THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

In the Baltimore and Penny Catechism, there is a fundamental question asked. Where is God? The answer, of course, is God is Everywhere. As a child, precocious as I was, I asked for further explanation, as my inquiring mind wanted to know why I could not see Him then.

Sr. Rosario responded eventually, trying to shut me up with some theology inexplicable to a six-year-old. “God is omnipresent!” Even though I did not understand the response of my sometimes friend, sometimes adversary Dominican educator, it stuck with me.

Over the years, I have come to love this word. It means the same thing as the simple response in those few words in the catechism, but even more. My first stop was my parents on my return home from school that day. My mother did not know what it meant. If my mom did not know something which was in the order of schooling, then I would not even bother to ask my dad. Unless I was looking for a good joke which displayed his ignorance on the subject in a humorous manner. So omnipresence would have to wait another day.

I don’t recall how long it took me to find a dictionary which explained the meaning, it was probably the Collins one which still has the following definition.

Something that is omnipresent is present everywhere or seems to be always present.

A more modern definition of the omnipresence of God reads:

Omnipresence means all-present. This term means that God is capable of being everywhere at the same time. It means his divine presence encompasses the whole of the universe. There is no location where he does not inhabit.

In retrospect, the second definition would have been more useful to me. However, the search for God was set in my little life, I just had to start noticing Him and He was sure to pop up somewhere. In fact, in my small but incisive mind, He was already there. After all, God is everywhere.

The invitation of the nun and the catechism fueled a lifelong search for God in all things. Now, as a Franciscan, I can detect His presence in the smallest places; the watering of a lawn on a warm summer morning; the smile of a friend; a voice on the phone of a friend separated by distance; in breaking bread with others.

And of course, in the Eucharist, the booster meal of our spiritual faith. Where all batteries are recharged with grace to face another week where we Find God In All Things.

Because God is omnipresent.

And thank you Sr. Rosario.

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The Days End at Mater Dolorosa, California; my new home.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Sometimes, not that often, we get to experience the feeling our life is drifting on. Not out of control, like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but rather ebbing to and fro like the ocean tide.

I must admit not having experienced this feeling myself for very long. Personally, I am a bit of meddler, and even if things are going along smoothly, will always be seeking some new challenge, excitement or meaning in what is happening. Occasionally though, the wonder of just “being” comes over me in a daily routine and that wondrous drifting effect comes over me.

Moments and experiences like this are the downtime and peace we can enjoy merely resting in Christ. There are the reassurances we need when turmoil has been surrounding the hours and we are called to take a walk on the beach; metaphorically speaking at least.

These calming moments are often given to us as a gift, something occurs which causes us to move into “neutral” neither moving forward or backward, just sitting where we are. The references to these moments are multifold in scripture, as is the many times where God just calls us to do the same. To remain in Him.

I was talking to a friend this week about a contemplative retreat where they experienced centering prayer, then a silent walk in the gardens and a second silent centering prayer session to follow. This contemplative “sandwich” made me recognize how much a walk somewhere without agenda, purpose or even intention can be a wonderful way of experiencing a drifting prayer.

Where the encounter happens is timeless because we are not focused on timing the event. Just the desire to rest in Him.

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Towards the Light


TOWARDS THE LIGHT

Moving from the gray to the light seemed inevitable;

As the darkness dissipates as if it was never there.

And eyes adjust to a new way of looking;

Squeezing the daylight out once more.

XXXXX 

Leaving the dark place behind.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

At times we are surprised by how others can shed light and illuminate the dark corners of our lives. A recent homily by a visiting priest at St. Andrews, Pasadena noted, “the shepherd shows up in unexpected places”.

As we often look to God to provide guidance in some direct way, we sometimes close ourselves off the messengers He sends in our everyday world. Our ears perk up at times of worship, solitude or reflection, but often the message comes in the everyday conversations if only we were listening more carefully.

My own spirituality, such as it is, was called into question on a recent conversation with my daughter Terri; a woman with a great desire to nurture the world, someone who really feels the pain of others. She also tries to do something about it, in both practical and prayerful ways. Generous would be an understatement in describing her actions in the world.

Our telephone conversation was focused on my recent move to California and specifically an almost four-hour visit to the DMV to obtain a state driving license. It’s been a while, 25 years since going through the process of changing a state license so the various levels of identification now required surprised me. Proof of domicile, proof of income, current driving license, pay stubs and four separate fingerprint recordings (thumbprint to be exact) ensured a lot of security in the process. I also noted, while preparing for the visit, there was a separate process for undocumented residents of California. It was here my daughter called me out, ever so gently.

In our conversation, I mentioned the words “illegal residents” for this process of obtaining a license for an undocumented resident in the state. She said to me “don’t use the word illegal dad”.

Suddenly, I realized that almost ten years of graduate studies in theology and pastoral formation had not stopped me using judgmental words when talking about my fellow man. It stuck like a sword in my heart and has caused me to write this reflection on the topic. We don’t call legal residents, “legals”, we call them citizens or permanent residents. Titles which bear some respect for their humanity. I recalled my own path to citizenship, which took a full seven years, two years for my green card, and other five then to obtain citizenship. I also had the support of two senators at the time, as my employer was keen to ensure my tenure in the USA; something of which I am eternally grateful. In retrospect, I was being prideful of my own journey, and dismissive of others; many still struggling on their own.

Thousands of Americans have shed their blood so we may all enjoy the freedom we do today. They have done so willingly, and while it may not compare to the sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ, it is nonetheless the greatest act we can offer for another. This selflessness was one of the characteristics which made me want to become an American and something I am so grateful for today, almost 30 years after becoming a US citizen.

So, when I recall myself talking about another human in terms of their status in the world, with the word “illegal” in front of it, it makes me pause for the help received from those who facilitated our move here. And the need for me to treat everyone, regardless of their status in the world, with the same love as Jesus asks of us.

John 13:34-35

34 “I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. 35 This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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Light on the Matter

UPON LEAVING THE CHURCH

When leaving the Church, the doors open a new vista.

One where my battery charge will have to last for at least a week,

Before I am once again.

Fully discharged.

Yet, the door is merely the portal to my real mission.

XXXX

To infect the lives of others with the living Christ.

Who lives in me.

XXXX

Without limits.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Sometimes we see signs in most unusual places. At times these are obvious and we know what the message is, on other occasions less so. Now and then a stop sign is ignored, or rather missed, potentially inviting disaster.
We notice the large warning signs because they jump out at us. Shouting if you like … “Look out”, as the robot did in the early science fiction TV series with an automated declaration of “danger Will Robinson”.
Seeing signs of discontent in ourselves and others is often a marker that our inner peace is about to be broken. When it is broken, how do we try and mend it? These are questions that bedevil our spiritual life, particularly in places where we seem to have little control over the behavior of those around us. This sometimes makes us “compartmentalize” our feelings, and either ignore or tolerate the disturbances which are causing the problems.
Over the years, I have concluded avoidance is one of the worst traits we all have in these situations. We try and ignore the problem and then muddle along, all the time decreasing our inner peace, as the issues continue to niggle and disturb because of our avoidance.
Misinterpreting patience and endurance as good substitutes for not dealing with problems is unfortunately commonplace. While we recognize the problem, we don’t have the confidence or the courage to face it head-on. It is here we can rely on Christ.
The bible tells us to “Be Not Afraid” more times can we could possibly remember the verses. Why is this so commonplace in scripture? The answer is the peace of Christ is always close. We just have to accept it.
Look out for the signs of discontent in your life before they fester into a crisis because you have ignored the small signs. If you see a big sign, then the message has become clear. Just as you need to slow down on a mountain road, the need to align ourselves with God and the circumstances is the key to gaining back the inner peace.
It is always within our reach, as God, unlike Elvis, has never left the building. 

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The Obvious Sign

“DANGER WILL ROBINSON”

Can we find ourselves lost?
A question for times when the compass seems broken, the roads are endless or unsigned.
Usually, the markers for direction have been on the path for a while,
Yet until the robot shouts “Danger Will Robinson” we seem unable,
Or unwilling,
To change the path.

To pause is to stay,
To stay is to listen,
To listen begets hearing.

And the Way is clear again.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

We often use the words goodbye and hello. For the most part, they are not words which we think about in the everyday world. They are just used as pleasantries, decorative to the beginning and end of a meeting or encounter.

However, when we truly consider their impact, they are the bookends of the community. Each time we meet with someone a new community is formed for that period of time. Sometimes only minutes, for example when ordering a coffee for a mid-morning jolt of energy. We probably don’t even remember if we said “good morning” before we placed the order, but probably added at least a “thank you”.

At a time when we enter into a special community, for a special event, things are different. Suddenly the meetings are meaningful, we have the time to dialog, to share experiences, make or renew friendships, or deepen the ones we already have. At these times the separation from these communities, such as at the end of a retreat, have a profound effect on us.

Then the hello seems like a wonderful beginning in the recent past; and the goodbye tinged with sadness. We long for what we enjoyed in community together and we wish it did not have to end. The French use the word au revoir, which means goodbye till we meet again. It is a soft landing and remembrance of the hope and intention of a return meeting, often with the desire that occurs soon. Perhaps they are onto something. If we look at those special meetings, wonderful times together in community with those we enjoy and love, then why not place these in the context of something which will continue.

The Unbroken Word is molded in this fashion; a means to stay together, be in contact, even if we have never said a hello except for the paper or smartphone you are reading it from. We all have a chance to savor the hellos and the goodbyes, but we do not have to think about them in any final way. The experiences of others affect us deeply, even when we sometimes do not recognize the impact.

So let us consider ourselves in a continuous community, as Jesus Christ wanted for his Church. We should say hello and au revoir without the pause at the end; knowing are united now, and will be forever.

Image from Michelle

Photo Title: Hello and Goodbye

 

 

 

THE FALSE HELLO

 

Another hello, said without thinking.

Why do I even greet this person if I don’t care about them?

What sort of person am I if I don’t.

 

Oh yeah, someone who is rude;

Others will notice me, deride me,

So I better say hello just to ensure that doesn’t happen,

Yikes, I just realized, saying hello to someone I don’t know is all about me.

 

Not about greeting them.

 

I wonder if others feel that way about me?

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNBROKEN WORD

 

This week we held a Centering Prayer workshop at St. Eulalia’s. Aine Minogue, parishioner, world-famous Irish harpist and a contemplative Christian has been largely responsible for bringing Centering prayer to the parish last year. Thank you Aine for all have done, and continue to do for all.

During the process of preparing for the workshop, we got to spend many precious hours together discussing the content and some time reflecting on why this ancient prayer form is enjoying such a revival.

One reason is the openness, insight and support of pastors like Fr. Savage. Someone who truly understands there are many paths to the Lord and one willing to offer an ecumenical and interfaith welcome to all at the parish. It is one thing to say, All Are Welcome in the bulletin or on the website, it is another to actually practice it.

Centering Prayer, a prayer of Consent is enjoying a revival from its old roots. It is a form of Contemplative prayer, encouraging intimacy with Christ through silence, openness and a willingness to releasing the distractions of the world and the many thoughts which inhabit our minds.

It is not my intention here to just invite you to one of the two centering prayer groups now firmly established in the parish; but of course you are welcome to join. Rather, we have many ways to the Lord and St. Eulalia’s has a tradition of offering a multitude of them. Today you can find prayer groups, youth ministry, bible study, men’s and women’s groups, shawl ministry, food ministries, Fr. Savage’s lecture series, centering prayer, Eucharistic ministries, divorce and bereavement care, and more … An entire range of experiences for all the moments in our lives when we, or others may need them.

Today we can perhaps take a look at the bulletin activities, or better still the website, which has all the information for the current and the upcoming. There is a path ahead of us which has been paved in the parish, all we need to do is take it. Enjoy one of these groups, start a new group, invite someone to an existing group; someone in need of a friend, a smiling face, an invitation.

So we can honestly say the advertisement is true. All Are Welcome!

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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