THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

I am not sure if you have ever felt this way, but at times it seems like I was informed that I have to keep my distance from God. Perhaps this was some of the ways things were when I was young, that we always were meant to feel that we should “fear the Lord,” and not try and get to close to Him.

Thankfully, my personal experience showed me that God was playing out much closer in my life than a God which I was supposed to adore but not get too close. God made Himself known to me in an experience with the Eucharist at the time of my first Holy Communion. This resonated with me for many years, even though, at this young age, I didn’t really know what had happened to me during this peace-filled experience.

At times of trouble, or when in need or reassurance, we can all return to those moments when God’s presence has suddenly become evident to us. That God loves us at all times; is not only with us but within us.

So the next time you feel separated from God, at a distance for whatever reason, let us remind ourselves of His constant presence in us. Scripture tells us:

“In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you.”

Jn 14:20

This week let us remember there is no separation between God and us; only the separation we place there ourselves, or our resistance to His love. Something never to forget, even in our most desperate times.

The Long Distance between Us

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Seems like I am keeping us apart.

Not really sure why;

Perhaps because you have forgiven me,

But I won’t accept it in my heart.

No wonder I feel the distance.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Going deep.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Antelope Valley near Lancaster, CA. This time of year, springtime is so beautiful in California it is hard to describe. After a warm winter with much rain, the hills are literally alive with color. The time of renewal which was celebrated by the Celts and others around the world is very obvious to us all.

Few can describe this better than John O’Donohue in his bestselling book Anam Cara

“One of the beautiful transitions in nature is the transition from winter to springtime. An old Zen mystic said that when one flower blooms it is spring everywhere. When the first innocent, infantlike flower appears on the earth, one senses nature stirring beneath the frozen surface. There is a lovely phrase in Gaelic, ag borradh, that means there is a quivering life about to break forth. The wonderful colors and the new life the earth receives make spring a time of great exuberance and hope. In a certain sense, spring is the youngest season. Winter is the oldest season. Winter was there from the very beginning. It reigned amidst the silence and bleakness of nature for hundreds of millions of years before vegetation. Spring is a youthful season; it comes forth in a rush of life and promise, hope and possibility. At the heart of the spring, there is a great inner longing. It is the time when desire and memory stir toward each other. Consequently, springtime in your soul is a wonderful time to undertake some new adventure, some new project, or to make some important changes in your life.” O’Donohue, John. Anam Cara (pp. 165-166). HarperCollins

We have just encountered the spiritual renewal which comes to us from the Eastertime period. Here, God, through the sacrifice and gift of His beloved son, invites us to enter into our own springtime. Our renewal of spirit, returning the gift given to us by loving God even more.

Perhaps this springtime we can think about ourselves “going deep” in our relationship with Christ. How can we be more grateful, more gracious, more forgiving, more loving, more understanding … you get the idea. More.

By looking and loving all the renewal around us, it becomes almost impossible not to be more grateful for all we have, and all we have been given. So let us celebrate spring along with the flowers, the butterflies and the awakening nature which surrounds our lives; in a delight of our body and soul.

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Poppyfields, CA

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Every year on Good Friday, more than 3,200 people gather at the Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center in the San Gabriel mountains to pray the Stations of the Cross together. This pilgrimage is an annual event, with people from all over the southern California region attending.

As this was my first full year working at Mater Dolorosa, this was my first experience. The joy of being with and praying with so many who are dedicated to this prayer form is indeed inspiring. It is also interesting to see the differences in traditions each parish or national group brings to the day. By the evening, we had nearly all the stations at the center decorated with flowers of a wide variety.

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It is surprising how much variety there is when praying the Stations of the Cross. The narrative can be very traditional in nature, or more modern and accessible.

Here is an excerpt from one of the many narratives we use at Mater Dolorosa for the Stations. This one written by the well-known theologian Dr. Michael Downey.

Leader: Before setting out on the Way of the Cross, let us gaze on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he surrenders to the Father’s will. (Pause)

Leader: In this lonely hour while others sleep, you come face to face with the Father in the deepest recesses of your heart at prayer. You ask the Father to relieve you of the horror that lies ahead, but in an act of surrender you lift your hands in prayer and give yourself over to the Father’s will.

This is a moment of anguish and soul-searing struggle. But it is also a moment of luminous glory. Because it is here that you glorify the Father by the act of complete self-surrender. And begin the Way of the Cross that leads to Calvary.

Response: Amen

We often relive the journeys of the life of Christ and the Holy Family with the various mysteries of the rosary, bringing us into imaginative prayer as we place ourselves alongside them in their times of joy and sorrow.

This oscillation of joy and sorrow helps us in our faith in a very special way. While is not exclusively Catholic, I do feel we enter into the sorrow alongside Christ and others through the difficult times and then feel the joy of His presence to help us through these moments. I hate to admit it, but sometimes the difficult times end up being some of the greatest benefits in deepening our faith. Perhaps it is because then we need God the most, and are less willing to turn away because we want His love and mercy to get through the hard times.

As we pass through Divine Mercy Sunday, we can always return to God’s Divine Mercy. Perhaps this week we can return to some times in our lives when we received this mercy. By doing so we can perhaps see God’s presence inside ourselves?

Divine Mercy

The weaver does the work well.

Interconnecting colors, age and location,

Into a tapestry called “Together”

Only by seeing our part,

Touching those near us,

And seeing the others in the distant fabric,

A world away,

Can we feel our innermost.

The love imparted to us by the divine,

As today, we turn our will and freedom in recognition of the gift.

So, the divine in me is palpable,

As the intention of creation, incarnation and salvation merge in a moment of recognition,

One I will hold forever.

The divine presence in me.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

After Easter, we have the afterglow of the Resurrection, a period in the Church calendar known as the Octave of Easter. Now that we have been reminded of the consistency of God’s mercy to us, it may be time to reflect for a moment on how this plays out in our lives.

Divine Mercy Sunday is one such day for such reflection. We can always be assured of God’s presence, but do not still recognize it. The photograph attached to this reflection reminds me of how that mercy washes over us, even though we may not always be aware of His presence. Just as the waves come towards the seashore, we can be assured these cleansing movements are there to wash over us.

If you never have prayed the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, this may be an excellent time to try out this exceptional prayer. St. Faustina remains one of my favorite Saints, and she is a beacon of reminding us of the Passion of Christ and older devotions such as those focused on the Sacred Heart.

One line, in particular, rings out to me.

“For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Our empathy with the sorrow of others brings us into unity with each other, present and past, in a unique way. We often misunderstand the word mercy, especially as it relates to God’s unconditional and unlimited love for us. This mercy, distributed as grace to all who need it, helps us survive what seems like unsurvivable experiences. It grants us the courage to hold fast when all seems to be against us and reassures us of God’s ever-present love.

This weekend, let us make the Chaplet, or at least read it. Savor those words brought to us all through St. Faustina of Poland.

Let us taste the words as intended. This prayer is an extension of the grace of the Eucharist. The loving proof of Christ presence today, as He always has been.

With us for all time.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

The spiritual masters, including St. Paul of the Cross can be often heard saying “When you are aware that you are praying, you are not praying very deeply.” At first blush this may appear to be a surprising statement. Yet, we can all recall doing something without appearing to pay attention to it.

Perhaps one of the most obvious experiences is in driving a car. We drive along the way to our destination and then suddenly realize we don’t “remember” going through the past three towns which were on the way; and yet, we didn’t have an accident along the way.

The same can be true of praying, while deliberate, responsive prayer provides proof we are praying, some of the most powerful prayer experiences go unnoticed. A great example of what St. Paul is saying is the ministry of presence. Remember what it is like when you visit a friend or family member in hospital, where you just sit together in silence, without a need to say or do anything, and yet, we are often praying very deeply purely by being in their presence. These are prayers without agenda, just sitting at the foot of the Cross with them, being available, a friendly soul being just what is needed. A soul friend.

John O’Donohue, the Irish writer and poet, wrote extensively on this type of friendship in his best selling book Aman Cara (Gaelic for Soul Friend), where he describes this relationship and the deep prayer life which results.

Another encounter we often have is when the beauty of nature captures our imagination. This prayer of beauty enters our soul in a way we cannot describe, yet we know this of God and we respond with loving admiration or gratitude. The gift was given to us by God, and we are notified with a real recognition of beauty. For myself, photography is one way of holding these moments as they occur, (I almost always have a camera with me), and then I can go back and reflect on the gift recorded by the camera.

Perhaps this Easter we can consider some of those times in our lives when we find ourselves praying deeply without noticing those moments. Reflecting on the week just past.

Just as I did this past week looking at a “wood-pile” shelter built in a clearing. Perhaps this shelter was an intentional prayer in itself, one where the builders could return to the gift they provided for others as they need it.

THE SHELTER


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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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