How to Create New Energy

Court of the Gentiles

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

While Benedict XVI was still pope, he suggested that we give serious thought to constructing a court of the Gentiles for this group of people. The Gentiles would be those who don’t share our basic convictions about life, especially religious convictions, such as: there is a God, He is Creator of all that exists (things animate and inanimate), that He is a person, that He cares for us, etc.

He borrowed this notion of the court of the gentiles from the bible, that is, from that part of the bible we called the Old Testament or the Hebrew Scriptures. It is there that the temple features very prominently, in many books of the bible, including a rather detailed account of the temple’s architectural aspects. One of these features went by the name: court of the gentiles, and described an area of this mammoth building where non-Jews were allowed entrance. It was a restricted part, an external abutment, not allowing entrance into the inner section, the Jewish house of prayer. Throughout their history, the Jews were very skittish about associating with the gentile, and seemed almost belligerent toward them, but under God’s direction or inspiration they went out of their way to provide an area in their temple where people who did not know the Jewish God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to assemble for their own purposes. They were allowed admission into an outer feature of the temple, where they could gather and engage in whatever practices seemed appropriate to them.

The pope (Benedict), aware of the large number of non-believers in our contemporary world, and also sensitive to the enmity and hostility dividing the peoples of the world, thought that something like a court of the gentiles might be exactly what was needed at this time. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we should introduce architectural changes to our church buildings, but that we give serious thought to some arrangement (a meeting hall?) where the welcome mat be provided for believers and nonbelievers to mingle together, and talk amicably about the things of mutual concern to all of us (e.g., the ecological problem), weighing heavily on our minds and hearts. He foresaw nothing but good flowing out of this association with one another—certainly nothing harmful or injurious.

Pope Benedict was, and is, a serious-minded man, not given to whimsy or frivolity, a man of great intelligence and a notable mainline spokesperson for things religious, especially those of a Christian nature. He was, and is, a respecter of persons and their opinions, and over the years has enjoyed exchanging opinions about “things that matter”, hearing what others think, so as to engage their point of view.   He did not necessarily hope to win an argument or dismiss others’ opinions, even should they have problems with the very person of God Himself, or with the practice of worshipping Him, or obeying the basic code of life we follow: the ten commandments.

In this day and age of multiple and diversified opinions on every topic imaginable, which are freely and instantly shared via the social media, perhaps the court of the gentiles is already underway. Indeed, something comparable has long been part of American history, in the form of the Town Hall gatherings, where opinions on important issues were freely exchanged. As Benedict recognized, some of us may need, and benefit by, an attitudinal adjustment arrangement whereby we learn to improve upon our long-standing positions on some things: whether religious, political, financial, cultural, racial, social, environmental, etc.   Might we discover some opportunity for an exchange of ideas whereby encounters with “opposites” can generate new sources of light or energy we otherwise would probably not have discovered earlier.   The effort expended in allowing opposites to rub together might serve as a generator of creativity, insight and appreciation that offsets any conflict, conflagration, disharmony, exasperation or exhaustion involved in the effort. A court of the gentiles can be an open-air market for ideas.

Instead of repulsion developing from opposites meeting, magnetic attraction might result to the benefit of all involved in an encounter with another quite different from oneself. This is what Benedict XVI had in mind when he first suggested that a court of the gentiles might be exactly what is needed to address the downside of contemporary differences of opinion. Such encounters might generate energy, not of a destructive kind, but of a beneficial and enriching kind, where what emerges is not destructive but constructive, of a new way of seeing things, where opportunities develop, not mishaps or endangerments.

The friction developed by opposites rubbing against one another need not be de-energizing. It may generate a new energy source that is creative and constructive for all involved. But can we build that court of the Gentiles?

If You Want Peace…

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Gary Haugen reports a failure of compassion. While he specifically addresses the developing world, I wonder if there isn’t a lesson for us regarding what is happening in Baltimore, New York City and Ferguson?

Today in the developing world according to Gary Haugen, we have more people in slavery than in any other time in history and that most violence against women never gets reported let alone remedied. He relates these two facts not to poverty, but to the lack of justice for the poor. He credits compassion for the great strides made in addressing poverty, but through his encounters with Venus and Griselda learns the real causes of poverty that we have yet to address.

He doesn’t leave us hopeless, but gives us two actions that we can undertake today to stop these injustices


Number one: We have to start making stopping violence indispensable to the fight against poverty. In fact, any conversation about global poverty that doesn’t include the problem of violence must be deemed not serious. 

And secondly, we have to begin to seriously invest resources and share expertise to support the developing world as they fashion new, public systems of justice, not private security, that give everybody a chance to be safe.

This kind of reminds me of Pope Paul VI (1897 – 1963) If You Want Peace, Work for Justice.

We Can Build God’s House

He is the stone rejected by you, the builders,which has become the cornerstone. (Acts 4:11)


Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

I believe Jesus is the stone rejected by the builders of this world where power and ego rule. God, our Father made Jesus the cornerstone of His world because Jesus obeyed and humbly did His Father’s will rather than His own. I believe when we humbly do God’s will we also plug into and become the cornerstone of God’s house. We are each a temple of the Holy Spirit. Humility is the key that gives entrance to God’s house and all can choose to enter.

Jesus’ Great Tsunami

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

Waves are a prominent part of bodies of water. Every type of water system features waves, whose dimensions depend on the size of the water system with which they are connected. The high seas and the oceans, given their immensity, feature the most impressive types of waves. Lesser bodies of water, such as the Great Lakes in this country, also generate waves, as do rivers and ponds. Waves are a commonplace phenomenon associated with the gatherings of water.

If we have ever had the opportunity to walk along the beach of a large body of water, we would likely do so barefooted, precisely because of the incoming waves, soaking the likely sandy beach area before receding back into the body of water from which they came. But waves tend to keep coming; they may back off for awhile, but only momentarily, before they gather up energy again and roll vigorously back upon the shoreline.

Have we ever thought about the identity of those waves? Have we ever taken the time and trouble of measuring those waves: the speed or force with which they roll up against the beach, the impact with which they hit the beach, the average height of the waves, the length of time they take to regroup before rolling toward the beach again?

Specifically, have we ever pondered whether this rhythm of coming in and flowing out is precisely timed to occur like clockwork, or whether this rhythm varies throughout the day and night, or whether the power with which they carry out this process diminishes or increases with the passage of time?

Even more pointedly, have we ever wondered whether the wave crashing onto the beach ahead of me is exactly the same wave that did this very same thing minutes earlier, which, having spilled over the beach, rolled back off of it into the water from which it came, only to revitalize itself and once more move toward the beach and splay itself out along the beach’s surface, only to flow back once again into the waters from which it came, so as to regroup, and return once again, thundering up over the beach?

Or, when the wave has returned to its originating source, does it mingle its waters with a supply of new and different water to form a somewhat (but not totally)different kind of wave, but one which again repeats the rhythmic motion of the previous wave?   In this instance, we would have a partially changed wave, but not completely so. Yet again, does the wave returning to its origin in the body of water which generates it undergo a complete and total overhaul, so that its previous water-type gives way before a completely new version of water quality, distinguishing it as a brand new wave, no longer a replica or a mix of the waves preceding it?

Tedious questions, these—but possibly enlightening us as to how God works within and upon us. Can God, with His gifts and graces as His energy resource, uniquely destined for each one of us, be likened to a wave crashing in onto the shoreline of our lives, engulfing us, even if only momentarily, before receding in the face of resistance from us? Is God likely to approach us again, like another wave, this time composed with a different mix of graces, gifts and spiritual helps, readied to crash in upon us like a wave, engulfing us by its impact and force? Is God forever redesigning His impact on our lives, initially in a slow and quiet way, then picking up energy, and, finally, depending on our receptiveness to Him, engulfing us like a spiritual tsunami, sweeping us off our feet and possibly carrying out to sea?

We suspect God works in phases and stages in our lives, and given His creativity and ingenuity, it is likely that He is forever acting the part of another wave breaking upon the shore of our life, before receding for awhile, before regrouping in anticipation of our receptiveness to His inflowing presence.

When Jesus finally made the astounding offer of His own Body and Blood to eat and drink, He did so in terms comparable to a great tsunami wave engulfing us, in the aftermath of previous waves washing up on the shore of our life—such as the hints and promises Jesus earlier made about the special kind of bread/spiritual food He was preparing for us. As we tried to understand these impressive and tantalizing remarks, resembling lesser waves lapping up against our feet, we soon learned they were nothing like the torrential wave that would engulf us: the promise of the Eucharist. That was a tsunami the likes of which we never encountered before.

This Earth Day 2015, Foster in the Ecozoic Era

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

On April 22, 1970, largely through the efforts of Senator Gaylord Nelson, citizens all across our country celebrated the first Earth Day. In his own words:

…Earth Day worked because of the spontaneous response at the grassroots level. We had neither the time nor resources to organize 20 million demonstrators and the thousands of schools and local communities that participated. That was the remarkable thing about Earth Day. It organized itself.

In 1988 Sierra Club Books published Passionist, Fr. Thomas Berry’s The Dream of the Earth which in turn led to an organization with the same name whose stated purpose is:

…to take on “the great work,” as Berry calls it, of reinventing ourselves as humans. Our purpose is to learn about and contribute to the creation of a new, comprehensive story that we can all live by, and to help foster what Berry and Swimme call the Ecozoic Era—the time when human beings live in a mutually enhancing relationship with the rest of creation.

In preparation for the publication later this year of an encyclical on moral issues surrounding the protection the environment, Tuesday April 28, 2015, Pope Francis will host a summit at the Vatican, inviting representatives from all the major world religions to join in on the discussion. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will give the opening address.

Tomorrow is Earth Day 2015. Come celebrate with me. No need to read Thomas’ book, nor to visit Sister Miriam MacGillis of Genesis Farm in New Jersey, who sponsors programs exploring the works of Thomas, although these certainly are worthwhile endeavors. Today or tomorrow just enjoy with me today’s Youtube, A Visual Ode to Earth Day 2015.

I Believe in Life

“Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures. And he said to them: “Thus it is written that the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead on the third day and that repentance, for the forgiveness of sins, would be preached in his name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” (LK 24: 45-47)

The Bean 

Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

Death is an illusion; life goes on. When I believe this (sometime I doubt it) I do not fear death or worry about life. When I meditate (often Centering Prayer) I experience the now more intensely and this becomes my reality for 20 minutes or so. This practice over the years has heightened much of my experience of life leaving me less and less time to doubt, and more and more time to believe. By believing, I can love much easier, even loving the imperfect and needy in myself as well as others.


For me, life without faith is tragedy. Life in faith sees death as an illusion and does not recognize sin as an issue. Jesus taught us about relationships to our god, our neighbor and ourselves.

Do We Need Corrective Lenses?

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

Someone once described the perfect marriage in terms of an agreement between the spouses, whereby the husband concerned himself with big issues like Isis and the war in Afghanistan, the 100% vs. the 1% in this country, the loss of civility in the factional arguments within the US congress and the climate changes enveloping large area of the US, while the wife concerned herself over smaller things like adequate income to put food on the table and pay the rent, finding a good school for the children, sufficient health care for the family and tending to the upkeep of house and property. Their concerns never crossed paths, so arguments were minimal.

And so it is in other life situations. And it emerges in church life, such as the rising prominence of social concerns (in both church and society at large), often occurring in conjunction with an apparent diminishment of interest in matters of personal concerns.   One aspect of this conundrum emerges in issues of sin. Until recently, personal sin, at least in Catholic circles, was a dominant concern, probably because of the prominence that confessional practice enjoyed in Catholic practice for a long period of time, during which children attending Catholic schools were carefully instructed on “how to go to confession”, including the formula for initiating the ritual, and then the types of sins to be confessed, so as to receive absolution from the priest, and God’s forgiveness. The content of confession usually focused on “things I did” more than on “things I failed to do”. And the ten commandments, explained and illustrated, served as the reliable guideline for identifying such sins. In this form, confessional practice was an intensely personal exercise centering largely on oneself, though usually in relationship to family life, marriage and one’s circle of friends.

In recent years, for a variety of reasons, “social concerns” have emerged as a dominant issue in contemporary society, as a prominent focus of both secular sources, such as newspapers and electronic media, and even of religious sources, such as recent church teaching, largely papal encyclicals of the last ten popes or so, within Catholicism, and the writings of prominent theologians, especially in the mainline Protestant traditions. As a result, our attention has been riveted on issues of war and peace, the economy (management and labor especially), the travails of nature (issues of water availability and usage, climate control and storm systems, agricultural problems, rising seas levels, reduction of soil productivity, abortion not only as a personal issue but also a social one), etc. And, with this shift in the perception of the dominant evils afflicting this world of ours, the understanding of “wrong-doing” has changed from the individual person to larger social units.

And this focus change has impacted the practice of the sacrament of confession, or reconciliation, as Catholics now refer to it. Frequenting this sacrament has notably declined among Catholics, even “practicing” ones: does this reflect a diminished sense of sin, or possibly a changed understanding of it?   Are more people now concerned with social sin than with personal sin, and does this affect the traditional practice of sacramental reconciliation (confession)which has come to seem out of touch with the real wrongs and sins of contemporary life, as exhibited in the social arena? Indeed, many parishes have adjusted their practice of the sacrament of reconciliation to “penance services” (which choreograph the social side of penance) in an effort to address social sin. Yet many Catholics still cherish the traditional understanding of sin and the confessional practice designed to address it. Hopefully this will not create any cleavage among Catholics cherishing their own opinion on what sin is all about, and on the sacrament of reconciliation provided to address it.

Does Jesus provide us any guidance in this matter? Perhaps some of His remarks are helpful, such as: “…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mt. 19.24), or “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own?” (Lk. 6.41), or “Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.” (Lk. 19.17)

But certainly all of us need a conscience that is sensitive to both personal matters and social issues, that is, to the large as well as the small. And this may call for some corrective lenses.

Japanese Bowl

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Last week I joined 30 other venturous Chicago souls willing to brave the early Spring weather to journey up to a quaint retreat house situated on Green Lake in the woods of Southern Wisconsin. For Vespers the first night, one retreatant shared the story of the Japanese Bowl. I found it an amazingly simple and beautiful story that described my life perfectly. I share it with you today and hope you will find it as inspiring as I did. You will find the above link to the Japanese Bowl on the Blog Ambition In The City Blog.

Scripture Reflection for Sunday April 12, 2015

Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

“Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained…

Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (JN 20:21-29)


For those of us who believe, even though we were not there and didn’t see, we also have the power to forgive sins and explain to our neighbors that sin does not have to be the issue and to help them accept God’s forgiveness, so they can move on to more important issues in their lives without guilt.


What does receiving the Holy Spirit look or feel like? In our Pentecostal Churches they commonly practice baptism in the Spirit to interested members. People commonly cry, and feel release of forgiveness of sin. It can be a very emotional experience and with the initiation of the gifts of the Spirit the impetus of positive and significant changes in their lives. They walk lighter on the face of the earth and smile more.


They seem to dance to a tune that they share with the mystical body of Christ. Which is recognition of a radical interdependence of the one with the all with an unconditionally loving God at the core.