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.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Devil's Little Way

St. Threse of Lisieux was known for loving God in every day little things. She is known as the "Little Flower" for her approach to life with the simplicity of love. So often in our journey to Christ we seek the grandiose. For some, this faith thing would be a lot easier if only there was a sign. Oh, and make it a good sign. Something that is just plain obvious.

Therese discovered and wrote in her diary which became the book, Story of a Soul, of the little way. Every breath, every precious moment of life is the most glorious sign of God's love. Christ is in the eyes of every person one meets. To see a sign of God one only need ponder the reality that one simply exists. God had a choice to create or not. Each human being was planned, considered, and wanted. Each person one meets made the cut; passed the test; and was put into production as a unique one-of-a-kind, limited edition. And that person belongs to God.

Yesterday I walked from the commuter train station to our church. It's a good half mile, but some days it's the only exercise I get. I was on my way to our parish's soup supper which is a staple of Lent on Fridays. The Knights of Columbus were in charge of this week's meal and having recently completed my Third Degree in the order, I really wanted to help out.

The walk takes me past two establishments I really wish were not there. One is Hooters and the other is a strip club named Stars. There was a day, not too far in my past, when the thought of frequenting either of those places would have been an option. Now, by the grace of Our Lord, I am saddened by their existence. Humanity, God's special, limited-edition and priceless creations, are reduced to so many banal objects.

As I walked past the strip club, I saw a morbidly obese man waddling up to the front door. Gluttony and lust all in one package. I said a little prayer for him and for the women who would soon attempt to satisfy his need, but would in the end only leave him wanting and empty. From his size, it was clear that he had been using food to try to fill the void.

"You don't need to help out."

The thought flashed into my mind. It was from the evil one. Oh I know there are many who read this who don't believe that Satan exists. The Devil is just a metaphor, right? Something the Church invented to scare its faithful straight. Surely a loving God wouldn't create something so evil. The reason a lot of people don't believe in the Devil is for the same reason they doubt the existence of God. They need a sign. Oh, and make it good sign. Something that is just plain obvious.

But just as Therese of Lisieux found Christ in her little way, one need not look too hard to find Satan in the same fashion. He is not bound by time and space and therefor doesn't need to use a lot of flash to draw one in. Hollywood likes to portray him on a grand scale such as in movies like The Exorcist; however, his ways are deceptively small, and very much like Chinese water toucher. A little drip of doubt here; a small suggestion there; and a try-it-just-once-and-see thrown in for good measure. Small wonder that he approached me as I walked past those businesses where God's most sacred creations are defiled the most.

And he followed me all the way to the church.

"It's cold. There's a coffee shop just down the road. Wouldn't that be nice."

I had made a commitment to help out, and as a good Catholic gentlemen as all Knights of Columbus strive to be, I continued my path. My only temptation was when I got to the church and had a choice of going left into the adoration chapel or right towards the gym where dinner was being served. I wanted to go to adoration; however, I was running bit late.

My reward was in the faces of Christ I saw as each person came up to be served. My job was dispensing beverages, and it was one of those tiny glimpses of Heaven as I watched the faithful come together for a simple meal in a simple gym away from the complexities of modern living. Afterwards most went to the church for a powerful presentation of Stations of the Cross.

The devil didn't bother me as I walked back to the train station to return home. I chose a different route; one that didn't take me past the strip club and Hooters. Perhaps the devil gave up on me for the evening. But he will be back. One line from this coming Sunday's Gospel reading assures me of that. As Luke 4:13 reads:

And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.

A warning to be sure. We don't know when that opportune time will be, but we do know that if we just keep walking with Christ, and stay on course, then when Satan makes his appearance he will be annoying but as easy to brush away from our face as a gnat. He only has the power that we give to him.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Simon Son of John, Do you Love Me?

Those of you who've read my blog for some time might recognize the following; however, as we enter the season of Lent, I wanted to share again this reflection that I do for our RCIA class each year on the sacrament of reconciliation. Please feel free to use this concept at your parish. The presentation begins with a beautiful song sung by Donna Cori Gibson:

Hail most merciful heart of Jesus.
Hail living fountain of our grace.
Our sole shelter…our only refuge
The light of hope issued for our way.

Hail open wound of your sacred heart,
From which the rays of mercy come.
From which was given us to draw life.
With the vessel of trust alone.

Hail throne of mercy, Lamb of God.
Who gave your life sacrificed for me.
Before whom my soul is humbled daily.
Living in faith profound with Thee.


“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

If you want to come to understand the concept of reconciliation, there is perhaps no better chapter of the bible than John 21. Close your eyes and imagine, if you will, that you are Peter, also known as Simon son of John. You are the rock that Christ promised to build his church upon before he was crucified. You were with him from the beginning. You were with him at the last supper. You witnessed the miracles. You saw him transfigured, and you saw him sweat blood in the Garden of Gethsemane about twelve hours before he died. You tried to defend him there, but true to his character, he showed you that violence was not the way.

You, Peter, are a faithful follower. A friend. A believer. You urgently professed your willingness to die for Christ, and you remember the look of sadness in Christ’s eyes as he told you that even you would abandon him in his hour of need. You would deny him three times.

“Never!” you must have thought.

But you are only a mortal man. And when the chips were down…when Christ was arrested…and you were separated from our Lord…and the people pointed their fingers at you and said “He was one of his followers”…you passionately denied your friend. You denied your Lord. Three times…just as he had said. You ran away.

“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

When we sin we are kind of like Peter. Sin is the way we say with our actions, “I don’t know Christ.” It’s a lie because we certainly do know our Lord, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend we don’t. Sometimes we fear what others might think of us if we don’t go along with them. Sometimes we don’t understand why God wants us to behave a certain way so we put His way to the side and do our own thing. Sometimes we’re just a little lazy and find it easier to ignore Christ in certain situations. Sometimes our human passions overwhelm us and we act…before we consider. Sometimes, a bit like a child, and probably most comically to our Lord, we come up with imaginative rationalizations as to why in this particular circumstance God’s law doesn’t apply to me…though deep down in our conscience we know it does.

St. Faustina was a nun in Poland around the time of World War II who received very special private revelations of Christ in which Our Lord described to her the unfathomable depths of His mercy. Though she had very little formal education, she kept a detailed diary of her visions of Christ. The Church found her visions to be so credible that it dedicated the first Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. In one passage of her diary she wrote that in one of her visions, Jesus told her that it wounds His heart more that people don’t ask for His forgiveness and mercy than the actual sins they commit. In the sacrament of reconciliation there is redemption…there is hope renewed…there is a reunion with a long lost friend.

A couple of years ago, I was on a retreat at our Lady of Peace here in Beaverton. Father Brian Malady of EWTN fame was leading it, and during one part of the retreat he set aside time to hear confessions. For a long time I had carried around with me a very grave sin that I had committed before I came back to the faith. While I should have confessed it long ago, I was too embarrassed, too afraid, or I simply didn’t want to relive the action I took that was so contrary to what God wanted me to do.

As I waited in line, I agonized over whether I would have the courage to confess this sin. Even though I had never received a punitive penance in previous confessions, I assumed that this would be the one where I got nailed. I stood in line…nervous…practicing the act of contrition prayer in my mind so I wouldn’t forget it. The line was getting shorter and shorter and I new my moment of truth was fast approaching. I looked for clues as to what kind of confessor Father Malady was in the faces of others as they emerged from the reconciliation room. Everyone was coming out with a smile on his face. One guy even gave the line a wink and thumbs up. I should have taken comfort in that, but I knew the gravity of the sin I was about to confess.

Finally it was my turn.

I walked into the reconciliation room, and sat down face to face with Father Malady. He gave me the standard blessing and asked that I make a good confession. I stared at the floor in front of me as I recounted the series of events that led to my grave and sinful action. I talked around the act trying to find the best way to say what I had done. Tears were welling up in my eyes as I got closer and closer to saying what I did. Suddenly I felt Father’s hand on my shoulder as he said in a peaceful voice “Tell me what you did.”

“Simon, son of John do you Love me?”

I confessed my sin. A sense of relief came over me. Finally, it was out. I had said it. I continued to stare at the floor, not quite ready to make eye contact with Father. I waited for whatever just punishment was to come next.


Then more silence.

I slowly looked up and in the eyes of Father Malady I saw Christ. There were tears in his eyes…tears of joy. He smiled and simply said “Thank you for confessing to me.”

We talked a little about my faith journey and then he playfully punched me in the shoulder as guys do and said “Leave this sin with me. You don’t need to carry this anymore.”

Next he gave me my penance. As this was a serious matter, I was prescribed to pray one decade of any of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. As I pray the rosary nearly every day, that was far from punitive. I went back to my room, fell on to my bed and had a good cry, mostly as a stress reliever. Then I took out my Rosary, and prayed not just one decade, but all three mysteries. I prayed in thanksgiving for our having such a loving and merciful Lord. While I regret the terrible thing that I did…it no longer burdens my heart.

“Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.”

That was Peter’s response when Christ asked him three times, “do you love me?” It was as if Christ was giving Peter the opportunity to atone for the three times he had denied him. We all have the opportunity to answer our Lord’s simple question to Peter in the affirmative each and every time we take advantage of the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Tonight, we’re going to do an exercise that will help prepare you for this beautiful and healing sacrament. On your table are slips of paper and some scotch tape. For the next ten to fifteen minutes, reflect back on your life on a time when you, like Peter, and like every other human being, denied Christ. If you were to stand before our Lord, today, and wanted to ask His pardon for just one thing that you have done…what would that be? Once you’ve reflected on that, write on the slip of paper what you did…then fold the paper in half and seal it with the tape. No one gets to see this. It’s between you and God.

At the front of the class we have here a crucifix and at his feet you see this large copper cauldron. At the Easter Vigil, we will build a fire in this cauldron and Father Pat will bless the fire; then light the Easter Candle which will symbolize the light of Christ. One by one, come up to the crucifix, say a silent prayer, and drop your slip of paper into the cauldron. When everyone has placed their paper into the cauldron, we’ll process out to the courtyard, and we’re going to burn this paper to symbolize our giving of our sins to Christ and our willingness to release these sins from our hearts.

I ask that while we are doing this that you refrain from talking or moving around. This is intended to be a very reflective time. When we process out to the courtyard, let us go in silence and form a circle around the cauldron.

(We play some reflective music while folks write down their sins. After about 10 minutes, one of the team members will be the first to drop his or her paper into the cauldron, just to get things started. Once everyone has finished, we quietly process to the courtyard where the stand for the cauldron will already be set up. We’ll place cauldron on the stand, set the paper on fire, and while it burns I recite the prayer below)

Let us pray. Oh merciful father, the fire we light tonight symbolizes our desire to release all of the sins that burden our hearts. We thank you and we praise you for giving us your only son who through his passion, death, and resurrection has purchased for us the reward of eternal life. Give us the courage this Lenten season and for the rest of our lives to be able to confess our failings to you in the sacrament of reconciliation. Pour fourth your grace into our souls that we may trust in your Divine Mercy, and continue throughout our lives to bring all of those things that burden our hearts to the cross. We ask this in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.



I wish all of my readers a very spiritual and prayerful Lent. Don't forget to go to mass, tomorrow as it is a Holy Day of Opportunity (Obligation.) Remember to fast.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


This year my wife and I have been blessed to be asked to sponsor a couple in through our RCIA program. It seems every year the Holy Spirit directs these new souls to us, and it is an honor we take very seriously. Our couple this year are young enough to be our own kids, and they plan to get married in June. I can't say I've gotten past feeling old by that fact. Mostly I try just not to think about it. They do remind me of how my wife and I were at their age.

One of the gifts of the Church I want to impart to them is Eucharistic Adoration. Our parish has a 24/7 adoration chapel. I've been trying to think of a way to explain the importance of this for some time. Neither of these kids come from a religious background. Her parents are a lovely couple from Fiji with a Hindu background, and I'm not really sure about his family, though he did mention at one time they went to a Jehovah's Witness church.

It strikes me that the Eucharist in the monstrance is similar to the lights in the firmament of the heavens. Consider the infinite nature of the universe. Its vastness goes beyond human comprehension. And yet, in the night sky, we see these points of light that remind us of something beyond our earth-bound existence. These stars are physical. They have substance, and we're fascinated by their existence. In our effort to understand their reason, we study them in the science of astronomy or the subjective practice of astrology. We ponder the possibility of moving away from this planet and traveling to these distant mysteries of wonder. At the same time, we recognize that while those stars are distant from our planet, our planet and those far off sources of light are all part of the oneness of the universe.

Now let's consider God. He is infinite. He transcends time, space, and sensuality. His vastness is far beyond our human comprehension, and yet in His love and mercy He wants us to know that He is there. Before Adam and Eve fell, humanity was in full communion with Him. After the fall, humanity was shrouded from experiencing God to the fullest.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

The point of light that God gave to humanity was His only son, Jesus Christ. Unlike the stars, this light is not beyond our reach. It is ever present in our fallen reality so that we may have hope for what lies beyond the thin veil separating Heaven and Earth. And this is not a concept or an opinion. It is real. Body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ are tangible. Communion with our Lord is possible in the here and now.

This is the fascination, awe, and splendor one experiences in the adoration chapel. Like a child gazing at the night sky contemplating the beauty and even adventure of it all, we come before our Lord. A simple host in a vessel of honor becomes a portal to peer into eternity where present, past and future meld into one.

And if one allows oneself to empty all the cares, worries, and distractions of the day; in the quiet of the moment one will hear the continuous conversation God carries on with His children on an individual basis. It is a whisper heard not by the ears of reason or the imagination of the mind but rather by every fiber of ones being. It is the voice of love.

I don't know if that will make any sense at all to our couple we are sponsoring, but if nothing else it should help to elevate that which is beyond full human appreciation. It also gives me the yearning to spend an hour with Our Lord in adoration.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

No Private Sin

I'm back. For those of you wondering where I've been, I have no exotic tale to tell. I simply switched ISPs and it took Comcast a few days to get to our apartment. That coupled with my usual busy life sidelined my blogging, though I did get a letter to the editor published in National Catholic Register. My wife and I also attended a Teams of Our Lady retreat which I hope to write more about in a future post.

One of the true blessings I've experienced over these last couple of weeks has been the launching of our Theology of the Body series, Created and Redeemed, which is presented by Christopher West. A small group in our parish viewed this series last Lent and felt driven to bring it to a larger audience. Being at a large parish (3,000 plus families) with only two priests and inadequate meeting spaces it took some doing to, first, get the pastor's attention; and second, find a room big enough to hold the fifty or sixty people we anticipated. In due time the Holy Spirit provided, and even gave us an extra blessing of having nearly eighty people sign up for our class.

The study of Theology of the Body juxtaposed to a couple of recent events in news is interesting. Last week we learned just how human astronauts can be when Lisa Nowak slipped into a diaper and drove 900 miles to confront someone she thought to be a potential love rival. Clearly the cheese slipped off her cracker. On a deeper level, I have no doubt the devil is reveling in the destruction of yet another hero class. Our culture or at least our mass media has come to loathe heroes. The preference seems to lean more towards tearing down the individual versus building people up. I believe astronauts were the last vestige of a class of people considered admirable.

Had Ms. Nowak understood the true purpose of her sexuality as presented by John Paul II's Theology of the Body, it's quite possible she would still have a career at NASA and more importantly an intact family. She very well may have mentally melted down in a different way. Who knows? And I must emphasize that she needs our prayers way more than she needs our judgement.

The other person in the news has been Anna Nicole Smith. By now we're probably all sick of the wall to wall coverage of her death, but I wanted to offer a couple of reflections in relation to Theology of the Body. It's a tragedy when someone dies due to a self-destructive lifestyle. There really is no other way to describe Ms. Smith's reality. I heard the coroner mention that natural causes was still a possibility as to why she died. There was nothing natural about her life. It would prove ironic if her death were ordinary.

One thing that really struck me was the fact that Theology of the Body was around and available for Ms. Smith. She simply had no one in her life to give it to her. One has to wonder about the better choices she might have made for herself had she been exposed to it. Would she have treated her sexuality as an item to be sold and consumed?

Another splash of cold water in the face was the realization of my own contribution to her demise. You see, as a younger man, I remember buying the Playboy featuring her. I remember consuming images of her. Looking at her as an object. I remember seeing the Playboy Bunny suntan on her thigh, which was Hugh Hefner's way of telling his readers that he had "done" this playmate. I bought what she had to sell. I don't know how much of the money I spent to purchase the Playboy went to her, but even one penny's worth of endorsing her choice was too much.

There is no private sin. It all matters. While I may have thought that my sin went no further than my dorm room in college the truth paints a far different picture. My solitary sin combined with those of millions of other men contributed to the destruction of another human being. Yes, Anna Nicole Smith exercised her free will, but had I and millions of others not consumed her product, would she have continued her own sin in the same way? Would she have continued to seek happiness pursing one false reality after another?

Say a prayer for her. One way we can help her reclaim some of her dignity is to first recognize that she isn't a news story, but a wounded spirit in need of the healing offered by Christ. And if you're one of those men who, like me, participated in the purchasing of Anna Nicole Smith, embrace your culpability; take it with you to the cross; confess it in the sacrament of reconciliation; and go and sin this way no more.

John Paul II, pray for us.