THE UNBROKEN WORD

This week we had the Story of Susanna and the Elders in scripture readings. A story which has many angles still relevant today. A person’s chastity and beauty become not revered or admired for what they are, but turned to into a commodity; where she is offered the options of disgracing herself by giving herself to these two lechers or being condemned by their lies.

She chooses truth, even though she knows there is no way out, at least that she can see. How often we feel the same, where truth is the least convenient path, usually the one which only seems to lead to short term pain and suffering.

However, Susanna takes the high road and is saved. When we consider this Old Testament scripture we see this as a life or death decision. Susanna is faced with the decision to either agree to something she considers worst than death, or accept death by holding fast to her faith.

Even today, we are preoccupied with the concept of beauty. However, when we consider the word we often relate it to physical beauty, and in particular the beauty of women. This is a two-edged sword, on the one hand, we have the delight and wonder of how what God-given beauty is, to be seen and admired. On the other hand, there are those who want to possess this beauty. To hold, own and control it for their own pleasure.

Some see this even in their prayer life. Constantly asking Him for the things that we need. I like to view beauty in the same way Fr. Thomas Keating would describe our desire to possess God in our prayer life. Keating’s response is “God is like the air we breadth, we can have as much as we want unless we try and possess it.” So it should go with beauty. We can admire all the beauty in the world, but not try and own it. Usually, that beauty is not ours to hold in the first place.

While Daniel’s scripture of the two elders and Susanna illustrates the negative power of lust, deceit, and control, it also demonstrates the need for respect and honor for beauty. Those who are born with great physical beauty often find themselves being cautious of this gift. As others are often trying to make themselves closer to it, or worse. We see this today in the Me Too movement. Harassment seemed, for a while there, to be the norm, even accepted in some societal situations. Without any controls, values and love being practiced towards others we have a recipe for disaster. The Church has crossed these lines itself with the sexual scandals of recent years.

So today, the story of the two Elders and Susanna is one where we know if we do the right thing, God will intercede. And, by giving in to the pressures of others, allowing harassment, bullying and the search for a fleeting control of the beauty of others, we can only bring ourselves to spiritual death.

Where the beauty of God in our lives disappears over the horizon, to be replaced by the shadows of guilt. A beauty we never want to pass from us.

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Painting by Franz Xavier Winterhalter

THE UNBROKEN WORD

At times we appear to hear the voice of God. Often through others, this can come in many forms. A subtle prompting, a more severe nudge, even a loud call to action. However, we are not always as attentive as we might be.

For myself, I often find others can be better at observing my call than I do so myself. This is one reason I find myself using a Spiritual Director to help me on my journey. Such a director helped me recently with a situation which, as it turned out, surfaced something I was not doing which I should have been doing for years. However, I digress.

I was recently confronted with the situation of a person seeking Spiritual Direction in their life and agreed to meet. A young, unmarried, on-fire Catholic woman who was very frustrated in her search for the mission in her life. She is very successful, dedicated, a hard worker, talented in the workplace as well as very committed to social justice. The sort of person you meet once and remember their passion for the Lord.

This young woman was looking for a place where her powerful faith could be married with her skills in conflict resolution. She had been bouncing from different career options, trying to find a good place to land. She was asking for advice on how she could find someone to follow who would lead and mentor her.

After listening and exchanging information about her faith, career, family and desires it was very obvious to me this young woman was a born leader and did not need to be seeking others to follow, those who did not have her passion, energy and calling to a social justice ministry. It was herself who was being called.

When we started to talk about the leadership and love inside of her, the internal flame of Christ and the Holy Spirit, it suddenly became obvious to her she was being called to make the change for herself, not wait for someone else to invite her. She already had the greatest invitation present in her soul, all that was needed was prompting to release it. To get out of the boat and trust that God will lead her whenever that might be.

How often have I heard such a call myself and been unresponsive? I do believe, I have somewhat improved in responding to such requests in recent years, but it has taken me a long time.

Perhaps this week, I should ask myself again; am I responding to God’s call? Can I do more? Can I lead and not just follow?

Looking Ahead

Where can I find them?

Those whom I can follow.

Those whom I will love.

The one who will be my lifetime love?

Searching in the google of my mind builds billions of options,

But I cannot boil the ocean;

Or find the perfect leader.

But now, let me rest a while.

And snuggle up to you, my God,

Like the child I was,

Safe and sound. (Pause for a few moments)


Now rested,

I see now I do not need to find others to follow.

Only you.

And discover I am the leader for your message,

Which you will reveal,

Once I start out,

And leave this place of compromise.

To do the work you want of me;

Trusting others will follow.

For I am your leader,

Your apostle.

Your complete companion.

And lover.

And will go into the divine darkness;

Holding your hand.

To do your Will.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

Sometimes life creates s a lot of pressure on us. This might be a new trial, the illness of a loved one, where we feel the pain through our hearts, or something unexpected in our lives. Learning to accept these trials with fortitude and courage is one way of dealing with them. Putting on a brave face, sometimes not even communicating the problem to others, as if there is some shame associated with whatever is happening.

At times such as this, we can react in many ways; sharing with a close number of friends who provide the love and support we need, shutting down, and trying to keep this pain a secret. Sometimes a mixture of all three. One reaction is to turn to God. Turn to God and ask for help in the matter, to cure the illness, fix the pain, save the day. We get out our ATM Prayer card and request results for either ourselves or others. Such is the power and tradition of intercessory and petitionary prayer in our faith. There is nothing wrong with this approach.

However, have to notice those in the world who never seem to be shaken no matter what happens to them. I continue to be amazed in my ministry at the resilience of those who can deal with terrible situations and still “go on.” They have something which the saints have, and that something is unshakable inner peace.

The peace which only emanates from a deep, intimate and incredibly close relationship with God.

We live in a society which expects results and wants them quickly. From the doctor, the mechanic, our investments, the plumber. Everyone seems to be on call for us, mainly when we are in need. Yet, we know, in our hearts, we cannot have such demands in our relationship with God. We cannot control God, yet we request these results immediately. We all know what “friends” are like who only call us when they need something, I certainly have family members who I know need something when they make contact. It is not a good feeling to be used or called just for this purpose.

So this week, let us make some visits to God without the requests, the demands, the needs. And just be present with Him for the sake of our own loving relationship with him. Let us deepen our feelings towards God, surrendering as St. Theresa of Avila invites us. To leave love to the master of love, and let His love flow into us, unimpeded by a cluster of requests. Then, perhaps one day, we will savor that same unshakable inner peace for which we all yearn.

Heading Home

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Sometimes it’s better just to run,

When the pain is too great,

And we need to return to the source,

The Womb, from whence we came.

XXX

And take a rest for a while,

Enjoying the place we momentarily forgot,

Home.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Last week we talked a little about Understanding and Lent. This week I want to dig into this a little more. When we consider the word “understanding” we can think of it in two ways, the secular psychological definition or a spiritual one. The psychological one focuses on our “mind-view” of the word, as illustrated below from Wikipedia:

Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object, such as a person, situation, or message whereby one is able to think about it and use concepts to deal adequately with that object. Understanding is a relation between the knower and an object of understanding. Understanding implies abilities and dispositions with respect to an object of knowledge that are sufficient to support intelligent behavior.

However, our spiritual definition is rooted in the heart. The second of our Gifts of the Holy Spirit, Understanding is clearly defined in Daniel 2:22-22

“It is he who controls the procession of times and seasons, who makes and unmakes kings, who confers wisdom on the wise, and knowledge on those with discernment, who uncovers depths and mysteries, who knows what lies in darkness; and light dwells with him.”

Understanding, therefore, is the pure gift of God and touches our hearts so we can better integrate our personal closeness to Christ, as the Word Becomes Flesh (Jn 1:14). This closeness is a mysterious gift which allows us to bring Christ into our decision-making process, as the spirit of the Lord rests on us. Pope Francis notes “understanding dwells in the heart and enlightens the mind”, reminding us that the gift emanates from our heart, which God resides and illumines our thinking, behavior and decision making.

The Holy Spirit gives us this gift where God sits centrally in our hearts and minds, and should be the core of our thoughts and actions. This allows the understanding of our heart to meet the observations of the mind. In an ideal world, we can use some guidelines to mine this gift of the Holy Spirit. I try and use the following to help remind me when I get off course on this front.

• Involve God in the decision-making process.

• Reflect on our decisions and reactions

• Select a loving response as the output channel for our response to others

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Perhaps this week you can explore this gift and how it plays out in your life? Do we really involve God in our reactions to others? Or do we judge too quickly in our responses?

I wrote the reflection below some time ago to remind myself of how useful a short reflection can be in increasing the potential for God to be involved in my decisions. Happy Lent everyone!

ADD TEN SECONDS

Add ten seconds to each moment,

And my response would be better,

kinder, warmer, more forgiving,

than my first.

But can I ever be as loving as He is to me?

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Can a photograph be a prayer?

During a recent retreat program this year, I briefly mentioned the prayer form known as Visio Divina, which means Divine Seeing. In the Catholic Church, we use visuals for just about everything to remind us and bring us into prayer with God. Crucifixes, statues, images, and paintings all fall into the category. Most of what is in the Church (images) have a theological, spiritual or ecclesiastical meaning. So what about those items in our everyday lives.

During the retreat, we looked at everyday items and discussed their relevance to our mission as Catholics. A water bottle, a journal, even a life jacket all can be handled and seen where God has created something which has purpose and meaning in our lives. I wonder if you notice everyday items in your life?

For myself, a photograph is something of value; often holding a spiritual significance. When we decide to take a photograph of someone or something, there is usually a meaning behind it. Perhaps we want to revisit that moment or situation? Maybe we want to share it with another, to bring this joy to another who cannot be there at the same time.

Imagine you were going to a desert island and you could bring three images with you? What would they be? Who would be in those images? Which images can you study and notice more than is there on first glance? We often see this in paintings, as we pry out or interpret the meaning of the artist. While we are looking at the image, we are also seeing the soul of the artist in some way; even if the artist did not intend it.

Perhaps this week we can look at some photographs and meditate on them. What are we seeing? Someone or something we love, or perhaps less so? What emotions does the photograph evoke? Love, desire, sacrifice, rejection, perhaps sadness. Take a moment and consider it. When you have come in contact with your feelings, then ask what God might be saying to me in this image, and in my reflecting on the image? Is God calling to me? What is that call?

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I am attaching an image which to many might seem meaningless. It was taken at Valyermo in the high desert, California. Not that is really relevant to its meaning.

As yourself a few questions about this image. What do the stones represent? Why are some out of focus? What did the photographer have in mind, when you might have passed by these everyday items?

Then perhaps, you can ask yourself the question. Can a photograph be a prayer? Do I have any photographs which I might consider to be a prayer?

Copyright 2019 Reflection and Photography Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Earlier this week I visited a state park in Malibu, CA during my day off. Since moving to California I have learned to appreciate a new form of beauty in nature, and a winter which the none of the fierceness of my previous New England home.

As usual, I came loaded with camera equipment but could not bring myself to take an image of the many places destroyed by the recent fires which ravaged the area before Christmas. What is astonishing is how quickly nature brings everything back to life. So what was a blackened landscape only a few weeks ago, has an emerald green to it that Ireland would be proud to own.

My days off here are precious, so I like to go somewhere where I can commune with nature. This past week I went to Point Dume, a California nature reserve. After a long climb down the cliff steps and pathways (much of which had been washed away by recent rains), I made it to the beach. The colors of the beach rocks and pebbles were a wonderous color, making everything fall into a giant jigsaw. As I turned around on the beach from the stairway, I suddenly noticed a presence right by my feet. A seal as shown in the photo below.

The fact I was right next door and the seal did not disturb me was a visible flag to a problem. The seal was in distress and not able to move anything except his head. So I stayed with him to see if he was perhaps just having an afternoon nap, or something more serious was up.

Turns out he was injured and after a discussion with two other beachcombers who arrived on the scene, we called the California wildlife rescue. They arrived on the scene very quickly but were only equipped with a couple of fishing nets but they managed to secure the seal in one of them and they carried him up the stairway and cliff face. A not inconsiderable feat!

While they were obviously doing their job, it was so wonderful to see the care they took to ensure the seal was not made more uncomfortable despite this inevitable handling of him. His wounds become evident as they moved him with much compassion and attention.

By then, more bystanders had come to help, bringing equipment and helping load the mammal into the truck on his way to the California sealife veterinary center nearby.

Yet another week in which unconditional love is expressed in action. An instant community of care built around an animal who might have died on the beach otherwise.

Just another reminder of God is in all of us … all the time.

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Rescued

I almost didn’t notice,

As you blended silently into the color of rocks,

At this windswept California beach,

Shaded by the sun.

XXX

Then I saw you,

Sad eyes holding back the tears,

Displaying your suffering, which now was clear.

I wondered how long you were there,

On this beautiful but washed up beach,

At the top of all the rocks,

Safe from an incoming but drowning tide.

XXX

Exchanging glances, then staring at each other,

Until your head fell towards an exhausted sleep,

Hoping the pain would leave,

Like a tide which washed me in.

XXX

More beachcombers arrived,

And talked of your plight,

Calling rescuers to see for themselves,

What, if anything could relieve your loneliness;

And our helplessness.

XXX

I waited, and suddenly they were here,

Armed with, knowledge and Goodwill,

The swaddled you, wounds and all,

And carried you up the cliff face stairs.

And drove off with you into the cool night,

The rescue completed.

XXX

Showing how perfect love is,

When given without conditions.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Hospitality is an interesting word. It is a wonderful word. I love hospitality. It allows us to give and get back at the same time. It cannot be easily faked because it is baked with love. Doing something without love being at the core of it is just a task being completed. Hospitality is love expressed in words and actions; it is central to everything we do. It is the reason I am where I am. Without it anything we do is just a series of actions.

This was my introduction this week to a conference on the topic of hospitality; a core feature of our Catholic faith. It is interesting that we use the word hospitality as if it is something we take out of the cupboard on special occasions, rather than something we should be wearing at all times.

The hospitality of those welcoming me at Saint Eulalia’s three years ago still resonates in my heart. Those who immediately volunteered to help me after an appeal at Mass for Catechists, the support in the parish office and willingness to accept a “newbie” into the parish. We talk about putting out the welcome mat for others in our lives, but shouldn’t it always be out there?

Hospitality is not pretending to be nice, just doing our work, but doing our work and ministry with intention, with creativity, without anger, with care and attention to detail. Hospitality is not perfection, but perhaps an intention to create a perfect outcome.

Sometimes, just sometimes, when we see hospitality delivered daily, weekly, in fact all time we can become immune to it. Not recognizing the face of God which is embodied in those actions. A welcome without agenda, help offered before it is requested, a listening ear, an open heart.

The parish has such a person who embodies the word hospitality in our pastoral associate, Louise Cocuzzo, someone I always felt I could use as a reference point if my own perspective was not set in a Christ like direction.

We all have those people in our lives who can give us this inspiration, not because they ask for it, but because they embody hospitality. Welcoming friends, family and strangers with an open heart and open mind.

As I meet a hundred retreatants for the first time this weekend, at our center here in Southern California, I think of how far I can go to increase the loving face of hospitality in my own life. We can all learn from the example of those who have the light of Christ burning brightly in their faces, a welcoming smile and in their hearts.

Let me be your server today

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Each step is an active part of my love.

Moving towards the table needing clearing,

Responding to an empty cup,

Smiling to a face far from home.

XXX

Reponses vary,

According to mood and pressure.

Sometimes I am invisible,

No one sees me,

Only what I deliver,

And if it’s on time.

XXX

However, there is always one,

One who sees me and what I do,

For what it really is,

Loving and giving,

Supporting and consistent.

There when others need me,

No asking for gifts or rewards from them.

Just a smile and greeting,

To show they love me.

XXX

Just as I love them.