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.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


"How quickly we fall back from nothing to nothing."

Pope Benedict XVI in his Encyclical, Spe Salvi, draws attention to this epitaph common during the days of St. Paul to point out the lack of real hope that marked the people who had not yet seen the great light of Christ. Today is Ash Wednesday, a holy day of obligation when millions of Catholics begin their Lenten journey with an act of humility. At mass, today, they will approach the alter and the priest will take the ashes created from the burning of the palms used in the last Palm Sunday mass and mark a sign of the cross on their foreheads speaking words similar to that ancient dark commemoration:

"Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return."

Cultural icon of the sixties, John Lennon, encouraged his followers to imagine that there was no Heaven and a host of other things he deemed as distractions to happiness. It was a call from the leader of The Beatles to abandon the notion of a God and focus solely on the here and now. His slightly melancholy lamentation promised the possibility to live in a utopia where God, seen as the ultimate potentate of the establishment, would no longer be necessary. And many who had been swept up into the cultural revolution followed Lennon's advice. They chased after a world of enlightened self-interest where "I'm okay, you're okay" defined its creed, and they discovered this new world inadequate so they filled it with drugs, casual sex, abortion, divorce, and a myriad of false religions and egocentric philosophies that ushered in what historians may one day label the post Christian Era.

The Baby Boom generation made an unconscious-conscious effort to return to the days that St. Paul lived; that time when people had no hope in anything greater than themselves. And while it will take several generations to undo the damage done to the culture since many of their beliefs have been codified into civil law and embedded into the minds of their children, hope remains that one's distant progeny will one day study this period of time, scratch their heads in amused disbelief and ponder, "What were they thinking?"

"But we would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope." (1Thessalonians (RSV) 4:13)

Here too we see as a distinguishing mark of Christians the fact that they have a future: it is not that they know the details of what awaits them, but they know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness. Only when the future is certain as a positive reality does it become possible to live the present as well. So now we can say: Christianity was not only “good news”—the communication of a hitherto unknown content. In our language we would say: the Christian message was not only “informative” but “performative”. That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known—it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing.

- Spe Salvi - Pope Benedict XVI

A positive reality. Good news. Performative. Makes things happen. Life-changing. It is for these very aspects that many have fallen in love with the only church Christ gave to humanity; a love that manifests itself in ways that the unbeliever finds difficult to embrace. For at the core of this perfect model established by Our Lord lies this concept of communion where self becomes a gift to the mystical body of Christ versus self being one's most valued possession. The payoff is not the aggrandizement of the individual but rather a humble, eternal exchange of love between man, his Creator, and His creation.

How many earthly versions of utopia will man entertain before he surrenders to the love of Christ? Lennon dreamed of unbridled socialism. Lenin proposed a system of communism. At the other extreme many see the answer in pure capitalism, and the scientist seeks a universe governed by empiricism.

Perhaps Christ viewed all of these systems of distraction during his agony in the garden yet He never lost hope for humanity. Rather he moved forward and embraced His cross and gave rise to the eternal hope available to all who open their hearts to His love and to His Church. It is not a communal love one needs to dreamingly imagine. It lives in the here and now and simply waits for one's embrace.


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