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
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.
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.
We often hear the words “nothing to fear but fear itself” of Franklin Roosevelt from his 1933 inaugural address. Here they are in some context, not just the often-quoted ones.
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Perhaps you are feeling that feeling of fear this week. It can be said that the opposite of love is hate, but that is not true. The opposite of love is fear. The dread of the unknown, the thing which causes us to flee from our rational mind and move towards primal instincts; instead, we flee, hide, or curl up in the fetal position and wait for the worse to happen.
Fear is a big topic in scripture. How often are the words “Be Not Afraid” quoted in the bible; too many to count. Scripture mentions the word fear 500 times in the New American Bible, the one used in our Church today. We are told not to fear but to love God and one another, yet it is hard sometimes to do so.
The coronavirus pandemic sweeping the country is instilling fear in the hearts of many. The multi-varied advice and frequency of changes in direction have added to the concern of many. By the time you read this reflection, the situation will likely have changed again. So what can we do?
Well, I think this is a time, and even an opportunity to renew our apostolic nature. One where we go into the world, not running away from the crisis, but activity getting engaged in helping others. At the retreat center where I work in California, our center is CLOSED and will remain so for the near future. And while we are doing our best to keep our workers safe, following guidelines, we are also redirecting our ministries. Starting next week, we will be broadcasting Mass from our Chapel to thousands of retreatants who have come to rely on their visits to Mater Dolorosa. Our Centering Prayer group will be an online, video-based meeting beginning this Sunday. We are working on a new web site with our weekly reflections available to all: the priests here, and the laity who support the ministry are involved in these efforts. Our kitchen will move from cooking meals for visitors to preparing meals for the needy in the Los Angeles area.
I say this, not to pat ourselves on the back for any of this. No, merely to say that we can all redirect our efforts in some way to help others. We can all make a telephone call to those who need reassurance, donate some money to those who have lost their job, support our neighbors and, of course, pray for a swift end to this pandemic. God Bless us all.
Prayer in the Time of the Coronavirus
Most Reverend José H. Gomez
Archbishop of Los Angeles
Holy Virgin of Guadalupe,
Queen of the Angels and Mother of the Americas.
We fly to you today as your beloved children.
We ask you to intercede for us with your Son,
as you did at the wedding in Cana.
Pray for us, loving Mother,
and gain for our nation and world,
and for all our families and loved ones,
the protection of your holy angels,
that we may be spared the worst of this illness.
For those already afflicted,
we ask you to obtain the grace of healing and deliverance.
Hear the cries of those who are vulnerable and fearful,
wipe away their tears and help them to trust.
In this time of trial and testing,
teach all of us in the Church to love one another
and to be patient and kind.
Help us to bring the peace of Jesus to our land and to our hearts.
We come to you with confidence,
knowing that you truly are our compassionate mother,
health of the sick and cause of our joy.
Shelter us under the mantle of your protection,
keep us in the embrace of your arms,
help us always to know the love of your Son, Jesus. Amen.
Despite the worries of a world obsessed, scared and separated it persists.
The bloom of wisteria paints its way into our nature,
Augmenting the surrounding green, informed by St. Patrick,
And a nature of renewal.
Daubing its beauty onto our faces,
Through eyes which blur,
Filled tears of wonder,
Stamp His approval on our heart.
And reminding us, He is with us Always.