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.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Virtues Gone Wild

The modern world is not evil; in some ways the modern world is far too good. It is full of wild and wasted virtues. When a religious scheme is shattered (as Christianity was at the Reformation), it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are , indeed, let loose, and they wander and do damage. But virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.

C.K. Chesterton - Orthodoxy

It's tempting to blame the ills of society on a single generation. This author stands guilty as charged as he doesn't blanch at his professed disappointment with his own Baby Boom generation. And for good cause. How many of the advances in science, technology, and social constructs trumpeted by this demographic of free love actually moved people closer to God compared to steering souls towards a lifestyle of introversion where nearly all attention gets focused on giving to self versus actually making a gift of self?

And while Tom Brokaw affixed the label of "Greatest Generation" to those who did indeed sacrifice and ultimately triumphed during the depression and World War II, clearly Chesterton's observation written in the early 1900's brings to light that the parents and grandparents of the Boomers were already showing the signs of wear and tear brought on by the fractioning of Christianity some 300 years earlier.

Saints Ambrose, Augustine, and Aquinas drew upon Plato to champion the four cardinal virtues of prudence, temperance, fortitude, and justice. That word cardinal comes from the Latin and means hinge. Thus morality hinges or pivots upon these four primary virtues. Today, very few could tell one what any of those words really mean. They have largely faded into obscurity in the modern vernacular save justice which has taken upon a different definition more closely related to law and order.

In the spirit of it's never too late to learn...

Prudence: Most assume that this word has to do with chastity as in, "Mom is such a prude!" In reality prudence deals with the ability to distinguish between what is virtuous and what is wicked. This applies not just to the big ticket items such as breaking any of the Ten Commandments but equally important to the everyday pragmatic decisions such has how much money should one spend on lunch?

The challenge, today, lies in the reality that modern man has redefined previously thought of wickedness into acceptable norms. Divorce, abortion, co-habitation, pornography, are a mere sampling of the more recent acceptable virtues in the American culture. Given the right circumstance and intent, any virtue's antithesis becomes acceptable and those who attempt to cry foul are labeled as intolerant. The resulting confusion breeds a host of victimized classes of people all demanding recompense from the society at large.

Perhaps the greatest blow to society as a result of the loss of prudence is that nothing really matters anymore beyond one's own personal opinion. A perverse equality of ideas has developed where the only qualifications for credibility are a pulse and the ability to communicate. As such truth does not exist and therefor prudence as a virtue has an unsteady and shifting foundation for one to discern good and evil.

Temperance: This is simply the practice of moderation in all things. This is classical Greek philosophy and was intended to help individuals govern the passions instead of being governed by them. In modern culture great liberties have been taken with temperance to the point that few things are wrong as long as one doesn't do too much of it. And this mindset has been applied to things that are not of the passions, for example, religion. It's okay for one to go to church on Sunday, but one is discouraged from expressing one's faith in mixed company.

In this year's presidential election candidates have all moved so far to the position of moderate that one can hardly distinguish one party from the next. The phenomena of temperance in attitude lest anyone be offended leaves one starving for true leadership that none of the candidates seem able to muster.

Sacred scripture gives one of the best examples of termperance as this cardinal virtue was intended.

Do not aim to be valiant over wine, for wine has destroyed many. Fire and water prove the temper of steel, so wine tests hearts in the strife of the proud. Wine is like life to men, if you drink it in moderation. What is life to a man who is without wine? It has been created to make men glad. Wine drunk in season and temperately is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul. Wine drunk to excess is bitterness of soul, with provocation and stumbling. Drunkenness increases the anger of a fool to his injury, reducing his strength and adding wounds.
Sirach (RSV) 31:25-30

Fortitude: "Moral courage" gives a good description of this gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the grace to hold fast to the abosolutes whose foundations are in Christ and His teachings. In other words, the ability to choose to take a hit from the culture at large for adhering to what is good and right in the eyes of God even to the point of martyrdom. Fortitude can be active or passive.

Modern culture confuses fortitude with intolerance. Often the righteous man gets pressured by society to accept all points of view regardless of their moral good. To bravely take a stand means risking reproach by the masses who adhere to a philosophy of equality regardless of the evil that may be propogated. As a result a person without fortitude can quickly find one's moral compass unable to find true north.

A classic example of this might be the pro-choice camp's proposition that abortion is a personal decision. The more compassionate advocate of abortion might very well agree that killing a baby in the womb is indeed evil, but counter that reality with the justification that every person should have the right to choose whether to do that evil or not. The freedom to choose to kill has become the greater good in this person's mind. Were fortitude present, the person would realize that murder is never a moral choice a culture should support.

Justice: This virtue frequently gets a juridical quality applied to it when in point of fact, charity is the closer cousin. Justice involves making sure that everyone receives that which belongs to him, especially with regard to human dignity and moral order. This goes beyond the modern obsessive preoccupation with individual rights. Philosopher Peter Kreeft describes justice this way:

"Virtue is simply health of soul. Justice, the overall virtue, is the harmony of the soul, as health is the harmony of the body. Justice is not just paying your debts, not just an external relationship between two or more people, but also and first of all the internal relationship within each individual among the parts of the soul."
“Justice, Wisdom, Courage, and Moderation:
The Four Cardinal Virtues”

While justice begins with the individual its reach is communal. To be just involves an ever congnizant awareness of the needs of the members of the community, both sinners and saints, and a recognition that not all needs of people are necessarily equal. Some need less and some need more. It is probably the most important of the cardinal virtues as without justice, the other virtues have a difficult time standing. How can one exercise moderation if one is unaware of one's needs? Fortitude without knowing the needs of society is the breeding ground for tyranny or simply dumb management. Prudence without justice is virtually impossible for without knowing the needs of the culture or individual how can one possibly distinguish between what is wicked and what is good?

Finally, it must be pointed out that while the grace to practice the virtues comes from the Holy Spirit, they are fruitless unless put into practice. Some Christian faiths would have it that these gifts of the Spirit are in and of themselves sufficient and in a sense supplementary since in their understanding one is saved by faith alone, and if one practices the virtues it is simply proof positive that one has been given grace; however Catholic Christians hold fast to the reality that salvation is a combination of God's infinite mercy, justification by faith, and the good works which hinge upon these cardinal virtues.

At the risk of sounding terribly intolerant, any other design could only lead to a moral system based in relativism...which is precisely where much of Western Christendom finds itself, today.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Charisma or Charism

"My own years as a teenager were marred by a sinister regime that thought it had all the answers; its influence grew - infiltrating schools and civic bodies, as well as politics and even religion - before it was fully recognized for the monster it was. It banished God and thus became impervious to anything true and good."
Pope Benedict XVI
Address to Seminarians & Young People

When Pope Benedict spoke these words at St. Joseph's Seminary in Dunwoodie, New York, yesterday, he may have been recalling his own lived experience under Nazism; however, he also very well described to a large degree the condition of the American culture. One need only look at how God has been banished from schools and civic bodies under the auspices of diversity and political correctness to see not a monster as in the form of Adolf Hitler, but rather a cancer in the form of relativism.

If lawmakers and justices abandon their consideration of right and wrong using a mindset of Christian or at the very least theocentric thought, with what will they use as their moral compass? Physical science does little to handle the questions of morality. Public opinion is fickle and prone to being swayed by simple dramatic oratory so one can't rely on that. Tradition is also out for up until recent decades the American tradition was steeped in a God-centered mind.

The simple answer is that absent of faith in a higher power, man is left with his own limited capacity to govern. The end result can only be the rise of figures who ascend to power with charisma versus serve the people with a charism. The masses become enamored by the magic of the dynamic man and lose sight of the Almighty. In such a scheme, governance turns inward upon itself and the people its supposed to serve simply suffer or as in the case of America, they simply drift.

The Pope's visit to America will soon fade in the headlines as the Presidential election moves to center stage, but perhaps the Holy Father will have made enough of an impression, that Americans will begin to see that a very large chasm separates where the people want to be and where their leaders are attempting to take them. For Benedict XVI radiates the light of Christ wherever he goes and the human heart cannot help but be drawn to it, even if the mind does not understand the soul's attraction.

The reason the politician's pontification for change resonates with the electorate may very well be that Americans recognize in their hearts that the soul of the nation is off track, but not because of simply failed policy of the current regime as the candidates would have one believe, but rather because of something deeper and infinitely more personal. One swept into the culture of the day soon realizes that the current carries one away from God, his loving Father and creator.

Hope remains that the authenticity that effuses from Benedict juxtaposed to the obvious pursuit of personal agendas portrayed by the politician will give the American pause as he considers just what kind of person he wants to govern his culture; one who serves with a moral foundation based in the love of Christ, or one who serves with an arrogant belief that he or his party has all of the answers. Given that kind of examination, hope remains that America will realize that its savior rests not with a political party, but with the Divine Person that is Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hope and Horror

Today, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated mass in a packed baseball stadium in front of 46,000 faithful Catholics. He brought with him a message of hope, charity, and reconciliation. He encouraged those in his care to go out and be a light for the world to see the love of Christ. Benedict's visit to the United States thus far has been a wonderful success. He has been greeted with love and respect everywhere he has gone.

Security for the Pope rivals that of any other world leader. This man of peace has enemies, particularly in the radical Islamic community. And as the head of the only Church Christ gave to humanity, Satan certainly stands to take great joy if something bad were to happen to Peter's successor.

Yet any evil act against this ultimate humanitarian that is Pope Benedict likely will not come from a bomb or a bullet directed at him, but rather emerge in the form of an awakening by the masses to the reality of the state in which they live. Not far from where the Pope is visiting in the city of New Haven, Connecticut home to one of America's more liberal institutions, Yale University, a tragic reminder to how deeply evil has permeated the culture is about to be put on display.

Meet art student, Aliza Shvarts. This senior at Yale is getting ready to put on display perhaps the most vile and repugnant show, all with university approval. Over the last year, Shvarts has artificially inseminated herself as many times as possible while taking a cocktail of abortifacient drugs to purposefully induce as many miscarriages as possible. She has saved the blood from these miscarriages and plans to mix the blood with petroleum jelly to keep the blood from drying; then smear the blood on clear plastic sheeting which she will then use to wrap around a large cube. On each side of the cube she will play videos that she took of herself having her miscarriages in her bathtub.

This is art at Yale University.

"I believe strongly that art should be a medium for politics and ideologies, not just a commodity," Shvarts said. "I think that I'm creating a project that lives up to the standard of what art is supposed to be."

How many souls Shvarts murdered in the name of art is anyone's guess. She is not willing to reveal that information. And while according to Shvarts art should not be a commodity, apparently human life already is. Then, too, this could all be a terribly sick and disgusting joke on her part or on the part of Yale's newspaper which published the story, today.

Out of such horror hope can still arise. For while this woman whose conscious has been shamefully deformed by her culture, her professors, and perhaps even her parents, the love of Christ remains available to her. The mercy of Christ can cover even this horrific disregard and profanation of Our Heavenly Father's greatest gift, the gift of life. Pray for the conversion of Aliza Shvarts.

Still another hope remains. Perhaps news of this barbarism towards life will make its way into the mainstream media, and thousands will be inspired to re-examine their own views on the value of life. In this way, maybe God can turn this purely evil showcase of Shvarts to the good of future generations.


I have now learned that this was a hoax by the student. Very sick and a pretty weak explanation from Yale. Here is a link to the story.

Richard C. Levin is the President of Yale, and todate as expressed no opposition to Shvarts work. His contact information is:

Telephone: (203) 432-2550
Fax: (203) 432-7105

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Incongruity of Freedom

Freedom isn't easy.

The media, politicians, and pundits have marked the macabre milestone of 4,000 American troops dead in Iraq with predictable castigation of President and policy. The troops went to a foreign land with the idea of protecting American freedom from terrorism and maybe giving an oppressed people a little freedom of their own. The troops are all volunteers who freely chose the military as a career, a calling, or a simple means to an end.

For the Catholic in America, the Pope has settled the question of whether this is a just war. It's not. Nonetheless, American men and women are there, now, and at the very minimum deserve the support and prayers of the very people they freely give their lives to protect regardless of one's opinion on policy.

It took five years to lose 4,000 troops. Armed with the best armor and most sophisticated weapons, evil still found a way to take their lives. Each is mourned by family and friends, and most Americans sincerely wish the killing could end. All hope for the day when the last soldier finally comes home and the last chapter of history telling of America's experiment in nation building can be completed.

Freedom isn't easy.

While it took five years for evil to end the lives of 4,000 of America's strongest and most protected, it takes only twenty-four hours for it to end an equal number of America's most vulnerable. For the umbrella of freedom American soldiers fight for casts a very large shadow that includes the freedom to kill a child who should be safe in its mother's womb. Every day in America, 4,000 Americans are lost to abortion.

Al Quida and the abortionist have a like minded goal of killing Americans simply because they exist. In point of fact when one examines the teachings of Planned Parenthood's founder Margaret Sanger; her drive to create a superior race by eliminating African Americans; the disabled; and even those who simply had a lower IQ, she seems on par with the evil of Islamic extremism that would snuff out infidels to please Allah.

And yet the incongruity of freedom imposes upon the American the funding of Planned Parenthood with her tax dollars while Uncle Sam chases another evil that actually kills a much smaller fraction of his citizens. Americans have decided that women should have the freedom to kill their babies in their wombs. It is a freedom driven by choice; a freedom to choose to undo a series of bad choices that led up to a decision that had to be made to end a baby's life. Women want this freedom so their lives won't be interrupted. Men want this freedom so they won't be held any more accountable.

For it is God's will that by doing right you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish men. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.

Freedom isn't easy.

The ignorance of foolish men Christ's first pope speaks of seems ever abundant. The use of freedom as a pretext for evil seems more and more common place in a culture that no longer really fears God or honors its leaders and certainly does not strive to serve God. As America propels itself down the path of choosing a new President, perhaps the prayer should be that its next leader will take a step back from the dark abyss of bad choices freely chosen by leaders past and instead take a step forward towards the true freedom that is the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ.