“Benedicamus Domino”

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

Which is more commendable: praying while you drink, or drinking while you pray? Are these two different things, or are they the same—perhaps two sides of the same thing?

They certainly involve the same kind of actions—or do they?   Would it be helpful to describe them as my primary action, and a secondary one? If they occur simultaneously, how could I distinguish one as primary and the other as secondary? Perhaps I have to revert to my intention, that is, my initial intention. That is, maybe I initially intended to pray, but then thought it would be nice to take a drink while I’m praying. Or, on the other hand, perhaps I at first planned to relax with a drink, and then thought it would be a good thing to say a prayer while I’m drinking.

On the basis of this last example, some of us may feel that what starts off as a good and defensible action becomes vitiated by trying to insert prayer into an inappropriate setting, while others of us may judge that, if I begin by seeking some R and R, I elevate this relatively innocuous action to the level of a better action by deciding to pray while relaxing. It is possible, of course, to vitiate an action that, to all intents and purposes, seems to be a good and commendable deed, by slipping in an evil, or inappropriate, purpose or intention, like giving a gift to a politician with a view to soliciting a favor from him or her later on. Just as it is possible to ennoble an action that to all intents and purposes seem to be wrong and hurtful, like speeding through a red light, but with the intention of rushing my pregnant wife off to the hospital to give birth to a child.

Hilaire Belloc, the combative Catholic apologist, once wrote a poetic ditty to the effect that: “Wherever the Catholic sun doth shine, There’s always laughter and good red wine. At least I’ve always found it so. Benedicamus Domino.” On the basis of this verse, Belloc seems to have had no great problem in combining drink and prayer. Does this, however, throw any light on the issue of whether he enjoyed drinking while he prayed, or praying while he drank? Perhaps we had better look to Jesus Himself, especially His presence at the wedding feast of Cana, on which occasion we may wonder: did He drink while there, and, if so, did He combine His drinking with a prayer recited over the newly-weds?  Was He at Cana primarily to pray for the couple, or to celebrate with them, or both? And we can well wonder if His miraculous amplification of the water-made-wine was the result of His Mother’s prayerful concern lest the newly-weds be embarrassed, or was it compensation for over-drinking on the part of His Apostles, who were also there, and who may have been responsible for the wine shortage?

Perhaps the key to untying these knotty problems lies in a full-blown appreciation of what joy is all about: joy in drinking, joy in praying. If both of these activities could fall under some same larger appreciation, they would no longer stand in contrast with one another as irreconcilables, and be two ways of looking at the same thing. Pope Francis seems to be on to something in his recent exhortation about THE JOY OF THE GOSPEL.   After all, the gospel means GOOD NEWS. Joy is a scarce commodity in our contentious society today , unlike the era of Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neill, who could disagree all day on Capitol Hill, but who, during the after hours, could enjoy a good drink together, while swapping jokes. Belloc seems to have had it right: “…laughter and good red wine…Benedicamus Domino.” Surely they can go together.

What Makes You Happy?


by James Paulin


Perception of all things is limited by senses, intelligence and the ability to conceive. This is very apparent when looking back in history and comparing with what is known to be true now. Famous discoveries enlighten the world constantly and bring reality to new levels in things large and small. Yet, as much as has been uncovered there is certainly much more to come. We see a good deal but have never had all things exposed clearly, much like looking through multiple veils. Revelations remove some of the obscurities but some hold mysteries for ages. One veil that is mysterious in form and depiction is the relic held in St. Peters within one of the four pillars and is credited to St. Veronica.


Tradition, not scripture, is the only verification of the claim that Veronica wiped the face of Jesus while He carried His cross to Calvary and left her an image of His face upon her veil. There are many artistic impressions of the veil but the item itself is never closely examined by all but a few and never photographed. If the veil were a true portrait of Jesus at that point in time, it would insult the senses with the amount of torture He had already suffered to His head. The depictions only make suggestion of reality, again as if our view is through a veil of the veil.


The concept of Jesus is both personal and evolutionary as maturity and wisdom (or lack of wisdom) changes our understanding. Jesus has depths of endearment available for those who seek it. Sometimes the experience of divine adoration or private meditation will provide stimulation. Most of us seek Gods favor or guidance in desperate situations. Would it be a joy to have Jesus beside us all day and all night, always? As much as it sounds like a great thing, we still might take Him for granted after a time and crave some weakness of the flesh as the disciples did when Jesus asked them to pray with Him in the garden or as Adam and Eve did in Eden.


Not all would be pleased with the realities of the kingdom of God where there is endless joy just to be in the full presence of Jesus.

Easter–A Time for Reimagining Life


Jane Pauley and AARP challenge us in this video to reimagine our lives. While this can be done at anytime, Easter, for me, is the perfect time to take stock, do a little dreaming and most importantly try something different. This Easter I hope to enlist our Chicago Community in reimagining our life together as Passionist Partners starting with a new meeting place in May.

If you are interested in reimagining your life or your community’s life you can go to AARP’s Life Reimagined page and start your own journey. I’ve done it, and find it a great tool for moving forward in life.  Happy New Life!


The Way of the Cross

The story is a simple one. This week, Jews around the world gather in their homes and retell it, the story of how God’s people came from bondage, oppression and being lost for forty years in the desert to liberation and the Promised Land.

This week, Christians will also gather in their churches and through their liturgies, tell the story of Jesus, his mother and friends, and how they moved from the glorious promise of liberation (Palm Sunday) through a meal, the cross and the emptiness of Holy Saturday to the Joy of Easter.

This week as they do every week, Passionists will follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul of The Cross who loved to spend hours in quiet reflection, gazing on the Cross of Jesus, feeling Jesus’ Mary’s and His friends’ terrible agony and feelings of being lost, abandoned and utterly destitute. St. Paul of the Cross taught us to stay with this awhile. He taught us not to run away—it’s the way to liberation, to life.

AA’s as well as many other 12-Step Groups around the world will gather in the church basements this week, as they do each week and share their stories—stories of being lost, abandoned and utterly destitute. They won’t put an end to these experiences, but like their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, they will recall how their experience led them to freedom, joy and new life.

This week the people of Boston, recall their journey from the glorious promise of winning the race to the utter terror of the bombings last year. They will remember the loss of life, the loss of limbs and tell of their victory of coming together and promising to move forward.

Finally, this week’s TED Talk introduces us to Aicha El-Wafi and Phyllis Rodrigues, two seemingly very different mothers who by coming together find forgiveness and friendship.

It is the story of what binds us all. There are no exceptions. There is no we vs. they; us vs. them; good vs. bad; right vs. wrong; winners vs. losers. We are all that—we are one.


May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.


The Holy Grail



by James Paulin

Recently, historians claim they just may have found the actual cup that Christ used at the last supper. This item has become the theme of some romantic tales of knights in shining armor setting out to find this legendary vessel. As a metaphor, any quest to discover the finest object has become a search for the “holy grail” of its kind. Of course, interest in seeing the authentic grail would be almost universal and to touch it would be reserved for a select few. Artifacts credited to Jesus are always shrouded in controversy but Jesus’ cup has always been available to those who choose to drink from it. Indeed, to follow Him they must.


At the last supper, Jesus turned common bread into His body and table wine into His blood. This must have baffled all those present as it seems physically impossible even though they had witnessed many impossible miracles Jesus had performed. He forewarned them in a bold statement in a synagogue how they must drink His blood and eat His flesh to have life within them and many turned away when they heard this “hard” teaching. Not just a symbol, the grail or cup of blood which Jesus offers us is as real as love, truth and faith.


The transformation that takes place when the cup is received and consumed is not ethereal or serene but substantial and compelling. It came with a caution notice when requested by the disciples James and John. They were asked “can you drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” The answer came from the heart, looking Jesus straight in the eye. “We can”.

Is there a Difference? Does it Matter?

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

Cross and crucifix mean the same thing, right? No. Even if NO, it makes no difference, right? No. There is a difference, artistically and religiously. Artistically, or structurally, cross is a convergence of two bare pieces of wood, plastic, metal, or other material intersecting one another at right angles, vertically and horizontally . Crucifix is constructed that way also, with an addition: a corpus/body hanging upon the vertical section, and the arms of the corpus stretched out along the horizontal part.

Is it the body, then, that accounts for the difference between the cross and the crucifix? Yes. Does any body suffice to constitute this difference? In some ways, yes. The bare cross, historically, probably had little significance other than some architectural use for it, or serving as a marker of some type or other, e.g., along a pathway, or as part the script in some language. On the other hand, the crucifix, across the ages, did serve a purpose: it was an instrument of torture and death for a criminal or an alien who was an enemy. In other words, it was a punishment.

This latter usage provides its religious significance. Certainly, in the Christian context, the crucifix was a Christian sign or symbol that goes back to its origins two thousand years ago, but the cross also acquired Christian meaning early on. During Holy Week, references to “the cross” and “crucify” abound, though they are present also throughout the Christian year. And, frequently enough they appear throughout the bible, especially in the New Testament: “…whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Mt. 10.38), “…save yourself by coming down from the cross.” (Mk. 15.30) “…but they continued their shouting, ‘crucify him! Crucify him!”, “Shall I crucify your king?” (Jn. 19.15)

While in such settings “cross” and “crucifix” may seem to mean the same thing, with the passage of time differences began to emerge, so that “cross” came to bear more closely on the meaning found above in Mt. 10.38, where “cross” bears reference to us. We carry a cross. We have come to regard our sufferings as our cross.   Indeed, the bare cross can be displayed without the corpus of Christ on it because we are to be the ones hanging on the cross through bearing our sorrows, disappointments and losses.   The cross is bare to remind us that it is we who are to suffer in the footsteps of Christ, and thereby we hang on the cross. We become the corpus on the cross.

This is a beautiful thought not to be brushed aside. We find it in the bible. But it differs from an even more Catholic view that it is the crucifix that captures the heart of the message: “…while we were still sinners Christ died for us”. (Rom 5.8), “…Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures;” (1 Cor. 15.3) Here it is the corpus of Christ that hangs on the cross.

For while regarding ourselves on the cross helps us imitate Jesus, placing Christ on the cross does more: for He reconciles us with God. While imitation is good, reconciliation is better. Imitation is OUR action, but reconciliation is HIS action. And His actions are more significant than ours, good and praiseworthy though ours may be. Good Friday focuses more on CHRIST hanging on the cross than on us. We look to Christ’s action to save us, not to our actions. Our actions may be helpful, but His are indispensable. We do best to imitate Simon the Cyrenian on whom they laid the cross of Jesus and who was called upon to carry it behind Jesus. (Lk. 23.26)

Farewell and Welfare

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

These two words look and sound so much alike that it would seem they mean much the same thing. But that would not be quite accurate. St. James must have run into people in his day who thought much the same thing, though they didn’t speak the English language in which the similarity of the sound would have possibly conveyed much the same impression. For he had occasion to remark: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (2.15-17)

St. James was addressing a version of the farewell/welfare dyad. There is an odd linkage between the two terms, not only in their sound, but also in their relationship, not so much in terms of similarity but more so in terms of their contrast. We might initially look at them this way: if I am faring well, then my welfare is assured. Here there is a similarity: if I’m faring well, for example, financially, then my welfare is more or less assured, that is, my well-being at multiple levels (employment, housing, food, clothing, health care, education).

On the other hand, if my welfare is in jeopardy, I’m not faring well. If I’m “on welfare”, as St. James observes, I will be the recipient of many a “good luck and farewell” implying my “friendships” and my well-being are in danger. Should I have to rely on welfare, it is realistic to say farewell to those who were my friends, and to the “good ole days”.   So welfare suggests malware, i.e., things are not functioning well for me. We may desire to fare well, but we certainly do not want to be on welfare.

So welfare seems to suggest we bid farewell to the good life and the well-being and the associations we formerly enjoyed. There is a stigma attached to welfare, unlike the esteem that seems to be associated with the greeting “farewell”. Faring well and being on welfare are no longer similar; they are opposites. Is my being on welfare endangering your welfare? Is your “fare well” a genuine expression of best wishes in my regard, or is it a definitive breaking of whatever bonded us in the past? St. James implies that “farewell” often implies breakage rather than bonding.

Another way of looking at this, of course, is when your welfare is a source of my faring well. It proves to be a bonding, not a breakage. This is when a person realizes he/she is not an island living separate or apart from others, but is an isthmus linking two separate, disparate entities. In this scenario, your faring well works to my advantage, that is, to my welfare. But it’s a two-way street because my welfare is part of the reason why you are faring well. Here, of course, we move beyond monetary units and begin to deal in another kind of currency, a spiritual type that the works of mercy itemize. You begin to accumulate “points” with God, certainly to your welfare, when you engage in genuine concern over my welfare. So we mutually benefit one another.   My financial impoverishment becomes an occasion for your spiritual enrichment. So now your “farewell” to me will mean a genuine expression of beneficence, not a brush off. It is your investment in my well-being that pays dividends for you. We both profit. This kind of farewell redounds to the welfare of both parties.

What Did Jesus Look Like?


by James Paulin

Self image plays a powerful role in our physical and mental state of mind. Isolation due to feelings of inferiority, inability or discrimination has become more publicized among adolescents with many saddening results. Bullying and immature tormenting can drive young people into serious depression and even suicide. So many times children and adults suffer because they have less appeal due to circumstances of bodily appearance, financial means, ethnicity or other supposed imperfections. Few can manage the character to ignore the perceptions of popular peers be they true, false or just plain mean. Positive notions of acceptance and appreciation enable our confidence. However, sometimes the brave must reject popularity or the status quo in favor of defining who they really are.

When Adam was alone, he was unhappy until Eve was created out of his body, a companion with whom he could share mutual admiration. There is value in solitude but man is a social being, emotionally grounded with a support group, even if just one other person. With a strong desire to be considered fit, trim and thus attractive, modern society places great importance on bodily appearance as well as fashionable styles. We admire those who are able to flaunt their physique and keep it up consistently.


There is no mention of descriptive statistics about Jesus in scripture as to height, weight or complexion. Much is written concerning His personal view of Himself. When asked, He spares no bounds in saying, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, I am the Light of the World or I am the Son of God. He defines Himself by using His body and blood as a living sacrifice, offered freely, as atonement for each person’s sins. He used it, not to be appealing in fitness but to appeal to sinners with unconditional love. As a sign of consistence, His perfect resurrected body still bears the wounds made by nails and a lance. When we see Jesus there will be no doubt who He is.

Compassion, Vulnerability?

A few years back, I caught up with a former mentor and teacher of mine. She was quite accomplished having written books, taught at many different levels and held significant administrative positions in the Church. What she said to me, puzzled me then, and to this day makes me wonder what brought her to say it. What she said was she found herself in darkness. She did not elucidate any further, and I was then unable to question her more. Today it is too late.


In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown quotes Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist Nun who says: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (Brown, 2012) There it is again. Darkness.


So maybe there’s a relationship between darkness and compassion? Brown and Chödrön seem to be saying that. As Passionist Partners we sing and talk of the Compassion of Christ leading us to life. Is that compassion of Christ the same as the compassion of Jesus or the compassion of Mary standing at His cross on Good Friday or holding Him in her hands after he died?


In this Ted Talk Brené Brown talks about here personal experience with vulnerability, which she says, is the birthplace of joy, life, love… I share this not as a final answer to what is compassion, but as my continued search to find the light, especially when I feel the darkness.