Which Lane Should I Choose?

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

We’ve all been on multilane highways heading in the same direction. If so, we’ve calculated to the best of our ability as to which lane will move the quickest toward where we want to do. Or, we’ve been at the grocery store and approached the checkout counters with a cartload full of food products, trying to figure out which checkout aisle is best going to advance me toward the Exit door.

Especially when we’re in a hurry, these decisions can be important, and, when the one I choose proves to be wrong, it’s aggravating, to say the least, especially if other lanes or lines that I had initially explored, but then rejected, prove to be moving faster than the one I finally choose.

This situation is especially aggravating for older persons, belonging to a prior generation when the U.S. population was only half, or even a third of what it is now, and this overload of clientele on our road systems (which were actually narrower than they are now) or at our neighborhood grocery stores, which were usually just half the size of what they are now, is a generational phenomenon that some older folks never manage to negotiate, as they chafe under the time restraints imposed by scores of cars, or people, competing with us for a chance to move ahead. One of the commendable traits of the “younger” generation is the admirable patience they have acquired of waiting thirty or forty minutes in line, whether at the “expressway” toll-booth, or at the store or theater. They’ve never known it otherwise.

This drive to get on with it and to move ahead is behind the anxiety to pick the correct checkout point. And what especially aggravates is when we make a wrong choice and watch in fury as lanes or lines we’ve rejected move ahead, leaving us in the lurch. So finding the correct lane is all important, if only not to have to endure the smug smirks of those passing us by, and knowing how hard we’ve tried to get ahead.

But there can be redemption in this humiliating personal defeat. And the first instance of it occurs within ourselves, as we recalculate the whole foolish spectrum on display here and ask (having little or no other options): so what? Who cares? What does it matter? It’s not that important, anyways. And so we settle in for the long wait, at the end of the line. But maybe redemption occurs at this point, as our feverish anxiety cools off and we begin to think calmer thoughts, even pleasant, worthwhile thoughts, and look around and study faces, or entertain memories that sneak back into our mind. And, all of the sudden, we find ourselves at the head of the line and getting on our way.

And, if it be the turnpike that we once again engage, with our foot on the pedal, it may be a special delight to find ourselves, without trying, to pass up one of those unpleasant persons who was last seen far ahead of us near the toll booth. And we find out to our pleasant surprise that what we had taken as a personal defeat has in some unforeseen way turned out to have been the right choice anyways: defeat into victory.

So the question now becomes: what is the correct line, or lane? The one that meets our present sense of urgency and satisfies a clamoring need, or the one that leaves us with little or no choice in the matter other than to go along with what has developed, and change, not lanes or lines, but our own attitude. The result? What appeared to be the correct lane on the expressway now finds itself in contention with what initially seemed to be the wrong way to go. This is a modern version of Aesop’s fable about the hare and the tortoise. Would anyone have bet on the tortoise reaching the finish line ahead of the hare? There is more than one way to face possible right or wrong ways to go.


Partners’ Forum

Reflection for Sunday, September 28, 2014

By Dave O’Donnell

IMG_0035The first reading this coming Sunday tells us that man’s and God’s ways are not the same and that sin has consequences that can be ameliorated by correcting ones errors. God does not punish sin, but I must take personal responsibility and change my ways to be freed from sins’ consequences.


In Sunday’s Gospel selection, Jesus is talking to the chief priest and elders saying: “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you. When John came to you in the way of righteousness, you did not believe him; but tax collectors and prostitutes did.” (Mt 21: 31 – 32)


Jesus tells us: “The Kingdom of God is within.” The way of righteousness is a path to the kingdom of God within. It requires only the personal responsibility of acceptance with peace and love to follow.


I’ve read (I think it was the Jesuit scripture scholar, John McKenzie) that the word kingdom is more precisely translated as reign. When I say the reign of God is within, it speaks more powerfully to me than if I say the kingdom…. When I reject the reign of God who is it who takes the helm? Paul says it is the flesh. I understand Paul to mean it is my ego. Neither the flesh nor the ego is bad, but they are prone to excesses. It is the ways of the flesh and the ego that provide the consequences of sin. It is important for me to know that God does not punish sin.

Why I Choose to be a Partner


Mark Amato of the Houston CPP Community and I were chatting about the Passionist Charism and what attracts us to it the other evening. I can’t speak for Mark or anyone else for that matter, but I did tell Mark that I would share in our Blog, what it means to me.


I think a more popular word for charism today is spirituality. For me, Passionist spirituality centers on the Cross of Jesus which becomes my cross when I take it up. What the heck does that mean? Is it just figurative, pious language? No! Not for me, it isn’t. When I look at the Cross, I see a man who claimed to be god who has surrendered himself to the things he cannot change and now—here’s the important part—he doesn’t curse these things or these people, but he prays: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Wow! Only God could do a thing like that, right? Wrong! I can do it.


The closest spirituality I’ve found to this is Alcoholics’ Anonymous (AA). AA was started by two very successful men, one a stockbroker and another a physician in 1935 who were struggling with their demons. In an attempt to deal with his alcoholism, Bill Wilson, the stockbroker had tried the Oxford Group, a Christian organization founded by the Lutheran Minister, Dr. Frank Buchman. Dr. Buchman had been struggling with the problems in his life when he heard a sermon on the Cross of Christ by Jessie Penn-Lewis, a Welsh Evangelical speaker and author. He recounts that experience:


“I thought of those six men back in Philadelphia who I felt had wronged me. They probably had, but I’d got so mixed up in the wrong that I was the seventh wrong man…. I began to see myself as God saw me, which was a very different picture than the one I had of myself. I don’t know how you explain it, I can only tell you I sat there and realized how my sin, my pride, my selfishness and my ill-will, had eclipsed me from God in Christ…. I was the centre of my own life. That big “I” had to be crossed out. I saw my resentments against those men standing out like tombstones in my heart. I asked God to change me and He told me to put things right with them. It produced in me a vibrant feeling, as though a strong current of life had suddenly been poured into me and afterwards a dazed sense of a great spiritual shaking-up.”[7] (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Buchman)


The Oxford Group didn’t work for Bill, but it gave him the framework for his now famous Twelve Steps. For those familiar with these steps, they will understand how they came directly from Buchman’s experience related above.


I firmly believe, that if we tell the story of Jesus’ Cross, relating it directly to our own experiences, we will bring new life to our world and that of those we come in contact with in our daily lives. Like Coleridge’s Mariner in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, we each need to tell our story, and that’s what Passionists vow to do and have been doing for almost three hundred years, not only in their preaching, but more importantly in their living. I’m lucky that they let me partner with them.

In and Out

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

It would probably strike most of us as strange, to ask the question: which is more important: in or out? We would not know how to answer the question, since it makes no sense to us. Our first reaction might be to say: it’s impossible to think of “in”, without, at the same time, thinking of “out”.   They go together, like the hand in a glove. They cannot exist apart from one another.

But, then, on second thought, we might have to admit that, well, yes, it probably is possible to think of an “in”, without simultaneously thinking of an “out”. There is probably an instance of an “in” to which there corresponds no “out”, such as placing a coffin in the ground, without eventually having to think of the coffin coming out of the ground, or of an idea coming into my mind without it eventually coming out of there in some form or fashion. Or, on the other hand, there may be an example of an “out” which is not followed by an “in”, such as going out of a classroom, on the last day of one’s educational program, never to go back into this classroom again, or going out of particular house that has served as a home for me, never to enter it again, as I move to another location.

But, apart from these rather bazaar examples, “in” and “out” form a pair that go together. The best example of “in” and “out” is the waves of the sea. The turf rolls onto the seashore bordering it, only eventually, sooner or later, to roll out. It’s impossible to think of waves cascading across the shoreline fronting them, without their rolling off the beach again and back out into the body of water from which they initially came. Otherwise they would continue to roll in and roll in and eventually submerge the land mass over which they flow, leaving behind them a huge void, now emptied of any wave of water, relocated now in another place. But this would spell the end of the “in” and “out” waters of the waves.

Such a motion has a rhythm all its own. It can almost be timed in a predictable way, with its “coming in” requiring several minutes, and its “going out” lasting a comparable period of time. A kind of mutual dependence develops between the incoming and the outgoing wave, much like the going up and the coming down of a ball thrown into the air. Whatever goes up must come down, sooner or later, even the satellites that we launch into outer space, so long as the law of gravity prevails, which establishes that what goes up will come down, unless something escapes its force.

And so our scientists, keen to fasten on the energy resources available, have latched onto the rhythm of the seas, with their waves rolling onto the shores of the lands bordering them, then receding back into their watery origin, there to be re-energized so as to again spill over the land mass containing them. The rhythm of in and out has a power all its own, which can be harnessed into an energy resource that activates our machinery empowering our productivity, just as coal, gas, or electricity does. There is an interdependence between the “out” and the “in”. If the “in” tuckers out and loses all its force, then the “out” fails to materialize and their interaction comes to an end.

God makes use of this “in”-“out” interplay. After all, He is the acknowledged source of their interaction. So our scriptures speak of Him coming “into” our midst for a period of time, with the birth of the Lord Jesus, then “going out”, reverting to the place from where He came. His entrance among us empowered us as He charged our batteries (the sacraments) and established a power plant (the church) among us, before “going out” once again, leaving us behind but not without an energy resource, thanks to which we are empowered to move onto the shore of our world, like the waves of the sea, only to eventually flow back into the source from which we came (the church), to be re-energized.

Partners’ Forum

Reflection for Sunday, September 28, 2014

By Dave O’Donnell


In this coming Sunday’s gospel we hear the parable of the vineyard workers who are all paid for a full day’s labor despite the different number of hours they worked. This is a retelling of the theme: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first”. Why is this theme repeated so often and what does it mean?


I believe life is not about standing in lines and comparing myself to others although it does seem that way at least sometimes. Life is a journey. The fellow who didn’t stand in line and wait for his turn is the “good thief” who on a cross next to Jesus asked for forgiveness and was promised paradise that very day. (the only one Jesus ever promised paradise to)


Today’s parable reading for me is about embracing life where I am; I needn’t wait until I am first in line. I must be in the now, and bloom where I am planted and not wait until just the right moment when things are perfect.


When I was in first grade I admired and maybe was even a little jealous of the eighth graders, but I embraced being a first grader, learned what first graders had to learn and moved on to eventually being a freshman in high school. I look back on those years happily. Embrace life!


Embrace the now! It is all we have. Yes, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, and blessed is the one who embraces the opportunity of the now.

I am the Son of a Terrorist


How can we raise compassionate children? In today’s TED Talk selection, Zak Ebrahim tells his story growing up. While you would probably not want to subject your children to Zak’s experiences, you might want to help them realize that, like Zak, they can choose life even when they grow up experiencing pain, hatred and bigotry.

Shame/Sorrow–What’s Their Impact?

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

Are shame and sorrow the same thing—or, can they be the same thing? For instance, someone can be ashamed for doing something. It may become known to others, or it may remain secret, known only to the person who did it, but resulting in the same admission: I am ashamed of myself.

In the one case, my shame is brought on by others’ awareness of what I’ve done. I fall under their disapproving attitude toward me. I have fallen short of their expectations of me. In the other case, my shame results from within myself. I realize I have departed from being the kind of person I like to think that I am. I have failed to live up to my own standards for myself. There’s an inner disapproval I experience.

Ray Rice, the NFL football player, running back for the Baltimore Ravens, seriously injured his wife, Janay Palmer, knocking her out. He was severely criticized by others, and also penalized for what he did. He surely was shamed into embarrassment about what he did, and may even have determined never to touch his wife again, without her permission. He was shamed, if not into being good, at least into not doing wrong things. He was publicly shamed.

It’s also possible that my shame is totally personal and private. For example, at a time of personal crisis, I may have promised God, in private, that I would do something to honor Him, if only He would come to my aid, such as attending daily mass during Lent. But, should my problem have been solved in my favor, I may proceed to forget about my promise to God, only later realizing my failure, and be ashamed of myself. I have disappointed myself, though no one else (other than God) knows about it.

In either kind of shame, I can be pressured to change myself, either because of outside criticism, or because of internal dissatisfaction with myself. The question is: is this a change for the better? Is the resolve never to do harm or evil again a move in the right direction?

Then, there’s sorrow. Sorrow operates differently than shame. Sorrow, admittedly, can be stimulated by the impact of my action, for instance, on another person, but it rises, not primarily because of the public disesteem or disapproval brought against me by others, but because of the injury or hurt or loss or grief that I have inflicted on some other party. Of course, I can also experience sorrow within myself, without any public dimension to it, because of the injury of disesteem or belittling or ridicule I’ve nurtured within myself against a friend or relative or neighbor—unbeknown to him or her—but painfully evident to me. And I consider this a loss I have inflicted on another, though only within the confines of my own private self.

Shame and sorrow: both uncomfortable, even painful, experiences. Both can impact my behavior for the future, effecting some kind of change within me. Does that make both of them good, then, because they (can) reduce or eliminate wrong, bad, or evil behavior on my part? Is something good when or because evil no longer accompanies it? Or is the elimination of evil only part of the process? Do I still have a way to go, in order to do or achieve something good?

If I am shamed into never doing the wrong thing again, have I thereby become a good person?   Or am I better described as a non-evil person, that is, as a person who never merits disapproval from others, not even from myself? If sorrow, in its turn, revolts at the hurt I have brought into another’s life, or even into my own private self, am I thereby on the way to becoming a better person because I move beyond what others think about me, or how I regard myself, and am moved to repair the harm inflicted because I am genuinely sorry?

But is it always either/or, shame or sorrow? Might it be both: shame and sorrow? The heroes of the ancient world (Achilles, Hercules, Aeneas), may have undergone shame and humiliation for their defeats. The heroes of the biblical/Christian era (our saints: Peter, Mary Magdalene, Ignatius Loyola) were overcome by sorrow for falling to do the good they might have done. The former were publicly shamed at encountering evil, while the latter sorrowed at falling short of the good to be gained. There is a difference. The sacrament of reconciliation is not for the shameful, but for the sorrowful.

Partners’ Forum

Scripture Reflection for Sunday, September 14, 2014

by Dave O’Donnell

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (JN 3:16-17)


IMG_0035This passage for me begs the question: “Who is this Jesus Christ?” Jesus most often when referring to himself in scripture calls himself the Son of Man. Christians call Him the Son of God. I see him as both of those in the role of teacher—best identified as the great emancipator—teaching a practical and spiritual way of life that when implemented in an individual’s life leads to radical freedom.


In the early church before being called Christians by others they called themselves the people of the way. “The way” suggests to me that they recognized they were on a journey to transform their lives as they put into practice the commandments Jesus gave them. These commandments are love God, love your neighbor, do not judge, forgive always, pray for your enemy, pick up your cross daily and follow Jesus.


Doing these, I believe can lead to a radical change in ones life—from sin, fear, compulsions, ego, to a life of freedom and a rebirth in spirit—what St. Paul calls the gifts of the Spirit, peacefulness, generosity, kindness, patience, joy.


I leave behind the curses of the ego, hostility, conflict, jealousy, anger rivalries envy, competitiveness, identifying the other as a problem. What I have discovered is a radical interdependence and identity with the whole. Life is very good when I realize the dance is with everyone. If there is someone out there who wants to kick me in the chins, I believe this insight will equip me to recognize them and be able to stand far enough away so their toe can’t reach my chin. I consider myself a Christian because that message has transformed my life from fear to hope and peace.

You Be the Judge


What is it like growing up as a son of an immigrant? Colin Grant, an English historian and Associate Fellow in the Center for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick, tells us his experience in this TED Talk. While I found his story fascinating, even more revealing were the comments that followed. Some suggested he did a great job, especially in his seeming ability to forgive his father. Other responses condemn him as an ungrateful son who should realize how lucky he was. All this makes me wonder who is right? Which response is the compassionate one?