A Washing of Hands

The first washing of the day, before my shower;

Is a tentative wash, knowing more water will be flowing shortly,

Over gray hair, body and a general waking up.

Here, hands are the tool, not the target.


Then later, not just before and after meals,

Comes the real handwashing.

Sanjay tells us how to wash like a surgeon,

To do the front and the backs,

As a child needs instruction for teeth.

We never knew how to really wash them.


Then, handwashing, proper handwashing that is, needs patience.

Not here the symbolism of Pilate,

Or its many metaphors.

But a real handwashing,

Like our hands are clean.


Devoid of germs,

Ready to touch something,

If only disposable gloves,

We are ready to … keep our distance.

This washing is personal,

We only wash our child’s hands,

Not each others,

And yet …


This wash,

This timed wash of two birthday songs,

Or One Our Father,

Is a member of an orchestra,

One playing a song of safety,






A willingness of a heart.


This song is devoid of color, country or creed.

A song which all humanity plays,

Every time a faucet is turned,

So begins a melody of holiness and care.


For all.

Mystical Warmth




Unearthly, yet real and earthly.


Separation dissipating in a moment,

Forever gone, never to return.

Not love in a word,

Experienced, not defined or confined;



In a womb,



Nourished with a permanent repleteness;






Perfectly safe

Eternal and unified.


Finally, I am consubstantial.



Servant Leadership: Why we need it now more than ever.

As I pen these words, we are either in the beginning or middle of what is known as the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. This morning, like several recently, I awoke thinking of some visits needed to important people, cousins in Ireland, connecting with my wife, currently stranded in Massachusetts, my grandchildren, and family in the UK. Within moments of course, I realized that this is not possible. As we are now in a “Stay at Home” order in the state of California, and I remain, with a few essential workers and the Passionist priests behind a locked gate. A gate that protects us from others and others from us.

Usually, we wake in the morning from a dream and then step into reality. Today it felt like the reality was a movie and the dreams were normality. I say this not to complain, but merely to observe the times and challenges we face. Perhaps the most important aspect of this is a call to leadership. A call to be selfless, to be there for others, to separate ourselves from others, and yet still find ways we can support those in need. Their needs have just become more acute because of the crisis. This remembering of a call brought me to a topic which has been much on the lips of many in this situation, the call of a leadership style called Servant Leadership. What is that, and how does that relate to me?

Responding To Christ

“and whoever wants to rank first among you must serve the needs of all.” (Mt. 20:27)

At times like this we have a tendency to surround the wagons, protect those close to us, and in a way, become selfish. So much about our situation today is antheical to a normal response, we cannot gather in the normal way, but we can communicate. We cannot share in a traditional manner, breaking bread together at the table, even receiving the Eucharist has become a visual event, not a physical one.

Yet, we must remember that grace flows from the within as well as from the traditional sources we hunger. God is within us, His grace is there waiting to be tapped into. To be exported to those who need it. In words, prayer and actions.

Servant leadership gives us a clue of how we align our response. We receive love by giving love. We gain happiness by sharing with others. We only truly receive by giving.

Let us remember the call in Matthew 20:27, we can only receive by serving others. If you want to examine yourself, Jesuit style, take a look at the ten principles of Servant Leadership as practiced today, and check out how you are using them in this crisis.

The Ten Principles Of Servant Leadership

• Listening

• Empathy

• Healing

• Awareness

• Persuasion

• Conceptualization

• Foresight

• Stewardship

• Commitment to Growth

• Building Community

Reflection, Poem and Photograph Copyright 2020 by Michael J. Cunningham OFS

The Space Between


The space between removes our ability to touch,

But not to feel.

No holding of hands,

No swallowing the Eucharist,

No welcoming hugs.  


For the space between is where we can truly love,

Love created from a separate reality,

One which is untouchable,

Unreachable by mind,

Only with the heart.

Reflection and Photograph © 2020 Michael J. Cunningham OFS

The Annunciation


Painting “The Annunciation” by Oswald Tanner

If my mother was alive today, it would be her 86th Birthday. It is not just because of her birthday that I am reminded of her today, but her first names were Norah Annunicata.

She was given the name Annunicata, as she was born on the feast day of the Annunciation. Today.

My mother was taken home to God 30 years ago. She was a simple and prayerful woman, born in Limerick and like many others had to leave the country to find work.

Annunicata is an Italian name that means announcement.

While that date represents a lot to me personally, the date means even more to us collectively as Christians. The date today is exactly nine months before Christmas Day, the birthday of our Lord. Mary is given explicit instructions by the Angel Gabriel during this momentous event.

Imagine an angel coming to visit a young Jewish girl and announcing” Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you.”

When Gabriel said this, he did not just mean, the Lord is with you, he meant, the Lord IS with you! She now is carrying the most precious cargo of all time.

Gabriel goes on to ensure that Mary understands that this will be no ordinary child and she has been selected for no ordinary mission. He tells Mary to name him Jesus, which in Hebrew means “God saves”.

Jesus is the savior promised in the Old Testament reading this morning from Isiah, and Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, there to carry and care for Him right to the end of his mission.

Even His name tells us how important this is, with his identity revealed as God, and his mission to save mankind from sin.

The name of Jesus is at the heart of our Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words “through our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer, says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died with the one word “Jesus” on their lips.

My personal centering prayer consists only of the words “I love you Lord Jesus”. We cannot say it enough in our lives, as each time we remind ourselves in our heart of his love, his mission, his name. Like a little signature on our heart each time it is repeated.

Gabriel then continued to describe in detail what was going to happen to Mary.

Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,”

He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

Can you imagine being there when Mary heard these words? While she knew she did not have relations with a man, she didn’t understand how she was going to be bearing a child.

Then, as she is told the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and she will be with child.

What is so amazing in these few lines of the Gospel, describing how Mary is being selected amongst all women for this role, that the whole of salvation history is unfolding before her eyes.

The promised of the Old Testament are being fulfilled.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us!”

What more perfect love could be given us, than God coming among us himself. Not only to redeem, but to instruct, to teach, to love in a new way, the way of forgiveness, the way of compassion, the way of enduring and everlasting love.

Here Mary listens, asks a simple question and then accepts fully the task given her.

Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Could there not be a more perfect model for us to follow than Mary herself. Selfless in nature, ready to do God’s will, without further question, just following the instructions of God with a totally pure and ready heart.

God could have redeemed us in any way he wanted, but what could have been more purposeful, meaningful, loving than the path he took and presented Mary to us as a model to follow in our own lives.

Let us hope that we grow in nature more like her each day, to accept whatever is asked of us, and to do His will.

Separation Anxiety

We have all encountered separation anxiety at some time in our lives. When we are working away from a loved one, on assignment somewhere, or just feeling lonely by not being near those dear to us.

Today, with all that is going on with the coronavirus pandemic, we are faced with a dilemma. When we have a calamity, the tendency is to assemble and pray. The churches fill, the site the shooting becomes a shrine, we offer moments of silence as we recognize the dead. We are a belonging people; we belong to each other; we belong to God. When we want to show this belonging and the love which fuels it, we meet in groups. Now, however, we are asked to show our love differently.

We separate, and by separating, we show our love for each other. It is the antithesis of what we have come to expect. Indeed an unnatural act for our hearts. The separation amplifies the need to be together, to love, to share, to be empathic, to be. The strengthing of our love of each other and God is a gift we all share. We will see, as in times of war, the sacrificial love which our loving Savoir brought us in His mission on earth. The Passionists recognize how the power of sacrifice and suffering transforms into love. Today, we sit at the foot of the Cross along with Mary, waiting for the pain to end; yet at the same time, we endure the longing to reconnect.

This week, perhaps, we can begin to understand the gift of love which comes from the separation from each other. How we are giving, indirectly, the gift of health by not assisting the spread of this virus, and making ourselves that sacrifice for a small part of our lives.

The theological meaning of this work is not lost on us. Jesus offered himself sacrificially, with no strings attached, purely to illustrate what our behavior was supposed to be. Today we are asked to do a little of this ourselves.

So this week, we separate for a few days so we can be together again. It is something to remember when we return to those selfish moments; when understanding for others becomes lost to a momentary glance at our own needs.