Let the Discussion Continue

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow Passionist who questioned the necessity for the Passionists of Holy Cross Province in particular to discuss the “gay” issue because according to him, only 2% of the population identify as gay. [I questioned his data, but that’s a blog for another day] My sense of Passionist vocation tells me that is exactly why we should address the issue. The GLBT community being such a small minority, is very likely to be marginalized. In the spirit of full disclosure, I must remind my readers that I identify as a gay man.


Since that discussion, I attended the Chicago Pride Parade and I’m no longer convinced that the GLBT community is marginalized. In fact, I believe they are now mainstream, in civil society, that is. I’m not so sure about the Official Catholic Church’s position. So I think the discussion should continue. In defense of the Official Catholic Church however, the Chicago Tribune’s reporting of Chicago’s Bishop Blasé Cupich’s response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Decision in Obergefell vs. Hodges.


“Blase Cupich urged Roman Catholics to ‘extend support to all families, no matter their circumstances, recognizing that we are all relatives, journeying through life under the careful watch of a loving God.’” (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-archbishop-cupich-supreme-court-met-20150628-story.html)


While that’s not exactly putting a gay flag on the Church Bulletin, it’s a compassionate, inclusive statement that I can fully stand behind. Further in the article Bishop Cupich clearly states that the ruling of course has no bearing on the Church’s sacrament of matrimony.


As Passionists, I hope we will be as compassionate and inclusive as Bishop Cupich. I think LZ Granderson’s TED Talk clearly separates the civil from the church in his humorous yet very serious inclusive discussion. Enjoy!

Is What We See.What We Get?

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

The saying goes: “Seeing is believing”.   This comes from someone who needs to be convinced about a statement, that it is correct, or true, or believable.   On face value, it is an incongruous remark: “seeing” surpasses “believing” in establishing the veracity of a statement. So it makes little sense to identify the two of them by saying “seeing is believing”. It’s more than believing. With regard to the final destiny awaiting us all, we maintain that the transition from this life, where belief is our mainstay in adhering to God, to the next life, where vision becomes our new mode of adherence to God. And we regard vision as an improvement over faith. So, should not the remark “seeing is believing” read “seeing surpasses believing”? That is what the apostle Thomas discovered in the upper room in Jerusalem during the days following Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, for he was one of those who said about the appearance of the risen Lord to the Apostles gathered there: “Unless I see the mark of the nails…, I will not believe.” (Jn 20: 25)

If it were accurate to identify seeing and believing, we would have to settle for what we now see all around us, and affirm that it is the totality of our belief system. But would not this be a discouraging realization, that the future folds into the present? This would destroy the attraction of the future for us, and leave us with the unsettling realization that “what we see is what we get”. Hope would be snuffed out, along with ambition and effort. “If at first you don’t succeed, try, and try again”, would lose its challenge for us, leaving us high and dry.

And for the sight-impaired among us, whose vision is diminished, it would be a blow to hear that the impairment currently afflicting us represents the most that we can anticipate. On the other hand, of course, there are ways of improving eyesight, such as a pair of glasses, or cataract surgery, and those of us able to benefit by improvements are thrilled at the benefits accruing to us in the form of improved eyesight. In this way we can gain some slight appreciation of what it means to improve on poor eyesight, and thereby better value the promise made to us that, in the next life, we are destined for the gift of vision in a way that totally surpasses any partial eye improvements we gain in this life.

And then, of course, we can always regard the remarkable powers of eyesight from the vantage point of the animal world. Some of them enjoy sight far surpassing the best among us, such as the eagle, that can spot prey far below them on the earth, and swoop down to make their kill. So eyesight comes in various degrees, but no matter how penetrating it might be, it too pales in comparison with the vision awaiting us in another life, a vision we now have access to only through the medium of faith, thanks to which we believe in things—Persons—far beyond our current powers of sight. And so we have deep convictions about the vision awaiting us, but have not yet sighted it.

We do, of course, especially in our Catholic tradition, speak of visions that have been granted a chosen few among us, visions of Mary especially, and of the Sacred Heart. But the church is always slow to certify them, and tends to classify them as private visions. But there are visions that she readily acknowledges as fully legitimate, such as the remarkable vision the fiery Saul had on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there (Acts 26.13), when he saw a bright light and heard a voice from the heavens.   And even prior to this, did not all the apostles see the risen Christ on Easter Sunday (Jn. 20.19, ff.) These are all legitimate and duly approved visions, where seeing begets and precedes believing. These are verifiable instances where seeing precedes and begets believing.

So, is seeing believing? Certain instances of seeing undoubtedly generate belief, as the resurrection appearances illustrate, and legitimately so.   Other instances of seeing (private revelations to saints) can beget belief in the one receiving them but the church herself is very slow to legitimate them as the basis for faith or belief for the faithful at large. Our faith is based on what the apostles saw, as reported in the scriptures. In their case, seeing WAS believing. In the case of the rest of us, believing is seeing, as was true of the two blind men encountering Jesus, whom He restored to sight because they believed in Him (Mk 9.27-31).


Three Steps to Building Successful Communities

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

No matter that Margaret Heffernan talks about what makes successful companies. What she found applies to communities as well, to communities like our Passionist Partners. She answers my (I hope our) questions regarding what we have to do to turn good ideas into great ideas, more importantly, what we have to do to grow a successful community.

She also identifies what doesn’t work, i.e. competition, super stars and high IQ’s. These ingredients she tells us, lead to aggression, disfunction and waste. This is not just theory. She backs up what she is saying with studies and case histories.

I’d list the ingredients for you, but Margaret does a much better job. Enjoy!

Words, Words, Words…

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

Hocus Pocus is a common enough term in our American version of the English language so as to be generally known to most of us. It means something akin to magic or make believe or trick, with the usual understanding being that it is not true, but, in addition, it really doesn’t matter much one way or the other whether it is true or not, because it’s not of great importance. It’s a trivial matter, insignificant, designed to evoke a smile or laughter. So it’s not of great moment, nor worth getting excited about.

The term HOCUS POCUS seems to derive from medieval England during the religious turmoil surrounding the separation of the church of England from the Roman Catholic church. Much ill will and hard feeling accompanied this rupture, and “hocus pocus” was a linguistic emergent of this raucous era. It was an instance of the victimization occurring during this tumultuous era when the abuse of things religious became rampant, and, from the Catholic point of view, it was especially the Catholic church doctrine on the Eucharist that came under attack. It is, of course, one of the seven sacraments Catholics cherish as centerpieces of their religious belief and practice.

But more likely than the other sacraments, the eucharist was especially subjected to ridicule during this era. And the centerpiece of the attacks made on it was the sacrifice of the mass.   Catholics have traditionally venerated the eucharist, probably more so than any of the other sacraments. Regular attendance at mass, especially on Sundays, drew more Catholics than any other sacramental event, and reception of the eucharist has been a centerpiece of this practice over the centuries, though, admittedly, it has varied in frequency at different periods of church history. And the pivotal reason for Catholic veneration of and reverence for the eucharist is the strong faith belief that the bread and wine featured at each mass was changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Catholics, of course, base this conviction on the bible with its accounts of Jesus’ institution of the eucharist at what is often referred to as The Last Supper (Mt 26.26, ff., Mk 14.22, ff., Lk 22.14, ff.).

Only a priest can celebrate mass, and only he can pronounce the formula, called the words of institution or consecration, during the course of the mass, which effect this change of bread and wine into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This is the sacramental centerpiece of the eucharist within the mass. The words uttered by the priest are the versions found in the gospels, as spoken by Jesus Himself, and they are venerated as sacred. At the time of the Protestant Reformation, when the mass was celebrated in the Latin language (the Roman rite), the words for the consecration of the bread, repeated by the priest, were: “Hoc est enim corpus meum.” This means: “For this is my body”, that is, the Body of Christ. Of course, it is a faith belief that this statement is true.

To opponents of Catholicism, and there were many at this time, such faith in the veracity of this formula was lacking, and this constituted the groundwork for rejecting what would obviously seem ludicrous and beyond belief. So this formula, in its Latin version, became the occasion for ridicule, as, for instance, by taking the words: hoc est enim corpus meum, and, employing word play, transposing it into: hocus pocus, a twisted English version of the Latin, as it sounded to a non-believer, especially if he or she knew no Latin. So hocus pocus derived either from ignorance of Latin, or else from deliberate misreading of the words.

In this way hocus pocus entered the English language as a synonym for foolishness, make-believe, or trickiness. While all this happened several hundred years ago, during an historical period that has disappeared, the English language has been “enriched” with a new phrase that fits nicely into the intriguing arena of fun, jokes, tricks and magic. This is a far cry from the venerable origins of this sacramental formula: hoc est enim corpus meum.   It is a descent from the sacred to the ridiculous.

This Sunday Catholics celebrate the liturgical festival of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ). The English-speaking portions of the Catholic world have this variant (hocus pocus) in their language that the Latin original would hardly recognize. And the comical phrase, hocus pocus, is a far cry from its sacred origins. Fortunately, the passage of time has emptied this derivative of the mean-spiritedness and ridicule that surrounded it originally, and which is now likely unknown. The only salvageable emergent from it is a new phrase in the english language that enlarges our vocabulary for the “fun” or humorous, light-hearted side of our conversation.

Is it appropriate, then, to say that “all is well that ends well”?


Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I live in a gentrifying section of Chicago. We still have our problems. This past week there was a gang shooting three blocks from my home. While that doesn’t happen as often as other parts of the city, it is still a part of my community.

In this TED Talk, Jeffrey Brown a Baptist minister from Boston asks a timely question for me and anyone else interested in bringing “Good News” to their world: “Who do you include in your definition of community?” I suspect if you are like me and reading this blog, you probably don’t include gangbangers, prostitutes and “people of the night”.

Reverend Brown further challenges us to stop preaching and start listening. Read what he and a number of local concerned clergy found when they started listening to kids described as “cold and heartless and uncharacteristically bold in their violence”:

…What we found out was the exact opposite. Most of the young people who were out there on the streets are just trying to make it on the streets. And we also found out that some of the most intelligent and creative and magnificent and wise people that we’ve ever met were on the street, engaged in a struggle. And I know some of them call it survival, but I call them overcomers,

Finally and I believe most importantly, Reverend Brown tells us what we as simple community members can do:

Find those people [people willing to help]. They’re there. Bring them together with law enforcement, the private sector, and the city, with the one aim of reducing violence, but make sure that that community component is strong. Because the old adage that comes from Burundi is right: that you do for me, without me, you do to me.