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Father Michael

Summer 2019 Pastor's Letter--An Introduction

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Summer, 2019

Introduction to “Pastor’s Letter”

Most Reverend Monsignor † Michael J Schamp D.D.

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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, then, is: “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, other Christian denomination or, for that matter, any other faith?”

When I use the word, “God,” I don’t mean (at first,) even 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 and mate in the proper season and take care of their young.

That’s where the problems arise. At the tail end of that evolutionary progress of planet-to-crocus-to-lion came human beings. Up to that point, everything had gone relatively smoothly: planets obeyed the plan programmed into 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—which makes us vastly different from merely more complex developments of the matter and vegetable and animal “stuff” that was there before we arrived on the scene.

No planet or 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, acting instead like clods, or vegetables, or beasts. That undeniable fact is what Western thinkers have called “original sin,” (which may or may not be traceable back to a naked couple named Adam and Eve,) but is nonetheless a fact: Human beings “mess up.”  Human reluctance to obey their own nature is the only Christian doctrine you can prove conclusively from the daily news media!

What’s more, only human beings can transcendtheir 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 put on its skin; we invent fire. Since our original, natural programming hasn’t provided us with wings, we have the wits to make them for ourselves.

On the mental level, human beings are without any equal (of which we are aware,) in the whole universe. Oh, it’s true we share brains with most all 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;) we’re special, even though we’re still incompletely evolved. Unlike the smartest of beasts (dolphins, for instance,) human beings can anticipate things-not-yet-even-dreamed; we can calculate, measure, ponder and philosophize. Even the smartest beast is not about to send a spaceship to Mars, or balance a budget, or write King Lear, or run a rock concert to feed hungry strangers. No animal ravages its soul to comprehend why those it loves must die. Animals can know, but only human beings can—to some degree—understand.  The key difference between humans and animals that we can suggest is our conscience. 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, good humans do....

What’s more, that fusion of the peculiarly human mind and body generates a third entity: A self—that entity philosophers have always called (for want of a better name,) the “soul.”  It is the self-conscious “I,” which is the sum of all one's 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 and crocuses and lions, the human self will survive death. Despite our similarities to material beings—vegetable beings or animal beings—human beings possess in 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 exist outside it all.

So, let me reiterate, saying these weekly letters presume only that the reader has at least some vague belief in God, or some higher Authority, and the reader has “messed up” at least once during their lifetime....

Therefore, I am coming from the perspective that there is some kind of Mind Behind It All—and everything that exists in the universe was intentional and has some purpose programmed into it. Further, no one could argue that human beings often refuse to be humane; while at other times, they surprise us with extraordinary displays of creativity, selflessness and caring “beyond all expectations!”

Transcendent Inter-Communication

Transcendent Inter-Communication” (maybe a jawbreaker, but it got your attention) means, that, which in simpler terms, one might call “prayer.”  I gave it that admittedly cumbersome title to show that I mean considerably more than simply kneeling in a quiet place, and semi-consciously "rattling off" numerous “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 , a myriad of various ethnic ceremonials.

What I mean by “prayer” is, "centering the self"—going deep into that unique “soul” that is connected beyond time and space in some way, into the Mind Behind It All—and communicating directly with one’s Ultimate Source. (This may be a crude analogy, but it might help to think of prayer as the practice of “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 my presumption is correct, then there is a God, Who’s the Cause of all that Exists, including you and me.

Therefore, several corollaries immediately follow:

Firstly, if God caused me, then I quite obviously didn’t cause God. Neither did you. God caused us both. Now, I don’t mean that God forced your parents to do “You-Know-What,” 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 was 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— 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.

Secondly, 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?”)

Thirdly: This one is the toughest admissions one has to make: “If we are answerable to God, then God is not answerable to us’ (as Job discovered so painfully.)

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 Ido exist, and I’m grateful for that. And I appreciate not only the bare gift of existence, but everything that came with it: my Mom and Dad, the people I love, babies, books, beer, single-malt scotch, the Pacific at sunset, giraffes, you-know-what, “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, in comparison) lousy things we have to put up with—like death, and visits to the dentist or having to deal with annoying political figures, like Osama Bin Laden or ISIS.

There was an important reason for 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. But it wasn’t because before you were given existence, you simply “weren’t here” at all. How could something that doesn’t existdeserve anything?

It’s the same with God. He invented “You-Know- What,” and evolution, mountains at sunrise, fields of buttercups and the whole great cosmic dance. And God invited you and me to join in it! It might be nice to thank God for that sometime. But ordinarily we...well...we take it for granted. You may well be self-reliant, but you are most definitely not self-sufficient! You might tell yourself: ‘I did it all myself!’ But you know that’s untrue!

Consider this analogy: Suppose some “zillionaire” stopped you at random in the street and said, “Now you look like a very promising person to me.” And then he takes out a roll of bills the size of a tractor tire; 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 to bother even to try to track him down and say, at least, “Uh, thank you’’ I think one be justified in calling you an iron-hearted, mean-spirited and 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.) And it might not be a bad idea (even for purely selfish reasons,) to say, “Ah, 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 thismillionaire thing, and I need some help...okay?”

Part of the reason we don’t pray (unless we’re involved in some sort of emergency 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 be beholden; we 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.”

“Oh yeah?” (One 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, if any of us has been struck by lightning?” The Ten Commandments, The [613] Laws of Moses and all those rules that have been made 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, or written on vellum, parchment or coded into a hard drive, you’re still free to do whatever you please— even to act like a beast, or a vegetable or a jerk.

In fact, probably the best way to thank God for the gifts of existence is to use God’s gifts wisely—to find out whatever is our true purpose in life and try to your best at it. We only get one time around; so we might as well do a good job of it. 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 might say.) “No more guilt trips...I’ll pray. But why can’t I just go out into the woods 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 just about all the usual objections from those who honestly believe in God, but do not want to involve themselves in organized, Church or weekly, common worship. Whenever I hear them (and I’ve heard them many, many times in my 70-plus years on the planet,) I say, “No problem!” The fact is, that it’s simply, highly recommended. Only two questions: First, “When’s the last time you actuallywent to church—or meditated in the great outdoors?” (This usually stops them dead in their tracks.) 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 a Catholic is,basically, 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 my Dad’s preference for medium-rare roast beef that eventually became “my choice.”

...But then, like all of us, I grew up.

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 miss 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, or conscience. That’s when children test the truth of their parents’ “laws” and which are merely their parents’ personal preferences (like being Republican, or preferring medium-rare roast beef.) Unfortunately (because thinking takes effort,) many adults either 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 arethose 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,) Catholic. I was baptized as an infant, but not yet converted—like subjects of a pagan king forced to convert to Christianity and be baptized—not as a result of their choice but as a result of his choice. What such “Christians” must do is decide whether this really was “the way” to go, or whether it might be a far better idea, no matter how tedious, dangerous and time-consuming, to go back to their parents’ first “wrong turn” and start off in the right direction.”

What I’ll be asking you to consider in my weeklyLetters is this: “Is the question of being Catholic, other Christian denomination or faith the same for you as is 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 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.

May God Richly Bless You!

Attribution

In writing my weekly Pastor’s Letter, I have borrowed, liberally and extensively, from many published sources, some of which include the three-volume work: New Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies, by Flor McCarthy, SDB, and the book, Why Be Catholic? by Fr. William J. O’Malley, S.J.  Each of my Letters is a multi-sourced “collage” of interpretive thoughts, focusing, primarily, on the weekly Liturgy of the Mass, coupled with similar ideas gleaned from Scripture and numerous, respected, previously-published sources, interwoven with my own original thoughts and experiences as a life-long Catholic, an Ordained Old Catholic Priest and consecrated Bishop.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Edited by Father Michael

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