The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Selling the Sizzle

There’s an old axiom that a good sales person sells the sizzle and not the steak.   The idea being that there are few things more fun for a steak eater than to go a fine restaurant and have a beautiful steak delivered to one’s table still sizzling from the oven.  The sight, sound, and aroma all herald what promises to be a delicious, savory flavor.  One is not buying just a piece of cooked meat.  One is buying the experience.  A good sales person sells that more than the product he is plying.

Such is the genius of Pope Francis.  If one reads and listens to what Francis is saying, he has not changed one iota of Catholic teaching.  In point of fact, the recent brouhaha over his statements on economic social justice from his Exhortation,  Evangelii Gaudium that got the likes of Rush Limbaugh and other far right conservatives in a froth are nearly identical to statements made by Pope Benedict XVI and Pope John Paul II.  The previous pontiffs made their statements in encyclicals which are even more official church documents than an exhortation which is akin to a widely distributed internal memo. 

Francis has captured the joy of being Catholic.  That’s right.  There is genuine joy in truly practicing this faith.  It is a joy that most outside of the faith find difficult to understand.  Why would anyone want to be part of a faith that required so much attention to detail?  Words like dogma, obligation, confession, cannon law, guilt, unworthiness…these do not make for an attractive pursuit for most people.   Additionally, the world has come to see the Catholic faith as the antithesis of their favorite sins.  While the world is for abortion, the Church is against it.  While the world is for contraception, the Church is against it.  While the world is for premarital sex, the Church is against it.  While the world is for redefining marriage, the Church is set against such changes.  The folly of setting the Church as the dialectical extreme is that it implies that somewhere in the middle is the truth.

The door that Francis has opened up is the front door of the Church.  In essence he has been able to communicate in words and actions that while one’s sins will never be the path that leads to truth, it doesn’t mean one can’t turn to Christ.  Catholics hate the sin because it leads one away from truth, but they really love the sinner whom God has uniquely created out of pure love.  The proposition of Catholicism is not come join us when one has achieved perfection.  The central message is more that all are decidedly imperfect, but a perfect savior has been gifted to humanity in Jesus Christ to help navigate a fallen world that would prefer that souls find comfort in the lie that is sin.

There is an inherent desire in each person to be a better person.  Most people do a pretty good job condemning themselves and others.  It may not show up publicly where all put the best face upon the reality of their lives; however, in the quiet of day, or maybe in the small hours of the morning when sleep evades the sinner, and he is left alone to examine his conscience, there comes a recognition that perhaps all is not as it should be.  There has to be something more as the current lifestyle is comfortable, but not fulfilling.

Another reason for the Pope’s rapid gain in popularity is that nature abhors a vacuum, and the space Francis has filled is authentic moral leadership.  People thirst for that.  There was a time when leaders of countries, presidents, prime ministers, kings, were held in esteem and could be looked to as examples of behavior.  Often that was a farce.  A look in the private lives of many a historical figure reveals they had their own individual problems, but those issues were not paraded into the public spotlight.  Not so anymore.  Calumny is the sport of media and politicians alike so that no one in a leadership role is viewed in high regard.  All are suspect.

While many on the left and right disagree with some of Francis’ statements, his character has not been assassinated.  In him, is seen a kind of public figure that has inspired that very thing that got Mr. Obama elected president…hope.  Only the hope that Francis puts forward is not just a political phrase with his image on a poster that plays exclusively to emotions.  The hope Francis portrays is the hope found only in the love of Christ, the true hope, and whether one believes in Christ or not, that hope is wonderfully attractive.

So faith, hope, charity abide, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. (1Corinthians 13:13)

History may one day record that John Paul II was the pope who personified hope;  Benedict XVI was the pope of faith; and Francis is the pope of charity, the pope of caritas.   The sizzle of Catholicism is found in the joy that comes through the transmission of the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.   That spreading of the good news can come in a multitude of fashions, most of which don’t require a degree in theology or philosophy or a perfect understanding of canon law.  Francis is showing a side of the Church that perhaps has been underexposed yet has always been there.  Perhaps when John Paul II spoke of the springtime of evangelization in the Church he was planting the seed.  When Benedict XVI gifted us with his brilliant theological teaching he was providing the nutrients for growth.  Now Francis is perhaps the conduit for the sunlight that has germinated seeds for a new harvest of faith, hope, and caritas.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What do we have that works?

In the movie, Apollo 13, there is a scene shortly after everything starts going wrong with the space craft where Flight Director Gene Kranz tells everyone in Mission Control to calm down.  He says,

“Let’s approach this thing from a position of status.  What do we have that works?”

In recent days there have a been a few opinion pieces in both the Catholic blogosphere and the secular media highlighting that while Pope Francis is winning the hearts of many, he has made a lot of the more conservative Catholics a little nervous if not downright crestfallen.   A sentiment or a suspicion seems to exist among the more orthodox that Francis is giving away the perceived gains that have been made with past pontiffs, namely Benedict XVI and John Paul II.

Perhaps the genius of Francis is his simple recognition that in order to right the ship, he might have to focus on what is working versus what is not.   And even that’s not a really good statement as the ship is righted, but the perception of the non-believer is that it’s listing.  Might it be that the post-Christian era population is going to be more open to hearing the Gospel by listening to what the Church is for more than what the Church is against?  It’s a debatable position to take.  A good argument can be made for stating that the Church militant must rise against many of the social ills that have infected Western culture.  Not saying anything can certainly be seen by many as passive assent.    There are some huge problematic issues such as abortion, contraception, gay marriage, and the like that are non-negotiable for the faith.  That our culture actively defends the right to kill a human being inside the womb is no small matter and must be addressed; however, the Church cannot evangelize very effectively if she simply hangs her identity on the opposition to the culture’s most popular sins.  What is the alternative she brings?

Orthodoxy has its challenges of comfort and frustration.  For a Catholic, there is comfort in knowing that one practices the one true faith handed down from generation to generation and that we can trace our lineage all the way back to Peter, our first Pope.  There is frustration and sadness in seeing all the disunity of thousands of protesting ecclesial communities who broke away from the Church and then broke away from themselves.    These are good people who love Christ, but for whatever reason have deviated from the Church Our Lord established.  Naturally, they would vehemently disagree with that statement and lean more towards that Catholics are practicing in error and that they have discovered the correct way.   And so the debate goes on, though in truth most Catholics expend little or no energy trying to convert Protestants.  Their protesting brethren for the most part have been validly baptized, seem to know Christ, and the rest is very much in God’s hands.

In a similar way, the orthodox believer finds comfort in that he is practicing the Catholic faith in the way it was intended yet his brethren have often gone off into the weeds.   The orthodox believer may feel that many in his parish are not even practicing the same religion.  Out of this frustration orthodox believers tend to cloister into small groups or small parishes and turn their focus inward.  This can sometimes be a problem as orthodoxy without love leads to the deadly sin of pride.

Francis seems to be calling the orthodox to come out of the bunker, but it may not be in the way the believer prefers.  He seems to be saying, “Yeah, good on you for following the rubrics to the letter of the GIRM, but what have you done for the poor, today?”  Or “Yeah, I pray the rosary a couple of times a day myself, but when was the last time you really loved your enemy as Christ instructed?”

This author is not making a case against orthodoxy.  In point of fact, he desires stricter adherence to the teachings of the Church and her mission.  Nevertheless, orthodoxy in of itself is not a destination but rather a means by which one demonstrates two vital things, love of God and love of neighbor.

What do we have that works?

First, we have the Mass.  Regardless of how orthodox or liberal the priest, when he prays the words of consecration and simple bread and wine through the miracle of transubstantiation become the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, God’s love for his children gets witnessed.  Eucharist is the greatest miracle that happens every hour of every day.  Now, good luck trying to explain that to a non-believer, but that’s not the point.  More important is we have this tremendous gift from God from which to draw strength.

Second, we have the other sacraments.  Again, explaining the sacramental nature of the faith is a tall challenge to the non-believer, Protestants, and good many Catholics who should know better.  Yet these sacraments are additional sources of grace from God that should give us strength to focus on work at hand.

Third, we have a mission given by Christ, and that mission works.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew (RSV) 28:19-20)

And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.”  (Mark (RSV) 16:15)

We have a mission to preach the Gospel to the world not the choir.  What Francis is demonstrating is the most effective way to preach the Gospel to the non-believer is not by a dissertation on the rules, but rather by a more pragmatic expression of love.   The rules are more than important.  They are vital.  When we go to Mass, the rubrics should be followed to the letter.  We should observe all of the holy days.  We should pray as Christ instructed.  We should work for change in our laws that permit many of the social ills destroying the culture.  Ultimately; however, people will be drawn by our love and they may wonder about the source of this love because they want not only to receive but to give it themselves.  It is after this demonstration or expression of love that the door opens to explain that the love comes from Christ and this is what he said and this is how we worship.

What do we have that works?

It is our very orthodoxy if it is practiced with caritas.  John Paul II gave us the philosophy.  Benedict XVI gave us the theology.  Francis is demonstrating how to apply it in a very real and personal way.  So have faith my fellow orthodox brethren.    Francis is challenging us to step out of our comfort zone.  Let us embrace this as we go out into the world to share the good news.

Thursday, November 07, 2013


In Gethsemane Christ tried to awaken his Apostles, not because they could take away his agony, but because they could give him their compassion ~ Caryll Houselander, English mystic, poet, and spiritual teacher

How often we go through our day to day lives seeing people in need of relief from their suffering, and we truly want to help; however, we either do not know how to help or the help we have to offer is not wanted by the suffering soul.  So in frustration, we move on.  Maybe we express anger or indignation.  Maybe we pass judgment.  Maybe we give constructive criticism.  In reality, not all suffering is within our power to alleviate.  Christ did not give most of us the gift of healing, and that’s okay.  For when we are unable to help; when the talents we can offer are too limited for the situation at hand; we can offer the one thing that Christ does want from us.  It is the same thing he wanted from his Apostles who could not stay awake in the garden.  He wants simply our compassion. 
We can always offer sympathy, concern, kindness, and consideration.  Those things require no special problem solving skills.  They require no money.  They require only the will to bury our pride and our own conviction that the person suffering doesn’t deserve compassion; that they have earned their pain.  Maybe they have.  Maybe that person has made a real mess out of their lives making one devastating choice after another.  Perhaps they truly have a flawed character or ill-formed conscience.  Feasibly something awful happened in their life that shaped their disposition and their inclination towards whatever reality is causing their pain.

And, true, when we offer our kindheartedness, there is the very real possibility that the suffering soul is going to reject it.  Conceivably that person might even perceive such charity as weakness and attempt to hurt us further.  That slap in the face will test Christ’s direction that we turn the other cheek.  But what if that course of action suggested by Our Lord was meant as part of the remedy for his suffering child?

It’s not easy.  Some people who hurt us the most are the people who should love us the most; a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend.  Abuse is its own scourging at the pillar, and when that has happened to us, we are indeed the ones who need compassion from others.  Yet even at the height of his suffering on the cross, Christ didn’t lose his sense of compassion.  He could not cure the hatred of those who condemned him as they had the gift of freed will so he uttered “Father, forgive them.”  He offered compassion to the good thief on the cross, and notice how he did not condemn the bad one. 

Consider this.  How we respond to someone might be their hope of salvation.  If we truly believe that we do have an advocate in Christ, then when that wounded spirit faces their own eternal judgment, perhaps the key piece of evidence that Our Lord will use is that someone determined that person worthy of the primary gift that he so desired during his own passion, that being compassion.  St. Veronica offered Our Lord a sip of water and a cloth to wipe his face.  She couldn’t stop his suffering but could only acknowledge it, and one can only imagine the gratitude Jesus felt for this simple, humble act of kindness. 

Oh the passion of Christ was not a historical, one-time event a couple of thousand years ago.  His passion continues to play out day after day.  We all get our turn reflecting the suffering Christ.  We all have the freedom to stay alert and give the gift of compassion, or we have the freedom to turn away, to close our eyes as if we, too, were asleep and unaware.

Now there are those who will hold fast to the idea that if compassion is offered to the sinner, then one is tacitly giving consent to the sin.  Yet Christ did not approve of the sins of the woman at the well.  He did not give a free pass to the woman caught in adultery and set to be stoned.  He never said it was okay for Peter to deny him three times.  No, in each case he gave them his compassion.

May we have grace, the courage, and the will to offer the same to our neighbor.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Do the Right Thing

And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  (Acts 10, 34-35)

Do the right thing.

It's a simple suggestion and yet one that has become woefully complex in American culture, today.  Having devalued Christianity to just another optional religion, this land of liberty finds itself without a core set of values to rely upon to exercise prudence over said gift of liberty.  In such a model there exist no absolutes, and government by the people and for the people wrestles in a world of abject relativism.

The above bumper sticker seemingly reflects a nice sentiment.  How can one argue that to get along in this world we simply need to tolerate all belief systems?  The challenge occurs when this tolerance becomes the basis for belief versus a characteristic.  With such a mindset, all faiths are equal, and one freely establishes oneself above it all, free to pick and choose cafeteria style the attributes and practices that feel the best.  Tolerance and feelings replaces prudence.

In 2008, Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith conducted interviews with 230 young adults (ages 18-23) asking them about their moral lives.  The results say more about these kid's parents than they do about the kids themselves.  A full two thirds were unable to even describe a moral dilemma.  Their standard response was along the lines of:

“It’s personal. It’s up to the individual. Who am I to say?  I would do what I thought made me happy or how I felt. I have no other way of knowing what to do but how I internally feel.

This generation of young people who will one day rule the country is a generation that has no idea how to examine its conscience for it has nothing to juxtapose the morality that emerges from the privacy of each individual heart.  There exists no solid standard or absolute which had been in large respects the value of the Judea-Christian ethic discarded by many of their parents.

How can one do the right thing when one believes there is no wrong thing?

Let all pray for an awakening of this generation to the reality, the love, and the authentic freedom found in Christ.  Failing that, it becomes difficult to see how this nation can sustain itself.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Master Gardener

Separate me from myself and from all that is not you, in order to unite and incorporate me with you. Empty me of myself and of all things, destroy me utterly, in order to fill me with yourself and to form and establish yourself in me. Cause me henceforth to be a perfect image of yourself; just as you are a most perfect image of your Father. -- St. John Eudes

Anyone who grows roses has an appreciation for pruning.  By its nature, the rose bush gifts the world beautiful blooms which last for a little while, and then they wither.  Those blooms carry with them a sense of anticipation, first budding, then slowly opening to reveal their full color.  The good gardener knows to prune the rose before it wilts.  This isn't just to enjoy a bouquet on one's dinner table or to share with a friend. Rather, the rose bush has energy to produce more blooms and by pruning the gardener signals the rose bush to repeat the effort.  In a matter of moments, the gardener uses her pruning shears to transform the once beautiful rose bush that previously dazzled the passerby with its majestic color and fragrance into an ordinary green, thorny plant.

Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. - (John 15,2)

In gospel for today's Sunday Mass, Christ reveals God as a master gardener.  No matter how many good works one does, those works are like the rose bloom.  They dazzle for a short time and then begin to fade.  And while it is true that some works done may have a lifetime effect, the fact remains that Our Lord asks for still more fruit.  Being a Christian means enjoining oneself to the will of God which is an ever flowing gift of love to his creation.

Works do matter.

One of the great errors that emerged from the Protestant Reformation was the belief by some ecclesiastical communities that works were merely a sign of one's agreement with Christian living, but in the end played little in the salvation economy.  Profess that Christ is one's lord and savior and one is good to go.  Yet the Gospel tends to point out that more is expected.  One does not bear fruit simply by being.  Effort, energy, commitment, and a will must be present.

It's easy to sometimes lose heart in the pruning process, which is often thought of as the way of the cross.  Gaze upon the crucifix and behold the word made flesh that endured the ultimate pruning and in return produced a beauty that we can only begin to fathom.

I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15,5)

Let all pray for the grace to bear much fruit and welcome the inevitable pruning that leads to greater things.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Good Shepherd of America

"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.  And I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life, that I may take it again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again; this charge I have received from my Father." (John (RSV) 10, 11-18)

The United States is once again in the middle of presidential election politics.  Barring some kind of catastrophic circumstance, it appears Obama vs. Romney as the main event this November.  Nearly two billion (that's billion with a "B") dollars is anticipated to be spent to put in place the man who will assume the role of being the face of the nation's good shepherd.

Today's Gospel reading for the Sunday Mass points to what it takes to be a good shepherd.  Within seven sentences, Our Lord mentions four times that he will lay down his life for his sheep.  He will give everything for the sake of those who look to him for leadership.  That is not something either candidate has publicly stated he is willing to offer.  Being unprepared to make this ultimate sacrifice reveals not so much an absence of fortitude, though a case could be made for that, but rather a deficiency in the one quality needed for any good leader, humility.

To lead, one has to realize that what one is commanding is far bigger than himself.  The Office of the Presidency should supersede the ambition and ego of the person who temporarily occupies that office.  Americans do not elect kings.  They elect good stewards of democracy and the Constitution or at least they should.  The challenge is that elected office has lost its way.  No longer are shepherds elected but rather hirelings who best serve the interests of their respective bosses.  The result is that we the people get thrown to the wolves of pride and special interests which means justice for none.

Christ has given the example of what it takes to be a good leader.  Pray that Obamney or Rombama at some point take the time and have the courage to recognize that the job they seek is an endeavor of pure service to the American people.  Oh that each candidate would have an assistant whose sole job was to whisper in their ear before every speech:

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs (RSV) 16,18)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Thank You Archbishop Vlazny

Statement from Archbishop John G. Vlazny March 31, 2010

It did not take long for me on the morning of March 31 to cancel my subscription to the Oregonian. This was not the first time I had contemplated such a move. When the “Catholic bashing” was principally local, I thought this was something I simply had to endure along with the rest of you. Why? The jury of public opinion seemed to conclude that the church deserved such punishment because it was no better than anyone else in handling the problem of child sexual abuse. But I was always suspicious that there was more behind all the attention given to our plight by the secular media.

Let me be specific about my complaints. In the column on March 29 by syndicated columnist, E.J. Dionne Jr., towards the end of his clever attempt to ridicule the Vatican, we find this bold assertion: “The church needs to cast aside the lawyers, the PR specialists and its own worst instincts…” If that’s not bad enough, try this: “The church will have to show not only that it has learned from the scandal, but also that it’s truly willing to transform itself.” Now you tell me, when you are served with a lawsuit for millions of dollars, is it malicious to seek a lawyer’s help? PR specialists? Dream on. As for “transformation”, ask anyone who works for the church or pays attention to church activities about all the efforts at victim assistance and child protection which have been incorporated into church policies both here and elsewhere.

Then on March 30 there was the unconscionable cartoon on the editorial page which unfairly belittled our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI. It was a portrayal dripping with hostility, an attack against our high priest, our universal pastor, our faithful teacher, the one person who, in the eyes of the world, symbolizes all that we are and do as Catholics. I was insulted and I hope you were too. People called wondering what I would say or do. I’m grateful for the prod. Can you imagine the reaction people of other faiths or persuasions would have if their leadership were so publicly scorned? The Oregonian wouldn’t dare publish something so ugly about the Dalai Lama. Nor should they.

The last straw came on March 31. On the editorial page again, this time in the form of a prominent editorial, the editors arrogantly scolded the church for its past failures in handling this matter of child sexual abuse and, in an insulting and unfair attack, chose this most holy time of the year, during our church’s Year of the Priest, to connect the practice of celibacy among our clergy with the problem of child sexual abuse, when everyone knows that most abusers by far are married persons! Is every single person now under a cloud of suspicion? Or only single Catholic priests? If only the latter, don’t you wonder why?

For more than ten years as Archbishop of Portland, in one way or another, I have pondered these challenges and perhaps taken them more seriously than they merited. But I knew that reconciliation and healing among those aggrieved would only be possible if we who are the church were truly repentant and serious about doing better.

But the media could never be satisfied. Why? It’s a trick as old as the human race. “When you don’t like the message, destroy the messenger.” The Catholic Church, in exercising her prophetic role and responsibility, is sometimes a very lonely speaker when addressing reasonable solutions to problematic realities like abortion, devaluing marriage and family life, injustices in the economy which lead to unabated poverty demeaning the sacredness of human sexuality and the place of religion in the public forum.

The Oregonian is most likely no more guilty than its counterparts in other communities, but that’s the newspaper for most of us in Portland and other folks in western Oregon who like a paper with a “big city” feel. But the triduum of hostility, arrogance and ridicule that greeted readers during the early days of Holy Week, at the expense of the Catholic Church, is simply not tolerable and should not be condoned without some form of protest. The editors, of course, hold all the cards, so what to do? I canceled my subscription and urge others to do the same.

Something will be missing while I sip my morning coffee, but with less time for breakfast, maybe I can jog a bit farther and eat a bit less. There’s inevitably something good that can be discovered in most unpleasant situations.

My friends, we Catholics are not perfect, but we are deserving of human respect. I had thought I should delay making assertions like these until later. Well, later arrived this morning with the last issue of the Oregonian that will be delivered to my home in the foreseeable future.