The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

My Photo
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.

Thursday, December 27, 2007


Thus says the LORD:
"A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not."
Jer 31:15

King Herod fulfilled this prophesy when upon being frustrated by not finding the Christ child, he ordered the murder of all males ages two and under. The Catholic Church remembers these first Saints to be martyred for Jesus. Friday, December 28th, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. It seemed appropriate to share this poem written by Alison Townsend.

What I Never Told You About the Abortion
That it hurt, despite the anesthetic,
which they administered with a long needle, shot straight into the womb.
That they hit the vagus nerve the first time and I fell down when I tried to stand.
That after the second shot my legs snapped shut--instinctively as any wild mother protecting chick, kit, cub.
That I held the hand of a young Hispanic nurse and wept when she said, "You know hon, you don't have to do this."
That I believed that I did, though I nearly got up and left.
That the doctor was crude, saying (when he saw me conscious), "It's always the ones who want to be awake who should be put out.
That dilation and curettage is exactly what it sounds like: opening, scraping, digging out a scrap of tissue that clings.
That mothers both create and take life.
That I crossed a picket line to get into the clinic.
That I wanted to come back another day but knew if I left then I wouldn't return.
That my mind was not, as I let you believe, made up that night at Planned Parenthood, the positive lab slip shining in my hand like a ticket to Heaven.
That this was where the deep root of sadness began to take hold.
That I stood in our bedroom a few days before the "procedure," my blouse open and bra undone, looking at my breasts, marveling at the way they swelled, even at eight weeks, like fruit I'd never seen.
Remembering the rise and fall of my mother's body as she nursed my sister.
That I felt inhabited then.
Incarnate, the cells of my skin glowing, bright and scared.
That I wished we were married, though it seemed uncool.
That I wished you'd said "A baby? Let's do it!"
instead of "It's your body. You decide."
That it was all surgical and neat, not even any blood afterward on the Kotex that made me feel fourteen.
That I dreamed of it for weeks.
That we married years later, that dream torn between us.
That I had wanted to feel the hard bowl of my belly.
That I believed it was practical -- you in grad school, no health insurance, me the one with a job.
That the table I lay on was cold.
That there was a poster of a kitten dangling from a tree limb, with the word "Hang in there, baby" on the ceiling above me.
That I turned names over and over in my head like bright stones: Caitlin, Phoebe, Rebecca, Siobhan.
That the nurse wept with me, like some twentieth-century Southern California fate, midwife to death in her uniform printed with flowers.
That she wrapped my hand in her navy blue sweater.
That I described the thumb-size embryo inside me in all the obvious ways--shrimp, peanut, little-bud-wanting-to-open.
But not baby, never baby.
That I saved the paperwork as proof I'd been admitted to the college of mothers.
That I told you a good story; letting you believe I believed I might not be able to write with a child, that this was the beginning of the end of us.
That though we are kind now, and always cordial when we meet, a decade after our divorce, it is the one thing I cannot forgive you.
That it has taken me twenty years to find words for this story.
That no matter how many thats I write, there are not--will never be enough.


It's normal to recoil and wince at the thought of a soldier driving his short sword into the soft body of a baby while his mother screams in terror and his father fights in futility. How many babies were killed nearly 2,000 years ago is debatable. Some say just a few, others say hundreds. Whatever the number, one was too many, and yet juxtaposed to the more than 4,000 babies killed in these United States by abortion, every day, Herod was an amateur.

It is the great sin of omission that stains the consciousness of the American psyche. We kill our unborn. That's what we do. We the people in order to form a more perfect union have decided that part of being perfect involves the right to kill the the unseen, the inconvenient, the most vulnerable. It is in the American will, and it is this very will that needs conversion.

God bless America? Given the reality of our soul that seems a bit arrogant. Perhaps we should pray, God have mercy on America.

May the Saints of Bethlehem who died in the name of Christ pray for the people of the United States that they may one day stop the killing of her innocent.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Pearl of China Town

Vietnam has been described as the Pearl of the Orient. This S-shaped country about the size of New Mexico is home to some of the most beautiful rain forests, flowers, and beaches anywhere in the world. Even more, the people of Vietnam have an indomitable spirit and while nearly 80% of her 85-million inhabitants profess no religion, the spirit of Christ can often be seen in their loving nature and strong family values. All of this despite a history of being conquered and dominated by a variety of its neighbors and for awhile even the French.

Today, it is a communist state. After the United States lost its political will in the early 1970s to continue to support the South Vietnamese government, the North quickly moved in and united the country under an oppressive regime. Most of the violations of human dignity are forgotten today, though they still continue. Since America has divested herself from the region, Vietnam has become little more than a political punchline in this country's stream of consciousness.

About twenty years ago, a young medical school student named Lan decided that she and her husband and two children needed to flee the only home they ever knew. Somehow they had fallen out of favor with the local communist government for reasons to this day she is still unsure of. Survival of her family seemed more certain by moving to the United States versus staying home. Since they did not have the money for all four to leave at once, she and her husband decided that she and her daughter would go first with her husband and son to follow later.

Escaping by sea was the least risky way. Thailand was the safe harbor. From there one could arrange passage to the United States. Cutting across Laos or Cambodia proved far too dangerous when one weighed the threat of corrupt police, soldiers, and drug runners. So Lan and her toddler daughter joined the ranks of hundreds of thousands of souls who have fled the beauty of their homeland now corrupted by the stain of totalitarianism.

When asked about her family, Lan will say, "I not very lucky." For while she and her daughter did make it to the United States, her husband and son did not. Details are sketchy at best, but what is known is that the other half of her family perished at sea. Some relatives told her that they were killed by the Vietnamese Navy. Others said that there wasn't enough food or water on the boat and that they had starved to death. Neither provides a comforting mental picture of a loved one dying in the South China Sea. This was not a peaceful death.

That was twenty years ago.

Today, Lan owns a beauty salon in Portland's China Town District. This area is the skid row of the City of Roses. The homeless, addicted, and the abandoned mentally ill filter in and out of this section also called Old Town. Two large entities, the local natural gas utility and the Oregon Department of Transportation, maintain a couple of large office buildings which keeps the area from falling into total dilapidation. For the most part, the employees and homeless have struck up a peaceful coexistence. The employees own the day while the street people own the night.

Lan's salon is right across the street from the gas company on Northwest Second Avenue. Every day a few customers from the utility cross the street and are greeted by Lan's warm smile and her patented, "Hello, handsome man!" One sits in a barber chair staring into a mirror bordered by snapshots, mostly of her beautiful daughter, and then is treated to a good haircut and even better company. Lan has an infectiously good spirit and always has a smile on her face, laughter in her voice, and sage advice if one asks.

Recently, the photos on her mirror include a picture of her and the Mayor of the City of Portland at a dinner honoring her for her contribution to China Town's community. In addition to clipping the hair of gas company employees, Lan opens her business and her heart to the homeless. Each night, two or three homeless sleep in the doorway leading to her salon. Instead of shewing them away in the morning when she comes to work, she greets and welcomes them. She talks to them as equals and lets them use her place to clean up a little before they make their way into the world.

If a poor person has a job interview, Lan offers them a free haircut so they can make a good impression. She laughs as she says,

"It just good business. I cut hair so they get job, then they come back and be my customer."

A few months ago, Lan closed her shop for the day so she could attend the graduation ceremony of one of her homeless customers she talked into going into drug rehab. This wasn't the first person she has helped this way.

"When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, `Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'
Mathew 25:31-36

This little Vietnamese saint practices no formal religion, and yet it's hard to imagine Christ being anything but pleased with her. She evangelizes the Gospel more than most by how she lives her simple life. And while this author, and frequent customer of Lan, prays for her conversion, at the same time he is painfully aware that the charity she extends to the homeless of China Town far exceeds his pitiful occasional reluctant gift of spare change to a panhandler or a quick drive by drop-off of surplus clothing at a supermarket Salvation Army station. In this respect, Lan lives the gospel this writer professes but in practice he only conveniently dabbles in.

The great Pearl of the Orient released one of her children to the world where she drifted until she found her home among a culture where her beauty would shine the brightest. Lan is the Pearl of China Town.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Worthy Before the Ark of the Lord

"...How can the ark of the LORD come to me?"
2 Samuel 6:9

There is an icon in the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Rite that shows St. Joseph shielding his eyes before the burning bush with Mary holding the Infant Jesus within the bush. It reflects a different interpretation of scripture regarding Joseph's response to hearing that the woman he was betrothed to would be carrying the Messiah.

The popular translation of today has Joseph being a righteous man willing to divorce Mary quietly to avoid shaming her. The implication being that she would have been accused of committing adultery by ancient Mosaic law and thus subjected to stoning. Since an original manuscript of the Gospel no longer exists, one has to rely on the faithful translations that have been preserved; however this one passage presents a bit of a dilemma. Nazareth was hardly a metropolis, but rather a sleepy little village. Everyone must have known everyone. A betrothal was a very public affair. How on Earth could one in such a small community do something as truly scandalous as divorce without anyone taking notice? This would not have been a secret that could have been kept quiet.

It's interesting to ponder the possibility that Joseph perhaps knew much more. This is not to suggest that scripture is lacking; however some translations of the sacred word might be. Joseph wanting to protect Mary from the Mosaic law is truly noble; however, would a righteous man of his day go against that law? Hollywood likes to create a romantic link between Mary and Joseph, and no one can say for sure that there was not; however, marriages in those days were arranged with little regard for the existence of love between the affianced couple. This was very much a business transaction, and the motivation to protect a woman who had committed adultery and violated the solemn contract between her father and her future husband likely would have been pretty low. It's reasonable to consider that something more might have been going on.

In point of fact, the word divorce is not used in Mathew 1:19 in either the Douay-Rheims, King James, or even the Latin Vulate versions of the Bible. What is more, when divorce is referenced in both the Old and New Testament it is identified as giving a bill or certificate of divorce, a noun, versus to divorce, a verb. Why would scripture change its idiom for just this one instance? Yet that is exactly what occurs in the New American Bible translation and the Revised Standard Version, both of which are more modern translations.

A second concern is Joseph's unwillingness to shame Mary by exposing her pregnancy. This, too, appears to be a debatable translation of the more modern bibles. Again, neither the Douay, KJV, or the Vulgate describe this. These older texts rather talk about Joseph not wanting to make Mary's condition known to the public. The newer versions of the Bible infer a reason for the need to hide this knowledge while the older versions simply state the facts. Most interesting is the Latin word traducere, which appears in the Latin Vulgate of Mathew 1:19 and means to parade or process.

The icon of the Eastern Church lets us know why Joseph may have struggled with whether to publicly parade Mary's condition. The ark of the Lord had come to him. And Joseph, a direct descendant of King David who himself had processed and danced before the ark of God in the Old Testament, was now faced with the incarnation of the Savior carried by his wife to be, Mary, the new Eve, the new ark of God. Small wonder he needed the consolation of an angel to help him make his decision to say "yes" to God, and to his special mission of being a father to Jesus.

Perhaps, being a just man, Joseph was not concerned about Mary's fidelity, but rather his own worthiness. For just as his great ancestor, the King of Israel, had once hesitated to carry the ark of the covenant into the City of David (2 Samuel 6:10,) so too Joseph must have doubted if he could do the same before such an important vessel of a physical manifestation of God Himself. And yet our Lord's earthly father did just that. He walked before the ark of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin Mary riding atop a donkey, all the way from Nazareth to the City of David called Bethlehem. He led this holy procession of the holy family to the place where God would come into the world.

Yes, Joseph was more than a casual foster father of Christ. He is a rather mysterious character in the Gospels. He seems to have been alive for at least part of Our Lord's ministry as he gets referenced by Matthew 13:55, Luke 4:22, and John 6:42. Yet scripture shows him absent at the crucifixion and beyond. From the cross, Christ gives Mary to John and vice versa indicating that she was without a husband. He must have passed on sometime before the passion.

The location of his tomb remains equally mysterious. Ancient tradition states that his tomb is empty in the Valley of Josephat though St. Jerome was of the opinion that his tomb remains in the Garden of Gethsemane. A Flemish Benedictine priest, Father Paul of Moll, a saintly man in his own right who died in 1896, reported a saint who had experienced a vision of the body of St. Joseph lying in tomb in an unknown location preserved completely intact and uncorrupted.

St. Joseph...pray for us.