Monday, October 22, 2018

A Different Journey

I awoke each morning to the sound of nature. Birds were singing in unison throughout the valley, while squirrels, scurrying through leaves and sticks, chased each other up and down trees. Each morning, elk would visit the river located about five hundred feet from our campsite, while eagles glided overhead.

I was surrounded as far as I could see by enormous snow-capped mountains. Trees, rivers and giant boulders filled the countryside. There was not a trace of civilization anywhere. At times I had to pinch myself to make sure this wasn’t a dream. It was, without a doubt, the most spectacular scenery I had ever witnessed.

We began each day promptly at 7am. The day’s activities included mountain biking, hiking, fishing, rafting, and swimming. If we were lucky, and our guide had the proper equipment, he we would take us rock climbing for a few hours in the late afternoon. Finally, as the sun was beginning to set, we returned to our camp exhausted, only to find a feast prepared over an open fire waiting for us.

A few months earlier, some friends of mine, realizing I needed a break from the city, graciously paid for me to spend a week with them on vacation in Colorado. “It would be rejuvenating,” my friend Mike said, “and refreshing. Besides, I can’t imagine a more beautiful place to spend a week of vacation.” He was right. It was the perfect scenario in the perfect location and yet I was miserable.

Even though I love spending time outdoors and spent many hours mountain biking and swimming, there was something different about this adventure. The difference, I discovered, was me. As a teenager, I would go hiking and camping in the woods because I was naturally attracted to the quiet beauty of nature. Yet on a deeper level, I went to the woods in search of its source. Nature, for me, was a sign pointing beyond itself. Rather than stop at the sign, my entire being yearned for that Reality to which the sign was pointing. If I followed the sign frequently, I reasoned, I would eventually go beyond it.

Once I consciously made the decision to follow Jesus and returned wholeheartedly to the Church, my focus shifted from a purely exterior journey to the discovery of an interior one. Even though I still visited beautiful sites and had fun with friends, I began to spend more time alone in my room, a church, or some other quiet place where I could read, pray and spend time in silence. Suddenly, without going anywhere, I was traveling to much deeper places than I ever thought imaginable.

When I began this vacation in Colorado I had been a Franciscan for twelve years and a priest for three. I was accustomed to several hours of prayer and silence each day. My friends, who had only good intentions, believed I would have more fun if I did more activities. Hence, I had no time, and ironically no space, for prayer. Every morning I celebrated Mass and had about ten minutes of prayer afterwards before the events of the day began.

By late morning, after already hiking and swimming for several hours, all I desired was a few moments of stillness. My heart and my mind were touched deeply by the wonder that surrounded me, yet it wasn’t enough. In order to truly appreciate and experience the beauty of this place, I had to move beyond its signs to its source. Without this deeper contact, the joy that was available in this moment became threatened. Unfortunately, there was no time. The next event was waiting for us.

As evening arrived, even though I was surrounded by friends who loved me, a deep feeling of loneliness overwhelmed me. At camp, my friends sang songs, told jokes and recounted childhood memories. I appreciated their presence and enjoyed listening to them, yet I felt a deep void in our group. Without prayer in my day, I felt alienated, not only from other people, but also from the beauty that surrounded me. Each one of my friends was a devout Christian, yet nobody appeared interested in making space for prayer. Was something wrong with me, I asked myself? Here I am in this beautiful place on a free vacation and I am not happy. Was I not grateful? Was I being selfish? Was I being too religious?

Despite my best efforts to alter my mood, I was unsuccessful. As the days progressed, my sadness only increased. The more activities we did, the worse I felt. On our last morning in Colorado one of my friends suggested we do another long hike before going to the airport. “Please,” I sighed, “I’ve had enough. Can we just go to the airport?”

My friends were shocked by my abrupt response. “Is everything ok?”

“Yes…, I’m sorry. I’m just tired and don’t want to miss my flight,” I said.

As I boarded the plane to fly home, I felt confused and frustrated. Providentially, I had the entire row on the plane to myself. Finally, I thought, space simply to be alone with God. I stared out the window and began to speak to God from the depths of my heart. As I began my evening prayer I felt a deep peace within my soul. “Only in God is my soul at rest” (Psalms 62:1). How often had I prayed those words, yet now they began to hold a deeper meaning for me.

I spent the rest of the flight in silence, reading Scripture, speaking to God and just listening. While we were beginning our descent into Newark airport, I felt a wave of consolation overwhelm me. I wasn’t being ungrateful, I realized, or selfish. I just desired a different journey, one that would take me deeper, to a place beyond this world, where my soul could find the space it needed and the rest it desired. 

+ Fr. Jeremiah, CFR

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

NEW MUSIC Poco a Poco

Struggler music video: https://youtu.be/Xdm4MqvhMJs

Brother Isaiah, of the CFRs, has been gifted with an amazing voice and talent. For the past year, he and his brother friars have been working on (and praying with) a musical album they are hoping will bring Catholics closer to God, and help support their mission serving the poor. 

Music written to help Catholics pray

The Franciscan Friars spend hours each day in meditative prayer. They have drawn from the quiet depths of their daily prayer to write these songs which they hope will help Catholics maintain a prayerful state as they go through their lives.

There are many ways to listen to the music. It can be purchased and listened to on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, and Amazon. (Links below)

Listen on iTunes

Listen on Spotify

Listen on Google Play

Listen on Amazon
There are also a limited amount of CDs available! First come first served ... they're expected to go fast!
CD & merchandise:

Monday, October 8, 2018

Beyond Death

I have lived almost my entire life in the Northeast. Every year a sublime mystery occurs. The leaves begin to sing. Up until now they have been quiet, simply blending in and clothing the trees in their simple attire. But now, in mid October, they are approaching the encore. For the next few weeks these woods will become a glorious spectacle of bright red and orange, yellow and brown. People will take pictures, hiking trails will fill up and artists will attempt to paint this majestic scene while it lasts. 

The season of fall provides us with a mirror in which we can contemplate something much deeper than the changing of seasons, namely the mystery of death. Throughout our lives we will experience many deaths. These deaths will be as unique as each person. For some they could come as an illness, a financial problem or the end of a relationship. It could be the death of a friend or parent, a dream that was shattered, or trying to move through a period of depression or loneliness. For others it could be an unappreciative boss or a prayer that God seems to be ignoring. Death, at least according to the rhythm of nature, is not an end but is always a necessary means to something greater. 

When my mother first became depressed life as I knew it had ended. A few months earlier, my grandmother passed away, and my mother never recovered. Almost immediately my family recognized a change in my mother. She had lost her joy and her enthusiasm for life. Instead of engaging the family in conversation I would often see her gazing out the window, bypassing our conversation and my need for affirmation. Most of all, my mother, who was always strong and confident in all of life’s details, had now become shattered and torn, unable to stand before the life she once loved. 

Before this occurred I was a happy, confident and enthusiastic 17 year old who, almost overnight, became sad, insecure and self-conscious. It was as if an earthquake had struck my family and now I was forced to find my way among the rubble without a guide. After the dust had begun to settle, I no longer recognized my family, my home or myself. My life, at least the way I knew it, had died and I was unable to see beyond the grave. 

Ironically, it was this death that eventually led me to a recovery of faith. Since a vital figure in the foundation of my life had been uprooted, I was driven to seek another one, one that when “the rain fell and floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house…it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Matthew 7:25).

Encountering the fragility of life at such an intimate level, led me to pray in a way I never had before. Instead of just murmuring prayers I had learned as a child, I began to pray from the very depths of my pain and confusion. Sometimes I yelled at God, asking why he allowed this to happen. Sometimes I cried, begging God for help and strength, while other times I tried bargaining with God, promising to do something for him if he would heal my mother. Despite my persistent efforts to force God to act, her depression only got worse. God appeared, if not deaf, than at the very least, not interested in helping me.  

As the weeks and months passed, I began to notice a strange phenomenon occurring. I was beginning to experience a mysterious strength inside of me, one that enabled me to stand face to face with this suffering, instead of running from it as I usually did. In the midst of this heartache, instead of feeling alone and abandoned by God, I began to feel a presence accompanying me on this journey, consoling me and embracing my entire being. Instead of continually asking why, I began now to consider how I could help my mom and be with her in her suffering. Finally, after a long and dark winter, the first signs of spring were beginning to blossom in my soul. 

In many ways, I am reminded not only of this event, but also of the many “deaths” I have had to undergo in life each season of fall. Despite how difficult some of those “deaths” were, after each one I experienced in the depths of my soul a resurrection to something more profound than I could have ever imagined. If someone would have told me years ago that God would use my mother’s depression to bring about a deeper conversion in me I would have considered that person a fool. Yet now, many years later, I still remain in awe as I ponder the mystery of God’s ways. 

These beautiful leaves that surround me right now are in their glory, but they too must die only to be reborn once again with the passing of time. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24).

Perhaps what scares us most about death in general is that we can’t see beyond it. What will life look like if I lose my job? If I have cancer? If I can’t have the career I want? The truth is we don’t know. But as nature, and God himself have revealed, there is something much greater beyond what we can see and understand, if only we can trust in its rhythm and allow it to take us beyond ourselves.

+ Fr Jeremiah, CFR
Monticello, NY