Back in the 70’s, Penny Jaworski, my twin brother Dave and I started a prayer community for high school seniors as part of the Institute of Christian Encounter (ICE) religious education program at Immaculate Conception Parish on the Northwest Side of Chicago. The program was called OATS. OATS is an acronym for Openness, Awareness, Togetherness and Separateness, the building blocks of community. Father Joe Van Leeuwen, C.P. was the priest in charge of the whole Institute, and the idea came from a talk given by an unknown Passionist. Brother Martin Bradke, C.P. told us about the talk, and we thought that would be a good guide for our community building. We were Passionist Partners even before there was a formal group called Partners.

OATS was very successful in terms of numbers as well as in inspiring young people to get involved in their communities. One former member is a well-known journalist in Chicago, another is a Chicago Priest, another a Presbyterian Pastor and one former OATS person runs a Teen Drop-In Center on the South Side of Chicago. These are just the OATS people I know of. I suspect there are many more, still going strong spreading OATS in their own particular way. We really didn’t teach any particular way other than OATS.

What we did do however is pray together. We did this at every meeting. After a business meeting, we would go into the Parish Church, sit on the floor around St. Paul of the Cross’s altar and sing some songs and maybe read a reading or two to inspire us. Then we would disperse throughout the Church (it’s a big church) and spend ten to fifteen minutes in quiet prayer by ourselves. We came back together around St. Paul’s altar, sat quietly for a while, sang some more songs and then said the Our Father holding hands. We would end with one of our members giving a blessing.

Before OATS, ICE and I suspect many other programs could not attract juniors or seniors to their religious education programs. By sixteen, teens got their cars and that would be the last we’d see of them until they came around to get married.

What made this work? I’m not sure, but I think there were two key ingredients, collaboration and prayer. Not only did we collaborate with Passionists, we also plugged into the TEC Retreat program, which is where many of the teens came from. Of course we encouraged our Senior High School Parishioners to go on TEC and they did.

I wonder if we Passionist Partners today can learn anything from this model? I wonder if there are other models of successful community programs present day Partners could share?

I wonder if we Passionist Partners today can learn anything from this model?  I wonder if there are other models of successful community programs present day Partners could share?

Poverty, chastity, obedience: traditional vows redefined for the 21st century | National Catholic Reporter

We continue this week with Sr. Maureen Fiedler’s, article in the National Catholic Reporter about the committed life, concentrating on the vows. Sister gives us the history of vows and a good description of what they have traditionally meant. Then she asks the question: “So what might a 21st-century vow look like?”

My answer and I suspect other Partner’s answers as well would be it might look like a Partners’ covenant. Passionists take the three vows mentioned in the article: poverty, chastity, and obedience. They also take a fourth vow to remember the Passion of Christ. Some would call this the first vow, the vow that informs the three others. Passionist Partners don’t take vows; they each formulate their own particular covenant or promise. Hopefully that covenant reflects how they personally will remember the Passion of Christ. Is this important—to remember the Passion of Christ?

Yes, I believe it is. I believe the memory of the Passion of Christ is the connecting thread that binds us all, not just Partners, but all people of all times together. Keeping this memory of Christ’s passion can make us compassionate people, people who can share in the sufferings of others. Sharing how this happened in my life, people showed up when I was suffering: when I lost my mother at the age of ten; when I lost my first job out of college; when I found myself thinking of quitting life altogether. People showed up in my life at these times and stayed with me, they didn’t abandon me—they loved me. Their love, their compassion told me I was worthwhile—that I was not alone. As I grew older, I learned that I could do this for others. I could love them even when they couldn’t love themselves. Thus began a compassionate life for me. I’m not perfect at it, but when I remember the Passion of Christ, I remember what I believe life is all about. It’s about staying connected, not only to the people immediately in my life, but to anyone who suffers and that means all of us and all of creation.

I further believe that if there is a sickness in our world today, it is being disconnected. How else could you explain war, indifference to poverty, and the evident inequities in our world? I wouldn’t behave that way to my brother, especially my brother who I realized was suffering, who was experiencing life just like I am.

Can people do this who don’t know or believe in Jesus Christ? Certainly, I believe they can. But I will have to let them tell their story. How about you? What do you think?

A New Chapel Page for our Blog

Welcome this week to our new online chapel. Fundamental to the Passionists’ way of life is prayer and meditation, especially on the cross of Jesus. In this virtual chapel, we invite you to voice your personal needs and concerns as well as to share the fruits of your meditation on the Cross. You enter the Chapel by clicking on “Chapel” above. Once there, you can enter any and all your prayer requests by clicking on “Leave a comment”. You also might want to share a reflection on the Cross, especially as you see it being experienced in our world today by again clicking on “Leave a comment” or by commenting on someone else’s share. Finally, this would also be a good place to share how your community prays when you come together. You can share this by again, clicking on “Leave a comment”.