A Full-time Job

Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.

Most of us usually feel we’re doing a pretty good job if we manage to keep most of the commandments most of the time. It is a good beginning. But it’s incomplete. Just as the man in Matthew’s gospel (23) who kept the commandments but who overlooked other ways in which God approaches him, there are literally mountains of invitations, inspirations, good ideas, warnings, concerns, aspirations, hopes, ambitions, ideas, fears, anxieties that accumulate and pile up within us, whether self-generated, or instilled from remarks of others, or news media, or personal reading, or facebook/twitter, or dreams, or just “out of the blue”, all of which can prove just as directive of our lives as the ten commandments. For a member of the CPPs, prayer would have to be added as a special resort, together with scripture reading. It is really a full-time job keeping track of all this data. It puts one in the position of the scribe Jesus describes as like “…the head of a household who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old.” (Mt 14.52)

Chicago Partners Share a Meal and Prayer

L to R: Gail O'Malley, Sebastian McDonald, Irene Horst, Dave O'Donnell, Mary Kay Donnelley, Penny Jaworski, Nancy Kramer, Pat O'Malley
L to R: Gail O’Malley, Sebastian McDonald, Irene Horst, Dave O’Donnell, Mary Kay Donnelley, Penny Jaworski, Nancy Kramer, Pat O’Malley

Nine Chicago Partners begin looking into combining their annual covenant with a retreat this Fall. Individual members will check with the Chicago Cenacle, the Loretta Sisters new retreat center in Wheaton Illinois and the Carmelite’s retreat house in Darien Illinois and report their findings back at the next monthly meeting. Partners covenant to support each other as they strive to keep alive the memory of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus in the world of today.

The Memory of Suffering

by Father Sebastian McDonald, C.P.
the race

The CPPs treasure the memory of the Sufferings of the Lord as the centerpiece of our lives. To onlookers, perhaps this orientation sounds somber and depressing. Who wants to embrace the thought of suffering as a focal point? Well, as a matter of fact, suffering is not the focal point but simply the consequence of what IS the focal point: the attainment of a goal or task one wishes to accomplish. For instance, if a prophet like Jeremiah badly wants to communicate the word of the Lord, he or she will suffer whatever consequences follow from announcing the message, should it be bad news to those hearing it. Or if one is engaged in a race, as St. Paul mentions, then one readily accepts the often tremendous effort, and exhaustion, needed to compete well. In these examples, suffering is a follow-up to what one badly wants, and so it proves acceptable. Christ died on the cross to save us all: He wanted this badly. So the CPPs treasure whatever suffering accompanies what they badly want. The secret here is: badly wanting something. And it is our faith that provides us a treasure-trove of things we should sincerely desire, and in view of which we are willing “to pay the price”.


Back in the 70’s, Penny Jaworski, my twin brother Dave and I started a prayer community for high school seniors as part of the Institute of Christian Encounter (ICE) religious education program at Immaculate Conception Parish on the Northwest Side of Chicago. The program was called OATS. OATS is an acronym for Openness, Awareness, Togetherness and Separateness, the building blocks of community. Father Joe Van Leeuwen, C.P. was the priest in charge of the whole Institute, and the idea came from a talk given by an unknown Passionist. Brother Martin Bradke, C.P. told us about the talk, and we thought that would be a good guide for our community building. We were Passionist Partners even before there was a formal group called Partners.

OATS was very successful in terms of numbers as well as in inspiring young people to get involved in their communities. One former member is a well-known journalist in Chicago, another is a Chicago Priest, another a Presbyterian Pastor and one former OATS person runs a Teen Drop-In Center on the South Side of Chicago. These are just the OATS people I know of. I suspect there are many more, still going strong spreading OATS in their own particular way. We really didn’t teach any particular way other than OATS.

What we did do however is pray together. We did this at every meeting. After a business meeting, we would go into the Parish Church, sit on the floor around St. Paul of the Cross’s altar and sing some songs and maybe read a reading or two to inspire us. Then we would disperse throughout the Church (it’s a big church) and spend ten to fifteen minutes in quiet prayer by ourselves. We came back together around St. Paul’s altar, sat quietly for a while, sang some more songs and then said the Our Father holding hands. We would end with one of our members giving a blessing.

Before OATS, ICE and I suspect many other programs could not attract juniors or seniors to their religious education programs. By sixteen, teens got their cars and that would be the last we’d see of them until they came around to get married.

What made this work? I’m not sure, but I think there were two key ingredients, collaboration and prayer. Not only did we collaborate with Passionists, we also plugged into the TEC Retreat program, which is where many of the teens came from. Of course we encouraged our Senior High School Parishioners to go on TEC and they did.

I wonder if we Passionist Partners today can learn anything from this model? I wonder if there are other models of successful community programs present day Partners could share?

I wonder if we Passionist Partners today can learn anything from this model?  I wonder if there are other models of successful community programs present day Partners could share?

Chicago Partners Enjoy Time Together

Left to right: Dave O'Donnell, Mary Lou Murphy, Irene Horst, Gail O'Malley
Left to right: Dave O’Donnell, Mary Lou Murphy, Irene Horst, Gail O’Malley


Always ready for fun, five Chicago Partners came together at the last minute to enjoy an evening of music at Chicago’s Grant Park Musical Festival in Millennium Park on Wednesday August 7. The evening featured James Carter in a Concerto for Saxophones created for James by the Detroit Symphony. Also on the program were: Gabriel Castagna’s Milongón Festivo; Alberto Ginastera’s Pampeana No.3 Pastoral Symphony; and Heitor Villa-Lobos’s Bachianas Brasileiras No. 7.

Irene, Gail, Dave and Dan are all charter members of the Chicago Partners and Mary Lou has been involved with the Passionist at Immaculate Conception Parish since 1965. Irene served as the Chicago Monastery Librarian from 1980 to its closing this past Fall.
Gail’s husband Pat, also a charter member of the Chicago Partners was not able to attend. It is the terminal illness of his younger brother that brought Gail and Pat back from Oahu, Hawaii where they moved this past December, and occasioned the impromptu gathering. Prayers for Pat’s brother will be greatly appreciated.

Poverty, chastity, obedience: traditional vows redefined for the 21st century | National Catholic Reporter

We continue this week with Sr. Maureen Fiedler’s, article in the National Catholic Reporter about the committed life, concentrating on the vows. Sister gives us the history of vows and a good description of what they have traditionally meant. Then she asks the question: “So what might a 21st-century vow look like?”

My answer and I suspect other Partner’s answers as well would be it might look like a Partners’ covenant. Passionists take the three vows mentioned in the article: poverty, chastity, and obedience. They also take a fourth vow to remember the Passion of Christ. Some would call this the first vow, the vow that informs the three others. Passionist Partners don’t take vows; they each formulate their own particular covenant or promise. Hopefully that covenant reflects how they personally will remember the Passion of Christ. Is this important—to remember the Passion of Christ?

Yes, I believe it is. I believe the memory of the Passion of Christ is the connecting thread that binds us all, not just Partners, but all people of all times together. Keeping this memory of Christ’s passion can make us compassionate people, people who can share in the sufferings of others. Sharing how this happened in my life, people showed up when I was suffering: when I lost my mother at the age of ten; when I lost my first job out of college; when I found myself thinking of quitting life altogether. People showed up in my life at these times and stayed with me, they didn’t abandon me—they loved me. Their love, their compassion told me I was worthwhile—that I was not alone. As I grew older, I learned that I could do this for others. I could love them even when they couldn’t love themselves. Thus began a compassionate life for me. I’m not perfect at it, but when I remember the Passion of Christ, I remember what I believe life is all about. It’s about staying connected, not only to the people immediately in my life, but to anyone who suffers and that means all of us and all of creation.

I further believe that if there is a sickness in our world today, it is being disconnected. How else could you explain war, indifference to poverty, and the evident inequities in our world? I wouldn’t behave that way to my brother, especially my brother who I realized was suffering, who was experiencing life just like I am.

Can people do this who don’t know or believe in Jesus Christ? Certainly, I believe they can. But I will have to let them tell their story. How about you? What do you think?