Good, Better or Best? That is the Question

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

We make multiple decisions every day, and most of these involve choices: visit my relative or buy clothes for a child?  Keep my appointment or take a day off?  Cut the grass or relax?  Be honest with my neighbor or let it ride?  Read this book or that one?  Bank this check or cash it for donation to a worthy cause?  Buy this gift for my child, or that one?

Choices, choices: they consume much of our mental energy, and they are often nettlesome.  Wouldn’t it be nice if I could scoot through the day without making a single, solitary choice!  But, in some ways, making choices can well be regarded as the high point of my day.   By choices I avoid standing still and move myself from one situation to another.  If I want to avoid certain situations, I have to make a choice.  If I seek to improve my life situation, I must decide certain things.

Decision-making is the chisel that chips away at the person I am, sending me along the way of becoming the person that my decisions fashion.  When a sculptor is chipping away at a large block of marble, it is important not to make the wrong stroke because it leaves an irrevocable impact on the solid block of marble that cannot be undone.  It forces the sculptor to make a change, slight though it may be, in the piece of artistry he or she originally had in mind.   The artist now has to adjust his/her plans for the design that has suddenly and perhaps accidentally forced itself on the final shape that will emerge.

Now, in this, and all of the examples above, are we talking about decisions that are necessarily good or bad?  Is life necessarily full of decisions between good and evil?  Do the alternatives above all entail good  or bad choices?  Is the sculptor’s slip of the hammer on the marble slab irretrievably bad for the final product, or is it just a challenge to overcome by compensating for that slip by a corrective chipping away at the marble block?  A change of plans, yes, a mistake, true, but one that is irreparable?

Many, perhaps most, of our life choices are not between good and evil, but between this particular good or that particular good.  We may later regret having made one choice rather than another but it’s a matter of a lesser good and a better one.  A legislator may choose to vote against a legal enactment prohibiting abortion in favor of deciding to support a piece of legislation increasing the minimum wage, on the score that the latter approach will prevent more abortions than the former.  This entails two ways of reducing abortion: the legal way, or the economic way.  Is each good, though one, perhaps, more so than the other?  One may be more effective in reducing abortions than the other, but does that make it good and the other evil?

Or I may be late in picking up my child after school, so I drive 45 mph in a 30 mph speed zone, without mishap.  I arrive in time to alleviate any apprehension on the child’s part but I have violated the speed limit.  Was this a choice between good and evil or between two goods: keeping the law or calming the child?  So the question becomes: are my choices usually between good and evil, or good and good?   And, if the latter, it is likely a choice between what is good and what is better.  Must I choose the better?  What do I confess when I go to confession: a deliberate decision to choose the lesser good?  What if I choose to skip Sunday mass because I have a bad cold?  Have I chosen between two goods or a good and an evil?  Life is full of choices.  Which ones occupy me the most?

 

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St. Paul of the Cross–Pray for Us

 St. Paul of the Cross

by James Paulin

Saint Paul of the Cross, your devotion to the passion of Jesus
is an invitation to an intimate bond sealed in the grace of God.
The Lamb of God freely submitted to the scourging, the crown of thorns
and the nails of the cross to offer His love to us in a divine sacrifice
and His wounds heal us. Your words still speak to us of the way to follow.
Call us toward the path to Calvary where we place our hopes and fears.
Here, beneath the cross, I know that even if it were just for me,
the Good Shepherd would give His life to allow us to be
together forever as we are redeemed into His triumph over death.
Keep the memory of the passion in our minds and help us to see
the passion in suffering everywhere.
Guide us in choices, relying on the spirit of God’s unconditional love.

Pray for us.

What Makes You Beautiful?

“De gustibus non est disputandum” (Taste cannot be disputed) Now if that doesn’t make you want to stop reading further, nothing will (?)! It’s a phrase Father Peter, C.P. my high school Latin teacher used to confuse us with in hopes of expanding our appreciation (?) of the ancient language. Actually, I think he was successful. I often remember this phrase and still marvel at its relevance today.

Can you tell what makes you beautiful? Do you even consider yourself beautiful? These are questions maybe us manly men shy away from. They do take courage to answer though. This video presents individuals who are willing to face that question. See what they come up with and then share your thoughts

Chesterton was Right/or was He?

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

We’ve always been taught to do the best we can.  Nothing less than the best is satisfactory.  People who settle for less than the best are those satisfied just to get by, with a minimum amount of effort.  And the fact of the matter is that they really don’t get by.  They’re on a slippery slope, and they’re just going to slip off too much, very much more than the best.  They’re just trying to slip by, to get a good enough grade in school to avoid failing.   But they’ve got no ambition, and they’re not going to amount to much.

But, on the other hand, there is such a thing as a perfectionist.  For such a person, nothing less than the best is satisfactory.  They are often intense persons, unhappy when they come in second, becoming vice-president instead of president, or getting a B in class instead of an A.  Satchel Paige had them in mind when he said, apropos of a footrace: “Never look back.  They might be gaining on you.”  They get the job done.  It Is wonderful to run an organization staffed by such people.  They’re organized to the nth degree, and are never caught unprepared or off guard.  They’re leadership people for whom failure is an unthinkable word.

But, could it be that the best is the enemy of the good?  Can the effort one puts out to get a job done or to succeed or to maintain a high energy reputation be self-defeating?  Can it drain so much of one’s energy that there’s nothing left for anything else?  Can giving 110% of one’s effort leave one exhausted for anything else?  Is the student who is so committed to the best in studies discover that he or she has no time left for sports or friends or fun or down-time?   There may be many a good thing one lets get away because there is no time for it, given one’s pursuit of perfection.  Or, are there people so built as to be  unhappy with anything less than the best, unfulfilled with not doing the best possible?  Maybe God has endowed some people with such high energy and extraordinary talent that achieving the best does not drain them of the capacity for doing other good things.  When one studies golfers, one may note how meticulous some golfers are in assessing every blade of grass looming before his/her golf ball, in contrast to another golfer casually who casually moves up to the green and taps the ball, without further ado.

Maybe there are perfectionists who do have time for other things.  We love to be in their company because they do everything  well, with complete aplomb.  They are at ease and put everyone else at ease.  Then there are those who are good at whatever they do, but without trying to be perfect in everything.  We may sometimes wish they tried just a little harder so that they could be at the top of the list in something, but that doesn’t seem to be their ambition.  For them it’s good enough to be simply good at what one is doing.  What is more desirable: to be excellent at whatever one attempts, or at just one particular task, or simply to be good at a variety of things?  G.K. Chesterton once quipped that if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.  That’s a variation on what we usually hear, namely, if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  Might Chesterton be right?   Which is better:  to do a poor job rather than do nothing: to have a fallen cake for dessert rather than no dessert at all?  Or, to have a fairly good meal followed by a cake that has fallen, or to have a perfect cake that came at the expense of an adequately prepared meal?  The perfect: must it be at the expense of the good, or can it coexist with what is good enough, or must it always surround itself with the best on all sides?

Going Inward and Finding God

holy

by James Paulin

Holy smokes! Holy mackerel! Holy cow! Holy Mollie! We have all heard these expressions of amazement and surprise.  These are reserved for extreme situations. There is something very significant about being holy. Moses, chosen by God, could not get close to the holy place from which God spoke. Ex3:5.

  

 A friend recently greeted me by saying, “There is holy Jim”. I felt unworthy of being greeted this way and at first denied that I was holy. When thoughts about holiness come to mind they first go to God. The Holy Spirit, The Holy of Holies of the Old Testament temple, the Holy Father and the sacrament of holy orders of the Roman Catholic Church are first to surface. One definition of holy explains the meaning as “belonging to a divine power, sacred”. People who are exuberant and emotional in a display of faith have been called “Holy Rollers”. Some Christians bless themselves with holy water.

 

 The Bible equates holiness to perfection for one to be in the presence of God. Romans chapter12 begins with an invitation. “ I beg you through the mercy of God to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, your spiritual worship. Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, so you may judge what is God’s will, what is good, pleasing and perfect”. It seems we have to choose holiness. Many things pull at our attention and call us to make choices, sometimes not so perfect, sometimes just plain wrong.

 

  “Sanctify yourselves, then, and be holy: for I, the Lord, your God, am holy. Be careful, therefore, to observe what I, the Lord, Who make you holy, have prescribed. Leviticus 20:7-8 

 How do we stay holy? How do we sanctify ourselves? The Word of God gives the answer. The beginning of the Gospel of John is a great example of a concise message. Jesus is proclaimed and His mission is stated. Verses11-12 are “To His own He came yet His own did not accept Him. Any who did accept Him, He empowered to become children of God.”  We have the power to choose our spiritual family.  We can be part of God’s own intimate, unconditional and sanctifying love.

 

We don’t choose our physical family.  The experiences we have in family shape our attitudes and values.  The parents provide role models and leadership.  Responsibility, accountability and forgiveness are central to the ideal household.  The home should be a holy place, a time and a space with an atmosphere of acceptance and comfort.  This “temple of unconditional, encouraging love” is what we would all like to have.

 

There is such a temple available for all of us.  “Are you not aware that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.  For the temple of God is holy, and you are that temple.”  1 Cor 3:16-17

 

In every Christian theology, God is considered to grant grace, His bestowed divine love and protection, quite freely since this gift is far greater than any person can merit.  This sacred (sacra) action (ment), sacrament, is given to us in a baptism of water signifying acceptance of the blood of Jesus for atonement of our sins.

 

I am feeling better about being called holy because the Lamb of God loves me.  The call to holiness cries out, “Lord make less of me and more of Thee”. 

True Compassion Leads to Action

This video is the first I’ve heard of the Human Rights Channel.  After watching it, I Googled them to find out who they were. That took me to http://www.witness.org/human-rights-channel where I not only learned about who they are, but I also learned how I can participate. They have training videos. I learned that while cell phones can be used, a camcorder along with a tri-pod and an external microphone will do a much better job. Now, I doubt that you’ll find me out in the middle of a demonstration or even documenting human rights abuses, that’s just not the world I live in. Or is it? I’ll never forget the morning I woke up seeing lights flashing over the ceiling in my bedroom and hearing “pops” in the street. I got up, looked down on the street below and saw police cars all around, with police in the street, guns drawn and shooting at a car which had ended up on the sidewalk. This was in Lincoln Park, a supposedly a low-crime area of Chicago. In the car, I later learned there was a man of a minority group, the kind you normally don’t find in that neighborhood, who was shot and killed—all this in front of my eyes. When this event hit the papers, I read quite a different story from what I thought I saw. I am not a trained observer and I salved my conscience with that bit of knowledge. Today, I wish I’d had a camera. I could have recorded what took place and sent it to the above Internet web site.

I am not against the police, I am not against Democrats, Republicans or any government. I realize they are like me, just simple people trying to do the best they can with the limited knowledge they have. I am for people, people everywhere. The simple beauty of this Human Rights Channel, i.e. “See it; Film it; Change it” gives me a tool I can use to help make my world a more compassionate one.  I will probably stick to issues like we’ve been covering in this blog thus far, but who knows? Maybe with the new tools of camera, tripod and microphone, I’ll awaken to a world different from the beautiful one I see on the major media channels where all is taken care of just by buying a new car, eating at the right restaurant or wearing the right clothes.

Chiaroscuro and Sin

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

There is a type of art called chiaroscuro, often featuring a totally black image, such as the sketch of a human head, against a totally white background.  Which color is more dominant in our perception of the image?  Likely the black.  Why is that?  Should we honor our sensory perceptions, it seems that the black image seems to assume priority by leaping off the white background, with the white simply acting as an  enabler of the more prominent black.

We can apply this to our experience of evil and good.  Does evil leap out at us more forcefully or aggressively than good does?  Which newspaper headline captures our attention: MURDER OF THREE FAMILY MEMBERS, or another caption announcing: NOBEL PRIZE TO THREE PROFESSORS?  Likely the first.  Why is that?  Likely because evil is more fascinating to us than goodness.

In conjunction with this, it seems likely that our omissions concern us less than our commissions.  That is, the things we fail to do concern us less than what we do do.  For instance, when we examine our conscience before confession, do we center our attention more on our omissions than our commissions?   We tend to tally up the bad that we do more than the good we fail to do.  Our failure to act is like the white in a chiaroscuro painting, simply serving as the background for the bad we do, as if there is less of our self invested in what we don’t do than in what we do do.  Just as black is more prominent than white, so doing something engages us more than not doing something.

Failure to return an overdue library book weighs less on me than deliberately stealing it.  Or careless-ness in calculating my income tax is less bothersome to me than deliberately cheating on it?

The gospels offer us some supporting examples.  The Pharisee and the tax collector who went to the temple to pray illustrate this difference.  The Pharisee focuses on what he does (it’s all good) while the tax collector, in the rear, acknowledges his failure to do what is expected of him (Lk 18.9, ff.).  Jesus obviously approved of the tax collector’s sensitivity to failure to do more (good) than of the Pharisee’s  satisfaction with the way he conducted himself.   And of the ten lepers cured by Jesus, only one returns to thank Jesus, while nine failed to do so (Lk 17.11).  Jesus’ attention was caught more by the evil of the nine’s failure to act than the good of the one showing gratitude.   And He berated  the practice of the Pharisees who practiced QORBON (dedicated to God) financial support of the temple, normally something good and praiseworthy, but not if it comes at the expense of failing to provide for the welfare of their parents (Mk 7.11-12).

At the last judgment, as we take our stand before God the King, we will hear Him asking us not only about the good deeds in which we engaged, but also about our failure to do good deeds, like feeding the hungry or clothing the naked or visiting the imprisoned. (Mt. 25)  Our failures grab God’s attention as much as our commissions.  At the end of the day we need to tally up the good we have failed to do as well as the evil we have done. That is why, in the Penitential Act at the beginning of mass, we pray: “I confess…that I have greatly sinned…in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,…”