THE UNBROKEN WORD

At many times I pinch myself in gratitude as I “feel” God’s presence in my life. Thanksgiving is one of those times. It gave me pause for the many in the world who do great works, show great love, yet have little or no recognition of God in their lives.

We all have those who we want to be closer to God, perhaps nevermore so than those in our families. We “want” them to come to Mass, pray and generally recognize God in the same way we do. Yet we might be missing an important point.

For those wonderful people we know, who love their family dearly, help others, do good deeds and yet seem to be “non-believers.” Because we cannot imagine living in a world bereft of God, we feel sorry for them, as if God is not present in their lives.

Yet we know this to be untrue. God is present in all lives and is manifest through natural virtues as well as the theological ones from our faith. Anyone who loves is loved, gives love knows God; or at least encounters God through this grace. The natural virtues (look them up if you are not familiar with them) are also a gift from God, as are all things which emanate from His love.

For myself, meeting these people daily in everyday lives I continue to be amazed at how God operates through others even without their knowledge. How many people in your life display the virtue of love, yet don’t worship in the traditional sense as we know it.

While of course, our goal as Christians is to bring others to Christ, to save souls, we also must recognize the Holy Spirit is hard at work in all the others we pray for, work with, give to, and share with.

Again, we can be grateful for our own faith, one of the theological virtues, but we also should recognize God’s love in others, and acknowledge they may not be as far from God as we might have thought.

The Congregation 

The Congregation awaits

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God is Missing … I don’t think so

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God is never missing

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Always on

Always present

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Yet the greatest faith

Is the lack of it

Practicing love when it’s unreturned

Or so it seems

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Giving to the ingrate

Who seems to always want more

Living a life of servanthood

When all desires pull me elsewhere

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These are the marks of love unleashed

A love hidden deep in the dark night of the soul

Richer than the mystic who has affirmation

Stronger than the preacher with perceived truth and waves it like a flag

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For the lover who loves quietly and silently without reward

Is the truer one

Where sadness is felt but not transmitted

Where the recourse is another visit to the well

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In the hope Jesus will be there someday

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Thanksgiving. This wonderful time of the year where we get to meet with all the relatives we love. (And some perhaps less so ) It is a time for community, sharing, renewed relationships, understanding and most of all gratitude.

So much of Thanksgiving is focused on the second part of the word. The giving part. Retailers encourage giving like an Old Testament prelude to the coming of Christ at Christmas. When I first moved the USA, I could not believe Santa was visible so early in the season. It is the season of selling as much as it is of giving.

I have nothing against the giving part, it is often required for sharing and showing how we care for others; however, the first part of the word is sometimes less well serviced by us. The “thanks” part is to which I refer.

For the Thanks part to work, we need to have a position of gratitude. Gratitude is something which has to be in place for a true Thanksgiving to be in place. For it is in this embodied surrender and thankfulness to God that real gratitude is located. Gratitude which is an explosive combination of God’s grace-filled love captured in a loving embrace which is palpable, something we can feel. As real as the hug of our nieces, children, and grandchildren at Thanksgiving dinner.

Gratitude requires more than a simple “thanks” to God. It requires a dedicated celebration of what we have been blessed with and shared with those around us if we are lucky enough to have them near during this wonderful time.

It is a time to be grateful for the simple things, a roof over our heads, food on the table, relationships, friends, community, the ability to be able to help others and the love of God which surrounds us always.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving! But more than that embrace gratitude for the gift it is, and our God who provides us with the ability to hold it entirely in his love.

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Joshua Tree National Park at Dusk

ARRIVED

Another destination

Appeared without looking

Found by merely walking in the woods

Without a flashlight

How wonderful is that.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

“Face the Music,” “Stop procrastinating,” “Avoid conflict at all costs!” These are a few of the quotes which occupy our minds when we are facing problems. Depending on the seriousness of the problem, and our relationship with those involved we may take a different tack to find a resolution.

All of us at some point in our lives have been responsible for managing others, perhaps nowhere more than in our close or extended family. For myself, I have a tendency to try and have others involved in the solution to a problem, even when they may not want to participate. In business situations the way problems are resolved are determined by the culture of the environment. While the polarization is most evident in the workplace, it is also true for everywhere else.

We can all relate to seeing problems. However, our inner peace is often disturbed or restored based on how we deal with them. Unfortunately, all too often, we either leave them unresolved or take a judgmental approach which often alienates those who are trying to bring back into the fold.

Leaving these issues to fester is rather like putting off symptoms of an illness we know we have to deal with; they rarely fix themselves. While prayer can be a solace and even help us in our “silent suffering,” we also are called to action to try and do something to help resolve the situation. This means talking about the issues, having an open, but Christian mindset when looking for solutions. Asking ourselves what is the “right thing to do,” not just what will satisfy me or the others involved. We need to look no further than the beatitudes to help guide us in these decisions. Almost all situations can be measured against the loving advice of Jesus in those beautiful words, and solutions and answers can be found.

I know at times, it can be painful when you open a wound, examine a problem, deal with the difficulties; however, avoidance almost always leads to a worse outcome. So even if we have to cause some hurt or raise some painful issue when it comes to solving problems, we are called to take action. Personally, this always causes some internal wounding, knowing you have disturbed someone to help bring them to a realization which may resolve the issue.

The pain which we endure by taking action is a price we all have to pay when we are operating as Christians with the desire to do this will from the heart. I know this pain personally, as I am sure you have felt it yourself.

When I feel this pain, I take a look at the crucifix and see what love expressed really looks like. And the love in His pain becomes mine.

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THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Our nation has a wonderful tradition of freedom. There are few examples of countries who have offered themselves up to maintain the freedom of others. Perhaps the most essential expression of the greatest love. To lay down your life for another. Many thousands of American citizens have died for the love of their fellow man. May God Bless them all.

Blessed John Duns Scotus, the thirteenth-century Franciscan theologian, expresses God’s greatest gift to us is our freedom and our free will. This is the way we can show our alignment with God in all our actions or words. Or not as the case may be. We have the option to use our free will in whatever form we want. Only to be moderated by the law.

Scotus continues to illustrate with this with blinding simplicity, if our choices are based in love, then they are from God. So[MC1] , patterns of love are exercised if we align ourselves with God, and therefore do His will with this in our heart. All other actions are not of God.

This simple message is best communicated in Jesus’s words on the Sermon on the Mount, in the beatitudes. Here, and thoroughly, the Way of God is illustrated in all parts of our lives. Loving others, caring for the poor needy, surrendering to God, are all there.

This coming week we have a way of communicating His will using the beatitudes and His love in our duty to vote for those who best represent our personal values and beliefs. It is always a time for me to dig deep into these bigger questions and move beyond the sound bites and divisiveness which seems to have become polarized. I often feel, listening to the news that I am hearing “The United Hates of America” and so little of what caused me to move here, so little of what truly makes up the character of an accepting, loving, nurturing and generous nation which was the one I came to in the 1980s. While I am still optimistic, my own decisions, not just in voting, but in everyday life, continue to be informed by these guidelines in the beatitudes.

The word beatitude means “supreme blessedness.” How beautiful is that? Today, I need this blessedness to guide me during my days and weeks. And I will use them on Monday as I make decisions to determine who I feel is most aligned with those instructions from the Sermon on the Mount.

I also pray the divisiveness which permeates the country, communities and even families will be dissipated soon, washed away in the Blood of Christ and the Eucharist we celebrate together today.

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Oversensitive

When the pain comes in from those who dislike you,

Or what you have done,

Or seems you had done;

The fork in the road rushes up.

XXX

To vilify and engage in debate,

Shredding their argument,

And then their clothes;

Until they are left naked, and your work is done.

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Or listen and pray,

Perhaps then, we might hear what is behind the words,

The critiques, the noise,

And learn what is in their heart.

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Which may tell us what is in ours.


[MC1]

THE UNBROKEN WORD

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Have you ever felt so close to someone that you feel like they are a part of you? Very likely, particularly for mothers (and sometimes fathers/siblings) who have a biological connection with their kids as well as a spiritual one. However, sometimes, just sometimes we feel this way about others who we don’t have the DNA connection to spark this particular fire.

Often this connection is driven by love. We are reluctant to use the word love in society today, at least openly as it denotes some feelings we often want to keep reserved for those either really close to us or to those who might not understand when someone says “I love you”. This does not mean they are making a lifelong exclusive commitment to that person; as we do in the sacrament marriage for example.

In Biblical Greek there are five words which describe love, not just the one we have to use in the English language, therefore the confusion often abounds because of the way the word is applied in everyday use. However, Jesus tells us to “love one another” and does not qualify that with any type of partial inference. We are called to love one another; period.

This short column is not the place to look at all aspects of this call, but we can look at the original premise, seeing those in the world who we feel immensely close to; where that love and closeness becomes a “oneness” with the other. Many of us have spiritual friends who feel as close as family; these do not have to be spouses or lovers, but just those we are at one with. Where our bond together is strong and lasting, through difficulties and problems, someone we can be sure their heart and not just their head is aligned with us. There are no limits to the depth of this love, it’s just a different love than the one we experience in a lifelong marriage.

Perhaps this week we can reflect on those relationships in our lives, and begin to recognize them for what they are. We also could see how many more there might be if we just reduced a natural “reluctance” to show this love for another person. The Bible and our faith calls us to love our brothers and sisters, but we often begin with what separates us, not what connects us.

This love is pure grace, which is God’s love for us communicated. Let this love flow as we prepare for Advent. A time where we wait for the arrival of God’s love made known to us in the flesh; to ascribe this in our love for each other.

Olive grove for unbroken word

INTO THE MYSTERY

In the olive grove, just before sundown,

A path is laid clear, from pickers and carts of old;

Of where I must go when the darkness comes,

To find those who are missing.

XXX

And need to return home.

THE UNBROKEN WORD

For those of you who recall physics in school or college you may remember the meaning of electrical resistance. The “resistance” of a wire determines how much current and voltage flows through it based on its character, its essence. During some recent retreats it seems this relationship can also be applied to the way we enter into prayer and communion with God.

Perhaps this is nowhere truer than in contemplative prayer, particularly meditative prayer forms where we are encouraged to “tune out” the rest of the world and listen for that small, still voice mentioned in scripture so frequently. Eucharistic Adoration, Centering Prayer and even imaginative prayer all call the issue of our “resistance” to listen and stay quiet to hear what God wants us to receive.

One major factor limiting our growth in this area is an unwillingness to give in to God’s will, but rather make requests to suit our own benefits. While there is intrinsically nothing wrong with prayers of petition; we all do them all the time … it does not place us where we need to be when we take a contemplative prayer route. In contemplative prayer, we are placing ourselves in a disposition of “opening our heart to God, without an agenda or goal”, we trying “to rest in Him” and let go of all of our own needs. The Our Father and many places in scripture describe this fully in the words “Thy Will Be Done”, which also means, God’s will be done, not my will.

Placing ourselves in this position, requires us to drop all resistance which keeps the electrical current which God wants to provide us with … grace … flowing at full tilt. When we surrender to His will the agenda is gone, our needs are gone, our requests are gone. We just place ourselves at the Foot of the Cross and rest in Him.

During my own journey, I can plot many times when I was grateful to God, but I still resisted the call to be really close to Him. Not because He was not present, but rather I was unwilling to drop my internal resistance. I was unwilling to be vulnerable; to be humble; to be open to His complete love by dropping my own guard fully. I needed to rest in His arms as a small baby would do in the arms of their parents or grandparents.

Perhaps it is time to reexamine my own resistance to surrendering to God. Am I fully on board with “Thy Will Be Done” and leave my own will at the door? My answer is I still have some way to go.

So perhaps the old saw, “Let Go and Let God” still has much relevance in my spiritual life today. I will work on it. Perhaps you are being called to look at resistance in this new light.

Just a thought.

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RESISTANCE

Holding back once again,

The tortoise returns into its shell,

Hiding myself from the outside influences,

Disguising an interior motive.

Undiscoverable to other mortals;

Or so it seems.

Yet the very resistance which keeps my face stony in adversity,

Freezes me in my relationship to God.

Holding my sadness in a gaze of perpetuity,

Where a smile or love cannot easily emerge,

As my heart holds tight its meaning from the world.

Until the resistance is unlocked,

In a surrender to the Other.

This time without motive,

Agenda,

Or even purpose.

Into a time warp of love.

Reflection and Photograph © 2018 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

THE UNBROKEN WORD

Sometimes we meet with someone who seems unwilling to listen to us. In fact, if we review a week, we probably can populate the week with many instances of “unwillingness” in others to respond to our messages and requests.

However, how about our own willingness to listen to others, hear what they have to say, respond with more than an “automatic” negative or counter response. Conclusions which affirm an existing disposition or opinion on something are often there are the ready. The more we use them, the firmer our position becomes on a specific item, and we gradually morph into a walking set of conclusions and opinions; ready to engulf others at a moment’s notice. OK; I am exaggerating a little bit here, but I can always feel myself moving into this territory, particularly when I am threatened or challenged on something.

Recently, it became obvious the relationship between our unwillingness to listen to others and our prayer life. I was reading a book by Cynthia Bourgeault, where she notes the following on Spiritual Transformation regardless of the prayer path you might take. Here she talks specifically on contemplative prayer, but can imagine with works for all prayer forms.

“the recipe for spiritual transformation is basically the same all over: surrender, attention, compassion. One way or another, you will pass through the same eye of the needle no matter what path you’re on.”

This first step is surrender. And surrender means to be listening and open to God during the prayer period. If we can relate to these steps in all prayer, then does it not also apply in our everyday lives? Of course it does, but it’s also easy to separate our “everyday life” from our prayer life. Even if this is the wrong thing to do.

We are informed in so many ways in scripture and prayers to focus on “Thy Will Be Done” and yet, we still begin with our opinion being the one that matters. We have to surrender to God’s will fully in order to have an intention within our prayers, and this also means listening to others before we decide what the response should be.

So, this week, I will make an effort to listen first, to surrender to God as the first part of my prayer life and try and integrate the two practices. Just to listen to His words, often softy spoken through others.

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An Unwilling Mind


UNWILLING

Unwilling to listen,

And unwilling to hear.

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Unwilling to learn,

Or listen to facts.

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Unwilling to research,

And therefore, to analyze.

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Unwilling to move,

A mind or a heart.

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Unwillingness.

A sadness which precludes anger.

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Let us undo unwillingness,

And see the curtain open; revealing the light of a day.