Be Not the First…

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

“Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to set the old aside.” This old American piece of folk wisdom is not quoted much in recent times, as it was earlier on. But maybe it should be. There is a fair amount of wisdom connected with it.

It starts off with some advice by not pursuing every new fad that comes to our attention, in an effort to keep up with everyone else trying it. This is a cautionary warning supported by the personal experience of some who have pursued this course of action, and burnt their fingers in doing so. When something is new, precisely because it is new, there are often unknown or unseen problems involved that only multiple uses of it, by a number of persons, can substantiate, either that it is something reliable and trustworthy, or that it is flawed and problematic, and better left alone and unused—until improved.

One phase of life where this cautionary approach plays out is in experimental medications. The present ebola crisis brings to light the use of a new, experimental drug, manufactured by a small company in Kentucky, developed out of the tobacco plant, indigenous to that state. It was used, apparently successfully, on two missionary persons working in Liberia, who contracted the disease. They were among “the first by whom the new is tried…”

And yet, if precaution is needed against hastiness in trying new methods or equipment that are relatively unfamiliar to us, there is a corresponding warning about going to the other extreme, and balking on setting aside a way of thinking, or of doing things, that has been our standard way of proceeding for a long time. But, as the axiom above warns, be not “the last to set the old aside”.   After all, if we have developed a way of doing things, or of thinking, that has served us well over the years, why would we be motivated to set it aside and take our chances on a different mode of procedure that might fail to satisfy us, or even lead us astray? The “tried and true” has the value of an old, trusted and reliable “friend” in the journey of life. From experience I know that it “works”.

The current pharmacology industry presents us a large variety of medications to address our bodily and sometimes our mental or emotional status , but few of them measure up to the reliability and durability of the age-old aspirin regime. While cautionary warnings accompany new medications on the market, the old reliable aspirin continues on in its well established track record to deal with “what ails us”. It works.

So, what to do? Never try the new, and always cling to the old? Not necessarily. We can look to Jesus for guidance in this conundrum.   We can see, in His relationship to His revered and native Jewish religion, that He was a law-abiding Jew. He was not for jettisoning the Jewish religion because of the historical aberrations into which it fell over the centuries. He frequented the temple precincts and the synagogues. He loved this House of His Father. But He had some problems with the public face some of the Jewish leadership gave to religious practice. So Jesus followed a long line of Jewish prophets before Him and criticized some of what He saw going on in the temple precincts. He sought to purify and restore the pristine beauty of Hebrew worship. This, of course, incurred the wrath of Jewish leadership, especially the priesthood, and resulted in His repudiation and rejection, to the point if being executed as a public criminal outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

With that, something new occurred: the birth of Christianity, built on the foundations of Judaism but enriched with the teaching and the life of Jesus as the new High Priest.   Jesus didn’t create something totally new; He purified the old. In so doing He was not to be the first by whom the new is tried, nor was He to be the last by whom the old was laid aside. He was the first by whom a new and refined Judaism came to birth, nor was He the last to lay the old aside, as the annals of subsequent Jewish religious history illustrate. Christianity is built on Judaism but rises into something new and different: a blend of the old and the new.

 

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Partners’ Forum

Reflection for Scripture Readings August 31, 2014

by Dave O’Donnell (Chicago)

IMG_0035

It is my contention that each and every one of us has been given by God a path, a task, a cross and a key. When Jesus says to Peter: “Get behind me Satan! You are an obstacle to me. you are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” Jesus is telling me his cross is his task, given to him by God. Then Jesus says: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Is He speaking to everyone? No just to those who want to be his followers. He is telling me here that each of us has a task and a cross. In accepting and embracing my cross I discover life. That is the paradox of the Cross for me. It looks like death, and I should embrace it. I don’t need to worry—resurrection is to follow. Denial is the opposite of embrace and what I resist will persist. To accept and intensely look at my addictions is to embrace them, to learn lessons from them, grow in faith and move on with my life.

 

Jesus with the example and lesson of the cross is the first time in human history that I am aware of, that the shadow or dark side of the human psyche is dealt with. Another name for Jesus could be The Father of Depth Psychology. Should we credit Jesus for being the first Depth psychologist?

 

History Question

by Mark Amato (Houston)

 

Mark AmatoMark Amato of the Houston Community raised some good questions regarding the history of the Partners in a phone conversation we had this past week. In response to that we have added a “History” page to our CPP Blog. I hope that answers your questions Mark. I encourage all members to read our History feeling free to “Comment” making additions or corrections as they have experienced the Partners over the years.

How Best to Learn?

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

Some people know by book-learning; others by experience. Can we compare them? Is one way better than the other? As a matter of fact, most of us know both ways, but, admittedly, some of us tend toward one more than the other.

There are those who first read the recipe book, and then prepare the meal. There are others who go straight into cooking the meal, experimenting as they go along. Which way makes the most impression on us, that is, a lasting impression? Do we better learn by “book learning”, as some describe it, or by just “doing it”?

We occasionally run into geniuses like Steve Jobs, who dropped out of college at an early stage, and strike out on their own, just as he did, and proceeded to score great success in the computer/electronic industry. There are others who are information collectors, like boys with baseball cards, hundreds of them, covering decades of great players on every team, and they can rattle off more information about a player than the rest of us.

To change an automobile tire, we can read all about it in a car’s manual stashed away in the glove compartment. Or we can go into our garage and do it ourselves, probably badly the first time or two, but gradually grow adept at it. Of course, the same would likely be true of learning about it by reading the manual.

Or we can read about the danger of boiling water, how badly it can burn us if it spills on our hand. And this can lead us to be careful. But we can also experience a burn first-hand, accidentally spilling the water while standing at the oven. Which is the better way of learning?

Experience can be likened to an art, like that of making friends. There was a well known book of several decades ago entitled: HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE, by Dale Carnegie .   It was a reading approach to doing this. But, of course, there is also an experiential approach to the same task, that is, by just diving into a crowd of people at a party, introducing oneself and start talking.

A standard example of the difference in learning by book and learning by experience is swimming or riding a bicycle. Again, the experience of being thrown in the water or placed atop a bicycle seat and shoved off along the sidewalk differs considerably from learning about these ventures through instruction.

Then there is prayer. There are many books to read on how to pray. Scores of books have been written about HOW TO TALK TO GOD, OR CONVERSE AND COMMUNE WITH GOD. But there’s also the experiential approach of darting into the rear of a church and planting oneself in the presence of God. We recall the gospel story of the tax collector standing at a distance in the temple and asking God to have mercy on him, a sinner (Lk 18.9-14). We suspect this was an experience-based prayer.

Book learning takes place in the head. Experiential learning involves the whole body, almost like a chill running throughout one’s body. Forgetting is more likely to occur in the head than it is at the level of experience. Learning by experience to ride a bicycle, at a young age, surprisingly remains with a person for a long time, so that, even after thirty years of not riding a bike, one can do so again, without more ado.

We can read about the Jewish holocaust, and the skeleton-like humans found in the concentration camps at the end of WWII, and this makes a lasting impression. But the military, who first came on this scene at war’s end, experienced in a totally different way what the holocaust was like, knowing it by presence to it.

That is why so many veterans of war and military ventures are loathe to talk about it upon returning home. The experience of war has embedded itself into the sinews of their bodies in such a way that it’s basically non-communicable to those lacking that experience. Reading war episodes is fascinating, but cannot match personal presence to it.

Mothers relate to their children, especially infants, in this experiential way. They know, without being told by the baby, what is going on within the tiny confines of that body; they need not read Dr. Spock. Or similarly, there is the quality of compassion some people enjoy, whereby they can enter into the sufferings of another person and experience it as their own. They are not told of the suffering by the sufferer, but they know in a “feeling” fashion what another is going through. They experience it.

So we ask: how best do we learn: by head, or by experience?

Partners’ Forum

Reflection for Sunday August 24, 2014

by Dave O’Donnell

IMG_0035The focus of my attention is on the idea of church, which I see as best translated as community of the faithful as opposed to religion, which I see as a body of believers within a framework of dogma and doctrine.

 

The Roman Catholic religion claims a heritage directly coming from the apostles. The apostles and their successors stated, argued and established a structure of beliefs around doctrine and dogma that they believed taught the way of Jesus.   Now, after two thousand years we have many christian denominations identifying themselves as in The Christian Church but separated from others by competing doctrine, dogma and practice.

 

The Jewish church that Jesus knew and taught in has been described as a church of deed not of creed. It was all about and still is today I think about what you do, not about what you believe. When Jesus says if you love me you will follow my commandments, He is not talking about the commandments given to Moses . He is talking about the commandments He personally gave us, summed up in the two most important: Love God, and Love your neighbor as yourself, and clarified in commandments like forgive always, do not judge and pray for your enemy . All of Jesus’ commandments are about relationship. When followed, even imperfectly, they are about building community and bringing people together as one. The church that Jesus referred to is and includes all of the Christian Communities and as they learn to put Jesus’ teachings into action someday hopefully about all people coming together.

Identifying with the Poor

 

St. Paul of the Cross told us to identify with the poor. Pope Francis is telling us today to identify with the poor. In today’s TED talk Stephen Ritz demonstrates how that identification with the poor can lead to new life. New life not just in the spirit (that’s important) but in the pocket book and the real world as well.

 

Today, our Community of Passionist Partners is…

 

It’s up to us in each of our communities to complete the above paragraph. I wonder if we couldn’t learn something from Mr. Ritz and move to the deserts around our communities to bring them to life by identifying with the poor, the marginalized. Of course that means going out to the desert where the poor live, getting to know them as people and working with them to spread the Good News. Maybe one little step like moving our meetings from the comfort of our well-established homes or retreat centers to the desert and when we get there inviting those who live there to join us. I suspect that would lead to many new members of all ages and all sorts of new life. Most importantly we’d be a witness that the desert (suffering) is fertile ground for new life.

 

Under the cities lies, a heart made of ground,

But the humans will give no love. 
(lyrics from America’s “A Horse with No Name”)

Music

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

It’s music to my ears! A welcoming response to something we have heard about: MUSIC. The very word denotes something pleasant, even delightful. Or, is that always the case?

After all, there is good music, tastefully, even artistically, done (or produced), and then there’s bad music: raucous, intrusive, belligerent, maddening. Some would call it noise.

We live in a musical era, but is it of the caliber of the classical musical produced in the 16th-19th centuries, or is it the music of “the common (wo)man”? With our mobile electronic conveyors of all sorts of sound, we can, if we so wish (and it seems many of us do so wish), be awash in music of our choice on a 24/7 basis.

Some have envisioned heaven as nothing but a vast music hall where those of us who have “made it” there are incessantly immersed in celestial sound waves: an angelic experience. Do not artists often depict angels strumming on harps 24/7 (except that time is no longer a factor in heavenly bliss). Indeed, when we reflect on the history of the so-called classical period, we note how beauty (along with the good, the true and oneness) takes its place in the ranks of what was perennially cherished. Today, however, beauty receives less attention from us, among the elements contributing to what ancient peoples considered the building block of culture and civilization. But is it true that beauty is a “light weight” when it comes to the elements comprising a pleasant and desirable way of life?

How does beauty rank among the elements making for a desirable way of life? And, within beauty, what most significantly contributes to it: the arts, architecture, poetry, drama, dance, music? It seems music has sometimes been downplayed for its contribution to a life worth living.

Music admits of various kinds: it can be divided according to the era in which it was produced, or to the geographical place where it originated, or to the kinds of instruments available for producing sounds, such as strings, horns, percussions. Then, there is the organ.

Music is distinct from the other arts because of its appeal to the ear, rather than to the eye or the sensitivity of the body to its rhythm. Am I a person of the eye, or of the ear? If I had to choose between losing eyesight or hearing, which would I prefer? Which brings me more fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment: what I see or what I hear?   The voice of a friend, or the sight of a loved one?

When I need inspiration, energy, contentment, satisfaction, peace, excitement: what best meets my need: music or the other arts (mostly visual)? Is the human voice more significant to me than the sight of another person? If I were to encounter Christ, would I prefer to see or to hear Him? Do we not call Him the Word of God? On the other hand, did He not come down into our midst and mingle with us, to be seen? We have access to His word in the bible. Yet we also see His presence to us in the sacramental liturgy in which we share, or in the statuary and the paintings that artists of old have produced?

Music: is it the melody, the lyrics, or the rhythm, that captivates me? Is dance more reflective of melody or of rhythm?

We are a culture of music. Music is important to us. We can judge a person by the music he or she prefers. There Is music favored by the young, and that preferred by the old. Music is valued primarily for its melody, or its lyrics, or its rhythm. Loud music is often preferred over quiet/soft music (elevator music). There is music that relaxes and music that rouses and excites. There is fast and slow music, music by strings or by horn, music for dancing or music for reflecting.

Music is an important part of life. It’s obviously a God-instilled component of human experience. The prayer-life of the church centers around the psalms, the main composer of which was King David, himself a musician.   It is likely the psalms were set to music. Can we make our way to God without music?