“Get Out of the Boat”

 “Get Out of the Boat” 

We hear the phrase “get out of the boat” in scripture. (Mt 14:28-30) Peter sees Jesus walking on water and is invited to join him. Initially successful his trust in God fails, and then he begins to sink after an apparent few steps. Jesus saves him and brings him to safety.
This pattern is often prevalent in our own lives. We ask for proof of God’s love, but when called to trust in God we find ourselves failing and then require further rescue. It is interesting to note that while we spend much time creating a barrage of requests for God to bestow us with gifts from our prayers of intercession, we often do less when it comes to simple acts of trust or worship in our prayer life.

Perhaps we can consider some other prayer forms which don’t have us coming to God always with our shopping list of personals needs. After all, we all know how we feel about relatives and “friends” who only show up when they need something, versus those who are visiting and contact us solely because they love us, or care for us.

This week, I will try and approach God with an attitude of trust and love. Remaining open to His will with a mindset of trust, not the attitude of “prove it” which we see too frequently.
If we trust in Him, all will be good. For He is “with us always”.

How is your prayer life at this time?

TREES

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Trees, awaiting the dawn again without agenda,
Today may be a cold one,
So less sunlight and moisture for our roots,
Nevertheless, we stand together,
Grateful and trusting.

That we will be nourished and stand for another season.

Reflection, Poem and Photography Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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Freedom, the Beatitudes and My Life

Freedom, the Beatitudes and My Life
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, 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 encourage a polarizing atmosphere. 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.

How are the beatitudes playing out in your life? Perhaps I can pick on one for the week and see how important it is to me and those around me.

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.

To vilify and engage in debate,
Shredding their argument,
And then their clothes;
Until they are left naked, and your work is done.

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.

Which may tell us what is in ours.

Reflection, Photography and Poem Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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TRANSFORMATION AND SURRENDER – THE STEPPING STONES TO PEACE

TRANSFORMATION AND SURRENDER – THE STEPPING STONES TO PEACE

 

The Cleansing of a Leper. 40 A leper[a] came to him [and kneeling down] begged him and said, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” 41 Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” 42 The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean. 43 Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. 44 Then he said to him, “See that you tell no one anything, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed; that will be proof for them.” 45 The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter. He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly. He remained outside in deserted places, and people kept coming to him from everywhere. (Mark 1:40-45 New American Bible)

This gospel is a story of risks, reversals and joyful disobedience.

In the times of Jesus, lepers were outcasts, condemned to live in isolation, ostracized from family, community, worship, marginalized even from hope.  Levitical law required them to live in isolation and to remain a safe distance from the healthy in order not to spread their contagious disease.  Some believed that leprosy was God’s punishment for sin.

But the leper in Mark’s gospel is strikingly bold.  He disobeys Levitical restrictions and comes so close that Jesus can touch him.  “If you choose,” he tells Jesus, “you can make me clean.”  Without hesitation, with compassion, boldly, even recklessly Jesus touched the leper and said: “I do choose.  Be made clean.”  Immediately, the leprosy left him.  He ordered him to tell no one about this miracle, but to present himself to the priest to confirm that he is clean.  The man disobeys.  He does not go immediately to the priest.  He does not remain silent to the miracle.  Instead, he went out and proclaimed it everywhere.

By contrast, Jesus reversed places with the once leprous man.  Jesus, who had traveled freely everywhere, now was forced into isolation to avoid the crowds.  He now was forced to the margins.  In other words, Jesus took the place of the man he made clean.  Love always says and does what is necessary and works out the consequences later.

There is another reversal to consider.  By touching the leper, Jesus should have been contaminated.  However, it is not the leper who is contagious, but Jesus.  The leper does not transmit his disease to Jesus, but Jesus who transforms the leper to wholeness, and makes him clean, medically, spiritually and socially.  The Franciscan spiritual writer, Richard Rohr, says “pain that is not transformed is transmitted.”  Jesus lovingly touched his isolation and pain, and transformed him.

We are called imitate the leper’s bold faith and Jesus’ loving touch.  Like them, It demands of us that we risk crossing barriers and boundaries of convenience and comfort zone in order to reach out to the other, the one living in pain or anxiety.  Such faith begins by sitting in the presence of God, surrendering our will to the will his, as we sit and gently whisper the words:  “I do choose.”

How can I choose today? Where are my choices in my life?

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Reflection Copyright Deacon Manuel Valencia
Photography Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME 

RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME

This past October, I attended the National Religious Vocation Conference (NRVC) Convocation in Buffalo, NY. Around 300 Priests, Sisters and Brothers from different Religious Orders gathered for four days of listening, prayer and discernment, and prophetic action on the theme of the Convocation, “Walk with me: Encounter, Accompaniment and Invitation.” Fr. Kevin DiPrinzio, an Augustinian Friar, presented the first of the four Keynote addresses on the topic, “The Vocation Ministry: Ministry at the Beautiful Gate” (Acts 3:1-10). The passage narrates the “encounter” of Peter and John with the crippled man at the Beautiful Gate of the Temple. Using the keyword “encounter,” he presented his keynote address as he challenged us to think about the Vocation Ministry as we invite young men and women to live our particular way of life.
At the end of the presentation, we were given some reflection questions to discuss at our table. Throughout the presentation, I was ruminating on the word “encounter” in the context of my own vocation story. Usually, when I am asked about my vocation story, I always preface it with, “Oh, my story is probably the most ordinary and boring story. I don’t recall an ‘AHA’ moment when I felt God calling me to religious life and priesthood.”
As I ponder on the word “encounter,” it suddenly struck me that I, in fact, did have an encounter. It was not an “AHA” moment. But, as Fr. DiPrinzio said, “I was in the right place and at the right time.” All three: Peter, John and the crippled man were there at the right place and time for the encounter to happen. When Fr. Chris, the then vocation promoter for the Passionists in India, came to my school to speak to the Catholic students from Grade 8-10, I was not interested in what he had to say. I was more concerned about missing the sports hour as I was constantly looking out of the window at my non-Catholic classmates enjoying their sports on the playground. But God had other plans. I was in the right place and at the right time. Even though I didn’t pay full attention to what Fr. Chris had to say, I ended up writing my name and address on a piece of paper that he passed around after his presentation and handed it to him. The rest, as they say, is history.
When we least expect (and perhaps, when we resist), God puts us in the right place at the right time. The encounter happens, and we are transformed.
So I am going to leave with the questions that we were asked to discuss at our table at the Convocation. You may too want to gather around the table, ponder on these questions and share your stories.

  1. What are you encountering at this moment?
  2. Recall your own story of an encounter with God. What was it like for you to be at the gate? Who or what placed you there?
  3. Recall moments in your life that have been beautiful (i.e., rightly timed, opportune, etc.)
  4. What questions remain for you?

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The Road is Paved

The Road is Paved,
Always present, yet unknown to me,
The road was paved.

Rubbernecking in the hedgerows; searching for gleaming palaces,
Distraction and desires,
Amused for years, concealing myself with my selfishness.
And myself.

Now all is clear.
The road is paved.
It is straight,
Uncomplicated,
Simple and waiting,
For consent, intention and finally,
Desire to be aligned.

All that is left is action,
As the tractor beam of love draws me forward,
For there is no other option.

Reflection Copyright Fr. Bruno D’Souza, C.P.

Photography and Poem Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham O.F.S.

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A Spiritual Break: The Invitation

THE INVITATION

This December I had a pre-Christmas lunch with an individual who has had a life well lived as a Christian. As we chatted through the courses, getting to know each other and meandering through the challenges facing the world, he finally got to the rub.
His thesis, (incidentally, backed up by most mystics and doctors of the Church) was the need to look deep inside ourselves, and there, when we passed through all the other rooms and distractions, we will find Him waiting for us. Always waiting for us.
It is such a simple message for this time of the year. Advent, these last three weeks, gives us a path to lead us through these doors and rooms of distractions leading up to Christmas. Disguising the purpose and sometimes leading us astray as we limit the real purpose of Christmas to a punctuation point at the end of the season. Instead of the manger in the Town Hall of our mind; where it should be placed.
We often place family at the center of the celebration, which of course is only understandable, even desirable. However, we sometimes forget the most important invitation of all. To join in the celebration of God manifest as man. Fully divine. Fully human. With us in a physical presence, because for some reason we did not seem to be able to get the message any other way. We are told in Genesis we are made in His image, man and woman. And yet, somehow, it was decided he would visit us in physical form, demonstrating His love for us in a new way. Meeting man on man’s ground, our understanding, integrating Himself fully into our lives.
My overriding impression of the gentleman explaining his love of God to me was one of servanthood. A story of alignment; of surrender to His Will, not Mine. It is a common call in prayer, liturgy, scripture, but the execution of His will requires us to align ourselves with Him. A task both simple and difficult.
Let me surrender this Advent to Christ. To His will. And travel through all the rooms of distraction at this time just to come and adore Him. This vulnerable child, born into mankind to be with us, love us, and save us.
Forever.

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The Invitation
Despite the lit candles, a Church remains unfilled.
An unwillingness to take an interior walk perhaps,
Needs beckoning at the Mall,
A night at the movies.

All compete for attention.

Yet, those who think He is not with them are mistaken.
For all steps are noticed,
All pain is recognized,
All love is given.

Without a pre-paid return envelope.

Reflection, Photography and Poem Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham OFS
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A Spiritual Break: Total Transparency…gift? Or goblin?

Total Transparency…gift? Or goblin?

How confident are you that you’re going to heaven?  Are you very confident, somewhat hopeful, a bit worried, or maybe afraid that you’ll never make it?  Many of us find it hard to imagine how God sees us.  We work so hard to present our best selves to the public we can forget that God sees everything about us, the private darkness as well as the public image.  And, when we do remember that, it can be a bit scary because we all have a darker side.  None of us are strangers to jealousy, envy, pride, anger, lust, greed, and the list goes on!  We usually try to hide those parts of us from most people but sometimes is oozes out…much to our embarrassment.  And while many people may not notice, God sees it all, good or bad, complimentary or embarrassing.

If we do find ourselves struggling with some anxiety about how God sees us, there’s an intriguing passage in the Gospel that can be something of a surprise for us.  Jesus tells us that we are a light for the world.  We need to put ourselves on a stand and let our light shine for all to see!  Who?  Me?!

Yet, that is what Jesus tells his disciples!  Whether we feel confident about our relationship with God or not, it seems that God has a great deal of confidence in us.  He tells us that we are to get up on the lampstand and shine for all the world to see.  We are to be living witnesses of God’s love for the world.  Even though he knows that we’re not perfect, or rich, or powerful, or famous, or whatever else we imagine is essential to do the job, Jesus still tells us that we have everything we need within us.  And that “everything” consists of God’s love for us!

So, we may need to look a bit more seriously at the ways we understand our lives and our relationship with God.  For example, how convinced am I that I am called to be a living witness to God’s love for the world and for the people in my life?  Or, am I even willing to risk responding to that call?  Or, what are the blessings and gifts God has given to me (to share)?  Do I trust that God will reveal Himself through my life?

It is always a challenge to listen to Jesus and do what he asks.  Today, my prayer for you is that you will let your light shine so everyone can see what God’s love has done in you.

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When You Have Something To Say

“If you have something to say try and make it be two things.
Make it important and make it true.”

In remembrance of Fr. Michael Hoolahan, C.P. by Michael Cunningham

Reflection Copyright Michael Higgins, C.P.

Photography and Poem Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham OFS

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RESISTANCE



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, Photography and Poem Copyright 2018 by Michael J. Cunningham OFS
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