THE UNBROKEN WORD


Well, have just passed the two-year anniversary of this column, and more than 100 reflections, it seems as if the name chosen for this page has never been more relevant. Over the past two years, I have heard different interpretations of what is the meaning of the name. Does it mean God’s Word Made Flesh always goes unbroken in our lives? Yes. Does it mean you can never break the sacred Words of Christ? Yes. Does it mean we should break down God’s Word so we can use it practically in our lives. Yes, Yes and Yes.

Seeing, at a distance now, the troubles of the Church returning and amplified in the spotlight of the “me too” movement, perhaps it is time for another meaning. That we remain unbroken during these times of trouble. The number of people who have broken the code of “the Unbroken Word” of Jesus Christ are those who remain firmly planted in the seed they were given at their baptism. While that seed may have been given by another, it changed us internally and set the scene for us to do more in our lives for others than for ourselves. We put on “the Mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16) and by doing so activate the divine grace from being made in His image.

By keeping this unbroken connection to Christ in times of trouble we can be renewed in grace, enveloped in love and blessed in wisdom. A wisdom which will make us avoid the divisive nature of our society and our attempts to punish the Church by withholding our ministry, presence and resources. At times like this it is easy for us to separate ourselves from the clergy and make the clergy appear to be the “Church”, yet we are the Church. The Body of Christ. There is only one pastor at St. Eulalia’s, and hundreds of parishioners, all of whom are lay people. We, together are the Church, the Body of Christ. So we cannot just become like Pontius Pilate, washing our hands of the matter, or as the mob outside shouting “crucify Him”. We have to engage, but prayerfully, intelligently and always with love. Once we let love move from our hearts, we are lost.

Let us put on the Mind of Christ in our response, and do what is needed to protect our relationship with Christ, our Church and all who enter.

Peace and all Good. (St. Francis of Assisi)

Anger

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Anger is the withdrawal of love,

Often, but not always, completely.

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Anger is the communication method of the other side,

Whether from a willful self-will,

Or blamed on the Other Guy.

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Anger is the gun used in the knife fight,

Where feelings overtake love and reason.

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Anger has many disguises,

But enjoys itself the most when power is demonstrated.

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Anger has no rewind button,

But does often lead to regret.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

We are coming up to the first anniversary of the Centering Prayer groups formation at St. Eulalia’s. During the past three weeks I have introduced Centering Prayer to over 200 retreatants, most of which were experiencing Centering Prayer for the first time. Even to some experienced “traditional” prayer warriors, the results have been unexpectedly good.

The basis for Centering Prayer appears to have been borne in the desert Fathers such as John Cassian in the 3rd century. Cassian headed to the desert with the intention of separating himself from the world, and with the intention of being alone with God in silence. Scripture also forms a powerful basis, the suffering and prayer of Jesus Christ in the garden of Gethsemane where Jesus prays let it be done according to your will, not mine. Jesus offers up Himself fully to His father, surrendering his will and offering his intention to the desire to comply and rest in the will of God. This is a prayer of consent, the basis of Centering Prayer.

Philippians 2:5 talks also of putting on the mind of Christ as a key means of us bringing ourselves close to the Lord. Centering prayer is steeped in this model, as the prayer requires us to consent to the action of the Divine in our lives. A prayer without agendas, supplications or engagement of the intellect. We offer ourselves simply to be in God’s presence and consent, openly to His presence.

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing provides a blueprint from the 13th Century on the specifics of this prayer form, and how beneficial it can be to all other prayer forms. Centering prayer does not replace any other prayer form, but can help deepen the prayers you are currently engaged in.

If you are interested in learning more about Centering prayer please contact Louise Cucuzzo or those leading the prayers groups listed in the bulletin and on the web site.

Some books which may be useful to read are Open Mind, Open Heart, by Thomas Keating and The Loving Search for God by William Meninger, two of the three major founders of the modern Centering prayer movement.

There is a large supermarket of prayer forms and spiritual guides (the saints) in the Catholic Church, perhaps as you head into winter you might want to try some of these out for Advent. There are many ways to meet God and Centering prayer is just another one we have available to us.

Perhaps you should try it.

WAITING

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Waiting. Waiting.

Waiting is not a dead time.

A waste of time.

An extended moment of impatience.

As if life only starts after it has passed.

XXXX

Rather waiting is an opportunity for reflection.

Take it today.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Perhaps no other issue is likely to have a great effect on the congregations of the Catholic Church in the USA than the sexual abuse scandal. Recent events now illustrate that investigations, repercussions and follow on actions will have a profound impact on all forms of communication with everyone currently engaged with the Church, regardless of their role.

Renewal from the bottom, not the top

There will be many attempts in the coming months and years to implement whatever systematic change is needed to bring “credibility” back to the Church on this topic. A wise priest, a pastoral advisor at the seminary in Boston, describes this as a two-generation process. He might be right. So, in the meantime, as we don’t have two generations to wait, we need to do something that might have an impact now.

In reading much of the expressions of regret/guilt from the leaders of the Church there is a sense we are not going to “the Foot of the Cross” as per Cardinal Wuerl, just asking for forgiveness, but are in some cases using the Cross as a place to hide behind. Forgiveness is necessary and needed, but it does not change things for the future. In some sense leaders are trying to protect their legacy, excuse themselves, which may be understandable, but not helpful. It does not reassure us if changes are not made.

Having just moved to California from the parish, the staff here had been caucusing to see what we might do directly. Here are three points which I think fit beautifully into the character of St. Eulalia’s, (a parish near Boston, MA) which I will admit has informed the model in use here at the retreat center.

1. A Sacred Space. Making each mission, the team and its focus tied directly to the spirituality of the Jesus Christ as the reaffirming message. Always ensuring we keep the mission focused the sacredness of our location, the gifts, worship practices and tools in the parish. One where others can bring the message to each other and those who need to hear it. We are all evangelists.

2. A Safe Space. Our individual locations need to be “overly” safe places in terms of any activity we offer from a spiritual or support perspective. This of course goes without saying, and should be a given for everyone, but will need to be emphasized for the many ministries which involve the vulnerable in the parish.

3. An Open Door with Open Minds. The global Church has messages which are sometimes divisive and dualistic in nature. With reducing flocks in the USA, there needs to be means where others can connect with Catholic Spirituality without rules and regulations being the first thing we present to someone.
Therefore, methods for “preaching and evangelization” should perhaps be considered at just as important as the homily from the pulpit, or a presentation during a formation program. Exploration of new means to present the message in contemplative and accessible forms may help us reach others at the beginning of their journey, where they may not have made it to the Foot of the Cross, but as still struggling down a path which will ultimately lead them there.

There is hope, and, with Christ in us, we are the bearers of this gift.

Late Afternoon Light

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Late afternoon sun provides heat without the burning,

Light without squinting,

An unshaded warmth.

As if peace was airborne.

To hold and caress me.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Recently I heard a recording from a Fr. Richard Rohr presentation called the “Beginners Mind”. It reminded me of how a child reacts to the world. When we arrive in a room with small children, the child looks for the adult with a smile, the one who is open and friendly. The simple detective work of one hunting and searching for love.

Children detect hostility, unfriendliness and those who are unauthentic in a way which is beyond words. Their agenda is simple, there is no agenda. No duality in their thinking, just looking for the one who is most friendly, open and willing to love. Come play with me is mostly present in their eyes.

How much of this can we learn again in our own relationship with God. How many have fallen prey to following the tradition rather than the love. Our Catholic tradition without love is meaningless. Particularly if we start to “preach” tradition in a way that divides us from others, rather than unites us in the community of God; the Body of Christ. The Church universal.

We sometimes need a reminder the word Catholic means universal. For us this is universal love, and there is nowhere we can feel and hear that word more soundly than in the love expressed by a child. A child cannot fend for themselves, they survive only with love. So do I. Without love I am nothing, just someone looking for a cave to dwell in with a warm fire and a loving friend.

The loving friend we seek is the same one the child in the room opens their heart towards. The love expressed by the adult in the room filled with the grace of God. And one willing to communicate it freely, willingly with the smile which requires no repayment. Just gift. Pure gift.

Let us return to the “Beginners Mind”, let us unlearn the prejedices and offer ourselves openly to listen to others, even offer love to those we dislike; without scowl or pretense. The child in us all brings us back to the Beginners Mind, a time when we did not judge, but loved.

And sat silently on the floor waiting for God to come and play with us. Forever.

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BE READY LIKE A CHILD

Be ready like a child,

For learning is simple when we accept

For belief with a child’s mind

is like simple addition.

The result is pure and right.

XXXX

“you are children of the light and children of the day.”

Thessalonians

THE UNBROKEN WORD

These days, most of my weeks are filled with retreats and discussions with retreatants. At the weekend, I usually travel to local parishes to get a flavor for the parish and the groups who visit the retreat house where I work, Mater Dolorosa.

This past weekend, my wife Sally and I visited a parish in Pasadena, CA. The pastor there introduced an interesting concept in his homily; the practice of external worship. I had never heard this description before. The pastor, Fr. Mike, was describing, in his view, how the Church has lost its way in the management and oversight regarding the most recent revelations in the sexual scandal. In his analysis he used the term “external worship” as a means of illustrating how key members of the Church are more concerned how the “external” view of the Church became more important than a personal, and deep relationship with Jesus Christ.

His words struck home. If we, or anyone in a position of oversight, somehow separate the appearance of worship and the love Christ has for us is on a road which has been paved in the past. During the time of Jesus, the Pharisees, played the same cards and it became clear an authentic nature of worship was lost. If we, or others, engage in an appearance of worship, “external worship” we also beckon the same fate.

Fr. Mike called his flock to meet Christ at the Foot of the Cross, no matter how painful the process. Times such as this test our faith, but we always know we can rely on Christ to be there for us. No matter what. It is this closeness and fidelity to our personal relationships with Christ which sustains us when things are tough. Not wallpapering with a “fake” worship offered which has no depth to it; the stain will eventually make its way through for all to see.

As a sage local parishioner noted this week “Nothing, absolutely nothing, comes between me and Christ. That is the sacred space in my life, nothing an impinge on it, regardless of who they are and what they have done.”

The Cross continues to provide the illumination, the insight we need during these difficult times.

Peace and All Good.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

This last weekend I had the pleasure of being on retreat with Fr. Michael Fish, a Benedictine priest who lives as a hermit for most of the year, and the balance of the year delivers silent guided retreats. He is a man of many talents and beams what it means to be a contemplative in action. As we speak he is on his way to start his fifth, yes fifth, Camino. Few can make one in their lives and each one he has completed has been solo.

During his retreat he described a period of his life where he felt God’s presence in a way that was like a flame of peace lit in his heart. During this time, he was so peace-filled he was just full of gratitude, and tried to do anything to hold this wonderful warm feeling of God’s presence in his heart. After a few months, Fr. Michael woke up one morning to find himself without this flame in his heart, the feeling of Christ’s peace had left him. The consolation he had encountered for just a few months of his entire life had disappeared. He was devastated.

Just as St. Ignatius informs us not to get “hooked” on the drug of consolations, Fr. Michael had a consolation which he did not want to leave him. When God touches is in such a way, there is a desire to hold onto the feeling forever! Some of us never experience such a thing, but we all know love in its various forms, so can relate to what such a feeling of God’s presence might produce in us. Of course, we do not have control over such incidents, just as we often don’t have any “control” of who we love, or even why we love them at times. It just is.

Fr. Michael continued to discern what had happened during this time, and while going through the various stages of grieving and anger which accompanies such a loss, he eventually had a huge revelation. While he was mourning the loss of the “presence” of God, he suddenly realized the absence of the Presence, was a presence in itself.

Now if that sounds hard to swallow, we can agree God is always with us, even if we are not aware of His presence. Therefore, it makes sense for the experience of Fr. Michael to see the “felt absence” of God, as he had experienced, is therefore also confirmation of His presence.

It is in this noticing of God in others, in nature, in families, at work. Everywhere in fact, that we can assured of this “absent presence” of God. God is there all the time, regardless of whether we can feel Him in some physical way or experience.

I leave you with an image of how His presence is made known to me each day in the gardens here at Mater Dolorosa.

Let us notice God in the absent Presence of our minds and let Him lead us into His heart through the presence of the everyday activities in our lives.

 

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Gardens at Mater Dolorosa, CA

 

 

 

 

 

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

This week I was preparing for an opening conference for a group of young adults attending the retreat center at Mater Dolorosa. Inevitably I find music a wonderful backdrop to this preparation process, serving the purpose of calming the nerves, providing inspiration and inevitably, provoking thoughts and emotions in my own soul.

We all have musical favorites, and once listened to can immediately transport to a new place or past memory. For music we may be listening to for the first time, new vistas can open, as a tapestry is weaved on top of the already thick quilt of life.

After completing the presentation, I noted how much the materials included are just a reflection of how I feel about my own relationship with God. Reminding me of the importance of how those around me help in this molding process, my presentation includes a donated windchime, music from Aine Minogue, the Beatles and materials from the Beatitudes faith formation program from the teen program at St. Eulalia’s.

One song included is Ordinary World from the eighties band, Duran Duran. The song’s lyrics lament the loss of someone important in our lives, and the huge hole left as a result. The song digs deep into the soul of the one left behind and how courage and fortitude helps them survive those missing.

The loss of a great friend or love is something many of us have experienced; even those who have been with us for a short period of time; yet at times we do not appreciate those left in our lives who help us along.

This greatest friend of all is Jesus Christ; the one who was tortured, hung on a tree and killed just to show how much He loved us all. The ultimate act of friendship and love, done in an unconditional act which showed no preference, bias or unwillingness to surrender.

Perhaps this is the friend we should be turning to? To look at when we have those moments of self-pity or sadness. Our consoler-in-chief will always be there, showing how the passion is not only relived in pain, but in a joyous union with Jesus at the Foot of the Cross. Here, we join Mary and the others, saddened by events, but assured of what comes next.

Another day of resurrections in our lives.

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TODAY AND TOMORROW

Sitting here at the Foot of the Cross,

The sadness of the day is enjoined by our community,

Small, huddled, but firm in a belief;

Faith for a new tomorrow.

Where change is guaranteed;

As is salvation if we only have surrender tomorrow to His will,

Today.