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Pastor's Letter--An Introduction


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Introduction to “Pastor’s Letter”

A Presumption and An Assumption

To begin with, my weekly Pastor’s Letter presumes nothing about the reader—except belief in “some kind” of God.  Or, (to ask even less,) it presumes a reader would be at least slightly uncomfortable, saying, “There is no God.”  The focal question becomes: “If there is some kind of God, what connection does that belief have to do with practicing some kind of formal, organized religion?” Then, further, one might ask, “Why should that religion be Catholic, some other Christian denomination or, for that matter, any other faith?”

 When I use the word, “God,” I don’t mean to restrict the content to "God," as viewed by any one or another particular religion—specifically, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Krishna, Great Spirit, Manitou, Ra, etc.  I merely mean that I am presuming the reader accepts some kind of Mind Behind It All, which—at least at the outset—is the sole content of the word “God”--a Being responsible for the universe, Who had a purpose in creating it all—and a purpose in inviting you and me to exist.  Just as a clockmaker expects the product of his work to keep accurate time (or else it’s a bad clock,) God expected planets to submit to the laws of gravity—attraction and repulsion; crocuses to “pop up” in spring and not July; lions to forage for food, mate in the proper season, and take care of their young. 

Typically, that’s where problems tend to arise.  At the "tail end" of that evolutionary progress, proceeding from “planet-to-crocus-to-lion,” came human beings.  Up to that point, everything had gone relatively smoothly: planets obeyed the plans programmed for their natures; crocuses obeyed theirs; and lions obeyed theirs.  Then suddenly, along came human beings—the only entities in the whole Cosmic Dance that don’t have to obey their programming....  

That makes our essence vastly different from being merely more complex developments of the matter, vegetable and animal “stuff” that existed before we did.  No planet, crocus, or lion can violate its nature.  No planet gets “fed up" with whirling and puts on the brakes; no crocus refuses to take in nourishment; no lion can reject the hassle of dealing with its mate and become celibate.  Only human beings can reject their “programming”—and refuse to be human, choosing, instead, to act like “jerks,”  "vegetables," or "beasts."  That undeniable fact of the matter is that Human beings “mess up (what Western thinkers have called “original sin,” and which may or may not be traceable back to a naked couple named Adam and Eve.) Human reluctance to obey their own nature is the only Christian doctrine that can be proven conclusively utilizing evidence found in daily news media!

What’s more, only human beings can transcend their programming, and go beyond their apparent limitations.  On the physical level, only human beings (of all the entities of which we have knowledge) are not prisoners of their programming.  If a new Ice Age develops over the horizon, humans don’t go around “mooing” helplessly, waiting for death; we “bump off” a caribou and wear its skin for protection; we discover how to use fire.  Since our original, natural programming hasn’t provided us with wings, we have the ingenuity to make them for ourselves.  

 On the mental level, human beings appear to be without any equal  in the whole universe.  Although we may share brains with most of the animals (the core of the human brain is the same as any snake’s, from which, it might be said, most of our problems arise;) and we are special in many critical ways, we’re still incompletely evolved.  Unlike the smartest of beasts (dolphins and chimpanzees, for instance,) human beings can anticipate things-not-yet-even-dreamed; we can calculate, measure, ponder and philosophize.  Not even the smartest beast has the ability to send a spaceship to Mars, balance a budget, write King Lear, or run a rock concert to feed hungry strangers.  No animal ravages its soul to comprehend why those whom it loves must die.  Animals can know (via instinct and experience,) but only human beings can understand (to varying degrees.)  

 “The key difference between (most) humans and animals that we can observe is the existence of conscience (in some form.)  As far as we know, no tiger goes into a village, gobbles a lamb, and lurches back into the forest, mumbling, “O God!  I did it again!  I’ve got to get counseling!”  Animals don’t; but humans do.  At least, humans with a conscience do….

 What’s more, that fusion of the peculiarly human mind and body generates a third entity: A self—that non-corporeal* entity, which philosophers have called the “soul.”  It is the self-conscious “I, or“ego,” which is the sum of all my experiences, an unique person who never existed before—and never will be duplicated.  It is that self, that soul—which is neither body nor mind—that many philosophers believe is imperishable.  It is an entity generated and temporarily rooted in time and space, but not permanently dependent upon time and space. Unlike planets, crocuses and lions, humans have conceived a scenario in which the self can survive death.  Despite our similarities to material beings—vegetable beings or animal beings—human beings possess, within themselves, a soul that is *not material.  It is our special and unique fellowship with the Mind Behind It All = God, Who—because He created it all—exists outside it all.  And so, too, at this very moment, our souls also exist outside it all….  

 So, let me capsulize by saying my weekly letters presume only that the reader holds at least some belief in God, a higher Authority, and they have “messed up” at least sometime during their life….  

Therefore, proceeding from the perspective that there is some kind of Mind Behind It All, we postulate that everything existing in the universe was intentional and has some definite purpose.  Further, no one could argue that as human beings, we occasionally refuse to be humane; while at other times, we are surprised by our extraordinary displays of creativity, selflessness and caring, “beyond all expectations!”

 Transcendent Inter-Communication

 “Transcendent Inter-Communication” (TIC,)  refers to that activity, which we might call “prayer.”   I chose an admittedly cumbersome title to imply considerably more than simply kneeling in a quiet place, and semi-consciously rattling off numerous, rote “Our Fathers” and “Hail Marys”  Nor do I mean even the far more public and “formal” prayers involved in any one of the several, familiar liturgies—whether they are from the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, Seder services or numerous ethnic ceremonials.   What I mean by TIC is consciously “centering” oneself—going deep into one’s unique “soul”—that is in some way connected beyond time and space; and reaching into the Mind Behind It All—and, in so doing, communicating directly with humanity’s Ultimate Source.  (Another way to think of prayer might be, simply, “withdrawing for awhile,” and “connecting into the Pool of Energy–the Source of all that Exists—for the express purpose of “charging ones batteries.”)

 If you accept my over-arching presumption, then God is the Cause of all that Exists, including you and me.  Therefore, several corollaries immediately follow:  

   If God caused me, then quite obviously, I didn’t cause God.  Neither did you.  God caused us both.  Now, I don’t mean that God forced your parents to procreate or even that God—necessarily—stopped at each embryo and breathed a soul into it, as He does in the story of Adam and Eve. (Although, being God, He could have easily done that if He wanted to; triggering the Big Bang appears to have been a far larger job.)  But God created a universe in which the whole process of evolution could take place—from planets, to crocuses, to lions, to us—with intelligent beings, existing a quantum leap above our nearest animal cousins.  God is the “Inventor” of the human soul and thus, ultimately, the Inventor of you and me.

    If the universe is, indeed, a “Great Dance” in which each participant has its own unique purpose, then God is the “Choreographer or Director”—not me.  I may not be quite satisfied with the part I’ve been given—my height, or parents, or having to go to work or school—but it’s the part I’ve been given.  I’m free to improvise with it; it’s not “scripted;” I’m not a puppet.  Each of us is free not to act “humanly.”  I can even pretend to be the lead in the drama that is my life.  (I may not like the way the play was going when I first came on—the previous history of the world—or the other actors with whom I must perform.  Or, I may not like the fact that, at the end, my character dies.  But it’s the only play there is.  If I go to the Director and ask, “Why do I have to leave the stage?”  He (God,) can say, “Who gave you the right to a part in the first place?”)

   “If we are answerable to God, then God is not answerable to us’ (as Job discovered so painfully, and may be the hardest one for most of us to admit.)

 Which brings me back to the first bombshell:  God is the ultimate source of my existence.  I’m dependent…I’m indebted.  Granted, if I hadn’t been given existence, I’d never know the difference. But I do exist, and I’m grateful for that.  And I appreciate not only the bare gift of existence, but everything that came with it: my wife, my Mom and Dad, other people I love, babies, books, beer, single-malt scotch, the Pacific at sunset, natural wonders—like giraffes, dolphins, grand canyon(s,) “Star Wars” movies, and on and on….

 If you tried simply to list all the wonderful, joyous, delicious extras that came along with the initial invitation to life, it’d take the rest of your life.  In fact, there are so many fantastic gifts (most of which we take for granted, as if we’d done something to deserve them,) that it’s enough to take the sting out of the few lousy things we have to put up with—like death, and visits to the dentist, or having to deal with annoying political figures, criminals, terrorists and their ilk.

 There was an important reason for my emphasizing deserve in that last paragraph.  We do take existence—and all those billions of nifty gifts that came along with it—for granted, as if it were something due to us—because before you and I were given existence—before our birth, we simply “weren’t” at all.  How could something that doesn’t exist deserve anything?

 It’s the same with God. He invented procreation and evolution, mountains at sunrise, fields of buttercups—the whole great cosmic dance.  Then, God invited you and me to join it!  We should especially thank God for that, but ordinarily we take it all for granted.  A person may well be self-reliant, but you are most definitely not self-sufficient!  You might tell yourself: ‘I did it all myself!’  But everyone knows that’s  not true!

 Consider this analogy:  Suppose some “zillionaire” stopped you at random in the street and said, “You look like a very promising person.”  Whereupon he takes out a huge "roll of bills;"  peels off a cool million bucks; and says:  “There ya go, buddy.  I’d really like you to spend it wisely, but there are no strings attached.  Use it however you want.  Have a nice day.”  And off he goes.

 Now if you didn’t even try to find out who the guy was; if it’s too much bother to try to track him down and at least, say, “I don’t understand, but, Thank you,’’  I think one would be justified in considering you to be iron-hearted, mean-spirited, and perhaps, conscienceless.  It’s not that we don’t have the time, after all, or that we forgot.  (Very few of us are so busy or absent-minded that we forget to take a shower or brush our teeth, after all.)  And it might not be a bad idea (even for purely selfish reasons,) to say, “Excuse me, sir, but you seem to know the score…I mean, how things work.  Could you, at least, give me, a little advice? I mean, what do YOU mean when you say ‘spend it wisely?'   I’m new at this millionaire thing, and I need some help…okay?”

 Part of the reason we don’t pray (unless we’re involved in some sort of crisis situation,) is that we’ve never really thought about how much we owe The Mind Behind It All—God, our Father. (But if you’ve read this far, that is, obviously, no longer an excuse.)  Part of the reason also is that, even when we do realize our indebtedness, we don’t like to feel obligated (Most people tend to avoid bookies, pawnbrokers and loan-sharks when we owe them money; we don’t go inviting them for long contemplative walks in the woods.) But that alibi won’t work, either. Like the “zillionaire,” God says to us, “No strings.”  As far as we know, God made human beings the only entities in the universe that can say, “Kiss off!” to Him; God with made us with a program—a nature—but we don’t have to follow it if we choose not to…we have “free will.”

 Then, too, a person might ask: What about the Ten Commandments?  We’ve all broken at least a few of them, haven’t we?  And when we did, which of us has ever been struck by lightning?  The Ten Commandments, the [613] Laws of Moses, and all the many rules/laws that have been made to govern human behavior—since then, are simply the result of wise men and women studying human programming and trying to spell it out in words.  But even if the rules of that programming are hammered out in stone, written on papyrus, vellum, parchment, or coded into a hard drive, you’re still free to do whatever you please—even to act like a beast,  a vegetable or a jerk.

 Probably the best way to thank God for the gift of our existence is to use God’s gifts wisely—by attempting to find our true purpose in life and try to be our best at it.  We only get one time around; so we might as well do a good job. Yes, there are good “atheists” and ethical “humanists” who try to do that, too—to be as righteous as possible. I’ve met some of them.  But atheists and ethical humanists don’t know they’re indebted; they feel no need to say, “Thanks,” for all they have been given.  At least, unlike them, you and I do.

The Church

 “All right,” (you say.)  “No more guilt trips…I’ll pray. But why can’t I just go out into the woods, to the lake, or the golf course and spend some time with God?  Why do I have to go to some boring ceremony, with all those 'phonies' who look pious for an hour a week and then spend the rest of the week with their 'fists in the cashbox?'  And why do I have to concern myself about all those rules!”

 Therein you have many of the the usual objections voiced by those who honestly believe in God, but do not want to involve themselves in organized Church or weekly common worship.  Whenever I hear these I say, “No problem!  The fact is:  it’s simply, highly recommended.  Only two questions: First, 'When was the last time you actually went to church—or, alternatively, meditated in the great outdoors?'  And secondly, Why does it have to be either/or?  Why can’t it be both?”

 And that’s where we finally come to the questions I am wont to address in my weekly Pastor’s Letters:  “Why belong to an organized religion—with formal rituals and ‘all those rules?’  And, specifically, why belong to the Catholic Church?”  

My best guess about why I’m Catholic is exactly the same as why I’m white male, of German/Bohemian origin, a Republican, and an American.  Basically, I initially had nothing to do with, nor did I choose any of those things.  The male part was sheer chance.  The rest of those qualities—like my very existence itself—I owe to my parents, and to their parents. I didn’t choose any of those things, any more than I rationally chose to be toilet-trained. The white and ethnic parts even my parents had no say about.  But the American part and the Republican part they both chose, and I just sort of accepted them—simply by not rejecting them…at first.  The same thing was true bout my being Catholic.  That was my parents’ choice, and—for a long time—their choice became my choice, exactly the way that my Dad’s preference for medium-rare roast beef eventually also became “my choice.”

 …But then, like all of us, I became an adult.

 Psychologists tell us that the child’s superego records everything his or her parents say, as sternly and permanently written on the mind as the Ten Commandments were reportedly carved in stone.  What’s more, those “laws” were recorded with the same emotional intensity that the child felt when his or her parent issued the command in the first place.  For instance:  I can hear My mom saying, “If I ever catch you going to bed without brushing your teeth, I’ll whack your butt!”  That is recorded in my mind as strongly and indelibly as when Sister Agnela told me,“If you don’t go to Mass on Sunday, you’ll go to Hell!” (Later, when the threat of Hell lost its effectiveness, I recall my Dad telling me,  “You won’t get to use the Buick Friday night, if you don’t go.”)

 “The process of adolescence is the period when a person establishes his or her own ego and conscience.  That’s when children test the truth of their parents’ “laws,” to discover those that merely are their parents’ personal preferences (like being Republican, or preferring medium-rare roast beef.)  Unfortunately, many adults either subconciously adopt their parent’s opinions as their own, or reject them totally—no matter whether those choices/opinions are true or false—simply because they are those of their parents.’  

 From the beginning of my adolescence until I was well into my twenties, I was involved in my own process of “conversion”—discovering new horizons, testing out my previously recorded “convictions”—while coincidentally discovering which parts of myself were “non-negotiable:” (i.e., being white, of German/Bohemian descent, male;) and discovering which parts were open to discussion: (being Republican, Catholic and liking medium-rare roast beef.)  I was, for all intents and purposes (as I suspect some of you might be,) always Catholic.  I was baptized as an infant, but not yet converted.  Adult “Christians" must decide for themselves whether or not their faith is really “the way to go," or whether it might be a better idea, to go back to their parents’ first “wrong turn” and start off in the right direction,” (no matter how tedious, dangerous and time-consuming that approach might be.)

 What I’ll be asking you to consider in my weekly Letters is this:  “Is the question of being Catholic, or any other faith, the same for you as might be the question of how you like your roast beef?  Is it the same as the question of your affiliation with one political party or another?  Or is it, rather, the same as the question of your being of some cultural or ethnic descent? 

 My hope is that your answer to this “faith question” would be at least as important to you on your path to salvation as any of those others; and that reading my Letters might help clarify your thinking on the matter.

May God Richly Bless You!

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Most Reverend Monsignor † Michael J Schamp D.D.

Attribution 

 Each Pastor’s Letter is a “collage” of subjects suggested by the weekly Liturgy of the Mass, coupled with ancillary ideas liberally and extensively borrowed from various Scripture(s) and numerous published sources. These are coupled with my own original thoughts and experiences as a life-long Catholic, and for the past 20-years, as an Ordained Old Catholic Priest, and Bishop. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

Edited by Father Michael
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