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.

Friday, June 29, 2007

iPod or iGod?

No doubt that one of the most successful products to ever hit the economy has been Apple's iPod. More than one hundred million of the units in their various configurations have been sold world-wide, and that number continues to grow nearly exponentially. The product encapsulates so many of its target audience's needs. It is compact; not overly expensive though not cheap; and it has the gee-whiz factor of being able to hold so much music, video, and data in the palm of one's hand.

One other feature of Apple's cash cow that has made it successful perhaps lies in the fact that the iPod represents a microcosm of the culture. For this little, slim, plastic rectangle empowers one to choose, on demand, with great precision what one really wants. It feeds upon society's insatiable hunger for personal choice. This appetite for freedom from anything the least bit undesirable has enslaved America to the same parasitic philosophy of secular humanism that has infected Western Europe.

Satan ever repeats the most miserable words ever uttered by any being. He repeats over and over, "I am my own. I am my own."
- Victorian writer George McDonald

The Devil subtly whispers this mantra into the hearts of man. When in history has mankind so distorted the meaning of freedom? The word now has become a social entitlement to give license to do anything one desires. In such an environment community loses its priority in daily life. In many ways, community evaporates and what fills the void are multiple, individualistic, egocentric lives who shroud themselves in solitude. Side by side they are laws unto themselves. The iPod becomes the "Do no disturb" sign as they make their own way.

The irony is that man truly longs for communion. God seems to have built into humanity's very nature a yearning to be part of something greater than oneself, and it gets manifested in the most interesting ways. The Portland Trail Blazers, the city's NBA franchise, lucked out and got this year's number one pick in the draft. A seven-foot-tall center from Ohio State named Greg Oden was selected. To see the city of Portland's citizens response, one might have thought the Messiah had returned. People poured into the Rose Garden arena where the team plays to watch the draft on giant-screen TVs. When the NBA Commissioner announced that the Trail Blazers had selected Oden, fans stormed the basketball court as if they had won the championship game. The next day, a hero's welcome greeted this young man who will soon join the ranks of multi-millionaire sports superstars.

No doubt that Mr. Oden possesses supreme basketball skills, but what were the fans really doing? They have faith and hope that Oden has the power to carry the team to glory. The fans united in common cause to express that hope and that faith. For a few moments they were part of something bigger than themselves, but like all false religions, the sense of realness soon faded back to reality, and the fans returned to their solitary lives to wait and see if a winning season might unite them again. Greg Oden has no power other than the ability to perhaps make thousands of fans feel like they are part of something special. But that something is really just a marketing ploy to sell more tickets and merchandise.

As America drifts further and further away from Christian thought and as Independence Day approaches, the hard question has to be asked,

"What exactly is this freedom we celebrate?"

The nation's founding fathers knew that a better way could be found apart from the oppression of British rule. They knew that the ability to praise God in the church of one's choice was an inalienable right; however, no indication from their writings or the American tradition indicates that the freedom they sought extended to creating a state governed not by laws, but by relativism.

A reading of the Declaration of Independence reveals that God is mentioned twice, once in the first sentence and then again as He is referred to as Divine Providence in the last. In between are definitive statements of how the British monarchy has distorted its execution of the law, but nowhere do the founding fathers express a desire to be free of that law. They simply want a just application of it for themselves. There was no call for the protection of individualism or secularism. It was a cry for the protection of community under the mantle of God.

That cry is barely audible in today's American culture. Around the world, young men and women fight and die for an ideal of what America used to be and what America could still be versus what she really is, today. Consumerism trumps patriotism. Egocentrism overwhelms theology. And the American dawns his iPod in forced retreat into a world of music or talk that forms a protective pod from the reality that the stranger standing next to him is not his brother.

Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God.
1 Peter 2:13-16

America has forgotten that living as a free people means living as a servant to God. She has indeed chosen by her own free will to serve herself which has become the pretext for the evil that plagues the culture. This Fourth of July, let freedom, a true freedom ring across the land and let every American bow to their Creator; ask for His forgiveness; rejoice in Our Savior; and embark upon a rekindling of the American spirit based upon the principals and ideals our forefathers intended.

A littles less pod...a lot more God. That defines the path to America's salvation. May she find the wisdom and courage to take it.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Land of the Free, Home of the Worried

America does not sleep well.

There may be no other country on the planet that lives in such a perpetual state of fear as these United States. Since September 11th, the ever present heartbeat of terrorism softy yet ominously beats in her ears. In a macabre way, many awake every morning with the voice in the back of their minds whispering the question, “Is today the day we get hit again?” Helpless to do anything about the plans of the terrorist, they pour their first cup of coffee and get on with the day. There are plenty of other things to worry about.

The weatherman says the temperature today will be higher or lower than normal. In addition to the possibility that one might get blown up on the way to the office, another nagging voice reminds the American that the world is getting warmer and nothing good can possibly come of that, right? No doubt the fact that today’s weather is slightly off average clearly indicates that disaster must be just around the corner, although what exactly that disaster really consists of has hardly been defined. The elite just want one to know that Mother Earth is as mad as hell and is not going to take it anymore. But what can one really do about global warming? The American sighs. There is much more to worry about.

The war continues to go badly according to Matt Lauer and his band of brothers and sisters in the news media intent on stopping a war the way Walter Cronkite was credited with during the Vietnam era. America has grown weary of her sons and daughters dying in a foreign land, though she has not seemed to tire of killing her unborn citizens at a rate of over a million per year. A woman’s right to choose to kill the child in her womb seems to take priority over a young man’s right to choose to sacrifice his life in his effort to save said woman from those evil doers who would kill her for no other reason than she exists; which in many cases is the exact reason she chooses to kill her own child. It exists, and she doesn’t want it. The American flips off the tube and goes to work. There is much more to worry about.

On the way to the job the American stops at a Starbucks for a cup of coffee that costs slightly more than a gallon of gas, but comes only in a twelve ounce cup. A price increase at the coffee shop is met with a shrug while a hike at the gas pump gets regaled with calls for Congressional oversight. Oil companies are damned for making obscene profits on a volatile commodity while the caffeine pushers get a free pass. Perhaps if the gas station put a quasi-socially conscious message on their receipts the same way Starbucks does on their coffee cups, the American would not feel so bad paying so much. The tank topped off and the liquid upper in cup in hand, the American moves on. There is much more to worry about.

The reporter on the radio announces what should be the obvious reality that rush hour traffic is moving slowly, and one now has to worry about being late for the job. It’s another worry for the American. Being late could be perceived as a sign of irresponsible character which in today’s unstable workplace could mean the difference between employment and becoming a consultant who is keeping options open. The paycheck is far better with the former. Anxiously, the American bobs and weaves in a poorly choreographed ballet of cars, but eventually, the American gives in to the futility of the dance and accepts the crawling pace of things. There is still more to worry about.

One could not justly speak of American worries without bringing up the issue of sex. For many it presents a constant challenge. Is one getting enough? No. Why not? The American cannot figure out why so the search for more continues. The songs on the radio say it’s out there. The ads on the billboards show that it’s out there. The television program watched the night before portray that it’s out there, and yet America seems convinced that a fair share has not been distributed and one has received the smaller slice. A sense of lacking invades the American’s sub-conscience. Yes, there are more important things to worry about; however, this one thing seems to garner an overabundance of apprehension which often leads to poor decision making resulting in even more worries. “Did I get used last night?” “Was she really on birth control?” “Does this mean we’re in love?” Indeed, many, many things to struggle with surrounding sex.

The one big worry that most Americans fail to address, largely because they really do not know how, is what to do about God? Perhaps they fail to find Him because they do treat Him as a worry, and not as a loving Creator and Father. They worry over His existence. They worry over His rules and regulations. They really worry over His right to judge. Yet the American fails to embrace the reality that God is love, not worry. God is that loving whisper heard most profoundly in the silence of the heart that continuously gets drowned out by the noise of our worried lives.

In only the American could stop and realize that God knew one would fret over daily life so He sent His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, to take on all worries. He came to propose a way to live worry free. The American need only accept His proposal. And with that acceptance, the terrorist becomes powerless; global warming becomes secondary; war becomes unnecessary; life becomes supreme; Starbucks becomes a drain on charity; work becomes less personally consuming; and sex becomes more purposeful, meaningful, and infinitely more beautiful.

An American President once assured the country with a stalwart statement;

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Perhaps the next time the American pulls out that twenty dollar bill to pay for his prescription co-pay to cover the cost of the monthly supply of Lunesta; or maybe before she plops down a five-spot to pay for a martini to calm her anxiety, the citizen will notice a simple message that provides the antidote for the poison of worry in the American’s heart. It’s written right on the currency.

“In God We Trust.”

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The Hindu and the Homie

Of the nearly 400 people who came to mass at St. Cecilia's Catholic Church in Beaverton, Oregon, this last Saturday afternoon only a dozen were Catholic. And while there were a few Christians of Protestant denominations present, the vast majority of the congregation on this particular day were Hindu from India and Fiji. They had gathered together in a foreign church with awkward customs and difficult beliefs in order to bear witness to the marriage of one of their own, a beautiful young woman who will turn twenty-one in December. The women were dressed in colorful saris and many bore ornate, traditional, temporary henna tattoos that they received at the bride's mehendi party the previous evening.

The twenty-two-year-old groom's side was less well represented. Though of Hispanic origin, their Catholic roots did not run very deep. Dad was a lapsed Catholic and Mom had left the faith to witness for Jehovah for a period of time, but was now largely non-committed to any denomination. The predominant faith that seemed to stand out were the groomsmen who were as near as one could tell, wanna-be-gangsters, though none looked hardened by a life of crime but rather fashioned by an overdose of MTV and MySpace.

So how on Earth did a Hindu and a Homie ever get together to get married in the Catholic Church? The answer lies with the Divine. About a year ago, the couple, after dating for a little over a year, decided it was time to get married. They were inspired that they wanted to get married in a church. After checking out several Protestant churches, they discovered St. Cecilia's, which is a traditional-looking house of worship. In order to get married in the Church they would of course have to become Catholic, which led them to the parish's RCIA program, which in turn led them into the lives of my wife and me.

Over the last year we have come to know and love this couple. They're young, blissfully ignorant and in some ways remind us of how we were when we were their age. Both of their families openly disapproved of the relationship, and each experienced an unhealthy dose of passive aggression. That may have been what caused them to adopt us as their Godparents. We were interested in them as a couple without all the baggage. We were a kind of safe harbor lit by the light of Christ for them to go to as they weathered the storms of their respective families.

It was a challenging year with them. They missed many RCIA classes so the catechesis was done more on a one-on-one basis. We addressed the whole sexual relationship thing by getting them into Christopher West's, Created and Redeemed series on John Paul II's Theology of the Body. We offered them our love, advice, and good amount of prayer. We worried about them; stressed over them; coached them; scolded them; laughed with them; and most of all simply accepted them into our hearts where we pray Christ dwells. We both were misty-eyed when they were baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil, and have been heartened by their continuing to go to mass on Sunday's.

Yesterday, we watched them confer the sacrament of marriage upon each other. In front of several hundred non-believers, who are an extraordinarily loving people in their own right; in front of their parents who raised them differently; they stepped out of communion with all of them and reaffirmed their communion with the mystical body of Christ. I admire their sand for standing for their newly formed faith, and I greatly admire how they continued to show all due respect to their families, and how in the end, their families respected them.

My prayer is that Christ will continue to prevail in the hearts of this young couple. They have many challenges ahead of them, and while yesterday was a culmination of sorts of year's worth of ministry by my wife and me, I know that the Holy Spirit played the biggest role in bringing them together and will guide them as they continue their realization of this awesome Christ mystery.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

New and Improved 4x4 Meme

To be candid, I'm not really sure what the heck a meme really is (it looks like a typo to me), but my sister, Catholic Mom, tagged me for this, today.

Here are the rules: Share four things that were new to you in the past four years; four things you learned or experienced or explored for the first time in the past four years. Then share four things you want to try new in the next four years.

Four things that were new:

1. Travel to Italy. If my faith needed any cementing, it received a heaping glob of it. Being within inches of Pope Benedict; experiencing the Vatican; praying before John Paul II's tomb; touching the tomb of St. Francis and St. Anthony; immersing myself in a new culture; and oh yes, the wonderful wine. As Jews long for Israel and Muslims trek to Mecca, all Catholics need to go to Rome.

2. Lectio Divina. Opening my heart to hearing the voice of God.

3. Theology of the Body. My study of this has reformed/redeemed my entire outlook on who I am as a human being and what the true purpose of sex really is.

4. Being best man in a wedding. Thanks Chris. I was so honored to serve.

Four things I want to do in the next four years:

1. Go back to Europe and maybe visit Poland to see the stomping grounds of John Paul II, St. Faustina, and Maximilian Kolbe.

2. To deacon or not to deacon...that is the question.

3. Buy a house in impossibly expensive Oregon.

4. Celebrate 20 years of being with my wife, Kathy, in a big, audacious way.

I tag four writers of way more talent than me:


Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hooked on a Feeling

There exists a tendency in every faith journey to look to Our Lord more fervently in times of great distress and less audaciously when things are going well. In fact one may come to think that God is pleased with one's life when the cotton is high, and that He must be inflicting punishment during those desperate hours when He seems to have abandoned one. Or perhaps adversity gets translated into some lesson God must be trying to teach. Certainly experience breeds wisdom, but does this accumulation of knowledge truly lead one to the Father?

St. John of the Cross in his The Dark Night of the Soul separates believers into two categories; the beginners and the progressives. The beginners take a somewhat palliative approach to faith. Their faith proves genuine; however, they are hindered by their own pride in moving closer to God. They limit themselves to the human condition never quite able to reach contemplative thought or prayer. The totality of the spiritual experience gets measured by the depth or type of feeling one experiences as one examines the individual's relationship with the Creator. They may gauge how well they are doing based on the inspiration they feel or even the avarice they have for the faith. Righteous indignation may creep into their view of others that they perceive have a lessor belief system. Or they may slip into a pitiful self-loathing state of never feeling worthy of any blessing God bestows. In essence, the beginner never fully dies to self and self-gratification becomes a key driver in one's belief system.

As one progresses down the road of faith, eventually an obstacle in the path smacks the believer square in the face. The self-indulgent feelings of the beginner start to wane and a kind of spiritual dryness sets in. Pleasure no longer visits the faithful where it once did. The believer begins to question whether they are even doing well by God. Some in their desperate attempt to get back the feeling that initially motivated them, throw themselves into regimented prayer; while other discouraged by the seeming loss of sensation leave the faith altogether and seek out another faith that might give them a more positive feeling.

The question must be answered in one's heart. Would one who loved God continue to love Him even if one received no discernible feedback as to the benefits of the love one gives to God?
After all, God has already given one the greatest gift, that being the gift of existence. If one simply understood that, would it be enough to love God if no other sign from Him ever came? Would one continue to love God without the quid pro quo? Those who answer, "yes," have moved to what John of the Cross named The Progressives.

The question further proves why marriage remains the perfect icon for the relationship between God and man. In the honeymoon stage, man and women ardently exchange gifts of self and a euphoria leads them to the belief that never before existed a love like this. Yet seasons change and the honeymoon does end. Nearly every couple can point to particular periods when the main thing holding the marriage together was an understanding that the love given by one spouse does often not equate to the love reciprocated. The loving spouse continues to love even though it feels like no love flows from the other side. When faced with this dynamic, strong couples persevere and try to find better ways to communicate. Often a discovery that the old way of communication was simply not adequate and a new way of communication develops. Couples that have been married for twenty years can communicate volumes in a single glance. Weaker couples become fixated on getting back to the old way and often in their frustration find themselves in divorce court. In time, the strong couple live in a state where it becomes near impossible to identify where one spouse ends and the other begins.

The analogy falters on the fact that neither of the spouses can come close to replicating the unconditional nature of God's love; however, it very well may be the closest humans can approximate. The parent/child relationship also works here. The big difference being that parent and child never strive to become united as one; whereas, Christ seeks to become one with His bride. Christ comes to His Church hourly in the holy Eucharist in order to physically and spiritually join with it.

So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
- 1 John 4:16

So why would a God who so unconditionally loves His people allow for a select few to experience this feeling of abandonment, this dark night of the soul? St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, Bl. Mother Theresa, St. Faustina, St. Padre Pio, and countless other holy men and women have struggled with this stage of existence in God. Only The Lord knows for sure; however, perhaps this suffering was a gift of allowing them to experience Purgatory on Earth so upon their death they realized the beatific vision of God. Perhaps in order to be the Bride of Christ, one literally has to give all of oneself and proof that one's last vestige of egoism has been abandoned lies in one's ability to love God even when one must imitate Christ and lament to the heavens, "Eli, Eli, la'ma sabach-tha'ni?" that is, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?"

The ultimate "yes" to God is the equivalent "no" to self. And how ironical that it is this abandonment where one truly glorifies The Almighty. And the reward is nothing short of eternal bliss lived in communion with saints. This author hopes that one day he will have the courage to persevere from his beginner state and be one of the progressives, and his prayer is that all who read this will experience the same.