19 October 2014

He is the LORD and there is no other

29th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
The Pharisees show Jesus a Roman coin and ask whether or not they should pay Caesar’s taxes. Matthew tells us that “knowing their malice, Jesus said, ‘Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?... ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’ They replied, ‘Caesar's.’ At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’" Much has been made of this infamous distinction between what is God’s and what is Caesar’s. And even more could be made of it during this tense political season. Ultimately, the distinction is meaningless because everything belongs to God, including Caesar himself. I won't belabor the point. The more interesting moment in this story is the moment Jesus calls the Pharisees out for questioning him, or more precisely, for “testing” him. According to Jesus, the Pharisees test him out of a malicious hypocrisy; that is, a hateful insincerity, a spiteful duplicity. Their apparently sincere question about paying taxes is really a contrived event to catch him up, a staged incident, choreographed and scripted to force Jesus into either treason against Rome or blasphemy against God. Jesus skillfully dodges the trap with an ultimately meaningless answer, but he manages to teach them and us a truth nonetheless: “I am not who you want me to be. . .”

Let’s get down to the question: who do you want Jesus to be? Father, Mother, Santa Claus, mischievous elf, mythical Ego, Jungian archetype, Ground of Being? Spiritual direction often starts with a question about one’s image of God. Our prayer life tells us volumes about how we understand who Jesus is for us. In desperate times, an image of God emerges. Suffering carves out of us a hard figure of God. When we reach beyond ourselves, beyond the possibilities of easy helps and cheap fixes, we usually reach out toward heaven and call on our God for His care, His rescue. And this is exactly what we ought to do. There is nothing so humbling and spiritually purifying as a moment of desperation, a flash of weakness, or damaging stupidity that drives us to God’s comfort. But we must be careful: “Why are you testing me, you hypocrites?” Our God is not our student, every ready to be questioned, every ready to be tested.

Obviously, like most politicians probing an opponents weaknesses, the Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus up by asking him the “are you still beating your wife?” sort of question. No answer is good, any answer will be vacuous in the end. The point of the exchange is not to find the truth but to expose a hated enemy as worthy of one’s hatred. Jesus calls this attempt malicious and hypocritical. Malicious because their intent is evil and hypocritical because they know that they are not asking a real question but setting a trap. Their insincerity is poisonous. But only to themselves. Who do the Pharisees need Jesus to be? Or perhaps the best question: who do they hope he turns out to be? Given their institutional investments in riches and political commitments to power, no doubt the Pharisees hope he turns out to be little more than some redneck preacher from the podunk town of Nazareth. Most of those guys didn't live long enough to know the truth of Christ's mission and ministry.

We've heard the truth, so let's test ourselves: given your institutional investments in riches and political commitments to power, who do you hope Jesus turns out to be? Jesus says to give to Caesar what is his and give to God what belongs to Him. Of course, this means that we give all things to God in the end b/c all that belongs to Caesar really belongs to God. For a while, while we walk around on the dirt, we give Caesar his due—his taxes, our obedience to his laws within our duties to God, our civic participation. But in giving Caesar his due now our hearts must always be inclined to a longing and a goal well beyond Caesar’s temporary crown; focused fiercely, permanently on the Crown of Heaven. The Pharisees hope to use this apparently split-allegiance to force Jesus into a political-religious quagmire. They need for Jesus to be a madman or a traitor or a blasphemer, so they test him in their malicious hypocrisy, rigging the test to give them the result they hope for; and in getting the hoped-for answer, relieving them of any duty to preach his message, teach his word, or offer him their obedience as the Messiah promised by the prophets.

Rather than giving them what they hope for, Jesus says, in essence, “I am not who you want me to be.” Jesus is not a traitor or a blasphemer. Nor is he a revolutionary or an institutional cog. He is not a preacher of flaccid tolerance nor a fire-breathing demagogue. He is neither a temple priest nor an institutional preacher. He is neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He is the Prince of Peace who comes with a death-dealing sword to deal death to our sin. He is the Lamb of God who comes with a scourge to beat the unfaithful for their hypocrisy and out of his temple. He is the Final Judge who died for us, making us clean before the Father’s throne. He is the Lion of David’s House who gently shepherds, protects, and provides. He tells Isaiah: “I am the LORD and there is no other, there is no God besides me. It is I who arm you, though you know me not, so that toward the rising and the setting of the sun people may know that there is none besides me. I am the LORD, there is no other.”

And no other is the LORD! Not the state, not a political party, not an institution, not a person or an idea or a theory. Nothing made can save us. Nothing passing can give us eternal life. If it can die, it cannot give eternal life. If it can change, it cannot impart perfection. If it can fail, it cannot gift us with goodness. That we want a man, a party, a system, or an idea to save us, to give us life, to grant us goodness is a sin as old as Eve’s yes to the serpent’s gift. Like the maliciously hypocritical Pharisees, don’t we often find ourselves testing Jesus to see who he will be for us today? Just poking him a bit to see if he will budge on a favorite issue or yield a bit on a favorite sin? We've seen and heard quite a lot of this week coming out of the Synod on the Family in Rome. One cardinal wanted to test the waters and published a report on the bishops' discussions to that point. The report contained language about divorced and remarried Catholics, co-habitating couples, and same-sex unions that directly contradicts the Church's ancient biblical understanding of marriage. Apparently, the good cardinal looks at Jesus and sees a therapist, or perhaps a man who really didn't mean it when he quoted Genesis, “. . .a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” Fortunately, a majority of the bishops called the cardinal to task and the report was rewritten to reflect the truth of the faith. The temptation to remake our Lord in our own image and likeness is overwhelming; however, we do well not to worry him with our tests. He is the Lord, not our student.
Jesus fails the Pharisees' test. Turns out that he is not who they hope he is. He is not the traitor, the blasphemer, the arch-heretic they had hoped for. Neither is he a cuddly affirming therapist, nor the fiery-eyed God of Righteous Vengeance Come to Smite Our Enemies, nor the sagacious prophet with a stoical temper. He is the Judge, the Lamb, the Prince, the Child, the King, the Seed, the Vine, the Word, the Spirit. He is the LORD. And there is no other and no other is the LORD.
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Synod: desolations, tensions, and temptations

The Holy Father mentioned a few moments of "desolation, of tensions and temptations". . .

- One, a temptation to hostile inflexibility, that is, wanting to close oneself within the written word, (the letter) and not allowing oneself to be surprised by God, by the God of surprises, (the spirit); within the law, within the certitude of what we know and not of what we still need to learn and to achieve. From the time of Christ, it is the temptation of the zealous, of the scrupulous, of the solicitous and of the so-called – today – “traditionalists” and also of the intellectuals.

 - The temptation to a destructive tendency to goodness [it. buonismo], that in the name of a deceptive mercy binds the wounds without first curing them and treating them; that treats the symptoms and not the causes and the roots. It is the temptation of the “do-gooders,” of the fearful, and also of the so-called “progressives and liberals.”

 - The temptation to transform stones into bread to break the long, heavy, and painful fast (cf. Lk 4:1-4); and also to transform the bread into a stone and cast it against the sinners, the weak, and the sick (cf Jn 8:7), that is, to transform it into unbearable burdens (Lk 11:46).

 - The temptation to come down off the Cross, to please the people, and not stay there, in order to fulfil the will of the Father; to bow down to a worldly spirit instead of purifying it and bending it to the Spirit of God.

 - The temptation to neglect the “depositum fidei” [the deposit of faith], not thinking of themselves as guardians but as owners or masters [of it]; or, on the other hand, the temptation to neglect reality, making use of meticulous language and a language of smoothing to say so many things and to say nothing! They call them “byzantinisms,” I think, these things…

That's some masterful Jesuitical tight-rope walking, folks! Obviously, the Holy Father was paying careful attention to the synod discussions.

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16 October 2014

Bishops Revolt!

Looks like the Synod on the Family is back in the hands of the participant-bishops rather than the appointed leadership.

Monday's relatio was roundly denounced as an inaccurate summary of the bishops' discussion, but b/c the actual language-group reports were not made public. . .there was no way for anyone to check. 

Today, the bishops rose up and demanded that the group summaries be made public. Pope Francis and the synod chair relented and agreed to have them made available.

Fr. Z. has an English translation of the Italian-language article, along with his usual on-point commentary. He also provides links to the summaries on the Vatican website.

Even a cursory scan of the summaries will prove that the relatio was an agenda pushing one-sided mess. 

I'm not ready to believe that this whole thing was an outright manipulation; however, given my long experience with self-anointed prophets and revolutionaries in the Church and religious life. . .it wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn that it was. 

Keep praying, folks!

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15 October 2014

Take No Other Path

St Teresa of Jesus
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Sisters of Mt Carmel, NOLA

Our Lord is unrelenting in his condemnation of hypocrisy, particularly the hypocrisy of those who wield religious authority. He says to the Pharisees, “Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” Not only does he accuse his opponents of being dead and rotting in the ground, but he also accuses them of leading their unwitting followers into uncleanliness, impurity. Thus the hypocrisy of each Pharisee is both a personal and a public failure. When spiritual leaders fall, those who follow them fall as well. Jesus concludes his indictment of the Pharisees and scribes with a pointed accusation, “You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.” Here lies the kernel of their hypocrisy: though they follow the Law to the letter, they do so only for the benefits that come with being seen doing so. They do not intend to see justice done nor do they love God; their only purpose is to lift themselves up and bask in the admiration of their followers. Therefore, Jesus says to them three times, “Woe to you. . .”

How do we avoid the temptations of hypocrisy? Paul writes to the Galatians, “If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not under the law. . .If we live in the Spirit, let us also follow the Spirit.” Paul is not giving us permission to live lawless lives, wildly following every impulse, every appetite. He is challenging us to do something far more difficult than living the letter of the Law. Rather than scrupulously obeying every jot and tittle of the rules, we are called upon to fulfill the Law; that is, we are freed by Christ to live out the purpose of the Law, the underlying freedom that the rules guide. For example, you can be meticulous in driving the posted speed limit and still believe that the other drivers deserve to be run off the road. You can come to Mass daily and still seek vengeance on your neighbor. You vow yourself to living a life of charity and still disparage your brothers and sisters. Despite a perfect driving record or a lifetime of perfect Mass attendance, you can still harbor hatred, anger, selfishness, and rivalry. Following the rules is no guarantee of a pure heart. But a pure heart makes the rules unnecessary b/c such a heart is ruled by none but the name of Jesus.

St. Teresa of Avila considers the power and purity of the Holy Name: “. . .it seems that no other name fell from [St. Paul's] lips than that of Jesus, because the name of Jesus was fixed and embedded in his heart. Once I had come to understand this truth, I carefully considered the lives of some of the saints, the great contemplatives, and found that they took no other path. . .A person must walk along this path in freedom, placing himself in God’s hands. If God should desire to raise us to the position of one who is an intimate and shares His secrets, we ought to accept this gladly.”* Walking the Way with Jesus, his name the name of freedom, and placing ourselves with him into the Father's hands – this is the perfected way of peace, the complete path to integrity and the death of personal hypocrisy. Teresa names a few of the great contemplatives of the Church as her examples: Francis, Anthony of Padua, Bernard, and Catherine of Siena. All men and women of Christ who set aside the need for power and control, the need to be right and never contradicted, the need to be seen being holy by others. Their anchor in the unmooring sin of this world: the name of Jesus, contemplated as the only path to peace. 
Christ came to fulfill the Law. As his Body, the Church, we are vowed to preach his Word. So, we share the fruits of that Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If we will lead in the Spirit, we must first follow the Spirit, and that, sisters, is exactly what we have given our lives to do. Follow the Spirit first; then, lead with the Spirit in Jesus' holy name.

*from The Office of Readings
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14 October 2014

Synod Freak Out!!!

Apparently, without the approval of the Pope or the involvement of the Holy Spirit, an interim report from the Synod on the Family radically altered unchangeable Church teaching on the disordered nature of same-sex attraction and SSA sexual relationships. 

Who knew that an interim report from some of the bishops at a half-finished Synod could wield such authority!

Well, it doesn't. Wield any authority, that is.  Despite what the anti-Catholic bigots of the MSM tell you.

The freak-out over this toothless report among otherwise faithful Catholics has been. . .epic.

What's most revealing is the level of distrust among the faithful in the Church's leadership. Given the way the implementation of VC2 was hijacked and abused, it's little wonder that we Catholics are skittish about councils, synods, and other ecclesial bureaucratic gatherings. 

There's also a palpable sense among the faithful that there's a nefarious movement among some of the bishops at the Synod to influence the Holy Father toward changing unchangeable doctrine.

In answer to this suspicion, I give you Fr. Robert Barron: "One of the great mysteries enshrined in the ecclesiology of the Catholic Church is that Christ speaks through the rather messy and unpredictable process of ecclesiastical argument. The Holy Spirit guides the process of course, but he doesn’t undermine or circumvent it. It is precisely in the long, laborious sifting of ideas across time and through disciplined conversation that the truth that God wants to communicate gradually emerges. If you want evidence of this, simply look at the accounts of the deliberations of the major councils of the Church, beginning with the so-called Council of Jerusalem in the first century right through to the Second Vatican Council of the twentieth century. In every such gathering, argument was front and center, and consensus evolved only after lengthy and often acrimonious debate among the interested parties. Read John Henry Newman’s colorful history of the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century, and you’ll find stories of riots in the streets and the mutually pulling of beards among the disputants. Or pick up Yves Congar’s very entertaining diary of his years at Vatican II, and you’ll learn of his own withering critiques of the interventions of prominent Cardinals and rival theologians. Or peruse John O’Malley’s history of the Council of Trent, and you’ll see that early draft statements on the key doctrines of original sin and justification were presented, debated, and dismissed—long before final versions were approved."

We are in the Age of Twitter/Facebook/Texting. . .so we are seeing every morsel of fat and gristle that goes into the Synod's sausage making.

The trick is to wait for the final document (ca. 2017) and pray for the Holy Spirit to do His mighty work!

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Three Abstracts

Here are three more abstracts. All are 16 x 20 in. on canvas board.  Obviously, still struggling to find the right light to take pics.

 Holy Innocents (RECYCLED)

Jericho (SOLD)

 Before the Throne (RECYCLED)


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12 October 2014

Invited to be transformed by the feast

28th Sunday OT 
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Mt. Carmel Academy, NOLA

The truth of the Kingdom has yet to be fully revealed much less understood. Since parables can take us deeper into the mystery of the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus uses them as the only fruitful way of teaching us the features of the coming reign of God. These short allegorical stories give us an indirect peek at the bigger truth, using the ordinary elements of daily life – the familiar people, places, and things that regular folks see and hear everyday. To understand the bigger truth a parable reveals, we compare the elements of the story to what we already know. So, who are we in the parable of the wedding feast? We aren't the king, his son, or the soldiers. We could be the guests, though we've been at the party for a while now. We can't be the poor guy who gets bounced b/c he's improperly dressed. We're still at the party. That leaves the servants. We're the servants. The ones sent out by the king to summon his guests. The ones sent out to rouse the rabble and bring them as guests to the feast. That's what we do: we go out and invite to the feast those rarely invited. As servants of the king, we obey the king.

What are His orders? “The feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” Note what's missing from these orders. We are not ordered to evaluate any potential guest's wardrobe. We are not ordered to assess their moral worthiness; their social standing, wealth, health, looks, or family ties. We are not ordered to invite only those who look like us, sound like us, think like us, or believe like us. The king's order are crystal clear, “Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.” Whomever we find might be poorly dressed or morally rotten; or high-born and ugly as sin; or low-born and beautiful; or just plain folks with nothing much to do that evening. “Whomever you find” is an all-encompassing category that makes it very difficult not to invite whomever we might find. That's our job. It's what we do. After those we have invited to the feast get here, then it's the king's job to sort them all out. Not ours. The guy who's bounced out into the darkness is bounced out into the darkness b/c he's not properly dressed. In parable-terms, he's not properly disposed, not internally prepared to receive food and drink from the Lord's generous table. He's not wearing the heart and mind of one who's accepted an invitation to party eternally with the Father's Son.

The invitation we all receive to party with the Father at His Son's feast is “come as you are.” Black tie. Business casual. Beach wear. Whatever you have on is just fine. In fact, the more poorly dressed, the more poorly disposed we are for the feast, the better. The point of the feast is not to show off or network, or to advertise your worthiness for the occasion. The point is to honor and celebrate the Son's marriage. Thus says the King, “Accepting my invitation makes you worthy.” But the transformation from unworthy wretch to worthy guest cannot leave us untouched. You may arrive at the wedding feast “as you are,” but you stay at the King's table b/c you have freely given yourself over to the celebration of His Son's marriage. In other words, no one remains at the feast dressed as they arrived. And no one leaves unless they are sent by the King to invite others. Come as you are. Be made worthy. Put on a rich, new wedding garment. And leave only to spread the word of the King's generosity. The King's feast has a purpose, a goal: to bring as many in as possible and transform unworthy wretches into guests worthy of the Son. That includes you and me.

What doesn't include you and me is the intimate process of transformation that the feast begins; that is, the internal work that God alone does to change an unworthy wretch into a worthy guest. You and I are sent out to proclaim the invitation that God has made. We are ordered to invite “whomever we find,” and tell them about the feast. When they accept the invitation and return with us to the table, we are to do everything we can to help them stay; everything, that is, except lie about the transformative nature of the feast itself. We welcome. We include. We gather up and support. We pay careful attention to our own made-worthiness, and we even sacrifice to keep God's guests at the table. But the work of transformation cannot happen if the guest does not will to be transformed. And we cannot pretend that the feast does not do what it is designed to do. We cannot lie to the guest or ourselves and say that there is no need for change, there is no reason to turn around and face the King. If the guest wills to remain outside the power of the King's feast, then we can do nothing more than pray that he will return, inviting him back again and again, always welcoming, always ready to serve as the King has ordered us to serve.

Stepping outside the words and images of the parable, let's say plainly what must be said. God's invitation to receive His grace through Jesus Christ is universal. No one is excluded. Never has been, never will be. As His baptized priests, prophets, and kings, we are charged with making sure that His invitation to repentance and holiness is heard over and over and over again. Receiving His grace means repenting of our debilitating sins, confessing them, and resolving to never commit them again. It is true that God invites us to come to Him “as we are.” But the purpose of His invitation is make us holy, not to affirm us in our sin or to tell us that our sin is not really a sin. We must not misunderstand His loving invitation to share in His divine life as a nod of approval or a sign that we are perfect “as is.” If we are perfect “as is” – sin and all – then why send His only Son to die for us? Why establish the Church to administer His saving grace? In fact, why bother with an invitation at all if there is no one to save? As a Body, we are being challenged to ignore the need for repentance from sin in favor of being “welcoming and inclusive,” meaning in practice “pretending that sin isn't sin.” This is a lie, a deadly lie that kills the unrepentant and the one telling the lie.

As with all things Catholic, we are set squarely on the razor's edge, teetering delicately btw Pharisaical Judgmentalism and Wholesale Indifferentism. We cannot judge the internal transformation of any other person, nor can we ignore the obvious public signs that no transformation has taken place. Judgmentalism makes for a paltry feast. And Indifferentism renders the feast pointless. If we are to celebrate and honor the Son's sacrifice for us, then we must work hard to maintain our balance on that razor's edge: welcome and include AND expect repentance and transformation. Most especially for ourselves.

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11 October 2014

Four Paintings

These are the first four paintings I've completed. Because of the lighting conditions and my amateur camera (8.2 megapixel), the paintings appear more yellow than they really are. Each one 16x20 on canvas board.

Light of the Nations (ON HOLD)

Tree of Life (RECYCLED)

Ps 150 (SOLD)

Wondrous Deeds


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09 October 2014


Mendicant Thanks to the kind soul who recently browsed the Wish List and sent me some painting supplies!

I have thus far painted two canvases that I like. Both are abstract color studies. 

If (and when) I get good pics of the two, I will post them for your enjoyment and/or derision.

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07 October 2014

Choosing the Better Part

Our Lady of the Rosary
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
NDS/St Dominic Church, NOLA

We have in the sisters, Martha and Mary, two models, two paradigms for how we might proceed to reveal Christ's mystery to the world. When Jesus visits the sisters, Martha begins to fuss about, trying her best to prepare a suitably hospitable meal for their guest. Frustrated that Mary is ignoring her domestic duties in order to dote on Jesus, Martha complains to Jesus and asks him to admonish Mary for her apparent laziness. Instead of scolding Mary for her inattention to duty, Jesus turns Martha's complaint back on her, saying, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things.” We should notice here that Jesus doesn't chastise Martha for griping nor does he seem ungrateful for her work on his behalf. Rather than soothe Martha's hurt feelings by telling Mary to get to work, rather than tempering Martha's anger with a lecture on patience, Jesus goes straight to the root of her fussiness. Martha is anxious; she is worried. Faced with the presence of Christ in her home, Martha chooses to get busy; she deflects her anxiety by “doing stuff,” hoping, perhaps, that by staying busy she will burn off the fretting worry. Mary, on the other hand, sits at Jesus' feet and listens to his instruction. She too might be anxious. She might be just as wound up and nervous as her sister in the presence of Christ, but she chooses “the better part,” attending to Jesus as he teaches her the mysteries of his Father's revelation.
Why does Jesus consider Mary's rapt attention to be better than Martha's distracted busyness? Let's ask this question another way. Who is most likely to learn: a student who sits in class texting on her cell phone, checking Facebook, or doodling; or the student who attentively listens to the teacher—no distractions, nothing to cloud her mind or burden her heart? If you have ever tried to teach a child a difficult math problem, or convey a set of relatively boring facts, then you know the answer to this question! Mary has the better part because she is more likely to learn, more likely to “get it,” more likely to become the better teacher and preacher of the mysteries herself. Martha will get quite a lot done, but will she be open to seeing and hearing the mystery that Jesus has to reveal? Jesus tells Martha, “There is need of only one thing.” There is only one needful thing, only one thing we need: to listen to the Word, the Word made flesh in Christ. 

When you take up Christ's commission to preach the mystery of salvation to the world, do you first listen to the Word; or do you get busy “doing stuff” that looks Christian, sounds Christian? Do you really hear what Christ has to say about God's mercy, His love? Do you attend to the Body of Christ in action during the celebration of his sacraments? Do you watch for Christ to reveal himself in those you love, in those you despise, those you would rather ignore or disparage? Can you set aside the work of doing Christian things and just be a follower of Christ, just long enough to be filled with the Spirit necessary to teach with all wisdom? It's vital that we understand that Martha isn't wrong for doing stuff. Her flaw rests solely in her anxiety and her worry while she's doing stuff. Being anxious and worried about many things while doing God's work is a sure sign that we are failing to grasp the central mystery of our commission to preach the Good News: it is Christ who preaches through us, not only with us, along side us, but through us. If we have truly seen and heard the mystery of our salvation through God's infinite mercy, then there is nothing to fear, nothing to be anxious about, nothing that can or will defeat the Word we are vowed to spread. Why? Because everything we do and say reveals Christ to the world. If the Church is the sacrament of God's presence in the world, and we are members of the Body of Christ, the Church, then we too are sacraments of God's presence. Individually imperfect, together we are made more perfect on the way to our perfection in Christ.

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05 October 2014

Will you stand on the Cornerstone come what may?

27th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA
Here's a warning no servant of God ever wants to hear: “. . .the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” What's worse than living your life as an heir to eternal life only to discover that—in the end—you've been disinherited? When Jesus finishes telling the priests and elders the parable of the murderous tenants, he quotes Ps 118, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” By rejecting Christ as the cornerstone of their relationship with God, the leaders of God's people reject their inheritance. Their reaction to this prophetic statement? They ain't happy. However, they are more afraid than unhappy—afraid of Jesus' popularity, so they postpone arresting him. They're not worried about losing their eternal inheritance. They're worried about losing their power and prestige among the people. When we think about the arduous demands of faithfully following Christ, do we think first of our eternal inheritance, or do we first consider how following him might look to family, friends, or neighbors? Do we reject the cornerstone of our faith in favor of not being noticed, in favor of never being challenged or excluded from polite company?  
Rejecting God in favor of wealth, power, and fame is not new to the 21st century. The parable of the tenants retells the history of the Jewish people's stormy relationship with God. We know the story all too well. It tells just like the history of the Church's relationship with God: lots of disobedience and great moments of heroic virtue. What the parable doesn't include is an explanation for our repeated failures. We can hear greed in the tenants' justification for killing the owner's son. But greed never poisons alone. We can hear a little wrath in the tenants' desire to wound their employer. Some pride and class envy. Why do the priests and elders reject Christ? Why do we so consistently reject making Christ the cornerstone of our lives. Making Christ the cornerstone of our everyday lives means risking one of our most valuable treasures: being a respected player in whatever social game that defines us. Family, friends, co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, fellow parishioners. If I make Christ my cornerstone, will I have to buck popular political trends, go against the prevailing attitudes of my peers, and risk losing real prestige for nothing more than a promise of future glory?
Social psychologists will tell you that there is almost nothing more difficult for an individual to do than go against the crowd. The psychology of the herd is infectious; it takes the single soul into a massed spirit where deliberation and freedom are strangled for the sake of frenzy. But few of us will ever be caught up in that sort of mob. The mobs we belong to are much more subtle and more dangerous: the workplace, the family reunion, movie night with friends, faculty meetings, events where those whose opinions of us we honor gather to socialize and strengthen the bonds of the group. When the opportunity arises, do we choose Christ as our cornerstone; or do we choose our standing in the group? When family, friends, co-workers express their support for the culture of death, do you stand on Christ; or do you back down to save face? When your peers start advocate undermining marriage and the family; or expressing racist opinions; or defaming the Church, do you stand on Christ, or back down? If Christ is to be your cornerstone, then everything you are must find its integrity and strength in Christ, regardless of the consequences. As baptized prophets of the Church, you are sent out to live the truth of the gospel. Even if and especially when it means your prestige must take a beating. When the time comes, will you “remember the marvelous works of the Lord,” most especially the marvelous work of your salvation achieved on the altar of the Cross?  
If contemplating your willingness to remain faithful to Christ and his Church is making you nervous, listen again to Paul: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” The peace of God will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus if we make known to him – in prayer with thanksgiving – all that we need. If you need strength to stand firmly on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. If you need patience to stand diligently on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. If you need wisdom to stand knowledgeably on his cornerstone, ask for it with thanksgiving. Nothing you need to stand upon the cornerstone of Christ will be denied you if you seek it out and simply ask for it with thanksgiving. Any anxiety you may be feeling b/c of who you are in Christ is the product of the Enemy coaxing you toward silence, toward defensiveness and silence. The peace that God gives us surpasses all understanding, all anxiety, all hesitancy and guile. When we speak up to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, it is not our tongues that speak but his. Not our words but his. Not our time and energy spent but his. As his faithful servants, we serve his mission and ministry by continuing to speak his Word of mercy to anyone who will listen.
Paul not only tells us how to pray for what we need to stand on the cornerstone of Christ, he also tells us how to go about training our hearts and minds for the holy work that the Lord has given us to complete. He writes, “. . .whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, pure, lovely, gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Just as we work to discipline our bodily appetites against temptation, avoiding those occasions where we might be tempted to put the things of this world before God, so too can we work to discipline our hearts and minds against the invasive ideas and passions – falsity, dishonor, injustice, impurity, ugliness, crudity, mediocrity, and scorn. Look at the tenants who murder the vineyard owner's son. They think about murder and talk about murder before actually committing murder. They fail to resist greed and anger, and they feed one another's passions until the deed is done. They would, according to the priests and elders, suffer “wretched deaths” for their failure to discipline themselves. When we make a stand on the cornerstone of Christ and lay claim to our inheritance as the Father's sons and daughters, our words and deeds must bring honor, dignity, and praise to His name.

The builders God raised up rejected Christ as their cornerstone, and Christ says to them, “. . .the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit.” We stand with Christ in his Church to proclaim the Good News of salvation. Whether this stand is popular or not; prestigious or not; profitable or not. If we would be the people who produce the good fruit of His kingdom, the people to inherit the Kingdom of heaven on our last day, then we must stand with Christ as he died for us.
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What kind of cry can such a dumb herald utter?

From the Office of Readings: Pastoral Guide by Saint Gregory the Great, pope 

Let the pastor be discreetly silent, and to the point when he speaks

A spiritual guide should be silent when discretion requires and speak when words are of service. Otherwise he may say what he should not or be silent when he should speak. Indiscreet speech may lead men into error and an imprudent silence may leave in error those who could have been taught. Pastors who lack foresight hesitate to say openly what is right because they fear losing the favor of men. As the voice of truth tells us, such leaders are not zealous pastors who protect their flocks, rather they are like mercenaries who flee by taking refuge in silence when the wolf appears.

The Lord reproaches them through the prophet: They are dumb dogs that cannot bark. On another occasion he complains: You did not advance against the foe or set up a wall in front of the house of Israel, so that you might stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord. To advance against the foe involves a bold resistance to the powers of this world in defense of the flock. To stand fast in battle on the day of the Lord means to oppose the wicked enemy out of love for what is right.

When a pastor has been afraid to assert what is right, has he not turned his back and fled by remaining silent? Whereas if he intervenes on behalf of the flock, he sets up a wall against the enemy in front of the house of Israel.

Therefore, the Lord again says to his unfaithful people: Your prophets saw false and foolish visions and did not point out your wickedness, that you might repent of your sins. The name of the prophet is sometimes given in the sacred writings to teachers who both declare the present to be fleeting and reveal what is to come. The word of God accuses them of seeing false visions because they are afraid to reproach men for their faults and thereby lull the evildoer with an empty promise of safety. Because they fear reproach, they keep silent and fail to point out the sinner’s wrongdoing.

The word of reproach is a key that unlocks a door, because reproach reveals a fault of which the evildoer is himself often unaware. That is why Paul says of the bishop: He must be able to encourage men in sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. For the same reason God tells us through Malachi: The lips of the priest are to preserve knowledge, and men shall look to him for the law, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. Finally, that is also the reason why the Lord warns us through Isaiah: Cry out and be not still; raise your voice in a trumpet call.

Anyone ordained a priest undertakes the task of preaching, so that with a loud cry he may go on ahead of the terrible judge who follows. If, then, a priest does not know how to preach, what kind of cry can such a dumb herald utter? It was to bring this home that the Holy Spirit descended in the form of tongues on the first pastors, for he causes those whom he has filled, to speak out spontaneously."

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30 September 2014

What Scripture is. . .

NB. A 2005 homily for the Feast of St. Jerome. I dedicate this one to Dr. Nathan Eubank, one of our two superb Scripture scholars at NDS. Dr. Eubank was recently appointed to the USCCB cmte to help revise the NAB. 

26th Week OT (Fri): 2 Tim 3.14-17; Matt 13.47-52
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP

St Albert Priory & Church of the Incarnation 

Scripture is the family story. It is the story we are told and tell about how those who came before us struggled with the God—how they loved Him, served Him, challenged Him, railed against His apparent injustices, how they betrayed Him, and finally, killed Him as an enemy of the Empire and the Temple.

Scripture is the family story about what Jesus taught the disciples. About what he did in the crowds with the diseased, the outcast, those near death in sin. Scripture is the family story of what happens when we call on His name and ask Him to be with us; what happens when we pray in the spirit of righteousness and receive His grace to preserve, to grow, to triumph.

Scripture is our history, our story, our flight-plan and our road map. It is also a record of our failures in the faith, our surrenders to easy, alien doctrines; a record of those times when we scratched our itchy ears with whatever shiny new thing winked at us—Greek Stoicism or angel worship or Gnosticism or just the plain ole insistence on the Old Law and its requirements.

Scripture is a foundation, a framework, and a beautifully appointed castle. It stands against the fickle tides of fashion, fending off the modernist barbarians who would put us back in the desert wandering, back into the crowds disbelieving, leaving us at the foot of the cross gambling, standing at the empty tomb shaking our head at how clever those Christian thieves can be.

Scripture teaches us, refutes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness. We are made students, penitents, disciples, and apostles. Belonging to God, we are fully equipped and competently trained to do every good work Christ has commanded us to do. And through Scripture we know not only where the family has been and where is it, but where it is going as well.

We also know Jesus Christ Himself; deep speaks to deep, Word to Word, the Word of God is flesh and spirit, one revelation of the Divine and another together: scripture and Christ, Word and Word, wisdom of salvation and Salvation Himself.

The celebration of St Jerome is a piercing call to the Church, all of us, to take up the hard work of reading scripture and opening our hearts and minds to the insistent knocking of the wisdom that the Word contains. Jerome, in a commentary on Isaiah, puts the matter plainly, “For if,” as Paul says, “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” There’s a slap in the face! If you don’t know scripture, you don’t know Christ. Ignorance of the Word is ignorance of the Word.

Give yourself over to the Word to be taught in the wisdom of salvation, to be refuted in your error, to be corrected in your sin, and to be trained in righteousness. Give yourself over to Christ, submit to the wisdom of five millenia of witnesses who witness with one voice to the power, the love, the mercy, the constancy and the faithfulness of our God.

Come, everyone! Join the good fish in the bucket of the righteous!

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28 September 2014

Do you have a Heart Problem? (Audio File Updated)

26th Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio File

God's people complain to the prophet Ezekiel, “The Lord is unfair! His rules are too rigid. His demands on us are burdensome. His ways are so unfair!” Through Ezekiel, the Lord turns the complaints around and asks, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” The Lord's obvious point is that when we complain about His “rules,” what we are really complaining about is our own refusal to see and hear the inevitable consequences of our own bad choices. It's not gravity's fault that we fall to the ground when we choose to jump out of a perfectly good tree. Nor is it God's fault when we persist in our sins, sowing disobedience and discord, and are then left to deal with the messy results. All of our favorite tricks for dodging responsibility are just that – tricks. Re-defining a sin so that it doesn't seem like a sin. Appealing to polls or science or other religions to wave away unpleasant “rules.” Putting God's will “into the proper context” in order to lighten any perceived burden. None of these work. Not ultimately. What works? What works every single time? Repentance and God's mercy. In that order: we repent – turn toward God – and His mercy freely flows.  
Here's one way to think about this: the Church – that's us – has a heart problem. Not just a troubled heart or a heavy heart, but a problem with how our hearts in Christ circulate the life-blood of the Church, the two key ingredients of our salvation: our repentance and God's mercy. This diagnosis of a heart problem arises for us at a time in the life of the Church when we are being challenged more than ever to examine and defend the basic truths of the faith, forced to consider and reconsider how we as followers of Christ understand ourselves as heirs to the Kingdom. What does it mean to be an heir to the Kingdom? Take Jesus' parable of the two sons. This is a parable about the Old and New Covenants, about unrepentant Israel under the Law of Moses and the obedient Church under the grace of Christ. The first son, at first disobedient, eventually repents and obeys his father's command to work the vineyards. The second son, pretending to be obedient, immediately agrees to work the vineyards but never gets around to it. Jesus asks the chief priests and elders, “Which son does the father's will?” They reply correctly, “The first.” Jesus then admonishes them, “Amen, I say to you, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you.” Notorious public sinners are becoming heirs to the Kingdom!  

How? How do these notorious public sinners enter the kingdom before God's chosen religious leaders? B/c the notorious public sinners heard John the Baptist preach repentance, and they repented of their sins. Like the first son, they turned themselves around and obeyed. The priests and elders heard John, but they never turned, relying instead on the illusion of obedience to save them. Like the second son, they believe that obedience is just words. God's mercy flows freely and abundantly to those who repent, those who truly turn themselves around and do the will of the Father. Notice: it's not the ones who complain and whine about the “rules” that end up repenting and inheriting the Kingdom. It's not the really super-religious people who follow all the rules who end up inheriting the Kingdom. Who inherits? Traitors, hookers, serial killers, child molesters, and thieves. They inherit. . .IF they repent, turn around toward God, and obey His will. If we will inherit the Kingdom, we will spend much less time complaining about the unfairness of God's ways and much, much more time and energy turning ourselves around to face the Him, the only One who can and will save us.

All of this is Christianity 101. So, where's the heart problem? Here's the problem: having received God's mercy by repenting of our own sins, do we allow our fellow sinners the chance to live out the mercy they themselves have received through repentance? Or, do we refuse to recognize them as brothers and sisters in Christ? Are we tempted to assume the worse about notorious sinners and leave them out of the Kingdom? Look to your own experience with God's mercy. Instead of complaining about His “unfair ways,” you searched your conscience, found your sins, confessed and repented of them, then went on with your growth in holiness fed by His mercy. If you can do it, then why can't another? Maybe you suffer from a heart problem. Does repentance and mercy freely circulate in your body? If not, then they cannot freely circulate in the Body of Christ, the Church. And if these two key ingredients of our salvation cannot freely circulate, then the Church will grow weaker and weaker at a time when we need one another's strength and courage more and more. It is the Lord's Way that we must repent to receive mercy. It is also His Way that we must recognize repentance and allow His mercy to feed others.

How do we do this? How do we recognize repentance and allow God's mercy to feed others? As always, Paul comes to our aid. He pleads with us: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy. . .Have in you the same attitude that is also in Christ Jesus.” In other words, if Christ strengthens your heart or comforts you in love; if you in any way take part in the life and work of the Holy Spirit, or receive from the Spirit any amount of compassion or mercy, then take on the mind of Christ – think with his sacrificial love, work with his dedication for the salvation of souls, and speak in the language of obedience and service. Paul challenges us to be “of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of [vanity].” When we repent and lay claim to God's mercy for ourselves, yet refuse to recognize the repentance of another, thus refusing to see God's mercy at work in them, we put ourselves in the Judgment Seat, displacing Christ as the only true Judge. Then our heart problem becomes critical and the Church grows weaker. It is unfair that God forgives those we believe to be unrepentant sinners? Let Him answer: “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” 
Our Lord admonishes the priests and elders b/c they did not believe John the Baptist when he preached the baptist of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. They were appalled when tax collectors and prostitutes lined the River Jordan for baptism, and they accused John of defiling God's ways. But they were really accusing God Himself. Jesus turns the accusing finger back on them, telling them that the worst of the worst among them were entering the Kingdom before they could. The difference btw the priests/elders and the notorious sinners is not their sin or their desire for mercy. Both groups are sinners; both want mercy. The difference is that the sinners turned toward God, repenting of their sins in all humility, asking for and receiving the forgiveness they need to become heirs to the Kingdom. The priests and elders complain to Jesus that God is being too lax, too easy on the sinners; He's encouraging more sin by letting them off w/o sufficient punishments. God says, “Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair?” If you have a heart problem, repent and let the Father's mercy heal you.


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Vocation Vids and Stories

NOLAPriest.com has produced an excellent vocations video, What Does It Mean To Be A Seminarian?  The vid was filmed at NDS and features NOLA seminarian, Colm Cahill.

The linked page also includes two other vids: one from Archbishop Aymond and one on this summer's priestly ordinations.

The site also has three vocation stories from seminarians. Andrew Ruddman, a student of mine, features in one of the stories.

Check them out!

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26 September 2014

Who is Jesus for me and mine?

NB. I celebrated the NDS Masses this Tues, Wed, and Thurs b/c the priests of the archdiocese were having a big meeting. I was the only priest left at the seminary!  Today, I have 16 homily-tutorials scheduled. Oy. Below is a homily from 2012. Just thought I'd close out the week. . .

25th Week OT (F)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA

Audio file

We've heard it said—many times—that we live and move and have our being in God. Without God, we are nothing, literally, not a thing at all. So, one of the most humble services that we perform for ourselves is to measure, to take account of, where we stand in the creating and re-creating kinship that gave us life and sustains us in love. When we perform this humble service, what are we measuring? What sort of scale do we use? Since our relationship with God is familial, that is, we think and act along with God as a family, and since a family is bound together by blood and nourished in love, we could describe our relationship to the Father as holy—a relationship set apart from the world, consecrated to a divine purpose. How then do we measure holiness—our nearness to the Father, our distance from Him? Sin measures our distance from God; obedience measures our nearness. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes tells us that all things under heaven have their appointed time, a time to arrive and unfold, a time to depart and decay. As we live and move and have our being in God, it is always time to measure our kinship with Him. Now and always is the right moment to ask yourself, “Who is Jesus for me and mine?” Your answer measures your holiness.

When Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answers, “The Christ of God,” Jesus rebukes them all and orders them to keep this answer a secret. Having taken the measure of his disciples and heard their confession of faith, our Lord not only silences them, he also reveals to them his immediate future: suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. Does he silence them b/c he fears too many will suffer and die along with him? Or does he demand they keep this secret so that his ministry might not be impeded by his enemies? Our Lord knows that to follow him is invites persecution. But following him also guarantees rescue. Following him guarantees death, but it also promises resurrection. Maybe he demands silence about his true identity b/c he knows that too many will too quickly chase after him and fail to soberly measure the consequences, fail to honestly take account of the sacrifices required to live the radical love that the Father demands of His children. If there is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to sow and a time to harvest, then there is a time to soberly, honestly measure who Christ is and who you are as his student in the school of charity.

Friday is the traditional day in the Church calendar when we remember the crucifixion and examine our relationship in holiness with God. If sin measures our distance from God and obedience our nearness, then there is no better day to take account our of disobedience and give thanks for the nearness of His mercy. And there is no better way to accomplish this work of humility than to spend some time seriously contemplating our answer to the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” For there to be any chance at all that he is the rock of your holiness, he must be—minimally—the one, the only one who suffered on the cross for you; died for you; and rose on the third day for you. Whatever else and whoever else he might be for you—enlightened master, social justice icon, moral exemplar—he must be the Crucified Christ, the long-promised Messiah. Your faith in this truth is the unique measure of your holiness. Not the only measure to be sure but the one that gives all other measures their scale. I dare you: examine your day—your thoughts, words, deeds—and ask yourself before you fall asleep: seeing and hearing me today, is there anyone out there b/c of me who loves God more now than they did when they woke up this morning?

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25 September 2014

Have you sworn to the mission of Christ?

25th Week OT (Th)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Notre Dame Seminary, NOLA
We know that kings fear prophets and we know why: prophets of the Lord trust in God alone, leaving no room in their hearts for the things of this world, no space for the king to occupy with threats or bribes. Now we know that kings can be perplexed by the Lord's prophets and preachers – curious or puzzled by who they are and what they might achieve in God's name. Herod the tetrarch hears “about all that [is] happening” in his kingdom, and the news leaves him “greatly perplexed.” All that is happening in Herod's kingdom is the ministry of Jesus the Christ. Teaching, preaching, healing, casting out demons. All that is happening is the fulfillment of the Father's promise to His people to forever free them from the slavery of sin. All that is happening is the advent of the long-awaited Messiah and the redemption of creation as a hostage to death. Herod is perplexed b/c some say that this Jesus is Elijah the prophet. Some say that he is the martyred herald, John. So, the king, anxiously curious, asks, “Who then is this about whom I hear such things?” To quail his anxiety and satiate his curiosity, Herod persists in “trying to see him.” As priests, prophets, and kings in Christ Jesus, it is our sacred duty to show the Herod's of this world exactly who Christ is.

In Herod's own day, Christ showed himself to be exactly who and what he claimed to be: the Son of God, the Son of Man, the Messiah. In word and deed, he revealed the Father to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. And upon those who saw and heard his Word, he sent the Holy Spirit in fire and tongues to give birth to the Church. The witness of the Church – from that 2,000 yr old Pentecost up to and including Sept 25, 2014 – is the consistent, on-going testimony of the Spirit manifested in and through the words and deeds of the men and women who surrender themselves to the ever-merciful will of God and place themselves wholly under obedience to the single-hearted mission of Christ: tell my Father's people that through me His mercy is freely given for the salvation of their souls. Is this the mission and ministry you have sworn yourself to? Are you under the obedience of Christ to preach and teach the Good News – that no one has to remain a slave to sin; that no one has to endure the permanent darkness of death; that no one can be compelled to deny that Jesus is Lord? If we are not preaching and teaching and living out Christ's command to love, then how we will show our 21st century Herod's exactly who Christ is?
Qoheleth – centuries ago – prophetically describes an enduring spirit, one that still animates the powers of this world: useless vanity, futile labor, directionless change, wasted bounty, breathless speech, exhausted novelty, and the forgetfulness of memory and its destruction. We can call this spirit, Nihil – the emptiness that motivates Herod's perplexity and the principal obstacle to our mission. Nihil possesses the heart and mind and encourages chaos by convincing the poor soul that only Nothing matters; Nothing is good, true, and beautiful; Nothing rules and guides; Nothing is sacred, Nothing transcends. Against the spirit of Nihil, God's prophets and preachers bring another Spirit, another more powerful force: the spirit and power of Caritas. All that is happening through us must be the love and mercy Christ promises to sinners. It's not enough to just speak the words. We are vowed to preach the Word. Teach the Word. And act out the Word. We must be and do exactly who and what Christ is for the salvation of the world. Herod was perplexed. This world is more than perplexed; it is possessed of a spirit of destruction and deceit. Our sacred duty is to show a Better Way by being that Better Way, by being Christ for others.

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