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.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Two Loves

The whole of human history, the history of the world, is a struggle between two loves: love of God to the point of losing oneself, of total self-giving...and love of oneself to the point of despising God, of hating others.
St. Augustine
"De Civitate Dei"

The secular media this last week has been making hay out of the revelation that Mother Theresa had serious doubts about her own faith. The news is old for those who have studied the life of this precious soul who likely enjoys the Kingdom of Heaven, today, and will be canonized as a Saint in the not too distant future. For the popular press, the tone in which they presented their stories took on almost an "I gotcha" mentality. It was if the editors of these publications and broadcasts were attempting to drive home the impracticality of faith; for if someone has charitable as Mother Theresa could have serious doubts about faith, how could the every day person possibly expect to have any?

Saints having doubt about their own faith is far from unique. St. John of the Cross wrote extensively on what he called "the dark night of the soul." St. Faustina wrote in her diary of numerous periods of feeling abandoned by Christ. Mother Theresa's struggle seems to further the evidence that she had chosen the better love Augustine wrote about to the point where she lost herself completely. And she accomplished this loss in the midst of an environment where one would likely retreat into self as an escape from the horror, pain, and misery that defines the total poverty of Calcutta. How many actually see Christ in the faces of those who live their lives in the gutter? Mother Theresa embraced them. In a place where God seems to have abandoned His children, how many would actually aspire to bring His love and be the light in so much darkness? Mother Theresa gave all of her light to these poor souls. Small wonder that when she looked back into herself, the light of her own soul, the light of Christ alluded her. Perhaps it had all illuminated out of her very being. In such a case, doubt appears a completely reasonable response.

The challenge for many rests in the assumption that faith and reward go hand in hand in their earthly existence. If one believes in God, it stands to reason that God blesses that faithful one with the appropriate material comforts. Surely there must exist a reason for all of the efforts of faith, and human logic naturally points to the direction of a quid pro quo. Oh, sure, Heaven is a reward for faith; however, the afterlife remains nebulous and a far off distant place. What about the here and now? What about me?

"Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
Luke 13:24

In the modern vernacular strive has the simple meaning of giving an honest effort, but Christ calls for much more. That word "strive" comes from the Greek, and it means to agonize over one's efforts. Mother Theresa understood that call. Were that all of humanity able to respond to the call of Our Lord with her zeal. The question each must answer within the heart is which of the two loves does one strive to realize?

At the very least, Mother Theresa's doubt reveals her humanity. She cooperated with the grace of Christ in the fullest way a human being could. She was not supernatural or super-human. She was one, tiny woman who demonstrated with her life what could be achieved by simply saying yes to Our Lord without any strings attached.

Perhaps the pundits who attempt to disparage her life with their passive aggressive jabs at the authenticity of her sincerity are those who engage in Augustine's struggle of the two loves, but instead of fighting for God, they battle for self. That is a poverty that only the grace of Christ can overcome.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

A Friend in Christ

I heard the following letter read on "Food for the Journey," one of my favorite radio commentaries broadcast on the Catholic radio station in Portland. It reminded me that we each of us has the opportunity to bring a brother or a sister to Our Lord by the simple way we live our lives in the Christ mystery. I do not know if the gentleman who wrote this letter will ever come into full communion with The Church; however, I am quite certain he has a dear friend in Heaven who champions him to Our Lord...and by God's mercy, I hope to meet him one day in Paradise and shake his hand.

I copied this letter as it was posted on

ROME, JUNE 6, 2007 ( Here is a translation of a letter written posthumously to Father Ragheed Aziz Ganni by a Muslim friend of his who is a professor at the Pontifical Gregorian University. Father Ragheed and three deacons were shot and killed in Mosul, Iraq, on Sunday after Mass.

* * *

In the name of the compassionate and merciful God,

Ragheed, my brother,

I ask your forgiveness for not being with you when those criminals opened fire against you and your brothers. The bullets that have gone through your pure and innocent body have also gone through my heart and soul.

You were one of the first people I met when I arrived to Rome. We met in the halls of the Angelicum and we would drink our cappuccino in the university's cafeteria. You impressed me with your innocence, joy, your pure and tender smile that never left you.

I always picture you smiling, joyful and full of zest for life. Ragheed is to me innocence personified; a wise innocence that carries in its heart the sorrows of his unhappy people. I remember the time, in the university's dining room, when Iraq was under embargo and you told me that the price of a single cappuccino would have satisfied the needs of an Iraqi family for a whole day.

You told me this as if you were feeling guilty for being far away from your persecuted people and unable to share in their sufferings …

In fact, you returned to Iraq, not only to share the suffering and destiny of your people but also to join your blood to the blood of thousands of Iraqis killed each day. I will never forget the day of your ordination [Oct. 13, 2001] in the [Pontifical] Urbanian University … with tears in your eyes, you told me: "Today, I have died to self" … a hard thing to say.

I didn't understand it right away, or maybe I didn't take it as seriously as I should have. … But today, through your martyrdom, I have understood that phrase. … You have died in your soul and body to be raised up in your beloved, in your teacher, and so that Christ would be raised up in you, despite the sufferings, sorrows, despite the chaos and madness.

In the name of what god of death have they killed you? In the name of which paganism have they crucified you? Did they truly know what they were doing?

O God, we don't ask you for revenge or retaliation. We ask you for victory, a victory of justice over falsehood, life over death, innocence over treachery, blood over the sword. … Your blood will not have been shed in vain, dear Ragheed, because with it you have blessed the soil of your country. And from heaven, your tender smile will continue to light the darkness of our nights and announce to us a better tomorrow.

I ask your forgiveness, brother, for when the living get together they think they have all the time in the world to talk, visit, and share feelings and thoughts. You had invited me to Iraq … I dreamed of that visit, of visiting your house, your parents, your office. … It never occurred to me that it would be your tomb that one day I would visit or that it would be verses from my Quran that I would recite for the repose of your soul …

One day, before your first trip to Iraq after a prolonged absence, I went with you to buy souvenirs and presents for your family. You spoke with me of your future work: "I would like to preside over the people on the base of charity before justice" -- you said.

It was difficult for me to imagine you a "canonical judge" … And today your blood and your martyrdom have spoken for you, a verdict of fidelity and patience, of hope against all suffering, of survival, in spite of death, in spite of everything.

Brother, your blood hasn't been shed in vain, and your church's altar wasn't a masquerade. … You assumed your role with deep seriousness until the end, with a smile that would never be extinguished … ever.

Your loving brother,

Adnam Mokrani
Rome, June 4, 2007
Professor of Islamic Studies in the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture,
Pontifical Gregorian University

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Risk Tolerance

The degree or amount of Christian faith one subscribes to has a strong correlation to one's tolerance for risk. What does it cost to follow Christ? Ultimately, everything. And therein lies the struggle of a lifetime. Does one become like the saints and surrender one's self to Our Lord, or does one cling to self and its concomitant distractions? The answer for nearly everyone including this writer as expected rests with the latter.

Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.
Pope Benedict XVI
Deus Caritas Est

In a culture so dominated by the science of everything, encountering takes some getting used to. Critical, historical examination seems to dominate the way Western society studies Christ. A new breed of Pharisees seeks to know God by material evidence. Logic over that which is indescribable. Instead of accepting the gift of the Divine's word in sacred scripture, they set out to discover a logical explanation to the extraordinary miracles. God created man in His likeness and image, and man turns around and tries to recreate God within the confines of his limited, fallen intellect. Our Lord gets reduced to the finite when He is infinite and far beyond humanity's full understanding. One can attach a myriad of adjectives to describe Jesus. Hebrew text gives the best description of Him, "King of kings, Lord of lords." Despite the best poet's efforts or the harshest critic's dissertations, The Savior cannot be understood in mere human thought. More is needed, primarily grace, and a willingness to cooperate with it.

Christ waits for one to encounter Him similar to how one encounters an awe-inspiring sunrise. Our Lord yearns for one to encounter Him similar to how a mother greets her newborn child forgetting the agony she moments ago endured and feeling only the joy of holding her child for the very first time. Jesus desires an encounter with one similar to how a young couple sees the love in each other's eyes and simply know that they were destined to be together.

Christ invites man to encounter Him. He is both an event and a person in one meeting, that being the Holy Eucharist.

What does it cost to follow Christ?

He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."
Luke 21:1-4

Quite often what one risks for Christ comes from one's abundance. This is not a monetary donation, but rather a commitment of spirit. One might pray when one has some spare time, but to actually schedule prayer in lieu of other important matters rarely happens. One goes to mass on Sunday, but would not think of interrupting one's day to share a Eucharistic meal any other day of the week. One might righteously speak of Our Lord among his fellow parishoners, but when the subject of religion comes up at work, silence rules.

Perhaps Christ allowed Himself to be crucified on the cross so man would have an ever present icon to remind him that following Jesus, means risking it all. One should gaze upon the cross and hear Christ whispering, "I risked it all so you could have eternal life. What are you willing to risk for me?"

What does it cost to follow Christ? Ponder that in the silence of the night, and honestly assess how much of that cost one is willing to pay, and never forget the beatific vision that stands to be gained.