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.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Simple Voice of Hope

Saint Michael the Archangel Parish is a small, historic, Catholic church on Fourth Avenue in downtown Portland, Oregon. Within its hundred-plus-year-old, red brick walls one finds a beautiful place to worship. And while her predominantly Italian congregation strives to raise the money to renovate her interior which has aged for the most part gracefully, her mission of serving the homeless and the poor a simple meal at lunch remains a mainstay that keeps the spirit of this church renewed.

When time allows, I attend the 12:05pm mass during my lunch hour as do many of the office workers of downtown. This is one of the few parishes in Portland, perhaps the only one, that offers the sacrament of reconciliation every day from 11:30am to Noon. At Noon, the old bell tolls to call all to mass, and those gathered inside already rise and pray the Angeles together concluding with the prayer to St. Michael.

At the end of mass, father greets the faithful outside the front doors to wish them a good day. As one descends the curved stairs that take one to the sidewalk of Fourth Street, one has to briefly walk amidst some of the very people who need the love and service mentioned during the concluding rite of mass when father commands, "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord."

Some sit, some stand, many lean. They are the least of our brothers, and those who have just received the body or Christ are suddenly juxtaposed with those who will soon receive the love of Christ from the volunteers of St. Michael's who feed them a lunch time meal. It's nearly impossible not to feel a little unworthy to have so recently received such a blessed gift of Eucharist, and then nonchalantly stride past these souls who appear to be in more need of what one has just received. Knowing that the angels of St. Michael's parish will feed them eases the conscience but does not dim the reality.

Mostly, the only communication between these poor and the nourished exiting mass are kind glances and an occasional smile. Rarely do any of those waiting in line for meal beg the mass goers for money. It seems to be some kind of unwritten rule.

The other day as I was coming down those stairs, I overheard part of conversation between two homeless women sitting on the sidewalk waiting for the doors of the lunch room to open. The one talking looked to be in her mid-forties. Something she said with a slight optimistic lilt in her voice has haunted me these last few days.

"The only thing that gives me hope is that this can't go on forever. One day I will die and this will all be over."

There are volumes of catechesis in her simple statement. This life cannot go on forever. No matter how good it is or how desperate, eventually it does end. I don't know where in her faith journey this woman was, but it sounded like she at the very least knew it would be better on the other side. Her simple voice of hope proclaimed that the ultimate answer to life would not be found in this existence, and at that moment, I believe she was closer to Christ then me and good many of the daily communicants who walked past her and returned to their offices.

Blessed are the poor.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


This blogger largely tries to stay away from politics for the simple reason that if he directed his attention for a very long period of time there what appeared on the screen might appear to be less than charitable and certainly give him cause to frequent the confessional more often than he already does. Nevertheless, as Mr. Obama now appears to have the Democratic nomination well in hand, it seems appropriate to address one of the cornerstones of his message because it reflects an interesting phenomena in the American culture.

Change is what this relatively young man calls for. And he's not just looking for three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel. No, Obama has firmly planted his flag in the heart of the American psyche that knows deep down that something is not as it should be. Secular America hungers for a savior. And one must say secular for though a large number of her citizenry lays claim to Christianity as their religion their values definitely stray a good distance from Christ and His Church.

For one to effectively change then one needs to know exactly what one is leaving behind. That important element is something few Americans have really given much thought to. They simply believe that anything would be better than what the status quo is today. Were he to be elected, Mr. Obama would be the least experienced President of these United States ever elected to office. How willing is America to roll the dice on a candidate whose best quality is scripted oration? The fact that he has been able to lure so many speaks loudly of a nation that starves for salvation or at the very least a genuine purpose for existence.

This is a dangerous time in the nation's history. In the 1930's, an Austrian immigrant to Germany convinced enough people that the Aryan race was the master race of all mankind. He caught the masses imagination at just the right time for having been beaten and downtrodden by World War I the people of Germany were ready for wholesale change. Something, anything, would have been better than what they were experiencing. Germans were suffering from real material poverty and Hitler seemed to have a solution; though few clearly understood his final solution.

Now this is not to say that Mr. Obama is anywhere near in the same league of an Adolf Hitler. Being a smooth talker likely is as harmful as he will ever be. However, it is interesting how a desire to be lifted out of poverty moves people in a singular direction. America does not suffer a poverty of material wealth. In some ways it might be easier to understand if she did. True, the economy is stumbling, but the result of this will likely be a curbing of excess versus real pain.

No, America's destitution lies within her very soul. Unlike her European brethren countries who have suffered from their loss of Christian thought but maintained their national identity, America is quickly losing sight of who she is for her identity was founded upon the principles established by her founding fathers which included above all a belief in a loving and just Creator. Having moved out from under God, America struggles to find a core set of values that serve this one nation.

The Devil is not named George Bush. He's simply a man whose made some good decisions and some bad ones. The Messiah is not named Barack Obama. He's simply a man with a gift for public speaking. Should he win in November he, too, will have a slate of decisions to make and some will be good and some will be flawed. No president ever escapes that.

Truly it is not change that America yearns for but rather a return, or better still, a redemption. The only one who can provide that is the one who possesses the human face of God and the divine face of man...Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

America, Welcome to the Real World

According to the The World Fact Book, published online by the CIA, the ever growing population of India is about 1,147,995,898. That's billion with a "B." Of those souls, 25% live below the poverty line, which translates to a number that equals about 95% of the total population of the United States. Poverty flourishes in India. So it should come as no surprise that her government took great umbrage at President Bush's comments that seemed to imply that India and her increased consumption of food as that third world economy begins to emerge was partially to blame for the soaring food prices in the USA.

Consumption of resources borders on gluttonous in America. Data from the United Nations Agricultural Organization reveals that the average American consumes about 3,770 calories per day, the highest of any country in the world. A well fed citizen in India will eat about 2,440 calories per day. India, whose population is nearly four times that of the US, consumes less than a million barrels of oil per day compared to the nearly 21 million barrels burned by America.

And while 12% of Americans live below the poverty line, her poorest of the poor pale in comparison to the desperately impoverished whom Mother Theresa served. People literally starve to death in India. Hospital emergency rooms do not serve as adjunct free health care clinics for the poor as they do in the US. If a poor person gets sick in India, he is on his own. And while the "homeless" of Portland, Oregon recently found the energy and resources to organize themselves and stage a protest in front of City Hall by camping out on the sidewalk in front of the mayor's office, in India homelessness is not a lifestyle choice.

And lest anyone believe that India stands out at as shining city on the hill, one should remember that this country of a billion people has its share of sins as well. Life is cheap here. Human trafficking, especially in the flesh trades, is a real problem. Women are definitely considered the inferior sex to the point that a cottage industry of mobile ultrasound businesses has grown up to help couples determine the sex of the child inutero. If the baby in the womb is a girl, her life often gets terminated via abortion.

Clearly all countries have their problems in a fallen world.

When America awakes from her recession, she may very well find that she has become the synthesis of who she once was yesterday and who India is today. She may discover that recession was more of a hangover from the indulgent party she enjoyed for so many years, and now that the binge is over, its time to take a step forward into the real world. She may by God's mercy discover that there is way more to life than material wealth. Therein may exist the hope that she turns back to God in thought and in action.