Fink Murphy

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

“Fink” is a name that most people would prefer not to be known by. It would be strange, to say the least, that any parent would name his/her child “Fink”. There is a bit of shadiness or suspiciousness attached to the moniker, regardless of the actual character to whom it is attached. A very upright, law-abiding person may go by the name “Fink”.

Such was the case years ago in a Midwest city, a medium-sized urban area, with the usual amenities of urban life such as it was fifty or so years ago. These included the electrical grid that empowered the then expected amenities of life, such as a phone system that connected every business operation and household in the vicinity, or at least the vast majority of them. At that time, there was a common, and less expensive, arrangement known as “a party line”, which enabled several parties, usually neighbors to one another, to use the same phone line, that is, the same phone number. The only way of knowing when an incoming call was for one’s own family rather than another party on the same line, was in the distinctive “ring” of an incoming call. This enabled a particular customer on a three or four party-line, to know that the call was for his/her family rather than another party on the line. For example, two long and one short ring indicated one party, rather than another party whose distinctive ring might have been one long and two short rings. This meant everyone on that line had to listen carefully to incoming calls to make sure that they were for someone else, not for him or herself. Of course, mistakes were made, especially by children, who would mistakenly answer a phone call meant for another party on the line which, when this occurred frequently, agitated the other parties on that line.

Such was the arrangement in the case at hand, involving a party line, one of whom was a bookie named Fink Murphy (this surname is fictitious). He was the recipient of many calls because this city featured a famous racehorse track, attracting bettors from across the area, and Fink was quite busy accommodating their desires. Understandably, the other parties on this party line were fed up with Fink, since most of the incoming calls were for Fink, and he was occupying the line on his own initiative the remainder of the time. There was one young single woman in particular who was agitated at his constant presence on the phone line, especially on weekends, as she awaited phone calls from her boyfriends inviting her out on a date.

Now there are obvious lessons to glean from this example. One, for those who could afford it, was to avoid securing a party line for their use, and procure their own private line.   The other, less charitable than this, was for those sharing the party line with Fink, to sit close to the phone and repeatedly interrupt Fink as he conversed with another party on the line. Or, in much the same fashion, was to try beating Fink to the phone when it first rang, and proceed to announce that Fink was unavailable. Or yet another strategy, more charitable in nature, was to bear this cross patiently and suffer this inconvenience in silence.

But every cloud has a silver lining. In this case, it was a daughter of Fink, who could not bear this Incessant warfare, but who happily met a young man whose family was also on this party line, eager to avoid the rancor accompanying this situation.   It was out of this situation that a Romeo and Juliet situation developed that more than compensated for their grievances. Each of them was privy to this internecine conflict, and brought their mutual interests to bear upon it, to the relief of all.

For us, living in a less tension-filled situation than just described, an incident such as this helps us appreciate that there are advantages living in a more technologically advanced society where we do not have to put up with such an upsetting scenario, since we now carry about our cell phones or I-phones or smart-phones, whereby we can achieve instant communication with our friends and family, without fear of interference from unfriendly, intrusive or belligerent neighbors.   And while even these devices can occasion ugly scenarios, such as the recent standoff between the FBI and the Apple Inc organization, they are relatively infrequent, providing more privacy and less rancor than the party-line arrangement. We need not worry about Fink Murphys dominating a party-line system. This occasions a sense of gratitude for the benefits we enjoy (not taking them for granted), of seeing the silver lining around the inevitable clouds overshadowing us, and of providing better ways for a Romeo and Juliet to meet.


To Tweet or Not to Tweet…

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Pope Francis is an amazing leader. Besides his staunch support of the oppressed and marginalized of the world, at the age of 79 he has a Twitter account. I have an account and follow 119 people and 50 people follow me. Pope Francis has almost 10 million followers and follows no one. I opened my account in October 2011. Pope Francis joined January 2012. Evidently getting there earlier doesn’t guarantee more followers.

Siyanda Mohutsiwa, a 21-year-old student at the University of Botswana, a writer and a social media maven also has a Twitter account. She joined in February of 2011, has tweeted 49.2 thousand tweets, and follows 1,643 other tweeters. Like many young people she questions the world she is inheriting. She, as Pope Francis evidently does, thinks Twitter is an important media in which to express those concerns. You get a sense on how successful she is when you see that she has garnered 17.7 thousand followers and delivered the above 2015 above TED Talk. I believe she is a remarkable young lady.

So what is this social media business and do you think maybe if you are involved in sharing “Good News” it might deserve your consideration? Brian Cradle, Communications Professor at Villanova University in a September 2015 article in the Washington Post explains why the Vatican is moving into social media:

“I think they are moving from an approach that sees contemporary media as a source of contamination to an understanding that there are ways in which contemporary communications technology allow for a different way of engaging with people of faith, both within and outside the Catholic Church,” he said. “To approach it not simply as: ‘What are things that are harmful?’ but what opportunities might be there for the church to engage people, like, what is the pope doing about issues of social justice?” (Brian Cradle, Communications Professor at Villanova University September 2015 Washington Post)

If you think you might want to try Twitter, it’s easy. I suggest:

  • Open an account by going to It takes seconds.

  • Find some people you want to follow by typing their name in the Search field and then click “Follow”.

  • Spend 10 minutes a day opening Twitter and see what’s trending and what the people you are following are saying.

I’ll bet you’ll find it an amazing source of news, news from the people you think are real sources of news like in my case, Pope Francis.

Etha Mae

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

Years ago—decades ago—there was a poor farm family eking out a living on a government-regulated tobacco farm in the Appalachian foothills of Kentucky. The amount of tobacco raised on any given farm was government controlled, and there were frequent flights by small government aircraft over these farms, taking photos of the land being tilled, to certify that the regulations regarding land under tillage were being honored.

There was one such farm, barely eking out a living, with the husband badly crippled, and the wife forced to do much of the heavy work, including the tilling of the land, to make ends meet. There was, at the time, a child in this family, out of wedlock from an earlier liaison. Her name was Etha Mae.

There was an extended family involved in this scenario—a large one—and among this group were two boys, cousins of one another, and of Etha Mae. Both of them were from “the city”, up north, but would spend some time each summer “down in the country”, to maintain contact with the relatives down there, and to get a taste of how the other half lived.

The boys were the same age, though themselves from different parts of the Midwest. They weren’t enthralled by the relatively primitive way of life lived in this part of Kentucky—no electricity, no running water—but there was Etha Mae. Etha Mae was 6 years or so older than they, but a fascinating figure for these boys, on the verge of adolescence. She was a pretty girl, with long blond hair, and would move about on the rugged terrain, roads and pathways running barefoot through the abundant woods bordering the small farms. She ran like a deer, her hair blowing in the wind, over rocky terrain, with facility and ease. And she fascinated her two cousins. She made an indelible impression, so different from the city girls they knew, with no pretense at all about her.

She lived just long enough to leave an indelible memory with them. Unfortunately, she became pregnant out of wedlock, and totally unaware in those days of what abortion was all about, died in childbirth (the child lived into adulthood). She and her family attended a small Methodist church, with a cemetery attached, and her grave is there, looking out over the woods so familiar to her, some seventy years later, but periodically visited, each in their own separate ways, by her two admiring cousins, who wonder: whatever happened to Etha Mae?

The question that arises is: did she live and die in vain? A virtual unknown, with little or no viable future ahead of her, has her short life any meaning whatsoever? Well, it certainly does for her two male city-bred cousins who periodically, and separately, each in his own way, after all these years, stands at the foot of her headstone some seventy years later, remembering her as a symbol of simplicity, primitive beauty, and unselfish giving of her life for a child whom she would never live to see.

Etha Mae, in her own unsophisticated way, is a replica of the One Whose saving act of unselfish generosity we recall this Holy Week. For Jesus too died at a young age, in a way designed to save us all. He had a choice in doing this. He didn’t have to die; He did it for others, not Himself. He underwent suffering that we might learn how to live. And He did this a long time ago, in a remote and insignificant part of the word: tiny Israel. Yet people such as ourselves remember Him. We haven’t forgotten this act of His, so far away and so long ago. And He did it for us, whom He didn’t know. He did this for us, that we might live.

To the extent that we can interpret what happened to Etha Mae as something beautiful and life-affirming, we do so on the eve of a memory that blends with the memory of Christ Crucified that refuses to regard His premature ending as a waste or a tragedy, but as the prelude to another phase or level of life that someone like Etha Mae now likely enjoys, and which we celebrate as Easter.


You’re Invited Too!

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Next weekend I will celebrate Easter and host a family brunch at a rather fancy venue if I do say so. I’m concerned about the guest list. Is it enough to just invite my family, those I’m close to, those I’m comfortable with or should I be stretching my sense of family and invite the stranger?

This question arose after watching the TED Talk above, making me wonder if I don’t need to expand my guest list. It tells an amazing story regarding who we invite into our homes. Joe Gebbia the founder of Airbnb shares a great story of how he changed his initial fear into fun eventually arriving upon the idea for Airbnb. It didn’t happen overnight.

The following quote is taken from redbooks, a Benedictine Blog. It tells of the Benedictine ideal of monastic hospitality.

Everyone—everyone—is received as Christ. Everyone receives a warm answer—on the phone, at the door, in the office. Sarcasm has no room here. Put-downs have no room here. One-upmanship has no room here. Classism has no room here. The Benedictine heart is to be a place without boundaries, a place where truth of the oneness of all things shatters all barriers, a point where all the differences of the world meet and melt, where Jew and Gentile, slave and free, woman and man all come together as equals.

Think I’ll try to make this 2016 Holy Week, holier, opening myself to “the stranger” by:


  • Smiling as I pass people on the street 
  • Listening more to my friends to find out what’s happening in their world 
  • Being more open to try doing it your way.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained*

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

It is interesting to note the skittishness that plagues a squirrel in its response to a delicious nut held out to it by a passerby. Operating at one and the same time within the squirrel is a dynamic thrust forward on its part to reach that nut, and a powerful impulse backward, evident in its quivering leg muscles, to escape the slightest indication of a threatening blow or attack on it, by something near at hand. The onlooker observes with interest how this combination of opposites works itself out. What will happen? Will the desire to eat and enjoy win out, or will the vehement intent to escape harm and avoid injury prevail? The poor squirrel is the victim of contrary forces at work within its high-strung system. Some say that fear of pain trumps anticipation of delight in animals.

This is an apt illustration of how temptation works within us, or on us. We are simultaneously stretched or pulled in two opposite directions by the fascinating impact of temptation on us. Is it more likely that we will ultimately disregard the danger or the penalty involved as a price too high to pay, or will we push forward toward what looms before us as a tempting reward? There is a gamble involved here, and we can only guess (and hope?) at the outcome. But, as the saying goes, nothing ventured, nothing gained. But of course there is the counter acknowledgment that nothing ventured, nothing lost.

An inveterate gambler leans toward “taking a chance”. Of course, if this is purely chance, with no semblance of skill or experience whatsoever at play in this exercise, the odds against success in attempting to do so loom large. But if there is a minute indication of gaining out of this exercise, (for instance, I have a history of success at this particular table, wheel or machine) the likelihood of gain rather than loss is increased, at least a bit. But lacking such background, the prospect of loss looms larger.

And yet, despite all these cautions about being venturesome, some people (probably more so than animals) relish the thrill of venturing into the unknown and even the dangerous. Some who do so admittedly bring a considerable amount of precaution into such activity. If it allows of “practice”, then they carefully anticipate the moves that promise to reduce the threats involved, including those designed to soften the impact of “failure” in such attempts.

While there is a personality trait facilitating the venture into the dangerous or the unknown terrains of life (the daredevil type of person), accompanied by the “thrill” experienced in doing so, there is also the “inventor” type personality that seeks to improve upon our standard ways of doing things. The rest of us benefit by the successes of some of these creative people who invent new and better ways of doing familiar things. The inventor type does not necessarily take chances in “tinkering” with alternatives. Rather, they resemble benefactors or “do-gooders” whose efforts often redound to the benefit of the rest of us. Alexander Graham Bell illustrates this type of person in laying the foundations for our modern phone system. The Wright Brothers showed remarkable tenacity in working on the primitive forerunner of the contemporary airplane. And the field of electronics in our own era has exploded with the geniuses of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak who have provided us the smart phone and its facsimiles.

They all illustrate the wisdom of the adage: nothing ventured, nothing gained. And we, as well as they, have been enriched by their venturesomeness. This is the “gain” won by the venture. Of course, there are likely more failures and fiascos resulting from these explorations into the unknown than there are successes, but the thrill or satisfaction experienced by the successful entrepreneur attracts our attention more than the failures.

Though these inventors, for such they are, need not only a venturesome spirit, they also need a steely resolve to endure multiple failures, often experienced by themselves alone in the privacy of their basements. Christopher Columbus and his crews on the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria were true adventurers as they headed out across the Atlantic ocean, unsure as to their destination and their resources to gain it. Those of us who currently live in that part of the world that they “discovered” do indeed live in a “new world” that has proven highly adventurous in endowing the world at large with a flood of creative ideas that have proven extremely beneficial to scores of generations. It is likely that some of this creative spirit that drove Columbus and his companions has proven contagious across the ages and “infected” many of us with the same drive embodied in the exclamation EXCELSIOR.

*(Benjamin Franklin, author of Poor Richard’s Almanac)

I Doubt That!

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

This past Saturday we buried my dearest friend of the past 47 years, Penny Jaworski. We shared a lot of life together. I don’t remember however Penny ever expressing any deep realization of the effect she had on others. In fact, just the opposite. She often voiced doubt that she made a difference. Ah, she often said how others affected her, but I don’t think she believed she had much of an effect on them. I guess that’s a good thing for knowledge of how we affect one another might limit our activity. Hearing from Penny’s many friends at her memorial however, erased any such doubt in my mind forever. Penny you were loved by many and will be remembered by them for the rest of their lives.

Back to the living. Mr. Casey Gerald doubts, in fact he talks eloquently about the gospel of doubt. He shares the many times in his life when he placed all his hope in his church, then the educational world and finally in the economic systems, only to be left doubting and upset each time. People in 12 step programs like to tell us that when we are upset, the problem is with us. In other words, it’s not other people or a particular set of circumstances that get us upset, it is our response to these that get us upset. Casey Gerald illustrates this truth in his February 2016 TED Talk, the Gospel of Doubt above. In less than 20 minutes, Gerald shares his search for God, and what he finds.

Mr. Gerald is not the only one who doubts. In December of last year, Pope Francis announced that he will name Mother Theresa of Calcutta a saint.  The Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest, editor-at-large of the Catholic news site America, wrote in a Boston Globe December 18, 2015 article how despite having heard the voice of God prompting her to serve the “poorest of the poor” Mother Teresa of Calcutta spent the last twenty years of her life doubting God. Wow!.

Then of course, there’s the Gospel story of the apostle Thomas as told by John. He, like many of us, needed proof. He was lucky. He found it. (JN 20: 24 – 28)

When you you find yourself in doubt and there is no immediate proof, try:

  • Seeking input from mentors and trusted friends,
  • Spending quiet time just being before jumping to a decision,
  • After doing the above, trust your gut and act.

When the Rubber Hits the Tarmac

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

Should we give of our surplus goods (so that I or mine experience no harm in doing so), or should we give until it hurts us (because I suffered some sense of personal or family deprival in doing so)? Behind these questions of course is GIVING. Do we give, should we give?

Americans have acquired a reputation over a long period of time of being givers. Tipping is one instance of it, and is usually identified as an American trait. Tipping was not a practice common in Europe or Asia during the war years, for understandable reasons. As a result, merchants and service people always liked it when Americans entered their establishments. Eventually, unfortunately, this sense of hopefulness at having an American exploring one’s store or store front in search of merchandise gave way to another kind of profile of us as the ugly American: one demanding that he or she be treated deferentially and respectfully precisely because we were Americans to whom others owed a lot for all that we had done for them. And we often became critics of what they had to offer us.

Is giving something unique to Americans, but seldom associated with others? When we give, is there an implicit hook attached to the action, designed to gain for ourselves the admiration of others and preferential treatment from them as beneficiaries of our beneficence? If so, would this not be like an investment or payback that we hope proves beneficial for ourselves? Or are there some things money cannot buy?

Nonetheless, likely most of us do tip (for a service received), or, just as frequently, given out of our surplus in recognition of something good and beneficial associated with doing so. And this is praiseworthy, and not to be belittled. But it may sometimes be associated with the attitude, “easy come, easy go”, with the emphasis on “easy”. And it need not always involve money. It may entail clothing, furniture, tools, machinery, or even a service of some kind or other. Even the practice of picking up hitchhikers, now generally discontinued, was often an instance of offering a service to others. But It usually comes down to giving away what we no longer need or want or value. Likely these examples probably describe what does not put us at any disadvantage, or hamper our plans. But they are all commendable practices, and likely serve to bond people together, who otherwise may have remained strangers to one another. And even though we may experience no sense of loss or deprivation as a result of our doing them, it can mean very much to the person who is the beneficiary of our largesse.

However, when it comes to giving to another, to the point where it hurts us in some form or fashion, then that’s when the rubber hits the tarmac, as we say. We don’t like imposing hurtful things on our lifestyle, or on our plans, or on our sense of well-being. And, especially, if we are married and have a family, we don’t want to impose hurtful things on them, such as downsizing our family vacation plans to help a relative or neighbor in need. In such cases we extend whatever inconvenience is involved, on those who are near and dear to us.

Nor do we like being generous to another when it involves a request from him or her, for help, in the form of money. If we don’t know the person, and if we have an unfavorable impression of them, we may wonder about their integrity in this transaction, as well as the prudence of doing so when there is doubt about the truthfulness of what they are telling us about their need. If it is a matter of spare change, we may somewhat cavalierly pass on to them what we do not need, despite our doubts. It may possibly prove helpful to another. And we may nurture an attitude of indifference in how he or she is going to use the money I give them.

And others of us may have no sense of urgency to respond to any of these opportunities to respond in these situations, reasoning that they are already over-taxed by various levels of governmental agencies, seeking revenue for various programs some of which I dislike and do not wish to support. As a result, I may consistently refuse to financially support any appeal for help.

Giving can be a complicated affair. It can involve the wrong attitude, the wrong kind of issue, or the wrong person making the request. And it raises the perennial question good people periodically put to God: why does He seem to bless or at least tolerate those who are obviously not good persons? Why do the wicked prosper, receiving good things like health, reputation, honor, esteem, recognition, praise?

This age-old question has been asked over and over again. The answer lies in the recognition that God knows that the good will ultimately prevail. He enjoys an advantage in that regard. The disaster that His Son underwent on Good Friday and that threw the apostles into a quivering mass of hide-aways hoping to escape discovery was followed by Easter Sunday, and this was not happenstance. God, if no one else, knew that the resurrection was near at hand, to rectify what seemed like the triumph of evil. That was the advantage God enjoyed in allowing His Son to suffer a travesty of justice. That is an advantage we obviously do not enjoy. But it throws light on all the potential mishaps to which we are liable as we work our way through the maze of options we encounter in trying to help the good prevail amid the deceptions and mistakes affecting our efforts at doing the right thing for the right persons or causes. A silver lining can always appear around the malingering dark cloud.