Another Way?

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

It is always good to have alternatives at hand for situations that seem to be getting out of control.

Alternatives are a compatible companion to freedom.   While freedom can manage, or at least survive, without alternatives, having alternatives available is always helpful for enjoying one’s freedom.

There’s little we can do about our freedom, in so far as it is a gift of God to us. We are born free as a native endowment, and cannot boast about its presence in our lives. However, our exercise of this endowment is subject to forces sometimes out of our control. We may live in a politically oppressive society where our freedom is notably curtailed, whether we like it or not. Or we may find ourselves in another kind of situation for which we are more or less responsible, to the detriment of our freedom. This would be a jail sentence, for instance, that we bring upon ourselves. Or, less graphically, it may be an employment situation that notably reduces our freedom to manage our own time, even though we more or less freely chose the job we have. Or, it may entail a home condition with responsibilities toward a large number of children, or toward aged occupants (our parents), some of which constrains us, even though we freely assumed them.

But a wonderful help in these various scenarios involving freedom is the availability of alternatives. Some alternatives are present without our having to generate them. Other alternatives are available, thanks to the care we took to provide them. An alternative can provide a way of preserving a measure of freedom that may be in danger of curtailment. If I am jailed, for example, good behavior on my part may win for me certain privileges that diminish the burden of lost freedom. Or, I am tied down with domestic chores day in and day out, good relationships with a neighbor or two may generate an alternative that ameliorates the loss of freedom oppressing me day in and day out. Or, if I suffer ill health which more or less confines my ability to freely move about, following doctor’s orders by properly medicating myself is an alternative alleviating this condition.

God also accommodates Himself to the predicaments in which we find ourselves. He is, after all, the source of our freedom, a cherished gift of His. There are many other gifts He bestows upon us, though few match the quality of freedom. And He notes how we use our freedom, whether for good or for bad. In addition, He involves Himself in our exercise of freedom, doing so in a variety of ways, one of which is by providing alternatives. This is helpful to note since only too often do we complain about the curtailments that He imposes on us.

But, we should note the alternatives He held out to the Israelite people centuries ago—people who were so devoted to the prominence of the temple in their midst, with its intricate rules and regulations, provided by God Himself, on how to approach Him in prayer and worship, entailing details about the priests who conducted temple worship, and their tribal pedigree, and their observance of holy days, and their sacrifice of various kinds of animals, etc., we may make the judgment that they were a rigidly controlled group having little freedom to worship as they liked. Unless, of course, we note how God provides the people, and their priests, a considerable number of alternatives for worshipping him, such as keeping the law (considered an acceptable sacrifice or oblation), or doing works of charity (equivalent to a flour offering ), or giving alms (equal to a sacrifice of praise), or avoiding injustice (as valuable as an atonement) (Sir. 35.1-3).

We can make the same judgment about our Church today, representing God in our life, with its rules and regulations, for example, about going to confession before receiving communion (if we have a serious sin burdening our conscience) or its admonition about receiving communion frequently. There are alternatives available to us in these matters, such as the freedom to approach communion in a state of sin, if we are truly sorry for this, and if there is a special reason for doing so (such as the wedding mass of a family member or the funeral mass of a relative) but no opportunity to go to confession beforehand, and we are determined to go to confession at the first possible time following our reception of the eucharist, or the practice of a “spiritual” communion (within the privacy of our mind and heart), in place of sacramental communion, should access to the eucharist in the usual way be impossible for us.

These are alternatives available to us when our freedom, for one reason or another, is curtailed or restricted.   This happens at multiple levels of our lives. Sometimes we don’t realize this, or, If we do, we don’t take advantage of it. It is helpful to look at all the alternatives available to us before we make a complaint about the curtailments on our freedom.

Pentecost–Discovering Your Voice

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

“There are two important days in your life, the day you are born and the day you figure out why you were born.” Words from Boniface Mwangi in today’s TED Talk.

I remember the day when I realized that I was no long afraid, the day I realized why I was  born. Actually, I slipped quietly into the church doors on Belmont Avenue in Chicago hoping no one would notice. I was going to an AA meeting. That was nothing new, I’d been doing that for seven years. This meeting however, was identified as a “Gay” AA meeting. I was afraid going in wondering what would people think who saw me doing that.

I’ve learned that no one paid any attention to my going in. The only people who paid attention were the beautiful people gathered for the meeting who welcomed me accepting and loving me for who I said I was, not for the person I thought they wanted me to be. That was 25 years ago and I’m still spreading the Good News, God doesn’t make junk and by saying yes to who I am, I now truly live.

Here’s an “App” You Won’t Want to Miss

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

All of us acknowledge unfinished business, some of us moreso than others. This situation largely derives from our propensity to defer to tomorrow what we can easily enough do today. Admittedly, much of this is trivial, so few significant setbacks are suffered from this practice, but periodically this tendency of ours does result in some unfortunate situations, both for ourselves, and also for others.

For example, we can be in contractual relationships with others, as in business arrangements, and we can ill afford to run a successful business where time and punctuality are of the essence of an operation. But even in more intimate, personal relationships, constant reneging on an agreement to do such and such for a friend or a family member can weaken the bonding among us, and leave us with a humiliating acknowledgment of our tendency toward unfinished business.

Of course, there are situations where we have no other option than to defer to a later time what we had initially intended, or even agreed, to do earlier. On such occasions all we can do is to take responsibility and make amends, by carrying out the earlier agreement as soon as feasible. Since such situations victimize us all, we often receive an understanding response from those we have failed—provided this doesn’t become habitual. We must keep the “out” bin on our desk as active as the “in” bin frequently becomes.

But, as is sometimes the case, there is no good reason why we have deferred our follow through on our initiatives. This may puzzle even us, as we ask ourselves: why did I fail to do this? We might give serious consideration to the possibility that some of the souls in purgatory are there precisely because of the unfinished business that has accumulated around them. Likely the great Italian poet Dante (would have) assigned a special place in his panoramic DIVINE COMEDY for those who passed on to the next life, and who have had to compensate for unfinished business in their lifetimes, because they reasoned: why do today what I can delay till tomorrow?

The great feast of Pentecost is upon us. It’s an occasion for coming to terms, even at the level of religious faith, with the inroads that unfinished agendas have made into our lives. Unfortunately, most of us are mystified as to why the church insists on regarding it on a par with days like Christmas and Easter. But the church does so. She regards Pentecost as the birthday of the church, and the culmination of Christ’s coming among us to establish His kingdom. He taught us to pray: “…Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”. The church was part of the rationale for Christ making His appearance among us. It is the marvelous extension of His presence in our midst, and the occasion for introducing us to the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity: the Holy Spirit.   This achievement facilitated His return to the heavenly Father, knowing that His life’s work was now in good hands.

For the Holy Spirit continues what the Son had initiated, and, in doing so, is a good example of unfinished business being passed on in a fruitful and beneficial way.   For we know from Jesus’ own words that He had many more things to teach us than He could do in the time allotted to Him. (Jn 16.12-14). In fact, even the initiatives He began never came to our awareness because they never made their appearance in the Book that already recorded so much of what He had said and done during His brief time among us. (Jn 21.25) So, even in the case of Jesus, there was an agenda to be carried out, but not enough time for Him to do so: unfinished business. But He would provide for this, telling us not to worry, because He would send the Holy Spirit, the Adocate, among us to bring to mind the things He had taught us. (Jn 14.26 ).

Here we have the job description of the Holy Spirit. He is the memory of the church, to safeguard against the accumulation of too much unfinished business.  Sometimes, those prone to memory loss don’t realize that this is happening to them. The Holy Spirit is our safeguard against this in church matters, but, unfortunately, the Holy Spirit Himself is at times the victim of oversight and faulty memory on our part. For we often don’t think of Him or call upon Him. He is the forgotten Person of the Blessed Trinity. Strangely enough, we forget the One Who is our memory, responsible for all the unfinished business that Christ left behind at the time of His ascension into heaven. Fortunately, there is a backup system in place, the hierarchy of the church, especially the Pope, to safeguard and preserve, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, this treasure trove of wealth, both old and new (Mt 13.52). In this way, the church offsets an accumulation of unfinished business. This is why we see such significance in the feast of Pentecost. It compensates for our amnesia and loss of memory by reminding us of the help available, the “apps”, so to speak, that can link us up with that invaluable source of information that is now entrusted to the Holy Spirit, for our benefit and enrichment


Finding Home

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

This TEDx selection presents a vivid picture of the consequences of not believing in the transformative way of the cross as well a challenge for those of us who do believe in forgiveness, who believe in each person’s ability to say “I’m sorry” and move on with their life.

I believe when we forgive we act as Jesus did; we forgive even as we hang dying on a cross constructed by the fearful for those who choose to do the Jesus thing, i.e. forgive. Don’t try this if you are faint of heart. It takes courage and guts to stand up to injustice and people whose defense is: “We only want to protect ourselves.” I’ve found it does lead to new life though, not only for the forgiven, but for the ones who forgive as well.

I spent some of the happiest years of my life with kids who made bad decisions. They taught me the truth of the bold ideas expressed in the above paragraph. It disturbs me to no end to think that one or maybe even more than one bad decision of anyone, let alone a child, could end up with that person spending her life in prison with no possibility of parole. I believe Tim Holmes has the right idea in his comment below. I would just substitute “person” for “14-year old”.

 No 14-year-old should be locked up for life when the brain doesn’t even fully mature until 25. Anyone who thinks they could never behave badly hasn’t been pushed to their limit. Nor do they see people as equals. We can do better. “Let the one without sin cast the first stone.” Any takers? (Tim Holmes response)

Time to Clean House

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

How many times a day do we say: “I have to …”?   Quite frequently. In fact, our lives seem to be riddled by “…have tos…” Where do they come from? Are they all imposed on us, willy nilly? Are they all figments of our imagination? Do they go away if we disregard them or pay them no attention? Are they a trait of a certain type of personality? Are they figments of our imagination that will disappear with the passage of time? Are they all of the same gravity or weight, one being as urgent and important as the other? Do we resent them as something unpleasant or burdensome? Are they an unwelcome intrusion into our lives? Do they come and go, or are they always around? Can they be disregarded, with impunity, so that nothing comes of it? Is my life driven by “have tos”? Is this the same thing as what the Irish call “the troubles”?

All these questions lead us to ask whether we have been leading our lives complaining too much about all the obligations weighing down upon us, which we usually ascribe to outside forces to which we are subject.   If that’s the case, it should lead us to look outside or beyond ourselves to find the source of our burdensome sense of duty and obligation. In this scenario, it’s easy for us to play the role of victim, of one “put upon” by our surroundings, which cast a dark shadow over our life situation, leading us to spend too much time and energy trying to eliminate or at least diminish it. But it often involves the mistake of wrongly situating the source of our “troubles”, and expending our energies, in the wrong direction.

This leads us to identify the law and its derivatives, such as precepts, statutes, ordinances or rules and regulations as the problem.   We have this battery of names to identify this pesty and bothersome annoyance that is forever waylaying our activities. Early on, the likely focus of our chagrin would likely be the ten commandments, with none other than God Himself as the source of this intrusion into our peace and quiet, disturbing the way we like to do things. Was it not our Catholic elementary school education that introduced these formidable precepts into our lives? This background likely explains the source of our “problem”, ever after helping us explain that it has been God Who is the source of all the major “have tos” in our life, and so making it difficult for us to think of Him more as a law-giver than as a loving and caring Friend.

Now, while it may be true that God is behind some of the “have tos” in our life, as a matter of fact, these amount to a relatively small number, compared with the flood of “have tos” that pelt us daily from morning to night. For certainly it is not God Who weighs in upon us about having to go to the store when the pantry grows bare, or having to go to the doctor when we don’t feel well, or having to take the children to school, or having to prepare supper for the family, or having to go to the wake of a neighbor, or having to go to the nearest ATM when we grow short of cash, or having to finish reading a book for the book discussion club to which we belong, or having to do the laundry when we run out of clean clothes, or having to take our aunt to see her doctor, or having to attend the wedding reception of a neighbor, etc., etc. Then there the counterparts of these “have tos”: all the negatives besetting us: don’t tread on the lawn, don’t walk your dog without a leash, don’t sit on this just painted bench, don’t smoke within 25 feet of this building, don’t exceed the 20 mph limit near this school, don’t talk on the phone and drive at the same time, don’t park in this space, etc.

On review, doesn’t it seem that there is a lot of “much ado about nothing” in these examples? Haven’t we lumped together, in the same category, all manner of “have tos” into the same category? And aren’t most of them easily deflatable, like a balloon or a tire? For they are largely artificial, “make believe”, obligations, self-imposed, by our lumping together everything we experience as a “have to” into one huge set of burdens bearing down upon us, the helpless victims, rather than who we really are: the ones responsible for the vast majority of these “have tos”, badgering our every step. We can certainly identify with Louis Armstrong’s: “Nobody knows the troubles I’ve seen…”

There is really no need to view life as a series of “do’s and don’ts”. Few of them derive from outside ourselves. Most of them are of our own making. So we can certainly exonerate God of most of them. He is an interested bystander watching us fret over our predicaments, pretending we are forever being put upon by outside forces, when, as a matter of fact, we are the perpetrators of most of these “imperatives” bearing down on ourselves. We need a good, old-fashioned spring house-cleaning in which we rid ourselves of our own demons, whom we have invited to come and settle within our selves, while we make believe we are victims of circumstances beyond our control.   Most of are more victimizers than victims.

The Economics of Community

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Today much of our economic world is held and controlled by corporate ownership. I wonder what would happen if people of compassion (read religious communities) owned and controlled more of the production and distribution of goods and services? This is not a new or revolutionary idea. These types of communities have been in control more often than you might think. In the 1980’s and into the 90’s I was an agent for the Mass Mutual Life Insurance Company. It is wholly owned by it’s policyholders. Mass Mutual opened its doors in 1851 and today is worth almost 200 billion dollars. I’m not trying to sell insurance here, I’m merely pointing out that there are different types of ownership and control of our economy. What has made this other type of ownership successful? In Mass Mutual’s case, I believe it is their singleness of purpose. In their words:

“…we’ve had a single purpose: to help people secure their future and protect the ones they love.” (Mass Mutual Our History & Purpose)

Saint Paul of the Cross had a single purpose, i.e. to keep alive the memory of the Passion of Jesus. Is it too far a jump to imagine that this dream of St. Paul of the Cross could be realized more fully by Partners affiliating with the Professed to bring financial vibrancy to the marginalized and oppressed of the world, where I believe the passion of Jesus is being experienced today?

In today’s YouTube video Sam Seder interviews Nathan Schneider who tells of a different way of looking at our economy. The interview goes for almost 30 minutes, but I believe you’ll find it interesting as well as challenging if you share the concerns of the marginalized and oppressed and more importantly want to do something about it.

In the words of Edward Kennedy’s eulogy for his brother Robert:

Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?

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Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

I have questions but do I have the answers?

What is the New Testament? Is it a story (maybe a novel) about Jesus? Is it an advice book? Is it a puzzle or enigma to be figured out? Is it divinely inspired writing about truth? Is it a path to life or salvation?

It’s all of those things and more, but means nothing if you don’t believe what it says. But what if I believe what it says but don’t take the advice it gives? I take some of the advice. I’m non-violent (I try) but I don’t know about turning the other cheek. I do believe in forgiveness but forgiving always is impossible, and I do believe in not judging—most of the time.

They tell me “gospel” means good news. Because the first Christians believed the Gospels revealed a path or a way to atonement (at-one-ment) they were called themselves the people of the way. I wonder if those first Christians are like me, more trying to believe than believing? I find the more I succeed in the advice of the New Testament, the stronger my faith in life becomes.

The gospel tells us to ask and it shall be given. Ask for what? It tells us to seek and you shall find, knock and the door will be open. What kind of advice is it to knock but doesn’t tell you what door to knock on, or to seek but not what to seek? Evidently the author trusts the individual to be involved in life, make choices and then trust you will learn from the consequences. I think it’s called on the job training.

On Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

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

Freddie and Winnie tried to prevent something they obviously found objectionable, but in doing so they themselves caused some objectionable results.

The background of this conundrum is an incident that took place several years ago in San Antonio, Texas. At the time the Passionists had a small community residence there. It was what could be called a “shotgun” house, that is, a long, narrow one story arrangement. It was an old frame house, without a foundation, resting on piles of stones situated at each of its four corners, and this provided open space beneath it for all manner of varmints to crawl in and find a habitat for themselves: squirrels, rabbits, mice, various kinds of birds, possibly a skunk or two. The house interior could accommodate three residents.

It sat on a corner formed by the convergence of two streets, occupying a small lot, front and back, with the rear of the house situated some thirty feet or so from the back property line, across the top of which ran a wire providing electricity to all the houses on the block, down to the very end of the street. It did the same for the homes on the neighboring street behind, whose property line abutted those on our street: the rear end of the properties of the two sets of properties converged with one another. It was a cozy arrangement, making for neighborliness, as did the property line with the next door neighbor on the side of our house, just far enough away from our house to allow for a narrow driveway to be inserted between us.

A bedroom was arranged in the very rear of the house, and I slept there, as best I could. That was where I became aware of a sordid affair being carried on, surreptitiously, around 2:00 am nightly, involving a squirrel, who scampered along the phone wire extending over the rear of our property, and that of our neighbors, to the end of the block. It soon became obvious, especially to Freddie and Winnie, that he was making his way to a rendezvous with a friend of his, at the far end of the block, on which our houses stood. Seated strategically in the backyard of the house next to us, some 12 or 15 feet distant from my bedroom, were Freddie and Winnie, two neighbor dogs sitting on their haunches, quite suspicious as to the intentions of this squirrel running nightly along the telephone wire, obviously for a nightly encounter. Freddie and Winnie were street smart, and so aware of a nefarious deed underway, facilitated by the wire crossing the rear of their property, as well as ours. And so, as soon as they caught sight of this squirrel running along the wire, they let loose a series of ear-piercing barks, designed to let the squirrel know they knew what he was up to, obviously hoping he would mend his ways, which unfortunately never happened.

But there was more to this scenario. The back yard of the house, on the street behind us, abutting the yard of Freddie and Winnie, and over which the same telephone wire ran, was the nesting roost for a flock of chickens, largely hens, but also one stalwart rooster. When this rooster was alerted by Freddie and Winnie, that the squirrel was en route to his destination, it began a sequence of indignant crowing that shattered the quiet of the night. Despite this fearful din, the determined squirrel was not deterred from his unfortunate intent but sustained this barrage of outrage, dead set on reaching his destination at the end of the wire.

The climax of this escapade occurred at the end of the wire where a Carmelite monastery stood, housing a number of friars, including an old Carmelite brother, whose main task seemed to be centered on the monastery bell tower situated on the property. It was an old-fashioned bell tower with its rope dangling to the ground. Apparently the din at our end of the phone wire was loud enough to awaken this old Carmelite, at the far end of the block, who would then stumble out of bed and go into the yard where the bell tower stood, grab the tower rope, and begin yanking it vigorously for a considerable period of time, sending peels of gonging sounds throughout the neighborhood, and rousing his fellow Carmelites to rise for prayer. By this time, however, the squirrel had happily reached his destination.

This combination of Freddie and Winnie, the rooster, and the Carmelite bell made sleeping difficult, understandably.   And it raises the not infrequent issue of choosing between one of two evils, with no other option available. For, on the one hand, to attempt deterring the squirrel from his evil ways, while praiseworthy, entailed a price to be paid that was hardly commendable: a sleepless night for a score of neighbors. But, on the other hand, allowing the squirrel to pursue an obviously scandalous affair would seem to be condoning evil, even while admittedly ensuring a good night’s sleep for the neighbors. So much of life is faced with the issue of dealing with the evils associated with the good we wish to do, and the prospect of never pulling off a completely happy ending. So perhaps, in the case at hand, Freddie and Winnie should be commended, despite the problems they caused.

Kailash Satyarthi–Putting Anger to Work

As a kid growing up in the 50’s attending a Catholic school, I remember hearing about the Christophers. Father James Keller, M.M. founded the Christophers in 1945. He believed:

…that every person, however shy or obscure, had something to give to the world.

That is something I need to be reminded of on a regular basis. Kailash Satyarthi in today’s TED Talk does just that sharing how he has been and continues to be the change he wants to see in his world. His story dramatizes in contemporary terms, the power of lighting one candle, the motto of the Christophers as well as the power of compassion.