Par for the Course?

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

Our lives are influenced by commandments, and by vocation.   Commandments, in their ultimate origin, are associated with God.   There are versions of commandments, of less significance, their human counterparts, so to speak, consisting of laws, precepts, statutes, regulations, policies, rules, regulations, etc.  We encounter these frequently each day of our lives. Even children must deal with them in their homes, in the classroom and on the playing field.

But in addition to these many directives bearing on our lives and influencing them one way or another, each of us also pursues a vocation of some type or other. Whereas commandments and all their lesser versions might seem to cover every aspect of our lives, as a matter of fact, the vocations we follow, that is, the walks of life along which we trod, and which are pretty much the product of our free choice (though not completely) certainly compete vigorously with “commandments”, in terms of our attention-span and the time and effort we devote to them, leading to the interesting question: which of these two (commandments and their variations, vs. vocational pursuits) consume most of our time and effort? That is, do we devote most of our attention-span and energy into keeping various precepts, rule, regulations, etc., that others impose upon us, or do we expend most of our time doing what we want to do, by pursuing a vocation, that is, the more or less freely chosen pathway we follow through life?  This is an interesting question because it involves determining whether others exert the greatest influence on our lives and determine where our energy goes, or are we ourselves largely responsible for  what we do, think, say, pursue, etc.?   Freedom vs. Law might be a way of formulating this.

We may sell shoes or cut hair.  We do this 8 hours a day, five days a week.  We do one or the other because we’ve more or less chosen to do so, freely. No one said we had to do one of these.  We can dignify these with the title of being our “vocation”, our chosen pathway through life. Does either one of these exert greater influence on my life than the ten commandments, or the precepts of the church, or the Rules of the Road, or parking regulations, or lifeguard admonitions on using the swimming pool, or  banking regulations, or filling out income tax returns? In other word, am I my own person, or do I march to the tune played by others?  Do I follow a pathway through life I have determined, or that others have determined for me?  Where do I derive the most benefit: from the ways that others have determined for me to follow, or from self-chosen paths that I am trodding?  We have to admit we benefit from many of these rules and regulations, like the Rules of the Road.  Without them driving would be mayhem.  And the warnings on food products imposed by the government are truly helpful. But we also benefit by those weekends when we can putter around in the basement, or go out to the golf course, or spend time with the family.

So what is the bottom line: is this an either/or situation: law or freedom?  What if I had to decide between them? Or might I package them together?   God may invite us down a pathway in life, but He puts up signs along the way: some do’s and don’ts. Unfortunately, there’s something in us that rebels against what we call “interference” in our lives. But we also must honestly admit that we sometimes don’t know what is good for us.  So, like Adam and Eve, we are free to roam around the Garden of Eden, with one exception: don’t eat the fruit from the tree in the center of the garden.  Is this not par for the course?

What is the Best Day of Your Life?

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by James Paulin

How can we choose the best day of our life? Life is full of events that have high expectations and in retrospect we might try to judge the significance. Birthdays, weddings, graduations, beginning a long sought career or striking it rich are all great days to consider. Getting over a threatening illness, through an operation or past a natural disaster or personal crisis might be considered getting a new lease on life. Some would claim a spiritual event would be the best day. A few would stop and be unable to claim the day that stood out above all others as one that marked a new beginning or a transformation. Many of us have been blessed with many important, beautiful events that have been the best of days, making it almost impossible to select just one.  A true measure could be used if the real value is understood as the joy derived from the fulfillment of the inner person.

 

Great events in the lives of some historic people would suggest that the human will has the ability to determine pivotal moments by choosing not to achieve great things ourselves, rather to do something quite different by accepting the will and strength of God. Surrendering to God’s plan for each of us is powerful and transforming. The Bible is a succession of stories of the lives of people changed forever when a choice is made to trust in the will of God and depend on Him. Freedom of spirit is realized when Moses accepts the call to go and give God’s message to Pharaoh and when Jonah emerges from the whale and goes to Nineveh with a call for repentance. A woman about to be stoned to death for adultery is set free as she accepts the forgiveness of Jesus; the prodigal son returns from the errors of his ambitions into his loving fathers arms. These moments of surrender into God’s loving care bring the peace and security that other decisions lack.

 

The weight of obligations, unreasonable expectations or anxiety about failure can become a heavy chain that drags the spirit down constantly.  Jesus calls out to all clearly, “ Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”   Matt. 11:28-30

 

 

The highest ambitions of human aspiration are accomplished through desire and persistence. Inevitably, an overpowering factor inherent in our frailty invites surrender to our Creator as Jesus did on the cross. Calvary is the model of perfect submission to God’s will. Human in every way, Jesus Christ agonized as His sweat turned to drops of blood when He prayed in the garden after the last supper. He asked His Father if the cup of injustice, torture and death by crucifixion could pass away. His final words of submission are   “ Not my will but thine be done.”

 

What would Jesus say if asked to pick the best day of His life? He performed many miracles and conversions in His life and crowds sought to hear the word made flesh but He transcended time and affected everyone the day He gave His life to gain the forgiveness of sinners. Born to reunite all of us to God’s tender care, this act of love is beyond compare.

Love or Fear?

 

This past Tuesday’s scripture readings tell of the angel appearing to Mary and telling her to “Fear not!”, one of the most repeated phrases in scripture, at least that is what I remember my high school religion teacher asserting many years ago.

 

Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book Life Lessons written when she thought she was dying, writes: “But deep down, at our cores, there are only two emotions: love and fear.” Just before that statement she writes: “To transcend fear, though, we must move somewhere else emotionally; we must move into love.” (Ross and Kessler, 2000)  Then I remember hearing that “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God.”

 

Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly quotes her earlier book The Gifts of Imperfection in which she defines love. She does this not as the final word, but as she says, to begin the conversation. “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known.”  (Daring Greatly, 2012)

 

Astronaut Chris Hatfield shares in this TED Talk how he dealt with fear when he lost his sight in space. It’s an amazing witness to Brown’s thought that we must be vulnerable if we are truly to love and live.

“Dignum et Justum est”?

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

We often combine into one phrase the words: right and good.  And we intend them to mean more or less the same thing.  What is right is also good, just as what is good is also right.  And so, at mass, when the Preface is introduced by the celebrant’s invocation: “Let us give thanks to the Lord our God”, we respond: “It is right and just (good)” (derived from the Latin: “dignum et justum est”).

But is that always the case?  That is, is “the right” always “the good”?  and, is “the good” always “the right”?  I am speeding along the road with my child bleeding severely.  He cut himself and I’m rushing him to the hospital.   I speed right through, first, a stop sign, then a red light.   What I am doing is not “right”, but is it “good”?  I may think so.  Or, I’m tallying up my income tax for the year, and have figured out how much, percentage-wise, my income tax goes toward supporting abortion practices, and I simply deduct that amount from what I intend to pay.  I may feel good about it, but is it right?  It seems that the right and the good are not always “on the same page”.

Something is right because it conforms to a law or statute that has been enacted by lawful authority, the best instance of which is God Himself, as, for example, in His ten commandments.  We usually give  authority the “benefit of the doubt”, presuming it is in a position to know what it is doing, more so than I, since it likely has access to more information and consultation than I do.

But sometimes a particular enactment rubs me the wrong way, and, though I may have trouble articulating my problem clearly, I am convinced that a particular law or decree is wrong, and may be not only incorrect but also immoral, or evil.  It may even be the law of the land, or of the area where I live, but it disturbs my conscience.

On the other hand, I may be of the opinion that the only way to protect my child from serious harm is to refuse all vaccinations for him or her.  I may not be violating a law in doing so, but I am going against common wisdom and practice in this regard, and, in the opinion of most people, subjecting my child to harm (sickness) and, incidentally, their children too.  I may be convinced I am doing something good for my boy or girl, even though most of the medical profession is strongly of the opinion that what I am doing is not right, and goes against the prevailing protocols of its practitioners.  Something may be good (in my judgment) even though it is not right (in the judgment of the professionals).

So how do we handle what Is not always “dignum et justum est”?  What if it’s dignum but not justum, or justum but not dignum?  Do I just go ahead and do what I think is good?  Or do I always tend to do what is supposedly right, even though I have qualms about its goodness?   Or do I always do what seems to me to be good, regardless whether others think it is the wrong thing to do or not?

So it’s Ash Wednesday and I am not supposed to eat meat on this day of abstinence, but I am feeling weak and the doctor told me to eat meat whenever I feel the offset of weakness.  Or I’m on vacation in the backwoods of Minnesota and it’s Sunday with no church in sight.  Do I interrupt my short vacation to travel a great distance to attend mass, or do I tell myself I need this break and the Lord will understand?

Life is full of these conundrums.  Fortunately, for the most part, dignum et justum est go together, that is, they are not opposed.  But sometimes they stand in opposition to one another, and present us a problem.  The best we can do is consult, if we have the opportunity, or, failing that, pray about it and proceed to do what is dignum et justum.

 

Will You Be Alive a Year from Now?

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by James Paulin

Americans pride themselves with having the ability to decide their own fate in the land of liberty. Some parts of the world have little or no opportunity for improvement in lifestyle. All cultures have dreams of security both financial and political. Even with all the laws, systems and abundance of prospects as reinforcement, people all over the world are equally as fragile and in a sense, insignificant as the ants we might step on thoughtlessly.

Every day a number of cataclysmic events might occur that would take humanity into extinction just like the dinosaurs. One of the insights the reverend Billy Graham used quite often on his crusades was to mention some statistics of how many who were present would not be alive in a year. Our lifespan isn’t even a microsecond in terms of the eons that have passed. Our physical presence is nothing in relation to the universe. When put into the proper scale, the perspective overwhelms any self importance or egocentric ambition. The reminder of dust to dust and ashes to ashes that is associated with Ash Wednesday is more truth than we care to think about.

What difference does our existence make in the grand scheme of eternity and infinity? God is. All creation, of which we are a part, is intended for good. Vast as the universe, beyond comprehending, God doesn’t need, but desires love. The central theme to our brief encounter with existence has been illuminated by prophets, angels and even Gods only Son. It is impossible to know all about God. It is only possible to know that God loves us and to believe that we can be forever united.

Join the Conversation

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by Maryanne Rusinak

The Letters of St. Paul of the Cross, in three volumes, was published in 2000 during the time I was in formation as a Passionist Partner with a large group that met at the former Passionist Monastery in Chicago.  We were fortunate indeed to have had the two editors of these volumes—Roger Mercurio, C.P., and Fred Sucher, C.P.—sharing and participating at many of our meetings.  The years have gone by quickly, and both are now deceased, along with some of those in the initial group who were professed as Partners.  The monastery has closed and the church connected with it formerly run by Passionists is now under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Yet, we have have the gift of their important work in compiling these letters.

A small group of the Chicago Partners continue to meet monthly.  In discussing our future directions, I suggested reading the letters of Paul of the Cross.  I feel they are central to our charism.  I also felt it was something I wanted to do, especially after speaking with Fr. Ken O’Malley, C.P., who said that he was reading through the volumes of letters for three hours each morning and greatly enjoying it.  It was a spiritual reminder to me to read them too, which I sometimes do late into the night.

The Letters are compelling reading.  They embody Paulacrucion spirituality.  My plan is to write some reflections as I read through the letters, and I recommend and encourage you to do the same since there is much food for the soul in these volumes.  I find myself reading a few lines and then looking up, trying to absorb what Paul was experiencing as he wrote.  Perhaps you can respond to my reflections and add some of your own on this blog.

I began by reading the editors’ introduction to the volumes, the Preface to the Rule, and Paul’s Diary written on retreat at Castellanzo in 1730, where he composed his Diary as a letter to his bishop.

Paul had a definitive vision (about 1719) in which he was presented with a long black garment with a white cross on the heart.  He describes his religious or mystical experiences as being understood through an “interior movement of the heart and infused knowledge in the mind.”  Fundamental to Paul’s  vision was always a  sharing in the Passion of Christ.

The elements of Paul’s calling and spirituality are evident in his Diary entries:  a deep devotion to prayer and solitude, a desire to live his inner calling in community, a determination to save souls, working especially among the poor and to live in poverty.  Roger Mercurio writes that “These initial documents are fundamental in any effort to understand Paul of the Cross:  his longing to be informed with divine love and his intense desire to be on the cross with the Suffering Christ.” (p. xiv)

Mercurio writes in his Introduction that Paul professed his vow in 1721 in a small chapel at the Basilica of Saint Mary Major before an image of Mary.  Paul “professed for the first time the Passion Vow, the determination to spend the rest of his life seeking ways to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus in his own heart and in the hearts of the faithful to whom he ministered.  This distinctive vow is the mark of every Passionist to the present day.” (p. xv)

Paul’s next step was to find companions to share his vision, collected in the first volume at his letters in Search of Companions (1721-1727).  I’ll keep reading.

The Bottom Line

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

If everyone in the world owned 4.2 acres of land, the common good would be equitably distributed.   This is based on the current world population and the available arable land in the world.  In this arrangement everyone could be equitably provided for; all needs could be met.  This is one way of approaching the Christian meaning of poverty: providing for the needs of all by utilizing the available resources.

There is a possibility, however, that not everyone would be happy with this formula.  While those currently “without” life’s necessities might find it the answer to life’s problems, those currently possessing more than 4.2 acres, or their equivalent, might find it constricting and oppressive of their right, or at least their capacity, to strive for more.   There is a conflict here between the equality factor (“all equal”) and the freedom factor (the inner drive to do more than the average).

When Jesus proclaims the beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Mt. 5.3) is He promoting the 4.2 acres per person approach to poverty as an ideal (equality for all), or does He have something else in mind, that would be compatible with the drive for freedom that is inherent in all of us (because God made us that way)?

He is undoubtedly speaking spiritually, not economically.  He is appealing to the inner desire of the human heart to be “free” in the sense of disentangled from a host of worries and concerns tied up with money, possessions, assets, and various forms of wealth that can prove overwhelming and totally consuming, leaving no time for anything else.  He wants our total and undivided attention, and when we don’t have the time or opportunity to provide Him that, He is not happy with our situation.

We note that, while the 4.2 approach to meeting the necessities of life probably leaves us largely free and unfettered so as to attend to God in good measure, it may not satisfy our insatiable urge to go beyond, to improve, on what we currently have.  Is it possible to have 6.2 acres and still give God His due?  Or 10 acres, or 100, or 1000, and so on?  The answer is: maybe, if we still have time and opportunity to give God His due.

With one other qualification: if my freedom and urge to possess more, comes at the expense of the well-being of another, then there is a problem, if “expense” means “harm or detriment” to another.  If someone is satisfied with his 4.2 acres, which enable him/her to meet his needs and those of his family, all is well and good.  But if the growing accumulation of wealth on the part of others works to the detriment of my well-being and that of others, then growth in the wealth of some becomes harmful, and is incompatible with the kind of poverty Jesus addresses.

So while we should take care not to criticize those who have a drive to increase their wealth, and to exercise their skill and ingenuity in doing so, neither should we criticize those who lack that drive but are content with what they have: the 4.2 acres.  This does not make them lazy, or a drag on the economy, to the injury of others, if they are able to meet their needs.  After all, Jesus both enjoyed the company of the well-to-do and accepted their hospitality, just as He accepted the support offered Him by others (often women) as He travelled the length and breadth of Israel.

But one other concern to be addressed: both groups must make their contribution to society, to its well-being and betterment: not in the same way, nor to the same degree, but rather to the extent of their capability of doing so.

The bottom line is that the upper 1% or the lower 1% are both free to do what they wish, provided it harms no one else, and leaves them both time and opportunity to think of God, to pray to Him and to give Him “His due”.  That is the poverty of spirit Jesus presents.  It is a beautiful ideal, if we do not get out of line.