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.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Not Right Now

It's a common scene that plays out in nearly every marriage. The husband approaches the wife in bed for intimate relations and she dismisses the advance with an excuse of "It's too late;" "I'm too tired;" "Maybe later;" or the most famous "Not right now, I have a headache." The rejected spouse turns away disappointed, confused, frustrated, and maybe even a bit angry at the summary dismissal he just experienced. The wife feels bad that she has hurt her husband. What was intended to be unifying quickly devolves into self-absorption, which becomes a near occasion for sin. Rejection by one's spouse often serves as the catalyst to sins of the flesh like self-pleasure, pornography, and even extra-marital affairs.

Self-donation defines what the marital union should be for Catholics. Pope John Paul II described it as bi-subjectivity in his Theology of the Body. He exhorts Paul's teaching in Ephesians 5 that husbands should love their wives as Christ loves His Church; to give all of himself to her and even die for her; and that wives should receive that love and return it to their husbands. And while that looks good on paper, living it can be a far bigger cross, especially if both spouses are not on board with the program.

How many husbands view their wives as outlets for their lust? How many wives know this, and use the above mentioned excuses to preserve their dignity? It is a constant battle in man's fallen and unredeemed view of sexuality. With such a mindset living the Catholic ideal of not refusing the advances of one's spouse seems almost Pollyannish.

Yet marriage is supposed to be an icon for our union with God at the wedding feast of the Lamb in Heaven. The marital union is supposed to be a free, total, faithful and fruitful exchange of self with one's spouse. Where can one turn to learn how to live this reality without perverting its true meaning?

Christ in His mercy and love gave us the ultimate, tangible example. Every day He approaches us with His body, blood, soul and divinity in the most holy Eucharist. How often do we, His bride, tell our Lord in the same offhanded manner that the wife rejects her husband in bed, "I don't have time to go to mass, today;" "I'm too tired;" "I'll come to you on Sunday as is required." Our Lord yearns to physically be with us, every day. He desires to give His very essence to us in communion, and so often we summarily dismiss Him. Christ doesn't come to us to take from us what He can get as does the lustful husband, but rather Our Lord offers Himself in that free, total, faithful, and fruitful way and asks that we simply be receptive to receiving Him and to give ourselves back to Him in return.

When we give Christ our "Not right now" excuse, He doesn't abandon us. He doesn't withdraw His love or seek that love He so desires from another source. He doesn't go off and pout or whine. Instead he looks down upon us from the cross and mercifully exclaims,

"Forgive them father, they know not what they do."

My brothers in Christ, treat your wives as Christ treats you His bride. Approach her not to use her as an object of sexual consumerism, but rather with a sincere gift of self-donation, and if she rejects you, unite your suffering to His. Jesus knows what it feels like to want to give all of Himself to His bride only to be brushed aside as an annoying inconvenience or imposition. Hold your wife and silently pray that she will accept you tomorrow. Don't begrudge her. Love her as Christ loves both of you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Praying Like You're Feeling

I've been doing a lot of praying lately and not as much writing. Prayer can sometimes be a tricky thing. So often I try to find those perfect moments for prayer; those times when I can really focus on deep contemplation. And more often than not, life gets in the way. Work, church activities, friends, and the more mundane everyday obligations are all worthy of my time; however, they also leave me short of energy to spend quality time with Our Lord. Or so I thought.

Recently I read an article by Father Rich Rolheiser entitled Even When I Don't Feel Like It where he gives a good discussion on a better view and use of prayer. It has been one of those rare articles that has really caused a shift in my thinking and practice.

See if this sounds familiar. I kneel down to pray an Our Father, a Hail Mary, and a Glory Be, and while I speak the words my mind is really concerned with something else. The prayers become dry and uninspiring. Oh I try to put as much piety into the process as I can. I might even speak each word of the prayer with reverence; and I desperately try to repress the distraction in my mind, but still I'm left less than satisfied.

One of the challenges I have in my own marriage is that I sometimes spend too much time figuring out what my wife wants to hear versus sharing the authentic reality of the situation. Maybe I don't want her feelings to be hurt. Maybe I don't want her to be unhappy. Maybe I don't want her to be angry. And, yes, a lot of times I'm trying to cover my own behind for something insensitive or simply stupid that I have done.

How often do I pray to God words I think He wants to hear instead of praying the reality of my current state of affairs? I lift up my mind and heart to God with thoughts and feelings that are not my own but rather the thoughts and feelings I believe He wants me to have. Do I really believe that I'm fooling God? He knows my heart. He knows my mind. Why would I share how I wish they were versus how they really are?

As I pondered these questions the same answer kept rising to the surface. Pride. My foolish pride serves as a barrier between me and Our Lord. It is perhaps the biggest exercise in hypocrisy I do, and perhaps even the most offensive thing I do against Christ. For instead of giving my real self to Him in prayer, I give Him a gussied up facsimile.

Now I work on praying what I am feeling. If I am bored, I pray boredom. If I am angry, I pray that anger. If I am anxious, I share that anxiety. And if I am lustful, I offer that lust. If I am tired, I rest my head on His shoulder. Every feeling, even the negative ones, are portals into prayer. Since I have begun doing this, my prayer life has increased as now I'm not waiting for the perfect time for prayer, but rather praying at any given moment.

As Father Rolheiser writes:
"That's why the Psalms are so apt for prayer and why the Church has chosen them as the basis for so much of its liturgical prayer. The run the whole gamut of feeling, from praising God with our every breath to wishing to bash our enemies' heads against a stone. From praise to murder with everything in between!"

The good news for all to remember is that God takes us as we are. Redemption is the antidote for our fallen imperfections. It is these very imperfections we must offer Christ to redeem, and we can only do that if we give to Our Lord our true selves, not the self we wish we were.

(You can read more of Father Rolheiser's works at

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A Scheduled Miracle

Miracles happen. Hardly anyone disputes that. Oh, the occasional cynic will posit that there are no miracles only unexplained phenomena that one day man might figure out, but on the whole the belief in miracles seems universal. Nearly everyone has at least heard of some extraordinary event that seems to have a divine origin. Miracles are a reality of our human experience.

Sometimes these miracles are spectacular. On August 6th, 1945, a B-29 bomber, named the Enola Gay after the pilot’s mother, dropped the first atomic bomb ever unleashed on humanity on Hiroshima, Japan. The bomb was named “Little Boy” and it exploded about 600 meters above the city. The Aioi Bridge was the intended target, but the bomb drifted by about 250 meters and instead detonated directly over the Shima Hospital which was instantly vaporized by the 4,000 degree centigrade heat of the weapon. Some 80,000 people died within hours, mostly from agonizing third and fourth degree burns. Another 400,000 would parish in the weeks and months that followed either from the injuries they sustained at the time of the blast or from gamma radiation poisoning. This was not an easy death.

Eight blocks from the Shima Hospital was the Jesuit Church of Our Lady’s Assumption, where eight missionary priests resided. Miraculously, they and their church survived the blast and they suffered no ill effects from the radiation. Scientists and doctors have not been able to explain why they were not killed. The priests attributed their survival to their devotion to Our Lady and their daily practice of praying the Fatima rosary. This miracle was repeated a few days later when the priests and brothers of a Franciscan Friary established by St. Maximilian Kolbe were spared the harmful effects of radiation from the atomic bomb that fell on Nagasaki. They, too, credited their survival to the protection of Our Lady and their devotion to the rosary.

Nine days later on August 15, 1945, the Feast of Our Lady’s Assumption, President Truman ordered U.S. forces to cease fire.

Fast forward to December 26th, 2004. In the Indian city of Chennai, the second cathedral ever constructed over an apostle’s tomb called the Santhome Cathedral in honor of its patron, St. Thomas, was in the path of the devastating tsunami that struck the region and killed thousands. The cathedral sits only a few meters from the ocean and while buildings and homes were destroyed all around the cathedral and a half-mile inland, the sea did not touch the church. The pastor of the Cathedral credits the intercession of St. Thomas.

Legend has it that when Thomas was in the region before his death in AD 72, a giant log fell into a nearby river and caused flooding in a small village. The local king offered his royal elephant to help remove the log, but the pachyderm was unable to move it. St. Thomas came along, removed his girdle from his waist and handed it to a man and told him to wrap it around the log and pull. Miraculously, the log easily moved and flood waters subsided from the village. Later, Thomas used part of the log to create a post. The story goes that Thomas stated that “the sea would never rise past this post.” Today, and on the day of the tsunami, a portion of that post sits atop a concrete pedestal at the top of the steps leading to Santhome Cathedral.

Moving closer to home; my wife and I recently had an encounter with a miracle that we attribute to someone who is not yet an official saint. A few months ago, we were honored to become godparents to the infant daughter of a young couple who went through the RCIA program that we help out with at our parish. The baby was born healthy; however, not long after doctors discovered that one her legs had not formed properly. It was twisted in an odd angle and the doctors told the baby’s mother that surgery would be the only option. At the urging of a friend, Mom began asking Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa, who was a Carmelite sister in Mexico in the 1920s and endured the religions persecution that was common in Mexico at that time, to intercede on behalf of her daughter. Last week, our goddaughter’s mother called to tell us that her daughter’s leg straightened out. She took her daughter to the doctor, and he confirmed that the baby’s leg was now perfectly normal, and that no surgery was needed.

Yes, miracles do happen. They serve as reminders of the love our God has for us. One of the things that make them so special is their unexpected nature. We are in awe of the times when it seems that Our Lord has gone the extra mile for us. Yet as fantastic as the miracles described above may prove, how ironic that the most tremendous miracle; the one that exceeds all others in grandeur and beauty; this miracle of miracles remains completely and utterly predictable. We know when it is going to happen. We plan and prepare ourselves for it.

“Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” - Matthew 26:26-28

This greatest of all miracles which so often gets pushed to the ordinary resides in the Holy Mass of the Catholic Church. When the priest consecrates the simple bread and wine and it becomes the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ, no other miracle can compare. Every hour of every day somewhere in the world it happens again and again. Christ communes with His people in the flesh.

If one has taken Christ into one’s heart, then the wondrous miracles that sometimes manifest themselves in one’s life are in a sense passé. If Christ can make Himself truly present in the Eucharist, then why should anyone be surprised by what else God can do out of love for His children? Of course God can deflect a nuclear blast. Of course God can hold back the ocean. Of course God can heal an infant’s malformed leg.

How merciful and patient our Lord is with His children who view the mass as a Sunday obligation to be gotten over with; who entertain distraction during the most important part of the mass; who complain about the choir singing an extra verse of the closing hymn because they want to get to coffee and doughnuts sooner. They seek the Lord in the extraordinary events that happen in the world completely overlooking the supernatural wonder that just took place in front of their very eyes.

The Lord simply shrugs His shoulders and maybe thinks to Himself, “You missed it that time? That’s okay; I’ll show you again, and again, and again.”

It happens at the same time every day or every Sunday.

This scheduled miracle.
This ultimate gift of love.
This Holy Eucharist.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Inventing Good

Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities!
All things are vanity!

- Eccl 1:2

King David's son, Qoheleth used this superlative to express the futility of the material world. Of course it probably was not actually the King's son who wrote this, but his name was invoked to give the book Ecclesiastes credibility, which was a perfectly acceptable practice in ancient Hebrew writing. The wisdom of this simple statement seems lost on twenty-first century man. Written 2,200 to 2,300 years ago Qoheleth utters near perfect prophecy for today.

Imagine for a moment that man's technological and scientific advancement suddenly came to a screeching halt. It is not that anything achieved to date would disappear, but rather that our quest for human-inspired perfection simply stopped. From this moment forward, there would be no new releases of Windows or Apple's operating system. Computers would get no faster. The cell phone would get no smaller. Cars would get no more fuel efficient. Man would not return to the moon. The iPod would hold no more gigabytes. HDTV would be as good as it ever got along with the 500-plus channels one could view. There would be no cure for cancer, AIDS, Parkinson's Disease or any other ailment whose mystery has not already been unraveled. What man has today, which is far more than any of his ancestors ever enjoyed and then some, would be what he would have tomorrow, but no more.

How would humanity's thought shift? If he could no longer improve his material external world, would he not be inspired to look upon the interior and spiritual realm? The lie of the age of the Enlightenment which brought about our age of rationalized, empirical thinking, is that man can figure out his world on his own. He only need devote more time, research, data-mining, and experimentation to achieve the ever-illusive peace of mind that always seems to remain hidden in the unknown. And all the while he forgets that he is a mortal being created by a divine, higher power. Modern man grows his own tree of knowledge and partakes of its fruit and deludes himself into believing that he can be like God. With such a mindset, the Creator becomes secondary.

Man's ability to embrace science is a gift from God. Advancement in technology is good only if it is done for the glory of God's creation. The Internet can be used to spread the Gospel or spread pornography. What is a better use of the medical mind, curing cancer in children or solving erectile dysfunction in men? Does man spend billions of dollars ending hunger in the world or does he devote his time and resources to creating a better tasting dog food? Is luring consumers to the ultimate coffee drinking experience more important than inspiring people to shelter the homeless.

At what point, if ever, will man take a break, step back, and ask, "What has all of our invention really accomplished for our species?"

One answer that seems unlikely, today, is "It brought us closer to God."

And yet, that is the very purpose of the creative, inventive, unique, problem-solving, aptitude of the human brain. The Almighty gave man this gift of reason to deal with a fallen world. The gift was not given to perpetuate its fallen nature or make it worse. To use intelligence for any other purpose is to live Qoheleth's statement of vanity.

The last word, when all is heard: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is man's all; because God will bring to judgment every work, with all its hidden qualities, whether good or bad.
Eccl 12:13-14
Let man strive for good.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Staying Up With Jesus

It’s just about 1:30am on Good Friday morning. My wife is fast asleep as anyone with good sense ought to be at this time of day. I’m in the midst of my own private devotion, which by publishing this blog suddenly becomes very public. What I am about to present I do so not to boast, but rather to simply share a spiritual exercise I’ve begun over these last few years.

You see in fewer than two hours, Christ’s passion will begin. In an inadequate attempt to align myself with His suffering I’ve decided to try to stay awake with Him until he breaths his final breath at 3pm. He has given me more than I can ever measure, and I simply want to give Him some good company in these final hours. I simply want sit alone in the quiet with Him. How terribly alone He must have felt in these wee hours of the morning of His execution. He knew the suffering he would soon endure.

I’m also keenly aware of my own role His agony. As he prostrated Himself in Gethsemane and prayed to His father, it was all of the sins of humanity that nearly crushed him, including my own. Peter denied Him three times. How many times have I done the very same? So many times I simply have not made time for Christ. I’m so busy with work or so lazy with TV. So many times have I had the opportunity to defend the faith, but remained silent out of fear or weariness from the battle. Those are denials of Our Lord.

I simply feel like I owe Him something more than just going to the Easter Triduum services. I desire to give something more. The only thing I know I can give to my savior is me, my love and my time. These next fourteen hours are His. I don’t know if I’ll stay awake the whole time. My spirit is willing; however my flesh is weak. I may physically simply be unable to complete this, but I have to try. I want to give Jesus as much as I humanly can.

I have no expectations of rewards or extra blessings. I know He doesn’t expect this of me. It’s doubtful that this will buy me any less time in purgatory. The best way I can describe this drive is that Christ is my friend in need, and I want to be there for Him. I want Him to know I’m not a fair weather friend. He gave His life for me. There’s no greater love than that. He gave me the opportunity to enjoy eternal happiness with Him. Why can’t I give up a few hours of my sleep for Him? Just a few extra hours of prayer when I would normally be in peaceful slumber. I want to do this for Him.

At 3am, I’ll pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and then I’ll pop in my DVD of The Passion of the Christ. Perhaps reliving His suffering will buoy my heavy eyelids. I won’t make coffee until later in the morning. I want this staying awake all night thing to be my will versus a good caffeine buzz. I’ll fast and pray and continue to look forward to the Easter Vigil when the couple we’re sponsoring gets baptized into the faith. Part of my offering this early morning is for their journey, too.

I’m sure I’ll sleep well, tonight.