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.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Bubble

The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but every one who is hasty comes only to want. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
Proverbs 21:5-6

The current financial crisis in America and elsewhere exists as a complicated tangle of events nearly too difficult to explain. If one has about ten minutes of time, this smart video portrays as good an explanation as any as to how the world suddenly got itself into this fine mess. Skip the political message towards the end, but do check out the facts.

In a very real sense, this "crisis" simply reveals the fruits of secular materialism. Everyone has a desire to get ahead in this world, but few stop to ponder what awaits at the front of the line. Financial security may bring a sense of peace of mind, but it does little to bring comfort to one's heart. Christ did not die a rich man. Even his tomb was borrowed yet the riches He brought to the world transcend anything man could remotely begin to offer.

The word greed has been diluted to the word bubble in modern vernacular. Instead of saying, Americans got greedy about the acquisition of material wealth and got burned, one sugar coats the situation to say Americans are victims of a housing bubble. No personal responsibility gets applied. It was just something unfortunate that happened. Heaven forbid the requirement of any introspection over one's actions.

What is the purpose of a house? In 1923, Kahil Gibran published his wonderful book, The Prophet, where the main character, who is a metaphore for Christ, is asked by the people of the mythical city of Orphalese to speak on a variety of topics such as love, marriage, children and the like. One of the people in the crowd, a mason, asks the Prophet, "Speak to us of houses." Below is the key message of his response.

And tell me, People of Orphalese, what have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors?
Have you peace, the quiet urge that reveals your power?
Have you remembrances, the glimmering arches that span the summits of the mind?
Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain?
Tell me, have you these in your houses?
Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?
Kahlil Gibran
The Prophet

Did purchasing that McMansion really help one's family if both Mom and Dad had to work in order to pay its mortgage while Junior was warehoused at daycare? And why does that $2,800 television screen need to be so big and highly defined when what gets broadcast remains so small in value and nebulous in virtue?

America wrings her hands as the stock market teeters on losing up to a third of its value lest her government bail it out with an infusion of tax payer cash. And while the popping of the housing bubble may appear to be big news, to much of the world it exists as a non-event. Some 60,000 Catholic families in Orissa India are homeless and hiding in the jungle due to Hindus who have burned their churches and their homes while chanting to their warrior god, Jai Shri Ram. This is far more of a true housing crisis which the western media has completely ignored.

One can hope that the current economic downturn might lead to an awakening of sorts for the American culture on what is of true value. For Our Lord and Savior, Heaven was not found in the material possession of a house.

Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. And a scribe came up and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." And Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has nowhere to lay his head."
Another of the disciples said to him, "Lord, let me first go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead."
Matthew 8:18-21

Perhaps Christ has given man in this passage of scripture the best summary of what is going on in the financial world, today. The dead, those who put money over all else, are indeed burying their own kind. For if one has Christ in his heart, then all the financial turmoil in the world matters little, and he has found not a temporary bubble, but rather an ocean of hope and peace.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Statement of God

Father Jim Brand, a regular commentator on Vatican Radio, made a beautiful observation recently that gives one cause to stop and reflect. He put forward the idea that each and every human being exists as a statement of God. The Almighty spoke all into existence.

In this political season the airwaves and written media are awash in statements. Perhaps at no time in America has the nation been so tragically polarized across so many different directions. With the speed of one's Internet connection, newer statements supplant recent statements before one has time to fully digest the information given. The news cycle has morphed into a news continuum that never sleeps or contemplates.

In this environment truth does not exist. If bogus information gets released, no worries. One simply issues a revised statement to clarify things. The gravity of bearing false witness against one's neighbor has been lost. How many hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent by one party or the other in their quest to issue statements intended to manipulate, castigate, or simply engage in self-promotion?

It proves difficult not to see a diabolic influence contained within this sea of mass confusion. For in the process of sorting and sifting through the cacophony of statements flying into one's head, often lost is the only statement that really matters; that one's very being truly is a statement of God, and that statement results in proof positive that God exists.

Imagine if the culture suddenly was able to see through the haze of information and came to the realization that God is not an opinion, not a theory, not a punchline, but rather that He actually exists. And not only that, but that His purpose in creating everyone was an infinitely supreme act of love.

Breaking news! God exists and He loves everyone!

What other statement can man make that matters more? If one truly embraces that reality, should not the next course of action be to stop whatever one is doing and pay attention to the implications? Are not a myriad of deep and important questions about the meaning of one's existence suddenly answered? For if each has been created by God out of love, then by default one has to recognize that one exists in a community of souls with a common creator. And it is in this very commonality that one must then find the very texture of compassion. Love of neighbor no longer becomes a commandment, but rather a calling.

The logical response to the above could be life altering, but hard reality maintains that one will compartmentalize this statement with perhaps a little greater or even a little less importance than the daily news. How much time does one spend in prayer versus the time used for catching up on world events?

Yet the truth remains regardless of how difficult to understand or grasp. One's existence still stands as a testament of love by Our Father. For centuries He reached out to His people with the message that He was there to love them. And when they did not hear, His word became flesh and did indeed dwell among humanity. Into human history stepped Our Lord, Jesus Christ to be with humanity, intimately, body, blood, soul, and divinity until the end of the age.

"Give me a sign, O Lord."

That lamentation gets answered each and every time one gazes into the mirror. God's statement of love gets eloquently orated in the recognition of the gift of self to the communion of souls that comprise the mystical body of Christ. One's purpose in this existence entails the joyful cooperation with grace to let His statement speak for itself from within oneself; all for His glory.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Identity Theft

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.
St. Augustin

The human experience seems to hold in store for nearly everyone a period of time where one ponders the questions, "Why am I here, and what is my purpose?" These complex questions come with remarkably simple answers. One exists because out of love God spoke one into creation, and one's purpose primarily becomes a lifelong attempt to love his Creator with all of one's very being.

It tests one's faith to embrace this. Surely there must be more? But what? And with those two questions firmly in hand, man embarks upon a fruitless journey to find himself. His identity as a child of God simply does not cut it. Though his identity has been clearly stamped into his heart, his human intellect still falls prey to the serpent's pick up line in the Garden of Eden, " will be like God." In a certain sense, sin could be defined as a foolhardy attempt to change one's identity from a child of God to a creator of self.

Modern living includes a good deal of caution in protecting one's identity from thieves who would like nothing more than to rob a bank or department store from the comfort of their laptop computer by using someone else's vital credit data. As a result most folks have learned to become very careful of who gets to know what in this regard. Our culture now communicates via a series of passwords and PINs and security verification questions such as "What is the name of your favorite pet?"

How interesting that so much less care gets employed to protect one's true identity as a child of God. In point of fact, man readily gives this identity away in exchange for a substitute. The father of modern rationalism, René Descartes, coined the phrase "I think therefore I am," back in the early 1600s, and modern man has flocked to this notion that he some how has a say in his very existence. Oh sure, he might concede that God may have done the heavy lifting to get things started, but ultimately man remains the master of his domain.

At the other extreme sits the one who sees God as the tyrant searching for an opportunity to damn one to Hell. Fear becomes the primary motivator for this person who genuinely wants to love his creator but struggles with exactly how to do that when this deity might very well judge one as forever unfit for Paradise. One's identity as a child of God gets pilfered by one's fear of eternal consequence. Some how the fact that the word "love" is used over 800 times in sacred scripture compared to the dozen or so times hell is referenced gets lost, and the loving Father's identity gets replaced by a sad counterfeit.

And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we know and believe the love God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. In this is love perfected with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and he who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because he first loved us.
1 John (RSV) 14-19

Love defines humanity's identity; a love that radiates out. Finding oneself in the modern sense remains an exercise in chasing one's shadow. Only when man accepts the proposition of Augustin that the heart must rest in his loving Father does he truly come to know his true identity. And with that knowledge, one's purpose in life shifts to one of service to God and neighbor with little regard to twenty-first century's quest for self-fulfillment.