My Friend, Fr. Bill

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

Being bonded with others is a frequent enough experience in daily life. Especially in families, the notion of bonding with other family members is nothing new, and occurs so frequently and regularly that it seems hardly worthwhile calling others’ attention to it.  Twins are a special instances of this.

It also occurs outside of family relationships. Bonding between and among friends is a commonplace occurrence, especially if engaged in similar enterprises, like members on the same baseball or dance team. Bonding can also occur among those involved in a similar program or project, such as scientists collaborating on a space venture, or attorneys working on an important fraud case.

The bonding that occurs in these relationships varies in degree, of course. At times it can be quite intense, at other times not so. But a common denominator among all these various types and kinds is that people are “in touch” with each other in a way that surpasses in intensity what occurs between or among other relationships. People have a “sense” of where others are “at”, without communicating this in so many words. For instance, one can sense what another is thinking, or how he or she feels about a particular situation, without having this spelled out.

Poets and artists in general have the ability to apprehend a segment of reality engulfing us all, but eluding most of us. An impending sense of doom (a premonition?) about an imminent crisis or disaster can be expressed by certain gifted people, while the rest of us remain in the dark about what is “is at hand”.

It has been said of certain saints or holy people that they seem to be in touch with the things of God, or spiritual realities, while the rest of us do not. Could it be a sixth sense some enjoy, enriching them with a perceptive power the rest of us do not have?

And this gift, for such it seems to be, is not confined just to us humans and the relationships bonding us. It can also extend to other dimensions of the “sentient” world that we share with the extended animal world around us: mostly, the four-footed kind treading mother earth as we do, but also with our two-footed friends, the birds of the air. And we are told even certain creatures of the seas, such as dolphins, enjoy a certain perceptive sensitivity in areas that largely escapes us.

Most familiar among this non-human but sentient part of our world is the canine family. Dogs seem to enjoy a certain bonding with us that surpasses that enjoyed by other four-footed animals. We are likely familiar with their remarkable powers, at times, of perceiving our human moods, our needs and our troubles, even physical ones, such as a cancer growing within us. This they can do before even we ourselves becoming aware of this, in our own bodies.

There was a priest in our community, a Fr. Bill Steil, who ministered as a chaplain for many years at Dunning, a hospital caring for mentally disturbed patients. He led a simple, highly regimented life, returning to the monastery each evening after a day at the hospital. Except for one or two trips to South Bend each fall to attend a Notre Dame football game, he had no other extracurricular activity except caring for two formidable-looking Doberman Pinschers, magnificent looking animals completely devoted to him, as he was to them. They controlled and patrolled the back yard of the monastery behind a seven foot high wire fence, affording the rest of us protection. It was unwise for anyone other than Fr. Bill to enter their territory. That was their world which they never left except for the times when Fr. Bill took them out for an auto drive.

An occasion arose when he became quite ill and was being cared for in the infirmary attached to the monastery. He began to fail and appeared to be dying. I visited him in the infirmary early one morning, only to learn he had died minutes before my arrival. With the ambulance on its way, I went outside awaiting its arrival, walking on the street running alongside our property with its yard where the dogs were kept. As I crossed the street, I came upon a large dog lying in the street against the curb, bleeding severely. Apparently it had just been struck by a car. The dog was dead. As I looked at it, I recognized it as one of the Dobermans. It had leapt over the seven foot fence—something it never did—and dashed madly out toward the street, having never before experienced moving traffic. This happened at approximately the same time Fr. Bill expired. The dog, having intuited his dying moment, reacted in this way.

This exemplifies the bonding that can develop between the animal and the human world. Some remarkable sensitivity alerted the dog to the tragic event about to happen to its master, and it bolted in reaction, as if planning its own demise at practically the same time Fr. Bill died. This was sensitivity’s finest hour, at least within the animal world. It witnesses to a thread of continuity among us all, a vital lifeline that unites us all in a web of interconnection and linkage in a bonding together.

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Making the World a Better Place

 

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

If Jesus were around today, would he be considered “Old Power” or “New Power”? Would he be Uber or Yellow Cab? Would he be Democratic, Republican or democracy.org? If Saint Paul of the Cross was around today, where would he place himself, on the Old Power/New Power spectrum? Where do you place yourself and what difference does it make?

If you don’t know what the heck I’m writing about and think you have an important message to tell the world, then you might want to watch Jeremy Helmans Ted Talk above. I believe he has an important message for those of us who think the world can be a better place, but find ourselves bewildered as to how this will ever happen.

My Prayer

Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

Saint Augustine of Hippo in (354 – 430 A.D.) started a spiritual quest that would last his lifetime and lead him to become a priest, bishop and doctor of the church with a very unusual prayer: “Lord make me pure and holy, but not yet.” He later summed us his life’s work with a piece of advice. (He gave a lot of advice, directions and explanations) “Love and do what you will.” His prayer and his consequential advice seem to me to be compatible and easily flow one into the other.

I am about to celebrate my seventieth birthday and as I look over my life I think I have often had the same prayer. Make me holy God eventually, but for now, I can wait. Who knew it would work?

I think I’m holy now but maybe you think I couldn’t be because I’m obviously conceited you’re finding it hard to see my self-defining humility. Well, I’m claiming to have learned and put into practice non-judgment. In viewing the world and myself without judgment I see a unity and holiness in the world and myself I had no idea existed.

What a beautiful sight to look upon my enemy and realize that’s his problem.

My prayer: Thank You Jesus!

Learning How to Learn

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I live in a world (I’m a teacher by trade) where people don’t like making mistakes and even more than not liking making them, they loathe admitting them when they do. This attitude according to Tim Hartford in the above TED Talk, puts an end to any real learning. Hartford warns us that only when schools, politicians, and doctors stop acting like they have all the answers, will we begin to learn.

Hartford demonstrates how a group of doctors, the great scientists of our day, aren’t anymore comfortable with making mistakes or admitting that they are not sure of an answer to a question, than teachers or I suspect the rest of humankind. There are exceptions to this attitude. I am reminded of Pope Francis’ response to a question regarding homosexual priests. He responded: “Who am I to judge?” He’s not alone in this earth-shaking statement. Not too long ago, a favorite priest preacher of mine gave the homily at Sunday Mass. He quoted Saint Pope John XXIII as saying pretty much the same thing in his advice on how to be a good pastor or in my case a good teacher.

Success, Baseball and God

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

Success can be accounted for in different ways: talent, opportunity, effort, connections, luck. Sometimes it’s a mixture of several of these, and this holds true for various areas and/or phases of life: school (as teacher or student) , business, athletics, the world of art, communications and theater, the military, personal relationships (especially marriage), and even religion (or, by extension, the spiritual life).

One area that is fairly easy to address in this matter is that of athletics, or sports, as we say, if for no other reason than the success of athletes, whether professional or amateur, is constantly being scrutinized, measured and compared with other athletes. And it is widely broadcast and disseminated in the various forms of the media, employing various ways of measuring success.

Now that we are in the baseball season, especially professional baseball at the “major league” level, we have ample opportunity to reflect on success in terms of the various baseball teams, and of the individual players filling out their rosters. Various types of tabulated statistics are available to the serious student of professional baseball, to facilitate comparisons between different teams, and a variety of players, in their various field positions or batting statistics.

For example, we can look at the Cincinnati Reds, and two of their players, both of whom were fairly good. Their careers are now over, their playing time just missing one another, with Bell departing from the team in 196l, just as Rose was coming aboard the team. They both enjoyed success during their years with the Cincinnati team , a success that is easier to compare in terms of the kinds of persons they showed themselves to be on the field (though Rose played infield while Bell was in the outfield) or in the dugout than in their batting averages (since they faced different pitchers).

Both were judged to be successful ball players (overlooking here the scandal with which Rose was eventually charged). I knew Bell personally, but not Rose. They brought different styles to the game: Bell was laid back, Rose was intensely involved. Bell took what came his way; Rose competed for every inch accruing to him.

The success they enjoyed was traceable to these starkly different styles, both of competing, and, in general, of living one’s life. Bell made the best of a situation that may not always have corresponded to what he might have wanted for himself; Rose would reshape a disagreeable situation into one more to his taste and liking. Bell was casual; Rose was combative. But both were successful.

Bell conformed to the situation in which he found himself. Rose changed the situation to conform to his liking. Can we learn anything about success in comparing these two ballplayers? Is there any one thing they had in common to account for the success they enjoyed?

As mentioned earlier, there are a number of factors forming the recipe for success: talent, opportunity, effort, connections, luck. Both of these ballplayers had native talent for baseball, and both recognized opportunity to display their talent, when the occasion offered. Both had the get-up and go, and made the effort needed to grasp the opportunity when it offered.   And “opportunity” goes hand-in-hand with effort, to supplement its importance. And then there is the element of “connections”, that is, persons in a position both to note talent, and to bring it to the attention of those that matter in the baseball enterprise. And, finally, there is the oft-cited element of luck.

Luck can be reduced to the level of a charm one carries, like a rabbit’s foot. But it can also be elevated to a higher level of significance, such as the providence of God. In fact, God, in His providential care for us, can appropriately be linked to most of the elements listed in the formula or recipe for success: not only “luck”, but talent, opportunity, effort and connections.

In terms of these two individuals, all of these converge on the relatively small area of life called the baseball game. They also account for the more significant segments of our lives. But, whatever area on which we focus, to ascertain success in our efforts, it is perhaps well expressed in the familiar saying: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” When Gus Bell and Peter Rose walked onto the playing field, it was what happened when they used their bat and fielders’ glove. And this may have happened from something inside them different from any combination of talent, opportunity, effort, connections or luck. It may have come, as they say, from “heart”.   And God operates there too.

Looking for Lord Mansfield

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Thirty-five years ago I walked up and down the lanes of the Taste of Chicago searching for something to eat for lunch. That trek led, not to satiety, but to nausea and a deeper hunger for something more important than food. At the North end of the Taste, a Hare Krishna group had set up a booth. I thought that interesting and wondered what they, the only religious group I saw, were doing there. I wandered in their tent only to discover some of the most fascinating information regarding food, in particular animal food, that to this day influences my thinking and behavior regarding it.

This past Sunday, August 9, 2015, the Chicago Tribune published an editorial by Steve Chapman entitled “Exposing abuse of farm animals”. Mr. Chapman points out that seven states have passed “ag gag” laws, laws meant to keep the public from knowing how their food is produced, in other words how the animals that will provide nourishment for our bodies, are treated.

Thirty years ago, attorney, Steven Wise began his journey to change worldwide laws that consider animals to be things. Things, Wise says: “… don’t count in law. They don’t have any legal rights. They don’t have the capacity for legal rights. They are the slaves.” He tells about this journey in today’s TED selection. Watch out! If you care about animals as I do, you may be moved to do something about Wise’s cause.

Looking for Beauty

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

Beauty, though desirable, is really unnecessary. It’s more like fluff on a solid substance: nice to behold, but not required. Beauty can be dismissed without any damage resulting, or any sense of loss or incompleteness. Life can be lived without an experience of the beautiful. There may be a sense of loss but no irreparable loss.

Beauty is more frequently thought of as a feminine asset than a masculine one. Strength is usually considered a masculine attribute rather than a feminine one. While the feminine form found frequent expression in ancient Greek sculpture, it was to exemplify beauty, while the masculine gained artistic expression for its display of strength. While beauty is appreciated, strength is irreplaceable.

What might be the downside of a loss of beauty? Can life go on without it?

Drabness might well express an experience lacking any beauty. Or might ugliness be the better way to express this? In either case, what would living a life described as ugly or drab be like? In either case, what would life be like if it provided nothing but the ugly and the drab? Could life go on in such circumstances?

Thinkers in the ancient world were not slow in recognizing it and assigning merit and significance to the beautiful. In fact, they frequently aligned it with such attributes as goodness and truthfulness and unity or oneness: the perfect is a combination of what is true, good, one or wholeness, and beauty. Despite this, beauty seldom gains the acclaim and the recognition that the others receive. Why is this?

The terms “ugly” and “drab” were used above to draw attention to the absence of beauty in life. To give body to these descriptions, we might think of them in terms of a prison cell. We readily acknowledge a jail cell as lacking any vestige of the beautiful. Is this because ugliness is the most suitable way of enhancing the punishment that we associate with imprisonment? Prison seems to be synonymous with the drab and the ugly.

The mass housing ventures erected in our urban centers, not too many decades ago, for the poor and impoverished often gave off strong indications of much the same thing: the ugly and the drab. That is why city governments in recent times have leveled them to the ground, replacing them with more livable arrangements.

There is an interplay between the lack of beauty and the absence of goodness (or the presence of evil).

Evil, once recognized for what it is, clearly emerges as something ugly and distorted. Perhaps that is why our prisons were designed to be ugly, because they housed those who were criminals, that is, those who engaged in evil. And that is undoubtedly why civic minded persons also agitated to level mass housing for the poor, because it gave off the message that poverty and evil were aligned.

And so we come to God. God is the epitome of both strength and beauty. We don’t differentiate between a God of Beauty and a God of Strength. They are aligned within the God we have come to know, love and worship. In fact, He is the summation of all that is true, good, beautiful and One (or unified), even while, in our Christian tradition, we profess Him as a Trinitarian God. We can say that of no one else, or nothing else.

But this recognition sends us on a search to discover what, other than God, might best encapsulate or house what we acknowledge as the epitome of beauty. Would it be something in mother nature: the sea, a mountain, a valley, a flower or garden? Would it be the heavens: a sunrise or sunset, a waning moon, a multitude of stars? Would it be a form of bird life, or a creature of the sea, or a land animal?

Or might it be a product of our human genius: something that we see, or something that we hear: a painting, a sculpture, a building? A symphony, a motet, a ballet? A play, a poem, a novel?

Whatever we call beautiful is something that enjoys symmetry, proportion, color, balance, shape. It borders on what emerged from the hand of God on the sixth day of creation: the garden of Eden, which we were able to enjoy for so short a period of time. Our hope is to enjoy it again—in the future.