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.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

The Mission

“By its nature, relativism fails to see the whole picture. It ignores the very principles which enable us to live and flourish in unity, order and harmony. Unity is the essence of the Church; it is a gift we must recognize and cherish.”
Pope Benedict XVI - World Youth Day

Does one take one's values from the contemporary culture, or does one apply one's values to the contemporary culture?

Most children at some point will hear a parent advise them not to go along with the crowd just because. "If you're friends jumped off a cliff would you jump off a cliff too?" or some variation of that no doubt at one one time or another was the imparted wisdom of mom and dad. It was good advice, but like so many of the smart things parents try to teach, often children simply do not listen. In the child's mind he can't imagine his friend wanting to jump off a cliff, but they do want to try beer which seems, comparatively, way safer.

As one enters adulthood and discovers that one is now on his own to decide what is right and wrong, how easy it becomes to just go along with the crowd. If everyone is doing it then it must be a good thing since no one wants to be unhappy. Television shows like Friends, Seinfeld, and Sex in the City have become the new synoptic gospels for the American culture. How many people does one know who could quote a favorite one liner from one of those programs but would struggle to come up with a favorite verse from sacred scripture?

Does one take one's values from the contemporary culture, or does one apply one's values to the contemporary culture?

Two men are on a mission right now. Barack Hussein Obama is on a globe trotting campaign trip to try to enhance his worldly credibility with the electorate. In Mr. Obama, the world can see first hand the incarnation of contemporary American culture. This junior senator from Illinois has positioned himself as the one who best represents what the people of these United States really stand for. And he may very well be right. Popularity seems to be the core value these days and not much else. The war in Iraq is tragic; the right to kill the unborn is paramount; God is optional; and George Bush is an idiot. If one can speak those populous messages with eloquence, many Americans have decided one need no further qualifications to lead.

The other man on a mission is Pope Benedict XVI who has traveled to Australia to bring the Gospel to Generation Hope who have gathered down under for World Youth Day in Sydney. The Pope has his own message of change for the world's young people that runs counter to the contemporary culture. This Holy Father really does know best as he calls on all not to follow the path of secular relativism but rather to simply seek the truth. He gives himself totally, faithfully, freely and fruitfully, not for his own advancement or benefit, but rather for the eternal salvation of the children, over one billion of them and growing, that Christ entrusted into his care.

Does one take one's values from the contemporary culture, or does one apply one's values to the contemporary culture?

Obama embodies the first part of the question, Pope Benedict espouses the second. It is Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who offers the change one can believe in.

Whether a Catholic should vote for Barack Obama or John McCain is not the point of this article. History has proven that the cultural Catholic vote follows very closely with the popular vote, and Catholics who actually practice their faith make up only about ten percent of the electorate. As one weighs who to vote for an examination of conscience must take place and part of that exercise should include an honest inventory of where one has derived one's values.

If one discovers areas of belief that have been shaped by the contemporary culture, then one should take a step back and examine if such beliefs are in line with Christ. If they are not, then who greater than Him has taken His place in the formation of one's core set of values? If the answer is Barack Obama, John McCain, or one's coworkers at the office water cooler, then perhaps one needs to embark on one's own mission. Not a quest for change, but rather a mission for conversion.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I'll Be Back

Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.
John (RSV) 20:6-7

Why did Christ bother to set aside the napkin that covered His head? He could have just tossed it in the same pile with his other burial clothes. Scripture is very specific in this matter. He took the napkin that covered His head and did something very deliberate with it. The Latin Vulgate uses the phrase unum locum to describe this. It's one of those nuances that easily gets lost in translation to English because that word locum translates to "seat," "rank," or "position."

While it may seem a mystery to us why Our Lord was so tidy. For a Jew living 2,000 years ago, the meaning of this gesture would have been very clear. The custom of the day held that that when the master of the house was dining at table, his servant would wait just out of sight for him to finish. It would be considered terribly rude for the servant to clear the table before the master was done. When the master finished eating, he would rise, clean his fingers and beard with the napkin, and then wad it up an throw it on the table. This meant that he did not plan to return and it was time for the servant to clean up.

On the other hand, if the master was not finished eating, but for whatever reason needed to leave the table, he would neatly roll his napkin and place it beside his plate. This let the servant know that the master would return and that he should hold off on cleaning up.

So when Christ takes the napkin that covered His head and neatly rolls it up and puts it in a specific position apart from His other burial clothes, by that gesture he lets his apostles know that He is not finished. He will be back. Upon seeing this, Peter and John in their joy rushed back to tell the others. Had they waited around they might have seen Him sooner. The very next verse in this scripture describes how Mary Magdalene stayed behind at the tomb, and Christ appears to her.

This tradition of neatly folding the napkin continues on today in the mass. At the conclusion of communion when the priest purifies the vessels that were used, notice that he doesn't simply wad up the corporal, that linen cloth on which the eucharistic elements are placed, but rather he neatly folds it in a deliberate and specific way and sets in on the chalice in a specific position. It is a sign that the Eucharistic meal never really ends.

The Master will return.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Not in My Neighborhood

And behold, all the city came out to meet Jesus; and when they saw him, they begged him to leave their neighborhood.
Matthew (RSV) 8:34

It's interesting to ponder why the citizens of Gadara asked The Christ to leave their land after he had healed the demoniacs. This passage from Matthew's Gospel concludes the famous scripture where Christ confronts the two possessed people who had terrorized the countryside to the point that no one even dared to venture down the road in front of the caves where they roamed. The demons ask to be allowed to go into the herd of swine, which Christ allows, and then that very herd rushes into the sea and drowns itself.

First one must understand that the Gardarenes were mostly gentiles, Greeks who settled in the area after Alexander the Great's exploits. Jews would never herd swine. So when Christ expelled the demons into the swine who then killed themselves, there were probably some less than enchanted swine herdsmen who now had to explain to their boss what happened to his property. Oh to have been able to listen in on that conversation. In modern vernacular it might have sounded something like,

"There was this dude who like drove your pigs nuts and they totally went off the cliff."

It's not easy bringing Christ into foreign territory, whether that be a country or a secular culture. God has always maintained a system of free will. One can accept His reality or not. Had Christ approached the herdsmen and asked their permission to sacrifice their livelihood in exchange for the curing of the two demoniacs, it's highly likely they would have driven Our Lord and His disciples into the sea right then and there.

To truly be the follower of Our Lord means to be willing to give up everything of earthly value for the Kingdom of Heaven. That's not just a tall order for the non-believer, the faithful struggle with this day in and day out.

How often does one pick and choose the Christ he allows into his neighborhood. The loving Christ; the comforting Christ; the giving Christ; the forgiving Christ are all welcomed; however, when the suffering Christ; the tortured Christ; or Christ dead in tomb makes it into one's world, how easy it is to ask this Christ to leave.

Like the Gardarenes, one doesn't understand the good these less than pleasant manifestations of Christ bring. The homeless person living on the margins begging for change gets not just casually overlooked, but consciously ignored as one pretends one didn't see this person who is not just a fellow human being, but a soul where Jesus also lives.

Every non-believer either consciously or unconsciously asks the same question posed by the demoniacs, "What have you to do with me, O Son of God?" though not out of fear of eternal punishment as the demons who knew their ultimate destination of perdition but rather out of a seeking to answer the nagging question of what is this Christ? Yet how often does one reach out to this person with self-righteousness, lectures or indifference instead of love and tolerance?

And when Christ comes with the burden of a heavy cross, how often does one wish this Christ would leave and take the burden with Him. Instead of embracing the wood, one bitterly drags the weight of the matter angered by being chosen.

And getting into a boat he crossed over and came to his own city.
Matthew (RSV) 9:1

Christ didn't argue with the people. He didn't try to explain what He had just done for the poor souls whom He had freed from their possession by the demons. And scripture doesn't reveal if those cured followed Him. He doesn't boast of his authority over the evil one. He simply leaves as they requested.

The love of Jesus is everlasting. One never loses that. Yet if one chooses to send Him away, He will give one the space desired. Perhaps becoming more one with Christ lies in the choice to accept into one's neighborhood The Christ in whatever form He enters. Herein awaits the true conforming of one's heart to that of the Savior.