Sin and the Bible

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

It is an interesting question to put to ourselves: how large a book would the bible be if all the texts referring to or centering on the issue of sin, were removed? Of course, part of the answer to this question depends on how the issue of the bible we use was printed: the size of the print, the thickness of the paper, etc. But, in any case, we know that the bible is a large volume, heavy and inconvenient to carry, so some of us (at least, those of us who are Christians) prefer to divide it into two parts, popularly described as the Old Testament and the New Testament, but, nowadays, sometimes referred to as the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures.

But, even in this latter case, should we take the divided bible as an example, we know that the volume in question is large, the Hebrew part of it especially, of course, which is larger than the Christian portion.

With this as our reference point, we revert to our opening question: how large would the book in question be, should we excise every verse dealing with sin? Chances are that it would be a very small volume indeed, even should we be thinking of both segments taken together, as they usually are (for Christians).

We may ask, in surprise: how can this be? How is it possible that the book we venerate as containing the word of God for us be so intertwined with the unlikely topic of sin? Is sin of such interest to God that He devotes that much attention to it in the bible, recording a message on the topic, for us? Doesn’t it seem that God would have much more to say to us than to concentrate so intently on the sin topic: things about Himself, His heavenly abode, His plans for us, His Godhead, His attributes, His love? How can sin be such a focus for God that a large percentage of the biblical verses recording His message to us should be dominated by such a dour, dark and depressing topic as sin?

Curiously enough, in our Catholic liturgy for Holy Week, specifically, at the Exsultet hymn sung during the biblical readings assigned for the Easter Vigil (Holy Saturday) part of the service, we hear the cantor sing: O TRULY NECESSARY SIN OF ADAM, DESTROYED COMPLETELY BY THE DEATH OF CHRIST! O HAPPY FAULT THAT EARNED SO GREAT, SO GLORIOUS A REDEEMER! This seems very strange language for so sacred and holy a religious service.

We might expect to hear ourselves being bawled out by God for our wickedness and stupidity in doing wrong, but this kind of laudatory and jubilant language? Who would have thought it? Well, those of us familiar enough with God know that He obviously wants to be appreciated by us as a God of mercy, more than in any other way. Of course, He certainly appreciates being recognized by us as a God of Goodness and Holiness and Wisdom and Power and Beauty, but as One Who seems to “wink” at our devilment and downright meanness and pure evilness? But this is how He really shows His greatness to us, His majesty, His infinite difference from the way we are, by moving beyond the darkness enshrouding us and seeing us in terms of our baptismal birthright as His (adopted) children. This is our shining glory. It changes our status in His sight. So He’s happy to overlook our dark side and rave about the “silver lining” that peeks around the edges of the dark cloud enveloping our earthly sojourn.

So despite the little foibles of Adam and Eve and Cain and the people of Noah’s generation and the builders of the Tower of Babel and the people of Sodom and Gomorrah and King David’s minor mishaps all the way up to Pilate and Judas and…. (we can go on for quite a while)—sinners all, despite all this, or perhaps because of it all—we learn more about God as He wants to be known: as a merciful and loving God, than we ever would if we only heard about His many fascinating attributes. Besides, these episodes make for interesting reading.

Indeed, the bible would be a very small book if we eliminated all these references to sin. It would fit nicely in one’s purse, or back pocket. But, then, who would want to read it?

Partners’ Forum

Love defined

 true love

a rugged lad, winsome miss

a summer night, dream of bliss

a yearning glance, tender kiss

enkindled hearts speak words of love

a raised cross upon a hill

a storm of shouts, mocking, shrill

a man suffers, pleading still

“forgive them father”. This is Love



Originally composed by Passionist Bro. Richard McCall (Deceased)

Revised 10/14 jp





Last Week’s post credited to Jim Paulin should have read: Originally composed by Passionist Bro. Richard McCall (Deceased) Revised 10/14 jp

Scripture Reflection for Sunday, November 2, 2014

by Dave O’Donnell


IMG_0035Mahatma Gandhi read and appreciated the New Testament. To a Christian trying to convert him he responded: “If God could have sons, all of us were His sons. If Jesus was like God, or God Himself, then all men were like God and could be God Himself.” (Gandhi, in his autobiography p 113). Gandhi said he never became a Christian because he never met a Christian. I understand where Gandhi is coming from. Chesterton said “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried Nietzsche said God is dead. The question is do you believe you are a child of God. If you do, I believe God is not dead and Christianity survives. “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who see the Son and believes in Him may have eternal life.” We all participate in the son ship of Jesus the Christ. Our fulfillment is in it. I believe I am a child of God. I do not fully understand that but I do believe it.


I await further revelation. I do believe in my neighbor and I do see the son of God in him and her. At this point in my life that’s enough proof for Jesus’ proclamation.


I am the vine you are the branches. He is telling us we are one. There is one Son of God and She is us.

Why Ponder Absence?

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

Which situation would be harder to sustain: to have and then to lose, or never to have had at all? We know the pain of having loved someone, and then losing that love. And we know the sense of deprivation at never having loved at all. Which is more painful?

Comparable examples abound. There’s the opportunity we may have had to improve our life, which we neglected to pursue, compared to the life of another person who never had such an opportunity. Or the rags and riches contrast, involving one person moving from poverty to wealth, or vice versa, as opposed to another never having had the experience of encountering either way.

Has the comparison ever entered our mind: would it be more bearable to have enjoyed eyesight, and then lose it, or to have been born blind without ever having gained the slightest glimmer of sight?

We think of the Son of God Who enjoys heavenly bliss for an eternity, and compare that to the interlude when He became human and underwent a way of life ending with thieves on Calvary.

Why should we ponder such unpleasantries? Because they can lead us to appreciate the opportunities we have enjoyed, or they can remind us of those whose loss we have survived, or never even had. This reminds us that life is a gamble, where the stakes are high, and prospects of winning are doubtful. Youth teeming with energy and vitality who join the military and see their peers return from Iraq or Afghanistan, maimed and distorted, may have second thoughts about this gambit: is it a matter of here today, but gone tomorrow?

So we do better to avoid taking things for granted. We should treasure what we have, regardless of the demands made upon us. We are to cherish what we have, not disdain it. Those leading a Spartan life often value the little they have more than others unable to take advantage of the many options at their beck and call. It can lead to a sense of appreciation and thereby offset the impression that opportunity has never knocked at one’s door. So often our sense of loss is magnified more by focusing on what we no longer have rather than by actual deprivations currently afflicting us. “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” applies not only to significant persons in our life, but to other losses we have sustained.

We might profitably recall that primeval struggle in the heavens, eons ago, when Lucifer and his angels revolted against God, and fought against Michael and his cohorts. We should wonder at what made Lucifer dismiss the delights of his heavenly habitat, and think that greater opportunity awaited him in another setting. In his foolishness Lucifer lost an unparalleled opportunity, not only victory in his struggle but an infinity of benefits to which he had access.

The loss of heaven was a missed opportunity, indeed. Can we even begin to imagine what it means to have the kingdom of heaven in one’s grasp, and see it snatched away by our own foolishness? Would it not have been better never to experience the joys of heaven, than to have had them, then suffered their loss through our own foolishness?

In our own situation, we may be well to review the pity we feel for the newborn, or the fetus, with a serious mental or physical defect, over whom we, blessed with health, grieve for their defect, for, notwithstanding their liability, they display satisfaction with their condition, never having known anything different. We may deplore their impoverished way of life and appreciate why some would think of abortion to avoid the “misfortune” of a live birth. But have we never noticed how happy and contented such seriously deformed children can be? They suggest the possibility of not missing what one has never had. Rather, they illustrate the opportunity of enjoying what is available to them.

On the other hand, we note the sense of loss playing itself out in the biblical history of the Hebrew people. From early on, chosen by God as His own special people, loved and cherished by Him before all other tribes and nations, from whom the Messiah Himself was to come, the Jews lost their long-awaited opportunity (as we Christians see it) to acclaim and accept Him as One of their own, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. A missed chance, from the Christian point of view, but, thanks to God’s special dispensation on behalf of the Jewish people, they still enjoy His favor, especially the promise of something good to come. We disciples of Christ, who now enjoy Him as God great gift to us, do not, however, ultimately benefit at the expense of our Jewish friends. For together with them we await the end-time when the full manifestation of the Messiah will take place, to our mutual enrichment. Whatever opportunity may have been missed or overlooked will be restored, for Jew and gentile Christian alike. This greatest opportunity of all still lies ahead.


Partners’ Forum




After Things
by Jim Paulin



Out of night swelter, rain

Out of Spring mud, grain

Out of bitter cold, May

Out of dawns’ mist, day

Out of gloom, World Light

Out of storms, rainbows bright

Out of clouds, sky blue

Out of seeking, Lord YOU

Scripture Reflection for Sunday, October 26, 2014

by Dave O’Donnell

IMG_0035Last week I asked what are the commandments Jesus gave us as opposed to the those Moses gave us. This Sunday’s Gospel selection gives us the first two which I believe are the paradigm for all of life: Love God with all your mind, heart and soul; two, love your neighbor as yourself. The other commandments give us a formula to carry these out and how to love life and embrace it more fully even the most difficult aspects of it like our crosses.


Love does not judge it tries to understand and help if possible. Love forgives always and does not carry the burden of resentment or grudges. Those two are best demonstrated by a mother’s love for her child as well as the best example of how we should treat our neighbor. These commandments are about how we should relate to life. Pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus. Embrace life even our crosses. What are the other commandments or are there other commandments?

Finding Community on the Internet


Remember before the Internet (BI) when you heard a song on the radio and thought, I’d like to get that? Then you had to run down to your local record store, shell out a couple of dollars and bring it home. Only after that would you be able to listen to it whenever you liked, as long as you were at home.


Remember BI when you wanted to know what was happening at Vatican II or the United Nations? You’d have to wait for the evening news on TV or grab the evening newspaper (yes, we had evening editions) to hear or read the latest.


Remember BI when a phone was just an instrument to receive and make calls?


The Internet has changed all that. Music and news are instantly available online. Your phone—why that does everything from get you out of bed in the morning to finding your way around town and yes, it still can be used for receiving and making calls.


Building community is changing as well. Kina Grannis’s story above is just one example. Now if we want to build a community we form a group on Facebook or Linkedin and invite all our friends to join. Then if we want to meet face-to-face we announce a meeting on Meetup and invite just our friends or the whole world to join us.


I believe it’s time for us Passionist Partners to revolutionize the way we think about building our community, especially if we want to develop it with the Millennials (those born during the Pontificate of John Paul II) and other communities. One way to do this is by blogging, i.e. not only writing, posting and publishing our own blog, but by following the blogs of others we want to develop community with. For instance, we can find out what Millennial Catholics are thinking by subscribing to their Blog Millennial. Yes, it takes time and commitment, but isn’t that just what community is all about?

Do You Want to be Formed or Informed or Both?

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

Do formation and information mean the same thing? Doesn’t formation suggest shaping and fashioning something to a point where it acquires some kind of appearance differentiating it? And doesn’t information refer to the mind, in its capacity to understand or learn about something? If such be the case, it would seem that formation has to do with appearance, while information is more of an internal procedure centering around data.

Would it be accurate to say that an artist is engaged in formation while a newscaster is concerned with information? If so, it would seem that, in our U.S. society, information is more to the fore as a center of concern for most of us than formation is. Formation can involve considerable effort and work, consuming a large amount of time, whereas information, or at least much of it, can often flow readily off the tongue, though admittedly some informants devote time and effort to study and inform themselves, before they attempt to convey their efforts to others.

Which is more important? That is a difficult question to answer, and probably elicits different answers from a spectrum of persons, in terms of how they are inclined. In U.S. society, where communication media have come to dominate the time and interest of most of us, we likely would tend to regard information as more important than formation. So much of our interacting with one another involves sharing information about ourselves or events around us.

However, we can’t overlook the time and effort that families, especially parents, give to the task of formation of their children. True enough, here is where formation and information come together, since parents form their children by information about how to do this, that or the other thing. School, too, provides a mixture of these two, at least when practiced by a good teacher. Even the military, in its early induction stage, engages in both formation of and information for recruits.

We would be hard put to answer the question whether we personally would prefer to be formed, or informed, or, put another way, whether we regard formation as of more interest and concern to ourselves than information. A good example of how formation centers our lives is in terms of our habits or modes of behavior. These soon become apparent to others. We may tend to walk quickly, or slowly. Or we may talk easily and frequently, or we may speak hesitantly and infrequently. We may prefer to be by ourselves most of the time, or we may like the company of others.

If information is of great interest to others, they may constantly be found near a source of news, be it radio, computer, TV or newspaper. On the other hand, we know of those habitually avoiding the media, preferring not to be disturbed by a barrage of information.

How do we look at our religious faith? Is it a matter of information for us, or of formation? Or both? In looking back at my schooling in Catholic or other religious institutions, do I recall it in terms of all the data and pieces of information I picked up about my Catholic/religious heritage, or do I remember it for the influence it had on values I cherish even today, years later, for instance, on the outlook I now have on life, its tragedies, its moments of joy? Is the bible like a history book for me, chock-full of fascinating incidents in the exploits of ancient peoples, or is it spiritual reading for me, where I prefer to stop and mull over thoughts that spring out of the text at me? Am I influenced, maybe even changed, by what I read? The same with preaching? Do I go to hear the speaker in the podium convey to me tidbits of interesting information that I had not heard before, or do I look for some inspirational remark that will help me at a difficult time in my life?

Formation/information. Likely we need them both, and would fare poorly without either one of them. But in the scales that we will encounter at our death, should one be labeled formation, and the other information, which scale, measuring my life accomplishments, will at that point in my existence matter more?

Editors note: What do you think? Please take a minute or two to tell us by clicking on Survey. Thank you.

Partners’ Forum

Scripture Reflection for Sunday October 19, 2014


IMG_0035In Sunday’s gospel Jesus gives us some good advise. In response to a challenging question He asks for a coin and says: “then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God” (MT 22:21). Is He suggesting that humanity and divinity are just different sides of the same coin?


At another time Jesus tells us if you love me you will follow my commandments. My question is does this advice rise to the level of a commandment? I would have to answer, no it does not. Then what are the commandments Jesus is talking about? I am convinced they are not the Ten Commandments given to Moses. In the following Sunday’s Gospel we are given two of those commandments to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Do you think there are the others?


Synod on the Family

Prelates: Synod document is the fruit of Vatican II spirit | National Catholic Reporter.

..”The archbishop quoted the opening of the council’s pastoral constitution on the church in the modern world, Gaudium et Spes, saying the synod wished to hear ‘the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the women and men of this age’.”

If you haven’t already been following the Synod on the Family taking place in the Vatican this past week, you can read about it by clicking on the above link.In hopes of generating a “Passionists’ discussion” on this I offer these two questions: (please respond by clicking on “comment” below) Of course you can disregard these questions and comment as you see fit. Thanks for your participation.

1. Are you encouraged with the Synod on the family thus far? Yes or No

2. Should we as Passionists be concerned with this synod? Yes or No

Vatican II Changes Everything


The above video situates Vatican II in the world of 1962: the political climate, the social upheavals and scientific ideas. John F. Kennedy was challenging the United States to go to the moon. We had just come out of World War II, a war started in Europe, or the Christian world. It was a great time to be alive and to be Catholic.

One idea coming out of Vatican II concerned the role of the laity in the church:

“The Council pointed out that the laity can ‘also be called in various ways to a more direct cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy’ and that ‘they have the capacity to assume from the Hierarchy certain ecclesiastical functions’ (33), but it is quite clear that the Council did not intend that these extraordinary forms of ‘cooperation in the apostolate of the Hierarchy’ (such as the liturgical functions of lector and Eucharistic minister) should cause the laity to be cast as miniature clergy instead of being encouraged to engage in their own proper apostolate, which is the transformation of the social order in Christ.” (


“Which is the tranformation of the social order in Christ.” Wow! What a mission. I could really get into that as a 19 and 20 year old and still can today. I did, with the Passionists, starting with Fr. Joe Van Leuuwen, C.P. inviting me to teach CCD at the Parish, and continuing on to this day with all sorts of exciting challenges and assignments that different Passionists offered me and I accepted.


In the above quote we also read:  Lay Associates or Partners in our case, are not intended to be miniature Professed but should “engage in our own proper apostolate”. I accomplish this in my world by taking the great gifts the Passionists have given me and adapting them as best I can, to the real world in which I live, move and have my being, i.e. Teaching, Life Insurance Sales and the volunteer work I do as a retired person. In his book A Monk in the World, Wayne Teasdale presents the challenge I believe is the challenge for us The Passionist Partners of today:


“ Without doubt, there is great value in spirituality that emphasizes and supports withdrawal from society. But in our time, with its special needs, we require a spirituality of intense involvement and radical engagement with the world. It is in the real world that people live their busy lives, and it is in the real world that the wisdom of the monks must be made accessible. It is in the real world that their awakening and development need to occur, not off in remote solitude.” (p xxi)


Finally, the Passionists from the time of St. Paul of the Cross have always committed their lives to the above ideal of bringing the wisdom of the monks to the world. They did this by spending six months a year in strict monastic observance and six months in active ministry. With the crumbling of the monastery walls in our world today, I hope we Partners can continue this ideal in new forms that are not yet fully realized.


Next week: An even more seismic event than Vatican II, in my mind is the Internet. How does the Internet change our way of being together and the forms of Passionist ministry.