To Do or Not to Do

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

Catholics were traditionally instructed in the categories or types of sin, in preparation for approaching confession, or the sacrament of reconciliation. Two such categories, probably among the most important, were sins of commission and sins of omission. (Sins of commission always seemed to bother us more than sins of omission). In today’s contemporary catechesis or instruction in our faith, we are not as interested as formerly, in these types of sin-focused categories: who cares? Except that, whether we admit it or not, they still loom large as life before us, demanding our attention. A current example is the Syria situation, and the question as to whether we (Americans) should commit ourselves immediately to intervention or whether, as now seems to be the case, we should hold off from such action, and take the time to see whether other modes of action are effective in dealing with the situation. This partially illustrates a choice between an act of commission (act now, militarily) or an act of omission (no military action now, but an exploration of poison gas sites, to disable them). The major rationale for this is: less civilian deaths. A missile attack now would be an act of commission, evil because it kills Syrian civilians. On the other hand, given the 100,000 civilian deaths already perpetrated by the Syrian government against its own people, plus 1400 more gassed to death, apparently at the hands of the same government, failure to intervene militarily now will surely result in many more Syrian civilians killed, again by their own government, during the probable extended period of time needed to discover and disable these sites. So, the problem: many civilians killed by our commission/many civilians killed by our omission. What to do? Which is worse? Usually, we ask: did I do wrong? Less often do we ask: did I fail to do good? The latter seems to prevail in Matthew 25: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked…and not minister to your needs?”

What the Humble Bumble Bee Can Teach Us

Marla Spivak tells a beautiful story of how bumble bees can teach us something about community life. She tells of two simple little actions we can all do to help our brother and sister bees. While doing this we will also be making our world a more hospitable home not only for the bees butfor us  as well.

Pope Francis Sows OATS

Pope Francis continues to make headlines. This past week his interview with America Magazine caught many people’s imagination. It caught mine and just in case you didn’t get a chance to read it, you can access and read it here: http://www.americamagazine.org/pope-interview

What I found most interesting is that Pope Francis seems to agree with my previous blog (I doubt that he read it) on OATS. From my reading of the interview, it looks like Pope Francis thinks OATS is a good way to build community. The following are quick quotes from the interview. Of course I’m putting my spin on his thoughts. I don’t mean to imply in anyway that I have a special insight into Pope Francis’s mind. I’m just hoping you’ll read the whole interview if you haven’t already and just as important share your reflections.

  1. Openness
    “…That means being able to do the little things of every day with a big heart open to God and to others.”
  2. Awareness
    “…So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help the church to mature in her own judgment. Even the other sciences and their development help the church in its growth in understanding.”
  3. Togetherness
    “…Thinking with the church, therefore, is my way of being a part of this people. And all the faithful, considered as a whole, are infallible in matters of belief…”
  4. Separateness
    “’I see the holiness,’ the pope continues, ‘in the patience of the people of God: a woman who is raising children, a man who works to bring home the bread, the sick…”

So what do you think?

Equality VS. Freedom?

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

The Victorian English liberal, F.D. Maurice, remarked: “A [man] is most often right what [he] affirms, and wrong in what [he] denies.” This observation rings true in the debate underway between the U.S. government and the U.S. Catholic bishops on a provision of the Obama Health Care policy calling for public financing of contraceptive services.

Two basic American principles are in conflict here: freedom (of religion) and equality (among all citizens). The bishops cite the 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercize thereof..” And the government is working off the foundational statement in the Declaration of independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [men] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” There we have it: freedom/equality. Which is more important: the freedom of a Catholic employer not to financially support a tax-supported health bill countenancing contraception, violating his/her religious belief, or the equality of a well-intentioned Protestant (and many Catholic) employee not to be subjected to the religious belief of a Catholic employer? (The abortion issue is not part of this debate. It’s strictly about contraception).

In recent history, Republicans have generally supported the freedom principle on many issues, whereas Democrats have supported the equality principle. That’s why they differ so much in approaching various issues. Frequently, one person’s insistence on freedom ends up infringing on another person’s well-being, just as another person’s emphasis on equality results in restricting another’s desire to be free. Does Maurice’s observation above help: “A [man] is most often right right in what [he] affirms, and wrong in what [he] denies.”?

Pope Francis extols ‘gift of tears’ | National Catholic Reporter

Why is Francis asking us to cry? Many would say there is enough tragedy in the world, and we should try and stay positive. Francis, paradoxically, is trying to show us that mourning is positive. When we relate so intimately with strangers that we can weep over their sorrows, we create an unbreakable bond of peace. (Megan Fincher, 2013)

To read the entire article, click on the link below. Thanks to Penny Jaworski for suggesting this post.

Pope Francis extols ‘gift of tears’ | National Catholic Reporter.

4 Challenges to Building Community

Photo by Lenora Enking on Flickr
Photo by Lenora Enking on Flickr

In an earlier blog, I stated that OATS was an acronym for Openness, Awareness, Togetherness and Separateness, the building blocks of community. That is more than just a cutesy way of saying something. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge for anyone who wants to be part of a community. Let’s take a look.

  1. Openness Being open to people who are diverse, who think differently, who come from dissimilar social/economic backgrounds, people of other races and nationalities, is a fundamental quality needed to build a strong, vibrant community. That may seem so basic that it need not be said. In my experience it does need to be said. It can and often is a challenge for us when we are sitting comfortably in the familiar surroundings of our home watching television, eating the snacks we like to eat and (here’s the killer) wishing we had some place to go, or some people to be with. That desire is offset with thoughts like: “I don’t like that so-and-so who monopolizes the conversation, who belongs to a different political party, who gets all the attention…” Being open to people who are different is an indispensable attitude one must take if they want to build community.
  2. Awareness One who wants to build community must also be willing to learn and to grow, to explore new ideas, new worlds. People who travel a lot, often find new friends and form communities with them. People who join book clubs reading books that they probably wouldn’t choose to read except it is the selection for the club, grow and begin to thrive in such communities. Community builders are life-time learners. They are good listeners. They are readers, researchers and seekers of new knowledge especially as it broadens their understanding of the world around them, and their community(s), and on top of that they make community happen.
  3. Togetherness While online communities such as Meetup or Facebook are becoming ubiquitous and certainly do enhance being connected, they will never replace the good old-fashioned face-to-face meeting. Coming together physically energizes us and gives us a sense of warmth especially when we bring our willingness to be open and grow.  Togetherness is really just another term for community. Persons come together to form community. They share their space, their time. They work with one another. They are willing to give of their time, talents and their treasury. They share. They form a family, they build community.
  4. Separateness Probably the most important and least understood of the attitudes one must have in building community is separateness. Just because one comes together with another or a group of people, they don’t lose their own integrity. Each of us is a unique creation. We don’t all think alike; our experiences are often vastly different. Our individuality is good and when shared can be a great source of strength to the rest of the community. Furthermore, we must be willing to stand apart when we find ourselves at odds or we disagree with what the community all seems to be saying or doing. When this is done respectfully and with a humility that sees differences not as being better or worse, but just a matter of what it means to be human, the community and the individual all benefits.

So there you have it, OATS, the way to grow communities. Now let’s all go out and sow some OATS. Let’s make our Community of Passionist Partners alive and exciting places to come to and to be part of.

What is Good for Syria?

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

We often criticize the hierarchy for moving in the wrong direction on issues, different from what we think. Perhaps they deserve criticism, at least once in a while, but it is helpful to remember that there are 69,436,660 Catholics in this country, according to the Kenedy Directory, and while this is not the largest concentration of Catholics in the world, it is likely the largest group of well-educated Catholics in the world, many of whom have their own opinions about many issues the bishops address. Like the current issue of attacking Syria with guided missiles. The bishops (together with the Pope) seek a peaceful approach to this situation, and are supported by many. But there is also a sizeable group favoring a limited and targeted missile attack. What to do? The current Syrian regime has killed and injured many civilians. Is a worldwide consultation process on dealing with this problem preferable? Like the man beating up his wife while the neighbors look on, is it wrong for one burly neighbor punching out the offending husband? Or is it wrong to slap the baby’s hand for constantly dumping cereal on the kitchen floor? The Good Samaritan parable in the gospel proposes as a model for us the Samaritan who goes to the aid of the wounded Jew. True enough, he doesn’t do this violently since the perpetrators are long gone. John Paul II seemed to favor intervention by the international community of nations in the internal affairs of a nation that is harming its citizens in a significant way, over a long period of time. He said this against the (1993) background of Haiti, Bosnia, Liberia, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and Burundi. This kind of intervention, while violent, is more like police-action than war since it often involves dealing with citizens fighting against fellow-citizens. What should we do? Is prayer the answer? Is an effort to galvanize the international community (the UN seems unlikely, given Russian and Chinese opposition)? Will delay be more harmful to Syrian citizens than a missile strike? We can hardly expect unanimity to ensue about any course of action. This is a difficult call for church leaders.