Not Me!

Watching television today leads me to believe that all I have to do to be happy is to buy the right car, live in the right neighborhood, eat the right food or take a particular pill–the list goes on ad infinitum. I don’t think so, in fact I truly doubt that any of that will make me happy. I believe that grappling with life’s struggles, even when I feel completely helpless and abandoned, rewards me and all of us with life.

That seems to be the theme of  Andrew Solomon’s new movie “Far From the Tree”. With this movie Solomon examines life as lived through the lives of five main characters, none of which claim to have any of the above.  I watched, I laughed, I cried and I left the theatre understanding a little better what it means to truly live and not run away, my first choice of action when confronted with a challenge.

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey


O pain,  here you are again.
I should be used to you.
You visit my Dad so often,
physical,  intense pain.
But you can’t stop him from being happy and kind.
You are no match for his beautiful and sweet  disposition.
Each new day,  with the  clouds or sunshine, brings him gratitude and joy.
He is so much stronger than you.


You visit my heart. You pierce me by hurting my Dad.
I hate you but through  you,  I become closer to God.
I offer you up for  souls,  for Dad’s soul.
Every time you visit,  I cling to the  almighty with trust and joy.


img_20170118_201951Lisa-Marie who is relatively new to the Partners, is our first strictly online Partner. She attended a Passionist retreat in May of 2014 where: “I was then introduced to our sorrowful Mother. I now see the sufferings of Jesus in a whole new light and want to honor Mary by meditating on her sorrows and to permanently keep Christ’s passion in my heart.


Feel Your Vulnerability

Before TV had taken us hostage, yearly religious gatherings like Christian Revivals, Jewish High Holy Days, Chautauquas or the Muslim Hajj, brought communities together face to face in hopes of renewal. The community I grew up in called those meetings, Missions. Once a year for an entire week, members of our parish, Immaculate Conception, would come out each evening to see and listen to the preaching of the visiting Passionist missionary. The week climaxed with his sermon on the passion of Jesus. There he stood on a stage three feet above the already raised sanctuary with a larger than life crucifix at his side, telling the story of the life and death of one young Jewish man, Jesus. He had me and I suspect the rest of the community, totally mesmerized. Somehow in the retelling of this story, I made sense of my life’s experiences, especially that of the death of my mother when I was ten.

Alas, those days are gone for many. The community no longer gathers en masse at the local church to be inspired and to learn how to make sense of the joys, the suffering and the movement of our journeys through time.

A modern update of that Passionist missionary, for me anyway, is Alyssa Monks, a graduate of Boston College and the New York Academy of Art. Ms. Monks is a three-time awardee of the Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant for Painting, a member of the New York Academy of Art’s Board of Trustees. She took me back to the days of my childhood, when I watched her TED Talk, “How loss helped one artist find beauty in imperfection”. Like the Passionist preacher of my childhood, she helped me make sense of the joy, the suffering, the deaths and the movement of my life. Thanks Alyssa.

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Serving the Wounded of the World

I suspect there’s not a person over the age of reason (I’m not sure what that is these days) that has not been wounded. That wound might be as insignificant as a scratched knee or it could be as tragic as the death of a parent or loved one. I often wonder what this wounding is all about. Sometimes I get an answer but more often, I just have to wonder why.

Jason Gray a 44 year old folk singer who is also wounded—he suffers from a speech impediment, although you’d never suspect that by listening to his recordings—shares his insight to that question with the above recording, The Wound is Where the Light Gets In.

Jason is not the first person in history to address wounds. Another person, Paul Danei (1694-1775) an Italian also struggled trying to understand why people suffered from poverty or were marginalized and ignored. His response was to found a religious group of men and women who devote their lives to answering that question for themselves and others. Catholics in the United States celebrate his life today by naming today his special day remembering his contributions in helping us all understand suffering. Way to go Paul and thanks for helping me answer my question, why do we suffer. We Are the Passionists will tell you all about this modern day religious community of priests, brothers, sisters and laity who follow in the footsteps of Paul Daneii.

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Why Suffering?

“I don’t think anything liberates you except suffering.” (Harold Talbott)

I had a good friend, Bob Shea who is dead now. He used to like to say: “…pain is inevitable; suffering is optional”. While he never explained what he meant by that, I took him to mean, that I could avoid suffering if I only had the right attitude. I’ve changed my mind after listening to Harold Talbott.

Harold Talbott in the YouTube video, The Almost Final Days of Thomas Merton: The Role of Suffering tells a mythical story of Buddha walking along meeting a tigress who was unable to feed her cubs. What the Buddha does next is superhuman. He offers himself to the tigress as food for her and her cubs.

I’m beginning to understand that suffering freely chosen is not painful or at least it’s worth the ordeal. Suffering not accepted is merely pain. Following the above story further, we don’t get to choose our pain; we merely encounter it along our life’s journey. What we do with it turns it into gift or pain.

As I look at my own life’s journey, that’s truly been the case. Just to share one example. For forty-five years I did not accept my sexuality. I denied my feelings and I ran from any truly intimate encounter. That was mere pain even though I thought it was just life. When I began to accept my sexuality, eventually embracing it, it was no longer a source of pain, but truly a source of life. Accepting my “suffering” truly liberated me. I think Talbott ‘s above quote is accurate.

Finally, Talbott equates Jesus’ acceptance of his cross to the Buddha’s offering of his body for food for the tigress and her cubs. Interesting, don’t you think?

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

Dan O’Donnell, a layman has covenanted with the Chicago Community. In addition to the standard covenant, Dan promises to work at connecting all partners known and unknown, to a conscious following the the way of Jesus, the way of the cross which Dan believes transforms all failure, democratizing the human journey

Meet Debra Jarvis a Modern Day Paul Daneii

Dan O'Donnell
Dan O’Donnell

I often wonder what it would be like to meet some great person of the past, you know, like Mahatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. or Paul Daneii? Paul Daneii you ask? Yes, Paul Daneii. He’s been recognized as the greatest mystic of the 18th century. After turning down the wealth his uncle left him he chose a life of solitude and penitence. This led him to eventually take a new name, Paul of the Cross and found what today is a worldwide religious community of men and women. With this community he hoped to help heal the division taking place among Christians who for the previous 200 or so years had been spending more time proclaiming their differences than recognizing their similarities. He did this by espousing the cross.

I first heard about this man when I was in grammar school. I eventually joined this community by attending their minor seminary and have kept involved ever since. Even after all these years though, I still wonder at times, what this cross that Paul preached is all about. I think I may have gotten a new insight after listening to Debra Jarvis, a chaplain in a cancer treatment center.

If you’re like me and wonder what you are suppose to do with the cross or crosses in your life, check out Chaplain Jarvis’s TED Med talk above. I think she has something. I think I’ve finally met a great person on the past.

Liability or Gift

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

There is a nautical technique, used for decades by sailing experts, called tacking. It consists of making progress in a sailing vessel against countervailing winds. A good sailor who wishes to sail his vessel across a body of water, toward a distant point, and who has only his sails to power him there, knows how to tack into winds, even when blowing against him, so as to make progress toward the point at which he is aiming. Without any motor to power him, or even oars, for that matter, he can maneuver the sails of the boat in such a way that they catch the winds in their billows so as to make slow but steady progress toward his destination. This takes skill, of course, illustrating how a disadvantage can be made helpful to oneself.   A zigzag course may result, but it eventually leads to where one wishes to go.

This is the art of making the most of a liability, or a disadvantage. It’s a useful skill to develop, since everyone eventually encounters an obstacle in the way of trying to do something, or achieve a goal. Without this ability, we tend to give up and leave a task unfinished, or else we resort to calling upon the help of someone more adept than we are at accomplishing the job. It is making the best of what threatened to be a bad or unpromising situation.

There are inspiring stories from history about individuals who encountered obstacles that seemed insurmountable, and yet who used whatever was at hand, even if it hardly appeared to be an advantage, in order to achieve his or her goal. There is the bible story found in the Book of Judges (7) describing the Israelite champion Gideon, fighting on behalf of his fellow Israelites against their archenemy, the Midianites. At God’s instruction, Gideon reduced the size of his fighting force, first, by 22,000 troops, then by nearly 10,000 more, till a mere 300 soldiers remained at Gideon’s side. This extraordinary shrinkage in size would seem to pose an impossible disadvantage, yet Gideon achieved victory, trusting in God’s word.

And Ludwig van Beethoven, the great German musical composer, began to grow deaf at the age of thirty-one, and yet, living for another twenty-six years, was to leave behind a repertoire of classical music that earned for him a sterling reputation. An acute sense of hearing would seem to be an indispensable condition for arranging musical scores, and yet all Beethoven had at his disposal was a memory of what melody sounded like. Yet, he won plaudits for his exquisite musical scores, composed despite his impaired hearing. He called on other assets to compensate for his liability.

And Helen Keller received international acclaim in tacking toward her life goal. At an early age she lost sight, hearing and speech, due to an illness, and yet, with her devoted teacher, Anne Sullivan, at her side, she became adroit in several languages, and even lectured worldwide, with Ann’s help. She is another example of turning what to all appearances was an insurmountable obstacle, into the springboard from which she gained international fame and stature.

These are all examples of people who took the tiller of what seemed to be very inadequate skiffs across treacherous waters that were anything but friendly and supportive, and yet reached goals that much better outfitted persons would never achieve. Of course, we can attribute this to some unseen asset or endowment gracing the lives of these remarkable achievers, without our being aware of them. Perhaps each in his or her own way is the counterpart of the skilled yachtsman knowing how to turn winds blowing against him or her, into a power-source for making progress toward a goal on the far side of a body of water.

In these cases it is difficult to locate and identify the x element that powers such “disadvantaged” people into forces to be recognized. With Gideon, of course, we know that it was the Lord God Who empowered his remarkable achievement.   But is there any reason to think otherwise in the case of a Ludwig van Beethoven or a Helen Keller?

Just as one person’s junk is another person’s treasure, so one person’s liability is another person’s advantage. Is it all in the eye of the beholder? Or is it in the heart of any individual, where we know that the Spirit of God can dwell?

Why I Choose to Be a Partner–Part II



In last week’s post, I shared AA’s beginnings, noting how the cross of Jesus played a fundamental role leading to the founding of the Oxford Group and eventually to Bill W and Bob S grappling with their crosses, realizing that if they shared these, they’d become bearable. The next movement in the history of AA came when Bill W met Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J.


By 1940, Bill W. had founded an organization, published the book Alcoholics Anonymous that wasn’t selling and now, he was at a loss as what to do next. Just then Fr. Ed Dowling, S.J. from St. Louis came to visit him in the AA Club in New York City and told Bill he was struck with the similarities of the 12 steps of AA spirituality to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Rather than try to continue this story myself, I’ll let AA History do it:


“Thus began a 20-year friendship nourished by visits, phone calls, and letters. Both men spoke the language of the HEART, learned through suffering: Bill from alcoholism, Father Ed from arthritis that was turning his back to stone.

Bill turned to Father Ed as a spiritual sponsor, a friend. Father Ed, in a letter to his provincial, noted that he saw his own gift for AA as a “very free use of the Ignatian Rules for the Discernment of Spirits for the second week of the Spiritual Exercise.”

Thus Father Ed endorsed AA for American Catholics with his appendix in the Big Book and his Queen’s Work pamphlet of 1947. He was the first to see wider applications of the twelve steps to other addictions, and wrote about that in Grapevine (AA’s magazine) in the spring 1960 issue. Bill added a last line to that Grapevine article: “Father Ed, an early and wonderful friend of AA, died as this last message went to press. He was the greatest and most gentle soul to walk this planet. I was closer to him than to any other human being on earth.(


I was introduced to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius while in the Passionist Novitiate in 1963. Those exercises, while not constants in my life, keep popping up, almost like I can’t run away from then even if I wanted to. The connection is best described in the following quote taken from above: “Both men spoke the language of the HEART, learned through suffering…”


Next week the final installment on why I am a Partner—the monastery.


You Be the Judge


What is it like growing up as a son of an immigrant? Colin Grant, an English historian and Associate Fellow in the Center for Caribbean Studies at the University of Warwick, tells us his experience in this TED Talk. While I found his story fascinating, even more revealing were the comments that followed. Some suggested he did a great job, especially in his seeming ability to forgive his father. Other responses condemn him as an ungrateful son who should realize how lucky he was. All this makes me wonder who is right? Which response is the compassionate one?