A Gentleman in Moscow

I’ve had a novel on my shelf for the past few months and just this week started reading it.  It’s called “A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles, and it’s about a Russian aristocrat who, after the Russian Revolution, is kept under house arrest at the Metropol Hotel in Moscow.  He is confined to this single hotel and cannot leave the building.  It seems strangely apt for these times – what is it like to have one’s normal routine and way of being change to one of staying in one place for an extended period of time?  What do rooms and corridors look like, what does the view out the window look like, when we can’t leave the building?  

We are not quite at that level, but it’s interesting to read this novel and get a sense of how this gentleman from Moscow adapts.  “Adapting” is our new way of being in these days, and perhaps it invites us to a closer look at what surrounds us in our own lives, what we really need, and the ways that God’s grace appears even in changed times.

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

In the Wilderness

A phone call yesterday with a friar in western New York who is at a retreat house there.  The retreat house is set deep in the woods, with a chapel that looks out over the woods, and it’s a place to pray and simply notice the beauty of God’s good creation.  On the phone, we talk about these times we’re in, what it’s like to adapt, living amid the unknowing.  We talk about the Israelites wandering, after leaving Egypt, “in the wilderness” and the wilderness as a place of profound dislocation and unknowing.  There are no touchstones in the wilderness, in the desert.  And yet all along, even amid the wandering and the questioning and the unknowing, God was leading them somewhere.  We agree, on the phone, that maybe these times feel like that, and we agree that maybe this time that we’re in is an invitation to deep trust in a loving God.

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

Old Dusty Road

Times and days that are different, with the usual touchstones of meetings and going out and being a parish in the world giving way to something that continues to be defined in ways unknown, and that continues to evolve, amid uncertainty and questions about how long?  Writing and reading and conference calls, walking and praying and texting.  Being in contact in different ways.  And, at night, on an iPad, watching YouTube videos, and they are there in abundance.

One night, a video of three musicians on a stage somewhere.  They are Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, and Joe Ely.  The three of them seated, each with a guitar.  They have long histories of writing songs about the open road.  They begin to play a song together, “Old Dusty Road” (which seems especially apt in these days of pollen!).  Joe begins to sing “I’m going down that old dusty road, I’m going where the water tastes like wine”, and it’s an image of going somewhere to a place of hope, of being on the move, and of a horizon that holds out a kind of holy gospel image of enough for everyone, of a great and holy banquet.  

I listen, and I listen again, and it’s the beauty of a song in a time of dust and uncertainty

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

Beauty Will Save The World

A pale white sky and fewer cars outside and continued talk of further restrictions and each day seems to be a continuation of what came before, but with a looming sense of everything becoming tighter.  I get an email from a museum in Philadelphia.  It’s a way for the museum to remind us of beauty, and in the email is a picture of a painting in the collection (the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia) by Vincent Van Gogh.  The email describes the painting by Van Gogh as “a tender portrait of his friend, the postman Joseph Roulin.”

And so there it is, a painting showing up on my iPhone screen, and even though no one can go to the Barnes right now to look at it up close, it feels good to know that it’s there in the museum, unseen except on a screen, but there nonetheless in a currently closed museum, and a reminder that beauty and creativity is in the world around and among us.  

In my office, taped to a windowsill near my desk, are the words “Beauty Will Save The World” on a sticker that came to me in the mail a while back.  Now that’s something I can turn to, even seeing “beauty” in the way the stories in the gospel help me (us) see a world made – remade- by Christ, in ways seen and unseen.

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

Leprechauns in the Yard

The grey cool days somehow do not help, nor does the daily newspaper or the updates that flash onto my computer screen.  I need to know, and I don’t need to know.  On the phone with my mother last night she talks about when things “get back to normal” and it’s hard to say what “normal” will look like.  The buds in the trees do say something, budding life even when surrounded by trees that are bare.  

And yesterday, on a Zoom call with one of the preschool classes known as “The Mighty Ducks.”  You can see into their classroom as you walk by outside, and there are hundreds of yellow rubber ducks on the window sills.  I join the call, and the teacher tells me that last week, for St. Patrick’s Day, they had been talking about leprechauns, and do I know anything about leprechauns?  I say yes, I saw one just outside their classroom last week, small, dressed in a green jacket with belt, green pants, black boots, and a tall green hat.  Just a glimpse, I say, not for long.  And then he disappeared around a corner.  

I can hear these little kids react – really, you saw a leprechaun?  I tell them, via Zoom, that I think the leprechaun missed them and was hoping they’d be back soon.  And it’s true, right?  In a time of grey skies, in a time of social distancing, we imagine a world of beauty and mystery and hidden signs of God’s love and care.  And on this day, the Solemnity of the Annunciation (read the story in Luke’s gospel, 1:26-38), I look at a painting on my wall done by Henry Ossawa Tanner from 1898, with its image of a young Mary as she receives the astounding news that she will give birth to the Son of God….imagine, just imagine the ways God enters into our lives, in mystery and wonder, and within the ordinary.

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

The wonders of a Japanese maple

Another strange day in the neighborhood, overcast, mostly empty parking lot.  We continue to meet, virtually, and yesterday we talked about ways in which we live our mission in a time in which people can’t go out, can’t gather.  And so technology becomes part of the discussion; how to set up the sound and video system, where the presider should stand, is the microphone working correctly.  We talk about the homepage of our website as our new front door, as a way in to this strange new life of the parish in these unsettling times.  

People out walking in the neighborhood, runners in the parking lot, sometimes bicycles.  Trees mostly bare of leaves except, except! – a Japanese maple beginning to bloom out in front of the friary, the color red outlined against the tan siding of the house, color and life blooming amid the dull gray sky and muted colors of the day.  I make a note to look more closely, to pay attention to beauty, always there around us.

Fr. Steve Patti OFM
Pastor

The Light Shines in the Darkness

More strange days in the neighborhood….out the window of my office, some cars, a green coat of pollen covering everything, some staff here and some working from home.  Yesterday, looking for some normalcy, I went to a bookstore in North Hills, kept a distance from people, and bought a couple of books.  In these strange times, there was something reassuring about looking at a title, taking it off the shelf, paying for it, and taking it home.  

And we are, of course, continuing to shift into virtual church mode.  At a time when we want to come together in person, our staff discussions, at a distance from one another in a large conference room, are now about sound and video systems, and about sending out content to screens.  We are meeting next week as a staff to talk through what this past week has been like and to plan for what continues to be, in many ways, unknown.  

Normalcy, also, is for us friars gathering in our friary chapel to pray the liturgy of the hours in the morning.  Psalms that express every human condition, and that so often end with praise for a living God.  A sense that we are in the midst of some kind of deep change in how we live and move among one another, and uncertainty about what kind of society will emerge from this.  Uneasiness among many.  

Outside the Blessed Sacrament chapel off the main church sanctuary, the candle flickers during the day and during the night.  There is an interplay of dark, and of light. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  (John 1:5).  May the Lord give you peace!

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

Who are you, Lord?

We continue in these new, strange, evolving days, and every morning in the friars’ chapel, we three friars pray the liturgy of the hours, the ancient prayer of the church, a combination of psalms, readings and prayers, and every morning one of us voices the prayer “for the parish, for us all.”  Just a few words, spoken, followed by a silence, and just those words express something of our hope for these times we are in.  I look out the window of my office at a parking lot with a few cars in it, and with a lot of green pollen coating everything, and imagine once again a live and active church once these days give way.  We continue to pray.

Last week I was away in Atlanta, at a retreat center called Ignatius House, on a silent retreat from Sunday evening until Friday noon.  During that time my phone was off, and so I had no emails, texts, phone calls, or any news.  Each day at 9:15am I met with a spiritual director.  He assigned me scripture passages to reflect on during the day.  Since I had been reading a very good book on St. Paul (Paul: A Biography by N.T. Wright – superb!), he had me reflect on Paul’s road to Damascus experience, found in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 9.  This also had to do with transition; it was a transitional moment in the life of St. Paul, and of course we friars have also been addressing transition.

I opened my bible and read that section of Acts 9.  I did not read it quickly; I read it slowly, letting the words speak to me.  In the story, Paul (at that time still known as Saul), is on the way to Damascus to persecute anyone who is part of “the Way” which is what the early Christians were known by.  On his own “way” Paul finds himself struck down, knocked flat, as a “light from heaven shone around him.”  It’s a moment for Paul, an in-between moment that will forever define him going forward.  

Paul, knocked flat, disoriented, blinded, then speaks the words “Who are you, Lord?”  It’s a question that opens something.  It’s a question that seeks to know who the Other is, a question that seeks an opening to some kind of relationship, even as it admits a kind of unknowing,  “Who are you, Lord?”  Paul is powerless, on the ground, cannot see.  He hears the voice of Jesus speaking to him, telling him to return to the city, and saying “you will be told what to do.”  Paul is no longer an agent of his own agenda and must become, in a way, one who receives grace and insight from the risen Lord.  His own plans are over.  Something new is happening in his life.

“Who are you, Lord” became for me, on my retreat, a way to pray.  They are four words that ask for a revelation of who and how God is working in my life right now.  They are words that imply a depth relationship, an ongoing way of coming to know the presence of God in my life not as static, but as continuously revealing and coming to know, within the particular circumstances of my, and our, lives.  

We are all in strange and new and unsettling times.  We have, in some ways, been knocked flat on the ground, like Paul.  We are left disoriented and uncertain about a way forward, like Paul.  Amid disorientation and uncertainty, the Word is with us, in ways that continuously invite us to deeper relationship, “who are you, Lord?”  We can pray, slowly, with words from scripture, opening a way for the Word of Life to speak to us in uncertain times.  May the Lord give you peace!

Fr. Steve Patti OFM,
Pastor

It’s all different now

Greetings from a very quiet St. Francis campus, in these days in which everything seems different and changed, and each day seems to bring some new announcement, some new prediction, some new rumor.  These are unsettling times in which normalcy has given way to uncertainty, and we don’t know for how long.  The streets are quieter, traffic is less, we don’t see as many airplanes from nearby RDU flying overhead.  We keep our distance, which seems a cruel twist especially in a time in which we want to gather.  In the morning I sit in the empty church to pray, and I imagine what it looks like on a typical Sunday morning, full, lively, preparing to hear the word, preparing to receive communion as the Body of Christ gathered.  It’s all different now.  

As you know, all masses and all events and activities have been cancelled here until we hear further notice from diocesan and government authorities.  As you see on our parish website, we are moving, in these strange and different times, to becoming a virtual church until the day comes when we can once again gather in our church sanctuary.  We will continue to live-stream our 9:30 mass on Sunday morning.  The friars will continue to film a short daily reflection  There is a 12 noon “lunch break” with Jim Wahl, and evening prayer at 7pm.  Continue to check our website for anything new.

We friars subscribe to a monthly prayer book called “Give Us This Day” which provides the daily mass readings, reflections, and also morning and evening prayer.  We have heard that Give Us This Day is offering free access to a digital version of their content: go to www.giveusthisday.org  and click on the “digital” button on the upper right side and it should come up.  You can see the daily readings and also pray along with the morning and evening prayers.  The psalm from morning prayer this morning, psalm 86, reads in part “In the day of distress I will call to you, and surely you will answer me.”  A line from a psalm, a voice that calls out from a place of distress, confident faith in God. This is where we are right now.

Thank you to our staff which has rallied in unsettled times to help keep our church community as normal as possible in these far from normal times.  Perhaps, these “far from normal times” are inviting us into a deeper sense of God’s presence in an otherwise frantic and distracted world.  As we continue adjusting to this new sort of normal, I will continue to write in this space on different topics.  In the words of St. Francis, may the Lord give you peace!

Fr. Steve Patti OFM

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