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, February 28, 2009

Driven by the Spirit

The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him.
Mark 1:12-13

St. Mark uses a very active verb to describe what happened to Christ after his baptism in the Jordan. While Matthew and Luke describe Jesus as being led into the wilderness, Mark states "The Spirit immediately drove Him," almost as if Christ went against His will. This was certainly not the case as Jesus always maintained his free will.

A little investigation reveals that the Latin Vulgate uses the verb expellit which subsequently was translated into drove. This particular use of this verb is found only two other times in sacred scripture; both times in the Book of Sirach:

timor Dei expellit peccatum - the fear of the Lord drives out sin - Sirach 1:27
illius quoniam expellit a se timorem Dei - for such a man's fear driveth him from the fear of God - Sirach 23:27

When scripture talks about the fear of God, it refers to a profound reverence, respect, and love for God vesus anything to do with fright. So perhaps the gospel writer wanted to show that Christ went to the wilderness out of His own love for His father. Having been baptised to fulfill the law, suddenly the Trinity manifests itself to the temporal world in the form of God the Father heard as a voice from the Heavens; God the Son present in the flesh standing in the Jordan River; and God the Holy Spirit descending upon the Son like a dove.

It's tempting to visualize Christ wandering in the desert like some kind of ancient version of the television show, Survivor Man, dodging the lions and tigers and bears, oh my, while angels helped him along the way. Of key importance is the fact that scripture denotes that He spent forty days in the wilderness, the number forty nearly always referring to preparation of a much larger event, which in this case, was indeed the most important event in human history. It seems a bit out of sorts to imagine part of that preparation required a physical endurance test.

Consider this. Christ, the New Adam, was driven by the Spirit away from humanity to commune with God in direct opposite of the old Adam who was driven out of Eden to live outside of that communion. Notice that Christ is described as living with the wild beasts and ministered to by angels. Surely these wild beasts posed no threat to their creator. Does it not make more sense that Christ lived in harmony with God's creation? Was this a return to Eden to prepare for man's redemption?

And just as Adam and Eve were tempted in Eden, this new Adam also gets approached by Satan. Jesus must have presented a most irresistible target for the devil. The only way he could top his evil of turning God's very good creation of man would be to cause the fall of God's divine incarnation. That would have been the crème de la crème. It was not to be. Christ demonstrates how powerless the devil is against the truth, and after Satan's attempt to lure Christ by a crafty interpretation of scripture, the Word that became flesh summarily dismisses him, Vade Satanas - Begone Satan!

Lent presents a time when Christians are called to imitate Christ and the forty days He spent in the wilderness. Allow the Spirit to drive one away from one's fallen nature to a place where one resides in communion with the Trinity. During this time one should let go of reliance upon self and be open to the ministry of angels. Pray, fast, and perhaps be an angel to the poor through alms giving.

Christ emerged from the wilderness and began His ministry. Let all use this time leading up to Easter to be driven by the Spirit to recharge, restore, and renew so one can better serve Our Lord and his children.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Opting In

Faith needs a generous and vigorous soul, and one rising above all things of sense, and passing beyond the weakness of human reasonings. For it is not possible to become a believer, otherwise than by raising one’s self above the common customs of the world.
St. John Chrysostom
Homily XXII

No one cares to spend much time with the notion that one's own reasoning might possess weakness. To do so leaves one vulnerable as a cursory examination of self reveals that, yes, indeed one does not know all the answers and that a good many beliefs might find their basis in mere feelings. Salesmen, the good ones, make their living subtly playing to the feelings of their customers who then reason within themselves to make an otherwise unnecessary purchase.

Today's financial mess has its roots firmly set in the exploitation of feelings. The American dream of home ownership was presented as attainable to those who previously had been excluded for what turned out to be some very good reasons. Statistics had proven that a certain profile of borrower was risky. Legislators may have reasoned that if they forced the banks to offer more loans to this group, then the mean old underwriter's and loan officer's cold, hard-hearted criteria would be proved wrong. Weak reasoning indeed as history and current day events have demonstrated.

Yet let not all the blame fall to the bankers. Consumers engaged in a catastrophic lack of prudence. Their decision to dive into interest only loans and other like products was wanting in strong reasoning. The feeling of grasping a higher rung on the success ladder as defined by this capitalistic culture was too good to pass up. Never mind that home values have never appreciated at the pace of a hot IPO stock.

President Obama's Keynesian strategy to spend his way out of recession likely will fail for the simple reason that it does nothing to address the weakness of human reasoning that brought the country to this point in history in the first place. Given the absence of faith in his life, it may actually be impossible for him to see that. And while there are those who posit a broader conspiracy to socialize the nation, and therin lies the duplicitous goal of the Obama recovery plan, the hard reality exists that the United States of America has been enslaved for a good many years as she has turned her back on the authentic freedom of God and embraced the license of humanism.

And yet a way out of this economic morass does exist. As weak and limiting as human reason must be, does it not stand to reason that continuing in the common customs of the day can only bring more of the same? What if one were to rise above it? Instead of taking one's cues from the culture what if one simply took God at His word?

"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal."
Matthew 6:19-20

Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
Matthew 19:21-22

The President, the bankers, the media all try to convince the population at large that the treasure resides in the material possession of the house, the car, the image. Yet God's message clearly indicates that what is of most value is not the debt that is paid to Citi, Bank of America, or any number of lendors who now find themselves on the brink of collapse. Rather, the most prized treasure is the debt that has been already paid for by the incarnate sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ and one's response to that gift.

The fact of the matter remains that America and nearly all of the world needs not a bail out but an opting in. That "in" is no less than the faith in the love of God, the grace of Christ, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. There one finds far more than the American dream. There one encounters the Almighty's reality, which has infinite, glorious appreciation.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Keeping HIS Word

Our own curiosity often hindereth us in reading of the Scriptures, when we desire to understand and discuss that which we should rather without more ado pass over. If thou desire to reap profit, read with humility, simplicity, and faithfulness; nor ever desire the reputation of learning. Enquire willingly, and hear with silence the words of holy men: let not the proverbs of the elders displease thee, for they are not recounted without cause.
Thomas A. Kempis
The Imitation of Christ

An incredible event happens every hour of every day inside a Catholic Church somewhere in the world. At mass, the word of God gets proclaimed. Even as one reads this sentence, somewhere in the world God's words are exhalted in the celebration of the sacred mysteries.

Is it not incredible that God has given humanity His word to encounter? And yet most people put more stock in the dimestore philosophy displayed on a Starbucks coffee cup than in sacred scripture. The Bible seems to reside in the category of something one should have, but to actually read it requires a bit more commitment than most are willing to afford.

What is more important than the word of God?

Interestingly enough, over the centuries 6.7 billion copies of the Bible have been produced. Right now there are about 6.7 billion people on planet Earth. A very distant second is Quotations from Chairman Mao written by Mao Tse-Tung. There are 900 million copies of that book which is to serve the 1.3 billion Chinese. And while 1.5 billion people practice Islam, only 800 million copies of The Qur’an exist.

For Western culture, which tends to put all of its eggs in the basket of empirical science, scripture presents a challenge. To accept anything on faith alone bucks the message from the culture that every truth has a corresponding proof. Many take the position of needing so much evidence that the Bible is the word of God. For many it's a passive denial. Case in point, how many Christian homes does one walk into where a copy of the Bible is kept in some place of honor? Sadly, too few. Mostly one finds it on a bookshelf equal in status to Harry Potter or perhaps Websters Dictionary if one organizes one's books by fiction versus non-fiction.

Yet if one believes in The Almighty, how can one not be in awe that this loving God chose to communicate with His creation in a way that could be read or heard? And that being the case, should not His sacred scripture be honored and reverenced even if one does not gain full understanding of His word? Perhaps if one approached scripture more as a great work of art versus a John Grisham novel, then one would be more inclined to accept the elements beyond one's current day comprehension. For scripture speaks a language that is best understood with the heart and its infinite capacity for love versus the finite limitations of human intellect.

When the lector finishes his reading at mass and proclaims to the congregation, "The word of The Lord," what does that mean? If one is offering a perfunctory, monotone mumbling of "Thanks be to God," then perhaps one should examine the sincerity of one's presence at this sacred meal. God's word, not man's, has just been spoken. There exists no more important words that one will encounter that day.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.
John 1:14

God's word proclaimed in the mass is second only to God's word becoming flesh in the Eucharist. For in this sacrament all of the senses; sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste are engaged in the reception of Our Lord's body, blood, soul, and divinity. One reads of this encounter in scripture, and then one experiences it, first hand, in communion.

One will hear or read a lot of words in any given day. Take the time, make the time to lend an ear towards the ones that originate from Our Heavenly Father. For scripture is perhaps best regarded as a heart to heart dialogue between Father and child.