T.G.I.F.

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

These are the initials of a popular restaurant chain: Thank God It’s Friday. It is a clever, succinct way of capturing what Friday means in the American culture: rest, relaxation, time off, free time, freedom to do what I want. It’s understandable why the term weekend has been identified as an immediately recognizable American term quickly absorbed into other languages. It stands for a standard of living that is considered “American”, and represents the good life.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Except that it makes the counter initials, T.G.I.M., ludicrous, unintelligible and really uninviting because they mean: Thank God It’s Monday. Who in their right minds would regard Monday as something for which to be grateful? Monday is the epitome of work, of the grind, of getting back into the rigid routine of the work pattern.   No one likes Mondays, so why be thankful for Mondays?

One reason is God’s example. He got all His memorable creativity done on weekdays, starting with Monday (really, a Sunday on the Hebrew calendar). Creation was a six day project for Him. The seventh day, the Sabbath, was His day of Rest. While we are grateful that God rested on the Sabbath, and, at its approach, see the merit of exclaiming T.G.I.F., we have to admit that, upon reflection, the bulk of our gratitude lies on the side of the six work days in which God engaged, days in which the beauty, grandeur and majesty of God’s creativity captures our fancy and imagination: the glory of the heavens, the undulating waves of the seas, the magnificence of the towering mountains and the expansiveness of the vast deserts, the gorgeous wildlife in the air, on the land, beneath the seas—these didn’t emerge on the Sabbath but during God’s workweek.

Chances are that God didn’t work so that He might get His day off, but, rather, He took His day off so that He might work better. We notice that Jesus, during His time among us, went about the Sabbath rest in an interesting way: some of His most memorable activities took place on the Sabbath, despite His recognizing it as a day of rest, because, as He said in defense of Himself: “…it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt. 12.12) This was not the only time Jesus was criticized for “working” on the Sabbath. It shows His prioritizing work over rest when it was a question of doing good. In such cases He had a Monday mindset more than a Friday one.

This is not to criticize the Sabbath rest, but to appreciate it in the context of the “big picture”. We rest so as to work better, rather than working so as to rest better. The weekend is an interlude between workweeks, rather than the workweek being an interruption between weekends. We are co-workers and co-creators with God, rather than co-resters with Him, at least in this life. It has become part of our mindset. How many retired folk tire of time hanging heavy on their hands, and either go back to work, at least part-time, or else involve themselves in volunteer “work”. It seems to be a part of our pattern, a consequence of God’s rebuke to Adam: “In toil you shall eat its yield all the days of your life…By the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread…” (Gn 3.17, 19). This is our destiny here below. But up above, another scenario presents itself to us, leading us to pray for those who have gone before us: “Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them”.   There at last T.G.I.F. takes priority over T.G.I.M.

Advertisements

Making Use of the Slingshot Effect

se

by James Paulin

Interplanetary space travel is theoretically very possible due to a concept called “The Slingshot Effect”. The concept is to circle a planet or moon and use the gravitational pull to accelerate a vehicle to speeds capable of reaching another planet to repeat the process without consuming any stored fuel and therefore using each encounter as a means to move onward toward a final destination. This might be considered a free ride or an opportunistic advantage but it wisely uses things that come in the path of the journey as opportunities to surge ahead when it easily could have been a collision course and certain destruction. Every time a joyful or unfortunate circumstance is encountered in life, a personal choice determines how the course of our journey is affected. The influence of these pivot points may dampen progress and depress the spirit or be embraced and leveraged to produce comprehensive adjustments that are essential to a sense of well being and accomplishment.

Change is the only certainty in the Universe. Reminiscing about every time a major event or trial affects a lifestyle, one has the opportunity to decide that there is another, perhaps better way to live out hopes and dreams. Sometimes possibilities are regretfully missed and bemoaned with a “should have or could have, if I only would have”. Accepting change as inevitable would imply that being prepared to adapt is the best attitude. However, a common tendency is to remain comfortable in the status quo by taking an easier road that is well worn and familiar. Twists and turns are handled so easily when youth and health are taken for granted but more difficult as age takes its toll. Nevertheless, every time a curve comes our way, caution can be followed by acceleration just as a racecar takes advantage of a fresh straightaway.

Size matters. The variety of incidents comes in every way, shape and form. A missed appointment, a cold, or a fender bender pales in comparison to the loss of a loved one or conversely, a new baby. In a way they all have a significant role to play in the development of an individuals character. How did the simple beginnings and self-sufficiency’s of a country lawyer form the backbone and morality of Abraham Lincoln? In his most memorable speech, the Gettysburg Address, a priority for social justice motivated his decisions even with the confines of a society beset with a widespread prejudice based culture. Little decisions early in his life led to a cataclysmic confrontation costing a measure of life within the nation that is unbelievable even today. Other issues were involved as well but a beginning of equality for all was certainly a priority.

Life is about choices. There is nothing that one can do to avoid unforeseen circumstances that are encountered in every life but the way one reacts to each situation is always a personal decision. Medal of honor awards are frequently given posthumously as recognition of the ultimate sacrificial choice. Gallantry beyond the call of duty and risk of life are required but the act usually occurs while following orders given by a superior. It would seem totally irrational to choose to put ones life in grave danger and a certain horrible death if it was within a person’s ability to easily control everything that happens. Jesus chose his passion and death as God’s way to say, “Come to me all you who labor and heavy burden, The Father and I are One. I love you and if you believe in me you shall not perish but have life everlasting. Go and love your neighbor as you love yourself”.

Are You a Good Leader?

 

Simon Sinek in this TED Talk asks: “Would you be upset if we gave Mother Teresa a $250,000,000.00 Bonus?” He doesn’t think so and explains why. He also explains why such bonuses to some CEO’s in industry would not elicit the same reaction in most of us.

 

I couldn’t help but think of Pope Francis as Sinek describes good leadership. Sinek gives us a number of examples of good leaders and tells us the obvious, i.e. the leader goes first, she takes risks. The one characteristic however that struck me the most was, we sleep well when we trust the leaders in our tribe.

 

Passionist Partners, like our patron saint, St. Paul of the Cross, take leadership roles in their Church. That leadership is not one so much of rank as example of living compassionate lives, identifying with the outcasts, the oppressed and marginalized of our communities.

The Last Word

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

For those influenced by the Passion tradition, the reference to “the last word” likely rings a bell, because it is reminiscent of a tradition of piety centering around the Seven Last Words of Christ (Lk 23.34, Lk 23.43, Jn 19. 26-27, Mt 27.46, Jn 19.28, Jn 19.29-30, Lk 23.46). These are words of prayer, concern, suffering, forgiveness. They stand in contrast to words attributed to Lucifer: Non serviam/I will not serve (cf. another application in Jer,2,26). Last words are usually more significant than other words (perhaps with the exception of one’s first words).

In the secular setting where we live out our lives, the phrase, “the last word”, frequently refers to the outcome of a dispute or an argument between individuals or organizations or governments, concluding with one of the “combatants” gaining a victory of sorts by having the last word in the dispute.

In the somber setting of death, whether that of Christ or of anyone else, we often comment that death had the last word. And by that we mean that death won. The sick or wounded person died. And this has come to mean a personal defeat. And there is much to suggest the truth of this because usually, especially in the case of younger persons, one is classified as a victim” because he or she doesn’t want to die, and fights with every ounce of available strength to stave off the approach of death. This plays itself out in a time spectrum (that is, there is a process unfolding around a protracted ailment or injury), during which the victim does not want to die and regards death as the last enemy to face. In this scenario, who will have the last word? Curiously enough , however, for those present at the deathbed struggle of such a person, a curious turn-about frequently takes place, in which death does not have the last word. Rather, something unexpected occurs. Resistance disappears. Acceptance emerges. But not because one has been “beaten” and ignominiously submits to death as having the last word. Rather, acceptance emerges as a victorious way to go, a development that, earlier on, would have been out of the question, but now, through some unforeseen conjunction of hope, vision and determination, a new kind of last word gains the upperhand, not because all else has failed, but because victory now looms on the horizon, replacing defeat. The evil of suffering and death succumbs to the overwhelming onslaught of something very good and desirable. The resurrection experience has finally been imbued, especially for one anointed by the sacrament of the sick and nourished by Viaticum.

The significance of this is the deathbed victim scores his or her greatest witness to the final triumph of good over evil.   Who has the last word here? Far from being overrun by the mother of all evil (death), an empowerment occurs to achieve a victory salute to the power of good over evil. It’s no longer a matter of having no other choice but to submit to the evil of death. Rather, it’s one’s finest hour. “Where, O death, is your victory, Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15.55)

That is the ethic of the cross, the laying hold of the truly good through the epic struggle against the truly evil. The centerpiece here is “the last word”. Who will have the last word? Not the one whose victory comes at the expense of another’s loss. There is another way of gaining the last word, shown by Christ’s final words on the cross. Lucifer’s departing word, “non serviam”, brought him no victory.

What is Truth?

And-you-will-know-the-truth-and-the-truth-will-make-you-free

by James Paulin

Opinions are varied as snowflakes when it comes to certain topics and often lead to disputes that are still unsettled even after they are ancient history. Absolutes for one person are absolutely wrong from someone else’s perspective. Science doesn’t always have the final answer as revelations many times change basic premises that have been assumed to be correct. What is seen with our eyes can be deceptive or just an inkling of what the entire reality is. So how do we know where to place our beliefs in much of anything?

 

Magicians use illusions and slight of hand to fool and amaze. Con artists deceive with ploys full of convincing lies. Maybe some well respected members of society have secret agendas when they appear to be working for the common good. Sometimes individuals appear who are beyond reproach, totally committed to truth and born out in actions of self-sacrifice. They may be called heroes or saints but recognition is not on their minds. The heart and soul prompts spontaneous reactions that most would question. With nothing but pure purpose and motivated by love, they are easily recognizable by their actions.

 

Truth is consistent. When philosophers question morality or ethics, they bring logic and values that vary from mind to mind and within different paradigms. Truth must be universal and cohesive. We cannot find it in inanimate ledgers but in something or someone eternally alive to touch matters as they develop in changing circumstances. There must be a way to understand it. It must be powerful in spirit. It must be life giving to ourselves and all others. God sent Jesus to be all of this, for all of us, for all of eternity.

Success–What is it?

 

The May 12th issue of America has a great article by Brian B. Pinter, entitled “Redefining Success”. What struck me most (maybe because I am an educator) is the following quote: “As Jesuit educators we are being asked to do something great—to assist in leading the church to unequivocal solidarity with the poor, to a mystical consciousness, to maturity of Faith.”

 

There are two words in this quote that strike me as particularly pertinent to our Passionist charism: poor and mystical. Most of us know what poor is but what is this other word, mystical? Earlier the author gives us a clue, using this quote from Karl Rahner, S.J. (1904 – 1984): “The devout Christian of the future will either be a ‘mystic,’ one who has experienced ‘something,’ or he will cease to be anything at all.”

 

Again, what is a mystic? St. Paul of the Cross has been characterized as the greatest mystic of the 18th Century. Somewhere I remember hearing the difference between mysticism and theology. It went something like this: theology tells us what love (put in any term you want here) is; mysticism tells us an experience of love. Now we need both no doubt, but today it seems to me we have an overabundance of theology and a dearth of mysticism. How can we do what Pinter suggests above and as St. Paul of the Cross did?

 

Here is an example, I think, that answers that question. In the 70’s responding to the Second Vatican Council we at Immaculate Conception Parish, Norwood Park, Illinois decided to change the name of our religious education program from The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) to The Institute of Christian Encounter” (ICE). It was more than just a name change. In our programs we did not talk about doctrine or theology so much as create opportunities where we, and our students could experience what it means to be a Christian. For instance, instead of talking about what makes a good community, we went camping or CLAM Digging, (digging for Christian living Among Men). Anyone who has ever been camping knows it’s not an exercise in esoteric wondering as much as just simple real living and sharing in the tasks associated that.

 

In the above YouTube video, Arianna Huffington and Sheryl Sandberg discuss what redefining success means to them. For them, it means experiences such as: failing and proceeding on to an eventual success; listening to our intuition or gut feelings; sleeping more; meditating daily; enjoying silence; creating our own job or startup businesses; telling our stories. These are just a few of their ideas. The selection is long, and I believe it’s worth the time. Hope you enjoy.

25-year old finds her community as a Providence Associate

 

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

(Father Sebastian is away. His column will return next week. He emailed me with this information and I apologize for not putting this notice up last week. All Father’s posts are archived on the Blog and can be reread at your convenience).

While we can never replace Father’s much enjoyed contributions, this week we share a post from another source, The Sisters of Providence. Chicago Partners know well, the Sisters of Providence. They staffed the school at Immaculate Conception Parish where many of Chicago Partners first came in contact with the Passionist. Like the Passionist the Sisters of Providence have partners or associates. Enjoy their sharing of a successful young Associate by clicking on the following link:25-year old finds her community as a Providence Associate.