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, March 31, 2007

Enslaved to be Free

freedom: a : the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.

In the human heart there is perhaps no greater yearning than freedom. Humanity wants to be free. It is in its very nature. Though it does not transcend love, without freedom love cannot truly exist. Since God is love, small wonder that The Almighty included in His design of man this natural law that man must choose Him freely, and yet the great paradoxical truth remains that to attain salvation one must surrender oneself totally to Christ. We like to believe that we live in a free society; however a quick tour of the Seven Deadly Sins reveals a far different picture.

Pride gains the top spot as the ultimate enemy of freedom. This excessive belief in one's own abilities literally binds one to the matters of mortal affairs. Its chains of bondage are so strong that one can see the beauty and perfection of God's grace and yet still choose to pursue self over the divine. Case in point, how often does one avoid the sacrament of reconciliation out of pride? This awesome sacrament where Christ renews one's very soul gets put off in favor of ego, embarrassment, or denial of need. One longs to break free of sin, and pride anchors one's will to attain absolution.

Envy captures many a prisoner. Jimmy Buffet once described the way to happiness as to simply "want what you have." The culture forges the chains of envy by continuously reinforcing the notion that one never has enough. Happiness gets defined as attaining something better than what one already has, and as a result, the true blessings are discounted, shelved, and determined in need of upgrading.

Gluttony weighs one down from arising to Heaven. Historians may very well one day write that the age of enlightenment was followed by an age of consumerism. Morbid obesity simply serves as an icon to a much grander reality of fallen man in today's culture. More is better. That message permeates every corner of the human experience. More food, more money, more sex, more power; the list goes on and on.

Lust handcuffs true love. Working from the line of thought that the opposite of love is not hate but rather indifference, lust transforms the total self-donating intent of human sexuality into detached, self-serving biology. The Western culture imposes a view of this most precious gift from God as something that does not matter one way or the other so long as it gets satisfied. Yet man was designed for something so much greater as the late John Paul II beautifully expresses in his Theology of the Body.

Anger imprisons an otherwise charitable heart. Man lashes out and chooses fury over love. He opts for hatred over compassion. George Will recently wrote in an editorial that expression of indignation alone has become the culture's measure of good character. One simply has to exhibit anger about something to attain credibility. Certainly there are injustices that warrant one's ire; oppression, tyranny, senseless killing and the like. How often does one extend the desire to punish which should be reserved for more serious matters to the more mundane failings of a brother's human nature? How interesting that the word anger is derived from the Latin word angere, which means to strangle. The choice to turn the other cheek or strangle the offender plays out every day.

Greed confines generosity. While it often finds itself interwoven with envy and gluttony, this covetousness trait rejects the spiritual realm and goes after the material world above all things. Man wants wealth not because he needs it; not because of the good he can do with it; but simply because he can attain it. Humanity has the means to end starvation all over the world. It simply chooses not to do so as greed dictates.

Finally there is perhaps the cruelest tyrant of freedom, Sloth. How easy it is to simply do nothing. How tempting to just sit and watch. How alluring to employ inaction. How true that those idle hands are the Devil's workshop. Satan counts on sloth to attract souls to him. Why pray the rosary when a rerun of Friends is on TV? An unborn child is killed by abortion every two minutes, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Sloth is what keeps one from joining the fight for life. It is simply easier not to get involved. It was sloth that led to the very fall of man. While Eve took the fruit from the Devil, Adam did nothing.

The key to freedom is Jesus Christ. If one wants to taste true liberty, then one need only trust in Our Lord and totally, faithfully, and willingly give oneself away and become not His slave, but rather His bride. God so loves humanity so very much that He sent a savior to not just unlock the shackles of sin that restrict our movement to Him, but to carry the heavy weight of those chains of each and every human being all the way to the cross.

Mel Gibson created a masterpiece in his Passion of the Christ; however it was an earlier movie entitled Braveheart where his character William Wallace gave a perfect metaphor for what mankind seeks. As Wallace nears the end of his torturous death, affixed to a cross, he cries out with his last breath from the very depth of his soul, "FREEDOM!"

This Holy Week, use Wallace's battle cry against the oppression his people faced as one's own personal mantra against sin. Everyone carries the propensity for each of the seven deadly sins. Perhaps each day of this week, one can examine one's conscience regarding one of the sins and even if its just for that day, surrender the transgression to Our Lord. Go to confession this week, and when dawn breaks on Easter Sunday morning, and one discovers that the tomb is empty, rejoice and let your soul be heard in Heaven as you shout out your own, "FREEDOM!"

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Best Day of My Life

The elect of St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Beaverton Oregon made their way to the aging parish center this last Tuesday night for RCIA. For the better part of the last year they have given their Tuesday evenings to the study of what it means to be Catholic. Immediately they knew something was going to be different about this particular night's class. Gone were the round class room tables, and the chairs were arranged in a half-moon shape with a lone podium front and center. The lights were already dimmed, and sitting quietly in a chair off to the side was Father Steve, our parish's associate pastor, and a graduate of the RCIA process himself. The setting was not a total surprise as it had been announced that Father Steve would be hearing confessions this evening for those who had been baptized, but not yet confirmed into the faith. It was their first confession.

As soon as all of the class had assembled, Father led a beautiful prayer service which included several Gospel passages of Christ bestowing His forgiveness; His mercy; His healing; His love on a variety of sinners. Between each reading was a reflection designed to help everyone do their own examination of conscience. When the prayer service was completed Father quietly got up and left the class and walked across the street to the church.

Most of the class followed Father Steve over to the Church, and five, those awaiting baptism stayed behind. I had the privilege of shepherding these folks over to the parish's adoration chapel. None of them had ever been inside of it before. We gathered in the vestibule of the chapel for a moment, and I gave them a brief introduction to adoration and the proper etiquette of greeting Our Lord in the chapel. I encouraged them to reflect upon their lives, and though they would soon have all of their sins washed away in the waters of the sacrament of baptism that perhaps this evening they could bring to mind the one thing they wanted Christ's pardon for the most. This evening they could kneel before Our Lord in adoration, and thank Him for the gift of cleansing of this sin they would soon receive at the Easter Vigil.

We entered the chapel as quietly as we could as to not disturb the other worshipers, and the five dispersed to their own separate pews. I knelt down in the last row and gazed upon the host in the monstrance and prayed to Jesus that I hoped we had done right by these people this year and that He bless those whom He would soon claim as His own. I experienced the physical sensation I often experience at the consecration of the host at mass; a feeling as if a million tiny needles were lightly touching my body from within. And then a quiet thought surfaced in my consciousness. It was a simple little voice; a gift that brought tears to my eyes; a gentle, assuring whisper,"I am pleased."

I left the adoration chapel and crossed the street over to the main church. Lined up against the wall was a small contingent of our RCIA class, waiting in line a respectful distance from the Reconciliation Room. The rest of the class was sitting quietly in the pews, praying, preparing, or simply mustering the courage to get in line. Each person I saw exit the confessional had a look of bewildered happiness.

There was one scene that touched me deeply. A young lady was fighting back the tears as she got closer and closer to the front of the line. When the moment of truth came, and it was her turn to go into the Reconciliation Room, she burst into tears and her grandmother, who is sponsoring her and has been by her side at each of the classes, quickly came to her and comforted her and told her it would be okay. The young woman gathered herself and went into the confessional. Within a minute, though we could not hear what was being said, a joyous, girlish laughter erupted from within the confessional. She emerged from the room with the peace of Christ on her face and tears of joy in her eyes.

I walked back across the street to our classroom where the newly reconciled were told to go as we were planning a closing prayer once everyone was done. One by one, the members of our RCIA class came into the room and one could not help notice that they were changed. Grace was evident in their movement; their demeanor; even the tone of their voices.

I sat a couple of chairs down from a woman who is about my age, and I was trying to figure out a tactful way to ask, "So how was it?" without sounding too nosy. She was not talking to anyone, but had a very content look on her face. I leaned towards her and said, "So I guess it wasn't like you see in movies, huh?"

She looked me directly in the eye and with a beaming smile said, "Today is the best day of my life."

I wanted to respond back to her that it only gets better, or that the best is yet to come, but I decided to simply share her joy and I told her that I was happy for her. It is nights like this that inspire me to come back to RCIA year after year. Each year I am humbled by God's gift of faith that is open to all who simply open themselves up to receive. What a joy to watch the Holy Spirit in action, and what an honor to participate in the process.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

This is Not a Drill

"When I die, I want to go to Heaven."

Every person at one time or another has expressed that desire. Often times when one states this there is a slight longing in the voice like a wearied foreign traveler anticipating the trip home. Life is a journey, right? At least it is described as such. And more than that. Real hope hangs in the balance. Hope that all of this has some sort of meaning; that the suffering one day makes sense. Hope that the answers to all the questions lie just on the other side of the veil. Hope that a long lost loved one waits with open arms for one's return. Hope that a parent who died before they fully understood the complexities of one's life now finally gets it. Hope that when all of the good and the bad of one's life is measured a merciful judgment gets rendered.

"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Christ gave this direction during His Sermon on the Mount. God created perfection and expects no less from each person. Jesus did not say "Try your best to be perfect." His message was not, "Your heavenly Father will give you an 'A' for effort." He did not profess, "One day if you play your cards right you will be perfect in Heaven." He said "You must be perfect."

How could the Savior deliver such an impossible command? Human beings are decidedly imperfect. Mankind needs salvation precisely because of its reproachable nature. Yet Christ was not speaking in metaphor. This sermon was not a parable. The Word made flesh commanded that, "You must be perfect," and He meant it.

Wow! So much for hope of salvation, and yet that is exactly what Christ wants for all. Something else must be going on here.

If what Jesus said is true, then life is not a journey but rather a process of revelation and choosing. A slight shift in thinking, a looking at the world through eternal eyes, shines light on the beautiful truth that Heaven is not a place to go to some day in our future but rather an existence, a beatific vision of God to be realized and accepted in the here and now. Man's earthly experience involves a continuous decision making process of choosing which world gets his focus. In his fallen nature more often than not he chooses self.

Evidence of Heaven in the here and now is found in the Catholic mass. In that perfect moment when all barriers between the two realities dissolve and the priest consecrates the host to make present the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, Heaven is upon the Earth. And even here a choice must be made; a perfect choice. The faithful are called to look upon the Eucharist and say, "My Lord and my God." That is an act of being perfect.

The saints seemed to have a near untrammeled view of Heaven while they lived upon the earth. Their life choices were not based on future reward but rather on bringing the heavenly reality into the present through the example of their own behavior. Some were so totally focused on the true reality that they even seemed to be free of the bounds of the physical world. St Padre Pio, St. Anthony, and several others were able to bi locate. How many of the saints' bodies remain uncorrupted? Even death could not destroy their beauty.

Perhaps instead of wishing we go to Heaven after death we should be saying,

"I hope I realize Heaven, today."

Friday, March 09, 2007

Prophets of the Green God

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.
– 2 Peter:2:1

One of Satan’s best tools in his bag of tricks is the feat of distraction. Now there are many distractions that turn people away from Christ and not all of them reside with the evil one as their point of origin. God gifted humanity with free will. Often times people simply choose of their own accord to move in opposition of good to achieve a self-serving means with no assistance from the devil.

Interesting phenomena to observe are the global distractions in thought that make their way into the mainstream to the point of normalcy. Here, one could posit a diabolic influence. For example, homosexuality has been around since the earliest recorded history; however, it has only been within the last century that it was considered a mainstream way of identifying a class of people. Before a person’s sexual proclivities were just that and nothing more.

Now this is not intended to be a treatise on the goods or evils of same sex attraction. Something influenced humanity to turn its attention and give credence to this existence. What was it? Some will argue that man simply became enlightened; however, this was not a new thing by any stretch of the imagination so it is difficult to understand what was suddenly being imbued with the light of this alleged truth that being gay merited defined benefit within a society. When one considers the terrible consequences of a deconstructed norm of sacramental marriage, then one must consider who would have the biggest motive to see such a change happen.

The latest distraction away from the Divine is the heated debate of global warming. It has become the religion of the elite and every day the mainstream media evangelizes the secular faithful on the manner in which they should conduct themselves and the mores they should possess in order to be true to the goddess, Mother Earth. A glorified PowerPoint presentation narrated by an embittered former Vice President of the United States has become the sacred scripture of this next level of humanity’s self importance. Instead of a golden calf, this cult has an Oscar as its idol of legitimacy. Those who dispute the religion are considered heretical, and while prayer to God is not allowed in public education, the religion of global warming now indoctrinates young minds in the elementary school. An inconvenient truth indeed.

True, protecting the environment is a duty of mankind as God did give humans dominion over the planet. No gift of His should be wantonly wasted. What is disconcerting is the total lack of faith in this argument. The prophets of global warming speak with unshakeable certainty that not only is mankind its cause, but only mankind has the power to affect any real change. It is egocentrism on a global societal scale. This total reliance upon self harkens back to those famous words spoken to Eve:

"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."

This is the genius of Satan. He distracts humanity to the point that it no longer desires God and misleads it into believing that it has the power of God over that which God alone created.

The Devil Wears Prada? No. The Devil wears green.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

"I do."

One of the joys of faith is the realization that God not only loves us, but is head-over-heels in love with us. There is an inescapable element of romantic love in our relationship with the Almighty that easily gets overlooked. This is not surprising. After all, one prays Our Father who art in Heaven not Our Lover.

And yet sacred scripture is replete with dozens of references to a spousal relationship between God and us, His people. The Bible begins in Genesis with a wedding between Adam and Eve and concludes in Revelations with a wedding between Christ and His Church. In between there are dozens of references to God’s description of this nuptial relationship He wants with us. There is passion, affection, jealousy, heartache, and above all, love, as God speaks of His people. God even courts us like a lover. The Song of Songs is perhaps the most beautiful love letter ever composed.

In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II picks up on this reality when he describes earthly marriage as an icon to the relationship we will one day enjoy with Christ. The late Holy Father goes so far as to say that the sacrament of marriage points to all other sacraments in the Church.

An examination of the sacraments in the light of a marital relationship where Christ is the bridegroom and we are His bride reveals much. First there is baptism, each person’s betrothal to Christ. This is not just any engagement in the modern day sense where the man gives the woman a ring and then pretty much does as he is told as she plans the event. This is closer to the ancient Hebrew custom where a suitor approached the father of the woman he wished to marry, and then spent a significant amount of time building a suitable place for them to live before she joined him. This is why it would have been so scandalous for Joseph to have divorced Mary when he discovered she was with child. A formal, solemn, and binding agreement had already been made between Joseph and Mary’s father.

Christ our suitor approaches God on our behalf, and in baptism the indelible mark that is placed upon our soul shows that we have been claimed by Our Lord. That mark is the engagement ring of our soul. During an engagement, the bride prepares herself for the wedding. The washing away of original sin in baptism is part of our preparation for the wedding feast of the Lamb we read about in Revelations. What engagement would be complete without a bridal shower? In baptism one experiences a literal splash in the holy water that serves as a conduit for the grace that cleanses us of original sin. And no bridal shower worth its salt is complete without an imparting of the gifts to the bride to be. At baptism, we the brides are indeed given the most precious gifts of the Holy Spirit.

At confirmation, the bride’s professions of faith are a kind of wedding vow she gives to Christ. Those solemn promises of belief in the Trinity; the Immaculate Conception; the virginal birth of Jesus; Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection; His ascension into Heaven; the acknowledgment of one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; and a belief in eternal life are each person’s way of stating an intent to live as a spouse of Christ. This vow is renewed each and every time one recites the creed at mass, and at confirmation we in a sense give Christ this gift of our profession of faith and in return Christ gives us the grace to strengthen the gifts of the Holy Spirit we received in baptism.

With the wedding complete, now it’s time to give attention to the honeymoon where love is physically consummated. In marriage, the husband gives himself to his wife who receives him and gives herself back to him. The term “making love” has been devalued in the culture to reference a polite way of saying “having sex,” and it has lost perhaps its most important procreative meaning. One should approach the marital act with as much care and dignity as one approaches receiving Christ in Eucharist. This intimate, total, and faithful exchange of self is God’s means for creation and expression of spousal love. The logical result of the marital embrace is the conception of new life either in the form of a new human being or even in the couple renewing of their own life in Christ. Often times it is both.

Like a lover, Christ wants to join with us on a physical level; not in humanity’s fallen view of a selfish sexual encounter, but rather in a way that completely transcends momentary pleasure. Christ gives His body in the Eucharist as a real and physical means to consummate our relationship with Him. One should approach receiving communion with as much care, preparation, consideration, and dignity as one approaches one’s spouse in the marital act. Christ gives His body, blood, soul, and divinity to us. We receive it and give ourselves totally back to Him. The logical result of this encounter with Our Lord is the conception of new spiritual life within us, His bride.

Now all husbands and wives will admit that they have had their share of rough patches. Nearly all relationship problems within a marriage happen when one or both spouses abandon the self-donation design of marriage in favor of self-absorption. Praise be to God that He is the perfect spouse; however, we are not. The Old Testament book of Hosea comes to mind here. We sin. Yet like a loving spouse, Christ forgives us and provides a place for a renewal of our relationship with Him. It’s called the sacrament of reconciliation. It is a sacrament that offers us the means to come back into communion with our Lord so we can again join with Him in the sacrament of Eucharist.

The wedding vows include a statement of commitment for the couple to love each other in sickness and in health. When we are gravely ill, our Lord wants to be with us to lend comfort, healing, and encouragement and He has given us the sacrament of the anointing of the sick. This sacrament not only cleanses us of sin, but in a certain sense polishes the wedding ring on our soul as we begin our journey from this life into the next and prepare to meet Our Lord face to face.

The sacrament of marriage is the earthly living out of the five sacraments mentioned above. Each spouse in the relationship lives as St. Paul directs in Ephesians 5:21, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The man takes on the responsibility of loving his wife as Christ loves His Church, and the woman agrees to receive that love and return it to her husband. It is mutual subjectivity, and it is intended to prefigure the relationship we will, by the grace of God, have with Our Lord in Heaven.

Finally, we have the sacrament of Holy Orders. A select few are called by God to live as close to that Heavenly marriage as possible. They are not called because they have attained some great achievement or because they are extraordinarily holy. They are simply called, and they have the grace to answer yes to Our Lord’s bidding. They certainly grow in holiness and in ordination experience the ontological change that conforms their hearts to Christ, but they are still subject to the same temptations and they are still imperfect spouses to our Lord like the rest of us.

Revelations 19:7-9

Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to be clothed with fine linen, bright and
pure" -- for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb." And he said to me, "These are true words of God."

This is the destination of our eternal journey. We are all invited to the wedding feast. Christ did not just get down on one knee and ask for our hand in marriage. He got upon the cross, stretched out his hands between Heaven and Earth and proclaimed his undying love. The only question is will we accept His proposal. Will we say “I do?”