How to Avoid Indegestion

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

Our English language is full of superlatives. We love to enhance our descriptions with the suffix “est” so that they are elevated to the nth degree: the highest, the tallest, the fastest, the strongest, the smartest, the prettiest, the funniest, etc.   As a result, we slight the poor, forlorn comparative degree in our descriptions, such as: faster, stronger, smarter, prettier, etc. We are going to wear out our superlatives from overuse, and neglect or consign to the rust belt or the dust bin our comparatives.

With Thanksgiving upon us, we are on the verge of another feast on superlatives as we describe the meal being placed before us. And, as we face this prospect, we run head-on into another fiasco associated with our English language: the word THANKS.   Presumably, this word will be coming to mind, and to our lips, frequently in and around Thanksgiving time. Why not? After all, it is most fitting, especially at this time of the year, to use this gracious and kindly word. Indeed, that is so. We give thanks to the cook or cooks of a delicious turkey meal, and, in the case of those among us, poorly situated in life, we thank those who have seen to it that we have found a place at the table of plenty. All well and good.

But then comes the mauling of our beautiful language. Because, almost invariably, the response to our “thank you” will consist of return “thank YOU” from the one we just thanked, and thus will commence a veritable barrage and counter-barrage of “thank YOU”s, involving a counter thrust of “no, thank YOU”, which, of course, no one will allow to stand, shorn of a decent response, which will inevitably be “oh, but thank you.” In this exchange of rapid fire expressions of gratitude, there is a strong likelihood it will never come to an end, or, just as bad, will lead to acrimony over who slips in the last “thank you” said.

Just like the superlatives of our language, which bury the comparatives, consigning them to oblivion, so the “thank you s” of our language, which is one of the most verbose of contemporary tongues in the contemporary world, with multiple choices of various ways in which we say what we want to say, we are locked into verbal sparring, even combat, over getting the last word in on adequate gratitude.

But the English language is gifted with a way out of this impasse in the form of a simple two word formula that is specifically designed to terminate what otherwise threatens to become interminable: YOU’RE WELCOME. Whatever happened to this simple but highly pertinent companion of “thank you”? It seems to have melted into oblivion. When is the last time you heard a YOU’RE WELCOME in an exchange with a THANK YOU? For some reason, we have closeted YOU’RE WELCOME, in much the same way we have done with comparatives in our superlative-sated use of English.

The distinct advantage of YOU’RE WELCOME is that it graciously and quickly terminates this contest/combat over who has the last THANK YOU on record. Does it take its cue from our liturgical prayer at mass, called the preface, whose introductory exhortation, LET US GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD OUR GOD, appropriately elicits the gracious response: IT IS RIGHT AND JUST? Indeed, is not the central prayer of our Catholic religion the EUCHARIST? And does not eucharist mean: THANKSGIVING?

So let us all practice YOU’RE WELCOME during this Thanksgiving season. Otherwise we may get indigestion and not enjoy our meal.

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Partners’ Forum

 

Scripture Reflection for Sunday
November 30
by Dave O’Donnell

IMG_0035The operative word in this Sunday’s Gospel selection (MK 13: 33-37) is “Watch”. It has much in common with words like knock, ask and see. To a person who believes in an accessible God, “listen” another important word, has a potential not available to someone who doesn’t.

 

When I was a younger more troubled fellow with a lot more questions, my prayers were often answered, I believed by God, but in the words of a friend’s casual comment or maybe by a song on the radio. I was given direction by co-incidence that came across to me as spirit filled advice. I believe we are all in the palm of God’s hands and our prayers are answered but it takes faith to hear the answer.

 

I am a more mature and peaceful person today but God still answers my prayers with power that can shock me. I find if I give thanks immediately after my prayers, if I’m in a state of appreciation, the answer comes clearer and faster. I am in constant dialogue with myself. When I make room for God in that dialogue that’s called prayer.

 

The novelist Flannery O’Conner said: “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not”. I know that God answers prayer but when I believe it, everything changes.

 

Baby Turkeys Take First Steps

 

Life is beautiful and a gift! Sometimes I’m tempted to think I am the author of life and I must make sure it’s all edited and scripted well. Then I watch quick videos like the one above from The Dodo and realize how blessed and thankful I am for the gift of life. Happy Thanksgiving!

Who Offers More, Cradle Catholics or Converts?

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

It’s refreshing at times to encounter a recent convert to the Catholic faith, and to hear him or her speak glowingly of their new experience in the church. Most of the time their expressions are glowing.   The contour of the churches, the layout of their interiors, the art work found within, whether statuary, stained-glass windows or paintings, the music, whether classical organ motets or those of recent vintage, the layout of the sanctuary with the focus on the altar and the tabernacle, the orderly arrangements of the ministers around the altar in their array of variously colored vestments—all these strike the newcomer as a thrilling display of taste and orderliness, and contribute to the “uplift” that recent converts to the faith experience. This is all for the good.

Over and above that, some of these recent converts are eager to give accounts of how they were drawn to the Catholic faith, and some of these are exceedingly interesting, to say the least. They may have involved hearing an inner voice or having a sensation of someone near at hand or witnessing some remarkable event or undergoing some other out-of-this-world phenomenon, etc.

Now, cradle Catholics stand outside these series of events, all of which are on the “wonderful” side, and either regard them as “hard to believe” or as privileged events reserved to the chosen few. And they may wonder why people like themselves, who have plodded along somewhat unenthusiastically and maybe sullenly at times, have never undergone comparable wonders or even had occasion to engage in admiration at the familiar sights and sounds of their Catholic faith, comparable to what some converts to the faith have apparently had.

We might well identify these two kinds of Catholics in terms of the two great apostles of our faith: Peter and Paul. Peter was an “ole timer”, in a manner of speaking. He was one of the very earliest companions of Jesus, accepting His invitation at the very outset to join Jesus’ ministry. He fulfilled the criterion expressed years later when a replacement for the unfaithful Judas had to be chosen: that he be : ”…one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us, beginning from the baptism of Jesus until the day on which he was taken up from us, become with us a witness to the resurrection.” (Acts 1.21-22) He was a companion of the “historical” Jesus, so to speak, from beginning to end of His public ministry: a cradle apostle, so we might describe him. And while He did witness the wonders Jesus performed and heard His marvelous discourses, He also experienced Jesus in the “down” side of His life here on earth, the opposition and ridicule He underwent, the criticism He endured, and, above all, His sufferings and death on the cross.

Paul, on the other hand, was a typical convert to the faith, one of the first. His very first encounter with Jesus was a remarkable event. Paul (at the time, Saul) was a belligerent Jew, a fanatical Pharisee, a sworn enemy of this new group, the followers of Jesus (all former Jews themselves). In fact, he was on his way to Damascus to do them some harm when he encountered the risen Jesus in some kind of remarkable experience that knocked him to the ground, blinded him and challenged him: “why are you persecuting me?” From that moment on, Saul was a changed man, on his way to becoming the apostle Paul. He became the quintessential convert to the faith, who never met the historical Jesus, as Peter had, and whose very first experience was one of awe and wonder, that continued and expanded throughout Paul’s life.

So here we have examples of the “cradle apostle” and the new convert to the ranks of the apostles: Peter and Paul. Peter plodded along, had his ups and downs, saw the down side as well as the upside of Jesus and stuck it out from beginning to end, trudging the roadways of the Holy Land. Paul was the new kid on the block, profoundly influenced by a remarkable event at the origin of his conversion, whose whole life became a living out of that initial experience. Both men are apostles. They stand at the origins of the faith handed down to us. They were nurtured by different kinds of experience: Peter was an early companion of the Jesus Who lived among us here on earth, Paul was a late-comer who encountered Jesus in His risen state, one of power and glory. They both contributed to the faith that we have inherited, each in his own way. We need and treasure them both.

 

Partners’ Forum

Scripture Reflection for Sunday
November 23
by Dave O’Donnell

 

IMG_0035In my theology 101 course, Father Foley S.J. was trying to tell us who God was but frustrated in the attempt said we were just too young and inexperienced (small minded) to understand. I raised my hand and suggested: “You cannot see God and live. There is no perch to stand upon that can reveal an angle that shows ‘The All’. The only way to see God is to dissolve into the Godhead and become ‘The All’ thus loosing your individuality—for you cannot see God and live.” Father Foley stood motionless looking perplexed for a few minutes and then exclaimed: “I never thought of it that way, but yes, that’s it.”

 

In the Where to Find All in the Bible resource and under “God Defined” it gives Ex 3: 13-14. To Moses question “If they ask me what is His name, what am I to tell them?” God replied: “I am who am.” Then he added: “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I am sent me to you.” (I understand this statement as I am all)

 

In First Corinthians 15:28 when, finally all has been subjected to the Son, he will then subject himself to the one who made all things subject to him, so that God may be all in all.” I am who am and all in all mean the same to me. Paul and the book of Exodus agree on who God the Father is.

 

Can We Offer What We Do Best

 

 

If you ever doubted the effectiveness of the contemplative life, we now have the definitive answer, Brown University has initiated a program that studies contemplation from many different aspects declaring it valid and relevant to 21st Century people.

 

I never doubted its effectiveness; actually I never thought to question it. As a high school student at the Passionist Prep in Warrenton Missouri, we spent 15 minutes a day meditating, that is kneeling (ok, half kneeling and half sitting) quietly reflecting in the chapel as a community. While I don’t remember waiting for that time like I often found myself waiting for lunch, dinner or to just get out of the classroom, I do remember feeling very much at peace and connected to those around me while there. I don’t ever remember wishing not to be there even though the smell of dinner being cooked down the hall often assaulted my senses persuading me to reflect more on what was in store for dinner than on the reflection I just read to start my meditation time.

 

It’s good to see Brown University, Stanford University and others getting on board and discovering the value of something contemplatives like the Passionists have been and continue to do for centuries. I suppose it’s good to know how the brain functions while meditating and the beneficial physical effects etc, but deep down I believe it’s just something you do, like eating and breathing.

 

Why do I bother to post this then? While watching the video I couldn’t help but be taken by the young college students who shared their positive experiences with the program. The children of the people I hang with will probably never go to the prestigious Ivy League Brown University. I suspect though, like the students at Brown, they might be interested in learning more about meditation and contemplation, things we Passionists are pros at. Maybe I can plan some introductory information on these practices and invite the young people in my world, whether I know them or not, to come and experience for themselves these life giving practices.

 

Is Sin Really Necessary?

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

What are we to think of this? No sin, no mercy. Does this mean sin is necessary for a display of mercy? Should there be no sin, then there would be no mercy? Surely I can show mercy without being provoked by sin!

Maybe not. Is not the Latin word for mercy, MISERICORDIA? And is not this Latin word a combination of the words “heart” (“cordia”) and “mercy” (“miseri”)? Misery of some kind or other, that is, a deplorable situation, is linked to the inner working of the heart moving it to mercy, its fundamental response mode. If there was no misery, or deplorable situation, then there could be no heart motion called mercy. There might be kindness, generosity, thoughtfulness, but there would be no room for mercy.

So, in a perfect world, with no lack of any kind, or deviation, or failure, or emptiness, or suffering, or mishap—there would then be a world without mercy. So what, one might respond? Why postulate something so undesirable, so unwanted, so foreboding, so painful as these things, just in order to have some occasion for mercy?   It seems to me I can get along just fine without mercy if it means I can avoid all the unpleasant things that seem to make mercy possible. I can get along in a world without the pain, suffering, disappointment, lack, emptiness, coldness, cruelty, failure that make life here below so unpleasant and downright undesirable. Better no life at all than a life full of such negative experiences.

So then I wouldn’t have to worry over or fret about a baby about to be born with spina bifida or a cleft palate or blindness or deafness. I could then welcome a perfect baby into my life, and live happily ever after.

God apparently made a terrible mistake in setting up a world in which the possibility of multiple mishaps, misfortunes, mistakes and misadventures could occur. For these bring nothing but misery to us, and keep Him forever busy patching up all the mistakes that could have been avoided had He just carefully thought this whole situation through.   After all, He is perfect, and mistakes are not characteristic of His handiwork.

BUT, that is true except for one striking factor. He would never be able to manifest His mercy to the world if everything worked out just perfect. After all, what kind of God would we be dealing with were He all powerful, all wise, all holy, all knowing, all beautiful, but not all merciful because no occasion was available for Him to show His mercy, lacking any need or opportunity for doing so?

What is the greatest deed God is capable of? Showing mercy. This is how God wants to be identified by us: as the merciful one (Neh9.31). He doesn’t want a series of perfect little creatures like ourselves coming forth from His creating hand and then going about our happy ways with no more need of Him than of the man in the moon. No, God wants to be needed, to be wanted, to be longed for, and to be loved, but there will be no needing, or wanting, or longing for, or loving if we were all doing quite well, thank you. It would be like bringing an infant into the world who displayed no need or expectation of us at all: a perfectly self-sufficient and completely out-fitted little creature who can well afford to do without us because he or she has no need of us.

But, as a matter of fact, we all have needs, plenty of them, and they cause us misery. And we cannot handle them by ourselves because they’re linked to our sins, which we cannot eradicate or root out of our lives. All of our miseries are related to ours sins, and, ultimately, the only recourse we have for our sins is the mercy of God. In fact, God is delighted that this is so, because, more than anything else, God wants to be appreciated by us as a merciful God: more so than as a wise God or strong God or eternal God or infinite God or beautiful God. He is perfectly content to be regarded as a merciful God. His most cherished claim to fame is His mercy, and it is our sinfulness that triggers His mercy.

So, the trademark of the Christian way of life is the crucifix, for there is no better sign of Who God is for us and what He stands for in our life than the mercy He displays on the cross. So we thank and praise God for our faults, our failures, our weaknesses, our inadequacies, our ineptness. In short, we are grateful for our inept humanness because nothing better calls to mind Who God is in His infinity. We and God make a perfect team, complementing one another: we are finite, He is infinite: a compatible formula for working together well.