Is anxiety a Gift?

When you think about it, none of us is a stranger to the experience of anxiety in our lives.  Money, relationships, politics, religion, disappointments, failures, misunderstandings…and the list goes on and on.  This past year, one issue that has been creating a lot of anxiety in me is the latest information we’ve been getting about the crimes of sexual abuse of children and the response, or lack of response, even cover-up by some in the leadership of the Church.  The more information comes to light, the more horrible the story becomes.

Most all of us, as we hear these stories, have a whole range of reactions.  At first disbelief, then horror followed closely by outrage and finally, a deep and helpless sadness.  But those reactions, important as they are, are minor compared to the depth of compassion that wells up inside us for those children who have been so criminally violated.  Reaching out to them with understanding and support is the most important response that we can make.   Close behind that is the determination to identify and change the system (circumstances) that allowed such base behavior to go on for so long either undetected or ignored.  Only then is it possible to apologize and seek forgiveness.

It could be that even my writing to you about this is creating anxiety in you.  It is creating it in me.  Surely it will continue to create anxiety in all of us until we finally discover ways to keep our children safe and secure; and create attitudes and processes in the Church that respond promptly and effectively to these kinds of crimes.

But, even with anxiety all around us Christ assures us that we can live in His peace.  How are we to do that during these trying times?  In giving us his peace, Christ didn’t seem to think it was important for the world to change or for the violence and chaos around us to be overcome.  Rather, he invited us to welcome into our hearts the love and eternal life that he has given us.  As the love we have received becomes stronger and stronger in us the more able we are to see and respond to the evil that is so present in our world.  The love that Christ revealed to us on his Cross allows us to be open to the wounds of the world, hold them in our hearts and respond to them with the deep compassion that is able to heal and transform all who suffer.  Pope Francis, since the very beginning of his papacy, has been encouraging us to let God’s love and mercy transform us so we can transform our world.  Today and every day, let’s heed his call and open our hearts more deeply to welcome God’s love.


Reflection © 2018 Michael Higgins C.P.

Photograph 2018 Michael J. Cunningham OFS






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A Time to Grow

My husband, Pat, and I love to garden, although there are times when it wouldn’t give that impression if you came to visit. Yet, while we have occasionally called in help, we both admit to the joy (and burden) of being connected with the soil. Pat, who grew up in San Francisco, comes from a long line of farmers in Ireland as do I, so it is in our blood. It grounds us and teaches us about life. I’d love to say that I have a regular routine established to keep things weeded and pruned but often must choose differently. One such time was last year, Winter/Spring of 2017. I was blessed to be able to journey with my mother during the last weeks of her life as I spent about two months in Ireland.

Meanwhile, back at “the ranch” the weeds were growing unchecked in the flowerbeds and the shrubs were out of control. (Pat’s job is mowing and edging the lawns and he leaves the weeding and pruning to me—we learned that system the hard way when he “pruned” our Orange tree a number of years ago and set it back about 10 years! I admit to holding back the tears at the time……)

Eventually, I was able to get out and begin the huge task of reclaiming my garden. It was too late in the year to fertilize the Roses, so I had to content myself with pruning them slightly and weeding. To my utter amazement about a month later beautiful, healthy blooms appeared on those Rose bushes!

What struck me at the time was that the weeds were robbing the flowers of the water and were also suffocating them as they grew unchecked. I remember the joy of liberating the roots, giving them air and space to grow. Anxiety can be like that if left unchecked it can grow in such a way as to blind us and rob us of our energy for life.

I remember being overwhelmed at my task when I began, I had to tell myself that I knew better and force myself to be present to the moment—weed by weed. “In all things give thanks” (1 Thessalonians 5:18) made its way into my heart as I made myself recognize and acknowledge my inner turmoil, take custody of my thoughts and slow down to hear the sound of the birds, to hold the soil in my hand which contained the life force to nourish both the flowers and the weeds; just like my heart. At the deepest level, it is a choice we have; to choose life. “No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” (Deuteronomy 30:14)

Yet, we have no ability to do this without the grace of God. And, that grace is available upon request, we have it on good authority: “And so I say to you, ask and you shall receive, knock and the door shall be opened, seek and you shall find.” (Matthew 7:7)

Is anxiety sapping your energy? Can you do something about it? Is it time to give the Spirit room to work in you?


Let us remember within us

The ancient clay,

Holding the memory of seasons,

The passion of the wind,

The fluency of water,

The warmth of fire,

The quiver-touch of the sun

And the shadowed sureness of the moon.


John O’Donahue, excerpts from In Praise of the Earth; To Bless the Space Between Us, p.86-87


Why are you so anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.” Matthew 6:28-29



Reflection and photograph © 2018 Jean Bowler



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The Absent Presence

Recently 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 us 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.

In this way we notice 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.

Reflection and photograph © 2018 Michael J. Cunningham OFS


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A Spiritual Break

Starting on the 14th September 2018 this site will publish a series of  “Spiritual Breaks” for 52 weeks. Each of these breaks will focus on the issue of anxiety and how the peace of God can help us remain centered in our lives.

The site is produced by the Passionists at Mater Dolorosa retreat center in Sierra Madre, California.

We hope you will enjoy the series and that it may help you on your journey.

Peace and All Good.

Michael Cunningham OFS