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.(http://www.barefootsworld.net/aafreddowling.html)


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?

The Way of the Cross

The story is a simple one. This week, Jews around the world gather in their homes and retell it, the story of how God’s people came from bondage, oppression and being lost for forty years in the desert to liberation and the Promised Land.

This week, Christians will also gather in their churches and through their liturgies, tell the story of Jesus, his mother and friends, and how they moved from the glorious promise of liberation (Palm Sunday) through a meal, the cross and the emptiness of Holy Saturday to the Joy of Easter.

This week as they do every week, Passionists will follow in the footsteps of Saint Paul of The Cross who loved to spend hours in quiet reflection, gazing on the Cross of Jesus, feeling Jesus’ Mary’s and His friends’ terrible agony and feelings of being lost, abandoned and utterly destitute. St. Paul of the Cross taught us to stay with this awhile. He taught us not to run away—it’s the way to liberation, to life.

AA’s as well as many other 12-Step Groups around the world will gather in the church basements this week, as they do each week and share their stories—stories of being lost, abandoned and utterly destitute. They won’t put an end to these experiences, but like their Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, they will recall how their experience led them to freedom, joy and new life.

This week the people of Boston, recall their journey from the glorious promise of winning the race to the utter terror of the bombings last year. They will remember the loss of life, the loss of limbs and tell of their victory of coming together and promising to move forward.

Finally, this week’s TED Talk introduces us to Aicha El-Wafi and Phyllis Rodrigues, two seemingly very different mothers who by coming together find forgiveness and friendship.

It is the story of what binds us all. There are no exceptions. There is no we vs. they; us vs. them; good vs. bad; right vs. wrong; winners vs. losers. We are all that—we are one.


May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.


The Holy Grail



by James Paulin

Recently, historians claim they just may have found the actual cup that Christ used at the last supper. This item has become the theme of some romantic tales of knights in shining armor setting out to find this legendary vessel. As a metaphor, any quest to discover the finest object has become a search for the “holy grail” of its kind. Of course, interest in seeing the authentic grail would be almost universal and to touch it would be reserved for a select few. Artifacts credited to Jesus are always shrouded in controversy but Jesus’ cup has always been available to those who choose to drink from it. Indeed, to follow Him they must.


At the last supper, Jesus turned common bread into His body and table wine into His blood. This must have baffled all those present as it seems physically impossible even though they had witnessed many impossible miracles Jesus had performed. He forewarned them in a bold statement in a synagogue how they must drink His blood and eat His flesh to have life within them and many turned away when they heard this “hard” teaching. Not just a symbol, the grail or cup of blood which Jesus offers us is as real as love, truth and faith.


The transformation that takes place when the cup is received and consumed is not ethereal or serene but substantial and compelling. It came with a caution notice when requested by the disciples James and John. They were asked “can you drink of the cup that I drink of and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” The answer came from the heart, looking Jesus straight in the eye. “We can”.

Compassion, Vulnerability?

A few years back, I caught up with a former mentor and teacher of mine. She was quite accomplished having written books, taught at many different levels and held significant administrative positions in the Church. What she said to me, puzzled me then, and to this day makes me wonder what brought her to say it. What she said was she found herself in darkness. She did not elucidate any further, and I was then unable to question her more. Today it is too late.


In her book Daring Greatly, Brené Brown quotes Pema Chödrön, a Buddhist Nun who says: “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” (Brown, 2012) There it is again. Darkness.


So maybe there’s a relationship between darkness and compassion? Brown and Chödrön seem to be saying that. As Passionist Partners we sing and talk of the Compassion of Christ leading us to life. Is that compassion of Christ the same as the compassion of Jesus or the compassion of Mary standing at His cross on Good Friday or holding Him in her hands after he died?


In this Ted Talk Brené Brown talks about here personal experience with vulnerability, which she says, is the birthplace of joy, life, love… I share this not as a final answer to what is compassion, but as my continued search to find the light, especially when I feel the darkness.



Love or Fear?


This past Tuesday’s scripture readings tell of the angel appearing to Mary and telling her to “Fear not!”, one of the most repeated phrases in scripture, at least that is what I remember my high school religion teacher asserting many years ago.


Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her book Life Lessons written when she thought she was dying, writes: “But deep down, at our cores, there are only two emotions: love and fear.” Just before that statement she writes: “To transcend fear, though, we must move somewhere else emotionally; we must move into love.” (Ross and Kessler, 2000)  Then I remember hearing that “God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God.”


Brene Brown in her book, Daring Greatly quotes her earlier book The Gifts of Imperfection in which she defines love. She does this not as the final word, but as she says, to begin the conversation. “We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known.”  (Daring Greatly, 2012)


Astronaut Chris Hatfield shares in this TED Talk how he dealt with fear when he lost his sight in space. It’s an amazing witness to Brown’s thought that we must be vulnerable if we are truly to love and live.


by James Paulin

The stock market has two basic motivations, fear and greed. One principal is that sensible transactions should be based on the motto “buy low and sell high”. Given these two potent facts, in spite of endless, often contradictory, financial expert opinions, many investors buy high (greed) and sell low (fear) thus losing their treasure. Common wisdom is to be a long term investor because as a general direction, the market trend is up. Hopefully, when one needs or chooses to sell they make a rewarding profit. Of course, this endeavor requires investment of capital, patience, wisdom and faith. Short term profits are possible but are riskier and require more savvy.

In comparison, the spiritual world has much in common with finance. Heaven and hell are traditionally depicted as perfected joy (greatly desired) and eternal fire (feared). Born into not only a physical but moral circumstance, choices must be determined based on where time and energy are spent and what rewards are to be gained. The ultimate goal is security and well being or peace and joy. Approaches are individually determined but wise investments still take patience and faith to arrive in paradise. Risk is part of the decision making process as values are weighed and brought to bear or dismissed.

We can be assured that the road to paradise will not be without obstacles and detours. For many their perseverance and deeds will be remarkable and for most there is trial and failure with disappointing times prevalent. Fortunately, God provides a way to attain glory with Him in spite of our misguided choices or more grievous offences. The sins of the stock market are unforgiving and exacting. However, Jesus paid for all the mistakes and wrongdoing of those who accept His gift of self sacrifice even if it is embraced at the very end. When Jesus was recognized, nailed to the cross as the Savior by the thief crucified next to Him, His words of absolution were “This day you will be with me in paradise”.