We Remember and Give Thanks

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

Thanksgiving takes a memory and a gift. A memory without a gift won’t do it, nor will a gift without a memory. This obviously involves two persons: one with a memory, the other with a gift. A person without a gift of some type or other doesn’t generate thanks, nor will a person without a memory. But gifts come in various disguises, needing to be recognized, and memories are experienced in different ways.

On Thanksgiving Day we try to recall the gifts we have received along the way. Many of these are family centered, as we remember the parent or the child or another relative, who has been part of our lives along the way, some quite significantly so, enriching us. Of such persons we say that we will never forget them. Often it’s not a tangible gift they have bestowed on us, but rather something that is intangible, such as the interest they may have taken in us throughout the years of our life, asking how we’re doing, what we have been up to, or our achievements over the year. This kind of gift has a personal touch to it, rather than a label noting that it came from Macy’s. But it triggers an automatic recollection, dispensing with the struggle to recall what, if any, tangible gift this person may have given me since last we met. Such a person doesn’t have to be remembered for what he or she has done for us, other than to be who they are: a breath of fresh air blowing through our life, like a welcome breeze coming through an open window and billowing the curtains.

But, of course, these kinds of incidents suppose a memory on the part of the other person, nursing a deeply felt spirit of gratitude to the “gift” giver, for being who he or she is in our life. But, unfortunately, at times some of our mental circuits are overloaded, and we struggle to identify such a person within our circle of “gift-givers”. We suffer memory-overload, and our circuit receptors fail us at time of need. Even though our reception of the person may be warm, even heart-felt, coupled with a firm handshake, our eyes may betray us, as the other person reads our facial features and sees that we are not connecting. It’s a memory breakdown.   This can happen to young people suffering from over load. On such occasions, thanksgiving becomes an ordeal because it lacks genuine warmth and personal recognition, and the other instantly perceives it.

Indeed, one of the difficult periods in an otherwise close family network is when one of the elders gradually disconnects with the memories housing better times. Older members succumbing more and more to a faltering memory inflict pain on other family members, as their memories falter, and their eyes betray that look of vacancy and non-recognition that is like a stab in the heart. The power of engagement is seeping away, and a shallowness now inhabits the look in the eye and the faltering word on the lips.

So Thanksgiving recalls that we need both gift and memory. That is certainly the heart of the Thanksgiving Day celebration this country maintains every fourth Thursday of the month of November. We trace this back to the pilgrims of Plymouth Colony who in 1621 celebrated their first harvest.   Devout Christians themselves, they appreciated the gift of this New World, and we follow after them, hopefully also mindful of this gift. Indeed, one of the less celebrated, but nonetheless deeply imbedded practices among us, is the prayer of thanksgiving following the main meal of each day, concluding the grace that we bestowed on the meal before sitting down at table. It is fitting that we make special use of the word “grace” at mealtime, for it embodies, perhaps more than any other single word, what gratitude is all about. For the grateful person is a graceful person whose style of presence among us is marked by peace, calmness and self-possession. This is the natural outcome of one who appreciates the gifts imbedded in them and never forgotten, because they have become part of one’s persona: the graceful person. We think of Mary in these terms as we say a favorite prayer: “Hail, Mary, full of grace…”

And our central prayer (the mass) is more appropriately called “the eucharist”, that is, thanksgiving and gratitude to God for all of His gifts bestowed on us. As we celebrate Thanksgiving, we do so full of gratitude at the convergence we note between this beloved holiday, and central features of our Catholic faith.

Thanks For Joining In


Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

“How is it that people kill in the name of the God of life, wage war in the name of the God of peace, hate in the name of the God of love and practice cruelty in the name of the God of compassion? How if we are the image of God, do we so often harm the work of God, especially, our fellow humans?” (Sacks, Jonathan, 2015 Not in God’s Name Schocken Kabobs, NY p110 ebook)

Now the above quote might seem unrelated to last Tuesday’s post about women and gays fighting for respect in their religions of birth, but I think not. Before I get into that though, let me first, thank everyone who shared by writing a comment on the Blog or Facebook. Evidently this is an issue for more than just me and Chelsea Shields.

Thank you Gail for your comment “Dan take a look at America Magazine September 14 issue …Religion and Diplomacy by Sec of State. John Kerry…”. I followed your advice and what struck me was Secretary of State Kerry pointing out:

“One of the most interesting challenges we face in global diplomacy today is the need to fully understand and engage the great impact that a wide range of religious traditions have on foreign affairs.”

Evidently the Secretary of State of the United States is concerned about religion’s role in world affairs. And on Facebook, I mentioned Karen L’s conflict in last Thursday’s post. I was moved too by Neil R’s sharing : “Agree Dan and Francis does have me considering maybe coming home.” I’m inspired and I suspect many others are as well who read your shares. Karen and Neil are concerned.

David Brooks and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks are also concerned. David Brooks’ wrote an OP-ED column last Tuesday in the New York Times concerning Rabbi Jonathan Sacks book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” In his column he writes:

The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries. Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.” (Brooks, David, 11-17-15 NYT Oped, Finding Peace within the Holy Texts)

What is Brooks talking about “desecularization” and religious conflicts? I’m still reading his book and looking for that answer, but in the meantime, I think our discussion last week points to a very important work we are about, honest sharing. We truly can be partners in this coming day of desecularization, if we are willing to speak up and are listened to and more importantly heard. I think, as Neil suggests, Pope Francis is listening and I don’t think he’s the only one.

This is what we are attempting to do with the CPP Blog (Our weekly meeting in print). Sharing can lead to doing. As Jean S pointed out, “Some people are doers…”. What besides speaking up can we, people of all religious faiths do? More on that for next Tuesday.


‘Love is Blind. Obedience Shouldn’t Be.’ – National Catholic Reporter

Many people have told me they never really considered staying inside and working to change the church (or any other unjust structure) rather than depart in despair. I hope we inspire folks to stay and work for positive change especially now that Catholics at least, have a Pope who is actively seeking change.

Source: ‘Love is Blind. Obedience Shouldn’t Be.’ – National Catholic Reporter

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

The above quote originated in a column by Sister Christine Schenk in the November 12, 2015 National Catholic Reporter. I found it in the Pax Christi’s Post, Tuesday, the same day I posted my reflection Rejected, on Chelsea Shield’s August 2015 TED Talk. Talk about synchronicity! Both tell of women’s struggle for equality in of all places their churches.

Rejected generated a great deal of discussion both on our site and on my Facebook page. I learned some new information. I now know what an EME is thanks to Terrance Wagner and I related to all the sharing, especially this one by Karen:

I’ve pretty much stopped attending the Catholic Church because I find so many of their teachings offensive. At the same time I am who I am today because of my Catholic upbringing. I’m conflicted. (Karen L.)

That’s a problem, exactly the problem I meant to address in my post and reiterated by a number of people in the discussion that followed. Sister Christine’s column cited above, gives me hope and suggests to me a very practical activity we can all do to address that problem and to open up our church, a process started by Saint Pope John XXIII and reintroduced with Pope Francis.

In her column, Sister Christine tells about the film Radical Grace, a documentary of the “‘nunquisition'”– the Vatican’s six year investigation of the U.S. sisters…” Sister Christine tells how surprised she was that the film has gotten worldwide recognition. The film’s producer, Nicole Bernardi-Reis told her “…the nuns are role models–not only their work but simply advocating for yourselves is a radical and affirming idea for women in many parts of the world.”

Wow! “Advocate for yourselves”. What a simple, doable action. What would that look like if we did it–what would we be advocating for? The same thing the Sister Christine  is, i.e. we are the church.

“Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and traditional Anglican Christians traditionally believe that 1 Peter 2:9 gives responsibility to all believers for the preservation and propagation of the Gospel and the Church…” (Wikipedia)

We are the church, us little peons who give our weekly donations and who daily struggle to love our neighbor, raise our children and share the bounties we’ve received. Now you might think advocating for ourselves here is not necessary, but only if you didn’t read my and Sister Christine’s posts.

Proposed action:

So here it is. Let’s inspire each other to stay and work for positive change in our church, “…especially now that Catholics at least, have a Pope who is actively seeking change”. We can start this process by watching Radical Grace. We missed the screening last week at the Gene Sickle Theatre here in Chicago, but the site for the film offers to help anyone interested in presenting their own screening. Let’s take up that offer for help and do it, plan a screening and discussion of the film Radical Grace.

Anyone interested in scheduling our own showing?


Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Many of my gay brothers and sisters ask me why I bother to continue associating with a church that considers my sexual orientation as “intrinsically disordered” and I must admit, I often wonder why as well. There truly is not one simple reason and this simple post can only brush upon the reasons. First and foremost though is that my church has been good to me. They have provided me a loving and caring community in which to grow up in as well as a great many friends who continue to help me grow and follow that person we call Jesus.

Chelsea Shields in her August 2015 TED Talk presents her reasons for staying in her church of birth. One very good one, is the tremendous influence organized religion has for both good and bad . She gives an enlightening witness as to why she remains a Mormon despite the second class citizenship she experiences there. I totally relate to her experience.

Mrs. Shields in her willingness to confront the bigotry she finds in her religion reminds me of Jesus. She’s a brave woman and tells of the consequences of her actions–much the same as Jesus experienced. More importantly Mrs. Shields tells us what I believe is the proper response to religious bigotry and why I continue to confront it today, especially in my own church.

Life Makes Veterans of us All

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

Yesterday we celebrated Veterans Day, a revered holiday in this country. It memorializes those men and women who have devoted a portion of their lives to military services, in one of the branches of the armed forces. Even though this may have been for only a relatively short period of time, perhaps just two or three years, and usually has occurred at an early stage of life, often when one is in his or her twenties, we still speak of them as veterans. And, again, this holds true, whether this military experience took place overseas, or whether one never left the shores of this country, or whether it involved combat situations or not. One is a veteran who has served for some period of time in the military.

The term “veteran” is an interesting one. It derives as an offshoot of the ancient Latin word “vetus”, meaning “old”. We may wonder why someone who spent just two or three years of his/her life in military service is called a veteran, if it took place many years ago when one was young, not old, and if it concerned only a relatively brief period of one’s life. It seems as if age has little or nothing to do with it.

However, when we think about it, there seems to be a link between certain kinds of experiences, and age. We may have met certain people who are still relatively young, but, as we say, seem “old” for their years. Perhaps life has been grueling for them, aging them in the process, even though they have lived for only a relatively short period of time. There are searing experiences leaving a powerful impact on people: these are often tragedies of one kind or another, such as the death of a loved one, especially a spouse or a child. Or it could have been a harrowing medical procedure entailing serious surgery or powerful medications. Perhaps it was a frightening event, such as a tragic accident on the highway, or at sea, or in the air. And, of course, reverting to the military experience again, it may have been exposure to intense combat.

All of these situations can leave their mark on us. They literally “age” us, making us appear older than we really are. In a sense, we have become veterans of life, and its effects show on us. We have aged before our years. The military service has this effect on all its veterans. It has entailed an experience for them, if only for a few years, that is never forgotten, and whose impact has never been erased or dulled. People who spent but a few years in the military recall it decades later, as if it were yesterday.

So a veteran, whether because of military service, or some other influential experience, is the product of a formative event. It shapes us, whether for good or for bad. And it never leaves us. An interesting comparison can be made between the impact of education on us, in the usual sense of that term (schooling, scholarship, the gaining of diplomas and degrees), and experience gained from life. And our educational institutions sometimes recognize this comparison, and allow for “life experience” to count for something that approximates an educational experience in determining one’s suitability and capability for acceptance into certain kinds of programs. In fact, there’s a memory component built into one with significant life experience that is more durable and formative of a person than the educational courses, with their lectures, computerized sharing, and reading lists. These latter events are more easily forgotten as one moves into later stages of life, no matter how interesting the books read or lectures heard during the school experience.   The process of learning “pro vita” (for life) impacts us differently than that undergone just “pro schola” (for school).

The traditional Catholic educational philosophy recognizes this, and stresses the impact of a religious atmosphere in the school setting. While it is important to provide the student with up-to-date equipment, especially in this electronic age, this is not adequate to produce a student of the caliber of “a veteran”, as he or she graduates and moves out “into the world”. For there the “school of hard knocks” prevails as an experiential one, more indelibly engraved than a sheerly intellectual experience can provide, one never to be forgotten.

There are those who boast of being a veteran of a religiously imparted education not readily forgotten. Many a priest knows this from finding himself imbedded on an airplane seat, next to such a “veteran”, who readily launches into his memories of forty years ago as a schoolboy at St. James elementary school, patrolled by formidable looking Sisters, or his survival at a Catholic boys high-school where one or other Brother may have left something to be desired in terms of his efforts at teaching, but whose influence, at times physically enforced, has left an indelible mark for life. This kind of man is literally a veteran of the Catholic educational system, never to be forgotten, though Cicero may have faded into the background.

We Continue to Tell the Story

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

“…can we make sure that they did not die in vain? Could we be inspired by what happened, and take a stand for a world in which every life matters?” (Melissa Fleming from above TED Talk)

As Americans we like to talk about not letting our sisters and brothers who have been killed in war, die in vain. Every national holiday we remember these people and make promises like: “We will keep the lamp of liberty and justice burning for all”. Does that “for all” include refugees like Massa and Doaa whose story Ms. Fleming tells so eloquently?

As Passionists we believe in the power of prayer and remembering. We believe praying is the most powerful way to change ourselves. By keeping alive the memory of the passion of Jesus, especially as we see it being lived out today in the lives of real 21st Century people, i.e. veterans and refugees, we will become compassionate people.  This is why we continue to tell the story.

Large vs. Small–Which is More Important?

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

The other day a panel truck travelled down the street. Along its side was inscribed what was apparently its motto and claim to fame or at least recognition: NO JOB IS TOO SMALL.

As it passed by, it may not have struck a very distinctive or “catchy” note at first reading—but then, on the sudden, it may have roused one’s curiosity: “Wait a minute! That’s not the usual “No job is too big” pitch. Rather, it read: “No job is too SMALL.” But, by the time one swung around to see if the truck was still in sight so that one could glean from its panel inscription exactly the kind of enterprise it boasted of pursuing, it was too late, because by then it had disappeared from sight, leaving one to conjure up the possible kinds of jobs in which it might engage, that specialized in smallness where help might be needed in certain situations.

For this might have been a plumbing outfit that would be needed to retrieve small items accidentally lost down a pipe or some tubing, or an organization devoted to providing clothes for small people, such as infants, or a specialty store devoted to providing patches for household linens or items of clothing needing a patch or even a number of patches for a quilt-making operation. On the other hand, it might have been engaged in the jewelry or watch-making trade, specializing in small gems.

When all is said and done, it is likely that there are as many small things in life needing attention as there are large ones. And there is probably as many production enterprises devoted to precision tools and instruments requiring repair or improvement of small items as there are their counterparts engaged in doing the same for much larger mechanisms. For example, the devices devoted to the discovery and study of micro organisms, whether on or under the earth, or in the depths of the seas, are likely as numerous, and complex, as are those developed to explore the vast sweeps of outer space. The murky waters of the oceans likely conceal in their depths as many minute organisms as the vast stretches of space teeming with their gigantic counterparts. God’s craftsmanship is as evident in the small as much as it is in the large, and likely there are as many thriving scientific enterprises here on earth devoting themselves to minutely small ventures as there are their counterparts engaged in much the same work, but at the other end of the size spectrum.

The point of interest, then, is the question whether “the small” can be as important in terms of influence or significance or value as “the large”? Admittedly, what is large and imposing tends to attract our attention sooner than what is small and unobtrusive, whether it is buildings forming the skyline of a city, or airplanes lined up on the runway of an airport, or ships anchored in the harbor, or stores featuring massive displays of their merchandise or animals caged in the zoo. Our attention gravitates toward what is imposing and massive more than it does toward what is tiny and unobtrusive.

But these examples all refer to what attracts our attention. But that can differ considerably from what we regard as meaningful and significant for us. For it is likely that most of us spend more time and energy on items of considerably smaller dimensions than those cited above. This is obvious in view of the considerable time and care we devote to our medications, which we carefully line up on our bathroom shelf: small items, each of them, but calling for precision on our part. And urban dwellers with cars but no garages exhibit the same concern in shopping for small enough cars that are more conducive for parallel parking along the street rather than larger. roomier autos, that prove more of a problem in this matter. And do not prospective husbands (probably more than wives-to-be) prefer a future spouse either his size, or smaller, rather than one who towers over him? And some shoppers deliberately seek out small, “mom & pop” establishments to which they take their business rather than large supermarkets featuring several floors of their many wares.

Admittedly, the large enterprise usually has more to offer in terms of the variety and quantity of their products. And an imposing enterprise is normally easier to locate than a smaller one. But there is lacking the opportunity to develop a relationship in a larger organization than is possible in a smaller one. The Lord Himself seemed to have similar concerns about the comparative value of the small and the large when He remarked, apropos of servants who faithfully fulfilled their duties during the absence of the nobleman for whom they worked: “Well done, good servant! You have been faithful in this very small matter; take charge of ten cities.” (Lk 19.17) This corresponds rather closely to the panel truck traveling along the street, featuring its sales pitch: NO JOB IS TOO SMALL.

So to specialize “in the small” is as likely to be an advantage as it is a disadvantage—perhaps more so. Important things can come in small packages, as every young couple know.

Daring to Feel

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

So, being the good Catholic that I am I went to Mass this past Sunday and as is often the case, got there early and sitting quietly in my usual pew read the weekly bulletin. The first sentence I read kind of disturbed me.

Gospel Love is not about feelings. It’s about choosing to care regardless of how we feel. It’s about making decisions based upon the vision of Jesus regardless of how many other visions are demanding our allegiance. (Rev. Joseph J. Juknialis)

I doubt the author meant for me to conclude this, but after reading the sentence I grasped why I believe Chesterton was and still is right: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” (Gilbert K. Chesterton quotes from BrainyQuote.com) The difficult part of this Christianity thing if you ask me is precisely what the above author downplays, feelings. Speaking for myself, if I don’t feel my brother’s pain (compassion) I won’t act. Fear that I’m not capable will keep me aloof, above the fray. I must feel the pain before I will dare to act.

Christianity for me is not done by people who just know the right answer, although this is the beginning; it’s done by people who take the next step and feel, like parents, teachers, health care givers, ordinary everyday people who love their children, students, patients, and neighbors. While it’s material for another whole post, I think it’s important to note here that the opposite of love is not hate; it’s fear.

Hillary Cottom says the same thing, but a little differently in today’s TED selection. She calls it relationships. She is talking about fixing the welfare state, reducing 80% of the waste. Sounds improbable, but I think she’s got something and what get’s me most excited, it involves using modern technology. In less than 17 minutes she tells three stories to demonstrate her findings. Enjoy!

Ms. Cotton kind of reminds me of the Catholic women religious whose history is one of building relationships through teaching, health services, social services and a whole host of other ministries. You can hear about that at the You Tube “A Different Path – Catholic Nuns”.