Who’s the VIP on Your Tally Sheet?

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

We often contrast activity and passivity. We identify activity as a sign of life and vigor. We regard passivity as an indication of lethargy and inadequacy. Activity indicates agency and achievement. Passivity suggests dependency and overall sluggishness.

If we wanted a collaborator in a project, we would look for signs of initiative in such a partner; a self-starter would recommend him- or herself to us. There would be a need for indications of competency in the kind of person we are looking for, and independence, or at least signs of a collaborative spirit: an initiator, as we often say.

We certainly wouldn’t want to align ourselves with another who, far from helping us in a project, is in need of a push him- or herself. That would increase our workload, adding to the project at hand the further task of pushing a very lethargic person.

While all this is true, it doesn’t cover the entirety of the “waterfront” that we traverse, so to speak. Because, upon reflection, we recognize that a good portion of our lives is taken up with “passive” type people, and, somewhat reluctantly, we acknowledge that this is more or less undesirable. Indeed, we may have to admit that there are some dearly treasured incidents in our lives where the passivity and dependency of others has enriched our lives, and done for us something that we ourselves could not bring into our lives, not even with the help of capable others at our side.

This reminds us, for instance, of our association with “the little people” in our lives: the children, the infants, the under-developed or highly dependent relationships that we have had. We must admit that memories of such are not all bad or unpleasant. In fact, it would be a serious misstatement to say so. Take the infant example of especially the newborn. There’s not much efficiency or initiative in a baby. In fact, there’s none at all, other than an often powerful pair of lungs, which, as a matter of fact, is a call alerting us, proving highly effective.

It is these little people who, in the long run, may actually meet our needs more than high efficiency experts. This is because they do something for us that the “more competent” people among our entourage cannot do. They evoke from us some redeeming aspects about ourselves of which we may not been aware, not so much in terms of helping us getting a job well done, but rather, in terms of leading us to become the kind of person we may have thought we couldn’t become.

As a result, a newly discovered and mutual dependency can evolve between ourselves and, for instance, a baby. While the young one, of course, is dependent on us for food, clothing and warmth, we, in our turn, become dependent on the baby for a sense of humanness, tenderness, support, comfort and caring concern, that otherwise we might never have been able to achieve. A mutuality of dependence can grow between us; the baby needing us for survival needs, at one level, while our needing the baby for another level of survival needs. We discover the ability to provide and exhibit elements of loving care and concern within ourselves that otherwise might have forever eluded us, never having made their appearance within us. Then add in the experience of trust, confidence, contentment and security that to our surprise the young one receives from this association with us , surprisingly affirming who we are, and revealing our better selves—a lesson not to be gained in other venues or quarters.

Perhaps that is why God chose to take this route in making His appearance among us: not emerging as an ambitious entrepreneur or brilliant intellectual but in the guise of a harmless little creature who can be easily disregarded and/or dismissed from our consciousness. God is gambling on our response mechanisms to this different kind of scenario. After all, He made us, so He has a pretty good idea as to how we perform and operate. He knows the power that an infant can exert over an adult.

So, in tallying up the kinds of helpful and significant people we want to have around us as we make our mark in life, while obviously grateful for whatever help some of the movers and shakers of society can make available to us, we may stumble upon the surprising discovery that, in our inventory of very important persons on my tally sheet, I value and cherish the little people who manage to evoke from me qualities I never knew I had: hidden assets that will stand me in good stead when the final assessment is taken of my life, with its assets and liabilities. We certainly don’t want to come up short in the column noting the humanizing components that these little ones can educe from the often complex and complicated composite that I am.

Partners’ Forum

IMG_0027My dear Friends,

 I wish to each and all of you a joyful Christmas!  May the birth of Jesus bring to each of us great happiness and peace.  The gift of Jesus lying there in the crib will draw loving smiles and affection from the little ones.  Rightly so! Those of us who have been around a few more years (!) will also have great affection, joy and gratitude for Jesus. 

 Friendship is something that bonds us together.  You and I know that friendship is a precious gift.   Yes, look at your husband, look at your wife.  Yes, look at your Mom and Dad.  Yes, look at your kids.   Yes, look at your brother and sister.  Yes, look at Grandma and Grandpa.  Married couples know that their friendship has been sealed…”through better and for worse,…for richer and for poorer, …in health  and in sickness.”  And our divine friend, Jesus, said “greater love than this no one has but that he lay down his live for his friends.”  How wonderful that some of us can appreciate that his precious gift of friendship continues to grow deep within us as we mark another year of growing friendship with Him. 

Signs of friendship continue to grow.  That outstretched hand or arm is offered to keep us from falling.   That wheelchair will assure us that we will get to where we want to go…maybe a bit slower but surely moving.  Some of us in fact might be recalling Jesus saying, “Come on, take up your cross and let’s walk together.”  What a great source of encouragement and friendship on his part. 

Life here in Detroit in our Passionist Community adds up to about a year and five months.  It’s been good.  Well, there have a few challenges along the way.  …

Each and all of you will be in my prayers.  I owe each and all of you many, many thanks. Do continue to keep me in your prayers.  May each and all of us step into the New Year of 2015 with joy and hope along with our loved ones and friends.

My love and prayers,

 Fr. Peter

Six Steps to Reduce Violence

Vow of Nonviolence



I hope you’re better at keeping New Year’s resolutions than I am. Realizing Christmas is a time of hope, this coming New Year’s Eve I will try once more with a resolve to, if not actually grow in non-violence, at least to daily remind myself how I can better do that in my life. I will do that by printing out a copy of Pax Christi’s “Vow of Nonviolence”, post that on the bulletin board near my desk and daily read the six suggested steps to accomplish this in my life, when I sit at my desk, before I do anything else. I invite you to join with me in taking Pax Christi’s “Vow of Nonviolence”. You can get a copy by clicking on the above link.

Peace and love to you and your loved ones this Christmas Season and throughout 2016.


Our Ticket to Heaven

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

We soon celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in our midst. Is this something to be celebrated, or to be grieved over? For did He not come to die, along with the rest of us? “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk. 10.45)

The rest of us count our births as something to celebrate. After all, should we not have been born, we should not have existed—ever. We do not believe, as some do, that we all had another existence, prior to our birth in this world. Except for Jesus Christ. He had a life prior to His birth among us, as the Son of God, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. He lived, and lives, for all eternity, in the Godhead, with Father and Holy Spirit. Why then did He come to be born and live among us? Was it to suffer and die for our sins? And, if so, is that something to celebrate and rejoice over? Why so—why be glad over another’s suffering?

Possibly because, if we had not sinned, He would not have come among us. The only reason He came into our midst was because we had sinned, and He came to save and help us. (However, some think that whether we had sinned or not makes no difference to God in sending His Son to us, since He does so out of love for us, in any case.) And so we rejoice at the help given us, like a life-jacket thrown to a drowning person.

But, just think, if sin had not appeared among us, in the action of Adam and Eve, we would not have been drowning, and would need no life jacket. In fact, there would have been no death (Rm 5.12). But, if no death, then there would have been no urgency to offset death by constantly replenishing new life, to continue what death was constantly interrupting. That is, there would have been no human race to continue and maintain human life, for Adam and Eve would have lived forever. Is that not true? For did not death enter the world because of the sin of our first parents? No sin, no death, so, if no death, no Jesus, since Jesus came among to save us from sin and death.

So we would not even have existed were it not for the sin of our First Parents. Is that not so? And, if so, would that not have erased the reason why Jesus came to live among us: to save us from sin and ultimately its aftermath (death), so that we might enjoy a new and different life, no longer here on earth, but in heaven?

So, apparently we owe a lot to sin, especially the sin of our first parents: our very existence is explained by the need to offset the inroads of death among us, caused by the impact of sin on Adam and Eve, forcing them to become parents rather than just a loving pair of friends living on forever.

But, since this is not the case, the birth and death cycle began and apparently would have carried on in this world of ours in that rhythm, had not Christ come into our midst, been born as one of us, lived and died as we do, but, in the process, breaking the horizontal line of our existence, intersecting it with a vertical line, breaking the flat plane, and opening up a whole new vista of possibilities for us: a new kind of life, life with God. And this is what Christmas is all about: the Good News that a Savior has been born for us, to save us from our flat existence in this kind of life we have been living, and opening up for us an entirely new and different vista of life: life with God.

This is what the birth of Jesus Christ means for us, and this is why it is so important that we link or unite ourselves to Him as our Savior, our life-raft, which we do by faith and all the sacraments, especially the new-birth sacrament called baptism, whereby we are born again to a new kind of life, begun here below, continuing on in heaven above.

So how grateful we are that Christ has come to bestow new life on us by saving us from our sins. And, by the way, perhaps we should tip our hats to our first parents. Had they not sinned, there would have been no death, and, had there been no death, there would have been no need to offset death by new births, and, should this have been the case, where would we have come into the picture? So this is a bad news, good news, scenario. It starts off badly, but, happily, it ends on a happy note, thanks to what we are about to celebrate on Christmas Day: the birth of One Who will indeed die, like the rest of us, but Who will rise to a new life that becomes ours too, through the waters of baptism. So let us hold on to our baptismal certificate. It is our ticket to heaven.

Partners’ Forum

Reflection for Sunday December 21, 2014
By Dave O’Donnell


IMG_0035When I bought my first car in 1963, the first accessory I attached to the dashboard was a St. Christopher’s medal. The story of St. Christopher carrying a child across a rapid river during a storm and feeling the weight of the child and the subsequent realization that he was the Christ Child inspired and empowered generations to discover Christ in their midst. The story was so powerful that not long after it was first told Christopher, which means Christ carrier, became popular enough to be made a saint even though it’s doubtful he ever existed.


At some point after the ecumenical Council the story of St. Christopher was recognized for what it was, a great story and not factual so he was removed from the official list of saints of the church. The power in the story of St. Christopher is not in the accuracy of the events but in the meaning behind the events. In the New Testament, Jesus uses stories called parables, to teach. I believe and have found that all of the New Testament is more relevant to me when I accept it as metaphor and symbol. The power in the stories is revealed when I stop arguing with the facts.


In Sunday’s Gospel selection, the Angel Gabriel says to Mary: “Do not be afraid, Mary. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus.”


I accept that all things are possible through God and I experience God’s workings but in conventional ways. The meaning of the story to me is that God is amongst us and as the story proceeds to its conclusion, that we are each and every one of us a child of God. This must be the greatest story ever told and the greatest experience ever for anyone who has given birth to a child.

Make Peace Happen Now

Can such a simple (though not necessarily easy) accomplishment as subordinating our ego, lead us to world peace? Is compassion different for Muslims than for Christians or are we all really “Partners” searching for the same reality? What does the Qur’an have to say about compassion? These are just a few of the questions Feisal Abdul Rauf , spiritually answers in today’s TED Talk. Feisal retells a story from the Sufi (Inner mystical tradition of Islam) master, Runi, that I will never forget. It simply and magically tells the answer to realizing Peace on Earth.

Caveat Auditor (Hearer Beware)

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

To Abraham Lincoln is attributed the observation that you can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but not all of the people all of the time. This is the astute observation of a seasoned politician, who has learned this hard truth in his professional career.

This is what lifts the message of Jesus, and of the bible in general, out of the genre of folklore and even the reliability of verifiable experience onto another level of communication. Lincoln’s remark is a commentary on the vagaries of language. It is not always trustworthy, and the listener or reader must be careful (caveat auditor). On the other hand, it is a backhanded tribute to our way of communicating with one another. Eventually our linguistic communication will work out, likely after several setbacks. Our poor language can take a beating but somehow it survives so as to serve us adequately. It gets the job done.

So even though we can and do fool others, misleading people and feeding them false information, the “truth will out”, one way or the other, sooner or later. Some of us are misled all the time by those we uncritically trust, and we pay the penalty for this foolishness. We may have our favorites among the news media moguls, taking everything we hear from them without any misgivings. This loyalty may be more like bull-headedness than confidence about the truth. Most of us will be duped periodically, but thankfully only for a time, until we catch on, correct ourselves and move closer to the truth of things. At this point we resent our prior unconditional trust of the word of another, if it proves to be misplaced.

Eventually we come to learn that a less certain communicator, or one who carefully qualifies much of what he or she says, is, in the long run, the person we learn to trust, for imparting the most truth over the long haul. Above all, that person wins our esteem who admits that he or she misinformed us, and now attempts to set the record straight.

In this regard, the telling of jokes is a tricky use of language. A version of this is the use of fantastic language in a dramatic way, capable of convincing others, as in the 1938 CBS radio episode in which Orson Welles, acting the part of a legitimate newscaster, abruptly interrupted a broadcast to announce to a petrified public that earth was being invaded by Martians from outer space. This illustrated how to fool some of the people some of the time. For severe trauma was inflicted on some listeners from that unexpected interjection of a terrifying piece of news into a broadcast.

Especially with young children, care must be taken in the use of language, especially jokes. Children tend to trust adults, especially strangers whom they don’t know, and they can be seriously traumatized by misplacing their trust in a thoughtless communication to them. A person who is always joking or “pulling pranks” has difficulty gaining credibility when it is needed, an example of which is the often cited warning about exclaiming FIRE, FIRE too frequently in crowded places like a theater, so that, when the remark is to the point, it is tragically not taken seriously. This is one of those times when all of the people (in the theater) must not be fooled.

Distorted remarks in widely circulating publications like ROLLING STONES, with its recent account of rape on a university campus, based on a purported instance provided by one person, while eventually discredited, at least in part, nonetheless caused unwarranted injury to those concerned, as well as to the publication itself: an instance of some of the people being fooled some of the time.

In this season of the year it is consoling to recall the teaching of faith, that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. Human language was assumed by the Word of God and rose to the level of God-language. Thereby it has been enriched as a mother-lode of impeccable worth. In these matters of faith, we are assured not only that not all believers are not fooled all of the time, but, even more, that all believers are never fooled any of the time. A believer can hear and speak the language of faith in a trusting manner, and need not rest content with knowing that it is impossible to fool all the people all of the time. Consoling as that may be, it is not as comforting as to know that a believer can never be fooled any of the time, when it is a matter of a truth of faith.


Partners’ Forum

Scripture Reflection for Sunday
December 14, 2014
by Dave O’Donnell

IMG_0035Sunday’s first reading is from Isaiah

             “The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,

because the LORD has anointed me;

he has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor,

to heal the brokenhearted,

to proclaim liberty to the captives

and release to the prisoners,” (IS 1:1-2A)

In Luke’s Gospel Jesus reads this scripture to the crowds at the temple to announce Himself and His ministry to the people. For this and many other reasons, scripture gives me and experience has confirmed, I see Jesus as the Great Emancipator. His mission is to lead us to freedom from the oppression of family, religion, self, ego and even death. And put these things in their proper perspective. The reward for following Jesus is freedom.

In the epistle, Paul tells us to

“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing.

In all circumstances give thanks,

May the God of peace make you perfectly holy…” (1THES 5:16-23)

If I am to become perfectly holy, it will have to be God that accomplishes that in me. I know I can’t do it on my own.

The idea of giving thanks in all circumstances opens up the possibility of seeing a path that just might lead to growth, maybe even holiness. Giving thanks requires non-judgment and that combination of non-judgment and gratitude leads to insight and trust with the possibility of seeing how God operates in us. God is love and love changes everything.

How difficult it is though to give thanks for the failures in our lives. Conversely, denial of our failures can be catastrophic. I am a grateful mistake maker.

We Need to Tell the “Right” Story


In this TED Talk, Karen Thompson Walker tells us that we must tell the “right” story if we are going to live. The story we Passionists tell is the story of the Cross.

I am often reluctant to tell that story even when I believe it is the one that needs to be told. For instance, daily following the News, I hear or read about someone who acts out of fear rather than compassion. I share that story, merely retelling what I’ve read or heard. I seldom relate these News items to the fear of the people being reported upon. I almost never suggest that maybe if they followed Jesus’ way, the results would have been different. Of course, I don’t need to watch the news to find examples of the wrong story being told. I can simply reflect on my own actions to see I often do the same.


As Ms. Walker so well demonstrates in this talk, we must tell the right story. Doing that, will lead to “right” action.