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, November 25, 2007

Green Indulgences

In Protestant folklore, on Halloween of the year 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the castle church door in Wittenberg. There exists no historical account of this event ever actually happening, but the story has become part of the tradition in the telling and retelling of the birth of the Reformation, similar to the American tale of George Washington chopping down that cherry tree. Heroic figures need to be remembered for doing heroic things, and Luther's version of "sticking it to the man" seems way more exciting with the visual of him boldly marching up the steps to the front door of the Church with hammer and document in hand.

What is true is that Luther did write his document which called for an open discussion on the issue of indulgences. His Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, the real name of the document purported nailed to the door, was never intended to be a manifesto on what are today the fundamental tenets of Protestant theology. No mention is made of justification by faith alone or sola scriptura. Those ideas evolved much later.

A second truth remains that Luther had valid concerns. In his neck of the woods (this wasn't a global practice) there were many abuses by some preachers over the use of indulgences. Think of it as a church bake sale run by the late Ken Lay, CEO of Enron. While no indulgences were actually sold, people were told that if they contributed money to a charitable cause, in this case the construction of the Vatican, an indulgence would be given. With just a little slick hucksterism, a superstitious mentality developed among many that they could buy their way out of Purgatory. Some were even sold the proposition that they could plan ahead and gain indulgences for sins they hadn't yet committed. All of this was contrary to Church teaching on indulgences; was never a practice endorsed or encouraged by the Pope; and was definitively derided at the Council of Trent.

Today, a new band of snake oil salesmen have emerged to hawk a new indulgence. It's called the carbon offset. The idea is that one can remit the temporal punishment one has inflicted upon the planet with one's shameful lifestyle by paying money to a collection of various companies who promise to put things right again, though few of these organizations come under any real regulatory control. This planetary penance allows one to find some comfort, to assuage the guilt of their existence that they have been sold is harmful to mother earth.

Within this mentality exists a darkness over the sanctity of life itself. The Daily Mail in London did a feature story a few days ago about a twenty-seven year old woman who had herself sterilized because she had bought into the notion that having children was a selfish act harmful to the environment. In essence the Gospel of Al Gore holds that a sure way to reduce one's carbon footprint is to prevent one from producing any more footprints in the form of offspring. The very existence of man is an infectious problem for the planet. While Planned Parenthood would have women believe that a baby in the womb is a parasite despite the preponderance of the evidence that proves otherwise, the eco-warrior extends this way of thinking to include humanity in and of itself as being a cancer on the surface of the earth.

It's hard not to imagine a diabolic origin for this movement. While the pitch holds that one becomes green for the betterment of the planet, it's all directed towards an inward gratification of ego. That can be said. God is never mentioned, and contraception has been introduced as a means of saving the environment. Never mind that the countries who produce the vast amount of allegedly harmful products already have a near zero population growth. Most of the world's population growth happens in third world countries that produce far less pollutants.

And indeed, if the professors of this wisdom believed the message they preached, if humanity is actually a new form of pollution, would not committing suicide be the most responsible thing for them to do to reduce their own carbon footprint? Don't look for any self-immolation here as the carbon released in such a fire would be a shameful display to their brethren. No, a simple adding of hemlock to the Kool-Aid they've gotten used to drinking would suffice.

Of course the above is outrageous. And yet it sells just as people bought hook line and sinker that one could buy his way into Heaven. And just as the wayward preachers of old stood to gain vast sums of money if they could convince the population of their idea, the motive of the champions of green leaves a money trail easily followed. It is a path that leads away from God and proposes to put man in the driver's seat of that which is created by the Divine. It presumes that man is more than a steward of the planet. Rather, it places man as definitively directing its course.

The Devil wins when he can distract one into saving anything except one's soul. One must listen carefully and discern the source of anyone preaching salvation, especially when it does not include the mention of God or our Lord Jesus Christ.

Little children, you are of God, and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world, therefore what they say is of the world, and the world listens to them. We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us, and he who is not of God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love.
1 John 4:4-8

Nota Bene:
This news article appeared today in Australia that fully supports the notion that eco-warriors want to reduce carbon emissions by preventing people from existing.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Christmas Feedback

He said also to the man who had invited him,
"When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your kinsmen or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just."

Luke 14:12-14

Today is "Black Friday" in these United States. Has anyone checked to see what the carbon footprint is for this day? To heck with that, Christmas looms just over of a month away and preparations must be made. While Catholics anticipate the beginning of Advent, a time of preparation and anticipation of the birth of Our Lord, the secular world launches into this panicked frenzy of consumerism that has come to be the antithesis of Lent. Faith, hope, and charity get set on the shelf, today. It's all about the shopping.

Ponder how this season might be different if instead of expending obscene amounts of money on buying material items for family, friends, and acquaintances, that same money was spent on caring for those in our lives who are truly in need. Gone would be the stress of finding that perfect gift for the person who seems to have everything. After all, one's starting place when picking out a gift for someone involves the discernment of what that person needs. Most often the answer comes back, especially in America, "well, nothing" which leads to the second criteria of what does the particular person want; which leads to whole new level of stress as one has to figure out how well one really knows the wants of the person in question; hence the birth of the gift card which serves as a tasteful admission of failure to know the wants of someone supposedly regarded important enough to buy a a gift for, but whose life has escaped one's notice. The gift card boldly professes, "I really love you, but I just don't know you," and it proves far less crass than cash.

Yet if one only gave to those in need, then the dilemma of shopping for Christmas might take an interesting turn as one could soon discover that none of his family, friends, or acquaintances fit the bill. How many of one's friends and family go to bed hungry? Which family member has no place to sleep, tonight? Which person in one's life truly needs help with the basics of living? Most reading this rejoice in the blessing that all of the people in their circle are doing well in that regard. That being the case, Christmas gift giving at its most fundamental, (and yes, clinical-bah humbug,) level becomes a shuffling of material goods between those who are in the same relative state of need. The gifts that God has given to one do not get shared with those who have received fewer blessings. So while the means to give to all of God's children exists, the distribution of those gifts whose origin is the Almighty gets confined into a feedback loop of sorts of family giving to family; friends giving to friends; and the rest of the world can fend for itself.

But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?"
Luke 10:29

Christ answered this lawyer's question with the parable of the Good Samaritan. Throughout the Gospel Our Lord continuously reminds one that love for strangers and even one's enemies bears true merit.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful."
Luke 6:32-26

Consider how different the world today might be were the true spirit of Christ celebrated just for one month leading up to Christmas. Imagine if instead of rushing to the mall, people rushed to help their neighbors; the one's they don't know; the ones they avert their eyes when they see them; the one's who don't speak their language and live in a far off country but who are nonetheless literally starving to death.

Why is this so hard to imagine? Why can man so easily embrace the notion that he can save the the planet by simply recycling products or even investing money in vaporous carbon offsets, yet the notion of bringing that self-sacrificing mentality to a real human level where it is most needed and even most tangible seems the most difficult to employ? Would he prefer a world that was environmentally imperfect, but where its people were well fed, or is a human life less valuable than a green planet? Is one's carbon footprint deeper and more profound than his Christian one?

On Thanks Giving Day, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, touched on this theme of the world's responsibility to feed itself in a speech given to participants in the 34th general conference of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome. The Pope said:

"Peace, prosperity, and respect for human rights are inseparably linked. The time has come to ensure, for the sake of peace, that no man, woman and child will ever be hungry again!"

The bumper sticker reads, "Jesus is the reason for the season." Let all of mankind keep that simple message in his heart and give a little more to the folks outside his circle. Perhaps the question of what to buy for family can take on a new meaning when one realizes that his family includes all the members of the mystical Body of Christ.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Highly Qualified

About ten years ago, business author Steven Covey published his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. The book sold about 15 million copies and graced the bookshelves of countless executives and senior management wanna-bes. In his book, Covey details out seven common qualities that make people successful in not only the work place but even in their personal lives. The success of Covey launched a series of corporate guru types. Jim Collins encouraged businesses to be Built to Last and then go from Good to Great. Spencer Johnson MD had folks ponder Who Moved My Cheese; and Covey even published The Eighth Habit. Now one had to take the next step which was going form mere effectiveness to actual greatness.

Most of these strategies and philosophies are artful repackaging of common sense. More recently the secular world has jumped upon a reworking of Buddhism and marketed a more mystical path to enlightenment in such products as The Secret or The Sedona Method. While many of these authors are talented and have a seemingly inspiring message, they all tend to attempt to supplant a core set of values established by Christ when he gave His Sermon on the Mount. Three short little chapters, Matthew 5, 6, and 7, say more about greatness, effectiveness, and how one should live a successful life then all of the secular prophets combined. Small wonder His book, The Bible, remains the number one best seller of all time.

Christ didn't call for habits to be developed. He called for hearts to be changed, for the will to be conformed. The nine beatitudes he describes are often wrongly called the ten commandments of the New Testament. The error is not only one of math, nine versus ten, but rather Our Lord was not giving commandments. Instead he described the nature, the very being of a person who has found supreme happiness. That person is not rich in material, but rather poor in spirit. That person does not revel in self, but rather mourns his sinfulness. Arrogance has no room in this person, but rather meekness. One who seeks God hungers for righteousness, is pure in heart, strives for peace and excels in mercy. Finally, one who finds true happiness, the greatest happiness, willingly endures the persecution of humanity for believing in The Christ.

Perhaps the reason the masses flock to the guru of the moment who lands a slot on Oprah is that the messages of these enlightened seem not only doable, but genuinely self-rewarding. The legacy of original sin maintains that individualism has a far greater allure than self-donation in communion with the mystical body of Christ. Jesus calls for detachment from self versus the total building of self championed by the typical motivational speaker. The idea that one is such a gift from God that he should willingly give himself completely back to the Lord doesn't sell out arenas near as much as the preacher who espouses one to motivate the ego in a particular manner and the world will be one's oyster.

Another reality that exists is the common perception that one is simply not qualified to follow Christ. The famous centurion in Matthew 8:5-10, experienced this unworthiness, but at the same time he encountered faith. Often a sense of unworthiness holds one back from trusting in Our Lord; however as a wonderful priest and author of Soul Within a Peach, Father Francis Chun, recently told this author,

"God does not call the qualified, but rather He qualifies the called."

Who are these called? According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are 6,632,282,744 people on the planet. Each one of these souls is a child of God. Each one is called. At some point each will seek God. About a third will find Him in Our Lord Jesus Christ. The rest may find Him by ways known only to God. That is the great hope. For while nationality, race, and indigenous religion serves as differentiating factor, man's Creator serves as the common thread of humanity, and all at some point search for their Heavenly Father.

In His mercy and love, God entered human history in the divine person, His only begotten son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. He came to take the burden of sin from humanity; to free him and to help him better understand this yearning for God imbued within each human heart. So while one can chase the greatness of modern man, if he should catch it he soon realizes his victory is fleeting if not Pyrrhic. For God is not found in the exaltation, effectiveness, or even perfection of the "me", but rather in the humility of selflessness and service to God and man as demonstrated by The Christ.

And he said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Matthew 22:37-39

Within these three bold sentences lies the secret to the ultimate success, and all are highly qualified to achieve it.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Wanting It All

How does one define success?

In this American culture success is largely defined in the material. While money may be the root of all evil, few would argue that net worth has established itself as the yardstick for measuring one's degree of eminence. Consider the number of people in this country who now find themselves facing foreclosure as the housing market continues its decline. The desire for a house, that ever trumpeted American dream, was so strong that people risked it all just to have a slippery handhold on the lower rungs of the home ownership ladder. The payoff was not a treasured heirloom to hand off to future generations. It was not a place to build a community. It was simply a calculated investment purchased with dreams of riding the wave to higher riches.

And in many cases, it was all an act. Home ownership was a facade for the rest of the world that one had made it. One must be successful to own such a high priced house in such a good neighborhood. Real estate agents, mortgage brokers, praised the potential buyers for their acumen in taking the adult risk or making the sacrifice with the veiled promises of huge returns. Husbands and wives convinced one another that they could make it even if half or more of their take home pay was going toward the mortgage. The payoff would be worth it.

It was all a canard.

What meaning does one's net worth have to God? Very little if one looks at scripture.

And Jesus said to his disciples, "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."
Mathew 19:23

Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like the flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.
James 1:9-11

Wealth in itself is not intrinsically evil. It is the pursuit of it that often leads one down the road to idolatry. The chase for the material is what causes the mother and father to actually believe that it is reasonable to abandon their child into what Dr. Laura has rightfully labeled a day-orphanage better known as daycare. To consider the option to suffer the loss of one of their incomes and have to exist in a lower standard of living is simply an untenable notion. Both parents must work. Their financial and social success depends upon it, and their hope is that their child will reap the fruits of their labor one day, and the sacrifice to the god of money will be rewarded.

Christ does not preach the amassment of money in this life. He cares not where one lives; what car one drives; or how many zeros grace the end of one's bank balance.

Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."
1 Peter 1:13-16

Holiness is the definition of a successful human life. It represents the prize all should want. Within it contains the peace, the beauty, the majesty, that no amount of earthly wealth even slightly begins to purchase. The irony of holiness rests in the reality that it costs nothing of true value. Being of God is a moment to moment, hour to hour, day to day choice. One is a saint not because of some great body of work or study or even super natural gift. One is a saint simply because one wants to be a saint. The things of earth are set in their proper priority and God is put first in one's life. When that happens, owning a piece of the American dream looses its luster when juxtaposed to having a share in the eternal kingdom of Heaven.

If one "wants it all" God lovingly, willingly gives His very self, free and clear. Why settle for the finite material when the infinite is within one's grasp?