The Apostolate of the Laity

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

My Photo
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.

Monday, October 30, 2006

You're Good. You're Good.

My wife and I headed to Ashland, Oregon this last weekend to use the Oregon Shakespeare Festival package we purchased as at a recent Oregon Right to Life Auction. We had intended it to be a relaxing weekend, but it turned out to be so much more.

Ashland is a good five hour drive from Portland, and we decided to break the trip up a bit by stopping to see one of our favorite priests, Father Peter, who lives in Grants Pass. He was the Associate Pastor at our parish until several months ago when the Archdiocese transferred him there as part of their usual shuffling of priests. We had contacted him before our trip and he was expecting us.

We were about 20 minutes out of Grants Pass when we stopped at a rest area to take care of some business. After all, arriving at Father's house to say first thing, "Can I use your restroom?" just didn't seem to be in good form. My wife got back into the car and said she had a bit of a dilema. Inside the rest area restroom she found a woman's makeup bag containing a drivers license, garage door opener, a credit card, address book and a few other personal items. There was no one else at the rest area who looked like the bag should belong to, and there were some suspicious looking fellows rifling through the garbage cans so just leaving it where she found it didn't seem like a good idea.

As we inspected the bag we had a choice. My practical words of wisdom were to turn it into the police at Grants Pass and wash our hands of the matter. I was coming from the school of not wanting to get any more involved than we had to. Thankfully, my wife is much more the saint than me. She called information; got the number of the woman; called her and left a message on her answering machine that we had found her bag. She also called the Highway Patrol who told her to turn it into law enforcement which we decided to do after our visit with Father Peter.

Portland is famous for its microbreweries, and Father Peter has a penchant for a particular brew called Hammer Head Ale. Before leaving Portland, I picked up a couple of quarts that the brewery puts in mason jars. When I told him I had some for him, our plans to take him out to dinner changed to him deciding to cook something for us as it would be awkward to bring our own beer to a restaurant. Being quite the grill master, cooking only with wood, he prepared about the best tasting halibut steaks I've ever had.

We picked up our conversation as if he had never left Portland. He told us about his work with meth addicts in the area and about life as a priest in a small town. He told us a story about a particular event regarding a parishoner whose husband had recently passed. He had been called to give last rites to the gentleman, which he gladly did. A few days later, the day he was supposed to leave for his annual vacation in the Wyoming mountains, he received the call that the gentleman had passed. While the family wanted him to stay for the funeral, he was committed to his trip and had another priest assist the family.

While camping by a lake in a rugged area of Wyoming, he was awakened in the early morning to the sound of a snort and the clomping of heavy hooves from an animal. Then he heard a whoosh of water and as he looked out of his tent that was pitched near a mountain lake he saw in the moonlight the silhouette of a very large moose standing in the shallows of the lake, water dripping off its stately antlers.

The next morning, he went to take his bath in the lake, and standing in the water just few feet from his camp was the same moose. For several days the moose visted the camp, which is highly unusual as they typically are not too fond of people. The animal kept his distance, but seemed to tolerate Father Peter's presence.

When he got back home, he went to a restaurant and noticed a woman and her daughter waiving at him from a table. It took a minute, but he soon recognized the woman as the widow of the gentleman who had passed before he left on his trip. She asked him to join her for dinner which he did. She then pulled out of her purse something she said her husband wanted Father Peter to have. It was a Canadian coin. On the front was the image of the queen of England. On the back was the image of a moose, silhouetted against the night sky standing in a lake. Those who have passed have a way of letting us know they're okay, and this was this gentleman's way. He relayed his experience at the Wyoming mountain lake to the woman and it seemed to bring her peace.

Before we left, we had Father bless a very special and unique statue of Mary that my wife had brought with her. She had originally purchased one just like the one she had blessed in Italy, but gave it away to one of the sisters at Our Lady of Peace Retreat. A dear friend of ours found a way to order the statue and surprised my wife with it. Father Peter gave a very warm and heart-felt blessing.

As we were getting ready to get into our car and drive to our hotel, he gave me a bear hug and said "You're good. You're good. You're good. You're good" It was as if Christ was speaking through him at that moment. It was something I needed to hear. I don't consider myself to be good. Oh, I don't think I'm evil, but I do consider myself to be very much a work in progress. I've done some good things in my life, and I've done some bad, and I've done some downright evil. I don't quite have the inclination to call myself "good," though I know it is what I strive to be. I suppose this makes Christ a little sad. I don't think He really wants me to feel down on myself as much as I do, and I think He seized His priest at that moment to encourage me. It was a very moving and somewhat cathartic moment.

As we were driving to our hotel, my wife checked her voicemail and behold the woman who had lost her bag had called. We made arrangements to meet up with her the next morning to return her lost item. We decided to meet at the front a popular restaurant in Medford, which was on our way to Ashland. As luck would have it, she was in Medford visiting family. My wife and I sat at the front of the restaurant for a few minutes enjoying the anticipation of returning this lost item to her. Soon we saw a woman approaching us carrying a bouquet of flowers and wearing a huge smile. She tried to give us $20 for our trouble, but my wife and I refused telling her to give that $20 to someone in need, but we accepted the flowers.

Later that day, we tried to check into our hotel, but it was still a bit early. As we were leaving, we noticed on the sidewalk outside the hotel a $20 bill. There was no one around that we could see that might have dropped it so we took as a gift from Our Lord.

We had a wonderful day in Ashland and saw a fantastic play, Shakespeare's King John.
After the play, we enjoyed a wonderful Italian dinner, and then went back to our hotel room. This was the only bad part of the trip. Our room was near the mechanical room of the hotel; so most of the night we were kept awake by the sound of the air conditioning. What was more, the person who had the room above us, was constantly walking back and forth on the creaky historic hotel floor. At about 4am we cried uncle; packed up our bags; checked out; and made the five hour drive home.

Most of Sunday we napped to catch up on the missed sleep the night before. We went to 5:30pm mass at the Cathedral and were surprised to have Father Chun, who is our spiritual director of Teams of Our Lady, officiating the mass. True to his form, his homily was a series of true or false questions. One that stood out for me was this:

"True or False. The opposite of faith is doubt?"

About half the congregation rasied their hands that it was true. But Father explained that the answer was false; that doubt is a part of faith. It's natural to have doubts from time to time. He said he believed that the opposite of faith was certainty. If one has certainty, one doesn't need faith, but Christ calls us to faith, not certainty.

It was the perfect ending to a busy, and in many ways, awe-inspiring weekend. As we left the Cathedral, we were confronted by a begger. I gave him my spare change, setting aside my certainty that he would use the dollar in change I gave him to feed his addition and having faith that Christ would have him use the money for a better purpose. Later I thought it might have been better to give him the $20 we found on the ground in Ashland, but perhaps that would have been too much.

God only knows. God is good. I try to be.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Going for Gold

I saw an ad on TV the other night for an exhibition gymnastics competition and I was reminded of something I learned these last Olympic games. I’ve always had it in my mind that each time the gymnast completed an exercise, vault, balance beam routine, etc., that the judges awarded a score, somewhat subjectively on a scale of one to ten, with ten being perfect. In reality, each athlete begins the exercise with a perfect score of ten, and the judges only deduct from that based on flaws in the performance. So the gymnast is assumed perfect until the judges see what she actually does.

In a neat sort of way, our journey to God is much the same. Through baptism, God gives each of us a perfect ten score. We then launch into life’s experiences; tumbling; balancing; sometimes flying in the wrong direction; and often not quite landing on our feet. Through it all, Christ is there to help pick us up when we fall; spotting us so we don’t land quite so hard; offer us a little coaching; give us encouragement to try again. He even provides the sacrament of reconciliation so we can have another perfect ten score before we make another run at life. He’s also the kind of coach that teaches by example. He not only tells us how to go about our lives, but through His life, passion, death, and resurrection, He shows us how to do it.

It’s not easy. The Olympic gymnasts practice countless hours; endure injury; sacrifice their personal lives; and expose their flaws not just to the judges, but to the millions of people watching on television. At the end of the day, regardless of the amount of effort by all, only one earns the gold medal and gets her picture on the box of Wheaties.

We, too, must practice countless hours in the form of prayer; attending mass; performing works of mercy and love. We have to endure injury, whether that is physical as in the case of a martyr; or emotional as in the pain caused by a less than understanding friend or relative. We have to sacrifice our personal needs. Christ consistently tells us to die to ourselves to follow Him. We are also called to expose our flaws, not to millions of TV watchers, but to a far more critical judge, ourselves. And once we have recognized the flaw, we’re then called to offer that to Christ and His divine mercy; repent of our errant ways; and try again.

The good news is that Christ isn’t expecting a perfect-ten performance from us. He knows we’re going to miss the mark more often than not. The reward, however, isn’t just reserved for one person. If we persevere, endure, and keep trying to live a Christ-like life; if we keep trying to maintain as close to that perfect ten that we started out with; then we all get the spiritual gold medal in form of salvation. While we won’t get our mug on the Wheaties box, we do get to enjoy the eternal joy of Heaven.

Good luck on your next tumbling pass.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Back in The Day

I was riding the train home from work last Friday when I overheard one side of a cell phone conversation between an eighteen or nineteen year old girl and one of her friends. The girl was talking loudly so a good quarter of the train could hear her. It was a little annoying at first, but then I decided not to let it bug me so much and listen to what was going on in this young soul's life.

The girl was describing to her friend about getting her ultrasound done. Apparently she was a few months pregnant and had found out that she was going to have a girl. As I continued my eavesdropping, I learned that this was going to be her second child. Her first was three years old; so that means this was her second teen pregnancy. She sounded very joyful about the news, and though she is terribly young, I have to admit I was happy for her.

I then heard her talk about having to go to class tonight. Maybe she was in college, but as I listned in on the conversation, she told her friend that she was finally going to get her GED. Her story was easy to piece together at that point. She got pregnant in high school, dropped out to have her child, and was just now getting back to finishing her education as best she could. Good for her.

As the conversation continued, she mentioned that she had no plans to go home to be with her parents in California. She said her parents didn't want her to have her first child, and they were really upset about the one on the way.

"My parents are crazy. When I told my dad I was pregnant, he told me to get an abortion. I'm just not that kind of person."

To hear one of our youth say that did my heart good. Perhaps the message that a baby in the womb was a human being was getting through to our youth. What she said next nearly floored me.

"My parents told me to get an abortion when I was pregnant with Kylie (her first, I presume.) Back in the day that's just what women did. My mom told me she had five abortions before she had me. Can you believe that?! It's just my brother and me now, but we could have had a bigger family. I'm just glad she didn't abort me!"

I said a prayer for this young mother. She is going to need all the help she can get. In her phone conversation she never mentioned a boyfriend or husband. I didn't see any wedding band on her finger. Likely she'll be a young single-mom of two. How she will manage, I haven't a clue. I presume part of my tax dollars will be funding part of her life for awhile as she likely qualifies for Welfare. While I wish she had made better choices early on, there's also the probability that she didn't have a supportive environment at home to guide her. Yet, somewhere along the way, she figured out that the life inside her womb mattered. A reality lost on so many of the liberal-elite.

What kind of quality life can she give her children? Measured in the material, probably not much, but there was something about the joy I heard in her voice that tells me the riches these kids will have is the love and commitment of their mother. I pray for Blessed Mother to intercede on this young mother's behalf. She said "yes" to life.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Out of Poverty, Into Poverty

Those of you who follow entertainment news have no doubt heard about Madonna's latest stunt of adopting a one-year-old boy from the country of Malawi, a tiny African nation a bit smaller than the state of Pennsylvania and one of the poorest countries on the planet. According to the CIA's website, the life expectancy in this country of mostly subsistence living is only 41 years. Infant mortality is high, and HIV is making its rounds as it is in many like African nations.

News accounts indicate the father of the child (mom died in childbirth) never intended to permanently give the child up for adoption and had placed him in the orphanage as a temporary measure until he could get his hut in order. Madonna struck a deal with the Malawi government to skirt its adoption laws in exchange for building a school and donating a significant sum of money; although one caveat she placed on the building of the school was that it was to teach Kabbalah. Some 80% of Malawi is Christian. No doubt Madonna's own personal crusade against the Catholic Church had some influence here.

Many casual observers would say that at least this child will have a chance at life now, but I have to wonder what kind of life that might be. He will go from destitution to opulence; from annonymity to a media darling; from a life of simplicity to a life of the material; from a poverty of earthly things to a poverty of spirit; from a life of a natural father to a life of no father. I suppose the saving grace in this situation is that he is young enough that he will likely not remember his humble beginnings.

Would it have been better for him to stay where he was? That depends how one measures things. Obviously, no child should ever starve in this world, and with Madonna, he will certainly never know hunger. That is good. It is also highly likely that his chances of coming to know Christ are far less now than if he had stayed in Malawi.

I suppose it is terribly judgmental of me, but I'm reminded of Christ's warning to those who would "lead these little ones to sin." The life Madonna will offer this child is not one of virture, but one of secular humanism. Her example to date has been one of self-absorption versus sacrifice; one of complete self-reliance versus one of faith.

I will pray for her conversion, while at that same time I will thank God for the good that might come to this child. It is quite the paradox. I am glad he will have a chance at a less painful existence as no child should suffer, especially when humanity has the means to prevent it from happening. And while I am highly suspect of the purity of Madonna's motives, perhaps in the end, through the grace of God, this child will have left both the poverty of the poor, and the poverty of the wealthy, and encounter and embrace the one true treasure of Jesus Christ. That is my prayer for him.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

You Can't Take it With You

Today's Gospel (Mark 10:17-31) is one that has a humbling quality for me. A young man approaches Christ and asks him directly, "How do I get to Heaven?" Christ tells him, and he goes away sad because he has many possessions that he simply doesn't want to give up.

We all love Christ to a point. Each of us has a barrier to coming into to a deeper existence within the Christ mystery. Our lives are a continuous process of taking two steps forward and one step back as we move ever closer to Our Lord. And from time to time we might even do a little back sliding. Many times we plateau for long stretches. That was the issue with the young man in the Gospel. He obeyed all the commandments and was ready to move forward, and Christ revealed to him the mountain he had still yet to climb. Like the young man, we often look at the mountain and decide things are good enough at base camp. Taking the risk of losing self entirely to Christ seems daunting.

Yet climb we must to get to Heaven. Through grace, Christ helps us to see that perhaps we don't need to carry so much in our backpacks as we trek up the slope. Pride is the heaviest provision we tote around. Lust is probably second and maybe envy rounds out the top three. At least that's what seems to be in my pack. Examine your own conscience to discover what you carry around. Maybe it's anger or resentment. Maybe it's greed. Maybe it's glutony. The point is we all have these possessions that won't quite fit through that eye of the needle.

Perhaps the saints come the closest to reaching the summit. It would seem St Faustina and Pio were pretty darn close, and I believe John Paul II was close to making a final run to the summit before he died. The rest of us muddle around at these lower elevations trying to work up the courage to take that next step up.

I like this little story:

There was once a wealty man who was very pious and had a private revelation with our Lord. He told Christ that he would give all his wealth to the poor and dedicate his life to serving his fellow man if he could just bring one suitcase full of stuff with him to Heaven. The Lord smiled and said, "Okay, my son."

So the rich man kept his end of the bargain. For the remainder of his life he slowly gave away all his wealth and generously helped his fellow man. When he died he found himself at the gates of Heaven lugging a suitcase full of the stuff he really wanted to bring. St. Peter stopped him at the gates and said, "Hold on there, you can't bring anything with you." The man explained the deal he had made with Christ and St. Peter shrugged his shoulders and said, "Okay, but first let's see what you have in that suitcase." St. Peter opened up the suitcase and had a very puzzled look on his face. The suitcase was filled with pure gold bricks.

"Let me get this straight," Peter asked the man "Jesus said you could bring anything from Earth you wanted to bring, right?"

The man smiled and said, "Yes, that's right, is there a problem."

"No, I guess not," said Peter. "I'm just wondering why all all the things you could have brought with you from Earth into Heaven, you chose to bring paving stones?!"

Mother Theresa loved to be with the poor. I suspect it was partially because they are largely stripped of earthly possessions and have only their raw being. There's no pretentiousness about the impoverished; and yet in that destitute condition, they are closer to Christ than many of us will likely ever be in our time on Earth. They may not recognize it. In a struggle just to eat and stay out of harms way, praying the rosary may not be first on their priority list. But I suspect when they die Purgatory will be a short stay as they will have far fewer things to detatch themselves from before they run to Christ with complete abandon of self.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Disappointed, but not Defeated

In the state of Oregon, once a teenager reaches her fifteenth birthday she is allowed to get an abotion without her parents ever knowing. If she wants her ears pierced, she needs a parent's permission. If she wants to give blood, she needs a parent's permission. If she wants to go on a field trip with her class, she needs parental notification. But if she gets pregnant, she has free reign to simply walk into an abotion clinic and have the "problem" terminated. She will have to get a ride to the abortion clinic as she still needs to be sixteen before she can get a driver's license. The state doesn't consider her responsible enough to make decisions behind the wheel; but apparently the results of the poor decisions she makes in the back seat of the car are beyond a parent's need to know.

This election year, thousands of Oregonians signed a petition to get on the November ballot, Measure 43. This law would extend parental notification for abortion to include girls aged fifteen to seventeen. The law also provides a judicial bypass for those rare cases when a girl finds herself pregant and in a domestic situation where she could physically be in danger. While the law doesn't require the parent's permission to get an abortion, I believe that at least letting the parents know will help to save more innocent lives and help these girls manage an extraordinarily difficult time.

Planned Parenthood, a darling of the Devil, has pumped $2,000,000 into a campaign to defeat Measure 43. Their logic is that these fifteen to seventeen year old girls are mature women that no one should be allowed to tell what they can do to thier bodies. The real story is that this age group provides a significant revenue stream into their clinical coffers and to lose the abortion fees from this demographic would hurt their bottom line. This from an organization that still considers a twelve week old fetus a "blob of cells."

At our parish, we offered our congregation an opportunity to view a five-minute video talking about this issue. We presented the video in the school library after each of the Sunday masses. Sadly, very few took the opportunity to come over and see it. My hope is that the congregation is alreay supporting Measure 43 and didn't feel the need to see more on the issue; however, I believe the reality is that many folks either just don't care to get involved, or find the whole abortion debate too disquieting. Then, too, an elderly man I respect a great deal told me in jest that the most dangerous place in the world is a Catholic Church's parking lot after mass. Everyone is trying to leave at break-neck speed.

Saturday night, my wife and I had the pleasure of hearing Janet Folger speak at the Oregon Right to Life Auction. She made a statement that touched us both as she talked about the inevitable over-turning of Roe Vs. Wade. "

"One day your kids or grandkids are going to ask you, 'where were you when they were killing babies?' And you'll be able to say, 'I was fighting to save them.'"

A friend of mine, Tony, gave me one of his petite ephiphanies, when he reminded me that, to Christ, the results of today's viewing of the video do not matter. What matters is that we were fighting for Him. He knows that and will keep that in mind as he dispenses His grace to help us win this incremental battle in the infanticide that is the hallmark of my generation. It was my generation that pushed for abortion on demand, and I cannot help but feel a huge moral obligation to undo the wrong. With some hard work and the grace of God we can put this genie back into the bottle.

On Sunday, October 29th, I'm going to begin a novena for the success of Measure 43. Those of you who pray the Rosary are welcomed to join me, even if you don't live in Oregon. Just maybe give us a thought in your prayers leading up to the election. Ask Blessed Mother to join us in this battle. With her on our side, I believe we will prevail even faced with an opponent who has a $2,000,000 war chest.

To learn more about Measure 43 and view the video we showed, click here. The video make take a few moments to download, but it's worth waiting for.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

"Be like God"

It's fitting that Satan came to Adam and Eve in the form of a snake. A serpeant moves through a series of twists and turns. Often when it latches on to its prey, it contorts its body even more. In the Garden of Eden Satan beguiled Eve, saying, "You will not die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." The Devil maneuvered and winded around the truth to appeal to Adam and Eve's human nature.

So Adam and Eve had this gift of eternal innocence, but chose to twist that gift. With just a little suggestion, suddenly the gift was not good enough. "Be like God" became their goal, not to do the will of God, but rather to fufill their own ego.

Often in our attempts to "be like God" we color the truth. These last few weeks, we've witnessed the horrific extremes of that. The man who bound those Amish school girls and then proceeded to execute them one by one had so perverted the truth about himself that he believed that this cruel act would release him from his demons. He had become his own god, probably for quite some time, and the result was simply the purest evil.

Back in the 1960's, man got in his mind that if he could be like God and more efficiently regulate the act of creating life then he would be happier. Instead of the serpent giving woman fruit from the tree of life, he gave her a pill, a birth control pill, from the tree of science. At last she would be free from that pesky risk of pregnancy and she could go forth into the world equal to man. A notion that has always baffled me as it clearly is a demotion in rank. She marched forward, burned her bra, legalized abortion, became responsible for her own orgasm (huh?), and became the super woman of the workplace who could juggle home, kids, carrer.

Meanwhile, man did exactly what Adam did in the Garden of Eden. Nothing. Zip. Nada. He stood by and watched. He abdicated his responsibility while at the same time he rejoiced in this new ability to also be free of any consequence of acting upon his own concupiscence. With the risk of pregnancy now within his domain, women were no longer viewed as potential mothers of his children but simply life support systems for vaginas. Hugh Heffner was the symbol of freedom for the Babyboom male.

Rightfully so, women were terribly offended by that and thus began the great emasculation of America. Men were told that their nature was flawed and that they needed to be more like women. If only men could be more sensitive, nurturing, and appreciative of fabric stores, then perhaps women could finally be happy. Oprah became their guru. Sensitivity training invaded corporate America and even the armed forces.

That didn't work. First of all, women discoverd that a feminized man just isn't attractive as he has no spine, and secondly, man really resented being emasculated eventhough he allowed it to happen. So each has retreated to their respective corners, (men to porn, women to Desperate Housewives,) and the outcome remains to be seen. All of this started by a desire to be like God and control that which is His to govern. The Devil is no doubt laughing all the way to the sperm bank.

Okay, this is a gross over-generalization of the world, today, but the fact remains that there are dangers, very real exposures to pain, when we supplant God's will with our own designs. It doesn't have to be this hard. Men, if you want a role model, look to Christ. Women by the same token look to Blessed Mother. They have far better solutions than Hugh or Oprah that are rooted in truth and infused with divine love.