident. We gathered a pious woman wearing a Mantilla and an elderly woman with severe mental illness. We limped, walked, strode and wheeled ourselves up the aisle. The images of these women represented so many issues of our community and neighborhood. I lifted high the cross, but the reality of suffering was on the faces of these holy women representing so many other people surviving daily struggles.

We all journey to the cross, because we all live the reality of suffering every day. The cross that is presented in the liturgy reminds us that we live facing suffering and death. We grieve for our friends and relatives. We grieve the losses of our dreams. We let go of jobs, financial security and the ideas of how we wanted to live our lives. The cross is ever in our midst and the procession to reverence the cross reminds us of all of life.

Prepare the liturgy with a deeper understanding of what you bring to the wood of the cross. Remember your suffering, your misunderstandings that have yet to be resolved or mended. The cross in every community must be unveiled, reverenced and kissed with honesty about all the issues that people face. No person is left out of life’s suffering and no person is left out of the procession to touch and kiss, to kneel and adore, to love and cherish the wood of the Crucified. We all walk together toward the suffering Christ so to rise with him in resurrection.

At the Easter Vigil in the Holy Night

Years ago, a young student prepared for full initiation into the Church. She was rather short and wore her hair pulled tightly back into a bun. Her blouses were always buttoned up including the top button and her skirts were long, well below her knees. She attended sessions of preparation throughout the year, her brow furrowed with intensity and earnestness. However, on the night of her baptism, in the well-lighted church, she appeared with her hair hanging down on her shoulders. She wore all white and her smile replaced the furrows on her brow. She was stunning. Everyone who knew her could only smile with delight. When I poured the waters of new life on her head, she calmed down and breathed deeply. She woke up from her worry. She was awakened to a new life within her and her external appearance became as dazzling as light.

The sacraments of initiation are also sacraments of change and gladness. We prepare people to fully live the gospel stories, images and values. We delight when people turn from drugs and alcohol, finally reconcile with family and find adequate employment. We are beside ourselves when people find a home within the sacraments of the Church. We are transformed into believers when people take hold of the grace offered them. We are spellbound when their courage takes them to the font, when mystery is poured on their heads and runs down their cheeks and when hope nudges them to the altar table.

Prepare the Easter Vigil with the assurance that liturgy is about people. The grace of the night is all we need. This grace is fuel for integrity and beauty within the liturgy. Prepare the Vigil as if your faith depends upon it. Believe in what you are organizing and singing about. The liturgy consumes the wayward into belief, the lonely into communion, the worried into grace filled and beautiful lives.

Inheriting Great Promises

Originally published by Celebrate! Magazine, Fall 2012
– PDF version –

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, always and everywhere to give you thanks,Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord. 
For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh, and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago, and opened for us the way to eternal salvation, that, when he comes again in glory and majesty and all is at last made manifest, we who watch for that day may inherit the great promise in which now we dare to hope…
It is truly right and just…
For through him the holy exchange that restores our life has shone forth today in splendour: when our frailty is assumed by your Word not only does human mortality receive unending honour but by this wondrous union we, too, are made eternal…
It is truly right and just…
For today you have revealed the mystery of our salvation in Christ as a light for the nations, and when he appeared in our mortal nature, you made us new by the glory of his immortal nature. 

I pray the preface during the season of Advent standing on the border of a culture clash. As a society we live out an obsession with materialism more obviously during December.  We are on a quest for a perfect holiday of intimacy as presented on television and on the Internet.  We also try to scatter the darkness of the world and within ourselves by stringing twinkling lights and attending obligatory office parties.

However, beginning a new liturgical year, the Church focuses on waiting for Christ in a world of great poverty and longing. We seek the intimacy of a savior who promises heavenly love even among people we ignore.  We begin a journey of walking toward a Light that illumines souls and sparks a loving desire to pray.  This journey satisfies even the loneliest of hearts and most broken of relationships. This journey to God is not obligatory or costly, but this love is sheer gift. God’s love is free for the asking.

This journey in the Advent season goes well beyond the shades of purple draped in our sanctuaries and the quarrels among liturgists on where to display the Advent wreath this year. This journey welcomes people’s lives into the path that the ancient prophets spoke out about. They told their people to straighten up their lives and get their priorities in line with God’s love. This journey opens our earthly hearts toward the realization that Christ is already here among us calling us deeper into the human condition. We are to let go of racism, prejudice and insincerity and anything that diminishes being human. We believe that Advent shocks people into realizing that Jesus still makes a home in our human flesh. This is not a design from the latest couture, but God’s design from our ancient past, that we all become vessels of grace, love and forgiveness.

These are the realities behind the simple words of the Advent preface, “For he assumed at his first coming the lowliness of human flesh”. I remember praying years ago that I longed to make a home in God. I spent years with this prayer. Then one day I realized God needs to make a home in me. This shift in prayer is the essence of Advent. This prayer seemed to change everything in my relationship with God and in serving people in ministry.

This shift is the basis for a new hospitality, to receive Christ within our hearts that are fragile and weary, “and so fulfilled the design you formed long ago”. This is the foundation for learning how to receive other people, just as they are and not trying to change them in our own image and likeness.  Hospitality seems radical and even more counter-cultural during Advent.

Mary and Joseph spent their last moments of pregnancy searching for people to welcome them. This is not a lost image or a cute Christmas story, but opens for us, “the way to salvation.” This reality is still among us today. God is invested in us as human beings. God is waiting for us to welcome the Spirit of love among us. God longs to make a home within us. This image of hospitality is key to praying the prefaces of Advent and Christmas. Today, Christ the Savior is among us, still assuming the lowliness of human flesh.

Our parish community opens our doors to many people every day during the year. Our Hospitality Center is especially busy during the Advent season. People suffer severe loneliness during December. Many people who live outside are struggling to survive another wet and cold winter. People living alone in the single-room occupancy apartments in our neighborhood struggle to keep clean from drugs and alcohol. For so many neighbors Christmas seems beyond their reach because gifts and family are scarce.  Loneliness cripples, defiles and even kills.

We welcome people searching to find a home in simple conversations with dignity and respect. We welcome people who want to give birth to something new in their lives but fear keeps them on the streets and using drugs. We welcome a young man who is just discovering his mental illness and a mother who has just left her boyfriend because he abuses her child. We welcome people lost amid the cold nights and the cold shoulders given by their families. We welcome people sent to the streets because they have no insurance or who cannot make their house payments or keep a job. People are lost in so many ways and our ministry is to welcome people without stripping them of dignity and respect.

This sacred sense of hospitality is not a one-way relationship. “For through him the holy exchange that restores our life has shone forth today in splendor.” I spend much of December days weeping the losses of suffering people.  My heart is open to the coming of Christ in our midst when I can share honestly with people the realities of life and suffering. I am humbled by the complexities of people’s situations and their desire for new life. I do not welcome people to the Table of the Lord believing that my life has power over people or that my hospitality only makes me feel better about myself. This holy exchange of hospitality means that our entire community is changed when we welcome the vulnerable, the ill, the lost and the wanderer. We share our heartaches and the awareness that the lack of justice is real and believable.

Last year on in the closing days of Advent, I walked into our parish office and noticed a sign that a member of our staff was creating on the computer. The sign read, “We will be handing out backpacks and sleeping bags on December 23.” I stood at the computer and cried. The sign told the story of our common ache for people’s lives. We all know we cannot fix people’s situations or provide shelter or housing for people. We cannot solve the situation of the pregnant teen that comes to us seeking shelter for the week. We do not have the resources to solve addictions or the money for the correct prescriptions for cancer or mental illness. We can offer the simplest things, a backpack or a sleeping bag because so many people will not find shelter for Christmas. So many people will be left behind without family or food or parties or new clothing.

In Christmas, we celebrate our human worth as we give birth to the Word. The path of eternal life begins with Jesus in our midst. So often we postpone our acceptance of God’s love for us. I see this often in my own lack of reverence for my gifts, my body and my vocation. I see how we deflect the Incarnation when I sit with a young teen who cuts herself so that she will at least feel life. I see it in how a middle-aged man compulsively has sex with any available partner. He claims his wife does not know. It is easy for us to believe that we will have a home in the after life, so often it is more difficult to believe we have a home in our own bodies.

This message of Christ offered to the world continues Epiphany. Jesus’ presence to us as a miracle from the Father is truly Light for all to see. This presence of Jesus is dimmed by our lack of trust that God will lead us out of the darkness we carry within our lives. The Light is dimmed by violence, war and hatred. This darkness makes us question our selves and the God who will lead us into the future. The Light of Christ offers us direction and hope.

These celebrations of Advent and the Christmas season continue the journey of our redemption in Christ Jesus. The journey is not about purchasing the perfect gift so to fulfill a social norm. This journey is about the rich presence of grace deep within our human hearts and lives. We are guided now not by a star, but our inner lives of prayer, faith and service.

The texts of the preface for these liturgical celebrations challenge us all to receive God in all we do and to make room for our neighbor in all that we hope to become. The Light is here and we cannot gaze at the ground. The Light is for all nations, all times and all peoples. The journey gives meaning beyond the culture clash of Christmas. The journey will lead us safely home singing hymns of glory without end.


Christmas 2012 (Cycle C)

Originally published by GIA Quarterly, Fall 2012
– PDF version –

The Nativity of the Lord, December 25, 2012

I minister among people who have been silenced by generational poverty. Their voices have been stripped of dignity. A man asks softly for clothing and to use the restroom. Another person asks for hygiene products as he signs up for our morning hospitality center. People arrive from the cold and dark nights of the streets into our warm building looking for dignity more than clothing, for purpose more than food, for companionship more than another cup of coffee.

The voices I hear in the Christmas season are shy and hesitant. A woman speaks softly with her eyes cast to the floor because she blames herself for her childhood abuse. A man who just cheated on his wife whispers his sin to me beyond a screen in the confessional. A woman who misses her children and grandchildren murmurs her loneliness to me on Christmas Eve. A young man who recently graduated from college repeats to me the voices he now hears because of his mental illness. The voices tell him to leave his job and to hurt himself. The voices in our urban chapel celebrating the birth of Christ are powerful and yet reluctant.

Plan the Christmas liturgies remembering the voices that cry out in the silent night of Christ’s birth. Remember the people in your parish, neighborhood and city that need to hear from your ministry, “Do not be afraid.” Be a voice of peace and an angel of consolation in presiding, preaching and sharing hymns of familiarity and love. Be the voice of hope for people who will hear only fear and hatred in their marriages or in their workplaces. Remember that the sound of your music will rest in the ears and hearts of people who long for the healing balm of Christmas Mass. People long to ease the wounds that December raises in so many people. Allow God to be born among the voiceless with a herald of joy and earthly peace.

The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, December 30, 2012

Our parish serves many people who are lost to neglect, chemical dependency and past abuse. We have only a few traditional families who worship in our urban chapel. Most people in our community are alone. People live in single-room occupancy hotels or under cardboard. Single adults travel from the distant  suburbs. Families who want their children to know that Christ is in all people attend our Mass. Single men come to our daily hospitality center, Veterans, former prisoners and recovering heroin addicts. No one
is looking for the people in our parish, except the occasional parole officer or the local police.

Mary and Joseph are looking for Jesus. They discover him in the Temple. Mary holds the mystery of suffering and love in her heart. The families in our community are non-traditional. They are families of friendly bonds trying to look out for one another’s needs. There used to be an entire row of people at Mass who were recovering from heroin. They have all disappeared; some are using drugs again and are back on the streets, one is married, another has moved on. We still search for them. We look out for families lost in the issues of life, suffering from violence and neglect and we hold them all in our hearts.

As you plan the liturgy celebrating the Holy Family, remember the people on the margins of your parish family, those you search for in faith. Remember the widow who does not attend Mass anymore, and see that no one has noticed her disappearance. Remember the father who is lost now in Alzheimer’s. Remember the young woman whose child was stillborn. Remember the gay couple in the corner of the last pew. Remember the families that will never be reconciled. Remember the children who resist the commitment to attend Mass. The Holy Family becomes the place where Christ is born in all relationships, among all who care for one another in poverty as well as in prosperity.

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, January 1, 2013

There is a deep desire in our human condition to begin again. We make resolutions of personal change that falter as the year progresses. We proclaim a day of peace amid the wars that rise up among us. We claim Mary’s role in our salvation after a night of parties and belief that new will be different than the old. In our parish community the first day of the year may not be different from what has come before. People still do not have sufficient health care or a place to sleep. Their plans and dreams remain as cold as the winter days. We cling to the message that the poor shabby shepherds first heralded among the people, the proclamation that Jesus was born of Mary.

Mary encourages us to see that life can be different. The ponderings in her heart teach us that life is more than our weariness, more than our daily suffering. In our parish community we all hold the suffering of our people in our hearts during prayer. Poverty strips people of dignity and washes hope away. Today, we all begin with the unkempt shepherds to proclaim Christ is the way to new life and healing. We carry in our hearts the desires of new housing, new sobriety, new companionship and new healing.

Prepare this liturgy with a desire that all things might be possible. Remember in music and preaching the deepest human longing to be new again. Mary is our model as she cradles her Son and cherishes within her heart the hope for all humanity.

The Epiphany of the Lord, January 6, 2013

I witness people following the darkness in our neighborhood. Some people claim they will find their way through drugs and alcohol. Another man holds on to his reluctance to take his prescribed medication for his mental illness. He claims he will find his way on his own. A young woman thinks that selling her body will be her way into a new life. I see the darkness claim young addicts and old veterans. Our parish community struggles to reveal a light of hospitality, healing and hope. Searching in only the darkness for new life seldom brings reward.

The magi searched for the child following a star and a hunch. They were drawn to the light that seemed unbelievable and otherworldly. They searched diligently and carried with them earthly gems and valuables. The discovery of the child put into perspective the entire journey. Once we discover the living Christ within our journey everything else is put into perspective. Christ is the only light. This Light is generative, loving and engaging.

As liturgists, musicians and preachers, follow the living Christ within your own life. Reflect on how people in your parish need the Light of Christ. Pray about the hidden suffering among your people when they follow the lure of darkness. Plan the Eucharist realizing that the Light of Christ is among your people, open their eyes with sacred preaching and their ears with sacred music. Allow everyone to acknowledge their gifts to serve others. Step away from darkness and offer Christ the gifts of love and renewed hearts.

The Baptism of the Lord, January 13, 2013

People share the deepest desire to belong. Our relationships form our identity. I witness on our urban sidewalks people being stripped of their identity when their wallets and identification are stolen in the night. I see how our society strips people of their identities by labeling people as “those poor people” or ‘the homeless” or “those faggots” or “those whores”. We are all searching within the deserts of our lives for a new identity, a new purpose in life and to be known for our gifts, talents and real identities.

The baptism of Jesus unites us with the Trinity. We witness our real identity when we follow John into the Jordan and see for ourselves the living Christ. This identity as a follower of Christ sustains us in journeys when we become lost on our own paths. We are the baptized longing for Christ to be the source of our identity. The waters of baptism break open our hearts into the mission of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.

Prepare this liturgy of the Baptism of the Lord reflecting on the many identities people carry with them: parents, friends, lovers, spouses, workers, parishioners, artists and musicians. We die to our selves and rise with Christ in baptism. Our old identities are washed away in the Jordan and we rise with new eyes for mission and new hearts for love. Our baptism claims us in Christ, and God is well pleased.

Summoning Us To Glory

Originally published by Celebrate! Magazine, Summer 2012
– PDF version –

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,always and everywhere to give you thanks, Lord, holy Father, almighty and eternal God, through Christ our Lord.
For through his Paschal Mystery, he accomplished the marvellous deed, by which he has freed us from the yoke of sin and death, summoning us to the glory of being now calleda chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for your own possession, to proclaim everywhere your mighty works,for you have called us out of darknessinto your own wonderful light…
… For out of compassion for the waywardness that is ours, he humbled himself and was born of the Virgin;by the passion of the Cross he freed us from unending death,and by rising from the dead he gave us life eternal. And so, with Angels and Archangels, with Thrones and Dominions, and with all the hosts and Powers of heaven, we sing the hymn of your glory,as without end we acclaim:   

I stand praying the preface on humble ground. This is the earth on which Christ emptied himself of heavenly affections. I stand on common soil with Jesus who bent down to write in the sand words of forgiveness for an adulterer. This is the soil that he mixed with saliva to heal the blind and the ill. This is the earth in which chaos, wars and violence still rage as we live his command for peace. On this ground, Jesus sacrificed his life, his ministry and teaching on a cross between two thieves. This is the ground, the sacred earth in which Christ rose from the dead after three days in the dark cave that held his body.

This ground of sacred prayer is anything but ordinary. These prefaces during Ordinary Time are not throwaway prayers. They are not meant to be prayed out loud only while people fumble with kneelers, change positions, calm children and ready themselves for the consecration of the bread and wine. These prayers reveal the vulnerability of people who beg God for healing as we all try to make sense out of our lives. These prayers summarize the mystery we celebrate even far from the altar table, as God possesses us. Mighty works are revealed in our humility during Ordinary Time.

I pray these texts often feeling awkward and out of place. I have not always felt emotionally comfortable standing on the earth. I have often felt unworthy to stand in the position behind the altar because I have been reluctant to claim my place among God’s chosen. I have spent years in therapy healing the past, in spiritual direction claiming the Spirit in the present, allowing my spirit and body a place on the planet. I pray these prayers walking on the earth, ministering among the marginalized, discovering my own life and God’s love within me.

As a priest and human being, I know I must continue to claim my faith among this holy nation of believers. I hear so often from other priests that they are burned out from always proclaiming the Paschal Mystery.  So many ordained men never really believe the reality of love and forgiveness within their own lives.  I listen to clergy beaten down by age, restlessness and severe loneliness.

Many years ago as a younger priest, I facilitated a retreat for clergy. I heard volumes of anger from priests about their positions behind the altar as leaders of parishes and larger institutions. They were exhausted from proclaiming, preaching and teaching about faith because so many priests in that group had not experienced God’s consolation and love. They were so angry amidst God’s people and the larger institution of the Church. They wept with me in private conversations and among one another about not finding meaning standing alone at the altar table.

I remember one priest screaming at me that there must be something more than the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. He asked me to find some other method of teaching, pattern of healing or philosophy of life to speak about. I wept with him as he cried on my shoulder. I tried to comfort him with only what I had come to realize even as a young priest, that I find a place on the earth only in the healing love of Jesus, the Christ. I felt the darkness of his life on my shoulder and in my heart. I stood with him as if I were at the altar table, offering his life to God. I cannot predict outcomes or change people or even heal them. I can only remind people that we are all among God’s possessions being lifted from yokes of burden. We live even among the shadows of the healing light of Christ’s presence.

I still muster the courage to stand on the opposite side of the altar from people. The longer I pray there, the deeper my commitment is to people who are searching for something more in their lives. The preface of the Eucharistic Prayer invites every person into a dialogue of life. This dialogue goes well beyond simple words no matter the translation. This dialogue back and forth between priest and people is about the deepest aspects of our lives.

I recently met a twenty-something young man who has just been released from prison. During his incarceration because of selling drugs, he found God. He spoke with me in a soft voice in the dimly lit chapel before Mass. He told me he just spent the weekend exploring a vocation as a priest and a monk. He also told me that he has yet to be baptized. He is confident that God is calling him to be ordained.

I saw deep within his brown eyes, the desire to be healed of his heroin addiction. His sad eyes told me that perhaps moving out of the last pew to the other side of the altar would take his pain away. Perhaps being a priest would release him from his wayward ways. He longs for God to free him from the yoke of sin, addiction and heartache. I wanted to remind him that waywardness and heartache does not disappear once you get to the other side of the altar. I longed to tell him that God is in his present darkness and the light will lead him one step at a time.

Perhaps the heroin addict and the priest should change places on some days. The addict needs to constantly offer his pain up to God in order to survive another day. The priest needs to be honest about his suffering and come to need God more than anything in order to survive another day. This is the real dialogue the preface suggests. We are a chosen people who need God. We are a royal priesthood that constantly offers up our pain and suffering to God so we will all be healed. Every person on the earth is God’s possession.

Every worshipping community needs to explore this sacred dialogue. The people and the priest, the daily suffering and the daily offering to God becomes the flow of the Paschal Mystery. I have yet to imagine another place to go for meaning when a homeless mother comes and says that suicide seems to be the only answer. I do not know where else to turn when a young man is struck by a car days before his graduation. We do not know where to place our trust when a young mother offers up her newborn child in death. We turn in any worshipping community to the Lord who invites our hearts to rest and be freed from the yoke of pain, suffering and grief.

I admit that priests will have to get used to many of the prayers of the new translation of the Mass. However, many priests will also have to take stock of their life of prayer, their ability to discover God’s consolation for their lives and receive the people in real dialogue of faith. These texts from Ordinary Time will take time to settle into the hearts of priests and people. The faith behind the words will continue to show us Christ’s love and compassion for us all.

God still has compassion for our waywardness. We turn to God in the dialogues of war and destruction and his call for nonviolence. We turn to God’s compassion when we blame people living in depression and other forms of mental illness for their disease. We turn to God to feed people who are starving especially for love. We turn to God in this sacred dialogue when priests do not believe and when addicts grasp newborn faith.

I am deeply grateful for my position at the altar to articulate our communal praise to God. Even the heavens ring with praise for what is loved on the holy soil of earth. Thankfulness and gratitude form the church in prayer when our dialogue of life and faith begins at the Table of the Lord. God emptied himself of heavenly form and walked among us. He still feeds us in our humility and welcomes us in our waywardness.           

As I pray these various forms of the preface behind the altar, I plant my feet safely on the earth. Here on the rich soil of our earthly home I have come to know my place among people who live on the daily bread of hope. I stand behind an altar lifting up to God my fearful heart and lifting up the lives of people who desperately need God for human survival. We are all given a share in the richness of Christ’s resurrection so we will all find our footing in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Our gratitude is without end. 

Finding Our Home in the Empty Tomb

Originally published by Celebrate! Magazine, Spring 2012
– PDF version –

PREFACE III OF EASTER – Christ living and always interceding for us
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
at all times to acclaim you, O Lord,
but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously,
when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.
He never ceases to offer himself for us
but defends us and ever pleads our cause before you:
he is the sacrificial Victim who dies no more,
the Lamb, once slain, who lives for ever.
Therefore, overcome with paschal joy,
every land, every people exults in your praise
and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts,
sing together the unending hymn of your glory,
as they acclaim:
PREFACE IV OF EASTER – The restoration of the universe through the Paschal Mystery
It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation,
at all times to acclaim you, O Lord,
but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously,
when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.
For, with the old order destroyed,
a universe cast down is renewed,
and integrity of life is restored to us in Christ.
Therefore, overcome with paschal joy,
every land, every people exults in your praise
and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts,
sing together the unending hymn of your glory,
as they acclaim:

I minister among many people who feel undeserving of joy. I encounter in the dimly lit confessional not only the darkness of sin but people’s reluctance to accept healing and forgiveness. Joy eludes many people who have been beaten down by physical and emotional abuse and the many years of depression that follow. Joy never finds a home in people who blame themselves for being abused. Joy is seldom experienced or grasped for some people who have found their only identities at the bottom of a booze bottle. God’s healing rarely finds a home in people who live in the darkness of blame, fear and doubt.

I see the consequences of a joyless life standing at the altar on Easter day. These Easter texts of the preface express the absolute joy of the Christian. Jesus becomes the Christ is his passion, death and resurrection. Joy among our parishioners is rather muted, reluctant and seems only to belong to the wealthy or educated or some unknown stranger. Many members hesitate to rally around Easter because they are still without the basics of life, still hunger and still feel unloved in their present circumstances. I know deep within my life and in the lives of all people, Christ is sharing the gift of new life and healing in the simplest of ways. Risen life cannot help but break through the savage pain of any heart that clings to faith.

The prefaces of Easter claim this story in the human voice of the priest. Christ is still offering his life for people who seek the joy of resurrection. Many sinners find a home in the sacred forgiveness of the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation.  The wall of sin is easier cast down than the wall of self-hatred and shame for a life that feels undeserving of anything that is good, loving or holy.

Seeking forgiveness of God for our own sin and living that forgiveness among all of our relationships is Easter joy. The reality of forgiveness is seen off the altar in the human turmoil of our lives. Joy happens when we bring that grace to worship and the altar of God is seen as Christ offering his life for us always.

I remember facilitating one of our Personal Poverty Retreats several years ago. The retreats are a thirteen-hour immersion into the issues of long-term poverty, mental illness and the devastations of addictions. There were seven people in that particular group.  The core of the day is to share our own personal poverty, our own need for God. In the afternoon we shared our experiences of working in our morning hospitality center. This open discussion among us brought a great gift.

Out of the seven people on the retreat, four people confided that they all had children who were homeless, mentally ill and addicted. The conversation became intense; the silence of grief and sadness overwhelmed all of us. Each participant shared the grief of letting go of control of each child. One participant told the horrific story of her son’s suicide.

Phil began to share his story of his addicted son. Phil’s face was creased with worry. His voice was angry at years of trying to fix his son’s addiction. He became enraged because he felt he had done everything to change his thirty-something son. After Phil finished his story and sat silently, I leaned into the group and asked him, “Phil have you ever tried just loving your son?” Phil’s face began to relax and it was as if someone had raised the shade of darkness from his life. Phil replied to me with tears streaming down his cheeks, “No, I’ve never just loved my son.”

After that retreat, Phil searched for his son. He found him living in an abandoned car next to an old building. He slowly began to just listen to his son, Matt. Trust began to be built after years of tension. Phil and Matt started to do simple errands together and have lunch. After a while of sorting through their relationship, Phil invited Matt to the next retreat at the parish. They shared their stories together for the first time in the small group of the retreat. They told the stories of how healing happened between father and son and how reconciliation and joy slowly returned to their lives.

Last Lent, Matt died of his long-term addiction. I went to the funeral and the priest preached about how Matt and his father were reconciled at a retreat at our parish. I wept sitting in the pew over the new life that happens in the tension of forgiveness, over the often hidden redemption of fathers and sons.

Jesus defends us and pleads our cause to the Father. Grace never gives up even in death. Love triumphs even when hidden in small groups or abandoned cars. This is paschal joy celebrated at Easter, the hope that even long term suffering gives way to the Kingdom of God. The heavenly powers proclaim this on altar tops and in the hearts of fathers willing to try one more time to love a son.

The Easter preface speaks boldly about what is lived in silence and often without notice. Old orders of life can be destroyed. Life lived amid years of depression can be clean of self-blame and a lack of trust. The heart cast down by poverty, mental illness and hardship is lifted out of the tragedies that keep us cast down. On the altar of Easter sits the cup of blessing and bread of life that overcomes the aches and pains of relationships well beyond the sanctuary of our churches.

I pray this holy text on Easter hoping that I will see for myself the integrity of life being restored in Christ Jesus. I know that this prayer is not about what Jesus did for us. This prayer as is the Eucharist itself, is about what Jesus is doing now in our midst. The grace of integrity is not only about the past, but also about every relationship that bears the weight of our wanting to give up on love.

Our renewal of baptism on Easter allows us to resist again the power of evil in our relationships. Even though people present at the Eucharist may be baptized in the new life of Christ’s resurrection, people may feel they have been passed over by God. The Passover of Christ, his death and resurrection, brings us all to new life no matter the sin, the hurt or the suffering. I experience all the angelic powers of love when I stand at the altar and become aware that grace is working in the hidden life of the Church.

These holy prayers challenge us to discover joy at Easter. The prefaces teach leaders of the parish to invite people into what the prayer texts say even to people who refuse to accept God’s forgiveness and peace. We do not blame people for their poverty nor do we blame them for the abuse, depression or mental illness they experience in life. Easter must find a home in our conversations and ministry among people who feel excluded from hope, insecure about relationships and threatened by possible damnation from God. Love in the womb of the altar table is birthed on Easter morning in honesty and genuine hope. We are followers of the One whose tomb was empty but whose life is filled with love.

So many people do not realize that the love of God is a free gift. The reconciliation of Christ among us overcomes everything within us that separates us from the Father. People with emotional injuries have a difficult time receiving this gift because they still think the do not deserve such a treasure. They wait for the emotional and mental put-downs from us, the Church, that they are not worthy. They wait for more abuse. The gift of God’s love and joy is free. This gift is given to all of us to make sure we do not control it, suppress it or cause more people deeper pain. Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection are joy for all acclaim the Lord.

On Easter morning we really offer our suffering to the Father in the name of Christ Jesus. We gather around the altar table aware of the misfortunes of people’s lives and the heartbreak that keeps joy at bay. Last Easter, I prayed with a lump in my throat on Easter morning. I remembered the story of Phil and Matt. I prayed that healing might become visible for us all.  I also prayed embracing all the stories of the silent confessional. I prayed recalling that healing and redemption happen in our community even though so many of us may never find the joy we long for. I stood at the altar of God with my hands extending in cruciform believing that we are all being raised up, all finding our home in the empty tomb. This hymn of God’s glory never ends. We sing in common voice from our common humanity discovering again Christ’s paschal joy.

Suppers and Sacrafices

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, February 2012
– PDF version –

With this column I begin a 10-part series reflecting on the Opening Collects of the new translation of the Roman Missal.

Holy Thursday:
O God, who have called us to participate in the most sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of his love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Good Friday:
O God, who by the Passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that just as, being conformed to him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man of earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of heaven. Through Christ our Lord.


I often pray the liturgies of the Triduum with the same awkwardness with which these prayers are translated. My experience of our urban community teaches me that death and grace are a daily mix, intertwined in every person’s life. I fumble to find the conviction of faith in the middle of so many physical and emotional moments of turmoil that have not been resolved since the last time we celebrated the Triduum. I stumble over connecting simple bread and dirty feet and to uncover salvation amidst both of them. I long for a new image of humanity because now people are put down for being physically poor and emotionally ill. Our celebrations rouse within me a real desire for God in the heartache that keeps me at the altar all year long.

I hear God calling me to celebrate the sacred supper on Holy Thursday. I also hear the people who have given up on God because the banquet seems not to satisfy the need for shelter today or a substantial meal for their hunger this evening. I hear the intermingled issues of profound anger of people who have been handed over to the death of mental disease and long-term struggles with money. So many people have given up coming to the banquet because they do not see believers learning to stretch out their hands to wash dirty feet or to stretch out their imaginations that something more needs to be done beyond the sanctuary steps.

On Holy Thursday, I hold the banquet menu in my hands. I also caress in my consecrated hands the gnarly, odorous feet unveiled in our three aisles of the chapel. I hold within my heart the profound hunger of people to make ends meet as well as their isolation and loneliness of their circumstances. The banquet of bread and wine and the foot washing both break down many barriers that continue all year long. Many people do not feel loved by God because of their eternal despair and many people do not feel loved by the community because suffering is so difficult to pay attention to at length. I hold feet and food and rest in the true sacrifice of Christ Jesus.

On Good Friday, I lay before the people on the concrete floor seduced by God. I am often so unwilling to allow this posture to form the rest of my ministry, yet I surrender again to God. Over the course of the year I tire of such profound suffering. I wait for new life in all the death that surrounds me. I grow short-tempered and want to get up and walk away many times during the year when Christ’s path of passion overwhelms my heart and perspective. On Good Friday, I wait to pray this collect because I know my ancient sin has been forgiven in Christ’s death. I live every day the sacrifice but I do not always feel it when I am lying on the concrete floor beginning the Good Friday liturgy. I wait in the center of poverty, neglect and addictions to experience the new image of heaven here, now on earth.

These collects are heard and lived beyond my lips. These sacred prayers are not only the staged lines of the priest but sum up the internal prayer of the people. The silent hearts of the faithful are brought to this verbal prayer. The priest is responsible for articulating this new translation but is also responsible for knowing the depth of this silent prayer among the people. The priest needs to understand deeply the sufferings and hardships that are going on in the pews and in the daily lives of people who worship. In order for the collect prayers to be claimed by the people, the priest needs to enter into the very reason why people come to the Eucharist in the first place. The priest is invited to pray and serve with dignity and love.

The Triduum is the high point of the liturgical year celebrating Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. We are entrusted with this mystery, not only during the Holy Week schedule, but also in our lives every day. This banquet of love draws us into charity and the work of genuine justice. These prayers cannot be left out from our Holy Week planning nor can they be tossed aside because the translation seems awkward and clumsy. The collects outline the sacred rituals that will follow within the liturgy especially during the Triduum. These texts are for all of us who seek new life amid the pain and frustrations of people’s lives. These opening prayers remind us of what we celebrate and invite us to live what we receive, love itself.

The Stations of the Cross: The Faces of Friday

Originally published by Celebrate! Magazine, Winter 2011
– PDF version –

I encounter the restless suffering of people every day. The pain that I meet at the Downtown Chapel in Portland, Oregon does not easily scab over nor does it ever heal from the inside out. This pain comes from the consequences of surviving generational poverty. The suffering is long term when a middle-aged man tells me he has never loved anyone as an adult because he was raped as a child. A young bearded city-stroller confesses that his brother and sister prostituted their mother to make some quick cash for drugs. A dirty-faced woman suffers from years of mental illness and repeatedly asks me why God hates her so much. These are some of my encounters here on our urban parish corner. Our staff and volunteers spend their days listening, working and helping to sort out what the Church means on such a street-savvy block.

During this Lenten season, I begin my tenth year on this beloved block. I have learned throughout these years to honestly lean into the mystery of Christ’s dying and rising with our staff and many volunteers. I cannot sustain my presence here without taking stock of my faith on a daily basis. I have been stripped of every false notion and pious sentiment that I ever held. However, I know I can turn toward bitterness and rage when I see the ways our society treats individuals. I can rant and rave at how little the Church seems to care about people living in poverty. I sort out these options daily in order to survive my ministry.

I turn toward the only path that I know will bring life. This path is the real journey toward Jesus’ death and resurrection. The Stations of the Cross live in our midst. The moment-to-moment issues of suffering, denial, hatred, prejudice call me to go deeper into the real meaning of my faith. This past year, I wrote a version of the Stations of the Cross so members of our community could more easily find their stories in Christ’s love and resurrection. This version of the Stations of the Cross will also help educate benefactors about the lives of people in our community. Our pastoral associate, Andy Noethe, photographed volunteers and staff and produced a DVD. These stations tell composite stories of people whom I have met in ministry. These scenes of real people’s lives interpret the action of Jesus and the people whom he encountered on the way to the cross.

I share the stories to enable all of us to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s life today. This Lenten season tempts us all to give up on our faith. The Gospels call us to wake up with the disciples to a new perspective of being with Jesus, not under a tent, but on the solid ground of our lives and ministry. Jesus longs to encounter our lives, to tell us how we have sinned in the past and then challenges us to be bearers of Good News. Jesus exposes our common blindness of neglect and ignorance and longs to set us free from the entombment of our fears. This is the journey toward the life Christ longs for us in every worshipping community.

The first two “Stations of the Cross: The Faces of Friday” are presented here. The video version will be available on the websites of Celebrate! Magazine. The video version and the written text will also be available on the website of the Downtown Chapel. I invite you to pray the various stories with faith and longing for the love God has for every person. These stories call me to realize I cannot control people’s lives, or change their circumstances, or solve their problems. However, I am changed profoundly by the depth of people’s sorrow in the center of life itself, in the promise of Christ Jesus.

The First Station: Jesus is condemned to death.

Leader: Show us your face, O God
People:  Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!

I remember when Henry landed in jail. The newspapers said that he was arrested because of his violent outbursts in the streets in the middle of the night. Everyone who knows him realized quickly that his mental illness caused his lashing out, his violence.

When I visited him in jail he told me that he woke up that first morning lying on the concrete floor of his cell. His jittery words and shivering body could hardly express his confusion as I sat in front of him. He admitted that his real sentence is his lifelong mental illness. His fingers shook as he gestured his words. He cannot afford medication and cannot remember to take his pills anyway. Henry is simply unable to care for himself.

Henry so often condemned himself by thinking that he was worthless in other people’s eyes. He always apologizes for his slow ability to utter words or to speak up for himself. When Henry lived on the streets he used to swear that people hated him because some people would spit on him as he slept in a doorway. He would plug his ears as people condemned him with insults, loud obscenities and rude gestures as they passed him lying on the sidewalk. I was struck by how Henry’s jail cell is the place of Jesus’ unfair condemnation.

Leader: From the condemnation of poverty and discrimination:
People: Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!
Leader: From the condemnation of mental illness and false accusations:
People: Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!
Leader: From the condemnation of insults and obscenities:
People: Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!

Personal Prayer and Meditation:
1.Where do you witness innocent people being condemned to suffering in the world?
2. How do you relate to your own struggles, personal suffering and loneliness?
3. How are you responding to the suffering of other people in your prayer and service to others?

The Second Station: Jesus is given his cross

Leader: Show us your face, O God
People:  Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!

I never felt so helpless as the day I met Michael for the first time. He called me and asked to come to the parish office and talk. I will never forget his sad, drawn face, his skinny body standing in the threshold of my office door. I invited him in, but he refused to enter. He stared at me and said, “I have tried to speak with three other priests and they would not listen to me. Would you at least listen to me?”

I remember looking down at the floor and quietly assuring him I would listen. He came in and I offered him a soda. He nervously sat down and immediately told me he had AIDS. I did not confess my naïveté at that time about the complexities of his disease. We sat in the quiet office for hours, going over in detail the physical effects of his illnesses. But it was the emotional toll that devastated him. His parents threw him out of their home. He had not spoken with them in months. He was not getting proper medical care and his friends all disappeared when they heard of his diagnosis.

I sat in my office feeling so afraid because I knew I could do little to change anything for Michael. He taught me that to enter into real suffering means listening with an open heart. I walked with him on his ground of suffering for several months. And when he died, I walked with his family to a fresh grave as they tried to bury all the regrets of not caring for their son.

Leader: From the cross of fear and rash judgments:
People: Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!
Leader: From the cross of shame and guilt:
People: Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!
Leader: From the cross of family apathy and neglect:
People: Save us, O Christ, through your Holy Cross!

Personal Prayer and Meditation:
1. What does carrying the cross mean for your own life?
2. How do you view the crosses other people have to carry?
3. How do these crosses change your attitudes about people?

Pentecost Prayer

On the Solemnity of Pentecost we bring the true yearnings of our hearts to the Holy Spirit. We ask for everything. Nothing is left uncared for or neglected in prayer. I write this litany and ask you to add to this sacred prayer the needs of your life and your perspective on the world. Next week we will be able to pray our prayers together.

Response: Ancient Spirit of God, refresh and renew us!

For people recently baptized and confirmed in faith…

For people who have left faith communities…

For people who no longer trust the Church…

For people who have been marginalized by faith communities…

For people who serve our faith communities…

For people longing for deep and lasting faith…

For people who feel unworthy of this earth because of self-loathing…

For people chained by mental illness and thoughts of suicide…

For people emotionally and sexually abused by families and clergy…

For people sentenced to prison because of mental illness…

For people ignored by society because of diseases of the mind…

For people living in shells of isolation and loneliness…

For people surviving multiple addictions…

For people existing under bridges and abandoned buildings…

For people who will never find adequate employment because of addictions…

For people relapsing this day…

For people holding on to recovery by only a breath…

For people who support and walk with wounded addicts…

For people who struggle to find heartfelt peace…

For people lost in war and national violence…

For people searching for survival in a foreign land…

For people grieving veterans and loss of dreams…

For people charged to bring peace among nations…

For people living among gunfire and insecurity…

For people living with chronic pain…

For people existing in fear because of undiagnosed diseases…

For people without adequate healthcare…

For people fearing loss because of illness…

For people longing for genuine healing in mind and body…

For people who care for our ill…

For people who have lost spirit and joy…

For people in transitions because of job loss…

For people who feel trapped in relationships…

For people who have lost family support…

For people needing to rebuild their lives because of storms and floods…

For people grieving family members and loved ones…

For people locked in past regrets…

For people fearful about death…

For people crippled by hoarding of relationships and wealth…

For people who long for a happy death…

For people who trust the Holy Spirit…

Holding On

Originally published by Ministry & Liturgy Magazine, March 2011
– PDF version –

I hold much fear within my body. I struggle to find my way out of the self-doubts and worries I carry with me from the past. Fear clings to me when new situations demand more of my attention or concern for others. I even realize how selfish I can be when one door closes in my life. Waiting for new life makes me impatient and restless. I wait for the depths of Pentecost in my own life.

I cannot imagine the fear that locked doors and huddled the disciples together after the death of Jesus. Painful uncertainty cramped their future plans. Grief suffocated their thoughts about living the example Jesus offered them. They crouched down in fear and hung on to the hands of each other behind those barred doors. The room and their lives seemed forever darkened.

Pentecost was birthed from this hand wringing and sweat about the future. Christ appeared in the stuffy room behind the closed and locked doors of their hiding. He opened up their lives with his very presence and the offering of his lasting peace. The key to stepping out of the dark room and into their future was the healing balm of Christ’s love and forgiveness. The hands of Christ’s followers opened up to receive him. Fear seemed forever useless.

I heard a new image of clinging to fear a few months ago. On First Fridays I lead a daylong retreat exposing people to matters of faith and poverty. The retreat includes a tour of our neighborhood that reveals controversial issues of adequate housing, nutritional food and affordable healthcare for people surviving poverty. I led this particular tour with a group of deacon candidates and their wives.

After the tour, one of the candidates shared that a deep memory of his mother surfaced during the tour. He remembered his mother taking him by the hand on a street corner and crossing to the other side to avoid homeless, smelly people. He began to cry as he realized that holding his mother’s hand taught him to fear people who were different from him. He acknowledged his mother’s instinct to protect him. He then confessed to the group that it was time for him to grow up, to let go of the hands of people who teach him to be afraid. This was Pentecost for this middle-aged man preparing to be ordained to serve the needs of people. This wake-up call released him from years of prejudice and ridicule toward God’s people living on the streets. This memory opened the door to discovering Christ’s peace within him and in people he has been called to serve.

Every worshipping community must let go fear in order to serve people in need. Pentecost pries open our fingers and challenges us to embrace God alone. Every community must let go of preconceived notions of people considered to be society’s outcasts. Pentecost invites us all to let go of the relationships that still teach us to stingingly criticize other people. We must not believe that separation and isolation are Gospel values. We must release our grasp from people who keep us in our childish ways. When we wake up to the Gospel our old patterns of negative thoughts and inaction fade. We welcome the Spirit as adults in full, active membership within the Body of Christ.

Pentecost vibrates our conscience and activates our hearts. Pentecost is not about shrouding the sanctuary in red silk, but celebrated when people have enough food to eat and sufficient clothing and adequate housing. This great celebration happens when our negative attitudes are replaced with genuine community, the Church. This solemn feast continues to break down walls and barriers. We must believe that we are called to welcome people who have given up on the Church, who are tired of the fight of being isolated because of mental illness, sexual orientation or living below the poverty line. We must listen to the sojourner no matter her experience. We must walk among the brokenhearted no matter how he has been treated in the past. Pentecost cannot be tapered to fit our prejudices or slip comfortably into our oppression of other people.

I witness doors flying open to new life every day as I am changed living among the marginalized. Only God heals people from destructive patterns of drug abuse, prostitution, broken marriages and thoughts of suicide. God’s beloved people teach me to let go of the hands that intended to protect me but also taught me to fear. Ministry among people who have no power in society is celebrated with great joy not only on Pentecost Sunday but every day, when we all decide not to live in fear and darkness.