THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Some of you may know by now that I will be leaving St. Eulalia’s for a new position in California at the end of June. My journey which has led me to this latest place is a cause for great reflection, and some considerable sadness in leaving all my friends and colleagues here.

I am immensely grateful to all who hired me two years ago and entrusted me with several of our Faith Formation programs. When I joined in my first full time ministry position in the Church here, it felt “right”. As I prayed before the interview here in the sanctuary where you now sit, an immense feeling of peace came over me. I believe this was affirmation of a call.

Now, I have another one. This time the move will cause great upheaval in my family, as a 3,000-mile distance is put between many of them and my new work location at a Passionist retreat center in Sierra Madre, CA. Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a Passionist Provincial meeting in Houston, where they announced two lay directors for their largest retreat centers in the USA. It is a sign of change in the Church, with vocations for priests continuing to decline in many major archdioceses. The Passionist order is addressing this issue by bringing priests from their overseas operations and increasing the hiring of laity in the retreat centers and missions.

We only have to look to our own parish here to also see the change. The wonderful aspect of this is the continued expansion of the laity into all Church activities; the decline in vocations less so.

This opportunity for us (the laity) to learn more has only been possible by the change instigated since Vatican II. The same time as the establishment of his parish. The ability to say the Mass in English, go to a college and study theology at the seminary, and the reestablishment of the deaconate all have had a profound effect on the Church. Obviously, there is much more to come, as the Church continues to try and respond to the needs of the modern world without doing damage to our traditions.

Saint Eulalia’s has a history of being on the cutting edge of where those wanting spiritual nourishment can find what they are looking for at the parish. The sacraments, bible study, music, twelve-step, bereavement, divorce, contemplative prayer and retreats and trips all form the rich tapestry which are offered here. We may not be the largest parish in the neighborhood, but as Fr. Savage outlined to me, we want to offer the richest programs.

I have been so pleased to have journeyed with you all a short way in your history, and while I am saddened to leave St. E’s, I will attempt to remain in contact with The Unbroken Word.

Thank you all for all you do, have done, and will continue to do in His Name.

Peace and Love,

Michael J. Cunningham OFS

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Mater Dolorosa, Sierra Madre, CA

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Last Friday, the 8th of June, I had the pleasure of taking my final examination for the Doctor of Ministry degree at Catholic University in Washington D.C. The exam, which was a defense of my Treatise turned out well, and studies are now complete. Thank you to everyone who has encouraged me over the past two years in the parish, and in particular, those on the Poetry and Photography retreat earlier this year, which formed the basis of my Treatise project.

As is usually the case, I stayed with my daughter, her husband and the two lovely granddaughters. They live in an area near H Street, an area that was decimated by the riots in 1968, but has since rebounded and become an area for “gentrification.” Within the two nights spent there we had the wonderful experience of finalizing my degree at Catholic University with over twenty other doctoral students present at the defense, plus family and some fellow doctoral students from my class/year. As I picked up my granddaughter from school, she scooted down the street, playing with young friends, overlooked by motherly gatherings in the neighborhood. All seemed well in Happy Valley.

But appearances can be deceptive. Later that same day, on a walk in the afternoon, I could see some properties still in disrepair and waiting for the developers to pounce; squeezing out the black population which formed the basis of this neighborhood for decades.

On the evening of my examination, we had a lovely meal and received some beautiful cards from family and friends. When we returned to the house from the restaurant in the taxi H Street was blocked off for two blocks; a motorcyclist had been hit by a drunk driver and dragged down the street. Traffic was redirected for some time; a sad note to the evening. We all headed to bed, and most of the house was asleep at 12:30 am when my wife and I heard four gunshots nearby. I turned the lights out in the hallway and investigated to see if there was anything close enough to be concerned. Upon returning to bed a tremendous crash was heard behind in the alley behind the house; more investigation, but whoever it was had left by the time I peered out through a darkened window. The following day we determined someone has smashed two panels out of the back fence at the alley behind the house.

On Saturday pm I took another local walk and was drawn to the wonderful Gospel sounds coming from the “Yahweh” Church less than 150 yards from my daughter’s house. It was full of love and vibrant sounds spilling all over the neighborhood. I did not go in but regret that now; God invites us and we should respond.

My final stop on this walk was to a photo exhibit in the basement of a local coffee shop. It consisted of photos of black mothers holding their “lifeless” black sons. The images were from all over the country, and while the lifeless bodies in the photos was staged, they were also very compelling. The artist was bringing to our attention police violence against the black community. Ironically, a community which is being moved out of the neighborhood, not because of their color, but the color of money; as row house after another are converted to apartments costing five hundred thousand dollars or more for each one.

I do not offer any of these observations as a judgment of the events of just two days spent in DC, but rather the very different worlds which surround us. In just a couple of days, I saw great love, worship, violence, stupidity, family values and tragic loss all within a few blocks of each other. The contrast is huge, between those who have and those who do not. There is a reason Pope Francis wants the Church to turn towards the poor and needy. That call is to us of course, as we are the Church.

Jesus’s passion is felt by them and demands our compassionate response; with whatever gifts we have, we are called to bring them.

At the end of this weekend, I felt very, very privileged to have been able to study at Catholic University, but am reminded the only purpose of all this is to help others. It gives me pause for each day and leaves me soaked in the sadness of those who are still hurting in such a tangible way. I am rarely confronted by this in the small, safe Massachusetts town where I live.

 

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

If you have ever been to London, England you may have seen a popular tee-shirt or souvenir covered with the words Mind The Gap. Even if you have not, you may have heard these words and wondered what they mean.

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Like many English sayings, they come from a public service announcement; this one being an indication to be careful of the gap which separates a London subway train from the platform. If you have ridden the “tube” (Londoners name for their subway system) you may not have read the notice, but will probably have heard it all day long from the audio announcements which play continously. The message is a warning message, don’t fall because of the step and the gap. Today there a whole industry now built up around London Transport’s use of these words, including films, records and novels using the same name. What does this have to do with God or theology, you might well ask?

This week, I will be traveling to DC for (hopefully) the last part of my doctoral program at Catholic University. In reviewing my treatise I noted two theologians Lonergan and St. Thomas Aquinas seems to talk to this issue in an interesting way. We often think of taking an action to move towards God as a bridge to be traversed, as if there is a gap between us and Him. That we need to close this gap. Sometimes we think of prayer and the sacraments as a way of closing this gap, that there is a separation which prayer or sacraments will help us close it up.

One way to close this gap is sometimes described as the “billiard ball effect” where one ball hits another causing the movement to occur. In theological terms this is called causality, and in the case of the Mind the Gap metaphor, this would close the gap; achieved by taking a step over the gap.

However, Lonergan and Aquinas do not see it this way. Because God is always there, always on, there is no gap to close. We do not need to move towards God as He is already present in us. If God is everywhere, that includes us; so there is no “gap” to close, merely a need for us to turn inwards and see where He is operating in our lives. However, we can self-mediate to recognize His presence.

The mediation of Christ occurs in the sacraments, in particular, the Eucharist. Here grace is communicated because of two factors, the grace in the sacraments and our desire to receive the Eucharist.

In the Eucharist we become part of a larger body, our community in Christ, each of us refilled with grace in receipt of transformed bread and wine, into the living, active Christ received within us. Our desire to receive fuses us with God within us, and amongst us in a way where there are no gaps, only grace and the incarnate nature of God lies within us waiting for us to spread it around the world.

We can be assured of this enternal presense always, all we need is the desire to be present to Him; as He is to us.

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Image Copyright Daily Telegraph (UK)

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

This past Memorial Day weekend we had the pleasure of entertaining five of our grandchildren, ranging from 2 to 9 years old. They arrived from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Texas and Washington D.C. These cousins get to see each other a few times a year, but this event is only for them, parents are excluded from what we call “Camp Fun.”

As we all know, working with really young children, dealing with accidents, sharing toys and gaining agreement on a movie can make high powered business negotiations seem like a walk in the park. It always amazes me to see how different they all are, and how much of their personality and traits are formed at this age, but also how adaptable they are.

After a few days they find themselves enjoying new foods they would “never ever eat,” changing their opinion about something they were previously scared and learning to laugh at themselves. One grandchild announced sadly on a Sunday morning that his cousin had “broken his feelings.” While the surrounded crew responded mainly with laughter at his choice of words, (Obviously was looking for “hurt my feelings”) he cried for a few moments and then burst into laughter himself as he realized he had said something which everyone found funny. Feelings mended apparently in a few seconds.

It is this ability to change and be flexible is always amazing in young people. A situation that was a crisis a few moments ago is now the best moment of the day, and some perfect knowledge to hang onto the next time they arise.

These weekends and weeks we spend with the grandchildren sans parents are wonderful learning and loving moments for all involved. We can relax some rules, enforce some new ones, and expose them to a different experience in the community of cousins. They love these days as we do.

God is so present in this tiny souls; it is great to see how fast they can be turned towards Him. How they oscillate between sympathy and conflict and back to reconciliation with each other. It is impossible to have a small group like this on “not speaking terms” for an extended period. Not just because of the problems caused, but the children want resolution, even if they do not have the tools to do it themselves.

There is so much of God’s love intermixed in this soup it is a joy to watch. How much more could we learn from our situations, as many families move through the pain of another holiday passed with separation from those we love.

Perhaps God, through these children, can show us the beauty of a simple love, forgiveness, and that dialog is the first place to begin a new beginning.

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Listening with intention over supper

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

We are now entering the period in our liturgical calendar known as Ordinary time. As we leave the joy of the Eastertide behind us, we enter this new, and longest period of the year. Perhaps we can consider this a time for noticing. As we leave Pentecost in our rear view mirror (at least until Confirmation in the Fall), we could begin a new regime for ourselves.

One where we begin to notice the small things in our lives. Consider, if you will, the unnoticed. I often beat the drum of being aware of God, Seeing God in All Things and finding God in the Everyday. That is all well and good, but we cannot keep our sensitivity up in a heightened state of awareness on a 24/7 basis. After all, we have to relax, find peace, deal with the stuff of life.

So today I would ask you to consider a simple act; holding the hand of another person. This happens many times during a week or month. Welcoming others (often replaced by a hug if you know them well), first-time greetings, fellow congregants at Mass, during communal prayer … its a long list.

How often is that hand of friendship extended without much thought to the intention behind it? Did I mean it when I extended the sign of peace to those who are unknown to me? In communal prayer, was the prayer different because we were holding hands during recital?

Perhaps as we enter Ordinary time, we can look for some less ordinary moments in these ordinary connections. Imagine if we could not speak the welcoming words and the welcome had to be in the handshake alone. That a communal prayer for a friend who was ill is transmitted through all the bodies and souls connected by those held hands; and we consider the intention as a prayer occurs, not just going through the motions.

There is much to hold (beyond hands) in the ordinary, but it may be a great place to start. There are no boundaries to our interconnectedness, only our willingness and intention to invite and savor them. It is here where we move closer to God.

Through good and well-noticed intentions stirred by His love within us.

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Holding Hands

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Decision making is a matter fraught with complexity. Not the simple everyday ones of course, but the others which have both long and short-term ramifications. My father, God Rest his Soul, made decisions steeped in security, safety and the ability to keep his life in control. His reference points were simple, the need for a roof over the families head, a regular job, and not going to bed hungry at night; all of these informed what he decided. His upbringing in a poverty-stricken, rural Ireland made him very risk adverse. He moved to England for work, and like many from Ireland, never returned to his birth home for anything more than a visit. So, when other opportunities came his way, for promotion, immigration to Australia or Canada, and setting up a business with someone, he politely declined.

I do not think he ever regretted those decisions, but he also made it clear to me, even as a young boy, that he had other opportunities but declined to stay in a “safe place.” For me, as with many others viewing the wisdom of their parents, I rebelled. In fact, a guideline for me was “if my father would say no to this, then I should do it.” My father taught, indirectly perhaps, that risk could and should be embraced.

My own decision-making has been more aggressive; some might even consider bordering reckless. However, once you embark on a life of taking some risk, and gaining some reward for it, then a combination of the excitement and a good outcome causes confidence to build. Examples of this in my own life was proposing marriage to a girl in South Africa after only being in her presence for 21 days. Moving from London, England to rural Alabama for a new life in 1984. Providing a home to a teenager in need during my kid’s high school years. Becoming a downhill ski instructor when I have suffered from a fear of heights for most of my life. Starting my own business in 1994 with no income and little in the bank. Leaving a business career for full-time ministry !

I note these not because they say anything particular about myself, but rather the decision-making process we all go through. For the most part, much of what I accomplished in my early years would now be considered impossible to my more mature and wise mind. I did just make some decisions because they seemed the “right thing to do” and once the path was chosen, we made the best of it we could. In fact most of the best things which have happened to our family have been viewed as risky to others around us.

In reflecting on my most recent steps in my journey, I can note two things. One, I have lived a life embracing decisions, even when they did not work out so well. Secondly, God has been with me all the way. Even in my poorer decisions God has held fast and helped me recover from those decisions which were selfish or brimmed with the cup of success which often breeds arrogance and self-aggrandizement.

Looking back can help us look forward, but it can also be an unhelpful process, reinforcing regret and focusing on our failings and failures.

At times like this, it is important to note all God wants is for us to be close to Him. That is it. So all these things of the world are not helpful unless they move us towards this goal.

This is now my most important reminder to self.

Anatomy of a Decision

Sitting out there like a gleaming diamond,

Or a black patch to be worn for many years,

The decision looms large,

Its repercussions hidden from view,

Unlike the supporters on either side,

Divisive placards in hand,

Accompanied by alternating jeers and boos of those on the finish line.

 

Only one can really guide the right path,

One built with love.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

You know that wonderful feeling of peace which comes over us occasionally. We never want it to leave us. However life comes on and it moves on.  Distractions, commitments, problems, work, problems and schedules. Before we know where we are that wonderful feeling of peace is fading away, replaced by responses to others that don’t represent who we want to be. Why is that?

One reason is we have created an Episodial relationship with God. Like a TV series, we set our clocks to pick up God when we have the time. We allocate what I would call Spiritual Survival time in our schedule. It might be Mass, a walk in the park, the beach, putting rocks on your back in the spa. Some do little to keep this fragile balance in their lives. If work-life balance is the #1 requirement for US workers (which is most of us), then our spiritual well-being is critical.

This Episodial relationship is the core of our problem in the contemporary world. What if instead of a couple of hours of renewal each week, all of our life could be lived in co-operation with His will? Imagine that peace we feel at those special times being with us all the time.

Sign me up!

The Episodial world happens because we have segmented our lives into time slots when we have “things to do”. This causes us to focus on two areas. Have we done something in THE PAST and do we have something to do THE FUTURE. In both cases we miss the key to communicating with God for the other non-God Episodes in our lives, the time where we are actually present. THE PRESENT.

We can assume that God has no concept of time. God doesn’t need it. God is eternal. So, when we concentrate in intentional prayer at Mass or on retreat, wherever, we are also in the PRESENT. We try and clear our minds and focus on the prayer time and form enacted.

It is here we meet God. This is when the encounters occurs, when we feel peace, grace, the love of God. By noticing the present, we see God in action in our life. When we take the next step we can review the end of the day, reflecting on what happened and how we should respond to it.

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Foggy Bottom