THE UNBROKEN WORD

Retelling Our Own Story
When we look carefully to see how God is working in us today, we invariably look to the past for guidance. What did we learn from this experience? Did the suffering help me or alienate me from God? Have I been grateful for the good things in my life?

All of these questions and their answers tell a story which is “our story.” However, sometimes that story is given to us by another and we often do one of two things with it. Firstly, we can accept the story or lesson as given to us by another; perhaps a parent or a friend tells us our own story and what they think we should have learned from it. Or secondly, we can refuse to accept our version of the story and instead play a “what if” game to see how our life might have turned out differently.

In the first case, we may find that someone else is defining our own lives and how we should react to an event based on what they tell us is our story. The dangers of accepting this approach can be obvious, someone tells us we are a failure because of one failure, we lose one battle and therefore, we are always a loser. You get the idea.

The second case is something which also affects many of us, what would have happened if I met this person earlier in my life, married a different person, had another career. We play the “what if” game trying to relive a life that didn’t happen. We only have what did happen to work with and how we interpret its meaning or direction.

When we look today for what God is Doing In Us, we can take another approach in reviewing the past. That is to “retell” our story. In retelling our own story, we don’t change the facts of course, but we can change what we learn from them. For example, telling my own story of self-reliance during my teen years, and how it changed my spiritual disposition, introducing some “lean years” in my relationship with God has had a surprising benefit.
In telling this story first to myself, I saw how I caused myself to induce some distance between God and me. Or at least that is what I thought. However in retelling this story and sharing it with others, it became obvious this was just a movement in my overall spiritual journey; a waypoint if you like, not a final destination.

We can also find our own story is retold by listening to others, their experiences can resonate with our own, giving us pointers to how God is “really” working in us all the time, even when we feel remote and distant.

Our willingness to retell a story, particularly our own story, requires an honesty that keeps the door open, and our heart opens to hear what is really going on. A closed mind precedes a closed heart, an unwillingness to listen, to receive the grace which is often waiting to be poured out.

Let us let the grace pour out this week by examining some of our own stories, and see where God has been working in us all the time. Just as the disciples the road to Emmaus, we just didn’t recognize Him.

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My Footprints 

 


They have been smaller,
And tentative at times.
Tiptoeing,
Stamping,
And held their ground on occasions.

 

But always, they have included You,
Even if I wanted to head in a particular direction for a while,
They returned to a Compass Rose,
Correcting what needed to change.

 

At least when I listened for Your voice.

 

Reflection, Photograph and Poem Copyright 2020 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Prayer as Belonging

The desire to belong is something where both secular and spiritual experts can agree, is built into all of us. It is not a characteristic we can turn on or off based on our needs, although we may think we can control it. Most forms of belonging, at least in the true sense, are based in love. Our need to belong to a family, a loved one, or a group where there is affinity.

Belonging is also instinctive. We have a need to belong to someone; our mother, father, siblings, friends all make us naturally migrate towards each other. We can often identify this need for belonging when we are separated from the others; when we are rejected, repelled, or disinvited to be a part of the group. It’s as if the pain of separation reinforces the need to belong.

Perhaps there is little that broadcasts the scriptural commands from the New Testament more than the need for belonging. In John 13:34-35, just before his passion and death on the Cross, Jesus raised belonging to the ultimate level:

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

This commandment reinforces what is already a part of our essence, we are The Body of Christ. Where God resides in us, so does our Holy Longing for God’s love and thereby our love for each other. And yet, we still use this power to allow others to “belong” to groups in our lives; to restrict or exclude them. Each time we are unwelcoming or reject others, we exercise our gift of belonging which is within us all. So it is a gift we can use to accept or reject others; by either giving or restricting. To exercise judgment for good or bad.

This week, we can reflect on some times and places in our lives where we are using belonging as it was meant to be. As an invitation to the dialog, as welcoming, as the returning Prodigal Son, or as the Father who invited the son home. Take a look and see how belonging shows how God is operating within us, even when we seem to be unaware.

Where we have failed, and we all have at some point, we can, of course, pray for belonging. That we may be accepting of others, and that others may accept us. Why, because He is Always With Us (Mt 28:20) and we with Him.

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A Prayer of Belonging

Dear Lord,

Let me belong.

Let me belong to you.

Let me belong to a community.

Let me belong to a family.

Let me belong.

 

In the daylight, let me belong.

At night, let me belong.

During times of illness and strife, let me belong.

During good times, let me belong.

But always, let me belong to you.

 

For it is your belonging where all belonging begins;

And does not end.

 

In this I pray. Amen.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Together Yet Separate

During the Christmas holiday period in 2019, I traveled to Singapore to visit my daughter and family. It was clear they were so pleased to see my wife and me, and within a few days, it was like we had not been separated for so many months. The wonder of a family reunion is hard to explain, but more easily understood by rekindling the feeling of connection and belonging to each other.

Singapore is a small island with the third-highest density of population on the planet. Around 18,500 souls per square miles for those of you interested in statistics. As I look out from the 16th floor of my daughter’s apartment, I see thousands of homes lit up each evening. It is easy to imagine interactions within, just as we are sharing Christmas together with my own family.

The comings and goings of those leaving and returning create a continuous procession of souls in and out of the building. Taxis cause the security gate to open and close, waving families in and out of the building to continue meeting busy schedules that dominate life in this city.

In using the MRT, the Singapore Metro system, I was shocked by the continuous “checking out” of those using it. On a trip here, I noted only two of the one-hundred-plus fellow commuters were NOT using their phone. I was one of them. It was as if those traveling were somewhere with their cell phones, and not aware of their location, or what they were doing, (traveling somewhere). This transposition of presence created a feeling of unbelonging which is hard to describe.. Almost as if I was not traveling with all the others, yet I was performing this precise action. Strange indeed.

Don’t you find it disturbing how you can be the middle of hundreds or even thousands of people as still feel like you are alone? For me, on the subway that day, I had the feeling of wanting to connect with all those people, or at least exchange a smile or greeting, but was prevented by the “closed door” facing me. In this case individuals using their cell phones to connect to “another time and place” from their current location and action. Perhaps an unknowing or unintended intention.

Do you ever get that feeling of unbelonging, even when you may be in the presence of many people? How does that make you feel?

God has placed This desire to be connected to others is present in us all; a need to communicate, to relate, to love each other in some tangible way.

I give you a new commandment:[a] love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” Jn 13:34

Sometimes, just a simple smile or greeting can change our relationship with another. Not that we all have to go around smiling like a crazy person at everyone we meet, or glad-handing complete strangers. However, when we are open, others open up too.

This week, perhaps we can open up to someone who we have been ignoring, (maybe with good cause) and it may change a relationship. Try it and see. Don’t hide behind our own busyness and keep others at bay. Remember we are all one body in Christ.

Bound Together

Separation is both a feeling and a reality. At times one begets the other

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Apartment buildings, Singapore 2019

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Christmastime is a wonderful time of the year, and in particular, Advent, the run-up towards Christmas. A St. Eulalia’s tradition, Peter Pongratz’s “Welcome the Child” has a particularly warm place in my heart, even though I have not been present at the last couple of showings due to my move to California.

So much of the preparation time for the arrival of the baby Jesus makes us feel “all warm inside.” Even some of the holiday parties, gift-giving, food preparation, arrangement all say You Are Welcome to others in our lives. It is for this reason, we often say to others when they are less than hospitable during this time, “Why Don’t You Get Into The Christmas Spirit?”. This put-down is not just a reaction to someone operating like the Grinch or Scrooge in their attitude but is a general call to “holiness” for the season.

We all have the potential to be accepting or rejecting at this time, so it seems it takes a special effort to be “mean” during Christmastime. Even the classic movies of the time, newer and past, all point us towards the goodwill which is embedded in us all. It’s a time not just for preparation for those visitors and pleasantness to those we like in our lives, but a time to consider those we reject or feel less friendly towards.

It is impossible to give someone a tongue lashing when you are feeling warmth and love in your heart. Christmas, particularly Advent, draws us clearly into the loving embrace which God holds us in during this period. We cannot, and should not, engage in behavior which is contrary to that “goodwill” and Christmas Cheer so talked about in the world. We are reminded of our Christianity in a huge way, and the birth of Jesus is the ultimate reminder of God’s love for us.

Let us “let go” of those feelings, resentments, hostilities to those who need our forgiveness this season. For forgiveness may do little to change the past, but it certainly changes our future.

Have a very blessed Advent, and load up with the “Christmas Spirit” which only comes from Christ himself.

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THE CHRISTMAS HOUSE

The Christmas House,
Readily awaiting the removal of problems accumulated,
Now appears to be under repair,

I cannot tell if they are rebuilding,
Or restoring,
Me to a new glory.

One where I may be closer to Him after winter is done.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

“Daydreaming again, Cunningham?” A frequent chant during my childhood, when I would become immersed in a book or activity which really brought me to another place. When I was a child, I had a tremendous love for fishing. We lived near the river Avon, which winds its way from the hills of the Cotswolds through market towns and cities and eventually to the sea in the city of Bristol.

Many days would be spent at the riverbank of the Avon, trying my best to catch the fish of the day. For many, the idea of sitting on the riverbank for hours on end could not sound like a more boring experience. However, being there with nature, reading the character of the river, considering what the fish might be eating at a given time of the year, looking for those special places where the “big one” hangs out, were all a part of an action-oriented contemplative experience. On the very best of days, I was at one with the fish.

The same thing often happens when we are reading. We become affected by the co-creative process which brings us to another time, place, even personality. It is hardly surprising that we are often disappointed when we finally get to see “our book” in movie form. The visualization, the smells, the characters all take on another form, one informed by the director.

These same processes and effects are at play when we involve God in our interior conversations. Sometimes it can be as simple as remaining silent, while at other times it may be scripture speaking to us differently.

This week let us notice our “noticing” of these times in our week, however short they may be. For it is often in these moments where God is moving inside us, sometimes without any perception from ourselves.

It may be a book, a movie, some prayer time, but let us give a huge thank you for this extra “sanctuary” time in our lives.

Delicious

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Sitting, hidden here in the gardens,

I remain immersed in the novel’s dialog,

Soaking up the rain in 17th-century Scottish highlands,

On a summer day.

 

Meanwhile, my body relaxes in the mid-afternoon, SOCAL shade.

 

Proving once again, the deliciousness of time travel.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

We often imagine living in a heavenly place, somewhere where we consider we are always on vacation, away from chores and responsibilities, where we enjoy ourselves devoid of day-to-day hassles.

Such was such a day recently on a boat trip to Catalina, the wonderful channel island just offshore from the Southern Californian coastline. The weather was perfect, an almost calm ocean, an escort of dolphins for a while, and a day filled with beach weather, cycling and sightseeing up and down the Catalina hills. It was the sort of excursion that makes you feel the need for a “mental health” day and be filled with thankfulness for our lives.

On the way back to the boat, the pilot on the water taxi was asked the question, “do you live here full time.” She retorted with almost a hysteric response; “I get that question all the time” … “I wonder why people think I am so different from them just because I live here?” She was obviously disturbed, and it turned out this was the umpteenth time she had been asked the question today. After a little exchange, we explained because it is so beautiful on the island there was a certain amount of admiration and envy in the question, the questioner imagining himself living each day like the one we had just enjoyed.

Of course, for us, as day-trippers, the day was filled without agenda, deadlines and responsibilities, not so for the water taxi pilot. She had a working day, albeit on a beautiful island, still a working day.

A little further into the conversation, she noted that she always felt sad when leaving the island, indicating she also had a great affinity for the place and described how she met her obligations to see the family on the mainland but left with sadness as a result. The detachment was clearly felt on her face and emotions. She had gotten herself, perhaps by accident, into a conversation that went deep into her heart.

As we look for those days of retreat, searching for refreshment we could consider how God helps us in the process. Do we not find ourselves almost in immediate wonder, gratitude, reflection and consideration of our lives as soon as we can slow down? Does not the change of scenery help us appreciate our own, and force our minds and hearts into a different zone? Is this not why you make time for a retreat each year?

Perhaps this week, we can set aside some special time for one of those sacred places in your lives, and sit there a while with God. It might not be far, on a porch, a motorcycle, a second coffee on a Sunday morning. Give up some minutes for a micro-retreat in your everyday life; and then be grateful for all we have.

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Searching for Avalon

How did I end up here, in Avalon?

I am sure it could not have found it alone,

For such fortune cannot be sought, only given.

Whatever the path, I am grateful.

For leaving is painful, made tolerable only by knowing I will return.

 

Someday …

forever.

 

Copyright 2019 Reflection, poem and photography by Michael J. Cunningham OFS

THE DAILY GOSPEL AND READIGNS 17 OCTOBER 2019

Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr
Lectionary: 470

Reading 1ROM 3:21-30

Brothers and sisters:
Now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law,
though testified to by the law and the prophets,
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ
for all who believe.
For there is no distinction;
all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.
They are justified freely by his grace
through the redemption in Christ Jesus,
whom God set forth as an expiation,
through faith, by his Blood, to prove his righteousness
because of the forgiveness of sins previously committed,
through the forbearance of God–
to prove his righteousness in the present time,
that he might be righteous
and justify the one who has faith in Jesus.
What occasion is there then for boasting?  It is ruled out.
On what principle, that of works?
No, rather on the principle of faith.
For we consider that a person is justified by faith
apart from works of the law.
Does God belong to Jews alone?
Does he not belong to Gentiles, too?
Yes, also to Gentiles, for God is one
and will justify the circumcised on the basis of faith
and the uncircumcised through faith.

Responsorial PsalmPS 130:1B-2, 3-4, 5-6AB

R. (7) With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.
Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD;
LORD, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to my voice in supplication.
R. With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.
If you, O LORD, mark iniquities,
Lord, who can stand?
But with you is forgiveness,
that you may be revered.
R. With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.
I trust in the LORD;
my soul trusts in his word.
My soul waits for the LORD
more than sentinels wait for the dawn.
R. With the Lord there is mercy, and fullness of redemption.

AlleluiaJN 14:6

R. Alleluia, alleluia.
I am the way and the truth and the life, says the Lord;
no one comes to the Father except through me.
R. Alleluia, alleluia.

GospelLK 11:47-54

The Lord said:
“Woe to you who build the memorials of the prophets
whom your fathers killed.
Consequently, you bear witness and give consent
to the deeds of your ancestors,
for they killed them and you do the building.
Therefore, the wisdom of God said,
‘I will send to them prophets and Apostles;
some of them they will kill and persecute’
in order that this generation might be charged
with the blood of all the prophets
shed since the foundation of the world,
from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah
who died between the altar and the temple building.
Yes, I tell you, this generation will be charged with their blood!
Woe to you, scholars of the law!
You have taken away the key of knowledge.
You yourselves did not enter and you stopped those trying to enter.”
When Jesus left, the scribes and Pharisees
began to act with hostility toward him
and to interrogate him about many things,
for they were plotting to catch him at something he might say.


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Lectionary for Mass for Use in the Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright © 2001, 1998, 1997, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine; Psalm refrain © 1968, 1981, 1997, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved. Neither this work nor any part of it may be reproduced, distributed, performed or displayed in any medium, including electronic or digital, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.