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, November 29, 2008

The Triumph of Good

No being is said to be evil, considered as being, but only so far as it lacks being. Thus a man is said to be evil because he lacks the being of virtue; and an eye is said to be evil because it lacks the power to see well.
St. Thomas Aquinas
On Goodness in General - Summa Theologia

Evil is a word that freely gets bandied about in the popular discourse. The definition of evil seems to ebb and flow with the same relativity as its antonym, good. George Bush, Barack Obama, and Osama Bin Laden have all been labeled as evil by one group or another, but does there exist a true equivalency in stature here? Does one represent true evil better than the other? The answer largely rests with whom one asks. Surely the conservative sees the evil in Mr. Obama with equal clarity as the liberal perceives such evil in Mr. Bush; while nearly all conclude that Bin Laden fits the bill as the personification of evil.

It begs the question that if evil can be so subjective, how can good be absolute? It stands as a legitimate question that left unanswered allows one to traipse down the path of situational ethics. Traveling in this vein allows one to find, given the right circumstance, a seemingly legitimate reason to break any one of God's covenental, Ten Commandments.

The answer lies within the fact that God is good, and that which He creates is good, and as Genesis proclaims, when He created man it was very good. Such exists the wonderous simplicity of Our Heavenly Father's plan. For God did not create evil to accompany good, but rather gifted free will to accept good or not.

The lower discipline of science provides good examples of this within the physical world. For example, one cannot create dark in and of itself. For darkness exists only when one devoids a space of light. Similarly, one cannot create cold. Such a state merely conveniently describes a condition where heat has been removed.

Evil functions in much the same way. For as Aquinas points out in the above passage, a being, meaning a soul, does not possess evil, but rather it lacks virtue. And it is not as if such virtue is unavailable to the soul. Indeed, the soul chooses the virtuous path or not.

For the believer, these virtues are clearly defined in sacred scripture, sacred tradition, and the successors of St. Peter, but even the non-believer has an indelible sense within his being of what is right and wrong at the most primitive level. The Bushmen of the Kalahari in Southern Africa, keenly described in Michener's book The Covenant and nicely juxtaposed to modern society in the classic film The God's Must Be Crazy, have existed in a state of peace for perhaps as long as 20,000 years, largely by retaining the good that God has given them and their propensity to give that good to each other.

This people, who perhaps exist as a living icon as to how man should live with his neighbor, most likely lack the ability to comprehend why Jdi Mytai D'Amour had to die, yesterday. Mr. D' Amour was a 34-year old stock clerk at a Long Island, New York Wal-Mart. He was trampled to death when a herd of Black Friday shoppers stampeded through the doors of the store where he worked in their frenzy to save a few bucks on some meaningless material things. Consider that ten years from now, probably less, nearly every item purchased at that store will be either in the landfill or taking up space in a basement or attic; that nothing sought after by these mad consumers will appreciate in value. Set against the value of a single human life, one struggles to wrap one's mind around the mentality that places the temporal material item over the life of a man.

Good was not chosen in this event at the Wal-Mart leaving evil to fill the space. The fruit of this poverty was that a man had to die.

Yet one should not despair that this world is an evil place. The world is good, and that good has incredible power over evil. For while good and evil are opposites, they are not equal in weight. Evil does not self-generate, it simply resides where good is lacking. Good, on the other hand, builds upon itself and always triumphs over evil. Not that one gets spared suffering and even some defeats along the way, but with perseverance, good always defeats evil as light defeats the darkness; as the love of God incarnated in His son Our Lord Jesus Christ defeated death by giving his life.

As the believer enters into Advent, let all find the simple ways to inject more good into the every day situations and allow the light of that Christmas star shine all the more bright.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Higher Things

It may well happen that what is in itself the more certain may seem to us the less certain because of the weakness of our intellect, which is dazzled by the clearest objects of nature; as the owl is dazzled by the light of the sun. Hence the fact that some happen to doubt about the articles of faith is not due to the uncertain nature of the truths, but to the weakness of the human intellect; yet the slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained by the lowest things as said in "De Animalibus."
St. Thomas Aquinas
Summa Theologiae

Aquinas quotes Aristotle's famous psychological treatise regarding the nature of things to help bring home the point that one's doubts are in essence a poor defense against a reality one does not understand. Such was the case when Aristotle pondered the matter in the mid-300s BC; endured when Aquinas expounded upon it a thousand years later; and today, in the twenty-first century, it holds true.

And while this great doctor of Church was writing about whether sacred scripture is nobler than other sciences; a point which he wonderfully proves true, the concept easily works for any number of circumstances or issues. How often the most certain path gets chosen for no other reason than it offers the way of least resistance or greatest comfort even if the truth gets denied in the process.

The abortion debate proves a good example of this. Science has proven that human life begins at conception. Once sperm and egg unite to become one cell, if left to its own devices, a human being becomes visible to all some nine months later. Yet there exists a window of 270 days when said human stays concealed in her mother's womb, and during this period that individual faces the greatest risk of dying an unnatural death than any other time in her earthly life. This can be said. One in four pregnancies in America is ended by force. The chief cause of death being that what is not seen must not be real and therefor subjected to the weakness of human intellect which would choose fear of inconvenience in its many manifestations over the reality that life, human life, gets terminated by abortion.

The reality of Christ provides another proof to examine. Countless interpretations of Our Lord exist to form the basis of thousands of protestant faiths. As Pope Benedict reflected in his book, Jesus of Nazareth, most of these interpretations are reflections of one's personal bias versus the reality of who the Christ really is. The true Christ, the risen Christ as revealed in the Gospels and the mass gets substituted for lessor versions that conform with one's personal preferences. For some, Christ was a great man like Buddha or Gandhi but certainly not the actual son of God. Others view Christ as the oppressor of freedom laying down all kinds of moral standards impossible for any one person to follow. Then there flourishes the Christ as the nice guy who takes an anything goes attitude towards life. The human intellect prefers to shape Christ to fit its needs versus doing the work to consider and meditate upon the infinitely more beautiful reality of God entering into humanity.

Even a cursory examination of the current day's economic crisis reveals that man chased after that which dazzled versus that which proved real. Ethics declined and markets collapsed. A reality that the Bloomberg Press reported to have been a prophecy of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger back in 1985.

The lower things that Aquinas speaks of are easy to know for more often than not, they are those very things that require the least amount of effort and thought. To choose the higher things such as faith, hope, love, and the self-sacrifice that accompanies each of those things one is called to abide within requires a dependence upon something that transcends human reason. It requires an openness to the will and the true love of God who created and ensouled each and every human being.

To experience this requires not the depth of insight achieved by St. Thomas Aquinas, but rather as Aristotle suggested merely the slenderest of knowledge of those higher purposes. With that, our Heavenly Father can and does work with.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The "E" Word

As the dust begins to settle from the election and one takes a look at how Catholics in large numbers supported Mr. Obama, the temptation to despair looms large. The fact that 54% of Catholics chose the Democrat is troubling; however, it should be of little surprise. Catholic in America proves very much the adjective versus a lived reality. This is not unique to Catholics. Religion in general in these United States largely skews more towards the hypothetical. Jesus has been diluted to a self-styled philosophy no more or no less important than the new age philosophy prescribed by Oprah.

Perhaps what has been so disconcerting for many devout Catholic believers hinges on the rude wake up call announcing that the barrier that separates the unbeliever from the truth has grown so thick and seemingly impermeable. How could any thinking, rational person not see the lie? Something must be shielding one from that which is real to follow that which is simply good marketing.

What is that something?

Perhaps the best way to answer that question is to state what that something is not. It is not of God. It might be diabolic, but the hard reality might just be that it is simply the fruit of the mystery of a culture that has turned its back upon Our Father for so long and turned its front towards reliance upon fallen man. And this is not to disparage the character of the President-elect. All of humanity is fallen by default. So to place one's hope for salvation in any man's hands, even a seemingly holy man, which Mr. Obama certainly is not, is a recipe for failure.

Just as the Germans of the 1930s had lost all hope and therefor gave a relatively unknown Austrian the chance to fix their ailing nation, America has chosen a similar path with a relatively unknown Kenyan. The Germans could have placed their hope in God. They didn't and the consequences were nothing less than catastrophic. Adolf Hitler created a special police force called the Gestapo to help enforce his policies. Obama proposes the creation of a civilian national security force to carry out his vision. Hitler believed Jews to be inferior and the cause of many of society's ills and thus engaged his final solution. Obama longs to sign the Freedom of Choice Act which would treat any human being in womb as inferior.

The disadvantage Mr. Obama faces in his quest to foist his liberal agenda to "change" the culture rests in the fact that one, he will likely not gain the support of the military as Hitler was able to do. Two, while the economy is poor and in recession, America is far from the economic depression and fear that allowed many a good German to look the other way. Three, while Hitler had complete control of the media, Obama does not have that ability. True, the mainstream media loves him today; however, there is no guarantee that love will continue after the bloom falls from the rose. Finally, the American attention span remains rather short. With the election over and the yard signs tossed in the trash, the country will soon focus its attention on Christmas, the Super Bowl, or the latest episode of the hit TV show of the day.

Yet he did not in any way stop his insolence, but was even more filled with arrogance, breathing fire in his rage against the Jews, and giving orders to hasten the journey. And so it came about that he fell out of his chariot as it was rushing along, and the fall was so hard as to torture every limb of his body. Thus he who had just been thinking that he could command the waves of the sea, in his superhuman arrogance, and imagining that he could weigh the high mountains in a balance, was brought down to earth and carried in a litter, making the power of God manifest to all.
2Maccabees 9:7,8

Antiochus, the "he" in the above passage of scripture, learned the hard way that God is merciful and just. Our Lord never ceases giving one the opportunity for conversion. He could have simply blasted this enemy of the Jews out of existence. Instead he let him fall out of his rushing chariot. It took a series of misfortunes before this king who vowed to destroy the Jews finally repented and turned to God in his dying days.

America, under the command of President Elect Obama, is poised to rush in her chariot towards a false hope that excludes God as the center of life. In many respects, Mr. Obma is simply taking the reigns and changing direction using the same busted moral compass that has guided this country for too many years, and like his predecessors, it seems unlikely that he can find true north. This may explain why America may fall from her chariot, and fall hard.

So what is a Catholic (the noun not the adjective) to do? Perhaps it remains as simple as rendering unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and give to God everything else. Mr. Obama will exit the stage of history in due course, but God is eternal. His reign never ends.

Part of this giving to God includes the "e" word that scares many into complacency...evangelization. More than half the Catholics in America supported the candidate who supports the murder of the most innocent and vulnerable members of society. If one seeks a place to start, perhaps one's own backyard should be the first stop in one's missionary journey. Many bishops are leading the way in their vow to oppose those laws that promote the destruction of life. A priest in South Carolina recently advised his parishoners to refrain from taking communion if they voted for Mr. Obama until they reconciled themselves with the Church. The clergy in many ways is beginning to step up. The laity needs to do the same, each according to his gifts.

"God bless America."

More than ever this simple prayer is needed. May all pray it in earnest.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

An Extraordinary Life

Life is extraordinary.

According to Merriam Webster's on-line dictionary, for something to be extraordinary it most go beyond what is usual, regular, and customary. As the Church celebrates All Saints Day and All Souls Day this weekend, the believer once again gets reminded that his current state of living passes away. In the grand scheme of eternity, this mortal manner of being measures as a flash of light when juxtaposed to the rest of one's existence.

Normalcy must find its residence in communion with the Trinity. Only there does one find his true purpose. To see that reality proves difficult. When Adam and Eve made that fateful decision to step outside of Paradise they stepped into an extraordinary world; the one where death, pain, suffering, and the like intermingled with beatitude. How does one make sense of that kind of world? And yet much of life revolves around doing just that. It stands as the great deception that pulls one away from looking towards Heaven.

God's first people, the Jews, made the best of this world by living as closely as they could to the law which God gave to them. Today, the Halakhah, which translates to "the path that one walks," contains 613 mitzvot or commandments. There are 248 positive mitzvot, one for each bone and organ of the male body, and there are 365 negative mitzvot, one for each day of the solar year. All of these are found in the Torah, which comprises the first five books of the bible, today.

It's not that God's law was imperfect. People are. No matter how many laws God gave, man would find ways to break it. Christ even affirmed that it really only came down to two laws:

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? How do you read?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered right; do this, and you will live."
Luke (RSV) 10:25-28

Even this was not good enough for the lawyer who insisted on getting some clarification as to just who the heck qualifies as his neighbor. Jesus instructs the lawyer with his parable of the Good Samaritan.

Once in awhile it seems humanity gets a glimpse of Heaven in the most extraordinary circumstances. recently published an essay by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, the Potifical Preacher, in which he included a letter that was found in the pocket of Aleksander Zacepa, a Russian soldier killed in battle during World War II.

Hear me, oh God! In my lifetime, I have not spoken with you even once, but today I have the desire to celebrate. Since I was little, they have always told me that you don't exist. And I, like an idiot, believed it. I have never contemplated your works, but tonight I have seen from the crater of a grenade the sky full of stars, and I have been fascinated by their splendor. In that instant I have understood how terrible is the deception. I don't know, oh God, if you will give me your hand, but I say to you that you understand me … Is it not strange that in the middle of a frightful hell, light has appeared to me, and I have discovered you? I have nothing more to tell you. I feel happy, because I have known you. At midnight, we have to attack, but I am not afraid. You see us. They have given the signal. I have to go. How good it was to be with you! I want to tell you, and you know, that the battle will be difficult: Perhaps this night, I will go to knock on your door. And if up to now, I have not been your friend, when I go, will you allow me to enter? But, what's happening to me? I cry? My God, look at what has happened to me. Only now, I have begun to see with clarity. My God, I go. It will be difficult to return. How strange, now, death does not make me afraid.

Life is extraordinary. In the most extreme of circumstances this young Russian soldier who until hours earlier had been an atheist suddenly, by God's grace, discovered that there exists no meaning to existence without God.

From conception each human being matters. Made in the image and likeness of God, each is given an eternal nature. The small stretch of time, perhaps seventy-five to one hundred years, that man ordinarily lives incarnate in this world, in its most primitive explanation, serves as a time to refine the gold for for man's ultimate purpose, which is no less than an eternal state of ultimate bliss within the triumphant mystical body of Christ.