Come Dance with Me

You might ask me: “What in tarnation makes you think: ‘you are God’s gift to the world?’” Well, I’ll tell you. Actually, no, I’ll let Aimee Mullins do that with her inspiring October 2009 TEDMED Talk: The opportunity of adversity.

If you take the time to listen to Aimee’s talk above I’d bet you’ll realize that Aimee is not the only gift God has given the world. We are all God’s gift to the world. Aimee ends her talk with the following poem from a fourteenth century Persian poet.

“Every child has known God,
not the God of names,
not the God of don’ts,
but the God who only knows four words
and keeps repeating them, saying,
‘Come dance with me.
Come, dance with me.
Come, dance with me.'”


I think it’s time to tell the real story of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, those characters we hear about from the evangelists. They probably did not have the hindsight that the gospel writers had. They probably wondered why they were given the adversities they experienced, a child being born out of wedlock in a world that believed the woman in such a situation should rightfully be stoned. And they were afraid. Why else would we keep hearing the words: “Be not afraid.”

So, it’s not even Christmas and I’ve received the gift, the gift of life, the very particular gift of who I am with all my frailties, talents and fears. Like Mary I can say yes to these and in turn give that gift back to the world, a world so in need of what I have to offer, myself—yourself.

Merry Christmas!

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

Memories of Christmas and It’s History

Following dinner and a day of dusting the blinds scouring every nook and helping mom prepare the canapés that were popular in the ’50 for the company on Christmas Eve, we were told to go upstairs to see what Santa had brought us. All excited, I’d run to the bedroom I shared with my four brothers, only to find a new pair of corduroys and a shirt. Those weren’t items I put on my imaginary list to Santa. The night wasn’t over though, so I donned the new clothes and hoped for better things to come.

Soon, the aunts, uncles and cousins starter showing up ‘til the house was filled with people who were becoming more and more familiar to me. I especially liked to see grandpa who would magically make pennies appear from quarters. We got to keep the pennies, and the dollar that came in a bank envelope with our name on it. When the evening was over, we’d go down the street to Immaculate Conception Church for Midnight Mass.

Today, I’m looking forward to our cousins party this coming Friday. I know all forty-five of my first cousins, many of whom will be there, but their children and now their grandchildren, throw me into a dither trying to remember who’s who. On Christmas Eve, my brothers and their families will gather at my niece’s, share some food, reminisce and once again, I’ll head back into town to attend Midnight Mass at St. Peter’s in downtown Chicago.

This Christmas business comes at just the right time of year. The long dark, cold nights and overcast days of December make me long for Spring even knowing that here in Chicago, that’s often not much better weather-wise. As a child I was taught that Christmas was all about the birth of Jesus in a stable at Bethlehem bringing God to life in our midst, our Emmanuel. Today, I appreciate that story, but understand why earlier Christians chose this time of year to remember our roots. It’s a holy day and a holiday, a holiday that started in pagan Rome and… well I’ll let the History Channel tell you all about it in their Real Story of Christmas… My hope, is that no matter what your religious beliefs, you’ll find much joy and peace at this festive time of year. Happy Holidays

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




E.T. Meets Planet Earth

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

Is Christmas a memory? Is Christmas more than a memory? Is Christmas only a memory? Is that what the greeting Happy Holidays implies?

Pearl Harbor: Remember Pearl Harbor! Is Pearl Harbor only a memory? Is it something more than a memory?

Usually, a memory rests on some event of the past. Especially if it’s a long-lasting memory. Perhaps a shorter term memory is liable to be explained away by offering an alternate explanation for its endurance. But when it extends back over a long time, and is fostered within a large group of people, it’s difficult to explain it away. This is certainly the case with Christmas. It is hard to maintain that the many traditions and stories associated with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem of Judea 2000 years ago lack any foundation in history. Especially when this memory is found embedded in the memories of so many people scattered across the face of the earth.

The influence of this memory has made its way into so much of the music that resounds at this time of the year, coinciding with the shortest day of the year, just come and gone, and when the introduction of a new season, the winter-time, is freshly underway. The lyrics of so many current musical pieces are replete with Christmas themes centering around mother and Child, angels and shepherds, wise men from the east and animals. And costuming, featuring the colors of red and white, dominates the dress and apparel of people across the board.

All of this richness of color and sound and verse and practices and traditions add up to the impact of an historic event entering into the fabric of human life, which is comparable to the scientific forays into the history of our earth suggesting the lasting effect upon this home of ours of some huge visitor from outer space, long ago, crashing upon the crust of our earth-home, leaving its indelible marks, embedding itself into the fabric of our planet emphatically, to the point of shaping our earth-home, with its mountains and canyons, its oceans, lakes and rivers, possibly its elliptical orbit around the sun and its cycle of night and day that has affected the way we calculate the passage of time.

The history of these two events, the birth of the Son of God among us which has refashioned our sense of before and after, so as to constitute a kind of rebirth and renewal among us, and the readjustment of the equilibrium of planet earth following the impact of this encounter with a foreign body from outer space, constitute a combination of shock and awe from which we have never recovered. One occurred within the parameters of human memory; the other antedated it. But, in either case, basic adjustments took place to accommodate the powerful repercussions each have had on us, from which we will never recover.

One took place within the parameters of human history; the other antedated it. So we have a memory of the one, but not of the other. But there is no reason on our part to shed or diminish the eventfulness of either. We can well imagine the dimensions of the sound that emanated from the clash of two gigantic bodies of astral or planetary materials, and the sound-waves that must have inundated this universe over the ages. But, at the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ, there was also a heavenly sound emanating from the choir of angels singing their hymn of Glory to God. And, whereas that first sound has long since ceased to resound throughout the universe, the angelic hymns have never faded away, but continue to interweave our indelible memories that constitute as much of the Christmas event as their visual counterparts so familiar to us and that together constitute the memory of this significant day. And a celestial body has also assumed prominence in our memory of the first Christmas, assuming the guise of that bright star serving to guide wise men from the east, to the place where the infant was to be found. This star was not bent on an ominous intrusion into the pathway of mother earth, but provided a helpful outreach from outer space along the pathway of the visitors from the east leading them into a friendly encounter with the family at the center of the Bethlehem event, and to the One through Whom all things were made including the lowly space that was His first home.

Christmas is a memory of an event involving the encounter of an extra-terrestrial body with our planet earth, contributing a happy dimension to what we celebrate at Christmas time. It’s a memory we cannot forget.   While there are other encounters among heavenly bodies, including mother earth, of which we may have no memory despite their shaping our history, in a very remote way, it is the conjunction of heaven and earth on Christmas Day that persists as a powerful memory shaping our history, whose details we can recall and remember. For that reason the greeting MERRY CHRISTMAS bears much more significance to it than our current HAPPY HOLIDAYS.

Win, Place, Show

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

It is unseemly to entitle a reflection piece, written around Christmas time, with a title such as appears above. For it calls to mind the racing establishment, and the often unsavory atmosphere that permeates this past-time. For many a career has been sent crashing to the ground because of those consumed by the racetrack fever.

Gambling, of course, is nothing new. It is one of the past-times that has captured the fancy of earlier generations, so much so that it seems endemic to the human situation. It is a game of chance and supposedly skill or ability has little to do with it. For that reason, it is lightly regarded, and does not rate encomiums of praise and admiration usually reserved for activities that call forth the best in human capacity. The Chinese engaged in it in 2300 BC. In the western world the Kings of Sweden and Norway relied on card gambling, to determine which of them should control the district of Hising, though this game of chance occurred at a much later date in history, around 100 AD.

Nonetheless, certain gambling practices can be subjected to intense, almost scientific, analysis, which outmaneuvers the happenstance of many gambling past-times, and relies on human skills to determine the outcome of some gambling procedures. To make this point is to diminish the seeming foolishness of gambling, and to note a role for human skill and ingenuity in the gambling past-time. This removes the notion of foolishness and absurdity (and thereby the indefensibility) from gambling, and elevates it to a past-time that enjoys a bit of quality and even dignity. Once this is recognized, the absurdity of reflecting on gambling at this particular time of the year is avoided, and the groundwork is laid for considering whether God has taken a chance in dealing with us over the ages, a chance that is indefensible, given the proven track-record of our unreliability in dealing with Him.

So we ask: was God taking a chance in sending His Son among us at Christmas time, given the sordid history of this relationship as it developed throughout history? And, of course, we know on what side lies the source of this fiasco: the human side.

St. Bernard comes to our aid in answering this question. He does so by noting that God reduces the irrationality or the chance-taking of His dealings with us by increasing the number of times in which He reaches out to us. For He does so, not just one time, but three times, thereby increasing His chances of success in dealing with us. God is not acting foolishly by making an irrational move in dealing with us. Rather, He diminishes the irrational factor in reaching out to us in several ways, thereby increasing the possibility of success in doing so.

St. Bernard identifies three instances of God’s outreach to us. The first was what we have come to identify as the Incarnation, the memorial of which is close at hand: Christmas. That commemorates His historical birth among us, His nativity, in which He became a human being like ourselves and lived among us for over thirty years. And even though many may count it as a failure on God’s part, since some of us rejected His outreach by nailing His Son to the Cross, killing Him. But many among us count it as a success for God, since it brought about the redemption of the world, which otherwise would have continued its downward trend toward failure.

Equally well known is the third and last instance of God’s rendevouz with us: the last judgment, when God confronts each of us and asks for an accounting of how we have lived our lives. This acknowledges that God keeps close tabs on us, and is extremely interested in how we have run the race of life. Having endowed each of with talents and assets, in varying degrees, He has placed us in various situations, each full of opportunities to give Him glory and honor. In doing this He has wagered on and invested in us, counting on us to win the race of life, and witness to His own investment in us, who are the products of His creating hand. And many of us will glorify Him by doing well, justifying the chance He has taken with us.

St. Bernard then notes a third occasion God has taken in our regard, that further witnesses to how carefully He has calculated the wager He has taken with us, showing the reasonableness rather than the foolishness, of His counting on us to do well, to succeed and not to fail. And this is a way we often overlook, given our focus on His Incarnation, and on the Last Judgment, as better known examples of His taking a chance on us. St. Bernard describes this way as “a hidden one”, because He operates by “coming (to us) in spirit and power”. He considers this way as a connecting link or a road between the Incarnation and the Last Judgment. It is apparent in Jesus’remark: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we WILL COME TO HIM.”

So God deals with us at three levels, in three different ways. Thereby He hedges His bets on us to diminish His failure risk and to enhance the likelihood of His success. God does bet, but knows how to cut His losses, and enhance His prospects of winning. He is hardly unreasonable. Rather, He is a seasoned veteran in this regard.

Which is it–Love or Mercy?

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

The Christmas season brings before our eyes Mary and Joseph gazing lovingly upon the babe in the crib.  We cannot pass through this time of the year without this enthralling scene capturing our focus and attention.  In thinking of God the Bethlehem scene says it all—all, that is to say, about the relationship between God and ourselves.

The birth of Jesus among us as a human being like ourselves is an act of pure initiative on the part of God.  We certainly had no idea it was going to happen.  How could we?  Who would have thought it possible that the infinite and ineffable God would become a human, and a baby, at that?

This reaction is all well and good, and is quite appropriate.  But if we push a bit on it, and ask WHY?  Why did God go to such extremes to bond with us?, well, then, things begin to get a bit fuzzy.  Now, they may not be fuzzy for us.  But, in ages past, as theologians did their usual pondering on matters of faith, they found themselves discussing this question among themselves, and, not only discussing, but also disagreeing.  Now, in a way, we’re not surprised, since theologians have a tendency to disagree—at times, even about matters that seem crystal clear, to the point where they become fuzzy.

WHY did God become human?  Why did He “leave” that most wonderful of all homes (heaven) and, as we say, descend to earth to live among us?  Why did He do this in a rather obscure place (Israel, a tiny nation), and not in a major nation like Rome or Greece or Egypt or Assyria?  And, since presumably He knew from all eternity that He was going to do this, why did He do it at this particular time rather than another?  Why didn’t He choose to be born early on in the history of the human race rather than at a later date (depending on how old we think the human race is)?

One group of theologians, largely Franciscan, maintained that God did what He did out of love—no other reason.  He is so good that He sought a further expression of His goodness, in a compelling and forceful way.  For He is infinitely good.  The birth of His Son in our ranks was His way of expressing  all this—no other reason is needed.  From all eternity He planned to be born and live among us for reasons completely internal to Himself.  He didn’t need us to prod Himself into doing this.  He had His own motivation—to express His love for us.  That explains it all.

But another group of theologians, mainly Dominicans, said: wait a minute.  That doesn’t seem to square with the “facts” (that is, the “facts” we find in the bible).  God became human, in the form of a tiny infant in the crib near Bethlehem, because He was concerned on our account: to help us, to save us from our sins.  We were in big trouble.  We needed all the help we could get.  God came among us, not only to be born one of us, but to grow to adulthood, preach the good news, and, most of all, to die on the cross: why?  For our sins.  Read the bible.  That’s what it says.

To which the Franciscans reply: yes, read the bible.  But it insists that God loves us.  That alone explains why He came among us.  He’s not dependent on our situation determining what He should do.  He operates for His own reasons, and does not need our initiative in His regard.  If there had been no sin on our part, it would have made no difference to God.  He would have chosen to be born among us simply because he loved us.