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, March 27, 2008

The Cleopas in Us

One of the more moving passages of scripture that gets recalled this time of year is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. For readers of the King James Bible, this village has little meaning other than a specific destination for Cleopas and his companion who were leaving Jerusalem dazed and confused after the death of Christ. In point of fact, Luke's Gospel is the second time Emmaus is mentioned in sacred scripture. It was here that an outnumbered and lightly armed army of Judas Machabeus defeated the gentile forces of Gorgias as recounted in 1 Maccabees. Today, the village has long since taken its exit from the stage of history, though some claim a Muslim village called 'Am'was might be the Emmaus from the Gospel.

Regardless of its location, every Christian at some point in his journey, or more than likely many times, takes a walk on the road to Emmaus. It happens in those difficult moments when it appears that Christ has abandoned one. Like the disciples, one grumbles along thinking that one walks alone. Disappointed about whatever is going on in one's life at the time it becomes nearly impossible to see Christ even when He manifests himself and walks with one.

And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
(Luke (RSV) 24:25-26)

It is one's unwillingness to embrace one's faith and one's suffering that prevents a seeking of the love of The Christ in moments of distress. What is desired is Jesus the problem solver more than the Savior. An urgent petition gets offered up, but when the desired answer doesn't just as readily get returned, one's uniting with Our Lord's suffering ends with "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Psalms (RSV) 22) And with that lament, one embarks onto that fateful road to Emmaus convinced that Christ has not risen to the occasion.

Roads play an important role in salvation history, especially when that road leads away from Jerusalem. It was on a road from Jerusalem to Damascus where Saul got knocked down and had his conversion. In Acts we read about Philip being instructed by an angel to go down a particular desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza where he meets an Ethiopian thirsting to understand sacred scripture and upon being instructed insists upon being baptized with the nearest water available. The Good Samaritan parable has the traveler set upon by robbers on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. And of course Cleopas and his friend were leaving Jerusalem headed for Emmaus after the death of Christ.

But why Jerusalem? Step for a moment into the mind of an ancient Jew. The Talmud speaks of God giving Jerusalem its name so by default the city was considered a holy city. In Hebrew scripture Jerusalem is represented as Yira Shalem. Yira means to see. Shalem means peace. So each of the characters in the above stories had left the holy city of peace. Paul left on a mission of self righteousness to cure the world of what he saw as heresy against Judaism. Unable to see peace, Christ blinded him. The Ethiopian unable to see peace in the scripture he didn't understand left in need of being catechized. The traveler may have wanted to see peace, but misfortune came upon him in the form of violence. And Cloepas and company had seen peace in The Christ, but left in despair upon the Savior's death.

How often does one leave Christ out of righteousness, pride, ignorance, misfortune, or despair? It is precisely when one finds oneself on a road that leads away from this place of peace which is Jesus that one needs to do an about face and return to him. And lest one forgets where to find Christ, Our Lord gave us a way, a physical manifestation witnessed by the the disciples from Emmaus that allows us to come home to Him.

When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?"
And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
(Luke (RSV) 24:30-35)

The mass is where to find Our Lord and return to the peace one seeks. Here scripture gets opened and Christ gets revealed in the consecration of the bread and wine. No matter what troubles may weigh upon one's heart, comfort is found in the knowing that the Lord has risen and one has joined with him in the Eucharistic meal. One must then know that no matter how lonely the road may seem, with Christ, one never travels it alone.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Judgement, It's a Good Thing

For your lifeblood I will surely require a reckoning; of every beast I will require it and of man; of every man's brother I will require the life of man.
(Genesis (RSV) 9:5)

The practice of judgment has taken on a very negative connotation in the western, moral-relativistic culture of the twenty-first century. Perhaps the struggle has to do with the reconciling of right and wrong when the mindset of justice has shifted from community to individualism. Time was when people's actions were guided by Judæo-Christian thought. There was a very clear understanding of what was morally acceptable.

That all began to change in the 1600s with the Reformation and subsequent Age of Enlightenment when reason, human reason, began to devolve the primary basis of thought, and faith started to become an option. The cascading effect of this period one hopes touched bottom in the late 1960's when Thomas A. Harris published his book on transactional analysis, (aka TA) entitled, "I'm okay, You're okay." It was a work that captured the mindset of the Boomer generation. In essence there's not really right or wrong only competing versions of the truth, and the path to happiness lies in one's ability to accept the other person as they are without their reality threating one's own.


Today, TA, has largely faded out of vogue, but the acceptance of an absolute truth still seems illusive. Christians of all denominations are often seen by the unbeliever as taking the stand of "I'm okay, you're not," which doesn't go very far in winning friends and an influencing people, especially when the culture fears a violation of diversity and acceptance. Then too, certitude of one's righteousness rarely comes without the cost of one's humility. A fine line must be walked between expressing tolerance versus acceptance of the sinner.

At the other extreme resides atheism which holds fast to the impossibility of their being a God with so much injustice in the world. Man must create the justice he seeks on his own. Communism, Nazism, and host of totalitarian regimes contested the existence of God and put the burden of justice solely on man, often a particular individual. Small wonder the word justice is hardly associated with Hitler, Stalin, Hussein, and whole cast of destructive characters of history.

Still, humanity yearns for some way to make sense of all of the injustices it inflicts upon itself. How many different systems for government have come along, absent of God, that attempted to cure the ills of man? Karl Marx would have the state be the ultimate authority; Machiavelli considered a benevolent dictatorship to be the answer; and Adam Smith championed a system of natural liberty, which today gets named capitalism, as the best path to social order. None of these systems reach the heart of the justice man truly desires.

It's tempting to want to infuse the Church into the state. Perhaps what man-made governmental systems need is the absoluteness of God. For if one used Christ and his teachings as a foundation, any of the economic systems above could prove to be a good platform to work from; however, man being man, makes such a system subject to the corruption of power. The Church leaned that early in her history. Be that as it may, where can one hope to find justice if not from the state?

The one true justice that man can count on is faith in an eternal life in communion with God. Man cannot possibly right all of the wrongs that seem inherent with his Earthly existence, but Our Lord gave us a hope that this life represents a mere fraction of our eternal destiny with Him. Pope Benedict brings this message home in his encyclical Spe Salvi,

God has given himself an “image”: in Christ who was made man. In him who was crucified, the denial of false images of God is taken to an extreme. God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. There is an “undoing” of past suffering, a reparation that sets things aright. For this reason, faith in the Last Judgement is first and foremost hope—the need for which was made abundantly clear in the upheavals of recent centuries. I am convinced that the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favour of faith in eternal life. The purely individual need for a fulfillment that is denied to us in this life, for an everlasting love that we await, is certainly an important motive for believing that man was made for eternity; but only in connection with the impossibility that the injustice of history should be the final word does the necessity for Christ's return and for new life become fully convincing.
- Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

There will be an accounting for, a reckoning of one's life on Earth. Grace does not cover up the iniquities of one's temporal experience as the reformers argued in their justifications designed to lure people away from The Church. It is not the great equalizer that magically levels the playing field for everyone. In might be easier if it were, but that simply is not so. What one does here matters. The Pope references a passage from Plato that expresses the fact that in the end souls stand naked before the judge, and it no longer matters what they once were in history, but only what they are in truth.

Benedict continues:

With death, our life-choice becomes definitive—our life stands before the judge. Our choice, which in the course of an entire life takes on a certain shape, can have a variety of forms. There can be people who have totally destroyed their desire for truth and readiness to love, people for whom everything has become a lie, people who have lived for hatred and have suppressed all love within themselves. This is a terrifying thought, but alarming profiles of this type can be seen in certain figures of our own history. In such people all would be beyond remedy and the destruction of good would be irrevocable: this is what we mean by the word Hell. On the other hand there can be people who are utterly pure, completely permeated by God, and thus fully open to their neighbours—people for whom communion with God even now gives direction to their entire being and whose journey towards God only brings to fulfilment what they already are.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

As this author ends his Lenten walk with Benedict's encyclical on hope, let every Christian strive for a greater embracing of the way, the truth, and the life that is Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Left to his own designs, man's systems of justice will always fail someone. The love of God never fails anyone.

Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God's time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain. In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too. As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.
-Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

May God bless our Holy Father Pope Benedict.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Suffering with Convenience

As the Bride of Christ prepares to enter into the final week of Lent, the most holy week of the year, it seems appropriate to now turn the attention on a section of the Holy Father's papal letter, Spe Salvi, that deals with suffering. For Catholics, the passion of The Christ, His suffering and death, represents a place of importance in heart of the believer that remains on par with the resurrection. In point of fact, Catholics do not typically speak of one without the other. Passion, death, and resurrection take on a kind of trinitarian quality in describing the meaning of Christ's gift to humanity.

This thinking defines a very real demarcation between Catholics and her separated brethren. Nearly all Protestant Christian faiths delimit the death of Christ as an unpleasant evil that had to take place in order for Him to rise from the dead. To memorialize and give a lot of attention to that event seems odd for them, and many Protestants even consider the display of crucifix to be a form of idol worship. If they were to wear a symbol of Christ, it would be something that represents the empty tomb, which in a sense is the meaning of the cross without the corpus.

In some Protestant ecclesial communities and in far too many Catholic churches one often sees the risen Christ upon the cross. This is an image created completely by man. Christ gave humanity the image of Himself crucified, and when He was taken down there was the image of the empty cross, but never did He offer humanity the image of hovering upon a cross risen from the dead. It is perhaps the weakest of Christian symbols as it portrays man's desire for the risen Christ without the incarnation and true meaning of His suffering. With only His spirit portrayed, the risen Christ on the cross is perfectly acceptable for the gnostic who sees Christ as pure spirit.

The removal of the corpus from the cross is an understandable reaction to the truth. No one should want to look at suffering, especially when the one in distress is one's savior. Yet as undesirable as it may be, one has to come to grips with the reality that in a fallen world some things must be endured. The challenge then becomes how one copes with the suffering.

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

In this modern age, consider the link between suffering and convenience. It seems that the more technologically advanced the society becomes, the lower the bar for what gets defined as suffering becomes. Hunger, disease, and overt oppression have all but been eliminated in much of Western society. Many of the ailments common to the culture are self-inflicted, even many forms of cancer. No one starves to death in America like they do in Darfur. While pockets of racism still exist, the West doesn't see such atrocities such as ethnic cleansing or forced genocide.

In America, suffering often gets linked to money, material wealth, and convenience. Imagine if the money spent on cell phones was suddenly allocated for feeding the poor? Would one dare to give up the convenience of a cell phone if it meant one more person would have a chance at survival? Sadly, that answer has already been made, and the answer is no. Consider what would happen if the money Americans spent on bottled water was used to supply water to drought stricken regions. Again, the choice has already been made in favor of the convenience of the bottled water. There are a multitude of examples where man has chosen making his life easier in this life at the expense of his "out of sight out of mind," distant brother.

Returning to our Holy Father:

...the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie. In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.
- Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi

Christ on the cross is an ever present reminder of how far man still needs to go to live out the message the Redeemer has given. Perhaps that is one reason the image proves difficult for many to behold. But look one must. Let every Christian gaze upon the crucified Christ and draw the needed inspiration to let go of self and give all to neighbor. This life long calling to abandon self seems impossible at times, especially in the modern world of convenience. But every convenience indulged in is a freely-willed choice, an opportunity to say yes to Christ.

Pray for the grace to always say yes.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Exercise of Desire

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.
(Romans (RSV) 8:25-27)

Often, the call to prayer presents one of the greater challenges of the Christian life. This exercise in talking to God routinely takes on the characteristics of just another daily task, and like so many of life's burdens that seem to yield little if any fruit, it becomes easy to slowly lose interest and perhaps even resist spending precious time that could be used for so many other seemingly more pressing matters. God will just have to wait.

...we do not know how to pray as we ought...

Prayer is a manifestation of hope which leads to a deeper, more intimate communion with God and with His Mystical Body of Christ. To pray is to supplicate oneself and allow the Spirit to soften one's heart which has been hardened by this fallen, temporal existence. Through one's entreaty to God one begins the process of emptying self and allowing the grace of Christ to fill in the empty space created. The technique employed varies given one's circumstance at the time of entering into prayer. A simple Our Father is no less efficacious than a lengthy session of lectio divina. In fact, one's prayer life should be a mixture of public prayer, such as in the mass, and private prayer that might be offered in the quiet of the day.

Pope Benedict XVI speaks directly about this intimate prayer experience in his encyclical Spe Salvi as he writes:

It is only by becoming children of God, that we can be with our common Father. To pray is not to step outside history and withdraw to our own private corner of happiness. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings as well. In prayer we must learn what we can truly ask of God—what is worthy of God. We must learn that we cannot pray against others. We must learn that we cannot ask for the superficial and comfortable things that we desire at this moment—that meagre, misplaced hope that leads us away from God. We must learn to purify our desires and our hopes. We must free ourselves from the hidden lies with which we deceive ourselves. God sees through them, and when we come before God, we too are forced to recognize them. “But who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults” prays the Psalmist (Ps 19:12 [18:13]). Failure to recognize my guilt, the illusion of my innocence, does not justify me and does not save me, because I am culpable for the numbness of my conscience and my incapacity to recognize the evil in me for what it is. If God does not exist, perhaps I have to seek refuge in these lies, because there is no one who can forgive me; no one who is the true criterion. Yet my encounter with God awakens my conscience in such a way that it no longer aims at self-justification, and is no longer a mere reflection of me and those of my contemporaries who shape my thinking, but it becomes a capacity for listening to the Good itself.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Numbness of conscience plagues modern man. The twenty-first century reveals a time when the thought of humanity has largely been shaped by erudition and the political agendas of those who have arrogantly compartmentalized and reduced God to one's personal belief. Faith, hope, and love are nice sentiments, but hardly a basis for structuring one's life in this world of knowledge and perceived mastery of nature.

Is it any surprise then that prayer becomes stridently difficult amidst the myriad of voices that compete for one's attention, even for the faithful believer? One can hardly find a moment when a television, radio, telephone, Internet connection, or even a loud speaker is out of earshot. Each medium broadcasts a voice with an opinion on a wide range of topics from politics to the best bath tissue. Information in general, even the most mundane, has taken on a false sense of urgency, and God has gotten lost in the mix or conveniently scheduled to the confines of a Sunday morning activity.

And when one does find the time to pray, how often is that prayer one of petition for some form of material comfort instead of an intimate conversation with the Almighty? How often does one allow God to get a word in edgewise amidst the persistent requests for things? A lot of time gets spent asking, thanking, praising...but very little time is taken for simply listening. There's too much noise and seemingly not enough hours in the day for such things.

The Pope points out one more very important fact to describe the close relationship between prayer and hope that so easily gets neglected in the day to day rat race:

Saint Augustine, in a homily on the First Letter of John, describes very beautifully the intimate relationship between prayer and hope. He defines prayer as an exercise of desire. Man was created for greatness—for God himself; he was created to be filled by God. But his heart is too small for the greatness to which it is destined. It must be stretched. “By delaying [his gift], God strengthens our desire; through desire he enlarges our soul and by expanding it he increases its capacity [for receiving him]”.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

As the Lenten journey continues, let all humanity take time to listen for the voice of God and come to realize the greatness for which they have indeed been created.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Never Again, We Hope

"Denying historical facts, especially on such an important subject as the Holocaust, is just not acceptable. Nor is it acceptable to call for the elimination of any State or people. I would like to see this fundamental principle respected both in rhetoric and in practice by all the members of the international community."
Secretary-General-Designate Ban Ki-moon,
Press Conference SG/2120, 14 December 2006

"Never again, never again" was the mantra of post World War Two after humanity learned of just how evil Adolf Hitler and his implementers of the final solution were. Millions of people, predominantly Jews and including a good number of Catholics and anyone else who fell out of favor with the Third Reich met a systematic and horrific end in the Nazi concentration camps. The world was sickened, saddened, and outraged...but it didn't last.

Since WWII, Russia, Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, Iraq, and many others have experienced the wholesale killing of groups of people based on nothing more than their very existence. The foundations of Islamic extremism call for the elimination of the infidel which means just about anyone reading these words right now.

And lest the American should start to feel high and mighty and sleep well at night knowing that such atrocities would never happen on her soil, one should not leave out of that list of countries these United States where 40,000,000 have been killed since the Roe vs. Wade decision largely because they came into existence at an inopportune time. An inconvenient truth indeed. These aborted babies were not killed because of race, color, or creed. They were terminated simply because they could be. It's legal in all 50 states. It's legal up to the ninth month in all the states of this land of the free.

How confusing that a world so technologically advanced could still have such insanity as genocide. If humanity has found the enlightenment to do such marvelous things with science, why does she still fall into such barbaric behavior?

In his encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI gives the human race a reminder that advances in science cannot guarantee advances in ethics:

Here, amid our growing knowledge of the structure of matter and in the light of ever more advanced inventions, we clearly see continuous progress towards an ever greater mastery of nature. Yet in the field of ethical awareness and moral decision-making, there is no similar possibility of accumulation for the simple reason that man's freedom is always new and he must always make his decisions anew. These decisions can never simply be made for us in advance by others—if that were the case, we would no longer be free. Freedom presupposes that in fundamental decisions, every person and every generation is a new beginning. Naturally, new generations can build on the knowledge and experience of those who went before, and they can draw upon the moral treasury of the whole of humanity. But they can also reject it, because it can never be self-evident in the same way as material inventions. The moral treasury of humanity is not readily at hand like tools that we use; it is present as an appeal to freedom and a possibility for it.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

Christ gave humanity a proposition for freedom. When the incarnate God came into the world He asked humanity to consider and accept two simple fundamental tenets of being:

And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, "Which commandment is the first of all?" Jesus answered, "The first is, `Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, `You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these."
(Mark (RSV) 12:28-31)

God gave man free will to say yes to true freedom or yes to the enslavement of his own designs. That choice cannot be forced. One of the criticisms of Catholicism is that the Church imposes morality upon her members. In point of fact, the Church does nothing of the sort. What she does do is remind humanity that despite the tides of history, there exists certain moral absolutes. Those absolutes define what it means to be in communion with God.

Modern man has seemingly forgotten or simply rejected this relationship with his creator. Instead he has chosen a path of self-sufficiency and placed his faith solely in his own ingenuity. He has mistakenly presumed that his progress in science will translate to advances in social living by means of convenience and that naturally morality will fall into place. The trouble lies in the fact that in a system of relativism, a core set of values, a bulwark structure to protect the common good, is simply vaporous. A shift in opinion can change everything.

Returning to Spe Salvi:

It is not science that redeems man: man is redeemed by love. This applies even in terms of this present world. When someone has the experience of a great love in his life, this is a moment of “redemption” which gives a new meaning to his life. But soon he will also realize that the love bestowed upon him cannot by itself resolve the question of his life. It is a love that remains fragile. It can be destroyed by death. The human being needs unconditional love. He needs the certainty which makes him say: “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38- 39). If this absolute love exists, with its absolute certainty, then—only then—is man “redeemed”, whatever should happen to him in his particular circumstances.
Pope Benedict XVI - Spe Salvi

British philosopher Edmund Burke made famous the saying that those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it; however, as the Holy Father points out, it's not just knowledge of things that comes into play. There has to be either an acceptance or rejection of good or evil. The way of Christ ultimately defines the way of good which each generation must choose.

"Never again" should be the mantra of the Christian. His hope should be that never again should he return to sin. Never again should he reject the way of the cross but rather embrace it. Never again should he fail to hope in the love or our Lord, Jesus Christ.