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, June 28, 2009

The Envy of the Devil

God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of his own nature he made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it.
Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24

This week the world said goodbye to three icons from the Baby Boomer generation, Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson. How each is remembered hinges very much on one's age.

The younger set sees McMahon as Mr. Publisher's Clearing House, while those who grew up with the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson fondly recall McMahon as the consummate sidekick announcer. He was the best friend to Carson. A test pilot during WWII, McMahon graduated from Catholic University and remained a strong supporter of the institution for the rest of his life. While he had his weaknesses with regard to women, he lived a life as a generous spirit. Most remember him as everyone's friend.

Fawcett was the Marylin Monroe of the Boomer generation. Every red-blooded, American teenage male either had one of her famous pin-up posters in his bedroom or wished he had. She defined sex appeal for many; yet that objective image she created was also redeemed in her dying days. For the image that this author will remember of Ms. Fawcett in years to come will not be of her provocative poses in the 70s and 80s, but rather of her praying the rosary in her hospital bed. She was a woman of faith. She received the healing sacraments of reconciliation, anointing, and Eucharist the day before she passed, and one can presume she left this life in a state of grace.

Michael Jackson was a troubled soul. At the height of his career, no one had ever mastered the genre of song and dance he performed. It was beautiful. The very fame he earned in the end scourged him the latter half of his career. It may very well be the case that Christ is the only one who truly knew him; for the rest of the world only knew the child star; the king of pop; and in the end, the freakish sideshow tabloid fodder. Somewhere behind all of that there was a soul created by a loving God in desperate need of simple dignity.

The death of these three American icons, and now the news of the death of Billy Mays, that ubiquitous pitchman who shouted to the heavens like a carny, has many once again recognizing the fragility of life and that one's temporal existence is indeed bound by time and circumstance. Yet scripture gives us hope that while Satan introduced death to the world through his envy, Our Heavenly Father still has the last word.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.
1Corinthians 15:22-26

All are born into a beautiful world created by a loving God; however, it is a world at war; a place where good and evil are continuously in a pitched battle; a place where angels often intervene, and where demons do prowl through the world seeking the ruin of souls. Christ offers a safe haven yet here exists the paradox that troubles one's intellect. For the closer one gets to Christ, the more apparent the evil of this world becomes. A view of humanity through the eyes of Christ reveals the magnitude of His ultimate sacrifice. One soon wants this world less and Heaven more.

A hundred years from now it's doubtful Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, or Michael Jackson will be remembered much. This is not to disparage their character, it's simply the reality of entertainment history. It's very short lived. Yet the reality of Christ will endure. If one is seeking to understand the meaning of the death of a celebrity, then one should turn one's focus away from the temporal lives of Hollywood and zero in on the eternal life Christ has to offer from the cross. His passion, death, and resurrection have withstood the test of time, indeed, it has transcended history itself.

No wonder the devil is so envious.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Ultimate Body

Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from Christ's side, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
O good Jesus, hear me
Within Thy wounds hide me
Suffer me not to be separated from Thee
From the malicious enemy defend me
In the hour of my death call me
And bid me come unto Thee
That I may praise Thee with Thy saints and with Thy angels
Forever and ever

St. Ignatius of Loyola has been widely credited for composing this beautiful prayer known as the Amani Christi or "Soul of Christ." As Catholics recently celebrated the Feast of Corpus Christi, perhaps a little reflection on the Body of Christ is in order, especially in a culture where the body gets ascribed so much value in some ways...and so very little in others.

Let the eyes rest upon the crucifix and behold the man, the divine man who was born to die for the purpose of one's salvation. His feet were once bathed in the tears of a sinner, but now they are affixed to a beam with a nail. A touch of his hand could heal the sick or drive out demons, but now they too are fastened to wood. His head was once anointed with expensive perfume, but now a crown of thorns bloody his scalp. His body is a mess. It has been spat upon, scourged, beaten, and pierced with a spear.

Body of Christ save me?

It proves hard to imagine, especially for the non-believer, that this crucified Christ could save anyone at this point. Look at Him. He is utterly destroyed hanging up there upon the cross. He could not help himself let alone bring salvation to humanity. And yet, that remains the immutable truth of exactly what He did. By dying He destroyed death itself.

This likely explains why He and his believers are so reviled in this culture of death. How could anyone who strives for a life of unrestricted freedom to do whatever one wants revere a symbol of complete constraint? The truth of the cross radiates the authentic freedom those who languish in a sea of relativism so desperately seek. Sadly, without faith, without grace, they would prefer to drown then embrace this life raft that stays ever within their reach throughout their lives.

Body of Christ save me!

It is the perfect prayer for this era.

A few weeks ago in Beaverton, Oregon a woman, eight months pregnant, had the misfortune of encountering a woman possessed by pure evil. This woman lured her victim into her home, then as near as authorities can tell, stabbed the pregnant woman and proceeded to cut the unborn child from her womb. The mother and child died. This murderer then hid the slain mother's body in the crawl space of her home and called 911 pretending that the dead baby was hers and that she had just given birth. It didn't take long for doctors to piece together the lie and the woman now faces charges for murdering the mother, but not the baby.

Oregon does not have a law that considers the unborn as having life protected by the criminal code of law. The State Senate tried to right this injustice, but the Democrats blocked a parliamentary procedure that would have brought the bill out committee and onto the Senate floor for debate. This happened not a long time ago, but rather, today, a few weeks after this ghastly murder. So far, no Democratic State Senator has stepped forward to explain their reasons, but one can surmise that pro-abortion lobbyists were hard at work in this state that is a bastion for the culture of death. Republicans, who are distinct minority have an uphill climb to bring Oregon in line with Federal Law and thirty-six other states which make it a crime to harm a fetus.

Body of Christ save me!

It's such an intimate entreaty. It's poignant. Genuine urgency accompanies this prayer. For faced with the reality of one's sinful nature ever seeking to make one's way to Our Lord through the muck of a fallen world that presents endless man-inspired remedies for that which ails one, and knowing through lived experience that those solutions proposed by man are in the end, charlatanism, a desperate plea to the Savior remains all that is left.

One cannot save oneself in this world. Heroic measures are needed. The body of Christ on the cross loudly trumpets one to be not afraid for the cavalry from Calvary is on the way. This army of one body, one spirit in Christ came to save not to condemn, and salvation remains available for all; for the rich whose wealth has distracted them away from God; to the homeless living on the margins of society; to the lukewarm who dabble but fail to commit to Christ; to the mother and child murdered in Beaverton; and, yes, even to their murderer. All are invited. Mourn for those who refuse to accept.

Rest one's eyes upon the crucifix and weep tears of humble joy. Marvel in the irony that the ultimate beauty of the human experience is not found in the body of a super model or an Adonis, but rather in the divine body whose beauty was despoiled by the sins of man. What should have been an ugly event at Golgotha turned into a glorious eternity for all of humanity.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, says the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-9

Saturday, June 06, 2009

American Idle

Stage plays also captivated me, with their sights full of the images of my own miseries: fuel for my own fire. Now, why does a man like to be made sad by viewing doleful and tragic scenes, which he himself could not by any means endure? Yet, as a spectator, he wishes to experience from them a sense of grief, and in this very sense of grief his pleasure consists. What is this but wretched madness? For a man is more affected by these actions the more he is spuriously involved in these affections. Now, if he should suffer them in his own person, it is the custom to call this “misery.” But when he suffers with another, then it is called “compassion.” But what kind of compassion is it that arises from viewing fictitious and unreal sufferings? The spectator is not expected to aid the sufferer but merely to grieve for him. And the more he grieves the more he applauds the actor of these fictions.
The Confessions of St. Augustine
Book Three

The above passage is worth repeated reading. Read it again then read it a third time.

Back in AD 397 when Augustine wrote this there was, of course, no television or Internet. People entertained themselves with plays. Towns of any size usually had at least one amphitheater. Some of those better productions became the classics man celebrates, but there were no doubt thousands of other plays that simply came and went without ever gaining an audience much like a bad TV sitcom, today.

Going to watch these plays was a daily habit for many. It was an escape from the routine of life, but apparently even in Augustine's day, people invested great energy and emotion into the doings of these fictional characters. Who can say what the ancient version of Melrose Place or CSI might have looked like, but the fact that drama was important seems pretty clear.

Not much has changed today other than the amount of time Americans spend engrossing themselves as a spectator of life. According to the Nielson Company, the folks that do television ratings, the average American spends 161 hours per month watching TV. Considering that there are 720 hours in a 30-day month, that means that Americans are spending over one fifth of their time watching the tube. Put another way, divide 161 by 24. In any given month Americans spend nearly 7, full, 24-hour days watching televison.

Of course, television isn't the only spectator sport. According to Nielson, Americans are averaging an additional 36 hours a month surfing the Internet. It begs the question, what are they looking for? Entertainment? Escape? Connection? Guidance?

Even the so called "reality shows" are largely fiction. Jon and Kate Plus 8 is not real life though America is terribly interested in this couple. Notice how the children have become merely commodities of the story.

It's not that television or the Internet are intrinsically evil. In reality, both are morally neutral; however, the use of these mediums needs examination. For excessive use of any substance often indicates a need to fill a void. So what is lacking in the American experience that requires such a heavy dependence upon spending so much time watching and even caring about the lives of fictional characters? And if so much energy has been invested in this pursuit, at what point does the line between truth and fiction become indistinguishable?

Consider that in St. Augustine's day, a man was valued more by his ability to evoke emotion versus his ability to communicate the truth. Rhetoric was considered a high art. Is that any less true today? Case in point, is there not a tangible, scripted quality surrounding the Obama presidency to the point that even the news media finds it hard to deviate from the fairy tale it helped to spin during the election? The result is a country now led by a phantasm versus a president.

"Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way where I am going."
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.
John 14:1-6

This expenditure of time so many exhaust in front of the television; this form of devotion that might best be described as "idle worshiping"; in reality may be a search for Heaven. The void that America searches for, that all of humanity seeks, is an authentic encounter with the truth. This truth is not a fictional story, but the ultimate reality in the form of a divine person, Jesus Christ.

If upon reflection one comes to realize that one knows better the story of this year's American Idol than the Gospel of Christ, perhaps it's time to turn off the TV and pick up a Good Book.