Which Comes First–Love or Knowledge?

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

Today we celebrate the feastday of St. Gabriel (Possenti).  While still a popular saint in Italy (he died in 1862) and was canonized by Pius XI in 1926), he is no longer well known here in the States, even though years ago he was quite well known here too, especially as patron of youth.

He was only 24 years of age when he died, and the question was often put about him: why canonize someone so young, who hasn’t tasted life yet, and who basically doesn’t know what life is all about.  (Indeed, this complaint could be lodged against a whole raft of young saints canonized the last 150 years, including the ever popular Little Flower, Therese of Lisieux).  Those of us who make this complaint probably do so for self-serving reasons, since we have seen a lot of life, and may not have fared too well out of this experience, so we’re looking for a reason to explain the discrepancy between a Gabriel and ourselves.

Much of this situation comes down to a relationship between love and knowledge.  As we know, it is love that is going to get us to heaven but, after all, it is seasoned love, not just puppy love.  The “love at first sight” phenomenon is not to be dismissed as juvenile or insipid, but we know that, in most instances, it is ephemeral, and gives way, with the passage of time, to other, more seasoned, loves.  This seems to mean that, with the passage of time, we learn more, that is, we gain more knowledge, and on the basis of that growth in knowledge, we position ourselves for a better, stronger, more proven love.  In other words, love follows after knowledge.  The more we know, the better positioned we are to love.

So these young people, for instance, who are being called saints, really haven’t lived long enough to know very much, so their love(s), including love of God, should be relatively uninformed and shallow.  How can they gain heaven on the basis of such a love?  If Gabriel, for instance, who was preparing for ordination to the priesthood and was studying theology as part of this preparation, died before completing his studies, there was a lot of book knowledge about God he never acquired, so how can you love someone you really don’t know much about?

For example, a married couple might have experienced a puppy love relationship early on in their relationship before they really knew one another very well, but, once married, they begin to know a lot more things about one another, both for good and for bad.  This can lead to a rocky relationship along the way, but, after some turbulence, another kind of love can take over, based on a much more informed love for one another than the kind they experienced earlier on.  And this latter stage of love is likely a more enduring and deeper love than the first time around.  Greater knowledge leads to greater love.  Right?

Kind of.  But it all depends on what you mean by “knowledge”.  There is book knowledge, for instance, and then there is personally learned knowledge, like the medical knowledge of a pediatrician and the “life knowledge” learned by a mother.   She brings her sick baby to the doctor’s office and he makes a diagnosis and recommends a certain medicine, and the mother knows instinctively that this is not the way to go—not for her baby.  Both of these adults have knowledge about babies, but, in different ways.  The mother has connatural knowledge, that is, experience-based appreciation of what is good or not for her baby.  She learned this from experience.

So when we come to a saint like Gabriel, we ask: so what does he know?  Well, not much by one standard, but maybe quite a bit by another.   Thanks to God’s grace, and Gabriel’s cooperation with it, Gabriel was drawn close to God and learned to love Him by the familiarity he enjoyed with God, so that even before concluding his theological studies about God, he already knew Him in another way.  In this scenario, love precedes knowledge.  So this young man, lacking knowledge and experience in one dimension, had already acquired it in another way.

Does knowledge go before love?  Sometimes.  Does love precede knowledge?  At other times.  Love and knowledge are interwoven with each other and it is difficult to disentangle them from each other.


by James Paulin

The stock market has two basic motivations, fear and greed. One principal is that sensible transactions should be based on the motto “buy low and sell high”. Given these two potent facts, in spite of endless, often contradictory, financial expert opinions, many investors buy high (greed) and sell low (fear) thus losing their treasure. Common wisdom is to be a long term investor because as a general direction, the market trend is up. Hopefully, when one needs or chooses to sell they make a rewarding profit. Of course, this endeavor requires investment of capital, patience, wisdom and faith. Short term profits are possible but are riskier and require more savvy.

In comparison, the spiritual world has much in common with finance. Heaven and hell are traditionally depicted as perfected joy (greatly desired) and eternal fire (feared). Born into not only a physical but moral circumstance, choices must be determined based on where time and energy are spent and what rewards are to be gained. The ultimate goal is security and well being or peace and joy. Approaches are individually determined but wise investments still take patience and faith to arrive in paradise. Risk is part of the decision making process as values are weighed and brought to bear or dismissed.

We can be assured that the road to paradise will not be without obstacles and detours. For many their perseverance and deeds will be remarkable and for most there is trial and failure with disappointing times prevalent. Fortunately, God provides a way to attain glory with Him in spite of our misguided choices or more grievous offences. The sins of the stock market are unforgiving and exacting. However, Jesus paid for all the mistakes and wrongdoing of those who accept His gift of self sacrifice even if it is embraced at the very end. When Jesus was recognized, nailed to the cross as the Savior by the thief crucified next to Him, His words of absolution were “This day you will be with me in paradise”.

A Boy and His Dog

Advertisers love to include “beautiful” people in their ads, thinking I guess, people will think their product is like the “beautiful” person. If you are like me and find that you have fallen for this, buying a car somehow thinking now I can be beautiful, you realize the folly of such thinking.

Watching “A Boy and His Dog” helps me realize that I have a lot to learn on what is beautiful. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Sister Megan Rice

This is probably the most controversial post we’ve done here. If you are not comfortable with people who have a different view from yours, it probably would be a good idea to skip this post.

This past Tuesday, a U.S. District Judge, sentenced Sister Megan Rice, an activist for many years, to three years in jail for breaking into a United States nuclear weapons complex. You will not find this story, (at least I couldn’t) in the New York Times, but you will find it in the Daily Kos (http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/02/19/1278688/-Judge-sentences-84-year-old-Nun-to-3-years-for-2012-Oak-Ridge-Anti-Nuclear-Weapons-protest?detail=email)

I found it an amazingly amusing story. She and her two accomplices were in the “secure” part of the complex for two hours before they were discovered by security. When discovered, they invited their captors to break bread with them. More information as well as a discussion of the merits of her break-in can be found connected to the above You Tube Video.

What does this have to do with Passionist Partners? Some of our readers will remember Fr. Thomas Berry, C.P. (1914-2009) Yes, he was a controversial person too. He seemed to think the earth was more than something to be used and abused by the human species. His accomplishments were many, including distinguished teaching position at Fordham University and many books on the earth. (http://www.thomasberry.org/Biography/short_bio.html)

So what do you think? Should religious like Fr. Thomas and Sister Megan be involved in such controversial issues? Should we? If so why? If not, why not?

How to Give and Receive

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

Most people prefer to be known for their generosity during the course of their life, more than for their gratitude.  And yet, some of our more lovely encomiums of people are words such as graciousness, or acting with grace—words closely associated with gratitude.  Knowing how to receive a gift with graciousness is, in the opinion of many people, a better endowment than knowing how to give a gift with poise, and effortlessly.

But we often say to ourselves: it is better to give than to receive, though frequently the most pleasing expression we note on the face of another is the warm and heartfelt way in which they thank us for a gift we have given them.  And some painful memories may return to us of times when a person to whom we have just given a gift opens it, and betrays displeasure with our gift.   The cook of a meal experiences genuine gratitude, not from expressions uttered at the table, but from the empty platters and bowls found there at meal’s end.

Have we ever studied the bible in the effort to ascertain whether giving or thanking emerges more prominently within its pages?  Giving, of course, receives considerable attention, starting with the love of God and neighbor: love is a supreme act of giving.  And, at the last judgment, we understand that giving will be a prominent standard whereby we will be measured: food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, shelter to the homeless, a visit to the imprisoned.  But receiving also enjoys a high silhouette, as when Jesus receives on receiving no gratitude from healing nine of the ten lepers, or when He commented on the deliberate absence of hospitality shown him at the banquet given by the Pharisee, or when He obviously relished the time and attention Mary paid Him on the occasion of visiting her house, and that of Martha and Lazarus.  And in the Hebrew Scriptures, Psalms of thanksgiving and praise are in abundance, for the favors God has bestowed on His people.  So are giving and receiving equally important in the bible?

It is a pleasure to receive a gift, and equally pleasurable to show our gratitude to the gift-giver, and note his/her gratification at seeing how truly thankful we are at receiving such a gift.  Generosity in gift-giving finds its compensation in the exuberance of the recipient of the item.  The genuineness of the recipient’s response more than compensates for the given.

It is an art both to give and receive a gift.  A very valuable gift can “come across” in the wrong way to the recipient, just as the recipient’s dismissal of one’s gift can possibly assume the dimensions of a disaster.  A gift of clothing never worn or displayed is an obvious sign that the gift went unappreciated.  This leads us to wonder whether knowing how to give a gift, even a modest one, or genuinely relishing the gift given is the more significant element in the activity around a gift.

It is possible both to misconstrue what the giving of a gift really means, and to misinterpret the message given in accepting the gift.   Ideally, gifts, given or received, are not meant to generate suspicion, but a bonding together.

That is how it works between God and us.  His gifts are designed to remove barriers between us.  First,  we pray to Him, petitioning Him for favors and help, and secondly we thank Him for the answer He gives us.   Which prayer do we most often say to God: please give, or thank you?   Our grace before and after meals nicely illustrate this.  Before sitting at table we petition God to bless those providing the food before us, those whose who have provided it for us, and those in greater need of food than we.  When finished, we bow our heads in gratitude for the gift received.   In which prayer do we invest more energy?

While grace is a ritual at meal time, it also assumes a larger role.  It refers to all those gifts God bestows on us throughout the day, especially what we traditionally called sanctifying grace and actual grace.  Grace in this sense meant God’s other gifts, both major and minor ones.  It illustrates God before us as Giver.  This meaning of grace tends more toward gratitude for favors received than petition.  Grace is a giving but it is also a receiving.  So we pray “Deo gratias” meaning: “thanks be to God”.  So at one and the same time grace involves giving and receiving.  This is seen in the greatest gift, the eucharist, a Greek word meaning “thanks”.  It best of all unites giving and receiving together.  It is no longer a matter of distinguishing “to give OR to receive”, but of uniting them into “to give AND to receive.”

The Higher Road


by James Paulin

Many people are deprived of one or more of their five senses. Did you ever wonder how you would cope with being blind, deaf or dumb or even lack the ability to feel the sensation of feeling or smelling? Certainly everyone enjoys the benefits of all the senses even though most take them for granted, however, few take full advantage of their potential. Eyesight may be 20/20, hearing may be able to detect a pin dropping, smell may be quite acute, feel may be ultra sensitive and taste may be precise, however this same person may be unable to encounter true reality without one intangible ingredient.

We all know there are uncertainties in life that are out of our control. Getting out of bed in the morning is a risk as well as walking down the sidewalk so we operate on faith that nothing will happen each day as we go about our business. Faith is integral to daily living. We trust that our water will be safe and the air we breathe will be able to sustain us along with a million other things. A kind of reliance on unseen assurance permits us to be at ease with our environment, something beyond our five senses. Personal beliefs are natural from the moment of conception to the moment of final surrender. How these beliefs affect our chosen paths may vary widely.

Karl Marx originally conceived of a utopian society in which all wealth is equally shared along with equal responsibility when he founded the communist doctrine as opposition to the Czarist regime governing Russia. Vladimir Lenin edited the philosophy and Joseph Stalin implemented his interpretation of it with ruthless force. Most people believed in this system or were sent to prison or shot. Their senses spoke loudly to their beliefs. In the free world we make our own choices, blindly following the general consensus or trends or thinking for ourselves independently, to follow our senses strictly or to put our faith is what we believe is right and true.

Everyone operates on faith. When Jesus asked his followers to have faith in him and in his Father who sent him, he was not asking for anything beyond what they were capable of. It is not about trusting the unseen but about placing that trust wholly in God’s hands. The obstacle looming before every individual is a matter of choice. Are they willing to see the truth about themselves and the path God lays before them? Are they willing to listen to God’s voice leading them to love one another? Are they willing to smell the odor of the unsavory in need of their help? Are they willing to touch the ones who need it day to day? Are they willing to taste the bread and wine of the sacrifice made on their behalf and be transformed into a child of God above all else? Choosing to remain in the ignorance of mere physical contacts is not really possible as moral decisions must be made. Darkness or selfish motives are always possible as contrarily enlightened “knowing better” provides the higher road.

You Can Give Voice to the Voiceless

I’m sure people who know me get tired of hearing about the latest technology I’ve discovered and my attempts to incorporate that technology into what I am or we are doing. I often get the feeling they would like to tell me, “Let’s just do things the way we have in the past.” Actually, I hear this all the time.

This TED Talk by Rupal Patel demonstrates just why I embrace new technologies and work tirelessly to incorporate them into our shared lives. As a special education teacher, I was constantly challenged to find ways to help my students learn. Once in awhile I was successful, but never so successful as Northeastern University Science Professor, Rupal Patel. Great job Rupal! Keep up the good work.

Why not “Good Enough”?

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

Is good enough OK?  Must I always do my best?  If I can come in 1st place, is it ok to come in 2nd place?  What is the “down” side of instructing a child this way?  Or is there a “down” side to egging on a child always to do his/her best?  Is it a matter of using the talents God gives?  Is the competitive spirit good?  Or might it be harmful?  What is the alternative to the competitive spirit?  There was an occasion when  Jesus seemed to criticize the competitive spirit in His disciples.  But what do we see operative in Jesus Himself, in this regard?  What’s the import of His remark that if we’re faithful in small things we will be faithful in the greater?  Must I use every talent I have?  Or just the ones I’m comfortable/satisfied with?

What’s the import of the teacher saying: “Come on, you can do better than that?”  Does this depress the student and make him/her give up?  Or does it goad him or her to get more serious about the task at hand?  Is it good enough to provide a school for a child to attend which he or she looks forward to, or should the good parent seek out a school with rigid academic standards that promise entrée to elite schools of higher education?

I might ask what I expect from someone serving me or waiting on me, such as the waitress in the restaurant, the stock-broker commissioned to buy or sell on my behalf, or the realtor whom I asked to search for a house.  Do I want a good enough job, or an outstanding performance?  Perhaps the way one works on commission indicates the level of performance with which he or she is satisfied.

Is my manner of tipping indicative of what I’m looking for from others.   Am I more generous with the person who does the perfect job or do I tip everyone the same, regardless?  I can look at my own expectation of what to expect in return for a task I do for another: am I satisfied with a smile, a pat on the back, or a nondescript response like: “good job”?   Some seem concerned about the growth of “grade-inflation” in our schools, when a B is regarded almost a failure because everyone expects, and often receives, an A.  If a child can “get by” with little or no effort in school, what impact does that have on highly motivated students trying to do their best, and win recognition.

What does the “arms race” among nations mean?  Is it imperative for the welfare and security of a nation to have the best and the most modern weapons available to provide adequately for its citizens?  Does the US fail its citizens if China develops more destructive weapons systems than the US?

Parents feel the pressure of neighbors who provide their children the most up to date electronic devices as Christmas gifts for their children.   But what if the children are more intrigued by the boxes and wrapping paper around the gifts than with the gifts themselves?  What is “good enough” for the child?  Does not a parent think his or her daughter “pretty enough” even if not the most gorgeous young girl in the neighborhood?  Or isn’t that parent proud enough of a son securing a second string position on the school football team even if not the first string role to which the boy aspired,  What does Jesus mean for us to be “perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect”?  We inflate our English language by our use of superlatives.  This is the best movie I’ve ever seen or the most fun I’ve ever had or an extremely good restaurant.   Most of us don’t pump premium gas into our cars.  Regular is good enough.  Language too can suffer from inflation, so that words, like money, don’t have the significance they used to have.  Perhaps we should watch our language.

God’s Dream for Us


by James Paulin

People have one thing in common, dreams. At some point in our lives they dream about how things would be if the circumstances were perfect. For some there would be invincible power, for some there would be untold wealth and others infinite wisdom and on and on. At times, dreams are our hearts desire put into an imaginary fantasy. In good dreams we have success and happiness is achieved. We might find ourselves awakened with an actual smile on our face. On the other hand, nightmares may cause our heart to palpitate with thrashing or intense sweating. Perceived hopes and fears often play out in sleep as they rise in the mind when the brain is relaxed enough to let them surface. Dreams play an important role in describing everything from anguish to anticipation, from agony to ecstasy.

When children have dreams about monsters or even angels, they often are left with deep impressions that may last indefinitely. The only reassurance that can be offered is “it was just a dream” therefore it has no significance. Subconsciously, their mind is using its natural instincts to cope with perceptions of real or imagined experiences. Kids also have active imaginations that are based in make believe circumstances. Pretending things are more exciting or ideal comes easily to dreamers.

Doctor Martin Luther King’s most famous words were “I have a dream”. He was including these in a speech devoted to his deep yearning that all people should be judged by only “the content of their character”. Many times this expression is used to describe a wishful thought; however, Dr. King seemed to have had an insight on things forthcoming, including his assassination. It wouldn’t the first time a dream came true. Times have changed since his speech and equality based upon non-discrimination is much more prevalent. Dreams are not just sleep bound meanderings of random good and bad experiences, when they represent conscious aspirations or possibilities they are powerful as motivational inspiration. Visions of how things could be better have often been used by leaders in every arena and with the right combination of positive influences, seemingly impossible tasks are accomplished.

“Sweet dreams” is a favorite nighttime regard. Assurance of peace of mind and a sense of being loved are keys to mental and spiritual well being. Unfortunately, many don’t have either in the material world but there is one way for everyone to enjoy peace and feel loved. It comes as the gift of God’s vision for the perfect unity of Creator and creation. Jesus explained it in a parable about a pearl of great price which a man found on a property not his own, so he sold all he had to buy the property and own the pearl. Inexplicable but inescapable, the sacrifice of Jesus proved how much every person is treasured and with that confidence there is peace.