Let’s Open These Windows and Air This Church Out!

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I can’t believe that fifty years have gone by since the promulgation of Nostra Aetate, one of three declarations coming from the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965). I was a high school senior at the Passionist Preparatory Seminary in 1962 and truly had no idea what that council would mean in my life. As I look back, it basically meant that I would live in a church that in the words of Saint Pope John XXIII would open up it’s 2000 year old windows and air itself out, aggiornamento I think he called it.

I believe that one of the greatest outcomes of that council was a new understanding of our relationship to other religions, especially our relationship to our Jewish sisters and brothers. Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee discusses 2,000 years of teaching in Christianity that made Jews “The other” in this short quip above. It is just a snippet of a longer (20 minute) PBS documentary on http://video.pbs.org/viralplayer/2365587110“>Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) This document was promulgated fifty years ago by Pope Paul VI on October 28, 1965.

If you are not familiar with it, I think you’ll enjoy discovering what tremendous strides Christians, in particular Roman Catholic Christians have made. If you are familiar with it, I hope you enjoy hearing and watching this great story as told by Rabbi Marans and the Rev. Dennis McManus a consultant to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and a member of the faculty at Georgetown University.

Thank you Nancy Kramer for suggesting this post.

 

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My Life in Flow

Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

As a young person, being ambitious I wanted to achieve much. Discipline and control were basic to whatever the job was at hand. Now as I look back over my life as a 70 year old man, my living seems to reveal a story that was predestined to happen.

When I meditate on the experiences I notice that I was most effective in life when in a state of flow, when I didn’t know who was in control and discipline wasn’t an issue, experience was the issue and the joy in the experience. I think the Buddha’s call this mindfulness.

“nuts!” Saves the Day

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

David Farragut is credited with the remark: “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead”, uttered by this Union Admiral during the Civil War naval encounter in Mobile Bay. At first hearing, it sounds like a foolish piece of advice, leading to unfortunate incidents that could have been avoided by following a different tactic.

A different tactic, of course, would have been something akin to caution. “Better safe than sorry” is a time-honored axiom that has proven wise and accurate over time. In fact, most of us have likely been consistent followers of the cautionary principle in the multiple undertakings we pursue on a daily basis. Driving the car is likely such an activity, and we have likely found it a reliable way of acting, day in and day out—at least those of us over 20 years of age.

Caution is often regarded as a primary instance of the prudence operative in our lives. Prudence has come down over the course of centuries as a highly commendable mode of conduct, even a virtuous way. Prudence is the historically established rule for pursuing a course of action that, more than any other arrangement, comes closest to guaranteeing that something we value or cherish will not be lost or damaged as a result of what we are about to do. This might be the investment of a large amount of money in a business enterprise, or consultation on an important personal health issue with a specialist, or the placement of a child in a day-care facility. In each of these endeavors, we want to make sure, as best we can, that the decision we make holds out greatest promise of success.   We don’t want to gamble our hard-earned money, or our precarious health situation, or the well-being of our child, on an unknown provider whose credentials have yet to be established.

That is, we don’t want to gamble away something valuable to us. Gambling and caution are not comfortable with one another, and this recommends caution to many of us. It seems the best way of providing us some security that we are not endangering something we treasure. So we proceed cautiously and carefully, and this often takes time. We likely want to consult others more knowledgeable than ourselves about the course of action we are pondering, and we judge any hasty decision-making in these matters to be precarious for us and our best interests.

Furthermore, we have often heard that “haste makes waste”. Haste is often regarded as foolish, unless it is the only option. To be “too quick on the draw” seems to be an immature and unwise process to avoid. Speed, in other words, is an adversary that seldom seriously commends itself to our course of action in the kind of actions presented above. The slowness involved in the cautionary approach is preferable to the hastiness associated with sudden decision-making, when, of course, it is possible to make this choice.

However, all of these remarks suggesting a preference for deliberate and careful calculating when important choices have to be made tend not to consider the liabilities that can afflict such caution. For instance, while we notice, on expressways, posted warnings about excessive speed, we may overlook the signs forbidding minimum speeds. Cautious, slow-driving drivers must keep their speeds above a certain minimum level to avoid fines. For violating these minimum limit is excessive caution and can also lead to serious accidents. In the same line of thought, drivers, especially those who tend to move slowly on an expressway, yet who, on a multilane road, prefer to use lanes on the left, which faster drivers normally use, may feel comfortable providing for their own safety and the control of their vehicle in doing so, but may aggravate faster drivers behind them in the same lane, leading them to “take chances” in the attempt to overtake and bypass them. In so doing, they can endanger themselves. Here is a case where one person’s caution can trigger another’s decision to take a risk in an effort to bypass the slower moving vehicle.

Nor is excessive caution confined to highway speeds. Medical advice given to a patient recently diagnosed with a serious and fast-moving infection, to the effect that he or she should take immediate action against an imminent health hazard afflicting the patient should usually be followed up on as soon as possible, because dalliance might prove seriously harmful.

Indeed, deadlines of any type promising some benefit to participants in a competitive exercise, if they be ignored or postponed on the score of more time needed to think over this contest more carefully, may come and go, to the potential loss of those who tend to be procrastinators.

This seemed to have been the mindset of General McAuliffe during the World War II Battle of the Bulge, when his airborne division, surrounded by the Germans, received a German surrender ultimatum, to which McAuliffe responded with the quickest and shortest response in military history: “nuts!” Sometimes quick decisions can save the day.

My Favorite Telling of the Jesus Story

Dave O'Donnell
Dave O’Donnell

The Celtic Cross depicts my favorite representation of the Jesus story. Catholics prefer the cross with the body of Jesus Christ hanging on it, while Protestants prefer a plain cross with no corpus. The cross with the corpus implies the idea of example. The plain cross suggests there is room for you to see yourself there.

The Celtic Cross has many images on its face implying we all have a cross we are burdened with. At the intersection where the beams meet in the center is the circle of life that surrounds and intersects the cross members. This suggests to me that life’s embrace of my cross is at the center of my life, and is essential to my salvation story.

In the Meantime

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

During the 2nd WW the term “quisling” was used as an accusation, originating in Norway, against fellow-countrymen who “cooperated” with the enemy in some form or fashion. The term “collaborator” has also been used. It could be a serious charge, and, if proven, could subject the accused to some serious penalties, such as execution, imprisonment, or the loss of reputation and esteem in one’s native land. It was a derisive, demeaning term, applicable to people like Judas, in the gospel story, or Benedict Arnold in the Revolutionary War.

Cooperation, another term, is usually confined to issues of evil (not good), and is not always easy to establish. It is easier “said” than “done”, i.e., the charge of being a collaborator in a morally evil action is easier to make than to establish it. While flagrant instances of it may be easy enough to establish, this is not so with lesser degrees of cooperation in evil. The complicating thing about cooperation is that there is always another person involved in it, who, as a matter of fact, is the main culprit. The one who cooperates is really not in total command of the scenario but operates in a “helping” mode.

As a result, it’s easier to identify the major player in a complex situation, than it is those who may be collaborators or cooperators in it. For in such a scenario, the involvement of secondary agents admits of shades of grey.

A major collaborator is one who is necessary for the action to take place. While not being the main agent, such a one is so essential to its accomplishment that should he or she falter, the entire operation is in jeopardy. During the Civil War, the accidental shooting of General Stonewall Jackson by one of his own men was probably a main reason why Lee’s effort at Gettysburg failed. For Jackson was usually the centerpiece of Lee’s strategy as his major collaborator.

In a complex society such as ours, growing ever more so with each advance in electronic and computerized developments, the phenomenon of cooperation in the deeds of others is difficult to determine. Character assassination, for example, can take place surreptitiously in an electronic medium, beginning with one person but quickly joined in by others, so that the effort at assigning responsibility among the multiple participants collaborating in this event is difficult. Perhaps this is the reason why Pope Francis has so frequently condemned gossip in his remarks, having in mind a traditional mode of collaboration in its modern garb.

Usually, the more essential that a collaborator is to the performance of an action, the more responsibility falls on the shoulders of that person. But where “many hands” have helped to bring about an operation, then parceling out responsibility for it among all these individuals is more challenging.

It is also important to realize that cooperation in another’s action can take place by what one does not do, as well as by what one does. If I am part of a group in which one individual is the dominant agent, as, for instance, talking about another (absent) person in a belittling or besmirching way, and if I know it to be totally or even partially false, without doing anything to correct a false and hurtful denunciation, then I am a collaborator in the resulting harm. While not the main agent of the injury that is inflicted, nor even the only one in the group recognizing the harm that is taking place, my failure to act makes me partially responsible for the defamation of character that ensues, especially if my testimony could have offset some of the harm resulting from the damaging remarks.

Our contemporary society is complex. If I invest assets in a profitable company that has a reputation for polluting the environment, or manufacturing military equipment/weaponry that figure prominently in the prosecution of a military venture, I am a collaborator in whatever moral evil might be involved in this enterprise. Of course, there are usually scores of other investors, not just myself, so I am not a necessary component in the harm that is being done. For I can divest myself from this enterprise  without causing the unfortunate procedure to discontinue. This is an instance where my collaboration is minimal, even insignificant, so my moral responsibility is also small.

Given the dimensions of what cooperation in the deeds of others can assume in contemporary society, the more scrupulous among us can unduly fret over the extent of our participation in actions that others generate and sustain, and worry too much about the level of our responsibility, for instance, in the veritable explosion of environmentally polluting procedures produced by the manufacturing industry.

The only guaranteed way of avoiding responsibility for this maze of harmful pollutants is to exit the universe we inhabit, which, of course, we will all likely be able to do, eventually. But, in the meantime, we can improve our sensitivity to the role we might be playing, no matter how feeble, in the bothersome issue of collaborating in a host of harmful situations.

It’s Time to Speak Up and End the Violence

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

A couple of weeks ago, a good friend of mine sent me a notice of the USA Tour of the major relics of St. Maria Goretti and suggested that I might want to join her in venerating these at St. John Cantius Church where they would be displayed October 12, 2015. This started quite a discussion beginning with my gut reaction of: “Are you kidding?” Without going into all the in-between back and forth arguments, I attended the viewing of these relics and was pleasantly surprised at how well the whole story of saint/sinner played out, Maria being the saint and her slayer, Alessandro Serenelli being the sinner. What I expected when I first received the invitation goes like this: the sinners, men are evil sexual predators and the saints, women are the poor victims of men’s lust. I know from dealing with my own demons, as well as my work with young men, this kind of thinking gets us nowhere.

I am part of a privileged group(s) and I know it. That doesn’t mean I always know how to respond to people who don’t share my status. One of the privileged groups I belong to is that of men. As a man I need some good coaching and training.

Upon visiting the museum set up in the basement of St. John Cantius’ I learned the story of the rehabilitation of Maria’s killer, Alessandro Serenelli. It’s an amazing story of reconciliation and recovery. In Serenelli’s words:

“I atoned for my sin. Little Maria was truly my light, my protectress. With her help, I served those 27 years in prison well. When society accepted me back among its members, I tried to live honestly with angelic charity. The sons of St. Francis, the minor Capuchins of the Marches, welcomed me among them not as a servant, but as a brother. I have lived with them for 24 years. Now I look serenely to the time in which I will be admitted to the vision of God, to embrace my dear ones once again and to be close to my guardian angel, Maria Goretti and her dear mother, Assunta.”

Now, I don’t think I’m ready to read here: “…and they all lived happily ever after”. No, I think we, especially we men, have a lot of work to do and Alessandro can be our patron saint if you will. Jackson Katz in the above TED talk gives us some real good ideas on where to start. I’ll leave it to Katz to take it from here.

Undermining the Entire Moral Code

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

Consent is a slippery eel to get ahold of, in matters of right and wrong.   This is true whether it is the consent of a single individual, or of more than one individual. Consent is regarded as approval of a course of action, or of its omission.

In the case of an individual’s consent to something, for instance, to accompany someone to a ballgame, a person can honestly wonder, later on, whether one really agreed to do this, or not, or was merely suggesting a possibility of doing so. In a more formal setting, of course, like selling one’s house to another, the issue of consent on the part of either party, whether it’s making an offer to sell, or an agreement to purchase, a document is usually at hand to verify, by signature, whether both parties consented to this transaction. But in less formal arrangements, one or the other party can later on honestly put the question: did I really agree to do this?

Consent is always important in determining how seriously one embedded him or herself in a remark that was made. It can be a matter of personal integrity when one’s word is “on the line”, whether interpersonally before another, or more formally, in an arrangement where others were present to substantiate an agreement. For one who is sensitive about the standing he or she enjoys in society, the status of “one’s word” in another’s estimation is important, whether there’s a document to substantiate it or not. At times a firm handshake or a straightforward “looking another in the eye” is all that is needed to support consent to a transaction.

But, it is one thing to give one’s consent to another in a setting where people are more or less known to one another, but it is a different matter in situations where the people involved are virtually strangers to one another. In a nation whose population has now moved beyond 300,000,000 persons, it is more difficult to establish one’s trustworthiness in consenting to an arrangement than to do so in a nation whose population was considerably smaller, decades ago. It is comparable to a transaction among a group of virtual strangers, as compared to one made among several familiar associates.

As a consequence, consent is becoming more of an issue in contemporary society, with more and more reliance being placed on proper documentation establishing the veracity of consent to a transaction. The legality of an agreement between people is assuming ever more prominent status in certifying that a transaction is trustworthy or not.

But what about the moral status of behavior involving several persons? The issues presented above are being addressed more in terms of their legality than in terms of their goodness or evil. Of course, legality and morality don’t have to be opposed to one another. One would like to think that concern about the legality of an action is tantamount to its moral status as well, but such is not always the case.

An instance of this is the growing concern about incidents of rape on college campuses, or, for that matter, in any comparable settings. These incidents are coming to center more and more around the presence or absence of consent on the part of the one designated the “victim” in such situations. If it can be established that there was an absence of consent on the part of one involved in the incident, then the crime of rape was committed. And it can be punished.

From the legal point of view, this is quite appropriate, based on the lack of consent of one party to the incident. Lack of consent establishes one as a victim of an assault and of injury, which should be legally punished. But the frequency with which this is occurring based on its illegality from the viewpoint of lack of consent emphasizes the presence or absence of consent as the defining issue in addressing these rape incidents. The clear implication is that establishing the presence or absence of consent on the part of the “victim” is sufficient or not to validate the legality of the incident. This means that “consent” is the defining factor in the acceptance or rejection of such sexual behavior.

But reflection leads many of us to deny that consent is the deciding issue in judging the fuller status of sexual action between consenting adults, and to worry that the issue of consent to sexual activity is the primary determining factor in evaluating its appropriateness or acceptability. For when the legality of human behavior becomes so important that it tends to spill over into the entire moral code of conduct, as in the consent issue, it can undermine the entire moral code, as if consenting to engage in an activity suffices to establish its morality. It’s not what we can find acceptable but what God has spelled out for us that constitutes the moral status of our behavior.