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

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

These first two weeks of the year have been full of discussions, plans and actions for our Youth Ministry at St. Eulalia’s. As you probably know by now, we have been blessed with the arrival of Claire Aalerud to the parish staff; heading up this important ministry and taking on the additional important task of multi-media outreach and evangelization.

During our discussions the subjects of goals and intentions came up, along with the theme “Think With Your Heart” which has been core to the youth mission. During these conversations I noted, “Our intention is to open roads to allow the Holy Spirit to lead us”, and Claire seemed to finish my sentence with “because the Catholic Church is the truth.”

It may not have been her purpose to make the truth as a destination of our faith, but it was a reaffirmation of something I take for granted. The truth which I should not take for granted. This is the truth has been established, paid for, deposited and distributed by the salvific mission of Jesus Christ and resides fully in the Church. We often forget what Claire reminds us of, we have the truth, the deposit of faith, the Way, all encased in the continuous presence of God in our lives. The truth is not weakened by the behavior of the sinners (us) which make up the humanity of the Catholic Church. The truth reminds of where the compass should be set on our own journeys.

The journey we take is a unique path which leads us towards a deeper, more fulfilled and revealed personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It is, and often seems, a journey without end.

We can be assured though, the truth will remain what it is, firm, loving, welcoming and filled with the grace of God to help us along the way. We may stumble along the path, but He will remain, now and forever to support us.

The truth is eternal. Let us recognize it and continue seeking its riches in 2018.

“I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jn 14:6

At Rest

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As the evening comes, time to rest in a safe harbor,

Where we can refuel, refresh and recharge for another day at sea.

Be it stormy or calm, I will be ready.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

January 1 has already passed. Sometimes we miss the significance of this year, as we are so often drowned out by the noise of the previous evenings celebration and desires for a “better” year to come. Pope Francis did not forget the fact that January 1st is the Roman Catholic Church’s World Peace Day. In preparation for this year’s event, Pope Francis commissioned a reprinting of the photograph below.

The image was taken by Joe O’Donnell, a US Marine photographer after US forces dropped atomic bombs on Japan at the end of World War II. The photograph shows a boy waiting in line as he carries his dead five-year-old brother to the crematorium. A poignant and truly sad image. O’Donnell spent the next four years documenting the aftermath of the bombings and their impact on the population.

In addition to the photograph, Pope Francis adding this own signature with the comment:

“The young boy’s sadness is expressed only in his gesture of biting his lips which are oozing blood.”

Pope Francis reminds us of the tremendous sadness and tragedy which has been wrought in our world in the past year, and the need for actions and prayer to change the outlook for the future. He calls us to remember we are called to support the needy and the huge number of displaced children and their families in the wars raging in the world.

This is not a popular message amongst many. Wars have consequences and victims. Let us all pray and act in 2018 to reduce this pain, in whatever way we can affect the outcome.

In his address, Pope Francis was talking to the 40,000 crowd assembled in person outside the Vatican, but his message was to the entire world.

I find I have nothing to add to his observations, just some resolve as I dry the tears from my eyes.

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Photograph by Joe O’Donnell

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Well, time to say a fond farewell to yet another year. 2017 is almost history as we move headlong into the beginning of a new story in 2018. The beginning of the New Year sets us up for a short time of reflection and renewal. We reflect on those positive and negative goings on in the past year and determine how we might use those events and learnings to our life going forward.

Typically, we look at the New Year as a time for change; to implement resolutions of losing weight, kicking habits, spending less, giving more …it’s a long list. Often, like a Christmas dinner plate, there is too much to chose from, causing us to not change anything at all once a few days or weeks pass. Then, as we fail to implement any of them, we give up and return to the status quo.

So perhaps this year we might focus on something to change our spiritual life, or to bring our spiritual life into our everyday life. Imagine you keep a tally of how often you greet someone who might pass by unnoticed, smile at someone when no smile was “needed”, let them jump the line because you saw they needed to be served earlier than you. Smaller things, such as trying a new prayer form out, calling forgotten friends not when they need help, but just to reach out. You get the idea.

These are the small things of Christianity which can make all the difference to others, and to us as well. As St. John Cassian teaches us, these good thoughts turn to passions which become behavior. Saint John Paul II describes these as everyday “micro-conversions”.

In the meantime, we can rely on the fact the sun will come up again over the horizon for another new day of renewal. Brightening the earth, giving us light and the chance to do it all over again.

Perhaps this next year, one day at a time instead of trying to do the whole year in an instant.

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Sunset over Block Island Sound, 2017

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

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My father’s car, circa 1961 – The Standard 10

When I was five or six years old, my father would give me a treat over the Christmas time, taking me to midnight Mass at the local church in Melksham. (A small market town in Wiltshire, England). That evening we went into church, which was packed to the gills, I was just in wonder where all these people had come from, as “normal” Mass would only fill the Church to a third at best. However, this evening everyone was full of good cheer and perhaps a little excess based on the sounds of the less than expert singers standing at the back of the Church.
Anyway, this was a great treat for me, I was never allowed to stay up this late, and the extra pleasure of being able to spend the evening with my dad. He said I could come if I could stay awake, I guess I was wired to stay up that night.

It was a cold and dark night as we made our way out of the Church, many hands been shaken and Merry Christmas’s exchanged in the parking lot. As we made our way to the car my father noted that a side window of our Standard 10 had been forced open. Earlier that evening, one of my dad’s friends had given presents for the family, and my dad had stacked them up on the back window. I was particularly excited about this, as I knew we could only rely on a few close relatives for gifts and these others were going to be a bonus from someone who cared about us.

They were gone. My father was devastated, or rather very angry. I had seen him angry before, but this time he was both angry and sad at the same time. For some reason which I still don’t really understand, he did not report it to the police but rather looked up and down the street a while and then bundled me into the car and we set off for our cottage a few miles away in a village called Semington.

As I sat in the car with the presents gone, I wondered why someone would do something as cruel as take our gifts, if I was honest, particularly my present. What did that man I knew only as “Pete” think enough about me to give me a present? Mine looked like a big one, as I had investigated as only a child can, before we headed into church.

I think this may be my first memory of crying for something that I really mourned the loss of, did that present contain the toy that would sustain me for another 12 months? It was gone, along with all the future memories of playing with it.
In addition, I learnt a new word that evening. Thief. Someone who took something that didn’t belong to them. Previously reduced to me sneaking an extra chocolate out of the family “Christmas Chocs”, or something that you heard on the radio or TV when someone robbed a bank, the word thief was not in my youthful vocabulary. Somehow, the thief taking my present made my world different, and I had moved from the safe world of St. Anthony’s and the birth of Christ, to the cold outside and a car bereft of our Christmas cheer.

In retrospect now, some fifty years hence, I wonder about the person who took those presents. Did he or she have no presents for their children and therefore fall to the temptation. We obviously must have had more than just was in the car, as on Christmas morning, most of the other presents would be safely tucked under our tree at home. I recall my dad used to leave that side window ajar as he would use it to flick cigarette ash out of the car while driving. Perhaps that was the invitation the “thief” needed.

I spent some of the day yesterday giving out Christmas gift packages to inmates at a local prison. I said several hundred Merry Christmas’s, shook all their hands and delivered a small gift package donated by local businesses and individuals who care. I know for some of these people this would be all they would get this year. Perhaps that was the way of the person who took our presents all those years ago.

At this time, we can be grateful for so much, Christmas is a time of hope and family love. As we share it with each other, let us share in forgiveness, which may be the greatest gift of all. I forgive the person who took my “mystery” present all those years ago. I hope it did their family some good at the time. The real present I had that year was my family and the love of God, I understand that was the real gift that Christmas.

Perhaps if we don’t just say the words “I forgive you” but feel them inside ourselves, we will all have a more wonderful holiday. In fact, I am sure we will.

Mike Cunningham Christmas 2012

Note: Saint Eulalia’s gave generously to the 1,500 inmates of Shirley Medium Correctional Facility this year for which they are truly grateful to have a received a present of toothpaste, socks and other small but important essentials.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Perhaps it is all the wonderful readings in Advent, but something keeps drawing me back to the time of those early Christians. How amazing it must have been to have those close-in memories of the time of Christ.

Being a Christian in those times was a risky business. You literally endangered your life by following Christ, with dire consequences for those who did not swear to the divinity of the Emperor. Even being called a “Christian” was a derogatory term, created by the Romans to describe the increasing population of “rebels” who were the followers of Christ.

So, fast forward two thousand years and let’s review the differences. Are there places in the world where it is still dangerous to your health to be a Christian? Are we able and willing to be identified as a Christian, not just in name, but in what we do?

As we look at ourselves today we perhaps don’t want to be identified as rebels; as outliers from mainstream thinking or society. We may not be asked to make the sacrifices of the early Christians such as Perpetua, but there is much to be learned from their example of faith.

Each day we are in a world where we are called to face the lions, even if they are small ones, often disguised in decisions, recommendations and responses. Mostly they are the ones we are uncomfortable with; calling out injustice, giving in silence, praying for someone we dislike.

All these are things of Advent of course, but to me, those early Christians were always trying to practice that readiness which was Advent; as they were expecting the Second Coming any moment. It was a time of always Advent in their minds.

They wanted to be as ready as they could to see the Face of God.

Perpetua

Wanting for nothing, wrapped in gilded privilege,

Perpetua, which means lasting, “had it all”.

She, along with slaves in her household were part a group derogatorily called “Christians” by the ruling Roman Empire.

Other gods were permitted, but only by swearing allegiance to the divinity of the Emperor, which was too much for her.

 

Despite her father’s pleadings, she did not recant,

Along with her slave Felicity, and others from the household,

They were fed to the hungry animals in the Colosseum,

Separated from her nursing infant, her execution was assured, dying finally by a guided sword.

 

Faith so strong as this can only be known, not just felt.

For the willingness to die, painfully, to enter another kingdom, and leave all your loved ones is not a small one.

Thousands of onlookers saw this faith, and the personal witness and sacrifice, with wonder and bewilderment.

For how can such a huge decision be made with such certitude?

 

The question we all ask since.

A lasting question … for her memory remains.

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Perpetua helps her nervous executioner at the end

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

Once again Advent is here. A time which can be a time of reflection and preparation, but is often just a hectic time in readiness for Christmas Day. I, like many of you, are relishing the opportunity to reunite with family and friends. Times of fellowship, love and renewal with others all beckon. As the weather cools in New England, the fires are lit and our hearts are warming. It is a time of great anticipation.

The early Christians viewed Advent as a time of readiness for the second coming of Christ. It might be hard for us to comprehend now, but the Church only added Christmas to the liturgical calendar in the fourth century. For these Christians Advent meant being ready for Christ’s second coming, which they all believed was just around the corner.

So, our Christmas celebration, as practiced for the last 1,700 years was not on the mind of the early Christians. They were more concerned about spiritual preparation, being ready to meet Christ. This is evident in the Gospel and other readings during Advent. Something worth noticing.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux has a great sermon which brings us right up to date on how we should be thinking of Christ at this time. This sermon is called the Three Comings of Christ. Three Comings? I thought there were only two. Here are his words:

“We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.”

What a wonderous image and gift. Of course, God is here and now. In the Holy Spirit, in the Eucharist, in our daily lives, in nature, in all we have. He, unlike Elvis, never “left the building”. He stayed, within us … amongst us … in our very beings.

Let us turn inwards at this time, so that the love of Christ can refill our souls with grace, and then others will see it spilling out in the acts, words and love which is Christ within us.

A blessed Advent to all.

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THE SECRET ROOM

Moving slowly, with eyes gently closed,

The door is closed once more,

This time bolted, to avoid distractions,

And traffic noise from the outside street.

 

Now seated, the emptiness seems to engulf me,

As a divine darkness descends like a cloak,

Sealing me off,

So I may concentrate on nothing.

 

Except the breath of life and its source.